30 November 2010

ahoy, discoveries! vol. 2

Do you make your own nut butter? It's easy if you have a food processor, even a small one like mine. I've stuck with almond butter thus far, using this basic method, but I think walnut butter might be next. I always add a pinch of salt and then drizzle in several teaspoons of olive oil to help the creaminess. My latest discovery, though, is that raw honey makes an amazing addition to almond butter. Do it.

In my slow but steady journey to "naturalize" our home, I have moved to . . . my face. Recently I discovered the oil cleansing method, which seems to be working well: castor oil and olive oil, plus lots of nice soothing steam. You could add essential oils like lavender or rosemary, though I haven't tried that yet. This method hasn't made my face perfect, but hey, I never expected that anyway; I'm pretty sure a product that promises perfection is lying. This has simply produced comparatively softer and healthier skin, without irritating fragrances or unpronounceable ingredients. I like it when my personal care products are edible. (Well, theoretically. You won't catch me swallowing castor oil. Gross.)

Remember that pizza dough recipe? It's even better if you let it rise for an hour, punch it down, and let it rise for 30 more minutes. Yeah, it takes longer, so you can't use that method if you are in a hurry. But the flavor is definitely superior.

To live again a butterfly

"The Caterpillar"
by Christina Rossetti

Brown and furry,
Caterpillar in a hurry
Take your walk
By the shady leaf or stalk
May no toad spy you
May the little birds pass by you
Spin and die
To live again a butterfly.


Guest post by Mark and Rachel, who can recite this poem in unison (and probably while standing on their heads, but we haven't tried that yet). They are visiting me today and wanted to see how this blog thing worked.

29 November 2010

The Lord, strong and mighty

The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for He has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers . . .

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!

-Psalm 24:1-2, 7-9

25 November 2010

Yes, it is.

"And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

{image: poster from And I Love You She Said}

24 November 2010

Pie and the eating of it

Pretty sure I just made the tallest apple pie in the history of ever. It's 6 and 3/4 inches at the peak, before baking. We'll see how high it is when it emerges from the oven.

(I figure that if you're going to make a pie, you might as well MAKE A PIE.)

One great thing about having Cherry Hill Orchards ten minutes down the road is the ability to choose your own pie apples. Sample, get the right mix, look for large or small ones, and then pay only a dollar per pound at the end. I bought a combination of Granny Smith and some local apple whose name I can never remember-- it is very large, a pale red with touches of green, and perfectly sweet for baking. Not too attractive on the outside, but it makes great pie and dumplings!

I can't wait to dig in. Can it be tomorrow soon?? Caramelized apple juice, brown sugar, cinnamon . . . oh baby. Somebody remind me to buy whipped cream.

We are celebrating Thanksgiving with Jared's side of the family this year. In addition to pie, I'm contributing cranberry sauce and an alarming appetite.* That's fair, isn't it?

*Last weekend, while eating brunch at a diner in Cincinnati, I shocked my husband by polishing off a three-egg omelet stuffed with chorizo and monterey jack and and peppers and tomatoes and corn, surrounded by salsa and green chili sauce, plus a piece of toast, plus some pan-fried red potatoes. He didn't think I could eat it all. HA.

22 November 2010

Fine ingredients simply cooked

"I want to reveal the delight to be had from making our own decisions about what we eat rather than slavishly following someone else's set of rules, and to suggest that much of our cooking has become too complicated-- hence the need to attach ourselves firmly to recipes-- when in truth good eating consists of nothing more than fine ingredients simply cooked."
-Nigel Slater, Appetite

So true. I love it. Many people claim they can't cook, but methinks they've just never been taught how to choose fine ingredients-- and don't yet realize that good cooking is a basic set of actions, some learned and some intuitive, put together appropriately for the occasion.

Not that I'm such a great cook myself. Though the kitchen is one of my favorite places, I'm no pro. I am still growing in this skill of intuitive cooking, and someday I'd like to be able to pull together an entire meal from scratch without looking at a recipe. And so despite my windowsill full of cookbooks, some of which I use and many of which I don't, I want this.


