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Friday, December 14, 2012

Comfort Me with Apples and Christmas Gruel


Ok, it's not really gruel.  But thanks to Charles Dickens, gruel has a distinct holiday edge over other cereals.

There is a quintessential scene in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol...never mind, who am I kidding - all the scenes in A Christmas Carol are quintessential.  However, when Scrooge is visited by the deceased Jacob Marley, he is interrupted in eating his evening gruel.  It is often overlooked that Mr. Scrooge has stopped at an inn for his evening meal on the way home.  The gruel is just a midnight snack of sorts.

It seems reasonable to assume that in the usual spirit of Christmastime this inn served up the kinds of things seen in the breakroom of my office recently.  While it probably wasn't buckeye bars, turtle bars, spinach dip, and hot turkey sandwiches, I am sure the theme was the same.  Heavy, hearty, high on sugar, high on sodium and excessive.



There comes a time in these holy days when we all need a little gruel.

Of course, I don't literally mean gruel (gross).  I mean quinoa with milk and maple syrup.

While I do enjoy cooking quinoa with rice and mushrooms in beef broth, I especially love it cooked in milk.  I've seen this referred to as "breakfast quinoa," but I eat it for dinner or as a snack more than I do for breakfast.  Mostly because breakfast for me is coffee and digestive biscuits at work.  But also because hot quinoa - high in fiber and protein - makes a really satisfying meal when you are feeling a little food-weary.  And let's be honest - 'tis the season for food weariness.



There is no rocket science to breakfast quinoa.

For one serving, rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa.  Heat quinoa and 1 cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it boils.

When it boils, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Stir in 2 T of maple syrup.  Or brown sugar.  Or stevia.  Cook for another 8-10 minutes until quinoa is soft.  Not all the milk will be absorbed.  Add more sweetener if desired.

Eat.

Avoid ghosts.



And here is where I try to be serious and introspective and tell you that this recent move has been so, so hard for me.  It's troublesome to talk about, because truthfully it has been a complex process of a few extremes and many subtleties.  I worry that if I talk about the extreme difficulties, I risk negating the extreme positives and losing the subtleties altogether.

There have been inconveniences - developing an allergy to some of our furniture, developing an allergy to the carpet in the new house, waking up with multiple bug bites, losing heat, losing hot water, not having kitchen lights, and vacuuming ants out of the walls.  One morning I opened my eyes and told Matt that I loved him.  He said, "I don't want to alarm you, but there is a spider on your face."

There have been some highlights - our Halloween party, making brownies with my sisters, and the sense of being home.

Perhaps the most significant facet of all, is the support and love of our friends.  I am learning to redefine friendship.  I've heard that in adversity you learn who your true friends are.  I think we've always known who our true friends are - what we are learning now is how very "true" they are.

Our friends have let me call them at all hours in tears.  They have put aside their own comforts to help us with ours.  They have unpacked with us, they have painted with us, they have prayed with us.  And they have given us some wonderful advice.

Proverbs likens a word fitly spoken to apples of gold.  While I have no wish to improve on the wisest man to ever live, I have to say that for me in recent days words fitly spoken have been like breakfast quinoa.

When I am most weary - when I feel like I will never again find that sense of calm and control - what has been most helpful and wholesome for me has been the good advice of a loving friend.  What I am realizing is this: in order to give the best advice, you have to understand the person you are advising; and to really understand, you have to listen.

I've been reminded to take deep breaths.  To take it one day at a time.  To examine and adjust my expectations but not give up on my vision.  And friends who have had to live with more courage than I have reminded me, "It will get better."



It is dark when I get home in the evenings.  I plug in the colored lights on the Christmas tree and curl up on the couch with my bowl of quinoa, hot milk and maple syrup.  The cereal is soft and crunchy, warm and sweet.  I take a deep breath and thank God that we're not alone.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Country Living and Cocoa Brownies

I have this secret standard in blogging.  It is this: as long as the time between posts is less than a month, than I am still a regular blogger.  Tomorrow would mark one month, so here I am typing whatever comes into my head.

Right now my head is filled with thoughts of brownies:


 The first time I made these brownies, my sister Rebekah was visiting from Atlanta for the weekend.   We took our pug Henry and her new puppy Sherlock into the pasture to run around.  Sherlock is about half as tall as the grass, and could only get from place to place by hopping.  We would scoop him up and carry him, but he wanted nothing to do with that.  He would twist and turn until we'd put him back down in the dry, yellow grass.  Then he'd hop away from us, the only thing visible above the grass was the occasional glimpse of his silky black ears flopping up and down.


When we met up with my sister Sarah and her boyfriend Michael for brunch, somehow the conversation turned to brownies.  Both Sarah and I agreed we could really go for some.

