Friday, July 30, 2010

Lessons from Galatians

In my Bible study we've been studying Galatians with a guide by Tim Keller. We are nearing the end, and I was processing what I've learned and thought I'd post it here.

So much of Galatians is about the Gospel and how that impacts everything. It is by grace through Christ that we are saved from sin and given eternal life. I've always thought that I heard the Gospel, was saved and now I can move on to learn deeper things. But this study has taught me that the Gospel is everything, and I found the study to be very convicting and challenging.

The sermon last Sunday was on Psalm 34, which presents God as our deliverer and refuge. The pastor noted that this is the Gospel, we have to have God as our deliverer. But we hate admitting that and hold tightly to our independence and I-can-do-it-my-way attitude. This pretty much sums up the tug-of-war I've had with God as I worked through this study.

I am realizing that I frequently approach life from a place of works righteousness — yes, I know I was saved by grace but I tend to think now I need to earn God's favor. This study taught me a few things, one is that I will fail every time if I try to earn my righteousness and two that this life isn't about rewards and trying to earn things from God, we've already been given more than we deserve by our salvation.

In the midst of this study I was struggling with some envy over what someone else had and frustration at what I didn't. I found myself saying over and over, "But I obeyed you God. Why won't you give me this?" As I worked through this study and this struggle, I was taught over and over that seeking to earn something from God and trying to manipulate Him (yeah, I know that doesn't work) was actually taking me farther away from Him.

One of the extra lessons in the study was Keller's sermon on the parable of the prodigal son, but Keller points out that it is actually the parable of two sons. He makes the point that the elder brother, who stays home and does everything his father asks, is just as lost as the younger brother who ran away. This was extremely convicting because I identify so much more with the elder brother but thought that I was right all of these years.

As I continued to work through the study and my own struggle, I found the idols that were making the current struggle so hard and how I was placing those things before God. I am still working through those things and feeling challenged in putting God first.

My eyes and my heart were certainly opened during this study, I am still trying to grasp the full impact of the Gospel (which Keller calls "slippery") on my life at all times. I am trying to break down the idols I cling to and live in the freedom of the Gospel and escape the works righteousness that was so present in my life. I have a long way to go, but that is the beauty of the Gospel. I'm saved because of God's grace not by anything I do or don't do. I am loved and forgiven.

I am amazed at how God provides and speaks to us exactly when and how we need to hear them. He has used this study and my church's current sermon series on the Psalms to reach me and both challenge and comfort me when I found myself in such a place of brokenness.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Galatians 2:20-21

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chicken failure

I had accumulated two chickens in my freezer, and I was at the end of most of my produce from last week, so it was time to cook some chicken. After cooking my last two chickens in the crock pot, I wanted to try roasting it.

Of course, where do I turn? Pioneer Woman, of course. She actually has a guest cook post a recipe for Herb Roasted Chicken, but my sister had tried it and said it was good. So I defrosted my chicken, and on Sunday night followed the recipe. It's really simple:
  • 3-4lb Whole Chicken
  • Something to stuff inside the chicken (Apple, Onion, Lemon, Garlic, Carrot, etc.)
  • Canola Oil (1 tablespoon)
    Salt (1 tablespoon) and Pepper (1 teaspoon)
  • Fresh Herbs (1-2 tablespoons)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Stuff chicken with "aromatics."
Chop herbs and mix with canola oil, salt and pepper.  Rub chicken with herb mixture. Rub it on all sides.
Cook for an hour and 15 minutes. Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes and then serve.

Now that I read the directions again I see my mistakes. Because I definitely screwed this chicken up. First of all, I only had vegetable oil, not canola oil, (probably not a huge deal) and I forgot the salt and pepper. But that's nothing compared to the fact I read these recipe a few days before making it and thought I remembered everything, but I set my oven to 400 degrees. Yeah, the top of my chicken was cooked, but when I started to pull off the meat to store, I discovered the chicken was not cooked. It went back in the oven but of course that made it pretty dry.

So I have to say, this was a total fail for me. But at least I wasn't serving it to anyone else, and I've learned my lesson.

Of course, failure only makes me want to try and get it right, so hopefully I will be able to post my success at this recipe at some point.

I will note that it's been good to have chicken around again. I've been able to turn around dinner in 20 minutes or less this week, a good thing since I get home from work at 8 p.m.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Unfinished projects (or dishes)

A friend sent me this link to a document on Myers-Briggs. Yes, we not only discuss Myers-Briggs at length at social gatherings but also email and Facebook each other with new discoveries.

