Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Anniversary Pasta

... we should have taken a picture (it was gaw-geous, dahling), but we ate it instead.

Then we made it again the next week. And we still didn't take a picture.

(Serves 2+ as main course, 4+ as side or first course)

1 tablespoon dark or golden raisins, soaked
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 anchovies 
1 tablespoon capers
3/4 cup black olives
1 tablespoon minced pine nuts
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
14 oz vermicelli (thin spaghetti)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

This recipe works well prepared as a team. One person (for example, Dennis) actually cooks the pasta. The other (that would be Yours Truly) opens cans, chops nuts, measures ingredients, and eats all the olives that were left in the tin. Yes, all of them.

Cooking Together Is Fun, especially a special dinner for a special occasion. However, if you are a control-freak, as I happen to be, it sadly often becomes Tense and Frustrating instead. With that in mind, let me add another essential ingredient to the list:

A bottle of good wine

It can be white or red, whatever you like. It is very important to open the bottle before you get very far into recipe prep. Trust me, this will add enormously both to the fun of preparation and to the deliciousness of the final dish.

Once you get who does what sorted out, bring a pot of salted water to boil for pasta; cook al dente as directed on the box (about 7 minutes). Meanwhile, in another pan, heat olive oil and add the garlic, smashed and peeled but not minced. Sautee a minute or so till it smells AMAZING.

This is a good time to add some of the wine. This should be sipped slowly by the chef/sous chef, not added to the pot. You will want to add the anchovies to the pot, and mush them up as well as you can. Depending on how hungry you were before those first sips of wine, mashing the weird little pink fillets may seem delightfully funny. Or it may just seem gross. Trust me, the anchovies are an essential ingredient.

After they've cooked a minute, dump in the capers, olives, nuts, and raisins. (At this point, let me suggest using walnuts if the price sticker on the pine nuts at the grocery store gives you palpitations. We did -- it was awesome. Also, feel free to add more raisins if you like them. We are always a fan of adding more raisins.) Cook a few more minutes to let everything get all toasty and delicious, then fish out the garlic (if you are like us, you will then eat the crispy garlic. If that's a little too ... garlicky ... for you, feel free to just throw it away). Throw in those breadcrumbs and let them toast!

At this point, you may need a little more wine. Also, your pasta is probably about done. If both of these happen about the same time, please be CAREFUL as you drain the hot noodles and toss them in the beautiful, beautiful sauce.

This is an Italian sauce. No, there is not supposed to be more of it. There is enough sauce, and it will be DELICIOUS. Have it with meat and salad or all by its ownsome. With, of course, another glass of wine.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

As much as I love and respect and am grateful to my dad, this year Father's Day takes a backseat to a more important celebration. Dennis and I have been married one year -- I find that hard to believe! The past year has been so FULL. I think I have learned more about myself (not very fun!) and about God in one year as Dennis's Wife than in any four years together of my life as a daughter. I still have so much to learn about what it means to be part of this new family I have been given.

Being married is a lot (A LOT!) harder than I thought it would be -- and I thought my expectations were pretty reasonable, compared to the Disney happy-ever-after all the magazines suggest you ought to expect! But I am overwhelmed by how great, how very great a blessing marriage is at the same time. Hard, yes, but a source of encouragement, comfort, strength, sweetness, excitement, and fun. Just to know that, "for better or worse," next year, and the next year, and all the years God gives us, it's not going to be me, or even me and Dennis -- it's going to be Us, that strange two-headed creature I am just beginning to recognize.

We really had a lovely day -- working the opening shift at the coffee shop has taught me to appreciate slow, leisurely weekend breakfasts! A friend gave us a slightly-dilapidated but still deliciously functional French press, which makes our breakfast coffee even more of a treat. Then DH surprised me with a truly, truly amazing anniversary gift -- tickets to see the Des Moines Opera perform Le Nozze di Figaro. (!!!! bounce bounce) I am already excited! After church we had fun with capers, anchovies, and other strange and new (to us) ingredients -- Dennis had picked out THE MOST AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS pasta recipe (raisins, too!) and a savoury chicken recipe from an Italian cookbook his sister gave us. I think I can check off another pound gained! Oh, man, it was good. I'd post a picture, but there isn't anything left to take a picture of :)

Having fulfilled my quota both of Girly Smarm and of Husband Bragging for the week, I shall close. I would love to hear, Dear People whom I love and respect, any thoughts -- Deep Thoughts or fluff -- you care to share on Marriage and what it means.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Things You Learn While Moving House

Our little move is accomplished! We are settling into our new home, and loving the convenience of living within walking distance of the university and of my new Coffee Shop Job! The week before the move, DH was up north on his Grand Canoeing Adventure, while I was working and packing and cleaning and generally feeling rather sorry for myself. Dennis's parents graciously endured the 11+-hour roadtrip from Tennessee in order to help us with the actual moving, so that part of the process was a lot faster and a lot more fun. Anyway, I've learned a few things during the process. I know many of my readers have done this several times over, but I thought I'd share anyway.

1. Things that you can't see still get dirty. You just can't see the dirt. I'm talking about the top shelf of the broom closet, tops of cabinets, the tops of fan blades, and other Things That Are Really, Really Far Up. Generally anything "top."

2. A husband is very useful when it comes to cleaning Things That Are Really, Really Far Up. Perhaps this is why many women are attracted to taller men -- they subconsciously realise how practical said men may be in future?

3. I am a fan of not buying expensive, strange-smelling cleaning solutions -- I pretty much use ammonia, baking soda, vinegar or lemon juice, and plain old dish soap for most chores. When it comes to really tough cleaning jobs, my mom's favorite cleaning secret is powdered laundry soap -- it's gritty and works as an abrasive as well as a cleanser. Great for grease in the kitchen, tub rings, etc. DH and I, alas, buy liquid laundry detergent, so I was thrilled to find an alternate scrubbing mixture online that worked really well in my bathroom. Just make a paste of salt, baking soda, and water -- use that to scrub bathroom surfaces, then wipe clean with a solution of water and lemon juice. Shiny!

4. With that said, last week I learned How To Use Oven Cleaner. That stuff is definitely not "green," but boy, does it work. I feel like a grownup now!

5. Moving is a GREAT opportunity to clean out the clothes closet. Shoes that are super-cute but a half-size too big? Out. Jeans that I may be able to wear ... after a couple of kids ... sometime after the next four years? Out. Very nice, grown-up looking tailored shirt that fits beautifully and just isn't my style at all? Out. Now I'm just wondering -- why did I hang onto those for so long? I haven't grown an inch in seven years. I think it's time to stop holding onto stuff "for next year"!

6. Pack books in small boxes. Sometimes you can ask your local liquor store when they get shipments and they will let you have some of their empty boxes. They are small and sturdy, although perhaps not the best option for Baptists :)

7. DH and I own thirteen and a half boxes' worth of books. In this house. I still have at least six boxes' worth at home (and yes, I made sure to write my name in permanent marker inside the covers!). Who cares if we're sleeping under his grungy college-days quilt and eating off a card table? We are rich!