"Actually..."  Rebekah rummaged around in her purse and proudly held up a Ziploc bag of two brownies.

This is just one more example of how Rebekah is awesome.  I mean, she has brownies in her purse!

We decided to continue our day out at the farm.  Rebekah told me she'd pick up frozen custard and a movie, if I would go ahead and make fresh brownies.  I found a cocoa powder brownie recipe from Smitten Kitchen and figured it had to be good.


It took only a little more time and no more effort than putting together a brownie mix.  Within 30 minutes, I was pulling them dark and steaming out of the oven.  Smitten Kitchen had said to let them completely cool, but Rebekah and Sarah poo-pooed that notion, and dug in with spoons.

We sat in the living room, looking out over the pasture where the now sleepy dogs had played and eating brownies from pools of melted custard.



This move has been difficult.  There were the nights of trying to cook with a flashlight.  The mornings I woke up covered in rashes and bumps (who knows what was going on there).  The night Matt and I spent three hours cleaning up a shattered fish tank from off the floor of an unfamiliar house.

But it has been wonderful too.  Doing it together.  Doing it with the help of our friends - friends who have surprised and humbled us with their unconditional love and sacrificial giving (hence, no more cooking with a flashlight).

Sitting in the sun-drenched living room with three of the people I love best, I realized that it was what I've wanted since I left Michigan seven years ago.  I'd missed the views and the peace of the country.  There is a nonchalance and wholesomeness to farm living that is slowly working its way into our days.

We are finding our new normal.  It is earlier bedtimes and earlier mornings.  It is views of our land and not an office park.  It is the sound of chickens and dogs instead of traffic and emergency vehicles.  It is just right.

And as I take my turn stealing a sliver of brownie so hot it burns my mouth, I look out over our tree-lined driveway and savor the feeling of being home.



Beware: these brownies are a cinch to make and even easier to eat.

Cocoa Brownies
Originally from Alice Medrich

10 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper (or foil).  In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, cook butter, sugar  cocoa powder and salt stirring occasionally until the butter is melted and the batter is hot.  Smitten Kitchen suggests a double boiler, but I have had no problems with a heavy saucepan - just don't let your sugar burn.  The mixture will be gritty.  Remove from heat and allow to cool until it is warm.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time and stir until the batter is smooth and shiny.  Stir in flour until blended.  Beat with 40 strokes.  Pour into prepared pan and bake on the bottom third of the oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with just a few brownie crumbs hanging on.  Let cool completely (or eat lustily out of the pan with your sisters).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ta-Da!

There have been some requests to see a photo of my Halloween costume.  Without disclaimers, here I am with my favorite redneck.



In line with the theme of "simple and inexpensive" I dressed to match the color scheme.  Next year I will be a character.  Maybe...

Also, the costume was supposed to be an excuse to wear this bright red lipstick I love and normally shy away from.  Sadly, it didn't even show up in the picture.  Go ahead and imagine it, because I was wearing it.  And rocking it.  And not shy at all about red lipstick.

On an entirely different note, did you know that this is National Blog Posting Month?  I signed up to do National Novel Writing Month.  I thought if I could throw a successful Halloween party four weeks after moving, I could certainly write a novel in a month (and unpack boxes..and deal with the ants).  I should have signed up for the daily blogging instead.  I totally could have blogged every day.  But this novel word count requirement is madness!  Madness.

I have to finish my rough draft soon.  It's starting to get to the point that every time I pick up my laptop, I wonder why I started the novel in the first place.  After all, I didn't need to write a novel.  Now people I love and respect know I'm writing this.  I know I'm writing this.  So I will finish it.

It just might not happen this month. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Night Circus


I have thrown my first party in the new house.  After a rocky adventurous four weeks, I feel like my house and I make a good team.  It did good by me for our annual Halloween party. 

I was inspired by Erin Morganstern's The Night Circus to have a black and white circus theme.  If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time at all, you probably know that I love a theme.  A black and white scheme made shopping and decision-making more simple. 

Since my new kitchen is still in a state of...uh, impracticality (more on that soon), I opted for a dessert buffet.



 


As always, our guests amazed us with their costumes.

Nathan and Holly won for Best Group Costume:


George won for Best Overall. 



We played our annual game of Killer and again there were some memorable homicides. 




We finished the evening by eating more treats and playing Mafia - more memorable homicdes and a lot of clever people. 



The house was everything I had wanted for hospitality.  Never mind the ants (soooo many ants), the lack of proper lighting, the missing fridge and the need for new siding.  Those things will be fixed.  Last night I sat in my new living room with nine of the best people I know, and I knew that this house is home.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Confessions of a Stress-Baker

I tend to obsess. I don't pretend to be unique. We all strive for more balance in our lives. But the truth is, it's easiest sometimes just to throw yourself head-long into a project or ambition and let everything else go to pot. Eventaully when the project is over or the goal met, you can go back and pick up the pieces of your previous life and salvage the important bits.


