Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Eve

Here's another Christmas tradition I thought I would share.

When my mom was pregnant with the twins (my younger brother and sister), she was put on bedrest for the last three months, which was most of November, December and January. (The twins arrived in February.) And so you can picture it, I turned three that December, and my sister was five and a half.

I remember a few things about this time. I know I got up and dressed myself every morning (in clothes my mom picked out) and made my bed. I took my hairbow and brush to my mom in bed and then waited for my ride to come. It depended on the day, but I always went somewhere: Preschool, a play date, a home day care, etc. My mom's friends stepped up to make sure I made it to every birthday party and event I needed to be at. The same went for my sister who was in kindergarten.

When I got home in the afternoons, I would crawl into my mom's bed to play paper dolls or read books. She also kept cookies with her to bribe me to play with her upstairs. I don't have any negative memories from this time, and I think it made me a pretty independent kid. It also meant that when the twins were born, I was so excited to have my mom back to normal I didn't think to be jealous of the babies.

During this time, my mom's friends and our church also supported us with meals. My dad came home in time to feed us dinner every night, and we did pretty well with all the casseroles and chicken pot pies we received.

But for Christmas Eve, my dad wanted to make a meal for us. My dad is pretty capable in the kitchen, but at the time most of the things he knew to make were appetizers and "party food." So that's what he made. My sister and I helped him, and my mom was able to come to the table to eat dinner with us that night.

And so it became a tradition for us. My siblings and I all have specific things that we make with my dad pitching in. He does the grocery shopping and planning, and we pull off a pretty great meal every year.

I don't remember what we made the first year, but our menu usually consists of: lobster bisque, hallelujah ham rolls, shrimp remoulade, sausage swirls, Tex-Mex dip (my dish even though I don't eat it), spinach dip, baked brie, crab dip and usually a red meat of some kind. Yes, it is a ton of food, but I think we like it left over almost as much as on Christmas Eve.

I agreed to work at Thanksgiving and even Christmas Day sometimes just so I could be there to cook on Christmas Eve and eat this meal with my family because Christmas Eve is definitely "our holiday." We're changing it up this year, adding some people and shifting location, but we will still gather around the table as a family and remember how this all started.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I thought for the rest of my posts for this week, I would share a couple of Christmas traditions in my family.

When we were growing up, we had several families we were good friends with that all had kids around the same ages. I'm not sure if my mom and her friends were trying to fulfill some picture of the perfect Christmas or just liked to throw parties. But one year when my younger brother and sister were still toddlers, they decided we should all get together and go Christmas caroling.

There were four families, consisting of 15 kids (though not all were there in the beginning) and eight adults. We rotated houses every year, gathering to eat dinner and then hit the neighborhood singing. I wouldn't say that we were the most talented group, and we had a limited selection of songs to sing, but I think our neighbors were pretty pleased to open their door and see 23 carolers. (Sidenote: On Sunday night, I actually had the experience of being caroled to for the first time, and it is pretty fun to open the door to singing.)

There are some funny memories from that time. We often tried to get complicated with our songs, but then no one would know the words, so we'd just break into "We wish you a merry Christmas." I think Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer were our most frequent songs. And one year my mom put together songbooks to add variety.

We also attempted carrying candles one year. Why any adult thought that was a good idea, I don't know. Even worse, we had just had an ice storm and were slipping everywhere as we walked through the neighborhood. It may have been the next year that we loaded up in the back of a pick-up truck for a "hayride" between houses. This was a good idea, but somehow the youngest of all of us was stepped on in one of the unloadings and ended up with a broken collarbone. She is also the one that was born one year during caroling, and so we get to celebrate her birthday every year. She turns 20 this year if that gives you a time reference.

It's been several years since my mom withheld food until we actually went caroling, but up until last year we still gathered for dinner and time to catch up. By now of course, everyone has spread out, and there are four married kids so it's just not feasible to get us all together anymore. But I have to say it was a pretty good tradition for us and pretty cool that 20-some odd years later we were hanging out with friends we've had since birth.

Last year was the end of the tradition, our parents all had dinner but the kids were not obligated to go. I was actually flying home that night, and when I got to where my layover was, I ran into one of the guys that was part of this caroling group. We got to catch up, and just like when we used to carpool everywhere, our parents just dispatched my sister to pick up both of us.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Challenge complete

Well, it's over. I picked up my last co-op share on Saturday. It was a good last pick-up: Sweet potatoes, lettuce, greens, apples, mushrooms and cider. We also got apple butter, which I've been waiting for since the co-op started, and a special surprise of kettle korn. I also picked up my last chicken, which made four uncooked chickens though I cooked one yesterday.