8. People are WONDERFUL. DH's parents ... all the church families and the friends who offered boxes, packing paper, time and muscle ... I still have thank-you notes to write! Moving was a chance for us to be shown a lot of practical love, and I am so grateful at the people God has put into our lives! Again, we are rich!

9. Being separated from DH for a week was pretty rough -- I have a lot of admiration for my friends who are military wives -- but it was a great opportunity to be reminded of how grateful I am to be a part of this family, and how committed I am to "us," even though that looks a lot different from my default "me" mode. I love my husband!

Thanks to everyone for their prayers and good wishes while we were moving. I love you all!

Saturday, May 29, 2010


DH and I love curry -- especially spicy curry dishes -- and we have it quite often. We are trying to clean out our freezer before moving, so tonight we had a curry with the last of our frozen shrimp (probably won't be buying more anytime soon -- sigh). This recipe was very fast and easy to put together, and healthy too, so I thought I would share! I used serrano and jalapenos with seeds, so our curry was fairly spicy; if you use bell pepper, however, the curry won't be hot at all.

Don't be put off by the long ingredient list. If you use frozen shrimp, take them out to defrost. Start cooking the rice, then chop your vegetables and group them. As your pan heats, measure out your spices into a little bowl together, so you can add them all together -- the recipe will come together quickly, I promise!

The original recipe I found on some link from a BBC article, long lost. I have Americanized the ingredients and changed a few things to suit our taste, so I'm not going to feel bad about losing the source :) Let me know if you try it -- hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

SHRIMP & TOMATO CURRY (4 helpings)
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 - 1 cup chopped pepper -- use bell or hot pepper(s) to your taste
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
4 - 5 cloves garlic, minced
SPICES: 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon garam masala (Indian spice mix -- I use a mix of cinnamon, coriander, cayenne pepper, cumin, turmeric, cardamom and a bit of fennel -- you can also buy it pre-mixed in the store)
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes -- chop tomatoes into chunks, but save the liquid!
Shrimp enough for 4 people -- about 3/4 lb (I use the frozen kind, thawed)
Thin slice butter

Heat oil in a large skillet or pan and add the onion and peppers. Sprinkle with salt to taste and cook 8 minutes or so, till the vegetables are soft and the onions begin to color. Stir in the ginger and garlic; cook another minute, till fragrant. Stir in the sugar and spices to mix evenly. Add the vinegar, tomatoes, and some of the liquid from the tomato can. Simmer 4 or 5 minutes to thicken the sauce. Stir in the shrimp; reduce heat to a lowish simmer and cook till the shrimp is hot; add water if it gets too thick. Stir in a thin slice of butter.

Serve over rice; if desired, garnish with chopped cilantro, yoghurt, or chutney.

We often make a similar curry with canned butter beans (sounds weird, tastes great, and is super cheap) -- check out the other recipes on the site as well!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010



... the blog, that is, thanks to y'all (you know who you are). We'll see how it goes! I could treat you all to an in-depth and inconclusive analysis about What I Think About That and Why I Decided To Write Anyway, but I'll spare you that and just try to update instead :) In that spirit, I give you -- The News.


... the Pritzel family, that is. On June 7th, to be precise! (Address details will be sent to friends and family after the move, of course!) We are super excited to be moving into a new apartment complex that is right across the street from Dennis's university. No more scraping and shoveling in the black, bleak winter mornings! Even better for me (since DH is the one who did most of the scraping and shoveling, good man that he is), we will be much closer to some friends from school, AND the apartment complex is within walking distance from my new job, about which I am pleased to say


OK, that's pretty immature. But I do really enjoy my work for a coffee shop about a block from DMU. I am so grateful to have found another job, and one that suits me so well. I enjoy the customer service part of the job, and I especially love driving the espresso machine. On my barista shifts, I feel like a daring space pilot -- we actually have a gleaming stainless-steel bank of four automatic espresso machines lined up, and they look and sound very sci-fi. Very impressive. I am pleased to say that I know the difference between a cappuccino and a macchiato, and can make a mean cafe mocha -- the recipe, of course, is a company secret ;)


We are blessed (at the end of May, seriously!) with warm temperatures and high humidity! It truly feels like summer is on the way, and I am finally comfortable. YAY!!! I am also super-excited that Dennis has completed his first year of med school. He has worked so hard this year -- I am really proud of what he has accomplished, and can't wait to see what he will do in the next few years together. In the meantime, he has a few weeks of absolutely NOTHING to do. Except, of course, participate in a Grand Adventure In A Canoe, and haul about 1600 boxes of books to our new place :)

We love y'all! See you soon!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why Blog??

By now you have noticed the Deadness of the Blog. You may have written me an email. You may be about to give up and delete your bookmark.

I have a question for you.

To what end the blog?

I began it as a way to keep faraway friends and family updated. After a year or so, though, I've noticed how much my blog is simply a forum for me to indulge my melancholy self-absorption. And I'm not even funny! I don't have a lot of wisdom or grace to share (for that, visit my mom -- she will make you laugh AND make you think!).

Not Cool. Not helpful to other people, not helpful to me, certainly not to the glory of God!

If I do continue writing regularly, I think I need a Goal or a Purpose that is bigger than How I'm Feeeeeeeeeeling. Or, maybe, a narrower focus (this would be easier if I could take gorgeous photos or had some obvious skill besides navelgazing and regret).

I would welcome your thoughts and suggestions.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Short Rant, a Hard Truth, and Something Funny to Make Up for it.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be English lit. majors. I am truly, truly grateful for kind interest and helpful suggestions about work from people. And yes, there is a BUT. I am just tired of the "Have you considered ...?" and the "Have you thought about ..?" and the "Have you tried ...?" The answer is YES, okay? Yes, I have considered, I have thought about, and I have tried. And now I am receiving "thanks for applying, this position has been filled, we will keep your resume on file" notices for part-time grocery checker positions.

God has really shown me a lot of pride and insecurity throughout this process. Not easy to learn, but I am grateful that He is doing that for me. I am praying for a heart that is humble, hopeful, and focused on service. This is still in progress, as evinced by my fed-up-ness with the conversation above. Really? What kind of a response to loving interest and desire to help is that?

I promised something funny. And here it is, continuing last week's Star Wars theme no less. What do you know? A B.A. in English Literature is good for something, after all!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Me, Darth Maul, and Other Fugitives (Long)

Sleeping in, dates at Starbucks, and just plain going grocery shopping together. I am loving DH’s spring break! My admirable husband is keeping up with his studies, but we're still taking advantage of the extra free time. We've even started re-viewing the Star Wars hexology. Yes, all six movies. Even Episode I. (What WAS George Lucas thinking? Then again, I can see how the brain that came up with Ewoks, after several years' slow decline into senility, might think that Jar Jar Binks was actually a hilarious idea.)

