Author

Stephanie

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Thai Butternut Squash Soup
A dear friend of mine shared this recipe many years ago and it's one that we enjoy often in my home. It's simple to prepare and has great flavor. It's one of those soups that is even better the next day. I'm not sure that my kids love it as much as I do but that's okay, more for me ;)
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the oi lin a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Don't brown the mixture, reduce your heat if necessary.
  2. Add the squash, carrots, broth, fish sauce, sugar, and curry paste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Using a hand-held immersion blender, pureé the soup until silky smooth. (Alternatively, cool the soup slightly, then pureé in a blender in batches, making sure to leave the hole in the lid open to allow the steam to escape. Next stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, and salt. Bring everything to a simmer, then taste and adjust the seasonings.
  4. Serve soup into bowls and drizzle with Sriracha and garnish with the scallions and cilantro.
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When we first started to homeschool I was quite sure what our “schooling” would look like or even what I should have been looking for in a curriculum for the kids. I knew that I wanted it to be fun and colorful but beyond that, I had no clue what I was looking for. I am often asked what we use at home for schooling and I’m quick to share why we love Masterbooks.

It wasn’t as though things just landed in our lap, it was through a series of trials and errors but it all started when we attended the big homeschool convention in Orlando.  My mind was completely blown by how many vendors and different programs and book companies were out there to choose from. I was drawn to the biggest booth int he front of the convention hall and met a lovely woman who took what felt like my entire afternoon explaining their approach and books and making it seem like I’d found exactly what I was looking for.

I paid, we hugged and I left feeling like I’d just won the homeschool lottery.
Fast forward about 2 months and it’s the big day when our books are set to arrive by courier. I anxiously await the end of the day and hear the doorbell and know it’s the books. When I answered the door, there was the UPS man standing there with a DOLLY FULL OF BOXES!! There were 4 large boxes and he was ready to roll it right into the front door.

Surely this must be a mistake, I couldn’t possibly have ordered so much?!

I grabbed the scissors and began cutting into the boxes and realized that these were in fact ALL the books that I had ordered. The kids’ books, the test books, the review books, the teacher guide, the activities for each subject … it was endless. I tried to remain excited and not get overwhelmed but as I was stacking them next to me and the piles were growing taller and taller, it was hard to not feel like I was drowning in books.

homeschool overloadI think more than me being overwhelmed the look on both the kid’s faces was pretty telling too. Are we suppose to learn ALL this stuff?

What became obvious to us after just a few short weeks of using the new books was that it was super colorful, very organized but really really heavy in the workload. It was taking us hours to get through a few subjects and that was not at all what we had planned. I wanted to spend a few hours each day focused on work but allowing them to have time to explore things that sparked their curiosity and then use the rest of the time to spend it outside or allowing the kids to just be free for activities outside.

I called my friend and long time fellow homeschooler and shared my feelings. Without hesitation, she said, “Send it back”.

I couldn’t possibly send back this much stuff, I bought it and I need to see it through. Against her advice, we kept the books and made it about 2 months into the school year and then I realized it was going to be the death of me or possibly my children. We were all miserable and not because the books were bad but simply because it just wasn’t for us.

What I realized and of course what my dear friend had said from the beginning was that you will know when you find the right program for the kids. They may not even connect with the same program, one may use a completely different method or books and that’s okay. The beauty of homeschooling is just that, so each of your unique children can connect and learn in their own styles. You don’t have to have dozens of books and heavy schedules to enrich their minds.

We, needless to say, had to break for a little to catch our breathe and hit the reset button on our schooling. I needed to find a suitable replacement. I started reaching out to our homeschool group and they all had their recommendations of what they liked and why it worked so well. The one that I continued to hear quite a bit was Masterbooks.

I went online and immediately liked what I saw, it was colorful and engaging and best of all AFFORDABLE. The first purchase I made at the convention with the above-mentioned books was (I hope you’re sitting) $1600!! It was roughly $900 per student. The new program Masterbooks had pricetags of $40-$60 per textbook. What was lacking or would I need to supplement the subjects with other books?

My first order arrived within a few days and I ripped open the box and there it was, colorful vibrant books filled with so much information, I just wanted to sit and turn each page reading as I went along. This book was everything I had hoped for, it was independent work at the appropriate level and best of all it was LIFE-based learning or what they call “Lessons for a Living Education”. Basically that means each lesson focuses on how it applies to everyday life, each chapter begins with a story about the two characters of the Masterbooks collection and it talks about how they would use or need that upcoming lesson for a real-life situation. If you are familiar with the Charlotte Mason approach, then you will love Masterbooks.

