Rain and Thanksgiving

We have finally reached my very favorite time of year: Autumn. The leaves turn colors, the air turns crisp and the sunlight turns pale. My childhood was spent in farm-country, among some of the kindest classes of people in the country, and I am grateful to have returned to farm-country again. Growing up, prayer requests at church always included prayers for more rain, less rain, for the frost to hold out one more week until the harvest could be brought in. Although no one in my family was ever a farmer (lumberjacks, sure– we are Scandinavian, after all), I learned to so greatly respect and be grateful for the work of farmers that labored from sunrise to sunset to put food on my table.

Grain Harvest

Because I got to hear their prayer requests, I got to be a part of a much humbler approach to life and faith: Depending on God for very real, material, life-giving needs. The prayers of farmers are very different than those of the rest of us– they pray for sun, but not too much that the crops burn, rain, but not enough for the seed to go to rot, insects to fertilize, but not to destroy, frost to put the ground to rest, but not so early that it kills the harvest. For those of us that work in offices, shops, restaurants, hospitals, we are unaffected by the elements around us and we can easily lose sight of God’s providence, as we can easily be distracted by what seems to be the providence and omnipotence of our bosses and customers. Our needs have a middle-man and we easily lose sight of their true provider. Continue reading

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Forgiveness and the Grocery Ad

Last week, I read through the grocery ads, made my lists and planned my coupons. Sometimes I will divide up my needs between as many as four stores in order to take advantage of sales and coupon match-ups. This particular week, there was a one-day sale that put Oscar Mayer P3 Protein Packs at $1 each; having a great coupon, I was going to be able to get two of these for FREE! I was pretty excited about this, as I wouldn’t ever pay much for such a simple (and overpriced) product, but was looking forward to being able to stash a few of these in my fridge for good snacks on busy days.

But then I saw the sign. Stuck over the price tags for each variety of this product was a bright pink paper stating ‘This flavor not included in ad pricing’. I was frustrated and irritated. So I then started looking around for whatever flavors were included in the ad pricing. Nowhere to be found. No second location. No empty rack. Nothing.

I was angry. Stupid and trivial as it was, I felt taken advantage of and lied to. So I finished my shopping and quickly left. I haven’t been back. Yet.

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Is Dinner Ready Yet?

But really though, is it? When will it be ready? I thought you were supposed to be done by now? When can we eat? It looks good already, can we just eat it now?

Don’t pretend you haven’t heard these questions before. Probably, you’ve even asked them before, perhaps even to yourself about your own cooking! A meal is taking a bit longer than you expected, you’re really hungry and that stew really does look pretty good. Why not just eat it now?

More often than not, we need to practice patience in our lives. Sometimes it is just waiting for dinner to be ready, sometimes it is waiting for results from your new diet plan, sometimes it is waiting for God to answer prayer. Our prayers come in many forms and are never answered in the same way. Almost never are they answered on our timeline or in ways that we understand. Because God’s time is not our own time, we frequently find ourselves asking, “When? Weren’t we already done with this? Isn’t this taken care of already?”

So here’s a stew recipe that asks you to wait, even though it looks like it is ready.

It's even Whole30 compliant!Hatch Green Chili and Pork Stew

Ingredients

2 lbs lean pork, cubed
2 Tbs fat (I use olive oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c tapioca starch (you can use flour or cornstarch if not observing a such a diet)
1 can diced tomatoes (14 oz)
6-8 roasted green chilies, chopped*
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 c chicken stock

  1. Heat the fat over medium heat in a small dutch oven or stock pot. Add the pork and lightly brown (don’t worry about it being cooked through, it will cook later).
  2. Once the pork has browned, add the onion and garlic until translucent.
  3. Stir in the starch to coat the pork, so that everything is sticky (this is your thickening agent).
  4. Add the tomatoes (you can drain them if you like, but I prefer them undrained), green chilies, jalapenos, salt and pepper. Incorporate thoroughly and allow to simmer briefly. Then add the stock, bring to a rolling simmer.
  5. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and simmer for at least an hour, best at least two hours.

*You can typically get these roasted in-store, but if you live in a place like I do, where they only roast one, maybe two, Saturdays out of the season, I just roast them on my own. This is easy– line a baking sheet with foil, line out the peppers and roast at 400* for 20 minutes. Then turn the peppers and return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Then allow to cool, remove the stem, skin (should be papery) and seeds.

About halfway there, you could easily fall into the trap of ‘isn’t it ready yet?’ It looks right and everything seems cooked. Why wait?