Regardless of its strengths or weaknesses as a movie, I have a secret fondness for Episode I. You see, it features two of my favourite characters. My fondness for these two has nothing to do with their role in the story or the skill with which their actors portray them.

I like Queen Amidala. Not Padme, the emotive "handmaiden"; not the sensual, inexplicably older-but-apparently-grown-completely-STUPID Senator of Episode II, but the padded and painted Queen. I like her because of her outrageously voluminous, outrageously numerous ceremonial costumes. You could stick Jabba the Hutt in those gorgeous robes, paint his face, and tie on a thirty-pound headdress, and call him Queen Amidala, and as long as he spoke in an emotionless monotone no one would be able to tell the difference.

And I like Darth Maul. You see, he's got a full set of armor, tattooed in red and black stripes across his face. He could be giggling uncontrollably, grimacing in fear, or weeping with the tortuous weight of guilt he's accumulated from his years of Sithly deeds. And all anyone would be able to see would be Tattooed Scary Evil Guy.

Why do I like those characters? Because they're safe. Nobody can see anything but the functional role they have assumed. Padme's heart can be broken (although really - Hayden Whatsisname acting like a thirteen-year-old Artistic Soul?) -- Queen Amidala's heart is invisible. Unassailable. All that is there is the even performance of her function as Queen.

Kind of a long and nerdy intro, I know. I've been reading this book, by Ed Welch. As the title suggests, it's about what's up when other people become more important to a person (viz, me) than God. When other people become the focus of idolatry.

Do I define myself by who I am in Christ?

Or do I feel insecure when I can't compete with or measure up to others? Am I afraid of being laughed at? Of not being liked? Am I unable to say "no" when people ask me for commitments? Do I feel responsible for helping others and fixing their problems? Do I tell "little white lies" to smooth over difficult situations? To avoid offending people? Do I need to prove my independence from others? Do I avoid people? Do I feel that my "low self-esteem" is holding me back?

Do I fear God, or do I fear people?

This is a scary, scary book. It is a book that is not afraid to shine the light of truth into the scariest corners of our hearts. Reading it, I am confronted with my heart. It's not fun. I feel exactly like Eustace. Like God is peeling off all my makeup. And then my clothes. And then my skin.

My heart wants to be like Queen Amidala or Darth Maul. No, I don't want to rule the galaxy via the Dark Side of the Force. But, almost more than anything, I want to be functional -- unassailable -- in the ways those characters are. I want "people" to perceive me as someone who fulfills her role. Smoothly. I don't want them to see the inadequacies, the fears, the petty self-indulgences. I want a mask in the shape of my own face -- a mask that doesn't let through pouts or tears.

Why is it so important that others think of me -- not as someone extraordinary -- but as someone "functional"? So much so that, in the vast majority of my relationships, I exchange superficiality for real love and service?

Mr. Welch suggests that my tendency to hide from "people" is an indicator that I want to hide from God. Or perhaps, worded differently, a way to distract myself from the terror of that (inescapable!) Knowing.

Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

News & Notes

Some exciting things have happened this week.

DENNIS IS ON SPRING BREAK!!!! He has a test right afterward, but without extra lectures to worry about, we should have plenty of time to hang out and have fun ... and look at potential new apartments. After our first year of commuting through winter weather, an apartment closer to DH's university sounds more and more attractive!


The study schedule being less frantic, we have been playing DH's new game, Agricola. I am loving a strategy game that is about, get this, farming instead of world domination. I highly recommend this game -- it's fun, makes you use your brain but doesn't take three days to play, and is really well designed. Not to mention the fact that I can TOTALLY play with the goal of not being in debt at the end, instead of racking up the most points (I haven't "won" a game yet). Hey, my family is from small-farm Tennessee. A big profit from a family farm? Yeah, right!

Then again, the game is set in a (hilariously-illustrated) 16th-century. Whatever. It's fun anyway!


I got hit by a car. Apparently the nice family in the red van forgot they had a stop sign AND completely failed to notice that an enormous blue tank of a car was entering the intersection. By the grace of God, no one was hurt and damage to the vehicles was not too bad. I am very grateful that nobody was hurt, and that Mrs. Red Van's insurance is paying for repairs.

My brother Nathaniel is emphatically NOT allowed to read this last.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Visit To The Des Moines Botanical Center

Outside looks like everywhere: great slabs of white snow marbled with dirt and gravel. Gray pavement glazed over with pitted, grimy ice. Colourless, cold sky. Everything is flat, blank, bleak. The geodesic panes of the greenhouse rise from the parking lot with science-fiction strangeness.

Inside the dome: whorls and curlicues and tendrils. The air is exuberant, heavy with pollen and the lemony smell of growth. Green unfolds and uncurls itself, presses into every centimeter of space. Fullness of stems and fronds and buds and lacebitten leaves. Cursive scribbles of moss fill the spaces on the treestems; aggressive ferns push up beneath broad, spiral palms. The flowers are profuse and jubilant. They lack the decorous beauty of garden flowers, exploding in unnatural, chemical-bright splashes of scarlet, orange, fuchsia, magenta. Their shapes are exotic: frilled, curled, spider-legged, flat alien disks. Not ornamental, but aggressively, unmistakably sexual: anatomy-book closeups, unshy, flamebeautiful.

We few refugees from winter wander two-by-two, wide eyed. Unconsciously our fingers hover near jewelbright leaves and petals (don’t touch!). Human sparrow-pairs, drab in this peacock garden.

An elderly, besuited gentleman, very round of shoulder, very pink of skin, very white of hair. His fluting tulip-wife beside him, immaculately groomed, tastefully brooched and suited. 

The longhaired child, elflike even in her denim jumper, darting and peering: purple orchids (look mom! my favorite color), scary cactus, goldflashing carp. Mom, dumpy and solicitous, smiles.

A peroxide mane, 1980s smear of eyeshadow, cell phone glued to her ear. This woman is ludicrously obese, triple-chinned. Her stretch leggings (look twice, three times: still true!) painted over her lumpy, enormous behind. Thirty years ago she was smacking her gum, gossiping with the same girlfriends about the same (white—harmless?) trash. Ah—behind her, the longtime biker boyfriend, his badboy looks settled now into grizzled, shaggy self-confidence, stuffed into the same Harley tshirt and acidwashed jeans. These two belong together: middle-aged, unglamorous now, unbeautiful. They hardly look at one another; she smacks into her cell phone (she what? Gawd!), he strides behind his proud beerbelly, jingling in his boots. Leaving the greenhouse their arms drift around one another in an unplanned, habitual tenderness.