Back in March, on my very first post, I listed three goals: cook more, eat healthier and get over some of my pickiness about food. I would say I accomplished all of those things and even to a greater extent than I expected. I think I was somehow spared the foods I was most afraid of, i.e. turnips, but the fact I eat asparagus, cooked spinach, squash of all varieties and zucchini is a huge change from April.

While I definitely cooked more over the last eight months, what I found surprising was how much I enjoy cooking. A day in the kitchen is something I look forward to and find relaxing, which had never been the case for me. But I love making things from scratch and trying new recipes. That is not at all what I expected, but I'm hoping that's what keeps me motivated for the next four months.

As far as eating healthier, I definitely got more vegetables in my diet and actually rely on mostly vegetable dishes. And I no longer eat frozen pizza or cereal for dinner every night. But I cook with a lot of butter, and I made a fair amount of sweet things with the stuff I got in my shares. I don't think that was bad, but I'm not going to claim I was the healthiest eater either. I'm not one to focus on calories or fat, but eating healthier is still on my list of goals (along with returning to the gym).

When I started this, I wasn't sure if it was going to be a one-time thing or something I did year after year. I think it only took two pick-ups for me to decide that I would continue to participate. But it is going to feel like a long time until the end of April. I do still have three chickens, some squash and potatoes that will last me for a while longer, but it's going to be hard to go back to the produce section at the store. Maybe continuing to blog will keep me motivated to try new recipes, so I have something to post about.

Anyway, I just felt the need to wrap up the co-op season, the other posts this week will be Christmas related.

Friday, December 17, 2010


We got snow here today. Can you sense my excitement? There was a time when snow did excite me, I think even a year ago when they were predicting a major snowfall, I was excited. But this is what we got a year ago:

Yes, that's two feet of snow. It was more snow than this Tennessee girl had ever seen, and I took pictures and chatted excitedly with friends and family on the phone about it. I got a lot accomplished that weekend, but when I had to call a cab to get to the airport because my street wasn't clear four days later, I was over it.

And so when it happened again in January, I was bitter, and by the third major snowfall I was completely done with snow. I felt like Lorelai in the Gilmore Girls episode when she breaks up with snow. And maybe because I didn't have a Luke to make me enjoy it, I am still broken up with snow.

So when the chatter started early this week, I refused to believe it. When the caretaker at my house sprinkled salt on the sidewalk on Wednesday, I thought it was overkill. When everyone rushed to the grocery store, I refused even though it's been a rough week food-wise.

Despite all these denials, the snow came anyway and canceled my plans for dinner on the one night of the week I leave work early. Fortunately, it was only 4 inches, I don't have to drive anywhere and my boots did their job as I walked home from work. 

But even this little bit of snow has bad connotations in my head. As I walked home, I couldn't help but flashback to the treachery I faced just walking to work after the first major snowfall and the way the snow lingered for weeks and weeks. I would be content if these four inches are all the snow we get this winter because it seems I need more than a year to recover from the snow overkill from last winter.

On the positive side, canceled dinner plans and an early night meant that I tried a recipe for butternut squash risotto, which was pretty good. But I'm not sure how I will feel about it as leftovers. I also accomplished more tonight than I have in the last week. I can actually see the floor of my apartment and will have clean clothes!

*If you like snow (or even if you don't but need to read something positive), go read my friend Coralie's post.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Apparently as I get older, I am taking on hobbies.

I've never been a hobby person. I always dread that question in any situation -- sorority rush, icebreaker games, a date, on my Facebook profile, etc. My default answer is always reading, but that always leads to the question, "What have you read lately?" And then I either can't remember or don't want to admit to the latest chick lit book I've read.

But 2010 is apparently the year for new hobbies, and I'm glad to finally have an answer to that annoying question. Cooking is the main one for the year, and I would say writing about it is a related hobby. And my newest hobby is sewing.

Due to some inspiration from the fabric book acquisition, I asked for a sewing machine for my birthday from my parents. My mom wanted me to pick it out, but I had no idea what I was even looking for. The last time I sewed was in home ec class in sixth grade (if it makes you feel better, after that year, home ec was replaced with computer class). But my mom, sister and grandmother are all very adept at sewing and knew what they were looking for.

And they picked out a pretty amazing sewing machine. 

I'm not sure I will use all the features, but when it measured my button and created a buttonhole the right size with me just pushing the pedal, I could only stand back in awe.

I feel like I can make anything with it, and it's so easy to Google and find patterns and tutorials, much like finding recipes. Over the last three weeks, I've been making things like crazy. Of course, I can't really show you anything because most of it is gifts. But I did make this bag for me:

And next on my hobby list: Photography. I bought a used DSLR camera from a friend a couple of months ago but it hasn't left my apartment yet, so I need to Google and find some tutorials on that.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas cards

First of all, I'm not sure what the rules are in terms of blogging about my family, but a special little girl arrived last week, and it seems wrong not to mention it here. So here's one quick photo. I'll get to meet her at Christmas, and I can't wait!