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Getting Away with Murder: “Healthified” Recipes

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about “healthified” recipes. You know the kind of recipe I’m talking about: things like pancakes made with coconut flour or replacing the oil with applesauce in banana bread. What I’ve realized, though, is that these things tend to enable us to continue in our unhealthy habits instead of leading us toward healthy habits. We all love banana bread (if you don’t, we can’t be friends), but let’s be real. I don’t care how many ingredients you substitute, there is no way you can turn it into a health food. You just can’t.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there is no value to making healthier exchanges to our foods. I’m all for that. But here’s the deal– we cannot lie to ourselves and let ourselves believe that something that is meant to be a treat is actually a healthy food. We have many ways of deceiving ourselves into believing that things that hurt us are actually ‘not that bad’ or actually good for us. We love doing this sort of thing! Why? Because we get what we want and are freed of the consequences. What could possibly be better than that?!

Sadly, if our recipes were the only aspects of our lives about which we lied to ourselves, we would actually be pretty decent shape. But the real problem is the way we accept and encourage our own sin.

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The Best Burger in Town

“You’ve got to go to ______; they make the best burger in town! It’s incredible!”

“Oh, you got the ____? Yeah, you should have gotten the ______, that’s awesome. You didn’t get the real ______ experience, so it makes sense you weren’t that impressed.”

Don't trust the Zagat Guide...

Trust me, it isn’t at the Corner Bistro

You’ve had this conversation. We all have. And because I’ve had this conversation so many times (and have eaten so many burgers in so many restaurants in so many cities in so many states), I’m a bit of a Doubting Thomas when it comes to food recommendations. It’s not that I don’t believe it it’s a good burger, I just highly doubt it’s really /that/ special. I’ve been underwhelmed by too many oversold burgers that are perfectly good burgers.

This is a consequence of many things:

  • Our culture’s affinity for superlatives, which largely arises due to our belief that nothing is good enough unless it is better than everything else
  • Our obsession with having an opinion (this is practically a religion– unless you have a favorite, a stance, a strong opinion, you must not care, and apathy is always the enemy)
  • Our desire to “win” (I’m a better friend/person because I introduced you to_____)
  • Our inexplicable need to rank /everything/

Because I generally despise superlatives (it is very rare to hear me say anything is the best, favorite, etc), I have learned to pretty much doubt and ignore. I’ll still go to the restaurant if I don’t have somewhere else I want to go, but I’ll have no expectations whatsoever relating to the quality of the burger. I tend to have the I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mentality (clearly I spent too long in Missouri); my expectations are mediocre.

But I don’t think I’m alone in this, though. While we as a culture may not be openly antagonistic towards the opinions and recommendations of others, we tend to discount them as perspective and opinion alone.

And we don’t just do this with food. We do it with movies (you aren’t going to believe that Jurassic World stands up in quality to a true Crichton classic just on /my/ say-so, you’ll wait to see it yourself–which you totally should, by the way). We do this with TV shows and books. We do this with sales (“Is it really /that/ good of a deal? Let me look at it”) and sports events and YouTube videos of Keyboard Cat. It’s more than just wanting to experience it for ourselves; it’s more often a desire to /prove it/ to ourselves, and we believe we are the most capable person to make that distinction between what is true and what is untrue.

It’s in our human nature to question and doubt. Faith does not come easily to us. Even young children do not trust freely. Fortunately, our Heavenly Father loves freely and is willing to prove himself to us. Over and over again.

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Spiritual Spoon-Feeding

Thanks to the military, my husband’s schedule is never a sure thing. Aside from long nights and phone calls at 4 am to confirm the paperwork he signed or to call him in to evacuate planes, there’s the constant change in shifts. After nearly a year on the midnight shift (similar to the traditional third shift), he spent about six weeks on days (the traditional first shift) and was recently moved to swing shift (basically second shift) for a few weeks. Once those weeks end, he will be some sporadic days of work and appointments, then some leave and then off to deployment in the desert for four months. Life married to the Air Force, even in our ‘easy’ corner of the world, stateside with minimal danger and longer station assignments, is hardly predictable or consistent.

All that is to say that the last few weeks while he has been on swing shift have been challenging. Our time together is minimal because I’m usually in bed by the time he gets home and he is still asleep when I get up in the morning. We usually have about half an hour together before I go to work. And then he is gone when I get home. It should be no surprise that I highly value the time spent around a dinner table and this schedule makes this impossible. It has put quite the damper on my cooking spirit! When I was single, I still cooked for myself quite a bit, but now that I’ve got someone that I get to cook for, lacking that is such a bummer!