Granted, I do like recipes, but thanks to my mother (plus food blogs and lots of experimentation) I have learned enough about the way food works to stray from the path while cooking it. This is why dinners around here are usually variations on some theme. The recipe might tell me to simmer tomato sauce for fifteen minutes and then add thyme, and maybe I'll do that the first time, but next time I'll use crushed tomatoes and put in basil and forget the simmering altogether. The recipe might tell me to pour in three cups of milk and chop two potatoes, but I rebelliously use two cups of milk and two cups of chicken stock, chopping only one potato and stirring in some rice instead, with a pinch of cayenne just because.

Simple, unconstrained, unworried food is usually the best.

Tonight I'm making dinner out of a bag of ravioli, some pesto, a chunk of Parmesan, a head of romaine, a carrot, olive oil, and a stale slice of bread. And it's going to be great.

Hello, my name is . . . cinnamon?

This is a cute and clever idea I picked up from Joy the Baker.

As I've switched to buying kitchen staples in bulk (things like oregano, sea salt, and banana chips-- yes, they are a kitchen staple around here) I have need to figure out how to store them. Empty applesauce, pickle, and pasta sauce jars have worked very well for smaller amounts. I also use several of these beauties for larger quantities, though more would be nice. For now, I just store my raw sugar and rolled oats in plastic containers. Someday I will have the ideal storage system, but one thing at a time.

Anyway, labels. Sure, you can print them on self-adhesive paper, but why not put nametags to a new use?

18 November 2010

And so ends the quest

Hey you guys! 100% whole wheat bread. Perfect for sandwiches and toast. Delicious. Soft. Cheaper and better than storebought. Go make now.

So excited, can’t talk in complete sentences.

EDIT: I've been making this for a while now, and of course, have tweaked it a bit. This post reflects my changes-- there used to be more potato, sugar, and oil. I like it better this way.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, Finally
(the original is from KAF, which should surprise no one at this point)

3 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour*
1/2 cup mashed potato flakes
2 tablespoons raw sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant (rapid rise) yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup lukewarm milk or whey**
3 tablespoons cup canola or olive oil
1) Stir together dry ingredients in bowl of stand mixer, using whisk or wooden spoon. 
2) Pour in water, milk, and oil. Knead for 8 minutes on low speed with mixer’s dough hook. Scrape down sides with silicone spatula once or twice to incorporate all dry ingredients.
3) Check dough’s texture. I use freshly ground flour and this is usually the right amount; if you're using storebought flour, you will probably need more. If the dough sticks to your finger and to the sides of the bowl, add flour a few tablespoons at a time and keep kneading, until it cleans the bowl’s sides and does not stick to your finger or the spatula. Don’t freak out and add tons of flour, though, because too much will make bread dry and crumbly.
4) Shape dough into ball and place in lightly greased bowl, with room to rise. Cover with a lint-free towel and let rise for 1 hour, or until it has doubled and looks puffy. If your house is cold it could take up to 90 minutes.
5) Lightly grease a 9x5 loaf pan. Deflate the dough gently with a poke from your finger and shape it into a loaf. Place in pan and let rise again. Now, you can either let this shaped loaf rise on the counter or in a warmed oven. (Please note that said oven should not be on, just barely warmed and then shut off, maybe even with the door cracked to release excess heat.) I usually do this because it’s quicker. In a warm oven (again, NOT hot) it takes about half an hour for the loaf's center to crown 3/4 inch above the edge of the pan, which is what you want. Do not let it over-rise so that it's spilling over the sides, though that is tempting; thanks to "oven spring" the loaf will rise even more while baking. If you want to let your loaf rise on the counter, it will take longer, at least an hour.
6) Either way, once the loaf has crowned (sounds like a baby) preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you had the loaf rising in the oven, make sure you take it out before you preheat!!
7) Bake for 20 minutes, then cover with foil and bake 20-25 more minutes. Let cool five minutes in pan, then run a knife around the edge and turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

This ends my quest for a whole wheat loaf that rises high, doesn’t crumble, and keeps well.
*If you don’t have white whole wheat (you should) use regular whole wheat, but sub out one cup of it for unbleached white flour.
**I, who am all about shortcuts, use very hot water and pour the cold milk into the measuring cup. Tada: lukewarm water and milk.