So on to the post I had planned: Every year about November my mom started taking pictures for the perfect Christmas card picture of my siblings and I. It usually involved matching or coordinating outfits and either a scenic background or a Christmas one.

We always got one eventually, but it usually took a lot of takes. My mom was still sending out Christmas cards with a picture of us after I graduated from college. 

As a single adult, I didn't see much reason to send out Christmas cards. But last year, Shutterfly was pretty much giving away Christmas cards. So I decided to put a couple of photos from my new city on a card and sending out a combination "I've moved"/Christmas cards.

And do you know what happened? I got Christmas cards back, more than I've ever gotten before. It made December so fun, and I have a refrigerator full of cards with pictures from friends. I realized that even in a world with blogs and Facebook, it is nice to get Christmas cards and feel connected to friends far away.

And this is probably the best and easiest time in my life to send out Christmas cards. Someday, I'll be wrangling my kids for the perfect Christmas card photo and wondering how my mom managed.

This year, I went with some store-bought cards without a photo and got them all written and addressed* this weekend. The cards from friends have already started arriving, and along with birthday cards, I've been hanging them around my kitchen doorway.

*My Christmas card sending this year was a little haphazard, I didn't do much to find addresses I didn't already have. So if you don't get one, don't be offended and you're not missing much (but you can still send one to me!).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Birthdays were always a big deal when I was growing up. There was the tradition of presents and muffins at breakfast, one with a candle in it, and birthday dinner with cake and ice cream. Dinner was always my choice and for many years I chose KFC (my dad brought it home, we didn't actually eat there).

My mom always planned a great birthday party with all of my friends. I remember a tea party and a Christmas-themed party with Santa Claus, but the one that always sticks out is my fifth birthday. Up until then I had a joint party with a friend born two days after me, our families did everything together and it made a lot of sense. But I insisted that I have my very own party, and I wanted a real live clown, what that means I don't know but I think my point was that I didn't want it to be my friend's dad dressed as a clown. The clown arrived in a police car, which made it seem legitimate to me.

But as an adult, birthdays have become much less exciting. Don't get me wrong, I've still had some good ones, but my birthday fell the week before exams in college, which is stressful on a number of levels. And I worked on my birthday for several years, which isn't a huge deal, unless you are there until midnight. On the positive side, my parents have visited for a couple of birthdays, I once crashed a stranger's party with friends (kind of by accident), I've been surprised with cakes thanks to my mom, and I threw a fun party for my 25th birthday.

But last year was a low point. I didn't want to move past 25, so I downplayed my birthday. My birthday was on a Monday, and I had a really fun weekend leading up to it. But on Sunday night, I slipped on ice and hit my back pretty hard. I have a history of back pain and knew this would aggravate it. I went to work the next day and had lunch out with co-workers. But by the time I got home, the only thing I wanted to do was take some pain medication, put a heating pad on my back and sleep. And except for the fact I still turned 26, I felt like I successfully ignored my birthday. 

This year I decided I did not want a repeat of last year. So I took two days off work and made plans to go to dinner and a concert with friends. The two days off work were glorious, minus the cold symptoms that arrived Monday morning. I'm a vacation day hoarder (even though our days don't carry over), and I usually only take off work when I'm traveling. But my mini-staycation allowed me to get a lot of fun projects done and enjoy myself on my birthday.

I had a blast with my friends that came out and was again reminded how blessed I am by the friends God has brought to me in this place. The concert was a "sing-in" but I'm not much for singing so I enjoyed listening to all the voices together in a great venue. I didn't get a photo at dinner but these are from the concert:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tis the season

To blog about Christmas decorations, or so it seems. And since I have nothing else to write about, it seemed like a good plan.

Christmas tree lights were always a big deal in my family. There were never enough on the tree (even though it looked like it was on fire looking through the window), they were the wrong color, they didn't have the flower bulbs and on and on. My dad would spend at least a full day putting lights on the tree (it was fake, by the way), and then we had boxes and boxes of ornaments to put on which stretched out for a week. 

So when I had my first apartment, I bought a pre-lit tree from Wal-Mart to avoid the light fiasco. I picked up a box of plain colored ball ornaments, and then hijacked some of my childhood ornaments to add. I put it up and decorated it after work one night last week in less than two hours. I will note that my parents have given up the lights drama as well and purchased a large, pre-lit tree that has enough lights to satisfy everyone. 

What added to our ornament collection was that every year, my parents gave my siblings and I each an ornament that represented something we had done that year. I have a lot of soccer player ornaments:

But there's also the angel from when I was in a church play:

And here's my newest ornament that was a birthday gift from a good friend, that really does represent the last year:
When I got the tree up, it looked very bare on the bottom, so I started wrapping presents that same night, which seemed ridiculous but for some reason very logical to me. (And now, I am also very close to being done with shopping and wrapping.)