A thin girl, roundfaced and spectacled, in a little boy's black tshirt. She links hands with her boyfriend, listens as he crouches down to peer at the variegated undersides of leaves, points out the bunch of infant bananas (we had a banana tree once, the fruits fingerlength, thickskinned and bitter). Near the artificial stream there is a creaking, unsteady bench, baking in the sunwarmth trapped by the glass ceiling. Turtle-like, she sits and closes her eyes. Green presses through the thin skin of her eyelids: in great lime-coloured whorls, in sharpedged blades, in saucers and curls and chartreuse tendrils. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

And Here's A World Of Beauty

"When Death Comes." By Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems. Beacon Press, 1992. 10-11.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder-blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

WHen it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited the world.

"Goldenrod." Oliver, 17-18.

On roadsides,
    in fall fields,
        in rumpy bunches,
            saffron and orange and pale gold,

in little towers,
    soft as mash,
        sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
            full of bees and yellow beads and perfect flowerlets

and orange butterflies.
    I don't suppose
        much notice comes of it, except for honey,
            and how it heartens the heart with its

blank blaze.
    I don't suppose anything loves it except, perhaps,
        the rocky voids
            filled by its dumb dazzle.

For myself,
    I was just passing by, when the wind flared
         and the blossoms rustled,
             and the glittering pandemonium

leaned on me.
    I was just minding my own business
        when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
            citron and butter-colored,

and I was happy, and why not?
    Are not the difficult labors of our lives
        full of dark hours?
            And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?
    All day
        on their airy backbones
            they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
    they rise in a stiff sweetness,
        in the pure peace of giving
            one's gold away.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Paragon Of Animals

obviously. My life is so FULL of angelic action and godlike apprehension. Yes, it is time for another Update, should you be interested in what's going on. Mostly what's going on is in my head, right now. If you don't feel like indulging my self-absorption, check it out -- these crosswords are the best thing ever.

... because he is so diligent and hardworking in his studies. Not to mention intelligent. I was helping him review vocab for a quiz the other night, and I couldn't even pronounce the definitions. DH could supply the definition (and pronounce it!) and he even knew what it meant. And he's making very good grades -- a big deal in medical school!

"As an English lit major, there are two job descriptions for which I qualify: low-paying secretarial position, or even lower-paying secretarial position." -- Probably misquoted line from this amusing but forgettable mystery (couldn't resist the Austen reference!), by Tracy Kiely.

Ms. Kiely, if you are reading, please don't sue me. I returned the book to the library, and it's checked out now, so I can't go back and correct the reference. Truly it wouldn't be worth your time. I have a B.A. in English literature.

In fact, I tried the low-paying secretarial position and even that was too much for me. I see a red polo and a grocery checkout line in my future ... that's After Winter future. I need to gain at least five pounds (probably ten, but ... not going to think about that) and figure out how to stop having emotional freakouts first. Inexplicable, uncontainable fits of weeping or panic or whatever do not fit well in a professional environment.

DH and I are hoping to move nearer to his school this spring, and my plan is to arrive at Reasonably Functional Adulthood by then, and then get another job. I suspect that green and warm will help a lot. Meanwhile I am reading a lot of novels and drawing super-deformed pandabears and robot smily faces.

So that's why, no, I'm not really looking for a job right now.

Although if anyone needs a regular babysitter/nanny, I would make an AWESOME nanny. Just sayin.'

^See above.

I can't quite say "because he keeps me sane" (see above), but ... because he keeps me safe even when I'm not sane. Even when I'm too stuck in the insanity to take a breath and remember that.
Because he saves me from what I deserve. Because he knows me -- all of me. He knows me, and he loves me!
Because he offers me the sure hope of a good world -- a world that will be what it was made to be.
Because he put me in this world that -- snow and all -- can take my breath away with its sheer, unexpected beauty.
Because he has blessed me with the love of so many dear, dear people.
Because he is, completely, in and of Himself, beautiful, lovely, excellent, right in a way that anything else can only shadow.

Friday, February 19, 2010

For My Mother

Some verses that remind me that my justification before God is completely secure -- because it is completely in Christ's perfect merit:

From Isaiah 47:
 15Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
   O God of Israel, the Savior.
16All of them are put to shame and confounded;
   the makers of idols go in confusion together.
17But Israel is saved by the LORD
   with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
   to all eternity.

 18For thus says the LORD,who created the heavens
   (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
   (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
    he formed it to be inhabited!):
"I am the LORD, and there is no other.
19 I did not speak in secret,
   in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek me in vain.'
I the LORD speak the truth;
   I declare what is right.
 20"Assemble yourselves and come;
   draw near together,
   you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
   who carry about their wooden idols,
 and keep on praying to a god
   that cannot save.
21Declare and present your case;
   let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
   Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
   And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
   there is none besides me.
 22"Turn to me and be saved,
 all the ends of the earth!
   For I am God, and there is no other.
23By myself I have sworn;
   from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
   a word that shall not return:
'To me every knee shall bow,
   every tongue shall swear allegiance.'
 24"Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me,
   are righteousness and strength;

to him shall come and be ashamed
  all who were incensed against him.

25In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
   shall be justified and shall glory.

From Romans 8:
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  
32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  
33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Recommendation

Salvage, by Jane Kotapish.

We meet two sisters in the novel's first chapter: the protagonist, and her sister, whom she names Nancy, and who talks to her unnamed sister in her bedroom closet. Nancy, miscarried by their mother, is full of persistent questions about the world she never saw; rejected by her mother's womb, she is obsessed with finding a home.

Nearly 30 years later, transplanted to New York and far away from her childhood home and Nancy, the protagonist takes part in a tragic, pointless accident. In an attempt to salvage what she can of her sanity, she moves back to Virginia and buys a house of her own. Makes a friend of the harried housewife next door. Tries to figure out how to relate with her quirky (probably delusional) mother. Tries to remember, and tries to forget.

Salvage doesn't offer solutions to the difficulty that is living in this world. What it does offer is a sometimes humorous, always haunting exploration of the puzzle. Kotapish's prose reads like a poem -- the novel is sheer joy to read -- and she wisely crafts a protagonist who does not take herself too seriously. This is a book worth remembering.


Find it here on amazon.com.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Church Cookbook, Part III

I love potlucks. Mostly because I like sitting around and visiting. I seem to have gifted my new family with the Kendall tendency to being the last ones out the door at any church function!

It's interesting the kind of food people bring to potlucks. For a lot of church members, potluck is a place for special dishes. Not the sliced sirloin with mushroom cream sauce, or the fancy genoise with raspberry-chocolate ganache filling -- but the kind of dishes that are fairly simple to prepare, will survive a morning in Tupperware or the crock pot -- and that taste so delicious that, at the end of the meal, the cook hardly has to clean out the casserole dish. People bring to potlucks the kind of food they like to eat.