One of the things that I disliked about the original curriculum we purchased was that it was heavy on the planning, so I had to prepare a lesson plan for each day and teach the kids the lesson. Don’t get me wrong my goal is not to ignore my kids and their learning but to encourage them to be independent and problem solve on their own as much as possible. I love that Masterbooks holds them accountable for their own daily schedules. They are clearly marked Day 1, Day 2… and so on. The kids can work ahead or if they are caught up on something and miss a day they can catch up and all the while learning about time management and deadlines. I have to assist with some topics or subjects but for the most part, they dive in and get to work and enjoy marking off in their planners what they accomplished for the day.

masterbooks-homeschool-blog-2

Like most homeschool curriculums they offer an online evaluation so that you can find where your child should start. We started back one level for math so that the kids could get used to the type of learning and lessons. It never hurts to review concepts so no harm done there. Of course, they both immediately thought they were being held back but once I explained my logic, they settled down – HA!

I encourage you to explore the program and give it a try if you are looking for something new. I couldn’t be happier with the kids and their progress.

Note: We don’t test the kids as I don’t believe at this age there is a need for it. I have read many comments from other families who use Masterbooks that when their child tested, they were on level or ahead in grade level using Masterbooks. It’s a solid program that offers a strong foundation of learning.

 

If you’re like us our schedules are crazy pretty much 7 days a week. If it’s not hockey or lacrosse or the kids going to work out there are animals or work that has me running in a hundred different directions. So when I know things are going to be busy I can whip up a batch of these muffins and feel good about the kids snacking throughout the day.

We rely on banana bread but I know when it’s still sitting on the counter the next day that the kids and hubby need a break and something different. That where’s these Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins come into play.

I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine.

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Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins
My kids love these chocolate chip banana muffins. It's a great way to change up the everyday banana bread for something different and fun. They are easy to whip up in the morning and enjoy for breakfast or as an all-day snack for our busy schedules.
Course Breakfast, Sweets
Keyword Baking
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Course Breakfast, Sweets
Keyword Baking
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease your muffin tins. Peel bananas and put them in a big bowl with the melted butter and smash it all together with a fork. Keep blending until the mixture is creamy and smooth, not chunky. Add sugar, egg, and vanilla and mix just until combined. Stir in salt and baking soda. Add flour and chocolate chips and mix until just combined. Do not overmix! Divide into muffin tins Bake about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick pulls out cleanly. ** Note: I don't use any liners for this recipe as the muffins are so moist they tend to just stick to the paper and become too messy.
    Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins
Recipe Notes

I sift my flour when baking and recommend it as it makes for a lighter flour and also makes for a lighter, fluffier muffin. We purchased our sifter on amazon, it's been great and we use it frequently. You can shop it here: https://amzn.to/2Jr7J7z

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Maybe I should start this with “things we have stressed about and lost sleep over during travel ice hockey”…

We made it (barely) through our first-ever ice hockey travel season in South Florida. I feel like I’ve aged a solid 5 years since we started on this new journey of competitive ice hockey. I think it’s safe to say that both my husband and I have spent a few nights tossing and turning over game situations, feelings that got hurt during a game (parents, not players) and trying to figure out just what all this means. Does the thousands of dollars spent, hours spent driving to practices and games over the last 6 months add up to a life experience that builds character?

Maybe there’s more to the winning and losing?    Nope, it’s about winning.
Although, you have to learn to lose too. But let’s face it, if we are going out on the ice for the “fun” of the game and for little Johnny to build memories for later in life I would rather keep my thousands of dollars and spend it on something else. My kid is going out on the ice to work 150% every time and to score goals and make plays for teammates so that we can win. My son doesn’t want second place, he wants first place. I can’t say I blame him, why want anything less than the very best in anything that you do?

I hear it a lot from other parents “You know little Johnny probably isn’t going to make it to the NHL, they need to start realizing only 2% make it professionally”

I. GET. IT  … trust me, I have read every article, press release and study on what it takes and the odds at making it professionally in hockey. But here’s the thing about that, if little Johnny wants to continue playing hockey at a competitive level and has a goal to work towards then why isn’t it possible to work for that dream and become a professional hockey player? Who am I to tell him something isn’t possible, aren’t we suppose to tell them that with hard work anything IS possible? Do you think players like McDavid worked out daily and skated 7 days a week because he was “building childhood memories?” Heck no. He was chasing the dream and had a ton of talent and knew that if he worked harder than anyone else it would bring him closer to his goal and could happen for him.