{image is from KAF's blog}

Deadheading [chrysanthemums and schedules]

Yesterday I noticed that most of my chrysanthemums seemed droopy. Dull. On their way out, in fact. I panicked. Were my flowers really dying? They had been so beautiful, so colorful, shortly before. Wherefore this withering?

Then I looked a bit closer, and the problem became clear. The plants themselves were thriving, but a horde of shriveled old flowers both masked the new blooms and dragged down the stems.


I went inside and soon returned armed with shears. I proceeded to give the mums a haircut, and when I had finished, the results amazed me. Deadheading my flowers restored them: I could now see healthy flowers and foliage, without being distracted by dried junk around it.


It strikes me that my schedule often resembles an overgrown, ratty old chrysanthemum. I slowly let unnecessary cares and frivolous pursuits take over, until it gets to a crisis point and I panic. What am I going to do? Too much on my plate! Can't finish my list!

Then when I examine at my schedule, I discover that I am either overloaded with ridiculous expectations and comparing myself to people who accomplish sooo much more than I do, or spending my time foolishly and failing to make a plan at the beginning of the day. (I've discovered that I am both an overachiever and a lazy bum, a fabulous combination that produces loads of guilty frustration when not properly addressed. Praise God for His patient, sanctifying grace.)

All I have to do is get out my metaphorical shears and snip.

I don't need to make a detour to the library today. It is okay to renew the books until I am actually going that way. I don't need to make rolls for dinner when there is perfectly good rice left over from last night. I don't need to check twenty-five blogs daily. Some days I don't open my computer at all, and lo, the world goes on.

"To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability" (Matthew 25). The trouble comes when I start grabbing for ten talents, and the Lord has only given me three. The extra seven wither. Why can't I let go of those useless preoccupations and be content with what He has provided?

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. " (2 Corinthians 9)

Snip snip. Oh look, I have time after all.

16 November 2010

But we preach Christ crucified

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it please God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
-1 Corinthians 1:20-25

{image: detail from "The School of Athens" by Raphael}

15 November 2010

Jamie Oliver for the win

Here are two great recipes from Jamie Oliver, both in this cookbook. I really like this guy: he focuses on seasonal and wholesome ingredients, and makes food that you can replicate in a real kitchen with a real budget. The flavors he pulls together are always fantastic.

(Every time I pull the cookbook from the shelf, Jared exclaims "ah, Jaaamie!" with a hoity-toity accent and a theatrical gesture. Do you think he's mocking me? I'm not sure.)

Pasta Carbonara*

10-16 oz Italian turkey sausage
4 large egg yolks
(or 2 yolks and 1 large egg)
1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan, divided, plus more to taste

1 lb fettuccine (whole wheat is great here)

salt and pepper to taste

1) Brown sausage, either breaking it up with a spoon or slicing it into small coins.
2) Whisk together egg yolks, half-and-half, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and lots of freshly ground pepper.
3) Cook fettuccine according to package directions. Drain and shake to remove most of the excess water. Dump it back into the pot but remove from heat.
4) Pour in sauce and quickly toss to coat fettuccine. Sprinkle liberally with salt and add more pepper if you like. Keep stirring and tossing with a long narrow spoon or tongs, while you add sausage and reserved Parmesan. The heat from the hot pasta cooks the eggs and creates an amazing creamy sauce.
5) Serve immediately, with additional Parmesan if desired, plus salt and pepper shakers.

*The original included zucchini and used bacon and penne, but when do I ever follow the original? [answer: never.] Jamie's sauce is amaaaazing.


Winter Vegetable Salad**

3 cups shredded red cabbage (use a mandoline, a box grater, or your mad knife skills)
2 large carrots, scrubbed and coarsely grated
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (include the green part!)
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
dried thyme, basil, and/or chervil to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Toss cabbage, carrots, and onions in a large bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over, then stir to coat vegetables lightly. Taste and adjust seasonings-- I think I added more lemon, and I definitely threw in plenty of thyme and salt. Chill for several hours before serving. I'm totally into this.

**I simplified the vegetables but kept the dressing. The combination of red, white, orange, and green is just gorgeous.

Mission begins with a kind of explosion

There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the Church primarily as obedience to a command. It has been customary to speak of "the missionary mandate." This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel. If one looks at the New Testament evidence one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed.
-Bishop Lesslie Newbigin

[HT: Ray Ortlund]

12 November 2010

To live in such harmony

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me."

