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Category Archives: Cooking

Life Happens

I’m coming out of one of those “knuckle-down-and-survive” modes. Again. Remembering (relearning?) to take a moment here and there to really appreciate the life I’m living. To focus as much on being as doing.

I’m thankful for my job. For the talents God has given me and the opportunities He provides for me to use those talents. I’m even more grateful for people in my life who are going out of their way to make me feel appreciated. In my little world of lists and priorities and responsibilities, it’s nice to be a priority on someone else’s list merely because they chose to put you there.

Among other things, experienced a rather difficult and painful root canal. A sweet friend made me a deliciously soft and flavorful salmon dinner. Letting someone take care of you once in awhile – sweet indeed.

 

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A Moment for Gratitude

A lot of life was packed into yesterday. A beautiful and courageous young woman publically dedicated her life to Christ through baptism.  Five recent birthdays were celebrated. An adorable one-year old baby boy, who’s every day of life is a miracle, was dedicated to God. The shortened life of his baby sister was celebrated and remembered. A young couple got married and we fêted with delicious food and lots of laughter.

The day held a lot of tears, both happy and sad.

It was a long one, yesterday, but of the good sort. From sun-up to sundown I was running from one task to the next; food, flowers, photography, advice, ideas, hugs – involved. Today I’m exhausted. But I wouldn’t trade the involvement for anything. Sometimes life is so beautiful, it hurts.

Yesterday morning, as I was standing at the counter creating a pear, pecan, and raspberry vinaigrette salad for 35 people, I suddenly experienced a moment of intense gratitude. As I julienned the pears, my thoughts had been focused on the list of things yet to accomplish. Flowers on the tables. Appetizers for the afternoon party. Balloons – where were the balloons to be released in honor of the sweet baby girl? And the frosting – it still needed to be whipped before I applied it to the two-layer cake for the evening’s wedding reception. And…

I paused. Pear in one hand, knife in the other, I was suddenly compelled to listen to the sounds around me. Grampy, as he searched for the right spoon to stir his famous punch. Mary, as she worried over the potatoes and whether they would be crispy enough. Grammie, as she joked with one of her three daughters.  Prateek, as he wheeled in a cart full of his son’s ventilator equipment that makes it possible for the little miracle boy to spend the day with us. Yddo, video camera in hand, interviewing the oldest great-grandchild who, at two-and-a-half, is clearly the boss of the clan.

And there in lies the gratitude. Thankfulness for the big family who adopted me into their midst years ago. Appreciation for the chance to be involved, to help, as they experience a day so full of both happiness and regret. And deep gratitude for the knife and pear in my hands and the knowledge of the task before me so ingrained that completion does not require conscience thought.

Suddenly I am back in a dark brown cabinetry kitchen with a squash-yellow refrigerator and standing at another counter with a too-big apron tied around my waist. I am making nachos and it takes all my concentration. I am seven years old.

I had begged Mom for the opportunity to make dinner by myself. Wisely, she suggested a very simple menu and I’d never been so proud as I placed the platter of crispy nachos on the table before my family. From then on, throughout our childhood to the time we all left for college, my siblings and I had a rotating schedule – three meals a day, three kids. By the time we were pre-teens, Mom and Dad rarely had to cook.

By the 3rd grade, I had a part-time job outside our home. And by the time I enrolled in college, I’d worked at everything from janitorial to babysitting to long, hot summers on the farm. I’d worked alongside my parents on mission trips, Vacation Bible School programs, banquets, and even a couple of TV programs. We camped, hiked, rode dirtbikes, and traveled the U.S. My dad spent one long, muggy summer sanding and refinishing a huge gymnasium floor by himself, instead of contracting the job out, so that he and Mom could afford to take us to Disney World. And though they didn’t quite understand the obsession, they supported my love of horses in every way possible.

Now I’m an adult. And the busy life of my childhood has morphed into an extremely active adulthood. The kitchen counter in the church in Texas is a long way from the kitchen counter in our home in rural Pennsylvania. And with the bustle of activity around me and a long-list of things to accomplish, it’s a strange moment for a walk down memory lane. But the gratitude in my heart and the symbolism of the pear in my hand are not to be denied. I’m here because of my parents.

Knowing that the day would be as hectic as any other, I’d texted them earlier that morning to let them know what I was up to and to tell them how much I loved them. While it wasn’t the usual conversation we often have, I knew they’d understand. Like I said, I’m here because of them.