What I DO tell our boy is that you need to set goals for yourself, goals that you work towards. This year’s goal might be to score more points in assists than actual goals, become a faster skater, get more rebounds… work towards a goal and then when you make it to that goal, make a new one or challenge yourself again. It’s the only way we continue to grow and learn. To grow as a player, we need to become uncomfortable.

travel-hockey

Who am I to say he isn’t going to make it? If he is passionate about the sport and wakes up every morning with a smile on his face and jumps up ready to go to the rink for practice or a workout with his coaches, then we will continue to write the checks for as long as he needs.

I think like other sports there are politics involved. What we realized this past season is that it isn’t always about your ability or talent, it’s about who kisses ass and who are the favorites. What is should be based on is if I worked harder than you, scored more points than you, was an overall better player than you… I get that spot on the team. Period.

So there’s that… but what I have learned is that we do have choices when it comes to competitive sports for our kids. We aren’t always going to have the perfect coach, the teammates that have the same work ethic or level of competitiveness., sometimes they are there because Mommy and Daddy wrote a check and paid for their spot on the team. You can choose whether you want to have your child play for that coach, be teammates with those players, become friendly with the parents and partake in gossip about others. Often I think as parents we like it when our children are selected or chosen out of a group of dozens of other kids for travel hockey, it’s a great feeling but is that feeling of being wanted more important than the lessons and experience your child is going to have on the ice or in the locker room? No, it’s not.

There is a team and a program out there that is the right fit for your player, one where they will be supported and motivated to keep working harder. Just because it’s the biggest program doesn’t mean it’s the best, because don’t ever forget that hockey is a business … they want your money above and beyond all. A player should earn their spot on a team, continuously work hard to keep their spot and be a team player both on and off the ice. It’s not a harsh statement, that is why there are recreational or house leagues available and then there are travel teams. The distinct difference is in the level of player ability, focus, respect and dedication to always give 150% when you get out on the ice.

If you are a new parent to travel hockey, there are no handbooks with the “dos and don’ts” trust me, I looked for it. We as parents stumbled through our first travel hockey season making mistakes and learning as we go. There were many sleepless nights because there were new hurdles we needed to get over and sometimes they made us uncomfortable. Things that seemed out of our control. Was this just the “norm” for travel hockey? Would we ease into it after a few months and look back on these times and laugh? Sure, but we also learned that we are in control and that it’s always a good idea to have options. Shop around for programs, coaches, teams and ask questions. Nothing is going to be perfect and there will always be the “hockey politics” but surrounding your player with the right coaches and teammates will make the experience much more enjoyable and memorable for all.

Update: This article was written based on the 2018-2019 hockey season and our first-ever travel hockey season for our family. We have since learned quite a bit more which you can read about here:

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Chicken with Capers and Tomatoes
This recipe was originally developed by Pierre Franey in 1991 for the 60-Minute Gourmet column, a weekly feature dedicated to Times-worthy dishes that were easy, quick and inexpensive. I found this and love how easy it comes together. It's ingredients you'll have on hand as well so it makes for a great busy weeknight meal.
chicken with capers and tomatoes
Prep Time 5 Minutes
Cook Time 20 Minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 Minutes
Cook Time 20 Minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
chicken with capers and tomatoes
Instructions
  1. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottom skillet. Add the chicken breasts and saute over medium-high heat, turning the pieces often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the shallots and garlic around the chicken. Cook briefly; add the tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar, capers, wine and tomato paste. Stir to dissolve the brown particles adhering to the bottom of the skillet.
  3. Blend well, bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer for 9 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
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When I was little I would eat Spaghetti-Os as often as my parents would let me. I could eat them for lunch and dinner, it didn’t really matter what time it was I loved Spaghetti-Os. I remember the orange stain it would leave in my school thermos, because I would eat them so much it would never come clean.

Of course, this was long before everyone started to become conscious of the ingredients in their foods and what they fed their kids. My mom still questions my almost all organic purchases and whole food ingredients when I make meals for the kids these days. She could be right because I would eat this stuff as much as I could and it didn’t seem to harm me? ... or did it? :/

While shopping at our favorite local market that just happens to be Italian, I came across the Anellini pasta and immediately knew what I wanted to make with them…well, two things; first the Spaghetti O’s and secondly I was going to make a chicken broth soup with these bad boys.

Anellini-pasta

Did you know that these wonderful little circles of yumminess were first introduced back in 1965? And they were marketed to parents as  “less messy” than spaghetti. More than 150 million cans of SpaghettiOs are sold each year! Just a quick glance at the ingredient list and it makes you wonder how this is called “food”.

