Sunday, October 31, 2010

Coincidences And Whispers

There are no coincidences. Do you believe that?

This story began earlier this year. I attended a Leadership conference this summer and heard one of the speakers talk about "whispers." The idea that God whispers to you. That mysterious coincidence, the way some one or some thing catches your attention and prompts you to act in some way at just the right time or in just the right place. I didn't really buy it at the time. It sounded like a great idea, but I needed to experience it to believe it.

The story continued last week, when my husband proudly exclaimed that he got a free download of the book "The Power Of  A Whisper", by the very speaker that I heard at the conference. The kindle edition was available for free for a limited time, so Ryan jumped on the chance to get it for free. We started reading the book together, and I became intrigued.
I have always had a somewhat shaky belief in the saying that there are NO coincidences. I love the idea of it, but I was not one hundred percent sure. I think that one really cannot be certain, until it happens to them.

Here's what sealed it for me. Over the past couple of days I have been dealing with feelings of rejection that I have not felt since high school. This is an uncomfortable "place" for most people, especially me, and it hit me particularly hard this morning. I wondered if I was being childish. Or maybe it was God's way of telling me to focus more on him than on how much I matter to my friends. So I processed it, let myself feel the sadness, and silently sent up a prayer for some sign or some way of knowing that God does care for my friendships. Just some kind of validation in the friendships facet of my life. I didn't give it another thought after that.

And He did come through. An hour later, I got an email from a friend asking if I wanted to get together this afternoon for a movie. Coincidence?

God does whisper. Maybe not to me, not today, but to others so they can turn around and be there for someone else.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

White Bean Soup With Sausage And Kale

We've had our first snow this week. Granted it was very light, and it did not accumulate, but it did leave Ryan and me craving some winter comfort by way of hot soup. I was inspired to make this White Bean Soup from a picture I saw in a magazine. The magazine recipe looked sort of bland and boring so I made the necessary substitutions and additions and ended up with something incredibly flavorful, hearty, and satisfying. I spent 5 mins prepping and it took just under 20 mins to cook. Simple, right? Here is the recipe.

White Bean Soup With Sausage And Kale

2 cups raw Hot or Mild Italian sausage, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
3 cups chicken broth
2 (15 oz) cans white beans
4 cups chopped kale
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and add sausage to pan. Sauté about 6-7 mins or until sausage is mostly browned and mostly cooked through. Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté until tender. Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth up in the microwave on High for 3 mins. Add beans to pan then add the hot broth and bring up to a boil. Stir in the kale, and add crushed red pepper flakes (optional) and black pepper. Lower heat to medium and let cook for 5 mins. Enjoy!

1) Sausage - you can use ground sausage meat if you prefer but I happened to have a pkg of hot italian sausages in the freezer that I needed to use up!
2) White beans - I used 1 can great northern beans and 1 can baby butter beans.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Colorful Cupcakes!

This week I will be doing a lot of the thing that I normally dread most...baking! I dread it because a) I am not very good at it, b) I usually don't do a lot of it and, c) one cannot bake "by heart" because ingredients and things have to be measured precisely. But it has been a personal challenge of mine this year to bake more and conquer the dread...a bit. In keeping with that, I decided to bring chocolate cupcakes to our life group this week, since it is my turn to bring dessert. So I made these last night and appropriately decorated them for Autumn, or Halloween, take your pick.

The point at which the usual dread turned to glee was when I discovered the joys of using food coloring to turn my cream cheese frosting orange! I didn't have any orange food coloring, so I mixed red and yellow and the frosting turned a lovely shade of orange. The brown frosting is chocolate ganache, and the white is just regular cream cheese frosting. As you can tell I had fun decorating these too. The candy are all Reese's pieces, but I also threw in some candy corn for the fun of it! I also discovered that strange things happen to Reese's pieces when you put them in the fridge...can you see them "melting" onto the frosting? Anyway, I can't wait to share these at group tonight!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tomato Soup? Three Alarm? You betcha.