Where I come from (the South, y'all!), that means gooey, for the desserts and the meal. The potluck table would always have two or three hashbrown casseroles (frozen potatoes -- cream soup -- Cheddar cheese -- cracker topping), at least that many pots of macaroni and cheese (every church lady had her own recipe!), chicken and dressing casserole, chicken and noodle casserole, vegetable casserole -- anything that you could slap in a casserole dish with cream soup, cheese, and cracker crumb topping, it was pretty much guaranteed to be there. There might be a vegetable casserole -- a dish of corn -- maybe some green beans or blackeye peas, or a salad.

Here in Des Moines -- not so much. I've only been to potlucks at our new church, Redeemer PCA, so I don't know if our church is typical of the region. But at the monthly potluck dinner, DH and I are likely to find curry (!), pasta salad, green salad, meatballs, roasted carrots. Maybe one dish of macaroni and cheese or spaghetti casserole. If anyone wants to speculate on why, let me know!

With that monster lead-in, how about another Southern Church Cookbook special? This is actually (gasp) a SALAD.

Of sorts.


1 can English peas, drained
2 boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
3-4 dill pickles, chopped
4 oz Velveeta, cubed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
Combine all ingredients. Chill and serve.

This might not be so bad if you actually LIKE mayonnaise and American cheese (I don't!).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm Not Short! I'm Just On the Short Side of Average!

It's true, y'all. Anyway I was trying to come up with a clever pun to introduce a recipe and that was the best I could come up with. FAIL.

This SHRIMP recipe was first prepared for my family by my Great-Aunt Jean, when we visited her and my Uncle Whit in Pensacola. I don't remember if we had it on the trip when I was 4-ish, or the trip when I was 11-ish. We did not prepare it often growing up (shrimp is expensive if you don't live next to the ocean!), but it was always a favourite. Now that I think of it, it's around Mardi Gras time, so something Creole should be appropriate, right?

This is pretty close to Aunt Jean's recipe, but I've made a few changes to suit our taste. Actually, I googled Shrimp Creole recipes, and people put ALL kinds of stuff in this. Chicken broth -- interesting. Mustard and bay -- might actually be worth a try. Bacon -- sure, if you want Shrimp Creole that tastes like bacon. I don't. Heavy cream -- s c a r y. This is a simple, fast, very fresh and clean-tasting version. It's not even really hot, unless you add lots of hot sauce. Which I did.

Serves: 4 (large helpings)
Preparation time: 35 - 45 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, chopped 
2 stalks celery, chopped (you can totally leave this out if you don't have any)
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Good shake or two (or three, or four) Tabasco sauce -- to taste
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce -- or use tomato paste and a little water
Large or jumbo frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp -- however much you think four people will eat (I always use less than the recipe calls for, because shrimp is freaking expensive). 
1/2 cup good red wine

Heat oil in a big old pot. (If you have been married for less than a year, a big new pot is acceptable.) Add onion, celery, and bell pepper and cook until soft (about 7 minutes). Add garlic and cook another few seconds, till fragrant. Stir in sugar, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil; simmer, uncovered, 15 - 25 minutes, or until it gets thick and saucy. (My aunt's recipe calls for thickening with cornstarch. I haven't bothered the past few times I've made this. Dinner survived beautifully.)

At this point, if you've forgotten to get your shrimp out of the freezer, you might want to run them under cold water until they don't stick together anymore.

Stir in thawed (or close enough) shrimp and wine. Up the heat a bit and cook another few minutes. That's another FEW minutes -- as in, 3 - 5 max. Any longer and you'll get Shrimp-Flavoured Chewing Gum Creole.

Serve over hot white rice, with plenty of Tabasco.
Fresh or frozen green beans -- not canned -- are a great accompaniment. Cornbread is also awesome.
This makes a beautiful dinner. Save the heavy cream for an awesome dessert!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Do You Pray?

We were in Matthew 14 Sunday -- the passage where Jesus walks out on the water to a boatful of seriously freaked-out disciples. By the time their master approaches them, the disciples are in a bad state. Stormy weather, scary sea, and on top of everything, it's "the fourth watch of the night" -- between 3 and 6 am. It's the darkest part of the night, and the disciples are exhausted from hours of rowing.

It's also, as Pastor Larson pointed out, the time of night right before dawn.

If I were my mom I'd have a Deep, Encouraging Yet Also Somehow Hilarious Message about what the gospel means to the really, really dark times in life. Instead, I'm going to talk about how much I hate winter. Y'all, it is definitely the Fourth Watch of the Winter here. And it is not pretty. I'm holding out hope for spring, because I know it's coming, but meanwhile I crawl around the apartment like a lethargic snake. I avoid looking out the window. And I snarl at my poor, patient husband.

Because I have the soul of a poet (at least I use that as my excuse for being messy), I get depressed pretty easily. I've always prayed a lot. I'm pretty good about praying for the people I love, because I think about them a lot. But this winter, God has really convicted me that WAY too much of my praying is nothing but self-indulgence.

We probably all have a friend who will call and talk for hours about how she's doing, and somehow never gets around to asking what's going on in our life. Well, a lot of the time, that's me talking to God. My days are filled with "Lord, I feel awful, please help me, please remind me of your goodness, please help me trust you and hang on here," et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

That, my friends, is LAME.

So my latest strategy is not just to stand in the living room moaning to Jesus about how unhappy I am, and how awful I feel because I'm such a worthless, ungrateful, whiny human being. Instead, I go into the bedroom, and I take out my current Black Book, and I start by writing a page of things that I am genuinely grateful for. Not things I should be grateful for, things I am grateful for. And then I pray. First I thank God for all his gifts, and then I confess my stinky attitude, and then just talk about whatever I need to.

So I still am mildly depressed a lot of the time, but I find myself with a lot more peace, and so much, much, much gratitude. I know being more deliberate about my prayers is really a no-brainer. This post isn't a How-To -- it's a Thank You.

Because after filling a lot of pages in my Black Book with "grateful lists," I am overwhelmed by the people God has put into my life. Family, friends, church family -- even the people I am only beginning to know. I have been so surrounded by love.

Sure, I'm grateful for all the stuff, but mostly I'm grateful for the people. If you're reading this, that probably means you.

So I just wanted to let you know. Thank you.

God is very good.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jesus is the Real Chocolate

Happy birthday to my Dear Husband!

Growing up, there was always an index card taped to the door of a kitchen cabinet -- the one my Mom looked at every day as she prepared meals, wiped down the counter, picked up (AGAIN) all the toys and papers and miscellaneous junk that we kids somehow never got around to putting away. Over time the ink on the index card faded until you could hardly read it, but I had seen the card so often that I remembered the words without even looking at them:

"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

"More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8, NASB)

I don't presume to say anything about what these verses meant to my Mom. That is her story. But to me -- let's just say that I am a perfectionist, and a legalist. For a long time I thought that being righteous meant giving things up for God. You saved me -- I owe you -- I don't really have anything I can give you -- but I can suffer loss for you. Everything that I want or enjoy, that I give up, is paying you back a little bit. Somehow, everything that is taken from me adds to my virtue. If you asked me, I could tell you that this mindset was not the truth -- but in my heart, it's what I believed.