The great thing is that not only is this recipe easy to whip together but its made with items you have on hand in the pantry!

I hope you enjoy!

Print Recipe
Thai Butternut Squash Soup
A dear friend of mine shared this recipe many years ago and it's one that we enjoy often in my home. It's simple to prepare and has great flavor. It's one of those soups that is even better the next day. I'm not sure that my kids love it as much as I do but that's okay, more for me ;)
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the oi lin a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Don't brown the mixture, reduce your heat if necessary.
  2. Add the squash, carrots, broth, fish sauce, sugar, and curry paste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Using a hand-held immersion blender, pureé the soup until silky smooth. (Alternatively, cool the soup slightly, then pureé in a blender in batches, making sure to leave the hole in the lid open to allow the steam to escape. Next stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, and salt. Bring everything to a simmer, then taste and adjust the seasonings.
  4. Serve soup into bowls and drizzle with Sriracha and garnish with the scallions and cilantro.
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Print Recipe
Spaghetti Os
Healthy and delicious Spaghetti Os, made from REAL ingredients with no high fructose corn syrup or ingredients you can’t pronounce. Healthy spaghetti os!
Prep Time 5 Minutes
Cook Time 20 Minutes
Servings
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 Minutes
Cook Time 20 Minutes
Servings
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, stir together all ingredients except the pasta. Bring to a boil, then lower and cook on low until the butter melts completely. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, throw in the pasta and cook until desired texture is reached. Drain, then pat dry with a towel. Pour the pasta into the sauce, and stir to combine. Serve. Before reheating any leftovers, stir and add a little milk of choice if needed.
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Warning: This Chicken Gnocchi Soup is addictive!

South Florida hasn’t seen much rain these past few months, little ponds and canals near us on the golf course have dried up leaving just mud. When we heard the heavy rains come pouring down early this morning we both agreed it was a very much needed storm. The only downside is that John was set to golf at noon so that wasn’t going to happen with the constant down pour on the course.
soup7With a somewhat busy Sunday with hockey practice and the kids having a friend over (and it still raining pretty heavy) I thought we might want some warm creamy chicken gnocchi soup, just like Olive Gardens. I came across a recipe on Pinterest a while back that seemed pretty tasty and easy.

I had everything on the ingredients list in the fridge and pantry and plenty of time to cook with the kids being in the pool and hot tub, yes in the rain!

This is actually Chloe’s favorite soup and what she orders every time we go to Olive Garden. In fact, anytime we have to celebrate a special occasion for Chloe she picks Olive Gardens for this soup specifically. I had to kick her out of the kitchen while I making it so that she wasn’t trying to sneak a taste.

A very easy base on this creamy soup from start to finish with prep for the veggies and chicken I was done within an hour.

Olive Garden Copycat Chicken Gnocchi Soup

soup-final
INGREDIENTS

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded ( I use my Cuisinart Smart Stick 2)

1 Tbs olive oil

4 Tbs butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

6 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

1 cup carrots, shredded

2 tsp parsley flakes

Salt and pepper for seasoning

1 package (16 ounces) mini potato gnocchi

1 cup fresh spinach, chopped

soup2
We like this brand of Gnocchi best in our home
soup4
This is my secret chicken shredding tool. Makes it so quick and easy.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In large dutch oven or stock pot, melt butter and olive oil together.
  2. Add your onions, carrots and garlic and cook until onions become translucent.
  3. Whisk in your flour and let cook for a minute, slowly stir in your chicken broth and simmer until it starts to thicken up.
  4. Meanwhile in pan cook your gnocchi according to package directions, drain and set aside.
  5. Add your milk to your veggie and chicken broth mix and bring to a boil, stir in your seasonings.
  6. Once at a boil reduce heat and add your gnocchi, spinach and chicken simmering until heated through and thickened.
NOTES
  1. You can add celery to this recipe if desired, juts add about 1 cup chopped.
  2. If your soup is too thin for your liking add 1Tbs cornstarch mixed with 1Tbs cold water and stir into your soup until thickened. We prefer our soup a little thinner as you can see in the photos above (it’s great for dipping a fresh baguette)

 

I want to start off by saying that I don’t have anything against the teachers or administration with the exception of my kids last school they attended. The teachers were great and were only listening to the administration and as our friend, neighbor and former teacher at the school quickly found out when you don’t agree with the admin, you get fired. But in general I believe that educators, the real ones in the classrooms each day are under paid, controlled and stripped of their creativity and ultimately that leads to a poor overall experience for the kids and certainly not why the teacher chose the profession in the first place.