I'm trying so hard not to do that this time.

But somehow, a month has passed into a tornedo of contracts, insurance policies, U-Haul rental, and electric bills...oh the electric bills. Some things can not be spared - I'm still dedicating 7.5 hours a day to government work. I'm still making meals (sporadically) and doing laundry (occasionally). And I still take the dog out a few times a day.


It's my writing that has suffered. I have three unfinished drafts of blog posts. They're all bad. I guess in some ways I have a good excuse. After all, I'm buying a house. I'M BUYING A HOUSE!! But in the midst of the insanity, I start to feel myself losing grip of familiar, comfortable things that make me feel like myself. So I bake.



Last week, I took a look around and saw that I had: a pan of brownies, banana bread, banna muffins, lemon curd, white cake and mascarpone cream frosting. This might be hard to believe: but I didn't even eat any of it. Some people stress-eat. I stress-bake.

Baking gives a sense of control. You follow exacting instructions and use measuring cups and spoons. You use a specified temperature. You have success!

Baking appeals to all the senses - the light powdery flour, the golden crust of bread, the warm aroma of baking, the scratchy music of zesting lemons, and of course, the flavors making good on every promise.


And best of all, baking can be shared.  No one can see how panicked you are when you are handing them a brownie.  Stress, which makes you feel like the worst version of yourself, is hidden when it is behind a steaming loaf of banana bread.

So I bake and bake and bake.  I'm going to try and be more balanced this time.  Fewer cookies and more words for my book. In the meantime, I have plenty of food...at least until I pack my baking sheets.



Here's a photo of the "new house."  It was taken in the rain from behind a cow gate.  Good as it gets for now, I'm afraid.  Closing on Friday!

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Six Emotions of Shoo-Fly Pie

This is not intended to be a food blog.  I've never intended it to be anything other than an Elizabeth blog.  But I write about food often because it's important to me, it's universal, and it's easy: the ease of writing about food being a result of the first two reasons.  But under the surface it is more than that.


It has been a difficult week.  We have been negotiating for a house and property we very much want.  It seems that every time we reach an agreement on one issue with the seller, like the heads of Hydra two more issues arise.  And in the midst of that we lost a very dear little fur friend.  He had an important role in the Judge family, and his death has left a hole. 

Henry misses his friend.

Tonight, after dinner, Matthew said, "I would really like some pie."

Suddenly, I was picturing the layers of a shoo fly pie. I haven't made one in seven years, but in my mind I saw the sticky pudding layer and the layer like gingerbread topped with a crumbly, streusel layer. I did a mental check of the pantry.  I had everything I needed - molasses, butter, brown sugar.  I even had a pre-made pie crust in the fridge (don't judge).  I jumped up, grabbed my pink mixing bowls, started to break up butter in sugar and flour until it formed course crumbs. 


I was first introduced to shoo fly pie in Lois Lenski's Shoo Fly Girl.  Strawberry Girl may be the Newbery winner, but for me it couldn't compare to the story of the sincere little Amish girl.  I loved the book so much, I begged my mom to make me a shoo fly pie.  The hands-on mom that she is, she was pulling  one out of the oven not long after that.  I'm not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't the dark, mostly unfamiliar flavor of molasses.  Disappointed, I finished just one piece.

It wasn't until years later that I made my own shoo fly pie.  It is one of the first things I remember making all on my own - just because I felt like it  By this point, I loved molasses, and this time it did not disappoint.


When we were in college, lonely and tired of trying to figure out how to be adults, Rebekah quietly said to me, "I would love some shoo fly pie right now." 

My jaw dropped.  First, because I never knew Rebekah loved shoo fly pie, and I thought I knew everything about my little sister.  Second, because with startling clarity, I realized I too wanted that simple, comfortable pie.

Tonight I baked one for Matthew and me.  While the warm scent of it filled the kitchen I listed to Beethoven's Seventh and felt strongly.  Not a simple, easy to pin-point feeling.  But the whole kaleidoscope of feelings that comes from living a full life and baking a pie that has a plethora of memories mixed in with the sugar and cinnamon.

I am sad at the death of a sweet dog.
I am happy as I bake pie and listen to Matthew in the other room busy with his lizards.
I am nervous that we might get this house.  Nervous that we might not.
I am lonely for my family still as far away as they were when I was at college.  Only now Rebekah is further away too.
I am in love with the man in the room with the lizards.
And I am grateful. Grateful for my memories and the rich life I have now.

Not everyone likes molasses.  I get that.  But if you haven't had shoo fly pie, give it a try.  If nothing else, it will make your house smell like the safest place in the world. 