In this document, at the end of each description, it had a prayer for that personality type. The one for INFP said, "Dear God, please help me finish what I sta..." Of course the "J" in me wanted to fix the end of the sentence, but the rest of me knew how true this was. And if anyone had walked in my house over the past week, they would have been praying this prayer for me.

It was a really good week work-wise. I got to have normal hours, even though I go back to later hours this week, and during what should normally be an incredibly busy time, things were actually very slow. (Apparently all the financial guys are on vacation in July.) Since I got home earlier, I got to do things like cook and attend a Bible study I've missed for a few weeks as well as go to my normal women's study. So I found myself with less time at home, and the state of my apartment reflected it.

But it also reflected the fact that finishing things is not my strong suit. I may start strong, but I lose my motivation before something is complete and I can let it sit there unfinished for quite a while.

Last weekend I battled my neighbors in attempting to get a lot of laundry done. Six of us share a single washer and dryer, and somehow all seem to want to do laundry at the same time. So it's a matter of getting your stuff in, washed and the next load in without someone removing your stuff and starting their own load, thereby, preventing you from getting another load in. And last weekend, I was successful and got three loads washed and dried. I even folded and put away the first two loads. But I'm going to admit that my third load, which finished drying Monday morning, was still on my living room floor unfolded on Saturday.

So if you came in my apartment you would find this pile of clothes, another pile of clothes in the general vicinity of my ironing board yet to be ironed and then in my kitchen, there would be a drying rack full of clean dishes and sink full of dirty dishes. This is not to mention the mail and other paperwork spread between my coffee table and couch and my new pile of dirty clothes covering my bedroom floor.

I will openly admit I am a messy person. I am much neater when other people are around and impacted by my mess, but in my apartment where it is just me, I am messy. However, I reach a point when I can't stand the mess and want some order back in my life.

By Saturday morning, that's how I was feeling. It was miserably hot outside, and I decided my best bet was to stay in my air-conditioned apartment and restore some order in my life. I finally got my clothes folded and put away and even ironed what needed to be ironed. I put away dishes and washed more. I organized all the stuff that has seemed to have been just floating around for weeks. I paid bills and completed some of other stuff that needed to get done.

But then I went back to the kitchen. This is what I'm finding so strange about what I started as an experiment. When I have some downtime, it is more and more likely that I'll spend it in the kitchen, cooking. And if you know me, usually the only time I am in a kitchen is when everyone else has gathered there to eat or talk but rarely to cook. Anyway, on Saturday, I made some pizza dough to have on hand and then realized I had everything to make some cookies I had read about in Southern Living and baked those. Then on Sunday I roasted a chicken (more to come on that).

Of course this ultimately meant that my kitchen stayed clean for about an hour, and I went to bed with dishes in the sink. I can't seem to escape this tendency to leave a project unfinished. It's better that I finish what I'm cooking and it's only the dishes that are left behind, but the constant dishes cycle is starting to make me crazy! I think I need someone to come along behind me and finish things for me or maybe a dishwasher would work.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Recipes galore

I managed to find some inspiration and cooked up a few things this week. Of course the major accomplishment is that I finished the green beans!

As I said last week I was looking for a new way to make green beans and since I got tomatoes this week I did some googling for recipes. I came up with this, and though it wasn't my favorite, it made for a decent dinner and used up the green beans. Of course I only made as much I wanted to actually eat and guessed at the amounts.

Sauteed Green Beans with Tomatoes and Basil
    •    1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed
    •    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    •    1 tablespoon olive oil
    •    3 large shallots, thinly sliced (left these out)
    •    2 garlic cloves, minced
    •    1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used fresh)
    •    1/4 cup dry white wine
    •    2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
    •    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    •    Parmesan Crisps (I didn't make these, it's basically cooking a clump of parmesan cheese, but I do wish I had added parmesan cheese at the end.)

Cook the green beans in a large pot of boiling water until just crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain well; set aside.
Melt the butter and oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Add the beans and cook until the juices evaporate and the beans are almost tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Stir in the wine and basil. Simmer 2 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve.

Then I took the advice of the commenters on my last post about the plums. I found this recipe for a peach and plum jam/spread that was surprisingly easy, and it tastes pretty good too!

