Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thankful Post

Many people have been posting daily on Facebook about things they are thankful for.  I think it's a nice tradition, but I haven't.  In the past I've even done a Thankful series here on the blog, and I haven't done that either.  But I do have much to be thankful for.  So while I'm up at a ridiculous hour (and no, it has nothing to do with cooking a turkey) I thought I would jot down a few thoughts.

1. God's "works of providence... [H]is most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all [H]is creatures, and all their actions (Westminster Shorter Catechism question 11).  Recent current events have been rather discouraging, but we must never forget that God is working everything for good for His people.  And no, I don't believe He needs our country for this, but He does have a plan and we can rest in that even while we pray.

2. God's amazing blessings on a personal level as well.  Family.  Hope.  Provision for the future.  Today my husband's parents are coming to visit and we're all joining my family for Thanksgiving dinner.  In many families this would be a very tricky situation, and possibly one to be avoided at all cost, but I really am not worried. That's a blessing in itself.

3. Simple things, such as a warm bed, a clean (for now!) house, a break from teaching this week, a cat who hangs around when I'm up in the night even when the dog goes back to bed, good books to read, and the list goes on.

4. Thanksgiving cooking and baking: this year for me it includes Spinach Gratin, Cranberry Pear Pie, and wheat dinner rolls.

And of course, this list doesn't begin to scratch the surface.  It's so easy to moan and groan about being tired, or too busy, or stressed. We can easily just spend a day of overeating on Thanksgiving, forgetting what it was truly intended to be. Or we can count our blessings, one by one.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thoughts on Hospitality

I have mixed feelings about hospitality.  I enjoy having people over, or at least I enjoy the concept of it.  I will plan it, and look forward to it.  But then when I get there I have some hang-ups about the entire experience. The following is just a hodge-podge of thoughts I have on hospitality.  They aren't terribly well organized.  But this post has been in the works for about a month and I figure I'll go ahead and put it up. 

1. Cleaning-  I am not one of those people who keeps a spotless house.  I do clean when it's just us at home, but not as much as I should.  This means that when we plan on having people over, I need to do some major cleaning.  I'm usually fairly content to do what I can.  I don't usually sweat about the minor details (maybe because by that time I've finished literally sweating about the major ones).  I vacuum, clean bathrooms, clean the kitchen, straighten up.  I may or may not (probably not) get to dusting.

2. Time- We're all busy, of course.  It's so easy to think that we're too busy to add something extra, to cook and clean for new people, to cut into any relaxation time.  Sometimes I think this is valid and it's ok to allow yourself a season in which you really just can't add any pressure.  But more often it's probably an excuse.

3. Energy- My particular problem with hospitality lies here.  I have been rushing around the house cleaning, cooking, doing all the last minute things.  Everything is ready.  I can finally sit down.  But wait, the guests will be here soon.  And I have to try to participate in conversations and make them feel comfortable.  My personality is such that this doesn't come terribly easy to me. I can do it, but it takes effort and it helps when I am rested and relaxed.  That usually isn't the case after the scramble to get the house ready for company. 

4. Selfishness-
     a. It's my time.  I need to relax.  We've been so busy.  This can be valid, but I imagine that most of the time it isn't.  
     b. We've had so many people over but we hardly ever receive invitations ourselves.  Yes, people probably should reciprocate.  But is this why we do it?  No.  At least it shouldn't be.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I can think of one invitation we haven't reciprocated on ourselves.  We had our reasons, but whether they're valid or not is another story.  So maybe all those people have their own reasons, either valid or not, for not having us over in return.

5. Space- There are challenges we have to consider, and they vary depending on who we're having over.  We have pets to keep an eye on.  That can be a concern for people with allergies, and with little kids we have to keep an eye on the dog since he isn't necessarily used to interacting with them (he's good, but bears watching).  Depending on how many people we're having over, parking can be a concern.     

6.  Food- Cooking isn't an issue for me.  I usually don't plan something too crazy or experimental when we're having company.  I usually go for easy, sometimes using the crock-pot.  That's nice in particular because I can have the kitchen cleaned up before company arrives.  If I am scrambling to wash three pots before people arrive I'm even less likely to enjoy myself.  It's not going to be gourmet, but it will probably be pretty good and that's good enough for me. 

7. The List- For a while we kept a list of all the people we wanted to have over at some point.  I am pretty good about scheduling this sort of thing.  Whether I actually feel like it when the time comes is another story, but it usually ends up being a truly enjoyable time.  At least for us, hopefully it is for our guests as well! 

I know so many people who truly have the gift of hospitality.  They do it all well.  They make people feel comfortable.  I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  I like having company, but it still doesn't come easy to me. But I guess it doesn't really matter how I feel about it.  It's a challenge that I need to work on. 

Thoughts?



Friday, September 28, 2012

Freezer Space!

Thanks to my family, I now have a hand-me-down small upright freezer in the basement.  Two happy results of this development are:

I no longer almost break a toe every time I open the freezer,

and I can actually buy meat when it's on sale.

Since it's upright and not a chest freezer, the cold air spills out whenever you open it.  That means limiting how often I need to go down there.  It also means to keep it running efficiently I need to keep it fairly full.  I'm considering trying to buy a portion of a whole cow (in neat white packages, of course).  I was wanting beef so badly lately.  I hadn't seen any good enough sales for a while.  But I did find some last weekend. 

I am getting back into the groove of cooking again, I think.  Tonight I made crock pot Mongolian Beef with stir-fry vegetables added towards the end.  This is definitely one of our recent favorites.  It is so easy and has great flavor, though it is spicy.  We eat it with brown rice. 

I did some cooking yesterday for breakfasts.  I made about 2 dozen Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal muffins out of 4 of the approximately 6-8 frozen brown bananas I had accumulated in the freezer. 

I also made my crust-less version of this spinach quiche recipe, using a 2 pound bag of frozen spinach, about 18 eggs, about 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese, a little milk, about 1/4 cup Parmesan, garlic, onion, Italian seasonings, seasoned salt and pepper.  Using such a large bag of spinach was actually kind of an accident (I had in my head that it was 1 pound), but I compensated by throwing in more eggs.  But I was pleased to end up with 2 dozen muffin sized quiches and 6 larger ones (made in a giant muffin tin, about half full).  I love this recipe, especially with the additional veggies.  It's so easy, has a ton of flavor, and it really isn't bad for you at all.  I have been very bad about eating breakfast lately, and these really help me start the day with some good protein and vegetables. 

I froze most of the oatmeal muffins and quiche for future breakfasts.  They're staying in the upstairs freezer where they're easily accessible. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Psalm 130

From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?
To wash away the crimson stain,
Grace, grace alone availeth;
Our works, alas! Are all in vain;
In much the best life faileth;
No man can glory in Thy sight,
All must alike confess Thy might,
And live alone by mercy.
Therefore my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
On Him my soul shall rest, His word
Upholds my fainting spirit;
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort and my sweet support;
I wait for it with patience.
What though I wait the live-long night,
And ’til the dawn appeareth,
My heart still trusteth in His might;
It doubteth not nor feareth;
Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,
Ye of the Spirit born indeed;
And wait ’til God appeareth.
Though great our sins and sore our woes
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our upmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is He,
Who will at last His Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.

~tune updated by Indelible Grace

Friday, August 17, 2012

Experiment: Crock-pot Banana Bread

I usually buy the huge bunches of bananas at Wal-mart because they're so much cheaper than the grocery store.  We often can't eat through all 3 pounds before they go bad, so any that are getting too brown go into the freezer completely intact for future baking.  I had accumulated a few and wanted to clear them out, plus I needed some baking for the weekend, so I decided to make banana bread.  However it's still summer and I am still refusing to run the oven.  I thought of using the bread machine, but when I realized the instruction booklet didn't include a recipe I decided to leave that to figure out another day.  That left the crock-pot and I actually did have a recipe for that.