In my old apartment I had a mantle, and I bought the greenery for that. But no mantle in this apartment, so I added this to the top of my bookshelf.

One year I had three nativity scenes in my apartment. It seems that was a bit of overkill. So I've settled on this one for now:

Since I live by myself, I always struggle to justify pulling all this stuff out and putting it up just for me. But I always do and am so glad that I do because I love sitting by the light of the Christmas tree during December.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Playing hostess

For my Thursday night Bible study, we've been rotating houses after our normal host had her second baby. It's been fun to visit everyone else's houses and even host myself. 

I hosted last night, which motivated me to get my Christmas tree and other decorations up. I was seriously doubting whether I was going to put Christmas up this year, but knowing other people would see it made it seem worth it.

I don't go to a lot of trouble when I'm hosting, mostly clean up or hide my clutter, make my bed and wipe out my bathroom sink. But as I was pulling out Christmas decorations I found Christmas napkins and cups. Someone else was bringing the snack, but I was providing the paper products. 

When she came in with salsa, I realized I also needed plates. I went to the top of my fridge where I knew I had some random plates. I reached up and pulled down the plates that matched the Christmas napkins. All I could think was: My mom would be proud.

I didn't spend a lot of time in the kitchen as a kid — mostly because I was interested in other things and my mom knew I wouldn't eat dinner if I saw what was going in the casserole (or other dish) — so I didn't learn a lot about cooking from my mom.

But what I did learn was how to be a good hostess. We all had to participate when there was a party at our house. My mom throws a great party and really enjoys herself. She is practical and knows what she can make that will allow her to be out of the kitchen to enjoy the party. She is also good at the last minute. I could call on my way home from school and tell her five friends were with me, and she'd pull together something that would feed everyone or order pizza all the while welcoming my friends and making it seem like that was the plan all along.

I don't throw parties very often, and I'm usually exhausted after the fact but I love seeing people enjoy themselves in my home. Of course, hosting Bible study is great because it is low-key. And it turns out I have the napkins and plates that match to host anything.

I know this isn't a very exciting blog post, but I was trying to explain this in a Facebook status and it just didn't work. But thanks mom for always being a good host and showing me how.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Life has gotten away from me over the last week. Once I finally stopped working last week, I got to enjoy the holiday and some other fun things. Since I never got a Thanksgiving post up, this is a recap of my weekend in terms of what I'm thankful for.
So I'm...

• Thankful I have a job I can do from anywhere. I learned that doesn't mean there is less work, but I was grateful I didn't have to drive anywhere on Wednesday.

• Thankful I got to be at home for Thanksgiving for the first time in a while, even if it meant hiding in the basement and working for three days.

• Thankful for my grandmother who blessed us with a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. She made all my favorite Thanksgiving dishes the way only she can. She doesn't even have a recipe for her stuffing, but it's the best I've ever had each time.

• Thankful I got to spend a day with my dad and see a live college football game in this stadium (even if our team forgot to play in the second half):

• Thankful I got to catch up with old friends. Two of my friends from high school met me for dinner at our favorite restaurant in high school, and the queso dip was still as I remembered. I also enjoyed catching up with high school friends at a wedding shower. It feels like just yesterday we were in eighth grade!

 (The bride is wearing the red top.)

• Thankful I returned to a place I love. In college I always struggled with leaving my parents' after Thanksgiving, something about missing the Christmas preparation and my birthday at home was hard. But this year I was anxious to get back and celebrate a friend's birthday, and I had my own Christmas to put up. 

 Yes, we are wearing hats, and I ate at an Indian restaurant.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cooking for the family

So as much as I love cooking for just myself, it is more fun to have others around to appreciate my meals.

Before I drove to my parents' house, I picked up my share and was excited about all the winter squash I got. I said before I don't remember being exposed to winter squash, and I soon learned why.

It turns out that my dad does not like sweet potatoes, and pretty much all of the winter squashes taste similar to sweet potatoes. To fully illustrate my dad's dislike of sweet potatoes, my grandmother told me that when he was a kid, he said sweet potatoes and onions would be worse than coal and ashes from Santa Claus.*

But I have continued to cook the things I planned and let my dad fend for himself. My mom seems to enjoy my dishes, and my sister says they are better than other squash dishes she's tried.

So far I've made the butternut squash soup (I tried cooking the squash for less time but it was kind of a pain to peel and chop at that point) and this butternut squash and goat cheese pasta that was excellent. I also experimented with the pumpkin brownies again, using a brownie mix, and they turned out well but not very pretty. I also discovered how easy this pumpkin muffin recipe from Natalie is. My pizza crust was also a hit last night.

The good thing about cooking here is the help I have. I've recruited my mom, dad and sister to do various tasks, and I haven't done very many dishes here!

