Saturday, December 19, 2009

I didn't post Friday because I was fixing this for dinner ...

This is one of the best things we've had for dinner lately. Oh man, this was good. And since I followed Ashley's technique and read a couple recipes, then basically did my own thing, I am TOTALLY taking all of the credit for it! Don't be intimidated by the loooong ingredient list -- this is one of those recipes that basically uses half the spice drawer. It's really easy to make. And of course, feel free to change ingredients or quantities to suit your taste!

CHICKPEA POTATO CURRY
Serves: 2 plus extra for seconds or leftovers (maybe 3 full servings)
Time to make: 15 minutes prep + 30 minutes simmer

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Pinch mustard seeds
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cloves of cloves (whole, not ground)
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced or grated
2 small jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper
About 1 cup diced tomatoes (I used canned)
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 cups broth (I used low sodium chicken bouillon)
1 large or 2 smallish potatoes (Yukon gold or red), largeish dice

Fresh cilantro, optional

Heat oil in a nonstick pan. Cook mustard seeds until they pop. Add onion and cook 5 minutes or so. Add jalapenos, garlic, ginger, and spices; cook and stir another couple of minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another minute or so. Add chickpeas, broth, and diced potatoes. Bring to a simmer and let simmer 25 minutes uncovered, or until most of the liquid is gone.
Serve with brown rice and/or naan; garnish with fresh chopped cilantro if desired.
I also served with a frozen vegetable mix -- microwaved it with a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid from the chickpeas.

IN OTHER NEWS my husband had his LAST FINAL on Friday and is now done with his first semester of podiatry school! I am so pround of him! And also addicted to exclamation points, apparently!!! We are both looking forward to visitng our families for Christmas next week. And I am gleefully gloating over my successful Christmas shopping.

I may not post at all next week, since my parents have a horrible Internet connection (although my Mom seems to manage beautifully). If not, I wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Bread Blog

Complete with pictures, mostly courtesy of my Dear Husband :)


Neither DH nor I are a big fan of what we call "gummi bread" (the cheap sandwich bread you buy at the store). However, we wince a little at the thought of paying $3 or more for a loaf of the good stuff. Ergo, I make bread most weeks. The process is a little involved, but after the first loaf or two it really isn't difficult. My usual recipe is a very simple bread -- using whole wheat and rye flour give it more nutritional value and flavour, and baking it at home gives it an amazing crust. You can whip it up in a heavy-duty stand mixer if you have one, but there is something deeply satisfying about thumping into a fragrant, elastic mass of dough.


Start the bread the day before you plan to bake it. Mix up the sponge (kind of a cheater's sourdough starter) and let it sit overnight. The next day, expect to spend about 4 to 5 hours shaping, rising, and baking the bread.


HEARTY COUNTRY BREAD
DAY ONE: SPONGE
This is the easy part!


1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
1 cup warm (not hot) water
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour  


In a really big mixing bowl, stir yeast and water to dissolve. Stir in flour. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and let sit at room temperature at least 5 hours—I find it is easiest to mix in the evening and let rise overnight.


In the morning, it will smell AMAZING and yeasty and look sort of bubbly like this:







DAY TWO: DOUGH

3 cups bread flour

½ cup rye flour

1 1/3 cups warm water

2 tablespoons honey or molasses

2 teaspoons salt






Dump all ingredients in on top of the sponge from last night. (NOTE: I usually dissolve the salt and honey or molasses IN the water, as shown above, so that it mixes more evenly. My bread flour canister contains bread flour, not poison. And there is no hot sauce in this recipe!)






Mix well -- it will be pretty stiff. I mix it in with my hands and then go straight to kneading the dough, right in the bowl, to make cleanup easier. Knead for 10 minutes or so till elastic—you may knead in ½ cup or more of additional bread flour.  The dough should hold its shape like this:


Let rise at least two hours, till tripled in size, like this:




When dough has risen, spray a baking sheet. Form the dough into a sort of oblong football shape: gently spread it out, bring the "sides" in to the middle and pinch, then turn over so the seam is on bottom (try not to deflate it too much—handle gently) on the sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise till almost doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 ½ hour:




Meanwhile, move oven racks so that one rack is in the lower middle position and the other rack is below it. On the lowest rack, place an old baking dish or something (to hold water). Have some water heating on the stove or in the microwave. AND TURN THE OVEN ON TO 450deg F!



When bread is risen, slide the baking sheet with the bread onto the upper oven rack. QUICKLY and CAREFULLY pour about 2 cups hot water into the old tray underneath it and close the oven door. All that exciting steam helps the bread develop that fantastic crust.


Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Crust should be quite dark. Turn the oven off, open the door, and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove bread and let cool at room temperature before slicing (if you don’t wait at least an hour it will be gummy).

YUM.


A few more notes:


This recipe is from this amazing cookbook. You should buy it! You can play around with the proportions of wheat, white, and rye flours, as long as you keep the total amount of flour the same. If you aren't familiar with rye flour, it gives the bread a wonderful, deep sort of flavour, AND it is PURPLE! Well, okay, really more of a lavender-grey. But still. Try it if you can find it. DO use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. It is not too hard to find and really improves the texture of the finished bread.





















Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Comfort Food

I am so tired. I am so, so tired. I am so tired I do not even have energy to manufacture even the tiniest fit of Drama Drama to add a bit of black fizz to the mundanity. It is File Audit week at work, otherwise known as Eff All You, We Are Spending The Whole Day Reciting Rows And Rows Of Tiny Little Numbers And We Do Not Have The Mental Energy To Handle Your Urgent File Requests Or Loan Deadlines Week. I have about as much energy as the soggy dead worms that I did not avoid stepping on this morning.

So I am going to be lazy and give you a recipe. A slow cooker recipe no less. I used a recipe from a neat cookbook I found at the library ... sort of ... except that I pretty much changed everything in the recipe except the title. Eg, the original receipt calls for making meatballs out of ground lamb. Which would probably be delicious, but ground lamb is not really happening in our kitchen! But what I fixed was good, so I'll give you that.

SLOW COOKER MOROCCAN STEW
Serves: 2 (very hungry people)


Somewhat more than 1/2 lb pork roast or stew meat, cut in nice big chunks
1/2 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
To taste: ground coriander, cumin, red pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, with liquid
Small handful dried apricots, chopped
Small handful raisins

If desired, brown meat, onion, garlic, and spices in a skillet in some oil. Whether you brown it or not, dump all the ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on LOW all day (or 7 to 9 hours) till tender. Serve with couscous.

This would probably be very delicious if you made meatballs (I would put some of the seasoning in the meatballs, and some breadcrumbs and maybe an egg) and browned them, and then added the tomatoes and fruit. Bell pepper would probably also be good if you had it to hand. The original recipe called for dried currants as well as for apricots and raisins but there I am only willing to buy so much dried fruit.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You Have To Be Pretty Darn Self Absorbed...

... to write a blog post this long all about ONESELF.

I am. I am, I am. Sorry.

It is hard to believe that DH and I have been married for nearly 5 months. In a way, it surprises me how short a time we have had together ... living together is much less of an adjustment than I was expecting.

Not that it isn't still fraught with all kinds of drama.

I am the kind of person who likes to live life on the edge. As in, I borrow about 10 books a week from the library AND I read them. ALL of them. WOW. This week I was thrilled to discover some ancient cassette tapes featuring performances of Hamlet and Macbeth by old-timey actors such as John Gielgud and Alec Guinness. You know, the actors who still have that resonant, moist, radio quality to their voices (listening to which is the audial equivalent of biting into a rich, booze- and fruit-laden holiday cake), with truly astounding precision of diction. This was truly a find, because my car (which was born in the same year I was) plays cassette tapes.