There is usually nothing spicy about tomato soup, until one finds the inclination to say "I want grilled cheese," and "I want tomato soup," and "I want something spicy" all in the same breath. That is exactly what we said this afternoon while deciding what to eat for lunch. That's phase 1. Phase 2 comes when you summon up the determination to do something about it. But there was one tiny glitch...we didn't have any tomato soup in the house. I decided that I would just quickly whip some up. Except that I didn't actually know how to make tomato soup! No problem though. I experimented a couple of different ways, and I believe I have actually come up with a kudos-worthy recipe for spicy tomato soup. I am calling it Three Alarm Tomato Soup. As odd as that sounds, it's worth a try! We found it to be delicious. And it is quite spicy. It is especially good with grilled cheese sandwiches. Let me know what you think.

Three Alarm Tomato Soup
Serves two

You'll need:
2/3 cup good pasta sauce
1 can Rotel (yes, with the green chilies in it)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano

Put everything into a saucepan over medium heat, and stir well to combine. Once it's bubbling at the edges, cover and lower heat to simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Notes on Halloween

Halloween is coming up, but it is not a very big deal at all in our house. In fact, we don't enjoy most aspects of the holiday. We don't dress up. But we do give candy to those adorable trick-or-treaters who knock on our door. We don't go to Halloween parties. But we do make fun and spooky foods! We hosted our bi-weekly supper club small group tonight, the theme was "Halloween", and it was the perfect opportunity for me to experiment with some new recipes for Halloween, so I made these for the occasion.

Creepy Crawly Bug Bites

This one's a "me" original! Smoked sausages wrapped up and baked in breadstick dough (crescent roll dough would work too). Just make sure not to cover up one end of the smoked sausage. I used pretzels for the legs. Use mustard, barbeque sauce, or ketchup for the eyes and body.

These little bugs can easily turn into spiders, by adding an extra leg on each side! I will honestly say that these are not high on the taste scale...they're mostly just cute to look at!

Ghostly Pears

I saw this idea on a food site about a month ago and have been waiting to make them ever since. The idea of covering pears in chocolate was so intriguing. I have seen many other fruits dipped in chocolate but never pears so I was curious about the taste. Not bad...even though these aren't very neatly done. (I know preschoolers who could do a better job coating these in chocolate.) But, anyway, the taste was there! I used Bosc pears and semi-sweet chocolate for he coating. The juicy sweetness of the pears went really well with the semi-sweet chocolate. I attempted a few pears dipped in white chocolate and those tasted good but I had issues
getting the white chocolate to coat well.

My friend Eileen brought "bloody stumps" which were really fun to look at as well as eat. I will be bugging her for the recipe! Isn't Halloween food so much fun! Is it wrong to enjoy the food even if you don't really enjoy the rest of the stuff about the holiday?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mother Daughter Goodbyes

We had a fabulous time together, my mom and I. First, a few weeks in Wisconsin, a proper mix of Southwest Wisconsin tourism and just "being" at home. And, then, over the past several days an immensely fun time in Seattle. Both, with family and friends and by ourselves, captivated by all that the western WA area has to offer. And then came goodbye. Here is the very last picture from our trip, at the Seattle airport, before the hugs and tears.

Goodbyes are difficult for most people. And they are especially difficult for me. Living nine thousand miles away from my family, and having been to or through airports several times in the past nine years, you would think that I have gotten the hang of it by now, but goodbyes just seem to get harder each time. Especially the teary-eyed ones at the airport.

This brings back memories of the first time I said goodbye to my family. My mom and grandparents were such a key part of my identity and my childhood, that I thought leaving when I first did nine years ago would be hard. But, oddly enough, it wasn't hard the first time. I think it is because, back then, I was excited to leave the people I once needed, people who made me feel comfortable, and go out into the world to make my own way, and discover my own identity. I think I've done that now. I'm still figuring out some things. And it has not exactly shaped up to be what I had in mind. But I have a unique identity, and a valuable life of my own here. And as a result, saying goodbye to my mom has become so tough. Not because I "need" her in my life, but because I want her to be a part of it. And I miss her dearly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Not Sleeping

I have learned over the years that when it is 2 am and you can't sleep, it can quickly go one of two ways:
a) you can toss and turn in bed and complain for the next several hours thinking about all the sleep you are losing, or
b) you can immerse yourself in a flurry of productivity - of course, as quietly as you can while the rest of the household still sleeps - and zip through some of those things on the to-do list.