Microwave Peach Plum Butter Recipe
    •    1 cup finely chopped, peeled peaches
    •    1 cup pitted, chopped plums
    •    1 tablespoon water
    •    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    •    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (I used nutmeg because I didn't
    •    1/2 cup granular no-calorie sucralose sweetener (such as Splenda®)

        Combine peaches, plums, and water in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic bowl. Heat in the microwave on high in 3 minute intervals, stirring between heating, until mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, ginger, and sweetener. Pour fruit butter into a jar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Then last night I halved the three plums I had left and cooked them on my grill pan and added them to a salad. (I have to add that my grill pan is one of the best purchases I've made for my kitchen. This week alone I've grilled corn, plums and cooked pancakes on the griddle side.)

A few weeks ago, I found this recipe for cornbread that calls for fresh corn and basil, but I was out of corn and my basil was dead (some rain and me actually watering the plant have brought it back to life, though I can't say the same for my thyme). Anyway, I decided to make it last night to have with my salad. It is good cornbread, but the basil that gives it an interesting flavor.

Fresh Corn and Basil Cornbread

    •    1 1/2 cups buttermilk (One of the greatest tricks I learned from Pioneer Woman is that you can make buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of lowfat milk, adjust based on how much you need.)
    •    3 large eggs
    •    1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
    •    2 cups yellow cornmeal
    •    1 cup all purpose flour
    •    1/2 cup sugar
    •    4 teaspoons baking powder
    •    1 teaspoon salt
    •    1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced (I only had salted butter and had already mixed in the salt. I didn't think it came out too salty though.)
    •    1 1/2 cups fresh cornkernels (from 3 ears)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, and basil in large bowl. Blend cornmeal and next 4 ingredients in food processor for 5 seconds. Add 1/2 cup butter; blend until coarse meal forms. Add corn kernels. Using 8 on/off turns, blend until kernels are coarsely chopped. Stir dry ingredients into buttermilk mixture; transfer to pan.
Bake cornbread until golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

And then because apparently cooking has become my latest hobby (and I worked an earlier shift), I decided to make blueberry muffins. Not that I need anymore muffins, but this is the last batch of blueberries until I get frozen ones in November and I had been wanting to try this recipe (plus this is probably the only time I'll have plain yogurt). Pioneer Woman calls these the Awesome-est Blueberry Muffins, and I have to agree. They are by far the best muffins I've made.

The Awesome-est Blueberry Muffins
  • 3 cups minus 2 tablespoons flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • Heavy pinch of salt

  • Dash of Nutmeg

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 egg

  • 1 generous cup plain, unflavored yogurt (throw in extra if you want)
2 cups fresh blueberries

  • Vanilla Extract

  • Softened Butter, for muffin tins

  • Turbinado sugar (optional)
 Preheat oven to 385 degrees.
In a large bowl sift flour, baking soda, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In another large bowl whisk together sugar, oil, capful of vanilla, egg, and yogurt. Add the dry ingredients and stir to a count of 10.
Add blueberries, reserving 1/2 cup, to mixture and stir 3 times.
Add mixture to well-buttered muffin pans. Sprinkle remaining berries on top and press down lightly. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over top. (Brown sugar can be used instead.)
Bake 20 to 25 minutes and allow to cool completely.

There's also a recipe for a yogurt blueberry sauce, but I didn't think it was necessary.

I've still got a few things left, but I think I'm going to have to pull out a chicken soon!

Monday, July 19, 2010

What do I do with these?

So based on the emailed list of what I was getting this week, I wasn't sure my pickup was worth a post.

But then I got these:


And these:

Plums (apparently yellow ones)

Granted I got some good tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, blueberries and lettuce. But I was thrown by the nectarines and plums. I don't think I've ever had either of these fruits.

But I have tried both now. I do like the nectarines, maybe better than peaches as far as eating them plain, and the plums aren't horrible but I'm not sure I can just eat them all plain. So I am open to suggestions and recipes.

Otherwise this weekend I found a good balance between some downtime and recovery from my cold and some good time with friends. I didn't do much cooking, but I'm hoping to find some motivation this week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The never ending green beans

A few weeks ago I discovered that I did like fresh green beans and found some good ways to prepare them. Then I got another pound of green beans at my next pick-up, and I'm starting to think they are multiplying in my fridge. I swear I've been eating them, but there's always more that need to be eaten.

When I went out to eat last weekend, the waitress said they didn't have green beans as the menu said but had asparagus instead. I was ready to make a trade to get some asparagus for my green beans. Something tells me they would not have gone for it.

Anyway, I was starting to feel like I had no other way to cook them until I did some searching on allrecipes. I found this recipe for pasta with green beans, new potatoes, pesto and yogurt, which shockingly I had all of the ingredients. (I bought the yogurt for peach smoothies.) While I would have left out the potatoes, this was actually a good way to eat my green beans, in fact I considered them the key ingredient, although I'll eat just about anything with some pesto on it.

