Savoring Friendship & Cookies

It was obviously an early day of spring.
Grey clouds and blinding sunshine danced together.
Robins were bouncing happily around outside while it rained.
The fire roared in our living room stove, schoolwork was spread on the table,
the baby was fussing, and the big kids were doing anything but focusing on their books.
I was fighting a headache with Tylenol & caffeine to no avail.

Grasping for a lifeline of sorts, I popped off a quick note to a dear friend,
the kind of friend who is more like a sister than not,
to ask her to pray for me.

She wrote right back.
She thanked me for sharing my needs and expressing my heart.
She gave suggestions that were rooted in love.
She jumped into a gap for me and filled it with prayers, love, compassion, friendship.

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I shared a list of things with her that was making me thankful.
Across a distance of 375 miles, she gave me a virtual hug and a shoulder to lean on.
Together, while apart, we sought the Lord as well as praised Him.

She in her kitchen, surrounded by her little blondies.
Me in mine, surrounded by my wee gingers.

Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways. We were made to represent the love of God in each other’s lives, so that each person we walk through life with has a more profound sense of God’s love for them. Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is. When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.
~Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines, p49

Then I noticed she sent me something else ~ a link to a recipe.
“If you need something sweet to eat today, here’s a link to a recipe we are making,”
she said, along with three pictures of her children helping her
stir batter, eat batter, and put trays of cookies in the oven.
“I wish we could share hot cookies and ice-cold milk with you this afternoon,” she added.

That’s when I decided it was time to stoke the fire,
strap the baby onto my chest,
put away the schoolbooks,
and take three sticks of butter out of the fridge to warm on the counter.

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“Butter is out to soften!!” I told her,
declaring that we would make the best of it,
and we would join them in the baking efforts of the day…

and we spent the next hour or two occasionally popping messages to one another
on our progress in our own little worlds of flour, sugar, aprons, and children licking their fingers.

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My children and I were able to not only connect with one another and savor our relationship,
but we were talking about these far-away friends & taking pictures to show them,
connecting in creative ways with these friends even when distance separates us.

When joy and grace are shared, it multiplies in ways indescribable.
When friendship is savored, it builds bridges undeniable.

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The short of it is that you really just need to click here and try the recipe out for yourself.
And then, once you have, share the link with a friend.
And share pics of doing the same thing as one another, even if separated by miles.

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It is good to savor friendship.
It is good to find unique ways to share life together with those you love.
Even if it is two mamas with their little ones at their sides, separated by 375 miles,
we can still share life & friendship & motherhood & cookies.
Creativity can be both warm and delicious.
Just like friendship.

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In our own unique way, my children and I
shared hot cookies and ice-cold milk
with the dearest of friends ~
our hearts were encouraged
while souls were fattened
and tongues rejoiced!

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I know of no other recipe for making a good-bye bearable than the promise that the God who goes with us and stays with them will be the bridge connecting us, no matter how far or long the distance.
~Lisa-Jo Baker, Surprised By Motherhood, p95~

Homemade Yogurt

I don’t remember exactly how long I have been making yogurt… but it’s been a couple of years now I think. We go through so much yogurt in our household each week that this is a really good way for me to save money for my family! Like with bread, this is something healthy & delicious I can make easily & economically from scratch as a way to bless my family. Recently, some dear friends of mine were asking how to make yogurt, and I thought it was a good opportunity to document it in pics and writing, rather than just in a spoken method. 🙂

Plain Easy Yogurt

Begin with a gallon of milk. I don’t buy organic, raw, or anything special.
I buy straight-up common milk (usually 2%) in a jug at the grocery store. That’s what makes this so economical:
I get 4 quarts of yogurt for about $2.80
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To start, dump the entire gallon of milk in a large pot.
Stick a candy thermometer in there to monitor the temperature for you.
With the stove on med-high, heat the milk to roughly 185*F.

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Stir it around occasionally (using the thermometer), but try not to scrape the bottom of the pot
because you will scrape around bits of milk that adhere to the pot during the heating process
which makes the end result of yogurt grainy.
But I do sometimes scoop off the film that forms on top of the milk, and toss it in the sink.
Generally speaking, I make yogurt in the morning while I’m feeding the kids breakfast,
doing Bible with them, and washing dishes; it’s very easy in that way
to simply stay nearby and keep my eye on things.
(But that’s not to say I’ve never lost track and let it boil over all. over. the. stove.)

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I don’t do anything special to prepare my jars.
I figure they have been sterilized well enough in the dishwasher…
so I simply line up my wide-mouth quart jars on the counter
along with screw on plastic lids (although you’ll see in these pics I used a metal rim on one).

You’ll also notice that on this particular day, I was making more than a gallon
so I have six quart jars lined up.
It just means that I adjusted proportions so my milk to yogurt ratio
was still appropriate.

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Once the milk reaches roughly 185*F, turn off the stove and remove the pot from the heat.
Now is the part that sometimes makes me impatient. 🙂
Wait for the milk to cool down to 120*F.
This waiting usually gives me ample time to do other housework,
homeschooling, or kitchen projects… I’ve never timed it though!
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Upon reaching 120*F, once again lift the film off the top of the warm milk and toss it.
This is the point where you need yogurt starter: 8oz (a cup) of a previous batch.
When I made my first batch of yogurt, I used a single serving cup
of vanilla Tillamook yogurt.
I just wanted to use one that was as natural as possible
that was clearly labeled as having live active cultures.

Just dump your yogurt started into the warm milk and whisk it around,
without scraping the sides or bottom of the pot
(again, to avoid a grainy end result).

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Now you need to pour the yogurt-milk into the jars.
I have a steady enough arm to couple with a pot that doesn’t drip when I pour from it,
so I do not use any kind of funnel.
But you just figure out what works for you
to get it poured nicely into the jars.
Don’t cry over spilled milk! 😉

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Screw the lids on nice and tight.
You can see here that you don’t have to fill the jars to an exact science.
The one with the metal rim isn’t quite as full as the others.
It did just fine though.

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There is something so thrilling about jars full to the brim
of something delicious.
I feel this way about jam and pickles too.
Glass jars make me so happy!

