Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who first

Before you can know the what, when, and why answers to this life, you must first know who.

Who are you? Who are you in God's eyes? Who has he made you to be? Who are you - by what name?

It's hard to know. We try to ask and think it's our own head creating the answers we want to hear. It's confusing.

Start here: Ask yourself, and tell God, what you love.
And in this you will find who he has made.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thanks in the dining room

Thank you for the way the sun shines through this window,

for the color of woodgrain, shades of brown, and the delicate yellow textiles.

Thank you for the pretty pink, bright and humming, which makes my dining room a peaceful refuge.

Scrambled eggs with fire-roasted salsa, banana with cinnamon.

Thank you for food so tasty it nourishes the soul, too.

Steak with red-wine marinade "reduction" gravy, baked green beans and baby red potatoes.

Thank you for dinners together here, wholesome and delicious.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Desert run and burrito bowls

We went for a drive in Saguaro National Park this weekend. The only way through the park is an 8-mile loop-shaped road with lots of hills.

How hilly? Well, hilly like this.

On Labor Day, we will be running this road for fun at 6:30 in the morning. Well, us and 1198 other crazy people.

Why are we doing this, you ask. Won't it be about 100 degrees, you ask.

I don't know why, really. Just like I'm not really sure why I signed us up for that half marathon in October. I guess it's just because we've never done it before.

Sometimes I drive around town and think: I have never been in this place right here before. I like that feeling of a new place, a new sight, a new experience.

Oh, and then there's the view. This picture isn't even the half of it. Yesterday I was there doing my first practice run (quite the steep learning curve to go along with the steep terrain), and the view was just spectacular. It was cloudy overcast all over for the first hour or so. I wish I had a camera! The ridges and valleys are covered in green cactus and shrubs. This one valley with a stream running through it looked like Jurassic Park with cactus! It was gorgeous, and made me smile big four miles into the desert.

On another note, I made a delicious dinner recently. I copied it from Chipotle:

Burrito Bowls

First make this taco seasoning.

Next, put 1-2 pounds beef (I think I used round steak, it was on sale.) in crock pot on low, cover it with taco seasoning, and simmer all day, stirring occasionally.

Heat some black beans and cook some rice. Gather cheese, salsa, sour cream, avocado, and chopped lettuce.

Make your bowl in this order: rice, beans, beef, salsa, cheese, avocado, sour cream, lettuce.

By the way, if you're watching your weight, the serving pictured above comes in at about 500 calories. Just be sure to use about 1/2 cup each rice and beans, 3 ounces beef, 1/4 cup cheese, 1/4 avocado, and 2 Tbsp. low-fat sour cream.

This was so good that I ate my leftovers for breakfast!


Friday, August 05, 2011


Today I open a gift from the freezer. I defrost it for 3 minutes. It is a personal-size peach pie just for me. Because I worked hard this week, darn it!

While baking this confection took an afternoon, I am delighted I acted on the idea to make individual pies in a muffin tin and FREEZE them. They are perfect! We don't have too much pie, or too little.

The crust, peach pie filling, and whipped cream recipes below are all from my fave cookbook, Food to Live By.

Sweet Pie Crust
(Makes enough for 2 single-crust pies or 1 double-crust pie, 8 to 9 inches in diameter; also enough for 12 thick-crust muffin-sized pies AND 2 8-ounce ramekin pies)

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus flour for rolling out the dough
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup ice water, or more as needed

1. Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal. **I just used a pastry blender.

2. With the machine running, add the ice water and process to combine, about 5 seconds. Do not allow the dough to form a solid mass or it will be tough. Test the dough by pinching a small amount between your fingers. If the dough sticks together, it is ready. If not, add an additional tablespoon of ice water, process briefly, and test again. **I used a combination of pastry blender, spoon, fork, and fingers.

3. Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface and divide it in half. Form the dough into two flat disks, patting it just enough to hold it together. Wrap the disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days. The wrapped dough can be frozen for up to 3 months. Let the frozen dough thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rolling out. **I didn't have the patience for all this. I wanted peach pie by 5:00! I formed the dough into two balls, kept them in the bowl, and put the bowl in the freezer until I was done making the filling!

4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it (for a single-crust pie you'll need one disk of dough; for a double-crust pie you'll need both disks). If it was refrigerated for more than 1 hour, let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften slightly. Lightly dust a work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough into a round about 1/8-inch thick and 2 inches larger than the pie plate. **I made my dough about 1/4-inch thick (I love thick, chewy dough!), and cut it to size with a cocktail glass dipped in flour.