The following is my adaptation of the Banana Nut Bread recipe from Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes. I had 4 bananas, so I basically multiplied the recipe by 1 1/2.  I think plain banana bread is boring, so I always add extra spices.  The original recipe had no flavoring besides the bananas and dark corn syrup (I subbed molasses).  I also used part whole wheat flour and canola oil instead of butter.  The original recipe, including original amounts, is in parentheses.

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour)
1 1/8 c. whole wheat
3 tsp baking powder (2 tsp baking powder)
3/4 tsp salt  (1/2 tsp salt)
3/8 tsp baking soda (1/4 tsp baking soda)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
1/4 tsp ground cloves 
*Whisk together the dry ingredients.

1/2 c. canola oil  (1/3 c. butter or margarine)
1 c. sugar  (2/3 c. sugar)
3 eggs  (2 eggs)
3 T molasses  (2 T dark corn syrup)
about 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
4 bananas, mashed  (3 bananas)
*Combine the above.  Add dry ingredients.  Then add:
1/2 c. or so chopped walnuts (1/2 c. chopped walnuts)

*Grease and flour the crock-pot.  I used my little 4 quart upright one (which seems to run a little hot?).  Pour in batter and cook on HIGH.  The recipe says 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, however mine needed 2 hours as there was more batter and it was thicker.  When a knife comes out clean turn it off and let it cool before turning out onto a plate.  I ran a knife around the edge and it slid right out.

*All my amounts are approximate.

*Nifty Trick: Before pouring the molasses into your tablespoon spray it with cooking spray.  It'll slide right off into the bowl. How cool is that?

I did let my bread sit a while in the base of the crock-pot before taking the crock out, and I think that made it dry out just a little.  Plus it was slightly burnt on some edges.  Again, I think if I hadn't made such a big loaf that probably wouldn't have been an issue.  Still, it turned out very well and it didn't heat the house up much.  I'd say that means success.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Glass

                              
A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
                                  ~ Isaiah 40:6-8

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A new book find

Certain current food fads (all organic- though I realize there can be legitimate health reasons in some few cases- and locavorism) are among my biggest pet peeves. In fact, I have to be careful whom I talk to about them.  I get frustrated because people who should know better seem to think these are the best ideas ever thought of, and they don't think of the bigger picture problems that could result.  

Ever since I watched Food, Inc. I have been hoping someone would write more to refute it.  Even internet searches for articles with sound economics arguing against these dangerous ideas didn't yield much.  If I could have I would have written more myself, but all I could manage were a couple blog posts.

But recently I came across The Locavore's Dilemma.  I haven't read it yet (I placed a library hold immediately), but based on this review I'm hopeful it includes some good, sound economics on why current fads in food thought are unsound and even dangerous, and the real path to success in truly free markets.

Recipes to make soon


We had an unsatisfactory new meal for supper last night, plus brown rice.  When I eat rice I'm hungry again within an hour.  So I threw together these No-Bake Energy Bites.  They're very good, but they don't taste like no-bake cookies as descriptions on Pinterest said.  They would need cocoa powder for that.  I wish I had looked back at a list I'd made before the trip of recipes I wanted to try soon, because if I had I would have found Chocolate Protein Truffles.  This might have been even better.  Oh well, next time.  Everybody calls this type of recipe healthy.  I'm not really sure it's that.  There's still a lot of fat (even if it is peanut butter) and some sugar (I'm unconvinced that honey is any healthier than regular sugar).  But still, they're good and they could be a lot worse for you.

I found a bag of barley on the Safeway clearance shelf for cheap and wanted to make a salad.  A quick search found Corn-Avocado Salad with Black Beans and Barley, which was exactly what I wanted.  With a few substitutions I can make it right now (canned corn, canned black beans, no avocado, no tomatoes, lime and lemon juice instead of orange).  I love this kind of salad and it's perfect to keep in the fridge for quick lunches all week.      

*EDIT: This is delicious. I really like salad made with a vinaigrette.  All my pasta salads are made like this (who wants mayo in a pasta salad?  ...plus the egg-allergy niece can eat it), as is the black bean and corn salad I like to make.  I like how the barley holds up in the salad too.  I've made quinoa salad and it all kind of mushes together. It might need a little more seasoning, depending on taste. I will caution you, however.  When you go for the cayenne to add just a sprinkle to jazz it up a little, make sure the sprinkle top is ON the cayenne.  Otherwise you'll end up digging as much extra out as you can, then eating very spicy salad all week. Ahem.* 

I also ran across this recipe for Blueberry Oat Pancakes with Maple Yogurt.  I want to make this one right now too.  Maybe tomorrow I'll make a double batch for breakfasts this week. 

*EDIT: Sickness intervened and I haven't made any breakfasts for the week.  Yogurt and the Energy Bites will have to do for now.  So this one is still on my list of recipes to make.*

I had also been thinking of making Protein Filled Pancakes (maybe in the waffle iron?) before our trip.  Sometime soon I'll try that one too.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hot Summer Suppers

It's hot (no kidding, right?).  That means there's no way I'm running the oven.  I also only want to cook on the stove-top when it's absolutely necessary.

I keep looking for crock-pot recipes that are more summer appropriate.  Most summer recipes start with a big cut of meat and put it on sandwiches or something like that.  That's OK sometimes, but I like more one-dish meals and if I don't have that big cut of meat in my freezer it doesn't help me much.

This is what I came up with for this week.  How about you?  Please comment, as I can always use more suggestions. 


Buffalo Chicken Salad
- Buffalo Chicken= boneless skinless chicken breasts+ some of Buffalo sauce that's been hanging around the fridge for a while+ 3 or so hours on high in the crock-pot = very happy husband
- Romaine, tomatoes, red onion, carrots, red pepper, avocado (or whatever else is on hand)
- More Buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing
(I even forgot the shredded cheddar cheese and it was delicious!)

Hot dogs with sauerkraut, veggies on the side

Bean burritos
- Canned refried beans (nonfat)
- Tortillas
- Shredded cheddar 
- Toppings: Salsa, tomatoes, avocado, onion, etc. 
Put desired amount of beans on tortilla and sprinkle with cheese.  Fold together.  Cook on low to medium in a non-stick skillet until beans are hot, cheese is melted and tortilla is lightly browned.  This just takes a couple minutes.  This feels like cheating, but it's so good and so fast (faster than spaghetti).  It only uses one skillet.  This is something we made as kids, and it was even the requested meal at a couple of birthday parties that I can remember.  It's fairly healthy (yes, I know there's sodium in the beans...homemade refried beans are on my to-do list... maybe once I get some more freezer space) and it tastes good.  You're only leaning over the stove for a few minutes too!

Greek salad
- Romaine, tomatoes, carrots, red onion, red pepper, kalamata olives, feta cheese
- homemade Greek dressing: the recipe from the cookbook is about 1/4 red wine vinegar or lemon juice to 3/4 olive oil (I think next time I'll reduce the olive oil for a little more acidity), dried oregano and minced garlic

I don't think I'm making one this week, but another favorite cold meal is Pasta Salad:
- Cooked pasta (rotini, tri-colored, whatever is in the pantry)
- Mini or chopped pepperoni
- Diced and shredded vegetables: green/red peppers, shredded carrots, finely diced (or dried) onion, green olives, grape tomatoes (halved?), and whatever else sounds good
- Shredded cheese
- Oil and (red wine) vinegar dressing with Italian seasoning, pepper, salt, garlic powder
Let it sit in the fridge for at least a few hours to let the flavors meld, then eat for lunches and dinners.