I know how to prepare a salad because my mom taught me, and then trusted me to branch out on my own at a tender age. She laughs about it now and claims it was all a part of her diabolical plan to never have to cook again. My brother is a very competent cook and my sister and I took to the kitchen with alacrity. As a teenager and young adult, she ran food service kitchens at schools and camps with delicious and competent results. I’ve catered and thrown parties for years. We both love to experiment. We joke that someday, somewhere we’ll start our own business.

I know how to work hard and I possess an intense need to be of service because my dad first led by example and then taught me by putting a paintbrush in my hand on community service day when I was 6 years old.  My parents read us Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue stories about secretly helping others and then supported us when we wanted to follow the example of the stories and leave anonymous notes and gifts for their students, never doubting the heart behind little packs of gum and pictures drawn in crayon.

From camping trips to music lessons to mission trips, each one of those activities and skills learned as a young family has become something we can share today. All three of us spent many summers working at summer camp. Like my parents, my siblings are both teachers and the connections they have with their students is wonderful to behold. My parents support of my love for horses made possible my involvement in equitherapy. My sister sews clothes for students and, with her husband, leads out in song service and produces hilarious talent shows. My brother coaches basketball that encourages sportsmanship and teamwork; he still spends summers at camp. There is always someone in need of assistance. And we learned quickly the feeling of joy and satisfaction earned when you do something for someone else; not for the acknowledgement, but for the service.

As I finish the salad, set it on the table, and enjoy a big hug from Grammie, my heart is full. I love this family dearly. And I’m grateful I can be there for them on this bitter-sweet day.  Later in the evening, I will spend time with a lovely young couple.  They may not have a lot of material goods but they possess a lot of joy and love and big ideas and they’re ready to embark on their journey to make a difference. My friends and I will be there to support them too.

I find myself wishing my parents were there to receive the hugs too. The gratitude should be for them. I’m here with the skills and desire to be of help because my parents taught me those skills and values. They led by example. So when that lovely, warm feeling of joy and satisfaction bubbles up inside of me, I realize I can’t possibly thank my parents’ enough. But I’ll try.

Creamed Beef: Vegan

So we’ve established that I’m still practicing the art of making gravy. Tonight’s attempt was pretty darn good, if I say so myself. Here’s another version of Mom’s recipe.

Half a package of sliced corned beef (fake, hehe), chopped

(most stores have variations in the frozen food section)

2 T McKay’s Beef Seasoning

1/2 t salt

1/4 cup flour

Saute chopped beef in just a little bit of butter, oil, or olive oil spray – whichever you prefer – until just brown. Mix in other ingredients. Cover bottom of skillet with milk, about 2 cups. Stir in 2 T Braggs Liquid Aminos – the secret to covering the Silk taste if you’re using soy milk! Taste-test and add to your liking. You’re probably already better at it than me! Enjoy!

It’s Friday night and this is the ultimate comfort food. Mix in some good music, a cool dog by your side, some Draper Valley Riesling, a few flickering candles, and the week melts away. Yeah, you should try it.

A Baby Blessing

My sister  is pregnant! Have I mentioned that I’m excited?

My sister, BIL, and I were all scheduled to visit Mom and Dad (bro lives nearby) this summer so the parents and

I decided that would be a great time to do something special for the new parents-to-be.

We did not, however, want to do the regular shower shindig. Not to be down on showers – but the usual shower games and silliness didn’t really fit  our plans.

So we had a baby blessing.

We invited close friends and family; asked each of them to write a blessing (or prayer or advice) on the provided

(and cutely decorated, of course) piece of paper. We also asked them to bring a copy of their favorite childhood book.

My Dad then led out in prayer and the reading of blessings.

In the invitations, I had included a stamped and self-addressed envelope for those who

probably wouldn’t make it to the blessing.

It was wonderful to read blessings from friends, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who couldn’t make it.

And of course, there was lots of food. And reading of sweet, fun, hilarious, and heart-warming children’s stories.

Most of it was supposed to be held outside in the gorgeous CO weather – and then it just DUMPED rain. Oh well. 🙂

As you can see from the pictures, it’s a Woodland theme, which is the theme my sister and BIL have chosen for the nursery. It was a little tricky, because at the time of the blessing we did not know the baby’s gender.