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This is the fun part. 🙂
Put your jars in a cooler,
and run water from your tap until it reaches 120*F…

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…and then let the warm water fill the cooler
until it’s at least halfway up the sides of the jars.
It’s okay if it gets on top of the jars, too.
Sometimes I have a pint in there with some of the quarts,
so the water basically goes to the very top of the pint.

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Now while you let those happy little yogurt bugs take dominion
and reproduce in the warm milk,
just leave the cooler closed and left alone for at least 6 hours.
Go about your day!

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After 6 hours or so (I promise, it’s very flexible!),
take the jars out of the cooler,
dry them off,
empty the cooler,
dry it out…

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…and put the jars in the fridge.
By the next morning, it will all be solidified
and beautifully tangy & creamy.

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We eat it plain!
We eat it with a drizzle of honey!
We eat it with a dollop of homemade jam!

~…~…~
Here or there, on a train and in the rain, on a boat and with a goat…
we do so like our homemade yogurt, we would eat it anywhere!
We love it, and hope you do too.

Another Round of Freezer Meal Bags

Once my freezer supply dwindles, we may try to make another round of those “dump bags” for freezer-to-crockpot cooking. Not sure if we will need it before baby is born, or if I will wait until after he arrives. But here are a few more recipes I plan to sift through and choose from, and if we particularly love any of the ones we did last week (which we have not delved into yet), we may revisit a couple as well. Just thought I would share some of these while it is fresh on my mind, in case it is a blessing to anyone who stumbles upon this conversation here. 🙂

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Chicken Potato Casserole

 In gallon Ziploc: 3 large chicken breasts, three large potatoes in big cubes, one sliced onion, 1 can mushroom soup, 1 tsp pepper, 1 chicken bouillon cube.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag into crockpot. Sprinkle one package of stuffing mix on top, and drizzle with ½ cup melted butter & 1 ½ cups water. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Lemon Pepper Chicken and Rice

In gallon Ziploc (in this order): 1 ½ cups brown rice, 2 cups frozen green beans, 1 cup baby carrots, 1 onion quartered, 4 large chicken breasts, 2 Tblsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp lemon pepper, 1 sliced lemon, 2 cups water, 1 chicken bouillon cube.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Slit the bottom of the bag and dump it in bottom-first for best results. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

 

Beans and Rice

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1 ½ cups wild or brown rice, ½ onion diced, 1 can pinto beans, 1 can kidney beans, 2 ½ cups chicken broth, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4 hours. Serve with green salad.

 

Sweet Cashew Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1 ½ cups brown rice, 2 cups broccoli crowns, ½ onion diced, ¾ cup cashews, 4 chicken breasts, 1 can diced pineapple.
Label: Thaw in fridge overnight. Dump into crockpot. Add 2 cups water. Cook on low for 6 hours.

 

Cheesy Chicken and Rice

1 ½ cups rice, 3 cups water, 2 bouillon cubes, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 16oz frozen broccoli, 3 chicken breasts, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp pepper, 1 cup grated cheddar cheese.
Label: Thaw in fridge overnight. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

 

Sweet and Sour Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: ½ cup tomato sauce, 2 Tblsp brown sugar 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 bouillon cube, 1 can pineapple chunks, 1lb chopped chicken, 2 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. grated ginger, 1 onion chopped, 1 bag frozen peppers, 1 bag frozen snap peas.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 8 hours. Serve over rice.

 

Mongolian Beef

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb stew meat, 3 tsp oil, 1 onion sliced, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ½ cup soy sauce, ½ cup water, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ tsp fresh grated ginger, ½ cup hoisin sauce.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with green onions and rice.

 

Chicken Cacciatore

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb chopped chicken, 1 chopped bell pepper, 1 cup sliced mushrooms, ½ chopped onion, 2 tsp minced garlic, 28oz crushed tomatoes, ½ cup chicken brother, 1 tsp oregano, ¼ cup chopped basil leaves, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6 hours. Serve over egg noodles.

 

Lemon Garlic Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts, 3 Tblsp lemon juice, 3 Tblsp parsley flakes, ¼ cup olive oil, 3 tsp minced garlic.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with potatoes or pasta, and a nice salad.

 

Broccoli Beef

In gallon Ziploc: 1 ½ lb flank steak thinly sliced, 1 cup beef broth, 2/3 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 Tblsp sesame oil, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ¼ tsp red pepper flakes.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 5 hours. Add 4 cups broccoli florets and a slurry of 2 Tblsp cornstarch + 2 Tblsp cold water. Cook another 30 minutes. Serve over rice.

 

Cilantro Lime Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts, 1/3 cup lime juice, 1 bunch chopped cilantro, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ½ red onion chopped, 1 can black beans, 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred meat and serve on warmed tortillas.

 

Easy Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts cut in strips, 16oz frozen broccoli, 1 large green pepper chopped, 32oz jarred alfredo sauce.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Serve over pasta.

 

Hawaiian Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts, ½ cup sugar, ½ cup vinegar, 2 Tblsp minced garlic, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 can pineapple chunks + juice.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-7 hours. Shred. Serve over rice, topped with mandarin oranges and cashews.

 

Creamy Italian Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts, 8oz softened cream cheese, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 packet dry Italian seasoning.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Serve with pasta and salad.

 

Honey Rosemary Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts cubed, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, 4 Tblsp chopped rosemary, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans.

 

Thai Peanut Pork

In gallon Ziploc bag: 2 lb pork tenderloin cubed, ½ cup salsa, ¼ cup peanut butter, 3 Tblsp lime juice, 3 Tblsp soy sauce, 3 Tblsp water, 2 Tblsp ginger, ¼ cup sugar, 3 tsp minced garlic.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6 hours. Serve over rice noodles or rice, topped with green onions and crushed nuts.

 

Beer Orange Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb chicken breasts, 12oz beer, 12oz OJ concentrate, 3Tblsp minced garlic, 1 ½ tsp basil, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with salad and potatoes.

 

Potato Soup

Note: this potato soup is not a very freezer-friendly meal (texture breaks down), so I would do this as a fridge-or-fresh meal.
In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 ½ cups peeled & diced potatoes, 1/3 cup diced celery, 1/3 cup chopped onion, 1 cup diced cooked ham, 3 ½ cups water, 2 bouillon cubes, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 2 cups milk, 1 cup cheddar cheese.
Label: Keep in fridge up to a week. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir in 1 cup sour cream before serving. Delish topped with chives, cheese, bacon crumbles, etc.