So I really enjoyed listening to something truly absorbing on the way to work, as opposed to NPR's discussion of Oprah's latest big news, or the type of news stories discussed on the Godless Rock Stations, which are a sure way to erode the moral sensibility.

Then, inevitably, disaster struck. Wednesday morning I was late getting out the door, due to my distressing lack of professional attire. Dennis had already left for school--with his cellphone responsibly turned off, of course, because DH is nothing if not responsible. And of course my car would not start, because of course I had arrived home right in the middle of a soliloquy and had to stay in the car, turned on so that I could enjoy the heater, until the end of it, so that I had completely neglected to turn my lights off afterward, despite the index card taped to the inside of my windshield that says in large block letters TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF, YOU IDIOT (except that DH crossed out the "idiot" part).

So I had to call and tell my boss that I wouldn't make it in to work. And then I had to call and cancel the doctor's appointment I had scheduled for that afternoon. And then I had to cry for three hours, because I am self-absorbed enough to really be upset by my explosion of incompetence. I still have this arrogant need to, if I can't be brilliant in a creative way, at least handle mundanity competently.

I should explain at this point that, since moving to Iowa the last week of July, I have left my lights on (and run down my car battery) four times, and locked my keys in the car once. That's just car-related incompetence, not general incompetence, which happens on a daily, if not hourly basis.

So I was basically a mess by the time Dennis got home. I told him what happened, and he did that thing where he stops and thinks how he wants to react to a situation. So he decided to treat it as not a big deal at all (which I guess it wasn't, put into perspective, which I don't have). Which really did a lot to defuse my heaped-up store of agony untold, and help me to face the evening with an acceptable amount of sanity.

Sometimes this makes me mad that Dennis is so capable and so deliberate in his responses. Because, you know, I could use some of that! I have the emotional maturity of a six-year-old. My life is a constant string of NOW. And sometimes, NOW is great. But more often (because I am imperfect and wicked, and so is the world) NOW is not so great. And if NOW is all I can see, then, by golly ... it is not a pretty sight. I spend probably about 75% of my waking life either furtively walking around the edges of depression, hoping to stay peripheral, or CAUGHT IN THE PIERCING FANGS OF CRUEL DESPAIR, O Agony!

Anyway, the point of this whole story is to say how very, very much I respect my husband. He is one of the most thoughtful, deliberate people I know. He prays almsot every day that he would be Christlike in the way he loves his wife (me!), and that, my dears, is HUGE. (It makes me cry a lot, but then I cry ... a lot.) And it makes me really want to be more deliberate in the way I relate to him as well--less time reacting out of emotion and more time relating out of truth. I'll let you know how that goes. If nothing else, well, I can definitely see how God is using me to grow Dennis (my gosh, I HATE that).


I am just amazed by the grace and wisdom God has given my husband. He is so good -- Dennis is not exactly what I would have described as the ideal husband for myself a few years ago, but I cannot imagine a person who would be better suited for relating to me individually. I guess God knows what He is doing!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Think About It

Jesus said:

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."

Matthew 13:44-46

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Visit From My Girls

Updates did not happen this weekend because I was enjoying a super-special visit from my girls! Mom and my sisters graciously made the 11-hour drive from Tennessee to Des Moines in order to spend a long weekend with me.

Well, almost. They broke down in Bloomfield, IA, and my Super Amazing Husband brought them the rest of the way. On the way there he got a frantic phone call from his Fluffy Witted Wife, who had locked her keys in her car at work. There was much drama, but eventually we were all safely home and enjoying my first attempt at split pea soup (with, of course, lots of hot sauce for yours truly).

We had such a wonderful weekend. I am so grateful for the opportunity to see them! We talked, we laughed, we cried (or at least I did -- everyone needs a hobby, right?), we consumed WAY too much sugar. I think half of the Christmas goodies that I sent with them "to share with the boys" probably disappeared before they made it home!

Seriously, though, my sisters are a delight and such good company. And my mom was full of godly encouragement to love my husband and to believe the Bible.

Dennis spent most of the weekend studying (or maybe he was afraid of all the silliness fizzing around) but he did manage to get in on some of the fun! He read us some of the awesome book that he is in the middle of (more on that later).

For those of you who didn't get to meet "my girls," Martha took lots of pictures this weekend. So my blog is going high-tech with pictures!


My sister Helen, who is 9, is learning the piano. She played some nice things on Dennis's little keyboard, but mostly she had fun with the obnoxious sound effects!

 

Me and Helen. Thanks for the shirts, Jenny and Kevin!



I am SO EXCITING that I took my family to the LIBRARY on our visit. WOW! This is Martha (15) enjoying a book on horse biology that she found.




This picture is from my wedding, but I wanted everyone to see how pretty my sisters are




and also my mom :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Church Cookbook, Part II

So I had another Drama Drama weekend (been having a lot of those lately) and did not update Tuesday. Instead you get another Wednesday Recipe.

CHURCH COOKBOOK TREASURES:



CREAMED TUNA

      6 T. butter, melted
      6 T. flour
      1 tsp. salt
      1/8 tsp. pepper
      2 c. milk
      1 can tuna

      Into melted butter, blend flour, salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat, and stir in milk; stir until thickened. Add tuna and serve over biscuits.


This recipe is actually from my Grammy. She still makes it occasionally. We had this a lot in my parents' house growing up because it is super super cheap. It is actually not too terrible a dish, just not good. It is one of the strangest meals I have ever eaten--probably because it is very bland and very tuna-y at the same time. If you should desire to recreate this dish at home, DO NOT put as much salt in as the recipe directs. You may also have better results if you stir the milk into the flour paste over low heat until it thickens. My mom served this over rice instead of biscuits.

In other news, I am reading Michael Horton's Putting Amazing Back into Grace. It has been on my to-read list for over a year, so I am stealing my husband's copy to read during my lunch break at work. If you haven't read it, I highly, highly recommend it. It is a great, thoughtful introduction to the basics of Reformed theology -- what they are, and why they even matter -- and it is just full of the Gospel.

I am also super excited because my girls (Mom and two younger sisters) are coming for a visit this weekend! I even took a day off work to enjoy them for longer!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

John Bunyan

Here is the article I was working on last week. It is my first published nonfiction outside of school work, and part of a series on Reformers and other significant figures in Christian history written by members of Grace Community Church, which I used to attend in Union City. I have to say, it is REALLY HARD to write an article that is only 600 words and still say everything you want to. But researching the life and works of John Bunyan in order to write this article was tremendously encouraging to me. You may have read his classic allegory of Christian life, A Pilgrim's Progress -- if not, READ IT. It is one of a handful of books that has actually never gone out of print. I also encourage you to read his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, as soon as you can. It is a quick read despite the older language. This website actually has the complete works of Bunyan available to read online for free. Awesome!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Friday's post will be late! Not because i am feeling sorry for myself, but because we are having friends over for dinner! Sometime Friday evening or Saturday i hope to post a link to the articlette i was working on last week.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Another Apple Cake

I do not post on days that i am feeling sorry for myself. I take care of that well enough without needing to invite the rest of the world to help me out.

So, here is a recipe for you! A really sweet coworker brought this apple cake to work Tuesday and it is SUPER YUMMY. It was a great day for it too because I had another Wardrobe FAIL and didn't have time for breakfast. I am going to make this for the Reformation Party Saturday (along with my awesome costume!!). Mrs. C--- served the cake with caramel sauce but I am just going to get some cool whip, because the cake itself is moist and rich and doesn't need a lot of pointless sweet. She also used Splenda brown sugar mix in the cake, which I would totally do if I had the money, but I don't.

I have cut the recipe in half for an 8-inch pan. Double it to make a 9 by 13 pan. 

APPLE CAKE

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8" baking dish.