The above, plus the leftover Buffalo chicken and beans for a couple lunches and maybe another meal, should about do the trick for the week.   



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Useless and not so useless information

I am continually being fooled by frozen broccoli.  I buy chopped- too small and more stems.  I buy spears- way too big.  What's correct?  Is it florets?

I refuse to pass bicyclists on or just before hills.  I don't care if you honk at me.  And I will say out loud (not yelling, mind you, just a normal voice) what an idiot you are when you honk (though I do not use poor language to do this).  Sorry folks, the opinion of random motorists is not worth a head-on collision.  Take a chill pill and enjoy the scenery for a minute.     

I think it's hilarious and a little awful when one of my friends answers a Facebook poll about "Yes, I want to remain on your friends list."  Um, did you look at who wrote that poll question?  Are you friends with them?  What about the 13, 456 other people who also answered the poll question?  Do you think they all know the original author?  Why are these polls still floating around?

I recently finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  I picked it up before we went on vacation based on a recommendation on Ungrind.  It is set shortly after World War II in Europe.  It is a light novel, but it touches on heavier subjects.  The story is told in the form of letters, which could bother some readers.  It didn't take me long to get into the story so that this didn't matter, and I was reading as I would read any other novel.  I enjoyed the characters and the way the authors formed them through what could be a difficult medium (letters).  The book is certainly a product of the 21st century in a few cultural aspects, but I do feel I can recommend it.  A discerning reader can enjoy it for what it is: an enjoyable, historical fiction (but not too heavy) novel.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Western Trip, part I: All Creatures Great and Small

We just returned from a trip out West a couple weeks ago.  We were away for 15 days.  We visited 5 national parks.  We took 4200 pictures.  I have been working on a post about the trip practically since we got back.  It is proving harder to write and longer than I expected.  I also wanted to include pictures, which means that we need to sort them out and match them up with the appropriate parts of the trip.   We're still working on that.  Since the post was getting so long I decided to break it up.  Here is part I.

My husband likes lists.  Thus we had several of them going during the trip.  One of them included our running tally of the animals we had seen while hiking, driving, walking throughout the trip. 

These included:

Damselflies

Lizards

Dragonflies

Ravens
Angus cattle (ok, that's not so different from home)

Marmots



A moose cow
Chipmunk or ground squirrel...not sure which

Bison (in the front yard of the Yellowstone Lake Inn, no less)

Bighorn sheep ewes and lambs

Elk

Black bear (this isn't the best picture, but we were driving by literally about 2 feet away and I had to be quick)

Pronghorn antelope

More elk (this was a herd of mamas and babies just hanging out in the field near the Roosevelt Arch as we drove out of Yellowstone...next to the pronghorns)

Mountain goats (in the road as we drove the Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park)

Bighorn sheep

More goats (at Logan Pass in Glacier N.P.)
There were others as well: magpies, various water birds, ground squirrels, chipmunks, wood ducks (mama and babies) and I'm probably missing a few.  The variety of Creation is astounding, as we were reminded every time we turned around.  More pictures to follow.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Italics

"Like the exclamation mark, however, italics should be used sparingly for the purpose of emphasis - partly because they are a confession of stylistic failure, and partly because readers glancing at a page of type might unconsciously clock the italicised [British spelling] bit before starting their proper work of beginning in the top left-hand corner."
~Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss


I have been greatly enjoying this book.  Hopefully it will help me become a better writer.  Aside from that, it's just plain hilarious.  However, if I ensured I followed every single punctuation rule 100% in all my informal (blog, Facebook, informal e-mails) it would probably paralyze me.  I think I'll focus on getting it right in my more formal e-mails and writing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

One of those days

Have you ever had one of those days or weeks?  I'm sure you have.  You know...

You didn't time the errands quite right, so you didn't get them all done. You lost your list along the way, which means you forgot things.  You forgot to bring the item to be returned and the dimensions for the air filter that really should have been replaced when you turned on the air conditioning for the first time this year.  Thus an extra trip (or two, in this case) is required.

A drinking glass goes off the counter-top at the ends of your fingertips.  These things really do happen in slow motion sometimes, oddly enough.  Glass everywhere, even down the stairs on the carpet, requires sweeping and vacuuming while yelling at the pets to get out of the way and leave the room.  They think there's something wrong/interesting going on and want to come see.

There are vegetable side leftovers in the fridge that you forgot to make sure were finished and now they might be past finishing.  It was good too.  

You realize you forgot a bag at Wal-mart the week before.  But for once you threw away the receipt instead of keeping it for a few days.  Hopefully it was just a bag of sugar and not the more expensive item that you thought about buying and think you didn't, but you aren't quite positive. 

Then there's that container of cottage cheese that you forgot about in the fridge, but it really hasn't been that long.  You open it, peel back the plastic, and there's some nice blue mold on top.  Yes, the "best by" date was yesterday, but should it go that quickly?  Also it couldn't have been that long since it was purchased, at least not long enough for mold under the seal.  The trouble is that you threw away the receipt.  So much for an easy breakfast this morning.  

Lots of little annoyances.  Easy to gripe and grumble about at the time (especially when there's a heat wave and you don't have air conditioning in the car while running errands).  But at the same time it takes effort to remember them.  Because there are lots of good things to drown out the grumbling

Big things like food, shelter, air conditioning in the house, money and gas to run necessary errands.  Time with friends, time and books to read.
Little things like...
Calculating the cost per serving on a (healthy) meal just for fun, and not because it's absolutely positively necessary that it came in below a dollar (though it did).
A more relaxing weekend before things gear up again.
A small-ish town to walk through in the morning before it gets too hot.
Lunch out with my husband on that last (hopefully!) errand and the "Uptown" salad.  
Blueberries for a great price and a bowl of fruit for breakfast, a camera to take silly pictures of bowls of fruit (and of good times with friends), a cup of coffee in the morning, supper on the deck.

And there are so many more.  As today's sermon served to remind: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).  I don't think He was talking about forgetting things at the store.  Here's to remembering the blessings and not the little gripes that are just an inevitable part of life in this world, after all, and don't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New tabs

I have added two tabs across the top of the blog.  I was thinking about needing to keep a better record of what I cook regularly, because it often seems that one of the other of us says something like "Remember how we used to have such and such for supper?  We haven't had that in a while."

It was interesting for me to write and to think about how I plan and what I could be doing differently.  I would love to hear any comments about that and about how you do things at your house.  Both posts will probably change frequently as I remember different things and come across new favorites.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The whirlwind

The last few weeks and months have been so busy with schedules, family things, traveling, teaching, working... It is finally sinking in that I can stop and catch my breath, even if it is just for a few days. There's more on the near horizon (a.k.a. this coming weekend), and the calendar is far from empty, but for right now I can sit a bit.

Teaching is over for the year. For the last day of class I "made" brownies (from a box mix) with cream cheese frosting (from a can). I was trying to make them slightly relevant, hence the red, white and blue pretzel m&ms. We had a "guest speaker" and I think the kids enjoyed it. It's been a good year. I do need to jump into planning lessons for next year before the time gets away from me, but I think first I should take a break. It's probably best for me and for future lessons if I step away for a little bit (especially since the thought of beginning again is pretty intimidating at the moment).