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Pregnant with a Rainbow, Part IV

Let me preface this by saying with my physical, medical, immunological problems, we have learned that we have to be proactive about either pursuing or preventing pregnancy. (This is obviously a big can of worms to open up in such a public place as a blog on the worldwide web. But I guess I’m feeling no holds barred these days or something.) We have had to learn this the hard way, and there is a big part of me that has long wished I could just be one of those women who could “have a surprise” ~ I did have a surprise once, with my very first little darling, and it was truly magnificent. I will always be thankful that God gave me that gift.

Now that we know some of the intricacies and eccentricities of my body, and particularly how it connects to my womb, we know that part of what the Lord has entrusted to us is a responsibility to be particularly proactive about hedging our procreation with wisdom & diligence. My husband is called to be our protector, and God has given him some unique places where he needs to protect his wife and his children, and we continue to seek the Lord’s wisdom in how to follow Him in this.

But this all does actually tie back into where I was planning to go… which is to my freezer. Funny but true.

When I know there is pregnancy as a possibility on the horizon, I go out of my way to pack my freezer full of freezer meals. (I do like to have 6 to 12 freezer meals in there regardless, though, because it is always nice to have a buffer for myself or also in case someone I know suddenly needs a meal. But since this is a PAL post, I will leave my focus there.) I figure one way or the other, the Lord will be giving me an opportunity to stay away from the kitchen ~ either I will miscarry, and the heavy burden of grief and the physical ramifications of that will keep me from cooking for a few weeks, or I will be facing morning sickness, and the glories of that blessing will keep me from cooking well for a few weeks or months as well.

I can’t really explain what a gift it was to have filled my freezer last winter, and to drain its supply this year due to months of morning sickness. What a humbling gift and amazing blessing!

This time, my thick blanket of morning sickness lifted by about 17 weeks or so, and I was able to be back in the kitchen much of the time. But then restricted activity was prescribed at 19 weeks, and now well into my third trimester I have had to remain on partial bedrest. This has been quite the journey. A couple weeks ago we even stocked up on premade freezer meals from Costco! Which says a lot about how far God has brought me on the tough journey of letting go and lowering my usual standard of things that are so majorly tied into my line of work ~ cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, showing hospitality… wow, the Lord has given me some great challenges, and I have kicked at the goads of letting go, but He is so wise and tender and has really shown me just how sweet it is to actually do what He is asking of me.

But using fresh ingredients and making meals from scratch has long been a huge part of my career as well as my passion & love.
So a couple days ago, I found some recipes online geared specifically toward ziploc-to-freezer-to-crockpot meals, and just after I had chosen half a dozen or so recipes and was about to put together a grocery list to fill in some gaps (although I mostly did try to find recipes that would utilize things already in my pantry and freezer stashes of staple ingredients), I checked my email… and there was a note from a sweet friend of mine who wanted to know if she could stop by for a visit after work one day this week ~ including an offer to help with something practical around my home… and my heart swelled & my eyes filled with happy tears. It was the perfect timing, and an obvious gift from God.

Tuesday evening brought some additional ingredients which were piled onto the kitchen island, and Wednesday afternoon brought a delightful visit from a friend who shared in encouraging conversation and put her hands to diligent work to bless my family. I stayed mostly parked on a stool in the kitchen while she did the hard work on her feet of doing the chopping, the washing, the brunt of it all ~ I did the little piddly parts like labeling, measuring spices, etc.

And now my freezer has 14 new freezer meals packed onto a shelf!

What a gift that God works out details in such sweet ways. Food is one of the best ways we serve our families and love one another. Feeding my husband and my children well is a passion of mine. And feeding myself is one way that I am feeding Sweet Teen, and one of the best ways to help him grow. Having all the prep for these meals done without physically demanding anything of my body during a time where my feet need to be up for the majority of the days is such a blessing.

So let me share the seven recipes with you that my friend Laura and I put together yesterday in about 2 1/2 hours while we talked and laughed together. I just might have to rope her into coming and doing it again with me in another month, if my family goes through this shelf of freezer meals before the baby comes. Or maybe we’ll do it again after he’s born, because honestly I don’t plan on doing much of anything except snuggling my rainbow baby for two months after he is in my arms!!

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Veggie Beef Stew

1lb cubed stew meat 1 diced onion, 1 cup sliced carrots, 1 can green beans, 1 cup frozen peas, 1 sliced parsnip, 1 cubed rutabaga, 1 cup red wine, 2 beef bouillon cubes.
Combine all ingredients in gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes and/or with rolls.”

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Asian Orange Beef

2 1/2lb chuck roast, zest & juice from one large orange, 2 Tblsp brown sugar, 3 Tblsp rice wine vinegar, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp grated ginger root, 1/4 cup chopped green onion.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice with broccoli.”

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Cranberry Mustard Pork

2 1/2lb pork butt, 2 cups cranberries, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 Tblsp dijon mustard 1 diced onion, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, zest & juice from one large orange.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve with roasted potatoes and veg.”

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Ginger Peach Chicken

1lb chicken thighs, 1 cup peach jam, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 inch ginger freshly grated, 1 1/2 tsps minced garlic.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over brown rice with salad or snow peas.”

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Honey Sesame Chicken

1 1/2lb chicken thighs, 1 diced onion, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp oil, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice & peas.
Top with chopped green onions, sesame seeds, and sliced almonds.”

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BBQ Chicken

1lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, 1 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp brown sugar, 1 Tblsp chili powder, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp yellow mustard, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp curry powder.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over rolls or rice with green salad and fruit.”

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Chicken Chili

1lb diced chicken, 1 chopped onion, 1 can black beans, 1 can white beans, 1 can Rotel, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 cup sliced frozen peppers, 2 cups frozen corn, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp paprika, 2 Tblsp chili powder, 1 Tblsp cumin, 2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, and tortilla chips.”