*I did warn my dad that this was going on the blog, and he says he is still ahead of me in terms of food he likes. But I say mincemeat pie doesn't count.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Home has always been a very concrete thing for me.

For my entire life, my parents have lived in the city where I was born. They lived in several houses when I was a baby, but I only remember two houses. We moved into the second house when I was five, and my parents still live there. I even sleep in the same bedroom I had growing up (my siblings did some room switching), and not even our next-door neighbors have changed.

I didn't always see this as a blessing. I had the travel bug as a teenager (still do actually) and wanted to be anywhere but there when I graduated from high school. But now I see it as a blessing that I never had to be the new kid in school, I grew up with my grandparents and two of my dad's brothers (and their families) living within a mile of our house, and I can still go back and sit in the same pew at the church I was baptized in.

I feel like I've lived as a nomad since leaving home. There was a period of 20 months after the end of my sophomore year of college when I lived in four different cities and one city twice for four months at a time. I loved seeing and experiencing new places, but nowhere was ever home. All the essentials in my life were boiled down to what I could fit in my car or in two suitcases under the weight limit for flying.

When I moved to Georgia, I was banking on it being temporary. I was also closer to my parents than I had been in years and traveled back about once a month. Even though I ended up staying there 3.5 years, I never really felt like it became home.

When I moved to my current town, I was (1) farther from my parents' house and (2) determined to change my attitude and dig in deeper. And so I've found community, and a city where I would love to stay (who knows what God has in store, of course). Trips to my parents' house are infrequent and planned in advance. So I feel like I have made this more home than anywhere else since I left my parents' house.

But as I was planning and counting down the days to my trip to my parents' house, I realize that even if I feel like I've made a home somewhere else I can still be homesick.

Besides family and friends, here are some other things I enjoy at home:
  • Sally, my parents' golden retriever. I'm not ready for the responsibility of a dog, but I love the welcome I get from Sally when I enter my parents' house. Sidenote: My parents didn't get Sally until I graduated from high school, but I house-trained her as a puppy and give her lots of love when I'm home so she doesn't forget me.
  • A lifted burden. I am an independent girl, but there's something about going back to my parents' house and not having the responsibility on me. I know my Dad is going to lock up the house and the bills that come in aren't mine to pay. My mom does most of the grocery shopping, and and if a rodent gets in, my dad will come to the rescue.
  • A stocked kitchen. I've improved greatly in this area. My refrigerator used to look like it belonged to a flight attendant. But at my parents' house two refrigerators and freezers are stocked and you know there's always something to eat and drink.
  • The sounds of the house. I live by myself, and I love it. But I find it comforting to hear my family moving around the house when I'm here.
So I'm settling in and enjoying my time at home, but I know I will still look forward to returning to my apartment and the people and things that have become my "other home."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Being seen

For seventh through 12th grade, every week during the school year I met with a group of girls for a Bible study. We were all in the same grade but went to a variety of schools. There was a pretty consistent group of 12, and we had a leader that stayed with us over those six years with another joining in the last couple of years.

We studied various books of the Bible, I distinctly remember studying James and John. But Bible study often came second to life in that group. Those were the girls I shared everything with and they did the same. We celebrated our joys and triumphs and cried over each other's struggles.

When we graduated from high school, we went on a six-day backpacking trip in Colorado, where our relationships went even deeper. Of the people I keep up with from high school, most of them come from this group.

I had such a great experience with youth group and those girls, I assumed it would always be that easy to find that. I went off to college naively thinking such a group would just materialize for me. Though I went to various Bible studies and even led a few, I never found a consistent group like that. It felt like people were always coming and going, and even I was hardly consistent due to study abroad and the demands of my major.

When I moved to Georgia for my first job, I struggled to find a church and that meant it was also a struggle to find a Bible study. I worked second shift and an evening study where I would have likely met my peers was not possible. For a few months I traveled 40 minutes to participate in a study, but it barely lasted a semester, which just wasn't long enough for me to feel comfortable sharing too much. Toward the end of my time in Georgia I did have a group of women that I met with weekly that I really enjoyed, but then I moved a few months after it started.

When I moved, I made a decision to go to a very large church knowing there would be more Bible studies and other ministries. It was a struggle for the first few months, especially after two years at a very small church. But last fall I found and joined a weekly women's Bible study. It took some time for me to settle in, but I finally crossed the threshold of really being able to share what's on my heart and be vulnerable with these women. 

It's a diverse group with single women, married women and some married with kids all with various careers and experiences. Most have been where I've been or are there and get me. They all provide wisdom and encouragement for me. And I get to witness them living out and setting an example for the Christian woman, wife and mother I hope to be. I've found some of my closest friends in this group, and after eight years of looking for it, I feel blessed to have found such a group.