So tonight I insisted on cooking (a bit) and putting together some of my favorite flavors to make:

Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush

(fancy people call it polenta)Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush (Polenta)
Ingredients
1 c yellow cornmeal*
3 c beef or chicken broth (water also works)
2 c cooked, shredded chicken**
1/4 c barbeque sauce (recipe below, or your favorite bottled sauce)

Toppings of your choice, such as:
pickle slices
pickled jalapeños
sliced raw onions
cole slaw/raw cabbage

  1. Bring the broth or water to a boil in a shallow saucepan. Once at a boil, whisk in the cornmeal bit by bit, whisking rapidly until smooth. Stir quickly and regularly to avoid clumps. Allow to cook over medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes, depending how thick you’d like it. Add a dollop of butter or margarine, if you like it a bit creamier.
  2. Toss the chicken with the barbeque sauce (below) and spoon over the cornmeal mush. Allow each person to top with pickles, peppers, cole slaw, etc as they prefer their own barbeque. The cornmeal mush is like the cornbread!

Kansas City-style Barbeque Sauce (adapted from Food Network)
Yields 1 quart
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c ketchup
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs corn starch (+ 3 Tbs water, whisked into a cornstarch slurry)
2 tsp garlic powder
salt
2 tsp liquid smoke

  1. Bring the oil to temperature in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Before it bubbles, add the onions and garlic, cook until transparent.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients except for the cornstarch slurry and liquid smoke. Add a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the liquid smoke, then slowly incorporate the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Allow to cook for a few more minutes, longer if you like it thicker (it will thicken as it cools, as well).
  4. Strain, if desired.

*polenta works, too, but it is effectively the exact same thing, just a little more finely ground and about three or four times more expensive
**I use shredded chicken quarters that I boiled to make chicken stock a few days ago (quarters are pretty much the cheapest cut of chicken and have lots of dark meat flavor!)

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Input-Output

It has been a busy few weeks for me, between the new job, adjusting to the new schedule, tornado season beginning, mentally preparing for Ryan’s impending deployment and house hunting. Rolled into all of that, was wrapping up my training schedule, because two weeks ago, I successfully completed by second half-marathon. Over the last few years, I’ve run a number of ‘races’ of various lengths, mostly as a way to keep myself motivated when I head to the gym. Aside from ways to keep myself motivated and avoid injury (and recovery when they inevitably happen), running and training has taught me a lot about the importance of nutrition. Although I’ve never been one to shirk nutrition, its importance was never quite as apparent until I started pushing my body to new bounds. It’s really, really hard to run ten miles with a beef and bean burrito and a chocolate milkshake sloshing around in your stomach!

15th Annual OKC Memorial Half MarathonA well-balanced diet is crucial for decent performance, and the first time you try to train or race when dehydrated or without decent food in your system, you become (literally) painfully aware of your need for good fuel. I now carefully plan the meals surrounding longer training sessions and races: high carbs (but not refined sugars!) before, high protein and some fat afterwards. Don’t down a bottle of water right before, but give yourself time for your system to absorb and process it. Fuel throughout endurance runs with easily digestible sugars (and water), preferably with some vitamins and potassium to keep you going (I like using GU energy gels, especially the kind with caffeine!). Then, cool down with a cold light beer, because it genuinely helps control the lactic acid release and thus eases soreness the next day. Continue reading

Anxiety vs. The Leftovers

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, what between Easter, starting a new job and transitioning out of the old job, learning to drive a manual transmission, etc. As part of that transition, there has been a bit of a new budget to determine taking into account new factors such as a different income, a car payment and not having reimbursable meals through the week. All this together would reasonably precipitate a certain degree of anxiety. Thank the Lord, I do not struggle with anxiety, but that doesn’t mean that money and budgeting do not so very often enter my thought process (to be honest, usually multiple times a day), largely because I am still adjusting to marriage and a shared budget instead of my own little financial and budget world.

But thank the Lord for Easter.

WP_20150407_22_05Anxiety vs. The Leftovers | God's ProvisionOf course I mean that for all the wonderful, theological reasons (you know, that whole Jesus rises from the dead to give us an opportunity for reconciliation with God and an everlasting life part. That part’s pretty cool), and the fact it is my favorite holiday, but also because it left my fridge very, very full.

We were blessed to get to spend the holiday with three (and a half) good friends, enjoying a feast of wide variety and many leftovers. But leftovers and I have a mixed relationship.

Why I Like Leftovers:

  1. Pre-prepared lunches are way better than a cold cut sandwich
  2. Food my husband will eat instead of picking up fast food if he’s on his own
  3. There’s more! What’s not good about more of a good thing!