Shoo Fly Pie

1 9" inch pie crust

Crumb topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves

Filling:
3/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup hot water
1 well beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 400. Line a 9 inch pie pan with crust. Mix all the crumb ingredients together until rough crumbs form. Set aside. Combine corn syrup and hot water, then stir in remaining ingredients. Place a third of the crumbs in the pie crust. Pour half the syrup on top of the crumbs. Layer another third of the crumbs, followed by the remaining syrup. Top evenly with remaining crumbs. Bake at 400 for 20 -25 minutes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Call of a Coward Giveaway Winner

Congratulations, Kathleen!  Random.org's number generator picked #2.  Please message me with your address so I can send you a copy of Marcia Moston's Call of a Coward.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Interview with Marcia Moston

I recently reviewed Marcia Moston's Call of a Coward: the God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife.  Marcia was graciously agreed to an interview for my blog.  I'm super excited to share it with you, because the story behind the publication of her book is as exciting as the book itself! And don't forget to stop by here and leave a comment for the chance to win a copy!



Please tell us about yourself.


Although I hold degrees in sociology and Christian education, most of what I’ve learned has been by the proverbial seat of my pants. I’ve taught English in a Christian high school, worked with orphans in a Mayan village, led mission teams to Central America, delivered Yellowbooks, stuffed vending machines, and lived in everything from tepees to parsonages.

I love to share the stories and lessons I’ve learned along the way about what a very real God can do with the smallest of our offerings. My first and most dear word from the Lord is Be still and know that I am God—Psalm 46:10.

Your writing experience is unusual in that until 2008 you’d never written anything, but by 2011 you had a book contract with Thomas Nelson. How did that happen?

I am grateful to have experienced such abundant grace and blessing on my work. When we moved to the South a few years ago, I had a singular image in my mind: buy a house with a pool where I could sit and write. Although I didn’t know what I would write, nor did I know how to write a book, it was as though my story’s time had come, and I needed a nesting spot.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tomato Jam: A Love Story

Once upon a time, all throughout the land, people made tomato jam.  In heavy pots, chunks of tomatoes would simmer in sugar and spices until they were cooked down into garnet-colored jam.  The evocative scent of cinnamon, clove and garlic would linger in the kitchen long after the jam was carefully sealed into little glass jars. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Call of a Coward: a Review and a Giveaway

"When this life doesn't make sense, it's good to remember you are just traveling through." - Marcia Moston

I first heard an excerpt from Marcia Moston's Call of a Coward: The God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife in a writing group a year and a half ago.  Through a series of random events (isn't it always), I found myself sitting at a table in Barnes and Noble with a group of writers.  Marcia read aloud chapter 8 "What's a Woman to Do with All Her Time," and asked for feedback.  All I could do was underline beautiful, telling sentences and think about what a powerful book it would be. 

Thomas Nelson obviously agreed, and the moving account of a family's journey from New Jersey to Guatemala to Vermont has now been published.

Call of a Coward is beautifully written.  While there is no attempt to glamorize the third-world living conditions, Marcia has a trick of seeing and describing the beauty of even the most mundane.

"These strong, hardworking women emerged from their dirt-floor adobe houses dressed in their colorful village wraps and elegantly plaited headdresses - statuesque princesses in plastic flip-flops, seldom stumbling on the dirt paths or cobblestone streets although laden with babies on their backs, and baskets of tortillas or bundles of wood on their head." 

On initially seeing the village, Marcia writes, "In retrospect, Hernando was the best possible person to show me the village for the first time.  He loved the land, and it was through his love I saw past the unlovely."  In turn, Marcia shows us the village, and it is through her love that we too see past the unlovely. 
Marcia strikes the right balance with her honesty and humility.  Her conversational tone works well for the transparency and poignancy of her book.  It never pretends to be more than it is: a memoir of God's faithfulness in one woman's life.  But that, in and of itself, is a powerful story that resonates across time and cultures. 

In Chapter 10, Marcia recounts a local woman asking her to give up her only bag of carefully hoarded chocolate chips.  Although torn, Marcia hands them over for the sake of the bigger picture - eternity: our true reality.  To this day, I am reminded of that when I reach casually into my pantry for my chocolate stash.  It is difficult to pinpoint what I'm hoarding when I have so much, but I have many things in my life that are as precious and jealously guarded as Marcia's chocolate chips. 

Perhaps the strongest element of the book is the lack of sentimentality.  Oscar Wilde wrote "A sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it."  The book is powerfully emotional, but there is payment for the luxury - it is seen in the gut-wrenching accounts of self-doubt, the stark self-evaluation, and the daily sacrifice of even the most basic comforts taken for granted by the United States middle class. 