That is NOT what God says. That is NOT the Gospel. The Gospel is not about suffering loss, or giving things up -- it is about gaining Christ. And what pleases God is not that I take satisfaction in my own sacrifice or loss, but that I be overwhelmed with delight in the amazing thing I have been given -- that I rejoice with "a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory."

From the prophecies of Isaiah (read 35, 51, 55), to the angels' message to the shepherds in Bethlehem, to the teachings of Jesus Himself, the message of all the ages of God's interactions with His people is that Christ Himself is our joy. He brings us back into a relationship with the Father. He loves us with an unshakeable love. Christ is how we can adore God as our hearts long to.

When you find a treasure so beautiful it gives you that kind of joy, it isn't loss to sell everything you had before

Imagine you spent your whole life craving chocolate. You buy Hersheys kisses and M&Ms. You have one of those instant pudding cup-things after every meal. You drink hot chocolate by the bucketful. You even clip pictures of death-by-chocolate cakes from magazines and tape them to your wall. Somehow, it's never quite good enough.

Then someone gives you a bar of this stuff:
and you realize why none of your magazine pictures or Hershey's milk chocolate ever satisfied you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ye fearful saints

I have a text addiction. I read print compulsively. I am the kind of person who not only reads any and all books, magazines, and instruction manuals lying around, but who ALSO is unable to resist reading, for example, the small print on the back of the toothpaste container. Yes, I know it's boring. I read it anyway.

After about two years' worth of overnight visits to my grandparents', I had read all of my Dad's old history books, my Aunt's Harlequin romance novels, my Grammy's Chicken Soup books, and her cookbooks. My uncle's sports books had, strangely,. no attraction to me whatsoever. So I started reading my Grammy's collection of Guideposts magazine. She had issues she had saved from since before I was born!

I have to confess, I was a very arrogant young person. I sneered at the feel-good, I Believe In Angels, But I Try Not to Actually Think About Anything Too Hard kind of theology that a lot of the Guideposts stories exhibited. I especially sneered at the first verse of the poem "God Moves In A Mysterious Way," which appeared in every issue at the head of a short account of some miraculous cure or something.

Then I grew up, and had Issues, and lost some of my superior attitude, and read the whole poem, and the story behind it, and now it is one of my favourite hymns.

You see, the poet who wrote the words, William Cowper (that's COO-per, not COW-per), was a devoted Christian who wrote the words to many hymns. He also struggled with depression throughout his life. He spent a period in a mental institution (not a happy place to be in the 18th century), and attempted suicide at least once. Throughout his life, Cowper struggled with doubts about his own faith and salvation.

And he wrote this hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take--
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break 
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace--
Behind a frowning Providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow'r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan (interpret) His work in vain.
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Dear Reader, surely this poem is not about the way God can miraculously cure someone suffering from cancer (although I believe He has done so, more than once). This poem offers encouragement to someone who sees no cure in sight. What a beautiful affirmation! What an encouraging reminder of the truth that it is God who saves us. That we may be overcome by our circumstances or feelings, but that God has a good and beautiful plan that He is accomplishing. We can trust Him, even when we cannot trust ourselves, if that makes sense. God can save someone like Cowper. God can use someone with a faith that seems feeble, at times even inadequate, to encourage hundreds of Christians. To bear witness to His goodness and His faithfulness. I may be tempted by despair, but I know that a good God holds my life in His hand. Even the dark bits of it. Not because of my faithfulness, but because of his faithfulness, "all shall be very well."

And if you haven't read my Mom's latest, do so!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Always Avoid Posting

when I am not super happy. But since I don't have any thing enormously positive to share, and I don't want to drop off the face of the earth, it's Recipe Time! This is another one I cobbled together from different recipes. It's really good. You could probably modify it to fit the slow cooker as well ... This smells AMAZING, and it's really pretty too!. As always, spice measurements are approximate!

Serves: 2+
Couple handfuls chickpeas (about 1/2 - 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon fat (from the chicken broth, or vegetable or olive oil)
1 large carrot, scrubbed and sliced into thick chunks
1/2 onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 scant teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups broth -- I used homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup (ish) cooked, chopped chicken (I used leftovers from Saturday's dinner)
If using dried chickpeas, you can quick-soak them by bringing them to a boil in a pot of water, then simmering for an hour or two until they are almost tender. Otherwise, just use canned chickpeas (about 1/2 can, I guess) and skip the soaking part.
When ready to prepare soup, heat oil and saute onion and carrot 5-10 minutes, or till just about tender. Add ginger and spices; cook another minute or so, till fragrant. Stir in tomato paste and broth, then add chickpeas and chicken meat. Reduce heat, cover partway, and let simmer till everything is tender or until time for dinner. If you want more of a stew, use less broth and cook uncovered to thicken.
Really good served over couscous. When I have homemade chicken stock I like to cook the couscous in that instead of in water -- mm!

OK, I changed my mind. I DO have something enormously positive to share. Because even if I am not at a great place right now, God is faithful. We have a sure hope. As my mom says, "All shall be very well."

"How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God--
    Light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
    lest my enemy say "I have prevailed over him,"
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me."
(Psalm 13)

Monday, January 18, 2010

All other love is like the moon:

For your reading pleasure, a late Medieval lyric. Always provided my modernisation of the language is not hopelessly obscure. This is one of my favourites.

All other love is like the moon:
It waxes and wanes, like a meadow flower
That buds, and blooms, and fades full soon,
Like a day that runs swiftly, and ends in rain.

All other love begins with bliss,
But ends in weeping and in woe:
No love can offer perfect solace
But that which rests in heaven's King,

Whose love is daily fresh and green,
And ever full, and never wanes.
His love is sweet, it has no sting,
His love is endless and unfailing.

All other love I leave for thee;
Tell me, tell me, where thou liest?
"Such love may be found, full free
In Mary mild -- but more in Christ."

Christ, I did not find you -- you found me.
Hold me to yourself with all your might,
Give me that my love may be steadfast,
And not turn, again, so soon aside.

Whenever now my heart is sore,
When, indeed, foes spill its blood --
God kens my life, I care no more--
My hope is this: his will is good.

Alas! What may I do at Rome?
But only say, by law of love:
"I were undone by man's just doom,
But he is my Helper, that sits above."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shrimp & Curry Pasta

Here's another "pantry recipe" that is different, healthy, and delicious. It comes together in fewer than 20 minutes, and tastes very light and fresh (despite the fact that all the ingredients come from a can or the freezer!).