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Yesterday, we made two of each of the above recipes. I also have two dinners’ worth of beef chili, one pan of enchiladas, one gluten free cheese pizza, and a couple other “surprise” dishes (that apparently I forgot to label…) on my freezer meal shelf. My sister in law gave us a freezer meal of pulled pork sandwiches, half of which is still in there.

Never underestimate the power of food, and the blessing it is to a family in need to surprise them with something for their freezer for that “rainy day.” Sometimes even rainbow pregnancies have their own host of rainy days where nothing blesses quite like a meal ~ whether hot or in the freezer.

If you have recipes (or links to recipes) that would fit the easy-freezer-meal bill, please share them in the comments!

It’s about what works for your guests, your family,
the people you love and have welcomed around your table.
It’s not about what will look great on Pinterest or Instagram later.
It’s about loving the people in your life
by gathering them close into the private space of your home,
about giving them soft places to land in hard seasons,
about meeting their needs for food, for listening, for peace, for rest.

~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p278~

Easter Lessons

This year, we went out of our way to do a few more hands-on lessons and Easter preparations with the children. The older they get, of course the more they grasp ~ and it is delightful to hear their own 6, 3, and 2 year old sized insights into why we do the things we do.

On Good Friday, rather than doing our normal homeschooling routine, while the little ones had individual room time (learning to play on their own for a solid hour is a good skill to learn), Gabriel helped me clean the house. We washed windows, cleaned bathrooms, swept floors, mopped floors, did laundry, washed dishes, wiped down cupboards. And while we worked together, we talked about why we were working so hard, and why is this what we chose to do on Good Friday. When I asked Gabriel what he thought, he paused in thought, then profoundly said, “Well, today is the day we remember the whole reason why Jesus came. He came to clean our hearts. So I guess that’s why we should clean our home.” I wanted to just stop the conversation right there, and leave it at that ~ because my kid gets SO much of the Gospel story, and I love hearing his perspective on it. It’s beautiful. But we went on to talk about how Jesus served others, even though He was King of all. We talked about “our people” ~ and who are our neighbors. Gabriel even asked if he could wash my feet when we were done cleaning, because he wanted to bless me and serve me like Jesus.

But I hate to admit, I forgot about the feet-washing, because by the time we were done cleaning the house, the little ones were ready to be done with solitary playtime, and we needed to move on to the phase of dirtying things back up again. Funny how we do that in my line of work: we clean things up so we can make them dirty again!

So after a little lunch, Evangeline was ready for a nap, and the boys & I got out supplies for some crafts that would hold more lessons.

We had already dyed Easter eggs with Grandmama, Auntie, and cousins, complete with super sweet and thoughtful conversations about the metaphors, symbolism, and just plain fun of the tradition. My children and I have talked numerous times this week about the symbolism we can see in the eggs… how they symbolize the rock which closed the tomb, but new life can spring forth from it… how we can take plain eggs and give them new clothing, as we do when we take on new life in Christ… how the yolk in a cracked egg can symbolize the glorious light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dark tomb when He burst forth in glorious array…
Click here to read about Easter Egg traditions throughout the life of the Church, following the Lenten season. Even plain old Wikipedia had some great thought-provoking things about Easter Eggs, or Paschal Eggs. And for some fun nuances on Easter Egg traditions, click here and have some fun with the kids in your life.

Romans 6:4
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death,
in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might walk in newness of life.

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Thanks to Ann Voskamp’s diligent sharing each and every year, I finally felt like my boys were old enough this year to really grasp & enjoy a couple more unique & detailed hands-on projects.

First we had a snack of nuts and figs, while we made a crown of thorns (using a small grapevine wreath and a few dozen coffee-stained toothpicks) and talked a lot about the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Three year old Asher was nearly in tears (I love how his forehead crinkles and his chin quivers when he feels genuine sorrow), talking about Jesus being tortured, bleeding, and dying. He finally smiled again when I reminded Him that this was why Jesus came, and this is how He worked to save US from OUR sins. And in his sweet little voice, Asher proclaimed, “I sure love Jesus, Mommy.”

Matthew 27:29
…twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head…

Mark 15:17
…twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on Him.

John 19:2, 5
And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe. So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.

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Next we went out on to the back porch and put together our own little Gethsemane. Using a small moss planter (I used this, and don’t let the word “large” fool you!), we filled it with soil. Then we set our tomb carved in the rock in the corner of the garden (I found that aquarium accessories could offer some neat options, like this cichlid stone), before filling the rest of the garden with plants. We used some little succulents we got at a local store along with some pretty decorative moss, and then Gabriel used small smooth stones to make a little pathway through the garden to the tomb. Last of all, the boys went on a stone hunt outside to find something that would serve as a tomb cover.

John 19:41
Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

Luke 23:55-56
The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid.Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

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On Good Friday, we used last week’s palm branches and our homemade crown of thorns to decorate our dinner table, when we ate lamb and roasted vegetables and matzo ball soup, along with the Seder plate with all  its elements and plenty of wine.

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Our kitchen island was cleared of all other decorations, and that is where we laid our own little Gethsemane. On Friday evening we closed up the tomb. On Saturday morning we found a little soldier to keep guard outside the tomb. And the children looked forward to seeing what would come of it on Sunday morning.

Matthew 27:59-60, 66
And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. … So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

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Come Sunday morning, the children came downstairs to find the guard fallen down, the stone moved away, and a piece of linen folded inside the tomb.

Matthew 28:2-8
And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.”So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.

Luke 24:1-12
…On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”And they remembered His words,and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

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They found a table set for a beautiful little breakfast. Fruit salad, hard boiled eggs with sea salt, mimosas, Easter story cookies, and Easter tomb rolls (the kids had helped me make those all on Saturday, which was really wonderful). Candles and music and the excited rush of gathering and eating and praising God together, singing Christ The Lord Is Risen Today. Gifts for each one at their place ~ books and chocolates.

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Once the morning feasting was done, it came time to don our Easter clothing (clothing is hugely metaphorical and meaningful in Scripture and the history of the Church) ~ even the Easter sermon mentioned this, because we had three baptisms during the service and these Scriptures were emphasized.

Ephesians 4:17-24
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self,which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:12-17
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Galatians 3:27
 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

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And so we got dressed in new matchy-matchy clothes (and my heart ached in all the heaviest and bestest of ways, because I have been given a family to clothe, and children who can wear sickeningly matchy outfits!), and talked about putting on Christ, putting off our old selves, putting on the new self in newness of life and the beauty of holiness, putting on love above all other things.