Whisk together:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a separate bowl, beat together: 
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fine-chopped apple
1/4 cup cooking oil

Combine two mixtures and beat just till well mixed. Pour into greased dish.
Sprinkle batter with 1/4 cup packed brown sugar mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons Tones Cinnamon Maple Sprinkle (Mrs C--- got the recipe when she worked at the Tones Spice Factory, which is not far from where I live!). Bake for 1 hour.

Optional: Sprinkle with halved or chopped walnuts before baking.
Serve with whipped cream or Cool Whip, or Caramel Sauce if you have to.

This is one recipe that probably would NOT be improved with the addition of half a cup of hot sauce.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Our New Church is Awesome



 Actually, I have been extremely blessed when it comes to churches. Redeemer, Grace, FPC, Unity, Hickory Grove ... so many beautiful people!

And this post is for Jenny :D

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Gratitude

So it hasn't exactly been the best couple of weeks for me. I think it has as much to do with the cold dark early as anything, but I have been WAY too focused on what I can't do, can't have, etc. Which really stinks. Made worse by the fact that I love to indulge myself by sulking.

So I want to share two ways that God encouraged me this week. We were listening to the sermon (which was great, as usual), and the passage closed with the verse where Christ tells his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38). I think this was really God speaking right to me. Among the many don't-do's and can't-do's that oppress me has sprung up the conviction that I am too shy in sharing my faith -- particularly with people whom I know are not Christians. I'm pretty sure that most of my guilt trips are straight from the devil, but I believe that I really and truly do need to be more proactive in speaking about Jesus. What I'm not sure is how to do that. I don't want to walk around banging people over the head with the Gospel, but at the same time, I have been waiting for YEARS, without success, for pagans to walk up to me and say, "Hey, tell me all about this Saviour of yours and why he's so great!" The answer to my dilemma was, of course, freakishly obvious. PRAY ABOUT IT. So that's what I'm doing -- praying for opportunities -- conversations or whatever -- and courage and wisdom to share what I believe most deeply -- and that God would make those glaringly obvious because of my dingbat tendencies. That's one request I know He will bless!


After the sermon, Pastor Larson asked, in the closing prayer, that God would help all of us to be faithful in the work before us, remembering that we are ultimately working for Him, and for His purposes, even in the little things. I wasn't really encouraged by that, because I have been kind of discouraged at work lately and I didn't want anyone telling me to suck it up and do my job. Not even God! I have loved brilliance and hated the hard work that goes into it. Sometimes I feel like I am filing paperwork when I should be learning to write the Great American Novel, or something. I am SO grateful for my job, but it can be frustrating in that it is both very simple and repetitive, and yet so high volume that I often feel inadequate. I KNOW that my "real job" is helping my family, and that God has a reason for the tasks and relationships He's given me at work, but dammit, I want to paint a masterpiece, not sit here drawing circles and circles and circles.

And then I started having stories again, and poems. The kind that buzz in your brain and in your fingers until you get out of bed at midnight to write them. I'm not unselfish enough yet to joyously offer writing as a sacrifice. And right now it seems like God is telling me I don't have to either-or, I can both. It is a small and a deep, deep gift. I'm nowhere near the Great Novel or anything, but writing, I don't worry anymore about What I Should Be Doing.


So maybe it hasn't been the best couple of weeks, but I have a lot to be thankful for.


And God isn't just good to ME, either. My Dear Husband is FINISHED with Biochem! On to the next class, but that is a great one to have out of the way. I am super proud and happy for him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Three Things

1. He loves me

2. He love me

 3. He loves me

And if you don't know what I'm talking about, read this book. No, seriously. Go read it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Southern Girl Bread

I am a Southern girl. I have many failings, but I say "Yes, ma'am" and I know how to make biscuits and cornbread. I am branching out now and trying exciting things with yeast sponges and rye flour, but these two quick breads are still made frequently in the Pritzel household. Both take about 30 minutes from start to finish. Hot, fluffy biscuits go with ANY meal, and golden cornbread is the perfect accompaniment to soup or chili.

The biscuits are from a Jeff Smith cookbook and are so delicious that my mom actually abandoned her mama's recipe for this one. The trick with biscuits is to use buttermilk and a light hand; if you mess around with the dough too much, it will be tough instead of tender. I think it's the acid in the buttermilk that helps make the biscuits so soft and delicious, because they aren't as good with plain milk. In a pinch, use plain yogurt (whole or lowfat, not fat free). You can even use milk that has gone a bit sour (scary!).

The cornbread recipe, on the other hand, is from my great-grandmother. It is true Southern cornbread, not a bit sweet and (if you use cast iron, like you're supposed to!) has a great crackly crust. It will make men fall in love with you ;)

BISCUITS
Small batch: serves 4-ish

1 cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon soda
1/4 cup shortening or cold butter
1/2 cup buttermilk


Heat oven to 500 degrees F. (YES, THAT HOT). If you are making super amazing deluxe Southern biscuits, grease a cast iron skillet LIBERALLY with Crisco and set it in the oven to heat. Otherwise, just grease a cookie sheet.

Combine dry ingredients (sifting the flour isn't really necessary, GASP). Cut in the cold butter (use a pastry blender, or just a couple knives) till it is cut up evenly in the flour--it should look pebbly, like coarse crumbs. Pour in the buttermilk and mix JUST TILL COMBINED with a fork. DO NOT overmix. The dough will be pretty darn sticky.

Turn the mess out onto a generously floured surface. If you must, knead it only a couple of times, then pat the dough out gently till it is about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out with a biscuit cutter (I use a tomato paste can with both ends cut off--another family tradition).

If you heated a cast iron skillet, plop those biscuits into the hot fat, let them sizzle for a second, and then turn them in the pan. They will puff and start to get golden. Place the biscuits close to one another, with their sides touching, so that they will rise higher. Bake them for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden and as done as you like. These are best served HOT with plenty of butter and honey or (to be truly Southern) sorghum.


CORNBREAD
Serves about 4; enough for one small cast iron skillet. Double for a large (10 or 12 inch) skillet.

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I'm not Southern enough to save bacon grease, but if you are, use that)

Heat oven to 500 degrees. LIBERALLY grease a cast iron skillet with Crisco. It is almost impossible to use too much Crisco. Set the skillet in the oven to heat up.

Whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, egg, oil, and soda. Stir the two together to make a very wet batter. Carefully pour into the hot skillet and bake for at least 15 minutes, till a knife stuck in the centre comes out clean. NOTHING is better with soup or with beans 'n' greens than this.

I suppose you could make the cornbread in a plain old baking dish sprayed with cooking spray, but what would be the point??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Regrettable Food Blog

I said you'd get a bonus weekend post. I didn't say it'd be a good one. I give you ...

CHURCH COOKBOOK TREASURES, PART 1:


CABBAGE CASSEROLE

1 can cream soup
1/4 cup milk
1/2 lb Velveeta cheese
cabbage

Dice cabbage, boil for 10 minutes and drain all water off. Add soup, milk, and cheese. Bake at 350 till bubbly.


I swear, this is for true. I own the cookbook. The contributor's name has been omitted for her protection.

It would be really funny to actually make this stuff, and post pictures. But I just can't bring myself to get that close to Velveeta cheese.

In other news, I made BBQ sauce for our dinner today and it was totally awesome. Super spicy and not too sweet.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Friday Update

If you are wondering where Tuesday's update went to, just scroll down for your by-now-usual Apology By Recipe, in the form of a slow cooker lentil stew recipe. We like lentils around here because they are cheap, healthy, and delicious. And anything with curry powder and lots of spices keeps me happy! If lentils are not your thing ... stay tuned for a FREE EXTRA RECIPE Saturday or Sunday! Yes people, I am that nice!