Grading- In the words of Uncle Ben (I think?) from Spider Man 1: "With great power comes great responsibility" (and of course there's James 3:1). I have certainly been conscious of this as I have been grading research papers and final exams. It's finally done. Final grades mailed last week. Whew.






Muffins- Sometimes you just need to do a little baking. My take-off on Leah's white chocolate almond muffins are pretty much my favorite muffin. I use regular whole wheat flour, 1/3 cup each brown and white sugar, and regular (not Greek) plain nonfat yogurt. I add chopped almonds, semisweet chocolate chips instead of white, and dried cranberries. Nuts, dark chocolate and dried cranberries might be my favorite combination. (Now that I think about it, I could use chopped fresh cranberries too...the tartness might be a good contrast. Plus, it could mean less sugar?)

I was very pleased with my canned stewed apples, and I think if I do any canning the year is will be more of that. The canned peaches didn't turn out as well as I wanted. They just don't have as much flavor as the ones I froze. This summer I'll only buy an amount I can fit in my freezer. I do like the peaches pureed into a smoothie/thick juice drink with watermelon. I have a feeling I'll be doing this a lot this summer. Another of my canned goods we haven't really gotten into much is the apple butter. It isn't something we use very often in general. We don't eat much toast/bread, and when we do I'm the only one who puts that kind of thing on it, and then only rarely. I didn't make much, but I think I'll use what I have to substitute for applesauce in baking. I need to make some baked oatmeal for the week. Maybe tonight when things have cooled off a little (wishful thinking, perhaps). Or I'll bake it in the crockpot.

I spied a visitor last week when I was sitting grading papers on the back deck:


And that's just a bit of recent life.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day gift

I'm really ridiculously proud of myself about this. I haven't done anything "crafty" for a while.  I used to do projects all the time, but life is so busy.  Who has time for things like that?  Then of course there's that tendency to start a project and not finish it.  And sometimes perfectionism rears its ugly head and gets in the way. 

I found this tea wreath on Pinterest a while ago.  I pinned it right away to my "Projects" board (a.k.a. "really cool ideas that I would love to do but don't really have the time for").  I love tea and thought it was a great idea.  I knew it was going to be one of the first ones to try.  I even bought the clothes pins a few weeks back.

I decided the the wreath would make a great Mother's Day gift.  I found a huge pad of scrapbooking paper at T.J. Maxx for $3 and bought some new tea (you can never have too much tea).  I had been saving a cardboard box to make the wreath back.  The cat has been using it to hide and play in all week.  He was upset when I cut the seams on the box to start the wreath.  He was still trying to jump "in" the flattened box. 

The entire project took a little longer than I thought it would, with trying to make my hot glue gun behave and the paper cutting.  It still only took about one and a half hours, I think.  It wasn't too difficult (the hardest part was cutting the center of the circle and positioning the clothes pins at the right angles...and no, neither is perfect).  I was really pleased with how it turned out, and I love how it looks.  My mom likes it too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday

Coming off a crazy weekend with practically no down time.  Mostly good, but still.  One of these days (maybe) life will (not) slow down. 

I just ate a salad of spinach, romaine, mango, almonds, hard boiled egg and cheddar with balsamic vinaigrette.  Weird yes, but it actually kind of worked. 

I stopped at the grocery store for just a couple things and came home only to realize all the things we didn't have. I really needed to do major shopping trip.  Oh well, not happening for a few days.

Cleaning- another thing that's not happening for a few days. 

My sister had a baby.  I'm bringing a meal over later.  I'm cheating and using Philadelphia Cooking Creme.  Sometimes it's OK to cheat.  I also made no-bakes (that was "Preacher cookies" to us growing up).

Top priority this week is finishing preparing a final exam and other class materials.  Just 2 more classes left of the school year!  I am so ready to be done and have a break, but I also can't believe it's almost done. 

Coffee this afternoon, to hopefully get over being short on sleep and meet a self-imposed deadline for today.  I may or may not put mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream on top.  Shh, don't tell on me. 

How's Monday in your neck of the woods? (Who am I kidding?  Is anyone actually reading?)

And to leave you with something actually worth reading, here are 15 Tips on Blogging from John Newton.
I bet you didn't know John Newton was a blogger! 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Little Mysteries


Just when my tears were falling deep enough to drown
Down in the valley of the shadow of a doubt
When I gave up that’s when He came to lift me out 

and set me high.

When I saw it as a gift of matchless worth
I started thinking it was something I deserved
He pulled the rug from underneath without a word

and left me dry.

Piece together these little mysteries
It isn’t hard to see the writing on the wall
Triumph and tragedy, only God can be
Both the builder and the wrecking ball. 


He gave them freedom and a fertile promise land
They took for granted their deliverance at hand
Thirty-nine years later they’re still walking through that sand
Wondering why.


And He builds it up, and He knocks it down
Just to build it up even stronger. 



~Jill Phillips, "Wrecking Ball"

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cooking this week (part of it, that is)

I had quite a break from cooking for various reasons over the past week.  I'm now sort of ready to jump back into menu planning again.  I have been browsing Pinterest for recipes as well (whether that's actually a constructive use of time of not, I'm not so sure).

Sunday-
Slow Cooker Chicken Caesar Sandwiches (or wraps, in our case) with fresh spinach.
Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Squares - for breakfasts, and because I had 2 rather nasty looking bananas that I hated to throw away.
(Two Pinterest recipes tried in one day.)

Monday-
Black Bean Soup
(Using chicken broth left from cooking the chicken for the chicken Caesar sandwiches and some kale "broth" I have in the freezer... It's not that I'm a tightwad, honest.  It's just that I hate to throw away good nutrients.)

Tuesday-
Chicken and rice?...maybe with Italian tomatoes and seasonings?

Wednesday-
Leftover black bean soup

Thursday-
Warm Lentil Salad


[I am not a fan of the "new" blogger...I've already switched back to the old once, and I don't think I can do it again.  Oh well, I'll get used to it.]


Monday, April 16, 2012

I've been tagged....

...by Leah for one of these things... And hey, why not?

The Rules:
1. The first rule is to post these rules.
2. Post a photo of yourself and 11 things about yourself/your life .
3. Answer the questions set for you in the original post.
4. Create 11 new questions and tag people to answer them.
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them that you’ve tagged them.

So here goes:
Post a photo of yourself and 11 things about yourself/your life.

1. I thought Mollie's question 11 about which way the toilet paper roll should be installed was funny. I know this is one of those things people feel strongly about, but I don't even pay attention to which way I'm putting the roll in. I may regularly insert it one way or the other, but I have no idea. What does this say about me? Do I want to know?
2. I like to cook (and bake).
3. I am an introvert.
4. I grew up raising sheep (that's the "I can't think of anything else interesting about me" fact that I used growing up for things like this).
5. I like to write, especially research papers.
6. I can't stand the movie Sleepless in Seattle (and no offense, but I don't understand why it's such a favorite:)
7. One of my favorite hymns is How Firm a Foundation.
8. Just because I'm not saying much in a group conversation doesn't mean I'm not enjoying myself. I like observing and listening.
9. I enjoy hosting people and hospitality (though that doesn't mean I don't stress about it beforehand!).
10. I do not really like bananas. I will eat them if they're handy and that's all the fruit I have, but I don't enjoy them at all. I don't like banana flavoring and I don't like bananas in baked goods (though again, I will eat it if necessary). Have you noticed that everyone seems to like bananas? Banana smoothies, banana bread, adding bananas to random baked goods, banana "ice cream" (sorry, but it's NOT the same thing)... "Healthy" baking recipes almost always include bananas. Ok, rant over. I guess I'm missing out on a lot.
11. I love history (and economics).