Why I Hate Leftovers:

  1. I don’t get to cook again for a while
  2. I run out of Tupperware
  3. Food might go bad before it gets eaten (it is easier for me to cook ingredients before they go bad than to make sure the last half-an-entree makes it into a lunchbox)

But last night I opened the fridge and was struck by something more than just how very full the fridge was and how I couldn’t find a place for my lunch bag: We have so much more than we need. Continue reading

I Just Read the Recipes

I’ve got a number of cookbooks to my name, about a dozen, plus about another dozen cooking magazines (e.g. Quick Cooking, now sadly defunct). Then there’s my recipe box, which grows fuller and fuller. And let’s not even start talking about my Pinterest boards (let’s just pretend I haven’t pinned over 1k recipes…).

But how many of those recipes have I actually made? A very small fraction, truth be told. I love to read the recipes, look at the pictures, admire the methods and fantasize about the produce. And then I put the book away, close the Pinterest window, shut the magazine. And walk away. Maybe I’ll eventually make it. But probably not.

In that spirit, I’m going to share a recipe with you that you probably won’t ever make:

Homemade Ravioli with Brown Butter Asparagus and WalnutsHomemade Ravioli with Brown Butter Asparagus and Walnuts

Ingredients – Ravioli

2 c all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp olive oil

1 c cottage cheese (the poor man’s ricotta– higher fat is better), strained (you want mostly curds, not whey)
1 egg
1/2 c sun-dried tomatoes (I make my own using this method– I also add some Italian seasonings for umph)
salt & pepper
(1/4 c freshly grated parmesean is a really nice addition, but I didn’t have any this time)

Ingredients – Asparagus

1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into ~3″ pieces
4 Tbs butter (do not substitute margarine or oil here– for a brown butter sauce to work, it really does need to be butter)
1 lemon
1/2 c chopped walnuts
handful of chopped parsley (I used dried this time, but fresh really is much better)
pepper

  1. Prepare your pasta dough by mixing together the flour, salt, oil and eggs. This video will help you learn the traditional ‘well’ method. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
  2. While the dough is resting, prepare your filling. Simply mix together the cottage cheese, egg, tomatoes, salt and pepper and optional parmeasan and set aside.
  3. Cut the dough into hunks and roll out into thin sheets. If you’ve got a pasta press, lucky you! I just use a rolling pin and lots of elbow grease!
  4. Once your dough is rolled out nice and thin (if they are too thick, they can end up too bready when you cook them), spoon out rows of scant tablespoons on half of the sheet. Then fold over the sheet to cover the filling lumps and press the dough around the filling to help seal the pockets. Then you can either cut between the ravioli pockets (make sure they are very sealed!) or use a ravioli stamp, like I did.
  5. You can either freeze these ravioli, refrigerate for a few days or go ahead and cook them now.
  6. Bring your water to a boil and melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus, stir to coat and cook for about 5 minutes.
  7. Once the water is boiling, add the ravioli to the pot (I use a slotted spoon to add and remove them) and cook. They should take 4-5 minutes. I also prefer to do this in multiple batches to avoid overcrowding the pot. They need to be able to move around freely in the boiling water. Once cooked, remove to a serving dish or individual plates.
  8. Remove the asparagus from the saute pan and add to the ravioli. Juice the lemon and add the juice to the butter left in the pan. Stir in the pepper (freshly ground is best– about ten twists), then the walnuts, then the parsley. Toss to coat, then pour over the asparagus and ravioli. Top with grated parmesean and additional parsley, if desired.

So let’s be real. You’re not going to make that tomorrow night. You’re not going to make that Saturday night. You’re going to look at the picture, think about how delicious it must be with the bite of the lemon juice and the nuttiness of the asparagus complemented by the walnuts. But that’s all.

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Paying the Bill Twice

A little over a year ago, my now-husband and I went out to dinner. When we had finished our meal, we asked our waiter for the check and were shocked to learn that someone, a stranger, had picked up our tab. What a blessing! Stunned but feeling so blessed, we finished our drinks, put on our coats and left the restaurant. (Then we went back to his apartment and got engaged, but that’s beside the point :P) What we didn’t do was pay the check a second time.It only needs to be paid once

In this season of Lent, preparing for Easter, we focus on our need for God, our humanity and brokenness. We are reminded that “from dust you come, and to dust you will return.” We put ourselves into our own desert, committing to sacrificing something we enjoy (like meat, or fat, or Facebook or sweets). At my church, we are studying the Seven Deadly Sins. We spend the 40 days before Easter focusing on our own broken humanity. This prepares us for Easter by helping us recognize our need for the sacrifice He made on the cross, helping us to appreciate and internalize His salvation.

But what I’ve come to realize is that, for many, believers and non-believers alike, Lent lasts all year. Continue reading