I have to share what a great experience it was to teach the girls' Sunday School class this week. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do that. The beautiful, vibrant woman who usually teaches the girls has been working through the Creation story. It just so happened that my lesson was the story of the Fall -- a familiar story, but a hard one to teach. The curriculum made a point not just to retell the story, but also to try and emphasize the real, spiritual and physical impact of the Fall. And talking with the girls -- well, it doesn't take much life experience to realise that Stuff Is Not Right. The tricky part is living in a world where so much is bent or shattered, without losing hope. I loved that our lesson really emphasised that creation is still good -- it still reflects God's glory and image, even if that picture is distorted; that there is redemption NOW in Christ; and finally, that creation will be restored. There will be a new Heaven and a new Earth -- all of creation will be able to fulfill its end without being messed up by the effects of sin.

Those are huge ideas, and I hope God used me to communicate them to the girls last week. I know that he was using the lesson to remind me of those truths, as well. My tendency is to live life in an eternal Now -- as a kaleidoscopy of discrete moments and experiences rather than as a progression or a development. In such a mindset, beauty is glorious -- and unbeauty is utterly devastating. Life becomes a matter of survival rather than of progress.

But God says that my life had a beginning, and that it is moving toward an End. Both are in Him, and it is when I am looking outside of my moments to the One who contains them that I am able to move, slowly and painfully and with great joy, closer to Him.

The amount of underlining and scribbling on Hebrews 12 in my Bible shows exactly how difficult it is for me to do this!

Spicy Lentil Stew

DH thought this tasted like lentil chili. I prepped the veges last night, then popped them in the slow cooker with everything else this morning and let it cook all day. Add some cornbread and YUM -- the perfect dinner for a chilly Friday. The recipe is a hodgepodge of several I found online, so I am totally taking the credit for it.

You could definitely make this on the stovetop. For a vegetarian version, just use vegetable broth, or water, or white wine instead of the chicken broth.

SPICY LENTIL STEW
Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus 8 hours to cook
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or chili powder

1 large red or golden potato, cut in large chunks
1 cup dry lentils (I used the brown kind that are easiest to find)

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 - 2 cups water

Directions:
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the carrots, onions, crushed red pepper, and salt and black pepper to taste. Cook for 5 minutes or so until soft. Stir in the garlic and spices for 30 seconds until fragrant.
Dump everything into the slow cooker and cook on "low" all day long. It will end up thick and spicy and delicious.

NOTE: This is, indeed, quite hot. If that intimidates you, just omit the red pepper or some of the cayenne. Or if you are like me, you may like to add half a teaspoon of Tabasco to your bowl. Either way is delicious :)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Happy Saturday Blog is Better than a Glum Friday Blog.

Seriously, I should give up even intending to post on Fridays.

Anyway, I had a really fun day because DH took me SHOPPING for CLOTHES. I love shopping! It was the perfect day for us; fall fell on us last week, and this morning the air was bright, crisp, and shiny without being too terribly cold. After another Test Week, it was so much fun to spend a big stretch of time with Dennis, just enjoying looking at things. He was very patient while I tried on about sixteen thousand pairs of jeans and work pants, at several different stores.

I very nearly had a Bad Day instead of a really fun one. It is NO FUN to try on pants that don't fit. And since I am quite small, have no hips at all, and yet still have too much of me in the leg area to fit into girls' or boys' sizes, A LOT of pants don't fit me.

I was getting pretty glum, but with the grace of God and the help of a very attentive sales associate at Maurices, I was finally able to find a glorious, glorious pair of jeans. I cannot remember the last time that I bought a pair of jeans that really fit well and looked nice.

I also can't remember the last time I paid $30.00 for a pair of jeans! And I am so happy about these jeans, I am going to buy another pair JUST LIKE THEM next week (so I can use the coupon I got today).

Now all I have to find is a pair of work pants. They don't make a lot of professional-looking clothes for people my size, at least not anywhere I know to look.

DH got some tennis shoes, and we bought a bread box (we've been using my biggest mixing bowl!), some pretty glass coffee cups (he likes cappuccinos and Irish coffee and fun stuff like that), and a cookie spatula (which was strangely elusive for a long time ... )

Anyway, we have done our part to stimulate the local economy. In other news, I am excited to substitute teach Sunday School tomorrow, I discovered the delights of roasting butternut squash, and I read a super amazing book called The Name of the Rose, which is apparently about a series of murders in a medieval abbey, but really is about Knowledge and Truth and Language and English-majory stuff like that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Tidbits

With no terribly deep insights to share at the moment, I thought I would take a leaf from my friend Ashley's shiny blog and post a few bite-size news and musings.

There is now a life-size plastic model of the human skull sitting in my living room. It has a ghastly grin. I am SO going to review my Hamlet and deliver an (overdone, of course) graveyard speech. Being an English major leads to FUN TIMES, my friends.

Speaking of Fun With English Majors, one of my very favourite English professors linked to this YouTube video on Facebook (insert ironic joke about technology here). DH thought it was pretty stupid. I was laughing so hard I almost couldn't breathe. I don't know if that's because I'm an English major, or because I have a stupid sense of humour.

My big news is that DH and I publicly became members of our church last Sunday! We are so excited about becoming part of a body of believers that we can already tell is loving, passionate about doctrine, and serious about working out their faith. God has already blessed us so much in our short time at Redeemer PCA.

DH successfully completed his first big Anatomy exam (ugh, don't even ask), for which we are both grateful! Now he is hitting the books to prepare for the next Biochem exam. I am so proud of his dedication. Please keep him in your prayers, since the schedule can be wearing. I am looking forward to the shopping trip we have planned for when he finishes the next round of tests!

If you missed Friday's post (I regret to admit, I was rather wallowing), guess what! You get a recipe for FREE! Just scroll down for Lo Mein that is super tasty and easy to make.

One more food idea--it isn't really complicated enough to count as a recipe; I got the idea from Hungry Girl: for a sweet, fluffy frozen treat, mix about 1/4 cup whipped topping (I use light dairy-free) with a 6oz container of yogurt. If you use light both, you get a creamy delicious treat that is really low calorie. Super awesome!

Monday, September 28, 2009

BELATED LO MEIN

Alas, I did not post on Friday. I was depressed. Downcast. Despairing. Such is the life of Emily. DH and I had a marvellous, refreshing weekend and I am happy until the next morose episode.

As an apology, you get another Recipe. DH and I had this for dinner tonight and last week, too (anyone want to share what ELSE you can make with Napa cabbage?). YUM. The recipe is from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (the "Best Recipe") people. While I'm on it, I would definitely recommend this as one of the best basic, all-purpose, household recipe books you can buy. There is GOOD FOOD in here, all of the basics and more exotic flavours as well. NOT ONE recipe calls for tinned cream soup, yet the ingredients are easily found even at the supermarket in Union City, TN. A decently experienced cook will have no trouble with the recipes. The only thing I don't like about this cookbook is that the ring binding is a funny shape that makes it hard to turn the pages. SO WORTH IT.

Without further ado, I give you


LO MEIN
Prep Time: less than 20 minutes, plus time to heat water for noodles
Serves: 4 (side dish)

Ingredients:
8 oz spaghetti or thin spaghetti
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or veg broth)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or less, if you use cooking spray)
1/2 small onion, minced

6-8 oz mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 small head Napa cabbage, sliced crossways 1/4 inch thick
1 bell pepper (red, green, or yellow), seeded and sliced thin
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced

Directions:

Boil water and cook the spaghetti till tender (NOT al dente). Drain, and toss with the sesame oil.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix broth, soy sauce, and oyster sauce.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat, till shimmering. Add the mushrooms onions and cook till browned and softened. Stir in cabbage and bell pepper; cook 2 or 3 minutes to wilt. Stir in ginger and garlic and cook 30 seconds more. It will smell AMAZING.