And then? Then the party really started. Gabriel pointed out, “there sure is a lot of joy around church and everywhere today!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. Because isn’t that just exactly, precisely the way it should be?! May the joy of the gospel, and of the Resurrected Christ, and of the hope He has given His people, shed forth from your homes, your families, your churches, and your wanderings until He comes again and everything is made new and all is set right.

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To the glory of the Father, amen. Allelulia!

Goodness Rising & Multiplying

Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness,
ordained for a continual remembrance that
the world will always be more delicious than it is useful.
Necessity is the mother only of clichés.
It takes playfulness to make poetry.

~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p40~

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Courtesy of one of my hubby’s coworkers a couple weeks ago, that’s a little peek at some of the yummy goodness that I sent to Steven’s office to cheer the hard laborers there. I like to send goodies every so often (I would like to do it at least monthly, but my brain & my follow-through is not always up to par with my desire!) But I am kind of well known there for my cinnamon rolls. A few years ago, I tried this recipe and now I just have my own sort of recipe (guidelines, really…) in my head, and I just make them from my own memory, and with my own intuition, using my own five senses. And honestly, while I did not grow up liking cinnamon rolls all that well (even though my mother totally rocks at them!!), I do miss these cinnamon rolls on my low-sugar, gluten-free diet. It is the sugar, the gluten, and the way the yeast rises in glorious goodness that makes these the cinnamony delights that they are.

Don’t go easy on the butter, don’t forget to use a heavy hand with sugar and cinnamon, and don’t mess with the flour ~ gluten free or freshly ground whole wheat, for instance? Umm NOPE. Don’t even bother. Don’t waste your time. If you aren’t going to indulge in the best cinnamon rolls in the world, then don’t even try to ease in around the edges. Some things have to be full fat, full sugar, full gluten. And these are definitely a solid case in point.

I had signed up to bring coffee hour snacks following yesterday morning’s worship service. It’s funny how different groups of folks can be. (Yes, little rabbit trail: oblige me, please.) At our old church, it was practically like pulling teeth & twisting people’s arms to bring enough food for stuff, or to bring generous quantity to supply all the grumbly bellies & grabby hands. At our new church? People might not necessarily sign up in advance, but they show up with abandon! There are always leftovers. There is always enough for seconds, thirds, and sending leftovers home with people who might need extra food in their hands later. The way these folks bring to life real examples of loaves & fishes multiplying in real tangible ways, with joy and humility and thankfulness… cups overflowing… brings tears to my eyes. It is life-giving.

So as far as I knew, I was the only one who had signed up to bring food for the coffee hour yesterday, and I wanted to be a blessing. My mother has long blessed people with food, and that is one way I delight in following closely in her footsteps. (Someone needs a meal? We’re having a potluck? People are coming over? I’m there!) I was raised in that you always bring twice as much food as you think you might need, because there is no blessing like the blessing of superabundant delicious food. So I made six dozen cinnamon rolls on Saturday. (That’s a double batch, in my book, in case you’re wondering.) I bought two big bags of gala apples to slice, and six pounds of easy-peel mandarin oranges. I put together a plate of sliced cheese with spirals of crackers. I had a package of rice crackers and a small gluten free coffee cake, to boot, because I am not the only one at our church who needs to eat gluten free out of necessity (you know, rather than fad).

Even just what I brought could have fed one hundred people, easily. But then other people showed up, arms full of edible blessings. Someone brought two dozen more freshly baked cinnamon rolls! Someone brought a few dozen Easter cookies fresh from a bakery, just the way the kids dream of. There were donuts and pastries that someone dropped off. And all of a sudden, coffee hour became a festive party. Afterward, we were able to package some things up for the freezer so that in other weeks we will once again have lots of goodies at church over which to have conversations about everything from the weather to Bible studies to childrearing to book collecting. And a few people went home with bags of leftover apples and oranges, handfuls of cookies, and cinnamon rolls to stash away for an afternoon snack. I’m pretty sure nobody needed to go eat lunch after that.

I was thinking back, upon looking at all that multiplication of food, how it just showed up naturally without anyone twisting arms or begging for people to provide it, and what a metaphor of God’s grace and miraculous handiwork it is. He may have provided it through fairly predictable, human means… but He still provided it, and He still showed His grace & handiwork through it. It reminds us of other times when His provision was not predictable, and when His handiwork was miraculous & physically inexplicable rather than common or ordinary.

Mark 6:41-43
And taking the five loaves and the two fish,
[Jesus] looked up to heaven and said a blessing
and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people.
And He divided the two fish among them all.
And they all ate and were satisfied.
And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.

As I look back on the baking of my cinnamon rolls, which was a very ordinary way God worked to provide food for people ~ through a woman’s hands working common ingredients together in a formulaic manner ~ I can also see another metaphor of God’s goodness and work. I think of the beauty and the wonder of leavening. Of little tiny yeasts (which are single-celled fungi, isn’t that delightful? read more here) that grow and produce bubbles, by eating sugar and producing carbon dioxide, and cause many wonderful changes in the lump they use for life. Scripture talks a lot about bad leaven (the leaven of the Pharisees, for instance), but Jesus also taught us about good leaven (in the parable of Matthew 13).

Matthew 13:33
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven
that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour,
till it was all leavened.”

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Watching my dough double and rise until it flopped over the edge of the bowls in the warming oven… rolling it out, smothering it with buttery & sugary & spicy goodness, rolling it again & slicing it up into pretty little round pinwheels… then watching it puff and rise again… oh! It is such an encouraging thing, and reminds me so much of God’s good works. In the dark, in the moist places, when the dough has been pounded and kneaded hard, and left for a while to rest and be on its own… amazing things happen not because I can follow recipes and not because I did things right, but because God is gracious. And even when God in His terrifying holiness seems so categorically unpredictable, He is yet predictable!! He is always gracious, always good, always benevolent and magnanimous! And those of you who know me, know that I don’t say that through rosy colored glasses or eyes of ignorant bliss. I have felt the terrible hand of the Lord. I have been pounded hard, kneaded long, and left in dark places. But this is precisely where so much beautiful rising and multiplying happens. Because the Lord is gracious, He continues to further His kingdom in me, through me, and even in spite of myself.