Menu:

Spanikopita

Pasta Salad

Bruschetta

Various sandwiches and salads brought by friends

Peach Tea

Lemonade

Chocolate Forest Cake with Mushroom Cookies and Chocolate Squirrels

Apple Pie on a Stick

Pear Ginger Tarte

Chocolate birds and squirrels, displayed on a “tree”

Cherry Almond Cupcakes

(all the food we made was vegan)

Spanikopita - photo by BIL

The Cake - photo by BIL

The bird chandy - photo by BIL

Decorations:

Fabric pennant

Pine garland

Trees

Needle-felted acorns

Wood-burned pins for the immediate family, that said Mommy 2 B, Daddy 2 B, Aunt, Uncle, etc

Wild flowers, thistles, and sunflowers in our Grandma’s vases

Various woodland creatures

Stumps, used as pedestals

Trail signs for “Love”, “Blessings”, and “Family”

Lots of hand-stitched felt animals – some of the birds hung from a branch chandy over the food table

Homemade quilt, made by Mom

Hand-stamped napkins, tied with ribbon and wood buttons (from the downed limbs in my yard!)

Lots of baby pictures of the new parents, and of grand and great grand parents.

Beans and lentils scattered on the table – representing “Bean”, the nickname given to the baby until a name is announced

Wood-burned and painted sign and photo album with “Bless This Family”

Utensils - photo by BIL

The chocolate tree - with a few less birds, as they kept melting. 😦

Special thanks to Dad – who helped me cut all those log pedestals and cake stands, etc. Especially after the chain saw stopped working. Whew! What a work-out! He’s the man.

shirts made by sister and BIL - he teaches computers and math. hilarious.

Too Early Dog Days

It’s hot. I mean, really hot.

I think it’s actually kind of mean that this is the weather Texas’ provides on my first summer back. I was already dreading it – but man! It’s not even the end of July yet and we’ve had 27 days of 100+ degrees. My electricity bill is shooting up. But, I don’t have to mow the lawn because no grass is growing. We’re officially in a drought and the city is prohibiting unnecessary usage of water.

I know others are suffering through some intense heat waves too. And then there are those who are complaining (ahem, Northwesterners) that they don’t have a summer. I’m this ___  close to suggesting a temporary life swap.

I keep trying to think cool, be cool. I am… cooool.

Right. So this should help. Some pearl tapioca in a pina colada.

Yep. Cool. Take that, heat.

Fresh

It’s ridiculously hot here in Texas. I had originally planned on hosting several backyard summer suppers during the months of June/July – before the triple digits are supposed to hit. I had one, at which we could not – for the life of us – get the grill working. I had another little supper at my house later, all indoors. I really should do it again. The heat is amazingly uninspiring.

Perhaps it is cooler where you are and you can be inspired instead. So here are some pictures and recipes. Have some yum.

Menu: Tea. Water. Jamaica. Fresh tomatoes and basil on homemade bread (recipe in upcoming post). Orzo pasta salad. Potato salad. Corn on the cob! Fruit pizza and virgin pina coladas.

Orzo Pasta Salad: Orzo is a pasta that looks like rice, which is why it’s also called rice pasta. There is no rice in it. Really. I love it because it’s light and delicate – a perfect compliment to vegetables and spices. This particular salad has baby tomatoes, diced portabellos, diced yellow summer squash, olive oil, fresh garlic, very finely chopped onion, chopped fresh basil, and chopped fresh rosemary. Pasta salad is such a lovely concept because you could pretty much through any vegetable  in there, except maybe raw potatoes, and not go wrong. Also very good with Newman’s Own light viniagrette.

Potato Salad: New red potatoes, chives, vegenaise, salt, fresh garlic. That’s it. Amazing.

Fruit Pizza:

Crust: Your favorite cookie recipe. I usually use oatmeal. For some reason, it totally flopped this time. It happens. So I quickly made a new crust, which was then a little too thick. Sigh. See? Definitely not always perfect food.

Bake the crust ahead of time and let cool. If you don’t have one already, get yourself a spring-form pan! Actually, get yourself several of varied sizes – I used them for everything.

“Sauce”: Two packages tofutti cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, and 1 T lemon juice. Whiz up and spread on the cooled crust.

Toppings: Your favorite fruit, covered with your choice of coconut, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce – whatever your heart desires.

Summer supper. Recipe: lovely people, nice linens and dishes, fresh and simple ingredients; mix and enjoy!

Summer Evening

 

A little backyard supper.

We intended to grill. But the grill would NOT work. Sigh.

We still ate like kings, just a little later than we’d planned.

Grilled veggies (on the stove). Chicken and homemade BBQ sauce (recipe later).

Hot dogs for the vegetarians. Potato Salad. Watermelon. Fruit Cobbler a la mode.

Little kids running around. Flowers. Green tea.

Bocce Ball. Friends. A hot summer evening.

A little pennant banner. Hand-stamped napkins.

Table runner sewn from thrifted sheets.

Thrifted glass jars full of flowers and candles, some hanging from the tree.

And one cool dog.