5. Fold the dough in half or drape it over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pie plate. Press the dough firmly into the pie plate and brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush. If there are holes or cracks, patch them with small bits of the overhanging dough or press the dough back together. **I did lots of patching with my muffin-tin method, but they turned out delicious!

6. For a single crust pie, trim the dough with a pair of kitchen scissors, leaving a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold the edge under to form a double layer and crimp or flute it. For a double-crust pie, fit the dough for the bottom crust into the pie plate and trim the dough even with the rim. Roll out the second disk of dough. Place the filling in the bottom crust and place the dough for the second crust on top. Trim the top crust with scissors, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust, and crimp or flute it to seal. Cut 3 slits in the center of the top crust with a sharp knife to allow steam to vent as the pie bakes. **I made a single crust pie, but made a crumbly-sweet topping from an apple crisp recipe.

Whoo!! That's a lot! This is going to be a LONG post! See ** for short-cuts!

Fresh Peach Pie

1 egg white
About 12 medium-size (2 1/2 pounds) yellow-fleshed peaches, preferably freestone, or nectarines **Freestone would have been SO much easier. I think mine were the Cling variety.
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp pure almond extract
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg **Fresh? Right, right from the jar.
1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1. Brush the bottom and side of the crust with the egg white and refrigerate it, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. **I skipped this entire step. I didn't really see the point. If you know the reason, please fill me in.

2. Cut the peaches in half through the stem end. Peel the peaches, remove the pits, and slice each half into 4 or 5 wedges. Place the peaches in a medium-size bowl and add the lemon juice and almond extract. Toss to coat. **The process of peeling and slicing the peaches was tedious and ugly. I have since heard the note above about Freestone peaches (for which the peach pit separates freely from the peach flesh), and blanching peaches quickly in boiling water, then in ice water to easily remove the peels. They just, um, peel right off, or so I hear:)

3. Place the brown sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add this to the peaches and stir to coat the fruit thoroughly. Set the peach mixture aside.

4. With the bottom pie crust(s) in the muffin-tin or pie plate according to your method, spread the graham cracker crumbs evenly across the bottom of the pie crust(s). Spoon the peach mixture over the graham cracker crumbs.

5. Follow the above directions for the top pie crust if you are using it, or sprinkle on the crisp topping if you are using that. Transfer the pie(s) to the freezer for 15 minutes.

6. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the oven rack.

7. Place the pie(s) on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking the pie until the crust is golden and the peach juice bubbles up through the slits (or around the crisp topping), 30-40 minutes (I can't remember how long it took for the individual pies).

8. Let the pie cool on a wire rack, then serve warm or at room temperature. The pie can be refrigerated, covered, for 1 day. To rewarm it, bake it in a 325 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes. When the pies have cooled sufficiently, store them in zip-top freezer bags, removing as much air from the bags as possible.

Sweetened Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
3 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. Chill a medium-sized mixing bowl and mixer blades in the freezer until ready to use (at least 20 minutes). **I couldn't wait longer, so I think I did this for 10 minutes...turned out fine!

2. Add the cream to the chilled bowl. Beat the cream, using an electric mixer, starting on low and increasing the speed as the cream begins to froth. **This was so much fun for me and my brand new hand mixer!

3. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the cream holds soft peaks, 2 to 3 minutes. For the best texture, use whipped cream immediately, or refrigerate, covered for up to 1 hour.

The whipped cream was absolutely divine. I think it would work just as well in smaller amounts, too. I already don't like to buy Cool Whip, but I may not even buy Reddi Whip anymore!

We ate these ramekin peach pies with the fresh whipped cream together with coffee garnished with whipped cream for breakfast one Saturday morning. I think I will have to make this for my next batch of guests!!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Thank you for the gifts

Wow, whoa, deep breathing sigh.

I'm reading One Thousand Gifts this morning, written by the blogger I've mentioned Ann Voskamp. I began reading her book a few nights ago after purchasing it at a going-out-of-business book sale. It begins with her take on what happened in the hearts of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It makes more sense to me, resonates more, than all the other interpretations I've read.

Other interpretations always say Adam and Eve thought God was holding out on them by not allowing them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I agree that they probably thought God was holding out on them; keeping something they wanted from them for his own good. I can see quite easily how -with a little distortion from the serpent- God's choice to restrict this tree could be construed as holding out on them. Still, I didn't really understand how this applied to me. I think that's because I couldn't relate it to a personal experience of thinking God has been holding out on me.