Serves: 3 - 4 (depending on size of portions and whether you serve with a side dish)

2 cups (8 oz) penne (regular or whole-wheat)
2 tablespoons butter
1 smallish yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup drained, diced tomatoes (1/2 a 14-oz can)
1 cup frozen green peas
8 oz frozen ready-cooked small shrimp, thawed
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or use 2 tablespoons fresh basil, or add dried herb of choice)

Cook penne till al dente (see directions on package).
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute 5 minutes, or till tender. Stir in spices and salt (if using dried parsley or another dried herb, add with spices) and cook 30 seconds, or till fragrant. Stir in pasta, peas, shrimp, tomatoes, fresh herbs if using, and the other 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook about 5 minutes longer, stirring, or till heated through. Serve at once.

NOTES: This is good with steamed broccoli or fresh green beans. Corn would be a good side dish, too. Frozen shrimp thaws in just a few minutes if you let it sit in cold tap water.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Lot About Austen

A friend invited me over yesterday to watch Sense and Sensibility (the BBC verison, not the Ang Lee). I'll admit it--I love Jane Austen. I've read her novels and watched the film adaptations multiple times, and they never get old! 

My husband, on the other hand, is not a huge fan. Like my brothers--OK, like most males--sees Jane Austen as something to be endured for the sake of "the girls." I remember Movie Night bartering growing up. A war movie was definitely cause for a "girl movie" like Sense and Sensibility the next weekend, but it took a LOT of "boy movies" to equal the six-tape-long Pride and Prejudice!

Although a few men do appreciate Austen's characterization and wit for its own sake (Dad, you are a rare jewel!), I can understand why her novels and the film adaptations appeal mostly to women. Her interest is in the experiences and perspectives of women of her own class, and the expectations and limitations placed on them by society. She writes of domestic concerns, primarily love and marriage.

So, in a way, any Jane Austen is a sort of "chick lit" or "chick flick." One thing that sets her far above the mass of romantic movies and novels aimed at women, though, is the kind of relationship she portrays as desirable. After growing up with Jane Austen, I find it difficult to believe in or care about romances that follow what I'll call the "Disney Formula" -- where True Love is an undeniable, static, often instantaneous Feeling. You know: instant attraction, plot complications, realization that you are Soul Mates, cue violins, Happily Ever After, The End. The focus is on the attraction, that undescribable connection between the principal characters.

In Austen's novels, however, the relationships that follow the Disney pattern usually prove unreliable. The perfect example is Sense and Sensibility's Marianne and Willoughby, who, after only a few days together, feel that they are "one soul in two bodies." Both characters "follow their hearts" instead of being guided by convention or practicality--yet their relationship turns out to be a false one. Instead, the relationship that is validated at the end of the story (by marriage, of course!) pairs Marianne with the more reserved and conventional Colonel Brandon. Although Marianne at first disregards Brandon as old and boring, she learns to feel respect and gratitude for him, and finally to appreciate that his passionate, devoted personality is married to a commitment to virtue and wisdom. By the time she accepts Brandon's offer of marriage, Marianne is deeply in love with him.

I love this about Jane Austen! Her romantic heroes, the ones who "get the girls," are as different as their partners. They may be witty and charming or proud and reserved; older, younger, poorer, richer. But without exception, they are admirable. Austen's heroines are all matched up with men with whom they are deeply, sincerely, and passionately in love. Yet their love is grounded on more than whoosh-and-gush, violin-drenched Feelings. Mr. Darcy, Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, Edmund Bertram, Mr. Knightley--all of them are men whom Austen's heroines can respect and trust.
I think that's a much more realistic picture of love than the Disney model--maybe even a more Biblical picture? To return to Sense and Sensibility--Austen never portrays feelings as bad. Marianne remains Marianne, of deep "sensibility" and strong passions. Yet she finds true happiness not with Willoughby, her romantic other half, but with Brandon, who deserves her true affection and whom she can trust to protect and cherish her "sensible" love for him.

OK, this post has turned into a monster! I've read a couple of frustrating "chick lit" novels over the past week, and watching S and S with Jody set me off, I guess. What do you think?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beans, Beans ...

After a wonderful time of worship and fellowship yesterday morning, I arrived home to discover that the chicken I had planned to cook for dinner was STILL not thawed, despite spending all night in the refrigerator. So instead, I turned to one of my favorite emergency recipes, Picadillo. This recipe is kind of a tradition in my parents' family. It comes together in 30 minutes from ingredients I almost always have on hand, but with the combination of sweet and spicy (not hot), it tastes different and delicious. Plus, it is super cheap and healthy!

Although the recipe calls for serving the picadillo with cornbread (use your favorite recipe -- I like this better over a cornbread with part flour and part cornmeal), it is also good served over brown rice. I like to serve with salad, cooked greens, or fruit salad (although I didn't yesterday, because that horrible chicken FROZE MY LETTUCE, how delightful).

PICADILLO WITH CORNBREAD (4 generous servings)

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced (I use part red, part green, and some chile pepper if I have it)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper (more or less to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 (14-oz) can tomato sauce (more or less as you like; I also often add canned diced tomatoes if I have 'em)
2 cans (15-oz) red kidney beans, undrained
1/2 cup raisins (more or less to taste)

Heat oil and cook onion and peppers till soft. Add garlic and spices, and cook 30 seconds till fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and raisins. Reduce heat and simmer 20 - 30 minutes, till thickened. Serve over wedges of your favorite cornbread recipe.

 One of my mom's "emergency dinners" was Breakfast for Dinner -- I can remember lots of Sunday evenings when we had bacon, eggs, and toast, or maybe pancakes. I'm not a big Breakfast for Breakfast kind of girl, let alone for dinner, so I tend to rely on recipes like Picadillo or spaghetti Amatriciana. Being a disorganised sort of person, however, I can always use more ideas -- what is your go-to meal for those crazy days when The Plan goes out the window?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Small Blessings

Yesterday Dennis and I woke up and discovered that our water had been turned off.

Oh, the joys of living in older housing. It can be an adventure at times!

We were a little grumpy at missing morning showers, etc, but God was taking care of us. There was EXACTLY enough water left in the kitchen pipes to make four cups of coffee. EXACTLY. No more, no less.

If that's not a particular Providence, I don't know what is.

And I still need help with yesterday's question. Please leave a comment if you haven't already!

Friday, January 8, 2010

How Do You Save $ on your Grocery Bill?

So in lieu of making a great big list of New Year's Resolutions that will only bite the dust in February, I'm considering making 2010 the Year of Challenges. Every month, I pick one thing to try, consistently, for a month to see if I can incorporate some changes. If it doesn't happen, OK, but I will at least commit to one solid month of trying hard.

I'm thinking next month will be Frugal February. I am still looking for another job (applied for a secretarial position at DMU -- please keep that in your prayers for the next week or so!), and while we are OK financially, this seems like a good time to exercise my creativity where our grocery bill is concerned. I am still learning how to be a good helpmeet in this area -- I'm used to buying and cooking for a hungry farm family of 10 - 12, so it's an adjustment to plan for just two!