Dump all this back into the empty noodle pot, with the noodles. Toss and heat till the noodles are warm. THEN EAT IT. SO DELICIOUS.

Recipe Notes:
You can find oyster sauce and sesame oil in the international aisle -- usuallly right next to the soy sauce. If you are really lucky, maybe your market will have fresh Chinese egg noodles, which you can use instead (12 oz, cooked for just 2 minutes, drained, and rinsed, then tossed with the oil). Oyster sauce smells nasty, but it really makes the sauce delicious, so go ahead and dump it in there!

You will have gingerroot left over. I like to chop it into inch-long chunks and freeze it. It is actually really easy to mince frozen ginger.

If you are a vegecarboholic like I am this stuff is great by itself, but if you need protein, pork or dark meat chicken are yummy along with.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Help me, please!

I am a housekeeping disaster, people.

Two months ago, my bathroom was spotless, my floors got mopped at least once a week, the blinds were dusted. Even the eyes on the range top were shiny and clean!

One full-time job later, I am about at my limit. I didn't even mop the floors this weekend, and I haven't dusted our bedroom in ... well, I'll just say that it's been a lot longer than a week. Aside from being bothered by the mess, perfectionist that I am, I am really bothered by what I perceive as laziness and incompetence. I don't have a LOT of time to keep things clean -- work, plus working out on the way back, keeps me busy until 6:30 most nights, and once I get dinner served and dishes cleaned up it is usually after 8pm -- but I could probably do a lot better if I would just devote a good 30 minutes each evening cleaning SOMETHING.

But I don't want to be a grownup! After dinner and cleanup, I just have a couple hours to unwind, and I want to spend them on FUN by golly!

Perfectionism and laziness are a DANGEROUS combination, people. If you have any advice, I would LOVE to hear it!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Observations in Iowa

Well, it's been a couple months, and so far I LOVE Iowa. Oddly enough, it reminds me somewhat of home -- a very agricultural area. Des Moines is great because it has capital city amenities -- nice restaurants, cultural activities, international food ingredients available (!) -- but is still pretty small for a city. There are lots of farms around and many people seem to hold to more conservative, agricultural community values.

With that said, I thought I'd share a few things about Iowa (or Des Moines, really) that have stuck out to me as DIFFERENT.

1. POP. Not "coke," "pop." I thought it was kind of a joke that people farther North called all soda "pop," but they REALLY DO. Nobody says "coke" unless they mean brand-name Coca-Cola. I asked a store associate where I could find the store brand Coke last week. He gave me a really funny look and told me, "All of our pop is over there." I don't know why I find this so funny.

2. HY-VEE. Speaking of stores, I love this one. It is a lot like Iowa's brand of Kroger, and the stores are EVERYWHERE here. Tends to be a bit more expensive than Wal-Mart, but they usually have really good sales going each week. AND the one close to our house comes complete with a Helpful Produce Guy.

3. ALCOHOL. This sounds kinda bad, but coming from a dry county, it is REALLY COOL to be able to go to Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee, or Target and choose from at least a whole aisle each for wine, beer, and more serious alcohol.

4. TATTOOS. Since we're talking about Wal-Mart ;) Seriously, there are a lot of tattoos here. I didn't really notice till Mom came to visit and remarked on it. And she's right. I'd say I see a good four times as much tattooed flesh here as "back home." And I was listening to a Godless Rock Station on the way to work and apparently there is an Iowa Tattoo Festival coming up.

5. SKINNY PEOPLE. Not everybody is skinny, of course, but there are a lot MORE people walking around who are NOT significantly overweight. I guess what they say about the South is true.

6. CORN. Yep, corn. I shouldn't be surprised that fresh corn tastes SO much better here.

I have a couple more, but DH tells me that our salmon is done, so I will close, with love to my readers!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CHOCOLATE

I am late posting, so I'm giving you chocolate in an attempt to buy your forgiveness. Also because my Mom asked for the recipe for Truffles. OH WOW these are good. And super easy to make, too! One of my speeches in my college Public Speaking Class was on making truffles. I thought I was going to pass out giving the speech. So, don't look for me on the Food Network!

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

Ingredients:
1 lb good quality chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 - 3 tablespoons Kahlua, Grand Marnier, or liqueur of your choice
Cocoa powder


Directions:
Chop 1 lb chocolate into little tiny bits. Use dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or a combination -- whatever suits you! Do go ahead and spring for the really good stuff, though. No Nestle or Hershey's allowed. Resist the temptation to sample too much of the chocolate, though. Alternatively, just go ahead and buy 2lb of chocolate and plan to eat half while you are baking!

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup heavy cream to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Don't boil it!

When the cream is hot, pour it over the chopped chocolate (hopefully you have put the chocolate into a heat-proof bowl of some sort). Pour in 2 to 3 tablespoons flavouring of your choice. Liqueurs like Kahlua and Grand Marnier are great, or you can be boring and use vanilla extract or something like that. Let it all sit without stirring for a couple minutes, so the chocolate goes all melty. Then whisk the mixture until it is smooth. If you chopped your chocolate too coarse, or if your cream cools too fast, you may end up with lumps of chocolate that don't melt. That's ok -- just dump it all into the heavy saucepan (or a double boiler, if you have one) and heat GENTLY just until the chocolate melts smoothly.

Chill this fabulous, gooey stuff (or, if you are French, ganache) until it is thick enough that you can scoop it. At this point you are ready to shape your truffles!

For BASIC TRUFFLES, have ready some cocoa powder. I also like to put the finished truffles in paper mini muffin cups -- they are cute and help cut down on mess. Alternatively, a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper works.

To shape the truffles, scoop the ganache (or, in English, yummy chocolate cream) with a spoon and shape into round, truffly shapes. Roll these in PLENTY of cocoa powder, to reduce melting onto fingers, and plop into the lovely little muffin cups.

If you want to get fancy, you can also dip the truffles into melted chocolate (this is called enrobing, and it works better if you chill the shaped ganache until it is quite hard). Then you can get creative with white chocolate zigzags, crushed peppermint, nuts, or whatever crazy delicious topping you can think of.

Store the finished truffles in the refrigerator (although you may want to let them sit our 10 or 15 minutes before you plan to eat them. If you can wait that long!).


And remember ... IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE, GIVE THEM CHOCOLATE.




Friday, September 11, 2009

Knock, Knock ...

When I first started blogging, I promised to update twice a week ... even if I just posted knock knock jokes. It's been a full week, a good week, a LONG week (despite being a short week!), and it's a good night for something quick and funny.

Unfortunately, I have since realised that there ARE no funny knock knock jokes. Apparently once you reach the age of 8 or so all the funny evaporates out of them. Do not despair, however, dear reader. En lieu of the knock knocks, I will share one of my fallback funnies:

http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=1104

Dinosaur Comics often makes me smile but this is an all time favourite, and about as intellectual as I think I can manage today! I lurched out of bed at 6:15 this morning and managed to fumble my way out of bed and into the workplace, but my brain never really got the memo that it was daytime. Instead of reading Dickens or something equally pretentious during my lunch break today, I read the September issue of Allure. (My favourite shades of nail polish are "in" this season! Also, I need some over-the-knee, triple-buckle, black leather Calvin Klein high heel boots. NEED. And maybe a little tiny dress and huge earrings to go with.)

I am looking forward to the weekend! And I hope that you, dear reader, have a relaxing and fun weekend as well.

PS - I should probably add a disclaimer. Dinosaur Comics is often funny, but sometimes crude and immature. (Sometimes it's both at once!) But not every comic is one that I would link to :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

How Not To Clean A Bathroom in Seven Days Flat

I think it says something about me that I will finish 3 of what I used to call "chapter books" before cleaning my bathroom ONCE. And NOT something good! Labour Day was a great chance to catch up on housework and feel like I can start the work week really on top of things. Our apartment is LOVELY and clean (my wonderful husband vacuumed, because he knows it is not my favourite chore :) Clean floors, my friends, are HAPPY floors.