I would happily share all my chocolate chips and a copy of the book with each of you.  But for now, I will be giving away one copy. For a chance to win Marcia Moston's Call of a Coward, just leave a comment below.  A simple "hello" will suffice or share the title of a non-fiction book that impressed you.  A winner will be drawn at random and announced August 8, 2012.* 

You can read more from Marcia at her blog: On a Write Journey Following God.

For my upstate readers, Marcia will be signing copies of her book at the book launch August 4, 1:00 at Fiction Addiction behind the Haywood Mall.  More information can be found on the Fiction Addiction website.

*Entries available only for readers with a US or Canada mailing address.

Permission link: All excerpts from Call of a Coward: The God of Moses and the Middle Class House-Wife. Thomas Nelson ©2012. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc. www.thomasnelson.com.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Keeping it Simple - Cream of Tomato Soup


This soup is pretty simple.  Put some canned tomatoes, a little chopped onion, some chicken broth, and butter in a pot, let it simmer for an hour, add whipping cream and you're ready to go.  It's also pretty delicious.

My mother-in-law found the recipe in an old issue of Taste of Home, liked it, and set it aside to share with me.  With it, she gave me two quarts tomatoes that they grew, picked and canned. 

Last night Matthew and I savored the final hours of our weekend and gratefully ate this soup.  In spite of this hot and humid South Carolina summer, and we both had seconds.  Even Matthew who generally does not care for soup. 

Don't let the simplicity or the ingredients (butter and whipping cream!) concern you.  One pot makes 8 servings, and one serving is right under 300 calories (if online calorie counters are to be trusted).  Because the soup has so few ingredients, I recommend using the best quality you have available.  Use real chicken broth rather than bullion and high quality canned tomatoes. 

So without a lot of fuss or fanfare, here is the recipe carefully saved for me by my mother-in-law.  I wish I could give each of you a jar of homegrown tomatoes to go with it.


Old-Fashioned Cream of Tomato Soup
Adapted from from Taste of Home

1 quart of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup chicken broth (I used Trader Joe's organic, free-range)
1/4 cup butter
1 Tablespoon onion, chopped
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a large nonreactive pot combine the first five ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.  In a heavy saucepan, heat whipping cream.  Do not let the whipping cream boil.  Just before serving, use an immersion blender to puree the soup.  Slowly add one cup of soup to whipping cream.  Add whipping cream mixture to pot of soup.  Serve immediately.  Makes 8 servings.

Friday, July 27, 2012

From My Binder: Italian Birthday (Week)Night



I mentioned in my post on hospitality that I keep a binder for meal planning.  I am a sucker for food blogs and Pinterest, and I love to plan a meals with a theme. 

Unless it's just Matthew and I: then cereal, leftover salami, and string cheese are a meal. 

Themes give me a structure to work in and make me feel like my meal is complete.  They can also give me a headache and make me want to take on way too much work.  But I'm getting better at keeping my expectations real even if it means adapting what I see in food magazines.
As I've mentioned (just a couple times), I work a lot, and if I'm going to pull off hospitality on a weeknight the food has to be mostly make-ahead. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Forty-Five Left to Go

We were in that tricky spot in our marriage where the honeymoon had worn off, and we were still frantically trying to figure out how to live with each other.  I think we'd been married a little over four months.  The life expectancy of our bliss was the same as the life expectancy of light bulbs, and we stood in the aisle at Lowe's trying to figure out the difference between halogen and incandescent. 

An elderly couple came by, pushing a cart with a poodle in the baby seat.  We stopped them to ask about the dog and give her the appropriate pats on her head- as fluffy white as her owners'. 

"Are you newlyweds?" the wife asked shrewdly.

I wondered if we wore our awkward affection like a sandwich board.

"We've been married fifty-six years."  She smiled at her husband.  "Don't worry - the first fifty are the hardest."

Friday, June 29, 2012

Cheating


It is 102 degrees here today. The heat opresses me. I shrivel up like a dried-out starfish and stare up into the fan wondering when it will all end. It is too hot for anything. Too hot to swim, too hot to walk, too hot to move. Unless it is from the couch to the refrigerator to stick in my head. Matt on the other hand is like some kind of dessert lizard.  He flits from activity to activity with his eyes always darting around in search of yet another activity.
 
The only thing making it worth for me it is tomatoes. Our tomatoes are compensating for being late by coming in strong, big, and bright red. I eat them with toast, I eat them with eggs, I eat them with slivers of cheese - and more than anything I eat them with garlic and olive oil and basil - on pasta, on more toast, or with a spoon. My days are defined by tomatoes and waiting for September to burst forth cool and clear.
 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Christmas Ham for Every Occasion

Warning - this post does not contain a recipe.  If you legitimately want a Christmas ham recipe, I suggest you look elsewhere.  This is a about me, Christmas ham and a story that never gets old.