. . . May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

-Romans 15:2-7

11 November 2010

ahoy, discoveries! vol. I

Things that have excited, impressed, or intrigued me in the past week.

1) Vitacost. Thanks to a flyer that peaked my interest, I just discovered Vitacost. They sell most of my favorite vitamins, herbs, and other natural products, for the best prices I've seen. And they have a flat shipping rate of $4.99, which beats the pants off competitors; on even a moderately sized order, the savings more than cover the shipping.

Now instead of spending time and money on trips to Savemart (or horrors, paying full price at a "regular" store) I can order everything online. Sweet.

2) Drew’s salad dressing. Dude, it's good. Big flavors, pure ingredients (or as pure as you're going to get with a storebought dressing). Check out the Kalamata Olive & Caper on a salad of romaine, red cabbage, and feta.

3) Save The Words. I heard about this website on NPR. Sign up, adopt a word, and help save neglected portions of the English language from extinction.

My adopted word? Flosculation. As it means "an embellishment or ornamentation in speech," I imagine I may have ample chance to use it on my overly wordy students. "These flosculations distract me from the main point of your paragraph."

4) This bag and this bag and this bag. All thanks to The Style Files, which posted on this one a few days ago:
It already sold out, if you're wondering.
5) Buying lots of Shakespeare and counting it as a business expense! I am making the booklist and a tentative syllabus for my Shakespeare class next semester, and having finally decided which plays to teach, happily loaded up the Amazon shopping cart.
6) My four youngest siblings' Thanksgiving choir concert is this Friday evening. (Grace Baptist Church on Marietta Avenue, 7:00 PM. Central Lancaster Country Homeschool Music. Ya'll come.) Then on Saturday the husband and I are going on a double date with my parents to Longwood Gardens, because (ah, the perks of membership) there is a special event involving hors d'oeuvres, bonsai, Japanese flower arranging, and about a million chrysanthemums. And hors d'oeuvres. Did I mention those already?
Seriously, Longwood is a fantastic place to have a membership, because you just visit a few times and you already got your money's worth. It changes constantly-- it's never boring-- unless you find gardens inherently boring, of course.
{image is John Singer Sargent's "The Spanish Dancer," because in keeping with the rest of this post, it's awesome}

10 November 2010

In which we learn to treat our stoneware nicely

"Pizza's ready!"

If you cook with stoneware, you are probably well aware of its perks. If you don't, please let me enlighten you . . . and either way, here are a few tips that I have learned for taking care of stoneware, ensuring that it works at full capacity.

Stoneware is a sturdy and attractive material that's a pro at conducting and retaining heat, producing golden pizza crusts, tender muffins, and caramelized vegetables with a much lower chance of burning. It doesn't warp, there is no coating to scratch or peel, and if you care for it properly, it will last for a very long time. Pampered Chef probably has the most famous line, but other companies sell it as well. You just have to make sure you're not trading quality for a "better" price. Some cheaper versions crack easily, or have lead in the clay.

Once you have acquired a piece (or two or three . . .) of stoneware, you need to keep a few things in mind.

1) For the first several uses, be liberal with the non-stick spray and go for foods with fat, like butterlicious scones or green beans tossed with olive oil. Cooking foods in that delicious category will help to season the stoneware: eventually it will build up a smooth, dark finish and be virtually nonstick. You can always coat it liberally with canola oil, coconut oil, butter, or bacon grease and bake it at 400 for half an hour with a cookie sheet underneath to catch the drips. That will get the seasoning process well underway.

2) No soap. Ever. Hot water and a good scrubbing is quite enough, especially as the smooth finish builds up over time. If you have a seriously crusty mess, soak it overnight and use a nylon scraper to work it off in the morning. A thick layer of baking soda, left on for a while and then sprayed with vinegar, can work as a scrubbing aid. Just be patient. Cleanup definitely gets easier the more you use and "season" it.

3) Preheat your stoneware. Things turn out so much better this way! It took me a long time to realize this, but when using stoneware, everything from stromboli to pumpkin scones benefits from a preheated dish. If you don't preheat it, the baking time will be longer and the interior will probably get dry. No good.