Now that I'm no longer a guilty home-not-maker, I would love to share some book recommendations, though. What I've read in the past few weeks:

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. This book has been around a few years, and I have actually read it several times--it is that good. The book is told from the perspectives of 4 mothers and 4 daughters; the novel begins with the death of one mother, triggering a chain of memories divulged to the reader by each woman. The centre of this book, I would say, is the impact of past history -- even unknown history -- on the present, and the disconnect between the Chinese born mothers and their very American, very modern daughters. The language barrier between Tan's generations is a literal (!) one, but I think it will resonate with any reader. Is this true for you, too? That what our mothers don't tell us sometimes is as important in our lives as what they do say. The Joy Luck Club ends on a happy note, with reunion, but always leaves me wondering how truly one person can ever understand another, however loved.

Hard Times, by Charles Dickens. One of Dickens's shorter and less-famous works, still full of his trademark, strongly outlined characters who, as exaggerated as they are, somehow manage to be believable instead of simple caricatures. Definitely not a masterpiece, this novel introduces several interesting themes -- including the disastrous effects of an education that disallows any development of a child's imagination or soul -- but simply is not long enough to develop any of them fully. This is not a happy novel -- the central characters may be redeemed morally, but few have a "happy ever after" at the end of the brief tale. As usual for Dickens, there are several central stories, all interrelated -- primarily, the unhappy marriage between an old banker who boasts of his rags-to-riches history, and the young woman who longs for something more than the practicalities and rationalities on which she has been brought up; and the ostracization of an honest mill hand who refuses to join a labour union. I would recommend this story to anyone interested in Dickens or in the period; despite its flaws it is absorbing, thought-provoking, and (for Dickens) a quick read.

Deep Secret, by Diana Wynne Jones. OK, this is a fluffy book beyond compare. DWJ remains one of my all-time favourite fantasy authors, and is one of the reasons I can still often be seen in the children's section of my local library. What makes this book especially fun for me is that the alternate-universes/magic/royal intrigue of the story occurs right in the middle of the craziness of a fantasy/sci fi convention. And does DWJ ever capture the convention crowd! So many scifi/fantasy fans manage to be both awkward misfits and, at the same time, almost pitifully mundane. (You must understand I am speaking from inside a group and not at it!) I wonder, sometimes which comes first. Which creates the other -- that sense of not-quite-fitting, or that thirst to be part of some Story, something high or deep or bright or dark, something epic and vital? I love how Wynne Jones realises that about us--that the colour and carnival of the convention world may be ridiculous, but that it's an attempt to capture something ...

Anyway, this is a Fun Book, but please be advised that it is not a Christian Book. I would rate it a PG13, meaning don't give it to your 8year old who will absorb the story like a sponge without discernment. Readers who object to stories that are witchy and/or worldly had better stay away altogether, as Deep Secret is both.

Mr. Crawford would censure me, I am sure, but NEXT week I am setting aside my beloved novels to read some improving History, in the form of Dennis's highschool text.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mandarin Orange Salad

You get an extra post today! Free, no charge! We had a church potluck today (YUM curried lentils and peanut butter Rice Krispie Treats), and I thought I would share the recipe for the salad I brought. It was given to me by one of my best friends in high school, a fun, godly young woman and a super homemaker. Also, it tastes really light and delicious and got eaten up this afternoon, which is always a good sign.

MANDARIN ORANGE SALAD
Prep Time: I dunno, about 15 minutes? It doesn't take long to make a salad :P
Serves: About 6-8, depending on how much else is available ...

For the Dressing:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (apple cider or red or white wine vinegar are all good)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Minced fresh or dried parsley (or if you are out, use a little basil and thyme)

Mix well and chill till ready to use. An empty jam jar or something with a lid that screws shut is the neatest way to make and store the dressing.

For the Salad:
4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds (I use a 4-oz package)
1 cup celery, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1 small can Mandarin oranges, drained
1 head Romaine lettuce, torn

In a heavy skillet (I use my lovely, lovely cast iron skillet!), heat the sugar and almonds over medium heat until the sugar melts and coats the almonds. Stir until the almonds get coated with a delicious glaze (it's OK if the sugar starts to turn a little brown). Turn onto waxed paper to cool.

Toss the lettuce, oranges, celery, and onions together. Just before serving the salad, toss with the dressing (I usually use only 1/2 to 2/3 of the dressing recipe) and with the almonds (break up any huge clumps). YUM.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blessed ...

Some time before we were actually married, DH and I started reading through the Bible together ... from Genesis 1:1. We made it through I and II Samuel, and I respectfully submitted that we alternate between reading OT and NT books. I honestly don't think I can take much more of heads being flung over walls. (See II Samuel 20:22.)

So we are now reading through Matthew, one of my FAVOURITE books of the Bible ever. Every time I read or read from it, Matthew manages to both challenge and comfort me. The Kingdom of Heaven -- what does the rule of Christ mean to me, here, now, and always? What do I value and pursue more than anything else? DH and I read the Beatitudes this morning. I wrote 'em out on an index card and stuck 'em up in my cubicle at work (oh yes, update, I now have my own cube!). A few that really grabbed onto my brain throughout the day:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5). My study Bible suggests that this verse refers to "spiritual meekness, an attitude of humility and submission to God." Christ being the preeminent example of this; God's will and pleasure was of such value to Him that He gave up what He might otherwise have desired. Am I meek? Do I really, truly desire for God's reign on earth more than I want anything else? It's hard to even think about giving up some of my own desires or plans.
I think really being meek in this sense comes down to living out what I know about the character of God. He is GREAT - He is God, and I am not. Basically, who am I to say, "But God, I wanted ..." More than that though, God is GOOD. Psalm 37:11 says "the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace." What am I afraid to give up? My plans and desires will never satisfy me the way that Christ is able to. Romans 8! If I really believe this, I can trust God's will absolutely. I don't have to worry about looking out for my own safety or pleasure.
I think it's worth noting, too, that JOY or delight is part of truly submitting to God. If I grudgingly and grumblingly give up what I really want, then I am holding something else - some wish or want or need or plan of mine - to be more valuable to me than Christ. And that is just wrong!

The second Beatitude that I really need to absorb is in verse 6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." This goes right along with verse 5 -- and again, it really convicts me that I hold too many false values. What things are deepest, most important to me and my happiness?

If I consider the time I spend thinking or worrying about how I look, how clean my house is, what my husband, coworkers, and total strangers think about me, how much money I'm spending on groceries ...

and compare that to the time I spend mentally desiring and pursuing patience, gratitude, joy, contentment ...

ouch.

So here I am, asking for the desire for righteousness! Because I really do want to believe, and live, what Christ has done for me. Does that count as hungering and thirsting for righteousness?

One more verse I read just this morning -
"I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thankfulness

Today did not start out so great. It was DARK and COLD and WET when I woke up (at 6 am!), and the outfit I had planned to wear seemed like the absolute WRONG thing to wear. Then I spent half an hour throwing on, then off, the OTHER contents of my closet, frantically trying to find something that was clean, fit, and business casual. I didn't have time to eat my oatmeal and had to run out the door with an apple and no lunch.

Really? I mean, NOT ONLY am I eternally loved by God, He gives me so many, small, specific blessings every day. With that in mind, I would like to offer

THINGS THAT I AM THANKFUL FOR TODAY.

I don't like driving in the rain, BUT I did NOT forget to turn off my lights today!