Two years ago, Matthew and I started contributing a ham to the extended-family dinner. Christmas is always extremely busy for Matthew and me between the increased work load at our respective jobs and travelling.  Buying a ham and delivering it to my mother-in-law is practical way for us to contribute to the family celebration.

Honey Baked Ham starts mailing out their coupons right after Halloween.  On glossy pages, impressive hams display ruffled spirals edged in a crystalized sugar glaze.  My mother-in-law gave me two coupons - one for $5 off and one for 10% off.  I took them both with me, just in case Honey Baked Ham would let me use them collectively. 

Now obviously, you can't just walk up to Honey Baked Ham the day before Christmas and walk out with a ham.  You have to call ahead and reserve your ham.  Then you have to go wait in line with twenty people in Christmas sweaters. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Grilled Bruschetta Chicken

Our tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet.  Every day I go out and water the big green plants with prayers and pleading.  In the meantime, my father-in-law has given me tomatoes to tide me over until mine come through.  C’mon , little buddies.  Ripen!

                Food is miraculous. Tomatoes are the only vegetable (fruit?) that we grow in our tiny yard, so the miracle unfolds in front us under the spray of our water hose.   I buy my tomato plants in the plant stage because I have no green phalanges.  The way they start out as little plants, stretch up through their inadequate cages, and push out tomatoes bursting with the flavors of summer – it all makes me pause in admiration and gratitude. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Florida: A Tradition in Mayonnaise

It takes my breath away how a place almost 900 miles from where I grew up can hold such vivid, beautiful and heartbreaking memories.  Maybe it is the regularity of it.  As certainly as spring arrives, we make the trek to northern Florida.  Over sixteen years, our family has grown, we have spread out further and further across the country, and our schedules have diversified; but still, we meet at the Gulf with tenacity.
  
Years ago, I would spend the night before our trip making sandwiches.  The way I remember it is endless rows of rolls that needed to sawed in half, the crumbs going everywhere.  Armed with a large jar of Hellmans and a butter knife, I would slap mayonnaise on the top half of each roll.  Faced with such a mundane task, my imagination ran wild.  As I put mayonnaise on roll after roll after roll, I was struck that, "the mayonnaise quivered expectantly." 

So thrilled was I with this description of making sandwiches, that I put down my knife, ran to my room and wrote it down.  As though there was a chance someone might steal it.  I don't know what I thought the mayonnaise was expecting.  Perhaps the anticipation of sharing its existence with shaved turkey was almost more than it could take?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No One is Safe

Sunday was a rainy day.  And a bit nippy.  I wore a sweatshirt as we ran errands.  Then when we got home, I wanted to bake.  I'd had my eye on this for a while, and I had all the ingredients.  Before I could give myself time to reconsider, the butter was melting in my cast-iron skillet.  In less than twenty minutes, I was eating a giant warm cookie out of a skillet.  With a spoon.  By myself.


I texted Jennifer a picture with a plea, "Save me!"

She wrote back, "YOU ARE SO BAD!"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer Lasagna and Cupcakes

It's been a while since I've written. 

I've been spending some time with this:

Santa Rosa Beach, FL

And this:

R enjoyed Aunt Lizzie's raspberries.
But now I'm back. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

That Salad. THAT SALAD

The recipe for THAT SALAD comes from here.  I'm not sure what it was the caught and held my interest - was it the picture of the pig conjuring up mixed memories or the writer's over-the-top description of being teased and pushed to your limits?  I don't know, but after a kaleidoscope of a day at work I found myself at Whole Foods putting the ingredients in my cart. 

The author at Food52 wrote about April Bloomfield's Lemon Caper dressing in glowing terms. It was the kind of description that makes you stop half-way through reading, look back , and question if you are still, in fact, talking about salad dressing. As opposed to Mother Theresa. Or penicillin. But I was intrigued by the idea of lemon segments in the dressing and her description of the acids working with the fats (which in April Bloomfield's case were fried pig ears).

I sent the link to Jennifer and she wrote back, "What on earth could you substitute for pig ears?" I wanted to find out.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Favorite Holiday I Never Knew Existed

It's that time of year again.  It always sneaks up on me. 

Once a year, South Carolina state offices close down to honor soldiers who wore grey uniforms and carried the stars and bars.

That's right: it is Confederate Memorial Day!

Note: County offices remain operational.

I usually celebrate by spending the day explaining to Yankees why the DMV is closed.

Me: "It's Confederate Memorial Day."
Yankee: "Yeah right."
Me: "No, it's a real holiday.  All state offices are closed."
The bemused look on the faces of the unsuspecting Yankees slowly fade away as they realize we're serious.  We don't joke about Confederate Memorial Day in these parts.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Back with Banana Cake

Tax season is finally crawling to a close.  I'm finally dreaming about things other than work.  Like last night, I dreamt I was trying to cover super greasy hair with a big headband.  It didn't work.  But hey, at least it wasn't about taxes.