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What mercy!

A man’s daily meal ought to be
an exultation over the smack of desirability
which lies at the roots of creation.
To break real bread is to break the loveless hold of hell upon the world,
and, by just that much, to set the secular free.

~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p115~

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So next time you too put together water, milk, fat, honey, salt, flour, and yeast ~ when you smother it with the fatness of creamy butter and the deliciousness of sweet sugar and pungent cinnamon ~ think about the work God accomplishes even in you. I imagine that you, like me, can see how we fit into the description of even a humble cinnamon roll meant to be ripped apart and enjoyed and shared and prayed over and devoured. I am mixed, kneaded, pounded, left, punched down, smothered in goodness, rolled tightly, sliced into pieces, left again, and heated by an uncontrollable fire, and at last slathered with a thick layer of even more fatty sugary goodness simply because God likes to pour grace on top of grace… and why? Because it blesses my King, gives delight to my Creator, and feeds others around me.

Because God is glorious.

Because sometimes He works through ordinary, common, daily means.

Because sometimes He wants us to smile, and simply see Him in things like rising dough and multiplying food.

Because this is where the Gospel meets the edible.

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And it’s good.

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Recipes

It is rare these days that I find recipes for sweetish things that I love and can eat. No gluten, no sugar, no oats, no rye or malt or barley.
So here are a few new finds that I am really enjoying. I should figure out how to replace the maple syrup with medjool dates… but I haven’t yet. I am cheating on my sugar free aspect a little with a wee bit of maple syrup. Sue me. 😉

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Breakfast Bars

  • 1 ¼ cup almond flour
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup unsalted nuts
  • ¼ cup raisins (and/or other sugar free dried fruit)
  1. In a small bowl, combine almond flour, salt and baking soda
  2. In a large bowl, combine oil, maple and vanilla
  3. Stir dry ingredients into wet
  4. Mix in coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts and fruits
  5. Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish
  6. Press the dough into the baking dish, wetting your hands with water to help pat the dough down evenly
  7. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes
  8. Cool bars in pan for 2 hours, then serve

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Gluten Free & Grain Free Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup nut butter (I actually used sunbutter)
  • 2 medium sized bananas (The more ripe, the sweeter!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • Toppings: unsweetened shredded coconut, raisins, seeds or nuts, dark chocolate chips, cinnamon, and/or anything else you can think of.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor.
  3. Blend until well mixed.
  4. Pour batter into a greased muffin tin. You can also use a mini muffin tin to make 24 mini muffins.
  5. Add additional toppings of your choice to each muffin and lightly stir into each cup
  6. Cook time: 15 minutes for full size muffins and 10 minutes for mini muffins.
  7. Reheat in a toaster oven for about 4 minutes at 350 degrees F, or eat at room temperature.

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And I made this cobbler for a Sabbath meal with friends, where the hubby is gluten free. I couldn’t eat it because of the sugar (I could probably have figured out a way to make it without sugar, but I didn’t bother… not worth it for a fruit dessert I wouldn’t have loved much anyway!), but he said it was probably the best gluten free dessert he’s had. 🙂 I could easily make this vegan by using coconut oil instead of butter, and almond milk instead of dairy milk. But I didn’t and it was delicious! Of course. Nothing is better than butter in dessert!!

Gluten-Free Peach Cobbler

1 stick of butter, melted
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour mix
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. each cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
2 cups chopped peaches (or any other kind of berries/fruit)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 3-quart baking dish with butter.  Whisk together flour, 1 cup sugar, and baking powder. Stir in milk, vanilla and then the melted butter. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the fruit evenly over the batter. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over top. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until golden.

Bagels

We love bagels, but they’re one of those rare treats in our home. It’s probably a good thing that we don’t have a Noah’s Bagels in our town. 🙂 But the bagel-bug bit me recently, so I decided to make them myself! Oh boy. Delicious. And while they may have been a little bit time-consuming, they were super simple and well worth it. I made a small batch, and did a few plain, a few poppyseed, and a few cinnamon-sugar. I highly recommend trying these. They are chewy and spot-on. Slather on the cream cheese and you’ve got yourself the most mouth-watering bagel treats you could imagine.

BAGELS

Ingredients

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1.25 – 1.5 cups warm water
  • poppy seeds, sesame seeds or any other toppings

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients (except toppings) in a bowl. You want to incorporate all the flour, but your dough will be stiff. Only add the water as needed until the flour is incorporated.
  2. Knead the dough for ten minutes until it is smooth, either in a mixer or by hand.
  3. Cut the dough into 8 balls and let it sit, covered, for about 15 minutes. While this is happening, get a large pot of water boiling (enough so that the bagels won’t touch the bottom while being boiled), with a couple tablespoons of baking soda in the water.
  4. Take each dough ball and roll it into a foot long snake using your hands. Keeping your hand in the middle of the dough snake and use your other hand to bring the two ends together such that the dough is fully wrapped around your hand. Rotate the dough around so that the part where the two ends come together is under your palm. Press down to make the ends come together. (If this doesn’t work, you can also flatten one end, place the other end in it, and then wrap the dough around it to encase one end of the dough in the other.)
  5. You should now have eight balls of dough with a circle in them. Let them rest for about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 while you wait, and grease a cookie sheet  so that the bagels don’t stick to it.
  6. Once your water is at a persistent boil, place a few bagels in the water (you don’t want them crowded). Boil on each side for about 1 minute.
  7. Take the bagels out of the water (use a spatula or something, as they are obviously very hot.) If you are using poppy seed, sesame seed or any other topping, sprinkle some onto the bagel on each side. Alternatively, you can lay some on a plate and press the bagel into it.
  8. Once all the bagels have been boiled, place them on the cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes on each side.  If your bagels are too puffy after the first side cooks, flip them over so that the cooked side is pointing up, and flatten them using the head of a spatula.
  9. Let the bagels cool, and enjoy with cream cheese or your other favorite spreads/toppings.

End-of-Summer Peach Tart

I have been hugely enjoying fruit this summer. And let me just tell you that that’s an incredible understatement.