As unhappy as I was about the fact that I was awake at 2 am, I am happy to say that I adopted the latter choice. I started by sending off a few emails. Of course, when I went back and read some of those emails later I realized that sending emails past midnight is inherently not a good idea - for me anyway. Does anyone else lose the ability to type and put words together past a certain hour? Another unfortunate thing that happened to my language skills: you lose all ability to stop spell-check from automatically correcting things like "the fact that" to "taffeta" and "consider" to "xomside" (what the heck does that mean anyway??)

So, confronted with evidence like that, I can't help but consider the caffeine past a certain hour just not a good idea anymore? Yikes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mom's Cooking...

We savored Mom's cooking for dinner tonight. Poori and potato! By the way, she had to make the pooris
using whole wheat flour instead of chapathi flour! Over the course of several emails back and forth during the day, I had insisted that we had chapathi flour on a kitchen shelf, but when I came home I realized I may have used it all up at some point and not bought more :) They were still good, fried to a puffy golden brown. Anyway, the pooris were probably healthier for it. And Mom's cooking is always good! I will definitely miss it when she leaves.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Butternut Squash Chocolate Chip Cookies!

It’s my turn to bring dessert to our life group tonight. So I woke up bright and early this morning all ready to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, a favorite recipe in our house. But I didn’t have any pumpkin! However, I did have about a quart of leftover roasted butternut squash. The recipe calls for 1 cup of pumpkin, so I substituted it for exactly 1 cup of the squash. And it worked! Hopefully everyone will like the cookies as much as my husband and mom did.

Monday, October 4, 2010

To the Far East and back in my kitchen

The pork shoulder I mentioned last week has been completely used up. I’m very happy to say, after having fed three people four meals each with two and a half pounds of pork, I can cook economically and the food can be interesting! Our journey to the Far East and back since last week:

Pork sandwiches w/ apple-cranberry chutney (Good ole’ fashioned American)

Layer on top of a burger bun, or other sandwich rolls: shredded pork, whole-berry cranberry sauce (from a can), and sliced apples sauteed for just a couple minutes with a bit of butter, pinch of cinnamon, and a little chilli powder, salt, and pepper (trust me, it’s very good). It was surprisingly good. Well, you’ve got pork, apples, and cranberries…how can you go wrong?

Bak-ku-teh (Vietnam)
My mother traveled to Vietnam earlier this year and brought me back some very interesting spice mixes, along with the cute little bowl and chopsticks that you see in this picture. I added the bak-ku-teh mix to some boiling water, and then threw in shredded pork, cremini mushrooms, and shredded napa cabbage.

Note 1: The grave mistake I made was throwing all the ingredients into the boiling water all at once. Next time, I would have blanched the cabbage first.
Note 2: I was not entirely happy with the flavor of the spice mix itself. I added soy sauce, fish sauce, and some vinegar to “fix” it. That seemed to work!

Spring rolls (er…generic Asian?)
A classic, family favorite! No picture because we ate them all before anyone thought to capture it. But, I must say, this is one of those extremely versatile dishes. Did you know that you can fill a spring roll wrapper with just about anything, deep fry it, and it will always turn out completely delicious? I have been making these for years, but always only for get-togethers or to take somewhere with us. I have never before made them just to eat at home, but then I asked myself “why the heck not?” so there you have it. I first learned to make spring rolls from one of my best friends, Gina, whose mother is a whiz in the kitchen (particularly in Asian foods since she is Thai). So these were made with the pork, and shredded napa cabbage. That’s all! Delicious.

Roasted Butternut Squash
Butternut Squash is clearly not pork, but I just have to talk about it since this is Fall. I mean, come on, when else can you put a pile of orange goo on a plate and call it yum?

We had some with our pork sandwiches last night, roasted with just a little bit of butter and brown sugar. So yum!