In the meantime, I made banana cake.  Through a series of peculiar events, I actually lost a bunch of bananas.  I found them a week later at which point they were good only for baking.  This was perfect, because I'd had my eye on this recipe

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Breaking From Taxes to Talk About Cooking

"If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff." - from Ratatouille


My mom made breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I'd do my algebra homework to the scent of bean soup and freshly baked bread.  Our mac and cheese was always homemade.  So naturally, by the time I moved out, I knew how to follow a recipe and make a meal.  And it was when I was cooking for myself tht I really learned to cook.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Employee Engaged

If I could, I would blog about my job.  When people hear what I do, they usually make some kind of polite, sick face that implies, "Poor you."  But to tell the truth, I absolutely love my job.  I am one of those obnoxious people that look forward to Monday mornings.  I regal Matt with work stories at night while he is wearily removing his tie.  I make a point of eating in the lunch room - not just to save money but because I enjoy conversing with my co-workers.  And even on the most trying of days, people never fail to be people and give me a reason to smile. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Leah's Coffee Confessions

My sisters, in addition to being beautiful, are the smartest and funniest women I know.  Lucky for me, they send me guest posts from time to time.  Here are some thoughts from Leah.  She is a junior speech pathology major at St. Mary's College. 

I thought I was the Queen of Starbucks.

In particular I thought I was the prime ruler of the one on 933. Everyone knows exactly what I want when I come in. They even know my caffeine cutoff time. I do not take money to Starbucks, I scan my cell phone. I have a phone app that tells me exactly where in the United States every single Starbucks is. As if I need an app, ha! My sixth sense, or Starbucks sense if you will, sends electrical impulses to every neuron in my body if I am within a 5 mile radius of Starbucks. I even know where the grocery store Starbucks’ are. I’ve been a gold member since 2009, when the rewards system began. I’ve cherished that very first reward card ever since I first purchased it. I could do a blind taste test and name each of the different roasts. I could smell the aroma of the roasts and declare which was which. For me it is not an obsession. It is a religion. None would disagree: If Starbucks were Egypt, I would be Cleopatra. If Starbucks were the Roman Empire, I would be Julius Caesar… I will boycott McDonalds, I will boycott Wal-mart, I will boycott Tyson, but Starbucks is my little corporate monster darling..

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good Friday

Cream cheese and meringue.  The perfect pair.
I was all set to write a post about my dislike for ketchup.  But I didn't.  \

Here are 10 things I did instead.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Handling Hospitality

Seven years ago, I would never have invited  friends over for a bucket of fried chicken.  I knew how to fry my own chicken, thank you very much! But let me tell you about the only time I ever tried to fry chicken for company. My grease caught fire, I poured a full bag of flour on it, and we all ended up in the front yard eating take-out pizza while the smoke cleared.  Thankfully, the man I was trying to impress didn't mind too much and now lets me burn food for him all the time.  So glad I went that homemade route!

I think that those of us that enjoy cooking and entertaining have the hardest time doing it. We are so full of ideas. When it comes to executing all these ideas under time constraints  and with an audience, things often unravel.  My inner Crazy-Hostess still haunts me, but I've learned some things that help me be more realistic and successful with entertaining.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Dish Best Served Cold

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?'' - from Jane Austen's Pride and Predjudice

I recently heard of a couple, having just adopted a child, who were asked, "Did you not want any children of your own?" Now I could dissect that statement and point out the at least four things wrong with it, but I imagine you can do that yourself.  Conversations like that make my stomach sink or make me squirm in discomfort.   I am left shaking my head and blinking my eyes in disbelief.

Then there are the times that render me speechless.  Like the time a well-meaning individual told me that the reason Matt has spina bifida is because his mother stood in front of the microwave while she was pregnant. I stood staring at her and not saying anything.  I considered quoting random Bible verses just to avoid saying the wrong thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ruins

 A short story by Elizabeth Collins


The coffee was hot, black and bitter. Meg took another gulp, willing the scalding liquid to make her feel something.  From the table, Jason was watching her over his mug. She leaned into the counter, and wrapped her fingers tightly around her cup.

Jason cleared his throat.  “I heard you last night.” Discomfort showed on his face like oil on water.

“I’m sorry if I woke you up.” She barely recognized her own flat voice.

“I’m worried about you.” The warmth of his voice traveled through her like the warmth of the coffee. She loosened her grip on the mug, and imagined clasping his hand instead.  His fingers had once fit casually between her own.