I have already made a few changes. Specifically, I have agreed with myself that I will buy ONE 12-pack of what I am learning to call "pop" a month, and ONLY one. As opposed to my usual 1 1/2 a week. The consumption of that much carbonation, artificial sweetener, and chemical dye can't have been good for my system, AND I'm saving about $5 a week that way. Although I do miss my fizz!

 DH and I spend quite a bit on good cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, and dairy products -- we don't buy a lot of convenience items, but we do like good food. I am thinking that incorporating even more meals based on soup, lentils, beans, and beans + a little bit of meat may be a good idea. Actually, I am going to challenge myself and see if I can go all February without buying any meat except for sandwich meat for Dennis -- I bought 6 lb of pork roast on sale at Hy-Vee, have a whole chicken, a few chicken breasts, and a LOT of deer meat in the freezer (thanks to my brothers, the Mighty Hunters!) -- so we should be in good shape for that challenge.

This is where I would LOVE your input. How do you save on your grocery bill? I would love tips, links to websites, recipe suggestions ... anything and everything! And not just food -- by "grocery" I also mean things like toilet paper, aluminum foil, and cleaning supplies. I am not afraid to buy in bulk, cook new things, or try anything else you can throw at me, so fire away!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Want Gourds and Palm Trees

Another snowstorm today -- outside my window the world is white, the dingy grime of old snowdrifts blanketed by the clean new fall. The sky is so opaque, so pale, that it nearly blends into the fallen snow. It's a beautiful landscape -- all clear lines, blank and pale and very clean looking. Beautiful and bleak.

Last night, DH and I reached I Kings 6 in our reading together. Compared to the blank white in my window, the description of Solomon's temple made a vivid impression on my summer-starved mind. The author spends the whole chapter describing Solomon's construction of the temple in exuberant detail -- the measurements, the materials, and the decorations. This is an astonishing house -- the place where God physically dwells among His people. And the details of that house almost explode with hugeness of the joy of God's presence. Imagine walking into Solomon's temple -- built of costly stone, cedar, and cypress. All over the interior of the house is carved with gorgeous gourds or pomegranates, palm trees, and open flowers. Everything is overlaid with a layer of gleaming gold, and the air is thick with incense.

If we walked into a church and saw what is described in I Kings, we would be shocked at how gaudy it was.  The note in my Bible suggests that the carvings in the temple evoke the Garden of Eden. I was reminded of the rich language of the Song of Songs, the garden images of blooming and ripeness and abundance. Maybe a temple like Solomon's is no longer necessary, or culturally appropriate, but the imagery of the temple still speaks to who He Is. God is with his people like a bridegroom with his bride. In His presence is fullness of joy, an overflowing delight that explodes outward as if in tendrils and green leaves and gorgeous flowers and ripe fruit, filling up the world around it, unfurling into every space.

Solomon's temple reminded me that Christianity is not about my sacrifice or my endurance, although it does include those things. Instead, it is about life and growth where everything was once dead and cold. At the heart of Christianity is an enormous, uncontainable rejoicing in my God and His love.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Trojan Holiday

No, my computer didn't get attacked over Christmas. Instead, we got to spend Christmas with our families after all!

Despite my aversion to new years' resolutions,  there are definitely some things I want to do differently in 2010. Specifically, more deliberately. But first, Dear Reader, a quick visit to December 2009.

Or maybe not so quick. Since concision is not my strong point, either!

As a few of you know, I quit my job at Monster Financial almost a week after my first Iowa blizzard hit. This is still a little painful for me to talk about. It's difficult for me to trust my husband that we will be OK financially until I find more work. Even more difficult is accepting my own inadequacy. Physically and mentally, I just could not handle the work any longer -- including getting-ready and commute time, I was spending from 6:00 am to around 5:30 pm on a job that was both extremely easy and emotionally draining. The prospect of getting up even earlier to handle the winter weather was the proverbial last straw.

So you can pray that God will help me to repent of feeling guilty for not being able to do more (because that is just PRIDE), and help me to humbly embrace the opportunity to do what I CAN ... whatever that is ... without worrying over what I should have been able to do, or what someone else might have been able to do. Right now I'm looking for work closer to home, maybe even something part-time. That, and sleeping A LOT!

After I quit, DH and I were super-excited to be free to visit our families for Christmas! We crammed gifts for our families into DH's tiny car along with the gifts they had already mailed us, and hit the road. During the 11 hours from Iowa to Tennessee we watched the fields outside the windows turn from white ... to dead brown ... to patchy green.

It was such a blessing to spend the holidays with our families. We spent five days at my parents' farm in Troy. Coming from a small family, I don't think DH appreciates how restful it was for me to be in the middle of ten or twelve people's constant noise and busy-ness! Christmas day we travelled to Dennis's parents home, and spent several days enjoying their company as well. I am so grateful that we were able to make the trip down to Tennessee.

Then we s l o w l y drove back from 20-degree weather to negative 20! Seriously -- negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I am still incredulous.

I loved our vacation, but it was wonderful to worship with our church again this week. And today was Dennis's first day back at school--yay!

That wraps up our holiday, and our news. Now it's back to the routine, or some semblance. Although I would like to say that we are having Gulasch for supper, using a recipe from an Italian cookbook Dennis's sister gave us. I substituted the deer meat my brother Nate sent back with us for beef, and threw it in the slow cooker. With all the lemon zest, spices, and cheapo Cabernet Sauvignon, it smells AMAZING.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

February FAIL Syndrome

I don't trust New Year's resolutions.

Whenever January rolls around I remember the harsh smell of chlorine. I can almost hear the muddled roar of yells and splashes echoing over the indoor pool where, as a teenager, I used to practice with a small swim team. Most of us complained about the workouts, the battle to finish just one more grueling butterfly set, the bathwater temperature of the pool and (for the girls, anyway) the way it made our hair take on a greenish tinge. Solemnly, Coach B. would assure us his heart was bleeding in sympathy for our pain. Then he would tell us to swim another 200 fly.

Really, though, most of us loved practice. What we really hated was the annual invasion of Resolutioners who were sure that this year, this year, they were finally going to lose twenty pounds, get six-pack abs, run a five-minute mile. We Flying Fish met at the YMCA every Tuesday, Thursday, and often Saturday to swim for two hours. Many of us cross-trained with the treadmills and weight machines, too, pushing our bodies week after week. And now, in January, suddenly we had to crowd into two tiny lanes of the pool. Getting a decent workout in the weightroom was almost impossible.

Kicking one another, waiting ten minutes for a turn in the pool, was wretched. The only reason we didn't go crazy was that we knew February was only a few weeks away. And then we would have room to breathe again; by March, everything would be back to normal. We would have all the space we wanted, we could go back to complaining about pushups and sprint sets and the other teams.

We just had to wait until February.

Should this cake happen?