So back to the teacher who lives down the street, he wasn’t trying to show the students anything inappropriate, he didn’t use foul language in the classroom, he wasn’t impatient with the kids… none of that. He simply wanted to instill in them a love of reading and choose some classic novels that we all read as children in school at that same age and wanted to do it as a class discussion. Yep, that’s it.

According to the administration at the school, there is no time for this sort of thing in the classroom. They need to be practicing cold, short reads for their upcoming FSA (state testing). Anything outside of the practice tests and quizzes is a complete waste of valuable time.

You know what else is apparently a waste of time these days in school? Recess, socializing with friends on the playground or at lunch time, arts, music, drama, library visits … the list is long and it seems to get longer each year.

I can’t entirely say these were all the reason we decided to homeschool the kids because the truth is that we tried to homeschool our oldest many years ago when we lived in Costa Rica but she had been in the school system just a little too long and wasn’t open to the idea. Of course now many years later as a second year university student (straight A’s too) she says that if she could go back in time she would definitely want to be homeschooled.

nasa-kids
The kids at a homeschool class held at Kennedy Space Center (NASA).
emma-music
Emma during her guitar lessons.

Another big factor in our decision was that we barely got to see the kids. We would hurry them out the door in the morning to make it to school on time for 7am and then not pick them up until 3pm and with after school activities and dinner it was bed time before we knew it. I felt like it was a big flash and it was blazing past us. We are fortunate in that we work from home so homeschooling was an option without much adjust of the schedules, it just required a little more organization and communication between John and I.

I thought being a homeschool family would raise some questions in the community or among people we would encounter during our day while other kids were in school but we are given so much positive feedback and compliments that it’s so encouraging to continue down this path. Other parents don’t ask the same questions they did years ago…”aren’t you worried about socialization?” …. we are now asked “What curriculum are you guys using?”

I have met more homeschool family just out and around town during normal errand running than I ever realized were in my neighborhood.

So if I had to sum up our “why’s” on our choice to homeschool the top of the list would probably be the ability to spend the most time possible with our children, to teach them the morals and values we believe will shape and mold them into productive, compassionate, confident human beings that will one day contribute and make a difference in their own unique ways.

We’re not perfect and we don’t expect this journey to be either, I know there will be good days and bad days but i’m ready to take it on and watch the kids blossom and grow each day.

Not long ago we decided that we would like to try eliminating meat products from our meals at least 2-3 times per week, to start. If everything went well we could gradually take away other days. Mainly because this new type of cooking with just vegetarian or plant based recipes is a little different and can throw me off my schedule and game plan, fast.

One of the books we ordered based on reviews was Thug Kitchen. I had read a few pages online and we were both laughing and agreed that if we were going to pull off this new type of eating why not add a little humor in the kitchen with it. If you don’t have a copy of this book, you need one.

I will have to admit that my texture did not turn out quite like the photo in the recipe book but the taste was still good and we enjoyed the dinner, so I consider it a win!

Going forward I would not cook the split peas as long so that they don’t take on that mushy texture you see in my picture.

RECIPE: {Credit to ThugKitchen.com for this one}

Yellow Split Pea and Green Onion Lettuce Wraps

1-1/2 cups yellow split peas
3 cups of water
Salt

Dipping Sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 to 2 tsp of your favorite hot sauce (we used Sriracha)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp of your favorite liquid sweetener (we used liquid stevia from Trader Joes)

Wraps:
2 tsp neutral-tasting oil (grape seed works)
1/2 cup chopped shallots or yellow onion
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 cup minced green onions
2/3 cups shredded carrot (use your box grater for this)
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1-1/2 tsp of soy sauce or tamari
1-1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 head of lettuce such as romaine or red leaf

Directions:

1. Rinse the peas well and then throw them in a medium pot with the water and a pinch of salt and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and let those little peas simmer until they are tender, 10 to 15 minutes (this is where I left them WAY too long so set your phone timer). Once the peas are done drain and rinse them.

2. While the peas are cooking, mix together all the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small bowl.

3. Grab a big wok or skillet and heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until they start to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and green onions and let it all cook together for another 30 seconds. Add the split peas and carrots, toss, then add the rice vinegar and soy sauce. Let that simmer together for another 30 seconds while you stir. Add the toasted sesame oil and then turn off the heat.

4. Serve the filling warm or at room temperature with a bunch of lettuce leaves to use as leafy tortillas. Keep the dipping sauce on the side for extra yumminess.

Enjoy!