Answer the questions set for you in the original post.
Leah's questions:
1. What is your favorite pair of shoes? My sneakers, for sure.
2. What kind of car do you drive? A 1995 Volvo- old cars are great!
3. How would you describe your style? Casual? I'm not really sure.
4. What is your favorite color combination? Brown and teal, or khaki and teal.
5. What would you have for dinner tonight if you could have anything? A Chipotle steak burrito bowl hit the spot tonight.
6. Walk or run for exercise? Walk (or elliptical trainer for a more serious work-out)
7. Most treasured possession? My engagement ring
8. Favorite vacation memory? So many...maybe hiking and the views at Arcadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME.
9. If you were having a daughter right now, what would you name her? I don't know. Pass?
10. Favorite way to spend an evening? Reading or taking a walk.
11. Favorite song? I always have trouble picking a favorite anything. I have groups of favorites. I don't even have a favorite singer or genre. It depends on the mood I'm in. Dancing in the Minefields by Andrew Peterson, Aslan by Kendall Payne, Lady Antebellum, Sara Bareilles, Michael Buble and the list goes on...

Create 11 new questions and tag people to answer them.

1. Favorite vegetable?
2. White, milk or dark chocolate?
3. Do you have a favorite author (or book)?
4. What would be your ideal vacation?
5. What was the last movie you saw in theaters?
6. What is your favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
7. Name one thing you miss about childhood.
8. Name one character in a favorite movie or book with whom you particularly identify.
9. Do you use lists (to-do, menu planning, etc.)?
10. Creamy or chunky peanut butter?
11. How many spaces do you put after a period when typing?

You're tagged: Amy, Mandy, and Gretchen, but I completely understand if you choose not to do this and/or don't have time!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Kale

A 2 pound bag of chopped, pre-washed kale jumped into my hands during a quick stop at the grocery store. It just looked so good! And it was only $3.29. It's use-by date was April 10, so my challenge was to use it up by then without getting tired of it. But who could get tired of dark, leafy greens?

I did pretty well. It is now April 13, and I used the last of it for supper (it was fine despite being past the date).

Here's what I did with it:

1. For Warm Lentil Salad with kale, I multiplied the dressing recipe by 1.5. It didn't have quite the kick that the original I made a couple weeks ago did, but I also ran out of red wine vinegar and had to sub with white vinegar, so that could easily account for it. I added the kale (several large handfuls) in with the lentils and dressing, and cooked it until wilted. Very yummy.

2. Scrambled eggs with kale- several times

3. Kale sauteed with garlic in a little olive oil as a side for pasta with chicken, feta, olives and tomatoes.

4. Mediterranean Kale- lemony but good.

5. Pasta with Philadelphia Cooking Creme (I had a coupon) pesto flavored, a big bunch of chopped asparagus, diced leftover ham, salt/pepper and thinned out with a little pasta water- very good. It reminds me of the few times I've eaten at Noodles and Co. (I wish there was one local, but it's probably just as well there isn't). I probably won't be buying the cooking creme much, if at all, in future, but it was really good.

I'm not going to rush out and buy another bag now, but I will certainly be buying it again at some point. It's fun experimenting with new recipes and newish ingredients.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Life, randomness, and meals this week

I have a new nephew! How cool is that?!

Today could be considered a typical Monday. Here's hoping Tuesday is much better.

It's amazing how much a particular song or type of music can bring back memories of particular times. When I hear songs from Rascal Flatt's first album, I am still brought back to summer mornings spent compiling the 4-H club's historian's book (aka scrapbook) for the fair (and that was quite a few years ago). At the moment I'm listening to Sister Hazel's music, and it's bringing me back to studying in college. Of course, the fact that I'm listening as I'm working on lesson plans relating to Constitutional concerns surrounding the War Between the States is helping with those memories.

Meal planning:
Ravioli (frozen) and pasta sauce-with kale either on the side or in the pasta: I can't decide if pasta sauce on kale would be weird or yummy. Thoughts?

Ham and cabbage (aka Easter leftovers) probably with kale, possibly with leftover bread or sweet potatoes, or something.

Ham, asparagus and pasta: I had a coupon for some of this stuff so I bought it on a whim. I think this will be a good way to try it out.

Lunches- leftovers
Breakfasts- hard boiled eggs

P.S. I didn't find a sale good enough (plus the potatoes didn't look very good) to restock my sweet potato supply. I have one sweet potato left in my Thanksgiving stash in a paper bag in the pantry.

P.P.S. In case you haven't noticed a trend, I've been cooking a lot of kale. There is a post in the works about that, which I may or may not end up posting.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Country Grits and Sausage Casserole

I made this for a gathering of a few friends on Saturday, and some requested that I share the recipe. Thanks to my wonderful mother-in-law for sharing it with me!

2 c. water
1/2 c. quick grits, uncooked
3 1/2 c. shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 pound sausage, cooked, crumbled and drained

Bring water to a boil and stir in grits. Return to boil, reduce heat to low, and cook 4 minutes stirring occasionally. Add cheese and stir until melted (of course it looks and tastes delicious at this stage...I love cheese grits).

Combine eggs, milk, thyme, and garlic powder and stir well. Gradually stir in 1/4 c. hot grits mixture, stirring constantly, to temper the eggs. Add to remaining grits mixture, still stirring. Stir in sausage.

Pour into lightly greased 11 by 7 baking dish. Cover and refrigerate if needed. To serve immediately, bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until set. Garnish with tomato wedges and parsley sprigs, if desired. Makes 6-8 servings.

I reduced both the cheese and the sausage a little, because of the amounts I had, and I didn't think the final product was missing anything. I also used 2% milk cheese and skim milk. This is a great, hearty breakfast (or other meal?) casserole.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Friday!

1. I've been cleaning and the house (part of it, that is) feels nice and clean. This is traumatizing to the dog. The vacuum cleaner is scary. So is the mop.

2. I've also been cooking- I made my mother-in-law's grits and sausage breakfast casserole, and the house smells amazing. Cheese grits are the best. The dog was feeling insecure and thus getting underfoot the entire time I was cooking.

3. As if he wasn't already having a bad day, we also encountered a dog off leash on our walk (a dog on leash too, but that's Biscuit's problem, not the other dog's). This is scary, especially when said dog follows us. I know he's completely harmless, but Biscuit apparently doesn't and feels insecure because he's on a leash and can't defend himself. I can't really blame him, considering he's been "attacked" by 2 different dogs (off leash) in the neighborhood who had very questionable intentions. Word to the wise- a townhouse neighborhood is not the place to let your dog run off leash.

4. I just went to the grocery store to forget...I mean pick up...a couple of things. I'm have a few ladies over for brunch tomorrow. It should be a nice time.

5. Tax season is so close to being done I can almost taste it. Unfortunately, it always seems as if the closer it gets to the end the slower it goes.

6. My students are on spring break this week, which means a bit of a break for me as well. It feels good.

7. Two of my students also placed in an essay contest for John Stossel's educational program, Stossel in the Classroom. In case I haven't mentioned this before, my students are all wonderful.

8. This song is awesome. The down side is I'm never going to be able to listen to the original version with a straight face again. But I can live with that.


9. Our grass was finally mowed! It's covered by our homeowners' association dues and the back yard was beginning to look like a jungle...