I woke up with a cold Wednesday morning (still not sure why since it's July!), and I decided to eat more green beans for dinner last night since I couldn't taste anything anyway. I was talking with someone about preparing the green beans the same way I cooked asparagus (i.e. with olive salt in the toaster oven). I also cooked some thinly sliced new potatoes, and it actually made for a decent meal considering I wasn't that hungry to begin with.

But even after all of that, I still have green beans left, but it doesn't look like I will be getting more with my share this week, which is a relief!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My friend the freezer

I made dinner before writing this, and I had three burners on my stove going but managed to burn myself on my toaster oven. And now I'm writing about freezing things, but the thing my freezer is missing is an ice maker, which would have been useful tonight. Anyway, on to the topic for today's post.

When I first moved into my apartment in Georgia after graduating from college, everyone told me to use my freezer. But I can't say that I ever really did. Yes, I had stuff I would buy frozen (Bagel Bites were a staple in my life at that time), but I rarely froze things I made. But that's probably because I wasn't cooking.

Now, my freezer is full. Currently, I have two types of muffins, pizza dough, tomato sauce (homemade, by the way), my whole chicken (which reminds me I need to cook it before I pick up another one), chicken broth, cinnamon rolls and cakeballs. I also have some hamburger meat, bread and ice cream in there.

I haven't had a reason to freeze the produce I'm getting, and I'm still a little worried about how that would change the taste. I'm sure freezing works, but I've just been a little skeptical.

But I know that I can make a dozen blueberry or zucchini or peach muffins and freeze what I'm not going to eat right away. And the chicken broth has meant I have a staple for a lot of recipes, especially for my green beans lately. It's also nice to know I'm not going to find the broth has gone bad in my cabinet.

I made a simple tomato sauce (can of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and oregano), used it on a pizza and then divided the rest into single servings so I can pull them out for pizza or pasta. And I won't find containers with white stuff growing in them in my fridge. Now if only I could figure out a way to avoid the sour milk that comes all too quickly.

Also, before I started the co-op I discovered the convenience of frozen vegetables (yes, I realize this contradicts my earlier statement but someone else does the freezing). I found it was much easier to pull out a handful of corn, lima beans or okra and cook how much I want, rather than opening a can and having leftovers.

All of this to say, my freezer has definitely been a friend lately, and I'll say I'm considering it key to cooking for one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A drop of golden sun...

One of the advantages of moving here last summer was getting to be within two hours of my best friend from high school. This is the closest we've lived since I graduated from high school, and it's so great to be able to visit each other for a weekend or even meet halfway to catch up in person.

The Sound of Music gave her an excuse to visit this weekend. The musical is part of series performed here in the summers. I'm not sure why or how, but it was an excellent production with very talented actors who could sing!

In addition to the play, we got to go peach picking with some friends. I had found a recipe that used the last of my blueberries and peaches, and since I hadn't gotten peaches in my share last week, I was willing to pick a couple of pounds to try some recipes. I also found some tips on pitting a peach that I have found to be successful. 

It turns out the lack of rain has meant smaller peaches, and they were still a bit hard but they are starting to ripen and taste pretty good. And my peach and blueberry muffins turned out pretty well.

(And yes, I do a lot of fruit picking here. I missed cherries but will soon have apples to pick. Come visit and with the exeception of winter, there will be fruit to pick.)

Since I've started getting my shares, I haven't been eating out as much. But having a visitor gave me a good excuse to eat out. And I found that the co-op has changed my eating out habits as well. We went to a sandwich place and I got the same sandwich I got last fall, but this time I didn't pick off the cucumbers. (The red onions and sprouts did have to go though.) And then we went to a restaurant for dinner that is known for making all of their dishes with local ingredients. Normally, I would have ordered a salad or chicken, both with ingredients that pass my pickiness test. But this time I ordered one of the day's specials (this never happens). It was veggie pasta with spinach and zucchini, and it was amazing. It also made me miss my zucchini and spinach.

Anyway it was great to get to hang out with such a good friend and enjoy what turned out to be a great weather weekend!

Friday, July 9, 2010

What a difference a year makes

1. I did not spend my Fourth of July weekend waiting on movers that never show or unpacking boxes. Instead I got to have friends over to celebrate with.