Recently it has been nectarines and peaches that have been my addiction. Especially some truly wonderful peaches grown in local orchards. We bought a whole box of peaches a week ago, some of which we enjoyed fresh ~ but I also made a few batches of jam, froze pie fillings, and froze some peach halves in lemon juice & sugar also. So yesterday Gabriel and I simply had to return to the local orchard and buy more. They are beyond delectable. Last week we had some called Lady Zee, and this week we are loving the Angelus variety.

Tonight for our small group dinner (finally reconvening after over a month off), I am bringing dessert and what am I bringing? Fruit dessert! Now, if you know me, you likely know that I really and truly do not like fruit desserts much whatsoever. Especially cooked fruit. But this dessert I’m bringing tonight? A fresh peach tart. No tainting baking of the fruit involved. Plus it involves cream cheese, which makes most things simply lovely to my tastebuds.

Inspired by this recipe, but constrained by a desire not to spend oodles of money on the deliciousness of mascarpone cheese right now, I came up with a slight variation (or two maybe). I also cut some corners on time because I tend to do that whenever possible with cooking & baking.

Following, below, is what I ended up creating and figured I may as well share my creation with you since I wrote it down anyway. 🙂 I hope you can find some juicy, plump, rosy, sugary peaches and give this a try before the end of summer really arrives. It’s just too delicious (and pretty eye-catching, to boot) to pass up!

End-of-Summer Peach Tart

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 Tblsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cut in 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter. Once incorporated as you would a pie crust, add 2 egg yolks, and finally 1/4-1/3 cup of ice water.

Pull into a ball, flatten into a disk, and transfer to a cookie sheet that you’ve lightly dusted with flour. Stick the cookie sheet with dough disc into the freezer.

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

While the oven heats and the dough chills, wash up your dishes. After about ten minutes, take the dough out of the freezer, roll it out, and fit it into your tart pan. Make sure it goes up the sides, and cut off the excess. (I used the excess in a little tin pie pan and let Gabriel sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon, then we baked it for a snack.) Line the tart with foil or parchment, and fill with beans/pie weights. Bake at 375 F for 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven.

While the tart shell bakes, prepare the filling.

In my KitchenAid mixer, I used the whisk attachment to bring 1 cup of heavy whipping cream to peaks (they were stiffer than “soft peaks” but you want to make sure you don’t let it turn into butter). Meanwhile, as that magic happens, in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, mix together 16 oz. of softened cream cheese and 1 cup of powdered sugar until very creamy. Add 1 tsp vanilla and the zest of half a lemon, incorporating well. Once the whipping cream has peaks and the cream cheese mixture is ready, gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Place that bowl in the fridge.

When the tart shell is done baking, stick it in the freezer and let it cool off (~10 minutes). While the tart shell cools off, peel, pit, and thinly slice a few peaches (I used two very large peaches; they were each nearly the size of a softball). Once your peaches are prepared and your tart shell has cooled, spoon the cream cheese mixture into the tart shell, and smooth the top with a spatula. Lay the peach slices attractively on top.

Put 1/4-1/3 cup of peach jam into a small microwavable dish. Heat for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between (I did two 30-second increments). Once the jam is pourable, use a pastry brush to brush the peaches on top of the tart with the liquified jam.

Garnish with a sprig of fresh herbs or edible flowers, and chill for a few hours before serving.

Truly delicious, especially with a peach mojito. Oh man: end-of-summer heaven! 🙂

UPDATE on Domestic Endeavors

This is the first of multiple upcoming updates for you all, so stay tuned over the next few days. I’m planning on having them rise in excitement each day… we’ll see if I can manage to pull that off.

COOKING and BAKING:
This is an area where I have enjoyed thriving lately (although, ironically, I haven’t actually planned tonight’s dinner yet, haha). For a few months this spring, it certainly wasn’t an area in which I could thrive (thankfully my stash of freezer meals and my very loving, kitchen-savvy hubby thrived in my stead), but in recent weeks I have loved getting back in the kitchen. I have replenished my freezer with Chicken Divan, Stroganoff, Meatballs, Muffins, Whole Grain Bread, Cookies, Grilled Pizza Crusts, Taco Meat, and more.
This morning I was able to host my weekly ladies’ group, and made some Brown Sugar Muffins for it. They turned out well enough to share the recipe, which was my combining of a couple.
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and brown sugar; mix in egg, milk and vanilla. Add flour, soda, and salt, mixing until combined. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 2/3 full. Mix together 4 Tblsp. butter (room temperature), 1 cup brown sugar, and 1-2 Tblsp. cinnamon in a small dish; sprinkle generously over tops of the muffins. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. (I got 14 muffins out of this recipe.)

I’m trying to think of recent meals we’ve had or are soon to have (in case you’re ever in a cooking funk and want someone else’s ideas). Here are just a few:
Broiled salmon topped with balsamic vinegar & peach jam, then sprinkled with finely chopped pecans & panko breadcrumbs; served with rice and green beans
Baked salmon topped with crushed garlic, lemon slices, lemon pepper, dill, olive oil, and soy sauce; served with roasted carrots & beets
Fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, roasted potatoes, and green salad
Taco salad
Grilled chicken caesar salad
Asian chicken salad
Chicken piccata; served with roasted asparagus and quinoa
Stromboli; served with fruit salad
Grilled pizza
Meatball subs
Pasta casserole (farfalle and chicken tossed in marinara; topped with mozzarella, topped with pesto); served with baguette and green salad
Steamed tilapia topped with lemon pepper; served with steamed broccoli and quinoa
Chicken and apple sausages; served with sauerkraut, fruit salad, and a veggie plate
Baked potatoes topped with chicken, broccoli, and a cheddar cheese béchamel sauce
Shrimp & veggie kabobs; served with pasta salad