10. My oldest niece turned 4 this week. I need to post this and go wrap a present!

So how is your Friday going?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Meal Plan - week of 3/26

- Warm lentil salad with fried eggs
Edit: This was fantastic. We had scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheese with it instead, but it would make a great one dish meal.
- leftover chipotle black bean and pork soup (this is the first time I've used chipotle peppers in adobo, and they are spicier than I expected)
- Popcorn shrimp from a box with "Outback blooming onion" dipping sauce, sauteed spinach and mushrooms
Edit: this hasn't happened yet.
- Ladies' brunch: Sausage and Grits Casserole + quick bread (below) + "potluck"

Baking: Caramelized Onion & Spinach Olive Oil Quick Break- A savory quick bread that includes spinach, onions and feta? I knew as soon as I saw this I was going to be making it soon.
Edit: I thought the olive oil flavor was a little strong at first, but it mellowed over a couple days in the fridge and I ended up really liking it.

Given that it's still tax season and I'm on my own a couple of nights (meaning scrounging/leftovers/random salads) this should probably do the trick. Best case scenario, later in the week I will come up with some ideas for the following week, instead of waiting until Monday (or never, as the case may be). However that week is also Easter break, so that gives me a bit of a break as well!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Brief encounters with Mormons

Several years ago-
Me: "Actually, I'm a Christian"
Them: "Oh, that's ok!"

Today-
Me: "I'm a Christian"
Them: "Oh, so are we! I think you'll really like this website."


Hmmmm.

And yes, I used the "I'm in the middle of something" excuse. Catching up on Pinterest counts, right?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Comfort

"You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
~Is. 26:3

"He's not asking me to change in my joy for martyrdom
He's asking to take my place
To stand in the gap that I have formed
With His real amazing grace."
~Sara Groves, Awakening

Friday, March 16, 2012

October Baby

N and I were blessed to see a pre-screening of a new movie coming out on March 23, October Baby. We were part of a group of bloggers chosen specially for this honor. Just kidding. I won the tickets through 95.1 Shine FM. The DJs were handing out tissues as we entered the theater, and they were right. It isn't all tears. There are many funny and beautiful moments. It was a wonderful, moving, emotional story of forgiveness and love, of the miracle of life, and adoption. I think I will try to go again when it opens next weekend.



And a hint for when you go see it (opening weekend!): be sure to stay for at least the beginning of the credits.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The little things lately

1. Fresh asparagus with its purple rubber bands
2. The cat chasing his tail and making me laugh.
3. Doggy yawns
4. Pandora internet radio
5. Good, hot, soup
6. A pure, deep, blue sky on a crisp morning
7. Take-out after class, just because
8. Purple and gold crocuses-sighted while walking the dog
9. Pinterest seems to be bringing my crafty side out of hibernation. Fun, yes. But a good thing? Not sure.
10. The Piano Guys
11. Monster cookies

Tortellini Soup

I mentioned this soup in my meal planning post for this week, and a commenter asked about it. I will include both the original recipe and how I changed it.

Betty Crocker's Money Saving Meals
Tortellini Soup
2 T butter
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
6 cups of water
2 extra large vegetable bouillon cubes
2 1/2 cups dried cheese-filled tortellini (10 oz)
1 T fresh chopped parsley
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp pepper
In a Dutch oven, saute the celery, carrot, onion and garlic in the butter, until crisp tender.
Stir in water and bouillon. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low and stir in tortellini. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until tortellini are tender.
Stir in parsley, nutmeg and pepper. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
(5 servings, 280 calories each)

What I did:
I realized I didn't have carrots, so I sauteed a bunch of celery (4-5 stalks), onion, garlic (more than it says, of course) in olive oil non-stick spray. I added the water and chicken bouillon (Herb Ox) flavoring. Since I didn't have carrots I also added a can of diced tomatoes and its liquid. Once it was boiling, I added an 8.8 oz package of Aldi's cheese filled tortelloni (is that the same thing as tortellini?) with Porcini mushroom filling. I am not very familiar with using nutmeg in a savory dish, and I wasn't sure how it would work since I added the tomatoes. Instead I used dried parsley and dried Italian seasoning, which I added when I was simmering the broth.
(Yield about 6 servings, about 188 calories each- leftovers were excellent)

This was very good and I will probably making it again. I would like to add cabbage another time and use carrots as well. I'll have to decide whether I want to stick with the recipe's seasonings or use the Italian flavors. The soup was filling, but since there were fewer tortellini per serving than the original recipe called for, it comes in at fewer calories per serving (about 185). The nutrition facts on the package of tortelloni listed 2 servings at 400 calories each. Putting it in soup, where we could certainly taste and enjoy it with the other flavors, cut down on the calories per serving (and the cost per serving) significantly.

Soup season is coming to a close (though that doesn't really stop me from making it on days that aren't too hot) and I have been enjoying making some new recipes and some favorites. Soups make it easy to cut the calories and still be filled up with vegetable and beans and other good things. There's something good, comforting and filling about a bowl of soup.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meals this week

In more or less random order:
1. Taco soup
2. Mini spinach quiche (quiches? what is the plural of quiche?)- cooked and ready to pull out of the fridge and reheat for a quick breakfast.
3. Tortellini soup with spinach
4. Store-bought frozen fried shrimp with Blooming Onion dipping sauce(?), sweet potatoes in some form or another, and asparagus.
5. Leftovers from some or all of the above to fill out lunches and dinners.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Microwave Potato Chips

I heard this mentioned on the radio the other week, and I finally got the chance to try it out today.

Wash and slice an unpeeled potato or two. They need to be sliced very thinly, so I think a mandoline may be the best way to go. That's what I used (at the middle thickness setting). It would be interesting to hear how well it would work with a thicker slice. Toss the potatoes with a couple teaspoons olive oil and a little salt. Spray a microwavable plate with cooking spray and arrange the slices in one layer. Microwave for about 2-3 minutes, or until some of the slices start to turn brown. Turn them all over and microwave for another 2-4 minutes, until they're starting to crisp up and brown a little. Check often and watch to be sure they don't burn. I burned a few, and they didn't look burnt just well browned. Transfer to another plate to cool. They will cool quickly and crisp up even more. Repeat until all the potatoes are done. Store in an airtight container (if you don't eat them all right away).

These aren't quite the same as store-bought potato chips, but they're also not nearly as bad for you. They have a nice crisp crunch to them, and yes, it's hard to stop eating them like it is with regular potato chips. I like them better than the store-bought "baked" potato chips. The process is a little time-consuming, but it was a fun experiment to try. I might do it again sometime if I want something crispy/crunchy and salty. I want to try it with sweet potatoes, too.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Simple Gifts



These guys are great!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Last Frontier

by Andrew Peterson

Why don't the mountains make me cry no more?
They don't sing the way they did before
They're just piles of stone
As dead as bones
Like corpses on a field of war
And they just don't make me cry no more

And the highway's like an old sad song
People moving through their lives alone
On the run from grace
From place to place
Like fugitives without a home
And the highway's like an old sad song

And my heart is black as coal
It's been mined and there ain't no gold
It's so dark in there
But I don't care
I will lay down in the this empty hole
Where my heart is black as coal

And oh, there is nowhere left to go from here
I have fallen past the last frontier
But at the bottom of this well I hear you breathing

Love below me
Love around me
Love above me
Love has found me
Love has found me here

So lay me down
Oh, lay me down in a field of golden
Lay me down
Oh, lay me down in a field of golden
Lay me down
Oh, lay me down in a field of gold and green

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lists

I like lists. I make to-do lists often, sometimes too often. They tend to be scattered around the house, depending on the topic. I might have one list for class planning (which could be floating around the living room or kitchen, or it could be in my notebook where it really belongs), one list for meal planning (which probably would be on the fridge on a magnetic notepad), and one list for cleaning and errands (which might be on the fridge but might not). Sometimes these help me, sometimes they don't. Sometimes there are too many of them and I lose track of them. Sometimes it seems that instead of simplifying my life I'm trying to confuse myself as much as possible.