No time to pack lunch = Caramel Frappuccino from the Starbucks down the road from my office. YUM. That, my friends, is a definite WIN.

My husband SUGGESTED that we go shopping for work pants that actually fit. New clothes = yay! And even today -- SO much better than being too fat for my clothes!

Ashes Against the Grain. The perfect album to listen to in today's weather ... ON my iPOd ... AND I'm allowed to listen to said iPod while I'm in the filing rows at work!

FREE COFFEE at work. I availed myself.

Most of all, I am thankful for my Dear Husband, who was patient and kind to me this morning, lent me his umbrella, offered to do laundry AND go shopping, and most importantly, PRAYED with me that I would remember to enjoy God's good grace to me throughout the day.

I am very, very blessed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How We Eat One Chicken All Week

This is very economical, since you can almost always find chicken for less than a dollar a pound. However, it is more interesting if you use your FREEZER and spread the chicken out over two or three weeks!

1 - BUY CHICKEN. The cheap kind -- either bone - in pieces or a whole chicken (buy the smaller "frying chicken" type since they are usually more tender than the big old "roasting chickens." That said, I usually go for the biggest chicken I can find in the bin!

The rest of this blog assumes you're using a whole chicken, since that's usually what's cheaper. If you find a good deal on bone-in pieces, you can get even more creative (I have a good slow cooker recipe for chicken curry, chicken cacciatore etc) -- I don't know about you, but I am NOT cutting up a whole raw chicken into serving pieces.

2 - ROAST CHICKEN. This is the easiest way to cook chicken, ever. But it does take longer than those super-convenient, pricey boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I usually do this for Saturday evening dinner, since I'm nervous about leaving the oven on while we're at church.

Basically, grease a roasting pan and stuff your chicken in it, in the same position as a tiny Thanksgiving turkey. If you like, smear the chicken with butter or olive oil and seasonings such as salt, pepper, dried herbs and/or lemon juice. The chicken also tastes better if you cut up an onion or some celery and stuff it inside the chicken (a good way to use up last week's wilting vegetables!). Shove that thing in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit and cook it till it's done all the way through. This will probably take at least an hour, and possibly much longer if your bird is big or if you want dinner done at a certain time. If you have guests over, it will DEFINITELY take longer.

This is dinner #1. Just cut off the pieces you want to eat and serve them with some vegetables. You can roast some potatoes in the oven while the chicken is baking if you like!

2 - CUT THE MEAT OFF THE BONES. This is the gross part. Pick the carcass clean. Put the cooked meat in storage containers and refrigerate or freeze until you can make a CASSEROLE, SOUP, CHICKEN AND RICE or something similar. Feeding two people (Dennis usually eats more than one serving, but I usually eat less, so it evens out), we usually have enough meat to stretch over at least three more meals. Favourite uses for the meat include Chicken Enchiladas (great for the freezer!), chicken tacos (like regular tacos, only with chicken instead of hamburger), etc.

3 - BOIL UP SOME CHICKEN STOCK. This is the fun part, and why it's worth paying 80 cents a pound for a bird that includes lots of bones and other inedible parts.

Once you've cut all the meat off the bones, dump the chicken skeleton and any other strange bits into a big pot. Add water to cover (for one chicken skeleton, I usually add about 6 to 8 cups liquid). Then, dump in anything else that you think will make the broth taste good. Celery, onion, peppercorns, thyme, and bay are a good starting point. I think coriander and whole cloves (just a couple!) add a subtle and delicious touch. Again, this is a good way to get your money's worth from the limp vegetables you have left over from last week (Who eats a whole huge stalk of celery in a week anyway? Speaking of celery, don't cut off the leaves if you add celery to your broth pot. They add nicely to the flavour). When you've got everything you want in there, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for at least 30 minutes (longer is better). If you lift up the lid it smells DELICIOUS. YUM.

Then, you have two quarts of high-quality chicken stock that you can use to make vegetable or chicken soup, chicken and rice, or whatever else strikes your fancy during the week. SO much tastier and healthier than those super-salty bouillon cubes and fake-tasting canned broth. Even those $3.00 boxes of chicken stock don't taste as good! I usually find a use for it all, but if you have extra, chicken stock freezes really well.

So there you are. Meals for a week for two people.

An example menu of how this might work out:

Meal One: Roast Chicken
Meal Two: Chicken Tacos
Meal Three: Casserole
Meal Four: Casserole (like I said, this works better if you use your freezer and spread the meals out)
Meal Five: Chicken and Rice (more exciting if you use cinnamon and turmeric!)
Meal Six: Vegetable or Bean Soup (using chicken broth)

OK, so that's six dinners, not seven, but I usually take leftovers to work for lunch!

Friday, August 21, 2009

In Which Emily Snarks ...

... and also talks about boobs. Be warned, dear reader: this is an indelicate post. Read at your discretion.

Fridays we are allowed to wear jeans to work. Apparently I missed the memo that this particular Friday was also Boob Day.

Yes, I just said "boob" all over the Internet.

The majority of people who work in my department at MFF are young - aspiring young professionals between twenty-five and thirty-five, and then several filing peons like myself, who are about my own age. I'd say 80% of the peons and about 50% of the cubiculites are female. And I can now say that I have a more than casual acquaintance with the boobs of over half of them (the female ones, that is).

Offending garments included, but were not limited to, close-fitting and nearly transparent t-shirts, a lacy cutout polyester thing, or plunging v-necks that should have been retired about 15 lb ago.

Really, people. When did Casual Friday become Boob Day? I just don't understand the reasoning behind such wardrobe choices. I mean, sure, some of the girls in question had really nice boobs. But anybody who actually WANTS to be looking at your boobs, is a creep who you really don't want looking at your boobs. And everybody else would appreciate a little more fabric, thank you very much.

Having expressed my frustration and bewilderment thus indelicately, I shall retire to sniff my smelling salts and sigh over the foolishness of modern times.

On a COMPLETELY unrelated note ... those grapes I was craving the other day? I'm sure they were sour anyway.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

That's What He Said

When I was young, I told myself, "You are beautiful and brilliant and amazing! Everyone will love you." But then I grew a little, and I found out that I wasn't, really ...

So when God told me, years later,
You are beautiful, my love -- there is no flaw in you,
I loved his words, but I was so frightened.

I said, "Lord, please make me beautiful. I am selfish, I am not just, I am not kind. All I want is to live a pure life. Surely that pleases you."

But still He said,
None is righteous -- no, not even you, little one.

So I said, "If I cannot be good, then let me at least be brilliant. Let me make some thing beautiful, to justify my existence here. Some word or song or image that will remain, that people will look at for years. Some thing that will make them cry for its beauty, so that if they cannot love me, they will at least love what I have made."

And He said,
Your flesh is grass, and all your beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely, you are grass. Only my Word remains forever.

And I said, "Yes, yes, Lord, but what can I do?"

He said,
Look -- here is my Son. In Him I am well pleased forever.

And oh, that Son! He was beautiful and terrible. He was like a pearl in his radiance; his great love pressed against me. You are altogether lovely, he told me again.
I felt like the world dropped from beneath my feet -- my stomach lurched with a sick, inevitable dread.
So I built a wall around myself with mirrors, so that all I could see wherever I looked was my own image. And I said, "I am not worthy of love, but I will become a tower. I have no breasts -- no doors. I shield myself with silver. I am all there is in my world, and I reject myself. Surely, now, I have nothing to fear."

But he said (and his voice was terrible)
I shatter doors of bronze; I break through walls of iron. You are mine, little one. No one shall deliver you out of my hand.

And I said, "No one?"

And He said,
Not even you, my hard proud little one.
He was so beautiful it hurt to look at him, but his eyes were so kind. He looked at me -- he saw me. He saw me, and he said again,

I will never leave you or forsake you.