The theme for the talks at the retreat last weekend was "To Be Known." And the first talk was about being seen. There are some days that I feel invisible. I can make it through a whole day without anyone seeing me. Sure, people see me as an editor at work or a neighbor in my house, but they aren't really seeing me. But on Thursday nights, when I gather with these women, I'm not invisible.
I've been writing this post for days and couldn't tie it with a bow at the end. I'm not sure what the point of the post is, maybe it's just a reminder to me of the way God has blessed me and provided for me. So that's all I've got today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My favorite pie

It's pie week, as declared by the Pioneer Woman, and Thanksgiving is coming up next week. So I thought I would share my family's favorite pie.

It's a classic chocolate pie, excellent with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or straight out of the pie plate. My siblings and I call it Buffy Pie after my maternal grandmother. I think we came up with that name more out of her love for chocolate than her baking. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother used her oven for storage, rather than cooking.

Buffy Pie
(originally from the Huntsville Heritage Cookbook, copyright 1967)
1 stick butter
¼ cup cocoa
2 eggs beaten
1 cup sugar
¼ cup sifted flour
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans (We leave these out.)

10 inch unbaked pie shell (Mrs. Smith’s pie crusts work great.)

Blend cocoa into melted butter. Add remaining ingredients, mix well and pour
into pie shell. Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool.

Monday, November 15, 2010


This weekend was the women's retreat at my church, which meant I got to spend the weekend in the mountains. I have some vacation days to burn, so I took Friday off and headed up early with a friend. We hit the trail and enjoyed a great hike.


We saw almost a whole family of deer.

Of course my only pictures are from the hike, but we had a great speaker (more to come on that once I process). I also got to spend time with some great women as we shared a house together and had a chance to discuss what God was teaching us.

The weather was perfect, and it really was a good retreat for me. Of course I'm exhausted and took a nap when I got home but hopefully I'll get through this week.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Butternut squash soup

Apologies if you've already seen this post in your blog reader; I was working ahead and screwed up.

Last fall when I had been in town for a few months but my social calendar was still lacking, I was invited to a dinner party at my friend Andrea's. I barely knew her then, but we have since become great friends.

She had picked up a share from the co-op and had some very interesting dishes, including one I thought was mashed potatoes but was actually turnips (not something you want to mix up). The food was pretty amazing (even a small portion of the turnips), and I got to meet lots of people. But the thing that stood out the most was a butternut squash soup she made.

I knew butternut squash would be coming in my share at some point this fall and have been looking forward to trying this soup. I had Andrea's recipe and her variations and discussed with her different approaches for handling the squash. The soup I made was very good, but it did not come out the same way as Andrea's. 

Here's the recipe with my variations, see Andrea's variations here:

Butternut and Apple Harvest Soup
    •    2 tablespoons butter
    •    2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped (I left these out.)
    •    1 large onion, chopped (I used about 3/4 of an onion.)
    •    1 large potato, peeled and cubed (I used a sweet potato based on Andrea's variation.)
    •    2 cups cubed butternut squash (see below for my approach)
    •    1 cup diced carrots
    •    1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
    •    1 quart chicken stock (I used about half this much.)
    •    1/4 cup dry white wine (optional-left this out)
    •    1/2 cup light cream (I used a little less of half and half.)
    •    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    •    salt and pepper to taste
    •    2 tablespoons chopped chives (I left these off.)

Andrea peeled and cubed the uncooked squash. I would say it is totally worth it for consistency's sake, but I was too lazy to do that. I poked the squash with a fork and cooked it at 400 degrees for an hour. I was then able to scoop the pulp out for the soup.
Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in leeks and onions, and cook until the onion softens and turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Add potato, squash, carrots, apple, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
Carefully puree the soup in batches in a blender, or use a stick blender to puree the soup right in the pot. (I was going to skip pureeing, what I liked about Andrea's was the chunks and consistency, but the ingredients in mine weren't really combining so I put it through the food processor for just a few pulses.
Once the soup has been pureed, return it to the pot and stir in wine and cream. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper; simmer gently for 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped chives.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New things I'm enjoying in my life

1. A haircut
Really, it is my typical haircut, but I felt like my hair was so much longer than usual. My hair stylist was a little upset I wanted it short, but it cuts the drying time in half. It also marked a milestone for me in my adult life: The same person cut it three times in a row. Usually, I change stylists at every cut.

2. A fan
I have some sleep issues that I have mostly worked out by creating an ideal sleeping environment (and with medication). One of the things that I need in order to sleep is a fan. It's not for the cool air, just the white noise it produces. I always know when the power goes out because I wake up when the fan cuts off. Two weeks ago, my three-year-old fan finally bit the dust even after I took it apart and coated it in WD-40. My dehumidifier substituted for a while, but it was not a long-term solution. So this new sleek fan is making me pretty happy.