4) Even when you do preheat, baking time may be a tad longer anyway. When I make chocolate chip cookies, they need 18 minutes on the stone rather than the recommended 12-15. Just experiment.

5) Stoneware has an "ugly duckling" stage. Somewhere between brand-new and well-loved, there is a period of time where it just looks blotchy and weird. I've had my three pieces for over 10 months now and they are finally getting that nice dark patina. It probably helps that I make pizza once a week and use my bar pan for everything I possibly can!

6) To avoid cracking. First, spread or distribute food evenly over the stoneware to avoid concentrating heat in one spot: bake ten biscuits, not two. And second, do not pour cold water into a hot piece of stoneware! (Yes, I've made both of these mistakes. Pampered Chef so mercifully sent me replacements.)

Other dish materials that I love: glass (good old Pyrex is a winner) and ceramic (such as Emile Henry).

p.s. Ironically, I had already planned to post on stoneware, then ran across this post at Keeper of the Home on the same topic. Now you get a double dip of advice. :)

{image from KAF website}

09 November 2010

Hummus makes me happy

One great thing about beans is how easily you can buy them organic. I mean, it's easy on your pocketbook. When you're choosing between a 79-cent can of standard chickpeas and a 99-cent can of organic, it's not too hard to toss the organic can in the cart. What's 20 cents? (Much harder: the choice between $1.99 and $7.99 ground beef. Ugh.)

Making your own hummus is also quite cheap. Tahini tends to come in big pricey jars but lasts a long time in the fridge, so it's a front-loaded investment. If you enjoy hummus, it's worth plunking down $7 for a jar of tahini because that will produce many, many batches of cheapo hummus.

I actually use a teensy food processor for this recipe-- also almond butter and guacamole and chopping onions and carrots and making breadcrumbs-- and it works perfectly well. I'm so glad I put it on my wedding registry (thanks, Mom, for assuring me that I would need it). All the same, this big beauty is on my wish list!

Seriously Good Hummus
(inspired by this recipe)

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained with liquid reserved
4 tablespoons tahini
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
generous pinch ground cumin

Place all ingredients except reserved chickpea liquid into the bowl of your food processor. Blend thoroughly to mash beans and chop garlic. Add reserved liquid and process until the consistency is creamy enough for you; make sure you blend it well so it gets nice and creamy. Chill and serve with pita chips, carrot sticks, or a spoon.

08 November 2010

You have known the distress of my soul

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;

You have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;

You have set my feet in a broad place.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also . . .

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”

My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!

O Lord, let me not be put to shame,
for I call upon you.

-Psalm 31

07 November 2010

Well worth the wait

You thought I was going to talk about something profound, didn't you? Like waiting on the Lord for things that we want, or patience in trials, or how I'm glad that I stuck to my No Frivolous Dating guns and ended up with the best husband in the whole wide world?

Ha. Silly you. This post is about food . . . which, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, was probably your next guess.

Though I AM learning about relying on the Lord for things that I want. And I AM awfully glad that I waited for my husband. :)


Despite the name, this is neither time- nor labor-intensive. The "wait" refers to refrigeration between assembly and baking, then a pause before you serve it. This allows the noodles to soak up that delicious sauce and prevents the lasagna from flopping all over the plate.

I made this with baby portobello mushrooms. (Also, I can never spell portobello right the first time.) You can always do it with plain white button mushrooms, or if you don't like fungi, substitute some ground beef or Italian sausage. You get to pick. Isn't cooking fun?

Worth-the-Wait Lasagna
(originally from. . . wait for it. . . the back of the Barilla box)