“I was thinking,” he said. “Maybe we should put some of those things away for a while. Turn the third room into an art studio for you.”

Her head whipped up and the words died on his lips.

“Forget it.” His face was slack.

Dizzy, she turned and clutched the counter. “No,” she whispered. “I appreciate it; I really do.”

Outside, a distant leaf blower whirred to life. A car hummed by.

“I’m sorry.” She turned to face him, but he was looking down at his phone.

The coffee was unpalatable. She had lost count and added too many scoops.  Slowly, she set the half-empty cup in the sink. “I’m going for a walk.”

Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed her coat.

Outside the air was damp and held the chill of an inevitable winter.  Leaves as brittle as old, yellowed paper crunched under Meg's feet as she ducked under the pine trees dense behind their house.

Last night, when Jason’s breathing had become soft and even beside her, she had slipped out of their bed and stumbled across the hall and into the nursery. Fumbling on the rocking chair for the plush bear, she had curled up on the floor with it and cried into the sleeve of her t-shirt. Even in the dark, she had known the undisturbed white crib and the sheets dotted with tiny blue elephants.

 “It’s never too early to buy furniture!” a glossy brochure had lied.

She stopped shy of the ruined house tucked back in the woods. Stubby remnants of a brick wall and a chimney were all that were left. From where she stood, she could barely make out the original outline buried under leaves. She never grew tired of looking at the skeleton of rooms and imagining the family that had gathered around that fireplace.

Stepping over the bricks, she gathered up a pile of leaves accumulating in the corner of the wall and dumped them on the other side. They fluttered to the ground like dried-out butterflies. She gathered up another pile and then another, systematically clearing the ground of leaves.

“You can try again,” the doctor had said from the safety of his white coat. Jason had shaken the doctor’s hand and then retreated into his own version of silence. Try again. Like it was easy. Like it was putting a quarter in the claw machine at the mall.

The dust from the leaves and debris burned her eyes and choked her, but she kept clearing.

All she had left was the wasteland she shared with Jason – the person she couldn’t look at without seeing all her suffering reflected in his eyes. If she faced that, then the only thing still holding her together might crumble like the leaves in her hands.

She kept gathering leaves and throwing them over the side. Scoop, dump, scoop dump.  When, at last, the entire area was clear, she sat down and leaned against the brick wall. Cold seeped up through the grass, but she didn’t move. She ran her eyes over the exposed foundation of the house. No one had warned her how painful love could be. How it could be like a million slivers of glass, shining and blinding, trying to come back together again.

There was a crunching of leaves, and she looked up to see Jason standing near the edge of the wall.

“Hey." It was the best apology she could muster.

Awkwardly, he held out a thermos. “I brought you some coffee. Thought you might be cold.”

Once again, the warmth began to stir in her stomach. She inclined her head. “Do you want to sit down?”

In two strides, he covered the distance between them. “Here.” He shrugged off his coat. “Sit on this.”

Meg adjusted her weight until they were both sitting on his huntsman jacket. Jason unscrewed the thermos, poured coffee into the lid, and passed it to her. The steam was thick in the damp air. She took a sip and felt the warmth spread. They sat silent, sharing the coffee back and forth until the cup was empty.

She pulled at a loose thread on the lining of his jacket.  "Jason."

He pulled himself up. “Wait right here.” He gathered up an armful of leaves and carried it to the fireplace. Pulling out a lighter, he lit the debris then came back and joined her.

Fire licked over the leaves then burst up into flames. Meg leaned her head against Jason’s shoulder and watched as one more fire burned in the ruined house.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Secret BBQ Ribs

Have you tried my friend Josh's peanut butter cookies?  The recipe is here, and I suggest you take out a stick of butter and let it start softening now.  And while you do that, I will let you in on a little secret.  I didn't successfully make cookies until about four years ago.  I'm still not sure what I was doing wrong.  In high school and college while other girls were gathering around mixing bowls and bonding over the process of making cookies, I was staring dismally at a pan of flattened, crispy disks of sugar, butter and chocolate chips.  My oatmeal cookies turned out like day-old biscuits and my peanut butter cookies crumbled like sawdust at the first bite. 

What I came to realize is that although some people have success with the recipe on the back of the bag or the side of the oatmeal tin, I had to carefully research and find the recipe that works for me.  Josh's peanut butter cookie works for me every time.  When I take that cookie places, people sit up and take notice. 

So when Josh told us he had a trick for cooking BBQ ribs, I pulled out a pen and a pad of paper.

These ribs will make you look like the crackerjack of outdoor cooking.  People's eyes will roll back in their heads, and they will try to hide the fact that they are sucking on the bones.  And when they ask you what your secret is, you'll act all coy becaues you won't want to admit that you made them in the slow-cooker.

That's right: a slow-cooker!
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