3. Holiday drinks at Starbucks
I don't drink caffeine (see above, I have sleep issues). But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy coffee drinks. I have to drive to get to a Starbucks, so I don't go very often. However, the peppermint mocha in November and December is my weakness. I look forward to it all year and had my first one of the season on Saturday.

4. An apron
Because until six months ago I didn't consider myself someone who cooks, I didn't see a reason to have an apron. And then I kind of felt silly buying myself an apron, so I didn't have one. But a couple of weeks ago I came home to a package from my parents that contained an apron. I now feel very official when I cook (or do dishes).

5. An ear warmer
The night before I was leaving to go camping I couldn't find my Eddie Bauer ear headband (is that what they're called?), which I've had since high school. The forecast for camping was for temperatures at least at freezing, if not below. I will on occasion wear a baseball hat, but I don't wear winter hats. So at lunch the next day I found myself downtown looking for an ear warmer. There are several vendors downtown selling a variety of items depending on the season and that is where I found my ear warmer. I have never seen a knitted headband like this, but it kept me warm and looks a bit cuter than my teal Eddie Bauer headband.

6. A new work computer
I realized this week I was losing hours of time waiting on my slow computer to load simple things. But it is one of those things I thought was normal because as a Mac user, I've never seen a fast PC. I finally cried out for help (i.e. sent an email) and was given a new, super-fast computer and suddenly saw how much better things could be!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Because I'm from the South

And I had green tomatoes, fried green tomatoes were part of my dinner Sunday night.

I'm not sure what else to do with green tomatoes, but this recipe from my co-op is really good (also I made more than two slices):
  • 9 1/4-inch-thick slices green tomatoes (about 3 tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 large egg (or 2 medium), beaten to blend
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
Sprinkle all green tomato slices with salt and pepper. Place 1/4 cup flour in shallow bowl. Mix remaining 1/4 cup flour with cornmeal in another shallow bowl to blend. Working with 1 green tomato slice at a time, coat with flour, then egg, then flour-cornmeal mixture. 
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry green tomatoes until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer to baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Keep warm in oven.

This is the last weekend for a while that I will be in town. I ended up doing more than I intended, but I still found time to cook Sunday afternoon. I have to say that time in the kitchen is one of the highlights of my week. More recipes to come this week from my Sunday cooking.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some recipe variations

Do you remember this post when I said I couldn't make up my own recipes? Well, I've gotten braver about varying recipes and coming up with some of my own variations. I have two to share with you today.

I've written about cakeballs before, and I make them semi-frequently, usually sticking with the classic red velvet and chocolate combination. But two of my friends are now on a vegan diet, and they both previously loved cakeballs so I wanted to make a version they could eat. I cheated a bit and used Oreos, so I'd still like to try it with a vegan cake but this version was definitely a success. 

  • 1 package of mint Oreos, crushed (I removed the filling of 10 of the Oreos so the mint wasn't too strong.)
  • 8 oz. package of Tofuti cream cheese (I didn't use the whole container, but about 90% of it.)
  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips (I found Ghiradelli's were dairy-free, but there are probably others.)
Crumble the Oreos in a food processor and then mix with the softened cream cheese. I use my hand-mixer, but a fork and a spatula work too. You don't want to see any white. 
Roll into 1-inch balls and chill in the freezer or refrigerator.
Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or in a double boiler. Dip the balls in the chocolate to coat. 

Of course you can use real cream cheese and whatever chocolate you want if you aren't concerned about avoiding dairy. The mint Oreos and white chocolate is also a good combination.

The second thing I made this week was miniature tomato pies. I still don't have the crust right, I want the crust on the mini quiches you can buy at Sam's, but this is the best I could do for now.

  • Mini fillo shells
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pesto
  • Mozzerella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
Slice the tomatoes and put in the fillo shells. You can probably put an entire cherry tomato in there, but I was afraid it would make it hard to just take a bite. Mix together the mayonnaise, pesto and cheeses. (The amount is going to vary based on how many cups you are making. I made 15 cups and was low on mayonnaise, but probably used 1/2-cup of mayonnaise, 1 tbsp. of pesto and a small handful of the two cheeses.)
Scoop mayonnaise-pesto mixture into the shells over the tomatoes. When ready to serve, warm in a 350-degree oven for 6-7 minutes.

They came out really well. I wish they were warmer for the party I took them to, but everyone enjoyed them anyway.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My kitchen

Back when my sister visited in September, she said I should post photos of my kitchen to show how small it is. I intended to do it sooner, but now that I've run out of ideas for posts I'm getting to it.

First of all, I need to show you the photo of my kitchen in my Georgia apartment. I hated the wallpaper and hardly ever cooked in that kitchen in the 3.5 years I lived there. But now I look at it and think about all the counter space, the drawers, cabinets and the dishwasher and regret not taking advantage of it.