Rabbit trail: Does anyone else write things down on a to-do list after the fact, just so you can check them off? I do. I love the feeling of accomplishment, especially on days when it seems like I didn't do very much.

I happened to be in Michael's craft store on an unrelated errand (the quest for a non-Christmas wreath for the front door, that isn't too expensive and won't be destroyed by moisture leaking in through the storm door...it continues) the other week and looked through the "dollar" bins. I found these fantastic magnetic pads.


They have the days of the week listed on top of very long columns. They have several magnets on the back, instead of just one. They are about the size of a half sheet of paper and fit perfectly on the side of my fridge right where I can see them. They were $1.50 each and are very thick for this type of pad.

I've been using the pad for meal-planning and to-do lists, so far. The grocery/errand lists are still elsewhere, since I tear those off when I leave the house to run errands. But this has helped me with my meal-planning, at the very least. There is one place with all the days listed. It looks fairly neat. I don't have to list the days of the week myself. They are right there in front of me, so I am more likely to fill them out ahead of time instead of flying by the seat of my pants. This doesn't mean I'm not changing the plan often, and some days you can see arrows and circles showing that I moved a meal, but it helps me to have some idea of what I'm cooking ahead of time. One note on the meal-planning: I cook for leftovers often, so I like to write the leftovers' "deadline" ("eat by this date or suffer the consequences", a.k.a. to avoid waste and food poisoning) next to a meal, because I often have a hard time remembering a few days later what day I actually cooked something (usually if it wasn't planned).

So that's my nifty new trick. We'll see if it helps me stay on track. So far I'm doing fairly well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Crockpot Lemon Garlic Chicken

2 lb boneless skinless chicken
1 1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. seasoned salt
1/4 t. pepper
2 t. fresh parsley (or 1/3 to 1/2 amount dried)
2 T butter
1/4 c. water
4 T lemon juice
4 cloves minced garlic
2 t. chicken bouillon

Wash and dry chicken. Combine oregano, salt and pepper, sprinkle and pat into chicken. Brown on both sides on the stove top (the original recipe says in butter, but I used olive oil cooking spray). Transfer to the crock pot. Add water, lemon juice, bouillon, garlic and parsley to pan, scrape the bottom and bring to a boil. Pour into the crock pot. Cook on high 2 1/2-3 hours or low 5-6. I used chicken breasts and cooked on low and this was too long, but legs/thighs would need more time. Baste during cooking a couple times. Serve with rice or fettuccine (or another noodle, or quinoa, or even mashed potatoes). As usual, I estimated the amounts of spices and garlic. The amounts above are from the original recipe, and may or may not be the amounts I used.

I made this as a company meal and because of that I served it with fettuccine and Parmesan cheese. It was nice to have the main course in the crock pot and ready to go so I just needed to worry about the pasta and the vegetable (roasted asparagus). I tend to avoid recipes that make you dirty up a pan before putting the food in the crock pot (the whole point of the crock pot is to make it easy, so why would you create more dishwashing for yourself?), but this was very good and had lots of flavor. Enjoy!
(I would give credit, but I found it somewhere online a while ago and I can't remember where.)
Edit: Found it here!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Status report

I just saw the first crocuses! I hope they aren't burned by frost, though it looks like they could tomorrow.

I used my new immersion blender for the first time this morning and I love it!

Supper:
- Ham~ already cooked, meal-sized amount from the freezer
- Sweet potatoes~ in the microwave. I know some people don't like to microwave things, which I don't really understand anyway, but for potatoes I just can't/won't justify running the oven for 45 minutes or so when I could cook them in less than 10 in the microwave!
- Cauliflower~ method of cooking to be determined.

We're headed to Grove City for the Vision and Values conference in April.

I ate red peppers and cauliflower yesterday afternoon, so today I can have ice cream, right?

And... I'd better get going if I'm going to meet my self-imposed class planning goal for today.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Experimental Cobbler

We threw together some last minute family plans last night, so I found out I had about one hour to make a dessert. I started rummaging through cookbooks and the freezer. I was thinking pineapple upside down cake, but then nixed it because of too much sugar. I finally pulled a bag of frozen pears and a bag of frozen fresh cranberries out of the freezer. I figured, even though there has to be quite a bit of sugar because of the cranberries, that at least it's mostly fruit. I had made a cranberry pear pie last year and it turned out well. I combined that idea with my standard cobbler/crisp topping and this is what I came up with:

Filling:
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. of salt
3 cups of frozen (thawed) pears, peeled and sliced
1 12 oz bag of frozen (partially thawed) whole fresh cranberries
~Combine first four filling ingredients. Add fruit, combine, and let sit while you mix up the topping.

Topping:
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
~Combine all ingredients.

Pour filling in a greased (though I'm not sure that's really necessary) 9 by 13 pan. Spread topping over it and pat down. Mine was a little more crumbly than it is when I make the typical apple crisp with this topping, but I added a little extra flour. It worked out well with this filling, I think, and it made it more like a crumb topping.

Bake at 350 for about 30-45 minutes. I was sort of waiting on the topping to brown a little, but I used dark brown sugar and whole wheat flour, so I couldn't really tell. Mine was probably in for at least 45 minutes, maybe closer to an hour, but some of the ingredients were still a little cold and it was interrupted for a short car trip as well.

This was really good and I think everyone liked it. I was a little worried about the amount of ginger I used, since the filling tasted very gingery when uncooked. But once it was all put together and baked it was much more subtle. This wasn't over-sweet, but I thought it was about right. The original pie recipe included some craisins, so I increased the sugar in the filling a little to compensate. I also didn't include the lemon zest that recipe listed. Mine had more cranberries than the original was well.

It was fun to throw something together based on what I knew and could pull out of the freezer and pantry. Sort of like on Chopped....OK, maybe not so much like that. (By the way, that is a fun show! It's so much better than most reality TV.) If you make this, no guarantees since I only made it once. But it turned out well that time for me.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Tale of Two Turnips



A while ago, my family bought some kind of weird pasture grass mix and planted it. It included turnip seeds. Apparently turnips are a great grazing crop. The tops are nutritious and the sheep and horses eat the roots like apples. I had thought about seeing how they tasted before, but didn't actually do anything about it until today. My sister and I went out and found a couple that the horses hadn't taken a bite out of. (I'm trying to write that sentence without ending in a preposition, but it sounds so awkward) One was double sized and looked like it could have been two stuck together.

I brought them home and looked up turnips in my big exhaustive Joy of Cooking. It didn't have a mashed turnip recipe without mashed potatoes in it as well (something about taking the "edge" off...hopefully that's not really necessary), so I checked online and found one. I washed the mud (and whatever else might have been there, given that they were in a horse pasture) from the turnips. Being the genius that I am, I cleaned the kitchen sink before washing them.

I peeled them and chopped them up. I tasted a little piece raw and thought it was ok. I boiled it in a pot until soft, and drained it. Then I threw some milk and Smart Balance in. After starting into it with the electric mixer, I realized I should have waited on the milk, since it seems the turnip pieces were holding quite a bit of water. The result was a very watery puree. I tasted it and thought it was a little bitter (so maybe Joy of Cooking was right). I seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder. It was ready early, so in an effort to cook some of the liquid off I put it in the oven for a while.