He had been saying it all along.

Friday, August 14, 2009

THE JOB BLOG

After 2 weeks of employment (by Mon. or Tues. that should be gainful employment!), I figured it was time to tell the folks how said employment happened.

Most of you are aware that I was hoping to have a job before DH and I actually moved to Iowa. My search was made difficult by the fact that I graduated with a degree in English literature (specialising in Medieval literature, at that), am not licensed to teach in Iowa, and have almost NO previous work experience due to frantically acquiring said degree ... Still, my resume looked good, I was hopeful, I did everything right (I thought).

By the end of July, I was despondent. Turned down not only for "dream" positions that I really lacked the expertise for, but for secretarial and administrative jobs that, frankly, any high school graduate with a decent work ethic could do. I couldn't even get a temp job at the Monster Financial Firm that, I was assured, was the one company in town that was always hiring.

I was down to three options. Three bleak, bitter options.

Cafeteria worker in a high school. I could do that ... get up every morning at 4am to spend all day preparing bad, prepackaged food for unappreciative high schoolers. I could really do that. But I really didn't want to.

I could join the Army. At least then I would get great benefits. Health insurance for the first time in years sounds pretty good. Then again, I would have to spend time away from my dear husband. Lots of time away. And I would have to do pushups. Lots of pushups. I HATE pushups.

Or, I could MAKE $1000s A DAY FROM HOME! UNBELIEVABLE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY!! SIGN UP NOW to MAKE $$$$ IN JUST HOURS A DAY!!!!!

Really. I was desponding all right. I was in full out despond, on the floor by my laptop, staring at the ceiling and wailing in self-pity because I didn't want to work in a school cafeteria. It was bad, people. Bad. I am not the most mature human being, evidently.

Anyway, the story has a happy ending. After forcing me to deal with some major pride and trust issues (thanks so much, Lord), God finally, graciously provided a temp position at said Monster Financial Form--which has a good possibility of turning full time. If you're interested, I alternate between managing files (the system reminds me of working at the library), listening to insurance companies' hold music (I think they've been using the same songs since 1984. There are two of them -- one is peppy, and one is schloopy. Listening to either makes your brain turn to goo and slide out of your nostrils), barcoding, and other random office-y type stuff. Not terribly complicated, but enough variety and volume to keep me busy, and I really like all the people I work with.

Really, anyone could be doing my job. But I'm very, very glad it's me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Difference Between Men and Women ...

My dear husband and I have had many conversations about directions. Specifically, my lack of any reasonable sense of direction. I am NOT proud to confess, I have gotten lost WITH a GPS. OK, I've gotten lost with a GPS TWICE. What my DH and I didn't realise, I think, was the fundamental difference in the way we navigate.

Skip to Friday. DH and I were catching up; I'd spent the day pushing files and being put on hold by insurance companies. (Did you know how many insurance companies have names that start with "American"? A LOT.) My husband had spent the day preparing to start classes at DMU -- which meant, among other things, getting his hair cut. Being the interested spouse that I am, I asked him where he'd gone. It took us about 5 minutes, but we finally established that there is a hair place beside Wal-Mart, across a road that runs next to Wal-Mart, but NOT, at least according to DH, "across from Wal-Mart."

So this is the amazing insight we discovered:

MEN (or at least my man) locate things by a fixed set of directions / standards / whatever. So a shop is only "across the street from Wal-Mart" if it is across the street that Wal-Mart is facing. WOMEN (or at least me) see things relative to their position to other things.

I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but it honestly didn't occur to me that there was any other way to define something ... We probably spent WAY too much time thinking about how to describe the location of a hair salon, but in my short experience, I can definitely see a pattern that extends to more than just how men and women find their way from point A to point B.

* * * *

The Difference Between Men and Women, Part II
(because no blog post of mine is complete until it takes three scroll-downs to read)

DH wanted me to share another example of the different way we navigate. We shop at Aldi (FANTASTIC store, I love it!), but since the machines there don't read my debit card, I have to stop at a bank and withdraw cash before shopping there. We like to go to Great Western Bank, because we can do ATM withdrawals free there. I told Dennis that there was a Great Western "right across the street from Aldi."

Apparently I should have been more specific. There is a Great Western across the street from Aldi, but not across the street Aldi faces--across the street we turn off of to GET to Aldi. Also, there are two or three shops in between the street and Aldi.

I still think that qualifies as "right across the street." Those other shops? Not important--we had no interest in fast food or dollar toys.

Well, at least I knew what I was talking about.

More Recipes

After 4 days of full-time employment (THANK YOU, Lord!), I have learned the value of a meal that comes together quickly. This recipe certainly fits the bill, and with some hearty, crusty bread makes a satisfying meal. The recipe is from a Weight Watchers cookbook, and if you prepare it as noted has just under 200 kcal/cup (the recipe made 4 cups, enough for Dennis for one night and me to have for supper and then lunch the next day). My soup probably had a bit more, since I used homemade chicken stock. I also substituted dried, soaked, and pre-cooked white beans for the canned white beans. You could probably also cheat on the fresh tomatoes, if you don't have any nice ripe ones. Fresh spinach might be a nice add-in.

WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND BASIL
Makes 4 cups - 15 minutes prep time!

2 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic - minced
1 can (19 oz) cannelini beans (small white beans) - rinsed and drained
2 cups chicken broth
2 ripe plum or Roma tomatoes - seeded and chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves - shredded (or use 1 tsp dried, plus 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Heat oil in a medium saucepan; saute garlic till fragrant (30 sec). Add beans and broth. Reserve 1/3 of the beans or so with enough broth to moisten and mash or puree (so the soup will be thicker). Add mashed beans to the pot and bring it all to a boil; simmer on low heat 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes and basil and heat through (another 4 or 5 minutes). Serve with cheese!

* * * *

After that quick soup, I would also like to share a recipe for good old, basic, homemade spaghetti sauce. Perhaps you ask - WHO has time to simmer a pot of spaghetti sauce when perfectly decent varieties can be plopped from a jar, heated (perhaps with the addition of a few spices or meat), and served within minutes? Well, if YOU don't have time to simmer sauce for a couple hours, DON'T try this sauce, because after you do, you will never want the jarred stuff again.

PASTISSADA (or as I call it, "spaghetti sauce")
Sauce for 4-6 people; good on pasta, polenta, or gnocchi

Heat in a big pot:
3 T butter
2 T olive oil
(Hmm... no wonder this stuff is so delicious)

If you like, brown:
2 slices bacon (or if you can afford it, use pancetta!)
Then remove to paper towels. Otherwise, just go ahead and add:
1 large clove garlic - minced
1 onion - chopped
1 large carrot - peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, with leaves (a good use for the floppy ones left over at the end of the week) - chopped
1 bay leaf
Scant 1/2 tsp ground coriander (Yes, coriander. IT'S GOOD.)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Saute over low heat till soft, 12 to 15 minutes.

Add
1 1/2 to 2 lb ground beef and/or deer
and cook 5 minutes or so to brown evenly.

Stir in
2/3 cup dry red or white wine
and cook 3 minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Then stir in
3 T tomato paste
and cook gently a few minutes more.

Add
3 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes (I used crushed or diced from a can!)
1/2 tsp salt (more if you really have to)
Cover partially and simmer over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours, or till the sauce is thick and smells WONDERFUL. Stir it every now and then. (You can add a bit of water if it gets too dry. This is also when you would add bacon back in, if you used it.)

Add pepper to taste and serve over polenta, pasta, or gnocchi (with cheese if you like - I certainly do!).

This is from Dennis's Venetian cookbook. Apparently this stuff was originally made with horsemeat and chicken giblets. Pretty gross, but TRY THIS RECIPE ANYWAY because it is AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS.

Should this cake happen?