But it is in this tiny kitchen where I've found I really enjoy cooking. Here's the view looking in:

 Here's the sink that is in the right corner:

This is the baker's rack on the left wall I bought from Wal-Mart that provides me with a drawer:
I've found a way to make the small space work, but I do dream of having a large kitchen with all the bells and whistles. Though any kitchen with drawers will be an upgrade for me someday, but I'm not ready to give up the rest of my apartment or my location for it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Camping, round 2

After years of not camping, I've been twice this year. I went with a group from church this weekend and had a lot of fun. Of course, it was the last weekend in October and the first cold one. But we stayed warm enough and had lots of time around the fire. Here are some photos from the weekend:

Part of the campsite. I didn't get one with all the tents that showed up for Saturday night, but I think at some point we had 40 people or so.

 Usually the leaves have already peaked by this time in the season, but the warm weather delayed the change so we had some great color to enjoy.

The sign for all the trail options on our hike. I'd love to do some more exploring in this area.

Looking through the woods at all the colors.

This was at the upper lake at our campground.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A bit of randomness

I really don't have time to be blogging — I should be packing or cleaning — but here I am. Here's the random stuff I have to share:

* My hair is longer than it's been in a long time. And by long, I mean long for me. But I have lost all patience with blow-drying it because I know it will end up in a ponytail shortly after I get to work. I'm getting it cut next week, and I'm literally counting down the days.

* I just finished the book Little Bee by Chris Cleave. I can't say much about it (the back cover actually tells you nothing and to tell nothing to friends). But it's about an African refugee and a British magazine editor. Go get it from your library or bookstore, it is a really good book.

* The president is coming! The president is coming! Pretty much what I'm hearing everywhere I go. Obama will be across the street from my office this evening, campaigning for a congressman. Downtown is going to be insane, but it makes me glad I walk to work. Fortunately, I'm working an earlier shift and have planned my escape route. (Oh and I'm ready for the election to be over. The commercials are bad enough, but I also got cornered by a campaign volunteer this week.)

And I'll just end with this photo of a tree outside my house. I'm looking forward to a weekend where I'll be disconnected and enjoying the beauty of fall!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Food of the week: Broccoli

My mom asked me the other day if I've become a vegetarian. I said no but I very rarely eat meat at home. I enjoy a good steak or chicken when I go out to eat, but at home I'm content with all the vegetables I get in my share.

But in case you're wondering, I do still get a chicken once a month. At any given time, I have at least two in the freezer, and I've been using them when I take dinner to friends, who've recently had babies. But this week I ran out of chicken broth and cooked a chicken in the crock-pot simply for the chicken broth it would create. I just found it amusing that I wanted the broth, not the chicken, but don't worry the chicken is going in a casserole soon.

Anyway, the vegetable of the week is broccoli. My mom had sent me the recipe for Panera's broccoli cheese soup months ago, and I finally had a reason to make it. I'm linking to it because I followed the recipe exactly, though the whole making a roux thing still confuses me. It is very good and tastes like Panera's!

On Saturday I went in to grab a cup of coffee at a cafe in town and saw that their quiche of the day was broccoli and cheddar, giving me some inspiration. I looked for a recipe online, but everything I found got mixed reviews. Ultimately I realized if I had a good quiche recipe, it didn't matter what I put in it. So I actually pulled out a cookbook and made this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook:

  • Pie crust for 9-inch pan (I used this recipe but store-bought would be fine too.)
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1.5 cups of half-and-half, light cream or milk (I used half-and-half.)
  • 1/4 cup of sliced green onions (I used about 2 tablespoons of a chopped regular onion.)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • Dash ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup of whatever filling you want (broccoli, chicken, ham, other veggies)
  • 1.5 cups shredded Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack or whatever kind of cheese you want (I used sharp cheddar.)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Line a 9-inch pie plate with crust. Line unpricked pastry with a double thickness of foil. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes or more until pastry is set and dry. Remove from oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
In a medium bowl stir together egss, half-and-half, onions, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in broccoli or other filling of your choice. Toss cheese with flour and add to egg mixture. Mix well.
Pour egg mixture into hot, baked pie crust. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

It turned out really well, and the soup and quiche are providing meals for the week.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall share

First of all, I have to say that Mizzou won their big game on Saturday. It was reason No. 12 I wish I was there. 

But moving on, I haven't done a "here's what I got" post in a while, and since the season has changed, my share has changed. So I thought I'd share some of what has been in my share lately.


Sweet potatoes, they aren't the prettiest, but they taste good, especially as chips.

Apples, they've been really good this fall.

More winter squash, I had to buy this separately, but I was concerned about not having any for two weeks since I've enjoyed it so much.

Cider, one of the huge perks of my share. I'd be buying it once every two weeks otherwise.

I'll have some recipes to share later this week.