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles*
2 24-oz jars (6 cups) good-quality pasta sauce***
1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 large eggs
2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1) Brown mushrooms in butter-- a good start to anything-- until tender but not mushy. In medium bowl, stir mushrooms into pasta sauce. In large bowl, whisk eggs, then stir in ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella, and 1/3 cup Parmesan.
2) Coat 9x13 baking dish with nonstick spray. Pour 1 cup sauce across bottom of pan.
3) Layering time! Lay four lasagna noodles in pan, overlapping to leave a small margin around edges. (Noodles will expand as they soak up sauce.) Top with 1/3 of cheese mixture, then 1 cup sauce. Repeat these layers twice. Top with remaining four lasagna noodles and remaining sauce. Cover with foil and refrigerate 8-24 hours, along with reserved mozzarella and Parmesan.
4) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. If you remember, take out the lasagna an hour ahead of time so it is not as cold. Regardless, bake covered lasagna 50-70 minutes (depending on how cold it was), until hot and bubbling around the edges. Uncover and sprinkle reserved cheese on top. Bake 5-10 minutes more to let cheese melt.
5) Remove lasagna from oven and let sit on wire rack for 15-20 minutes. Use this time to toss salad, slice bread, fill water glasses. Or turn cartwheels down the hall. I don't care. Just don't touch that lasagna!
6) Slice. Serve. Eat.

*Barilla makes great ones. I love skipping unnecessary steps.
**This can make or break your lasagna. Pick one you love! I like Classico sauces, or sometimes make my own.

Addendum to last week's "making things special" post: serve simple food (like grapes or grilled cheese) on a fancy-pants platter. I recently stacked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on a cake platter. Ordinary cookies, automatically elevated.

05 November 2010

His wonders to perform

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


Sometimes I see God's providence in very small ways. It's evident just in how He orders my steps throughout an ordinary day. It doesn't take a "miracle" to show His providence, if only I open my eyes to it.


Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.


Two days ago I went shopping, and at the last minute decided to alter my plans, one store instead of another. As I walked out of that store, I saw an elderly lady and her daughter coming up the uneven sidewalk-- and a second later, that lady had fallen flat on her back. Thankfully, she had nothing worse than a goose egg, but I stayed until we could find someone to help us get her back on her feet (we didn't trust ourselves not to drop her!).

It was the middle of the day and hardly anyone was around. Just as I was about to give up waiting and go on a search, up walked a friendly young man asking what was wrong. "I'm a nurse," he said cheerfully. "Here, let me give you a hand."

Goodness. Talk about providential.


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


I saw God's kind hand of provision again today, more than once. For example: as I was getting ready to walk out the door to run a few errands, my sister-in-law Lori called me with a request. Their car wouldn't start, but the library books were due today, and was there any way I could return them? Why yes. Yes, I could. Because wouldn't you know, the library was literally first on my errand list. Amazing.

Then later on in the afternoon, for the first (and probably not the last) time ever, this thoroughgoing blonde locked the keys in the car. With only a dying cell phone to help. But who answered her phone the first time, dropped what she was doing, and came to un-strand me? My friendly neighborhood Kiera. (Thaaaank youuuuu.) So here I am at home, able to make dinner at a reasonable time rather than still shivering in the Marshall's parking lot.


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

04 November 2010

Not even a little bit

On Sunday Jared and I threw ourselves a celebration dinner (because those college loans are paid off, yeah baby). For dessert we had these fabulous chocolate mint bars. They are not even a little bit healthy.

I only made a few minor changes. Used raw sugar in the brownie batter, reduced powdered sugar and doubled peppermint extract in the filling, melted chocolate on the stove rather than the microwave. The bars were great, but I think next time I want more mint filling-- it was sooo good! I might reduce the sugar in the brownie layer too. Less sugar equals more intense chocolate flavor, and I'm always down with that.

Enjoy. Then go do crunches.

A kaleidoscope of a kitchen

The gerberas! The woven tote! The salt and pepper set! The COLOR!!!

HT: Brabourne Farm

Talk about a window treatment.

When I say that I'm "trying to grow herbs indoors," this would of course be the ideal result . . .

It's like an herbal forest on the windowsill!

HT: Design Is Mine

03 November 2010

Love my chicken (cluck cluck cluck)

Mmmkay. First a recipe . . . yes, I posted sticky ginger chicken a little while ago, but this has more of a spicy kick. Also a crunchy flavorful coating, and it's definitely not as messy!

Technically this would be "oven fried" chicken, but I always find that a deceptive name because "fried" implies that it will be as crispy as KFC. It won't.

But man, it will be delicious, and you will want to eat all the leftovers for lunch. Which I just did.