KEEPING HOUSE and DECORATING:
I have to say that I have been doing a good job of keeping house lately (thanks, Lord!), and I am thankful. My little boy loves to help me clean, which makes it easy to incorporate into time I spend with him. He loves to vacuum with me, he loves to mop my kitchen floor (although his arm strength doesn’t make a big dent, so I do it myself after he’s done), and he really thinks there’s nothing better than washing windows & cleaning bathrooms. Who knew?!  I don’t do a big house-cleaning on a certain day of the week; I do it as things need it. I’d say we vacuum roughly every other day; sometimes more often when we go in and out a lot, which tracks in dirt from outside. I think we do a good solid cleaning of bathrooms once a week, and a second quicker “wipe down” also once a week (and just prior to whenever we’re expecting company: there’s not much worse than being a guest in a stinky, grimy bathroom). Mopping and windows and dusting? I do those on a less frequent, as-needed basis. Washing curtains and light fixtures and the like? Even less frequently, but still on an as-I-deem-it-necessary basis.
I will openly, even gladly, admit that I have not been going out of my way lately to update any decorating. We’ve added a large framed picture of the three of us (thanks to the photo shoot my brother did last month for us), but that’s about it since redecorating Gabriel’s room a few months ago. My decorating schemes & designs are, however, being recorded in a little notebook for room-by-room inspiration for our new house. So I have been clipping things from magazines and catalogues I run across, writing down websites with nifty ideas, and figuring out ways to describe with pen & paper what in the world I’m envisioning for each room in my head. Some of it will involve sewing, crafting, and repurposing; some of it will involve utilizing my father’s woodworking skills; some of it will involve thrifting and garage saleing and searching on Craig’s List for things I really really want.  But while I am not putting energy, time, or money into our current home’s decorations, I am able to hone some of that domestic creativity and start working on the planning and preliminaries for our new home. And that’s a blessing, because it certainly won’t happen overnight.

LAUNDRY and IRONING and MENDING:
I tend to do laundry on Tuesdays and ironing on Wednesdays. Not always, but it’s my general rule of thumb. If only so it reminds me to get it done, as we’re not the type who wait until we’ve run out of underwear or until the hampers are overflowing into our rooms. But we’re also a small enough clan at this point that I am able to easily accomplish the whole week’s laundry in one day (as long as I am home for the majority of the day). I’m so thankful for my servants (i.e. my washing machine and dryer), even though they are admittedly a bit rough, old, and rickety! These servants do make my jobs so much easier. And I love ironing. Is that odd? I like to chat with my mom on the phone or stream something on Netflix (usually something from the BBC) while I do it, and I generally don’t have that much ironing to do each week, so one naptime is enough to get it done. Plus my iron is just splendid and makes ironing a breeze. Having decent domestic tools really is a plus, an aid, a blessing. Mending… well, mending I definitely try to do on an as-needed basis. But, um, I’ll be brutally honest here and tell you that I’ve had a pair of my hubby’s cargo pants folded up downstairs waiting for a button for quite a few months… I think I even have the button somewhere. Typing this out reminds me that I need to get that fixed. Today. Procrastination has no place in my realm of domesticity. I will say that the last time I noticed a hole in one of Steven’s shirts, I patched it within three minutes of locating the hole! But that is not the norm. I need some work there.

CRAFTING and RE-PURPOSING:
This is an area where I have sadly been inactive. I would love to get crafting again, but it seems to be more of a winter pursuit for me, I guess. I would like to think that I could stay on top of sewing, crafting, gift-making, and re-purposing of all sorts all year round. I need to work on this, get inspired, think of projects, and jump in. I have stayed on top of our family photo albums (I try to update them 3-4 times a year to keep them current, and to keep it a manageable project). My stash of homemade baby gifts is dwindling, and will soon need replenished. I have some ideas in my head of what to do next, so within a couple months I may be busily crafting once again! I will not be doing “a homemade Christmas” this year, so that takes a little pressure off the crafting and sewing world and puts it more heavily in my next category!

FRUGALITY and SHOPPING:
I have been thankful this year for my love of penny-pinching. I am far from perfect with it—I do occasionally do impulse buys or end up deciding that I really do need that latte (which makes me thankful for gift cards we’ve been blessed with!) or the larger pack of lightbulbs—but for the most part, I stick with my lists, I use what we’ve got, and we make do with what we can or we simply do without. I am already thinking about Christmas gifts, mostly because I know I need to be as frugal as I can with them this year especially (and because we’ll be busy with some other things during Christmas shopping season, so I need to be done before most people get started), so I want to keep my eyes peeled for good deals, clearance sections, coupons, and overstocks (in stores and online). A new place I am currently learning to balance frugality (and prayerfully seek wisdom) is in the realm of shopping for things for our new home. There are wide ranges of quality (and therefore price) for everything: windows, doors, siding, cement, appliances, paint, light fixtures, drawer pulls, countertops, toilets… everything. We are praying for wisdom with where to cut corners, where to invest a bit more, and how to get the best bang for our buck in every area of our home. It’s a huge responsibility, a bit of stress, and a good challenge that Steven and I are working on meeting straight in the eye.

 

READING and WRITING and MUSIC:

I continue with my weekday typist job for Olive Tree Bible Software, and although I feel like it does eat up hours that I would love to use elsewhere, it’s only for a season, and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my family, serve this company and its customers, and it also has the added perk of giving me some great resources to read while I am typing! I am also continuing to be actively moderating & fellowshipping at Hannah’s Prayer and actively writing for Grieve Out Loud. These endeavors also occupy a lot of time, but it is a blessing for me to have this opportunity to reach out, bless others, bear burdens together, pray for ministries and individuals, and use my childrens’ lives and legacies to impact the Church and her people.

While I have not done as much reading this year as I have in some others, I am reading through Scripture (currently, Jeremiah and Revelation), Streams In The Desert, Prayers Of An Excellent Wife, and Brave New Family. I have a few other books I’m itching to read, but am determined not to bite off more than I can chew (or more than I can read!) at this point.

With music, alas, it has been on a back burner. It would be wonderful to have half an hour every day to play harp and piano, to sing, to compose. But this isn’t a season of life where it is very practical. I accompany at church (and occasionally sing there), and very rarely will play here at home for my own pleasure or because Gabriel will ask me to. But yes, it is rare. I would like to change that someday, probably in some other season of life. Perhaps once I am teaching (family members) again, I will have more of an excuse to play more myself.

 

So that’s a little bit of an update in my domestic realm (although there’s certainly more areas I could have added)… and just for fun, I’m saving the domestic realm of GARDENING for tomorrow’s update…