The result: it looked good. In quantities larger than a little forkful while cooking, however, I found I couldn't eat it. Though it was still a little bitter for him, N could eat it. He even liked it better than Brussels sprouts. According to this article, the varying degree of bitterness a person tastes in turnips has to do with the gene that regulates the ability to detect cyanide. So the bad news is, I can't stand turnips. I guess the goods news is that if someone ever attempts to poison me with cyanide a la Agatha Christie I have a better chance of detecting it before it's too late.

These were very large turnips and the bitterness may have something to do with that (if anyone knows anything about that, let me know). It was an interesting experiment. I don't think that I will be making them again, but I'm glad I gave it a try.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cooking this week

Meatloaf (turkey), sweet potatoes, and vegetable- I used this recipe, but I accidently included 2 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce in the meatloaf itself and I used dried thyme instead of marjoram. I had low expectations of turkey meatloaf but I was very pleasantly surprised. It had great flavor and I will be making this again. I used my new Pampered Chef stoneware mini loaf pan. Because of my concern about the meatloaf actually tasting like much, I made this mushroom gravy to go with it. I sort of made 2/3 of the recipe, though I added onions as well. I used store brand Smart Balance instead of butter. It was very good, and really not terribly unhealthy.

Pizza and salad- dough from the freezer makes this an easy one, plus turkey pepperoni also from the freezer. I should have saved a few mushrooms for this but didn't.
*Edit: This morphed into a pizza roll type thing, with spinach inside of it.


Pulled pork- this recipe is one of our favorites and I haven't found a pork roast to make it for a while. I found a big 8 1/2 lb one today. I was tempted by the whole shoulder blade roast that was cheaper but it was too big. Now that I think about it I could have asked if the meat counter folks could cut it up for me, but maybe next time. I will make the whole thing at once in the crockpot. Then shred the meat and chill it with the juices, skim the fat, and freeze in smaller portions. The shredded pork absorbs the juices again when it's reheated and the flavor isn't too spicy but it is so good. We've eaten it on buns either with or without barbeque sauce (North Carolina, vinegar based, is our favorite) or on flour tortillas with salsa, and it's good by itself too.

There are also leftovers from last week for meals and lunches, and all of these will make leftovers for lunch and and some suppers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Focus

...or the lack thereof.

I have attempted two posts this afternoon, and deleted both. We'll see how far this one gets. Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and tomorrow is the March for Life. Appropriately, but coincidentally, I just finished a novel by Karen Kingsbury, called Shades of Blue. It was typical Christian fiction in some ways, but not typical in others. It is a story about abortion and its aftermath, about grief and forgiveness. The author's original inspiration was the sad song from a few years back by Tim McGraw, "Red Ragtop." It wasn't a book that I "couldn't put down" and I found it very heavy. But it was powerful. I thought some of the characters were more believable than others, and maybe the story was slightly sugar-coated (what Christian fiction isn't?). I thought overall, however, that it was a good fictional treatment of a very difficult issue.

My mom sent me the link to the website for an upcoming documentary about another side of the abortion issue. I encourage you to watch the trailer. It is absolutely heartbreaking.


I have studying to do. We have youth group tonight. The Ravens are playing on TV. Both of us here are supporting them- me because I always do, N because they're playing the Patriots. As I said, focus isn't my strongpoint today. But at least I finished a post!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tentative Meal Plan

Here it is for the week. The lentil soup is already in the crockpot. Friday and Saturday are "to be determined" still, but I am planning to find something to cook so we have leftovers for early next week.
Monday- Lentil soup (sausage, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic)
Tuesday- Spinach and Sausage Quiche (the rest of the sausage)
Wednesday- leftover Pasta with Chicken/Feta/Olives
Thursday- leftovers/on the go

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pasta with Chicken, Tomatoes and Feta



2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 pound/box rotini (or some other short pasta)
2 cups cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese (6 oz)
1/2 c. pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 chopped fresh parsley

Pat chicken dry with paper towels, season with salt and paper. Cook in olive oil in skillet until browned and cooked through. Transfer to cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 5 minutes, slice thinly crosswise and reserve.
Cook pasta until al dente in salted water. Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water, drain and return to pot. Stir in sliced chicken, feta, olives, parsley and 1 cup pasta water. The hot water will melt the feta and create a light sauce, so add additional water as needed. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

*Above is the real recipe, that I found somewhere on the internet a few years ago. I cut the chicken up beforehand and then cook it. Not as elegant, but much faster. Plus, with the extra chicken broth they inject into boneless skinless chicken breasts, you end up cooking the chicken in broth instead of actually sauteing it, so it doesn't end up browning very well anyway. Whole wheat pasta works great in this recipe, so because it doesn't generally come in a pound box I use 1 box. More veggies and less carbs is a good thing, right? I use more tomatoes than called for, if I have them, 1/8 cup dried parsley if that's what I have, and less feta if I only have a 5 oz container. I also sometimes use green olives, since they are cheaper and come pitted. Plus they're smaller so you can get away without cutting them in half if you want. They don't have the subtlety of the kalamata olives, but they still taste good.*

This is always a hit around here. In fact, it is essentially the same dish we ate recently at an Italian restaurant at the rehearsal dinner for a friend's wedding. It isn't exactly a quick meal, and it uses several pots. If I'm planning to make this, I have to plan on buying the ingredients, since feta, grape tomatoes and olives aren't regular pantry-stocking items for me. It is a good meal, however. Leftovers work fine, though the tomatoes do end up more cooked when reheated.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Resolutions- meal planning

It's that time of year (or it was a couple weeks ago) when we think about New Year's resolutions. I never do this very formally, but it is something that bounces around in my head as I go about life.

My main/mundane one this year is to get back into the habit of meal planning. It really does make life so much easier when I have some idea of what I'm going to cook, instead of rummaging through the pantry at 4:30 (though some of those meals turn out very well). Planning doesn't have to take much time, either. I tend to beat myself up about it if I am not doing a good job organizing meals, cleaning, or generally keeping up with life. That is another issue, but at least if I can keep up with meals my life will have some semblance of order.

I like to cook, but for some reason I just haven't been very motivated to do it over the past few months. My husband bought me a new cookbook for Christmas, which has given me something new and fun to look at when meal planning. No matter how many wonderful food blogs and recipe websites there are, I still love getting a new cookbook. If they didn't take up so much space, I would probably have many more than I do!

This week, due to traveling and general craziness, has been the first week I've really gotten to any actual planning.
- Monday: Chilli from the freezer
- Tuesday: Quinoa with black beans (from the new cookbook)- very simple (not much different than the typical black beans and rice) but surprisingly unique
- Wednesday: Taco salad- I threw in chopped carrots when I cooked the meat to make it go further (and lower cholesterol/fat, of course), and froze half of the finished and seasoned meat so I will have something quick and easy to pull out when I need it.

That's as far as I got. Baby steps, right?

- Today, I think it will be frozen pizza. (Yes, I'm copping out. Remember, baby steps.)
- Friday- Pasta with chicken, feta and olives. I haven't made that recipe in a while, since it's not the cheapest or quickest, but it's so good.

Sometimes I will cook 2-3 times and plan leftovers the rest of the nights, but rather than do that this week, I designated leftovers as lunches. The pasta should make enough for both, however.

Anyway, we will finally be home over the weekend, so I should have more time to plan ahead. I'm actually little excited about that. Who knows? Maybe I'll try to post my plan each week, to give myself a little accountability (since my wonderful husband is happy and thinks I am doing a fantastic job even when I pull something together at the last minute).

On a more serious note, I very much appreciated this post from Nancy Wilson about contentment. Point number 8 really struck home, but they are all good reminders.

Happy New Year!