Spicy Baked Chicken
(I've forgotten where I found the original recipe, but it was probably somewhere on Food.com)

3 lbs chicken thighs*
2 eggs
1 cup yogurt or buttermilk
2 cups coarse breadcrumbs**
1 tablespoon ground paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat glass baking dish or heavy cookie sheet with nonstick spray-- too much spray makes soggy chicken. Ew.
2) Whisk together eggs and yogurt in one bowl, and remaining ingredients (except chicken thighs) in another.
3) Dip chicken thighs in egg mixture, coating thoroughly. Roll in breadcrumb mixture to form a nice thick crust. Place coated thighs in prepared baking dish.
4) Bake chicken for 20 minutes. Turn and bake for 10-15 more minutes. Thicker pieces may need more time, smaller pieces less, so use common sense and a sharp knife to determine doneness.

*I use bone-in, skin-on thighs, but remove the skin before breading them.
**Coarse breadcrumbs are key. If they are finely ground you won't get a nice crunch, and that's no fun. Suggestion: whenever you have stale bread heels or uneaten toast, pile it all on a plate to dry out completely. Then whiz it up to make breadcrumbs. More frugal and much tastier than buying a canister of bread dust at the store. If you don't have stale bread lying around, please use panko instead of standard breadcrumbs.


Second, if you haven't seen the "Bust the windows out your car for chicken" song yet, please do so immediately.

02 November 2010

How precious to me are your thoughts

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been His counselor?
Or who has given a gift to Him
that he might be repaid?

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

-Romans 11:33-36


Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me . . .

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

-Psalm 139

Comparing these two passages this morning, I was newly amazed by how the depth and inscrutability of God's ways can actually be "precious" to His children, rather than a source of confusion. It was the mysterious wisdom of God, after all, that planned for the inclusion of the Gentiles through the death and resurrection of Christ. And so we do rejoice in his "unsearchable judgments," for they ordained our salvation.

I am a girl who likes to understand. If something is confusing-- "inscrutable" as it were-- that generally frustrates me. Here, however, it's marvelous simply to rest in God's precious thoughts that save, lead, and hold me.

01 November 2010

To think with sober judgment

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned . . .

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

-Romans 12:3, 6-8

{image from Lawrence OP}

Today's special is....

Lately, I've been thinking about how to make everyday things special. Not how to escape my routines, but how to renew them. Rather than simply putting up with all the day's normal activities, I want to see past their routineness and draw out to the possibilities of beauty and joy inherent to them.

These are just a few random ideas. I am always looking for more.


Layer yogurt, fruit, and granola in a tall glass instead of just mixing it all together in a bowl. Inspired by the breakfast parfaits at my favorite local coffee shop, Chestnut Hill Cafe. (All their food is wonderful, by the way, but of course the breakfast offerings get my vote.)

Listen to quality music throughout the day. I'd much rather wash windows accompanied by Michael Buble or David Crowder Band than by silence. And it only takes a few seconds to stick in a CD, or to pull up Pandora or Grooveshark.

Use glass storage instead of plastic. And this suggestion has nothing to do with the toxins-in-plastic issue. Purely for aesthetics, store roasted tomatoes, homemade salsa, and yogurt in pasta sauce jars; hummus and vegetable dip in candle jars; dried fruit, vanilla sugar, and granola in large apothecary jars. (Use Goo Gone to clean the labels off those empty jars first.)

Stick some flowers in a vase, and put them on the kitchen windowsill or the coffee table or the bathroom counter. Seriously, flowers do so much for a room and for your mood. Bonus points: put the flowers in something interesting, like a wine bottle with a pretty label.

Drop a few mint leaves and lime wedges (or cucumber slices) into your water bottle.

When you have an option (and you usually do), choose pretty colors for tools and appliances. I love my apple green Kitchen-Aid, sherbet orange spatulas, bright red vacuum cleaner, and rainbow of sponges. Now, colors are really important to me, so this might not affect you as much-- but I know that seeing a brilliant blue instead of boring beige really injects some happiness into my day!

Open the windows, especially if you live in the country! A fresh breeze and "outside noises" are such great additions to an otherwise dull afternoon. If I'm stuck in the house grading essays or folding laundry, it's so nice to hear something from outdoors and feel as if I'm part of a larger world than my computer and laundry basket. :)

And don't forget to cut your sandwich into triangles.