Personally, it brings more clarity for me to read "thought God was holding out on them" as "thought they deserved/were entitled to everything yet God wasn't giving them everything". Adam and Eve had so much, this whole beautiful garden. There was one more thing they wanted though. And if God wasn't going to give it to them, they would take it themselves.

Whoa, that sounds familiar! After all, it's just one more thing.

Adam and Eve had perfect lives before this. Really. Not the I'm "perfect" in my imperfections kind of perfect lives. They had all their needs met. There was no sin. They lived in minute-by-minute closeness with the God of the universe. They were even given the entire freaking world to rule and subdue - all its beauty, adventure, resources. All of it was God's gift to them. Then God added one teensy, weensy disclaimer. If you eat from that tree in the middle of the Garden, you will die. No more endless goodness on earth. There will be evil, too; hence the name of the tree. Was God holding out on evil in this world? Adam and Eve chose (thanks to their gift of free will) a life of both good and evil. Do you think this is true? Please, tell me if I'm going out on a limb. I don't want to mislead anyone, including myself.

With the assistance of temptation by Satan, who (as Ann points out in her book) also wanted more and was ungrateful for what he had (which is how he became Satan), the ungrateful thoughts of Adam and Eve (God holding out on them) became ungrateful actions (eating of the tree). (Sorry for so many parentheses. This paragraph could use a flow chart!) God gave us everything, including himself, and we were not satisfied. We wanted -and were out to get- that which we could not have, did not yet have. Sin entered the world.

There are so many ways in which I, too, am not satisfied.

Please note I am not referring to a hunger for good things. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:8-9). These are the things of God. There are many things we strive for, however, that have nothing to do with God and his will for our lives, yet everything to do with wanting more, insecurity, and generally attempting to fill ourselves with things that are not God. To rid your life of these things, fill yourself to the brim with God's gifts. They are all around you, moments filled with his presence and purpose.

Oh, Lord, to be content with now. Oh, Lord, to be grateful with now, for this, for here in this place you have given me now. Oh, Lord, thankyou for the gift
of rain,
of early morning talks,
of coffee outside,
of a curious pup,
of bare feet,
of fresh air,
of droplets cool on the face and the toes,
of a smooth pen,
of fresh water,
of a full stomach,
of your wisdom,
of your love.

Thank you for the gifts.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Summer harvest soup

I guess I've been on vacation. Or maybe I just haven't been very inspired lately. Either way, I do have some pictures saved up to share with you. And where there are pictures, then I can always find something to say.

This is my favorite cookbook. I've been gradually cooking my way through it, and I've picked up the frequency a bit this summer.

Several weeks ago I made this:
Summer Harvest Soup

I thought it was delicious and liked the way it incorporated new (to me) vegetables. Husband appreciated it for its dipping qualities as he tends to shy away from heaping doses of vegetables. We always make soup with paninis.


2 T. olive oil
1 large leek, both white and light green parts, rinsed well and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
7 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
3 small carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup trimmed and sliced (1-inch pieces) green beans
1/2 cup trimmed and sliced (1-inch pieces) yellow wax beans*
1 cup diced (1/2-inch dice) baby summer squash*
1 cup diced (1/2-inch dice) baby zucchini*
1/2 cup fresh shelled English peas
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (from 1 ear)
2 cups diced vine-ripened tomatoes
2 T. coarsely copped fresh basil
1 T. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese or pesto (optional)

*Either I couldn't find these items or they were too expensive for my budget, so I substituted extra of the other vegetables in their places.

I didn't realize how much fennel smells like licorice. I also didn't know that leeks are from the onion family, and thereby make a good subsitute for onions. I love cooking!


1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over low heat. Add the leek, fennel, and bay leaf and cook, stirring occassionally, for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant but not browned, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the wine is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. (Pour yourself a glass, too.) Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.

3. Add the carrots, green beans, and yellow beans and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the summer squash, zucchini, peas, and corn and let simmer until the vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook or the bright vegetable colors will be lost.

4. Add the tomatoes, basil, thyme, and parsley and let simmer until heated through, about 1 minutes. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Discard the bay leaf. Serve the soup immediately, garnish with ribbons of Parmesan or a dollop of pesto, if desired.

This soup also freezes well. Allow the soup to cool, then pour it into quart-sized zip-lock bags, and store the bags horizontally/flat in the freezer. When reheating, defrost the bag for 10 minutes in a sink of water, then warm on the stove or in the microwave.

More recipes and stories to come soon!
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