2. I was off work on July 5, no question, sorry newspaper friends.

3. My lease renewed automatically July 1, and I didn't have a meltdown. In Georgia, I seriously panicked every time my lease came up for renewal because I was just never sure I could commit to another year there. But committing to another year here barely registered with me, even though a year ago I wasn't sure if this would be a temporary stop for me or something more permanent.

4. I renewed my car tags online in about five minutes. Definitely beats the hours I spent at the DMV and on the phone getting my new license plate this time last year just to park on my street.

5. Just after I moved here last year I went to a church picnic. After standing there awkwardly for what seemed like forever (but was probably only a minute or two) hoping someone would talk to me, I turned around and left. I started doubting this big church I was going to and missed the small Georgia church where I knew everyone. A couple of weeks ago I went to a very similar picnic (same church), but this time I went with a friend and actually knew several people there. I left just thinking what a difference a year makes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pick-up #6

I did pick up a share this week, I just haven't had a chance to get a post up. I got some of the usual suspects: Bibb lettuce, green beans and cucumbers. But I got a few new things too.

Blackberries, these are amazing. I have eaten all of them, just plain. I had recipes to try, but these were so sweet and good, I just ate them all.

Blueberries. These are good blueberries, but I've learned I don't really like just plain blueberries. So I've made blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes and even a blueberry sauce to put on some ice cream. And the blueberries were amazing for all of those things, apparently I just need my blueberries warm. 

New potatoes. I've made some of these stuffed potatoes and then these roasted potatoes.

Corn. I picked up a few extra ears and served corn on the cob when I had people over on the Fourth. I'm not sure if I had Kroger corn or some from the co-op, but either way it was really good.

I picked up my share early, so I feel like I'm going through it quickly, but I still have a lot of green beans left. And I pretty much live on cucumber and tomato sandwiches for lunch.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Small-town America

One of the great things about the Fourth of July is finding those celebrations that seem to fit the stereotypical small-town America experience. This weekend I found exactly that. I went with a friend and her mom over to a small town about 30 minutes away where there was a big parade. 

The parade definitely had character and was an interesting snapshot of the town we were in; as my friend said, "you drive 30 minutes away and you are often in whole other worlds." Here are a few of the highlights of the parade.

Revolutionary War re-enactors, they actually shot blanks out of those guns.

The Confederacy was not far behind.

Gotta have bagpipes.

They had a "Miss" everything for two-year-olds to college-aged beauty queens.

And I know a certain someone who would have made the perfect t-ball princess when she was younger, if only my hometown had parades like this.

These cars cracked me up especially since the cars are so small but they are driven by full-grown men.

And what else says America but a good mullet.

After my small-town America experience, I decided on a whim to host my own cookout before the fireworks in my town. It wasn't really a "cookout" since I was cooking hot dogs and hamburgers on my grill pan, but several friends gathered here for dinner and then we walked over to enjoy an excellent fireworks show.

And now I'm soaking up an extra day off. Hope everyone had a good Fourth!

Friday, July 2, 2010

A random one

I am told by some you don't mind the randomness of these posts, so here are some random tidbits from my life: 

The weather here the past two days has been phenomenal and much like how it was when I first moved here last summer (which I assumed always applied, not so it seems). June was a rude awakening when it was close to 90 degrees when I stepped outside to walk to work in the mornings. Needless to say minus the last two days, I've been a sweaty mess by the time I walked the five blocks to work. I realize the low temperatures are not going to last, but I've tried to soak it in and enjoy the good hair days! (Note: You might think because I spent almost four years in south Georgia and grew up in the South, this heat should not be a big deal to me. But in the Deep South, you learn the art of moving quickly from an air-conditioned building to your car, which you've hopefully parked in the shade, where you blast the A/C while you drive to your air-conditioned destination. Walking five blocks in Georgia in the summer is never advised.)

Last weekend I pretty much crossed into crazy with these cake pops:

It was for my Sunday afternoon polo league, hence the attempt at horses. I can't begin to explain, but it's proof that I have some pretty great friends that will come up with any excuse to gather people together. And if you're curious, search Stribling Avenue Polo League on Facebook (and join us if you live nearby).

I signed up for a Netflix trial a couple of months ago after they started offering streaming Netflix on the Wii. I was ready to cancel it because I wasn't overly impressed with my options. But then I watched an episode of Friday Night Lights. I'm not sure how I have missed watching this show before now (maybe it was the whole working during primetime thing), but I am seriously addicted. I sit down to watch one episode and three episodes later I have to force myself to come out of my Dillon football haze.

When I'm not sucked into Friday Night Lights, I am reading Eat, Pray, Love. There's nothing like a movie preview to get me to read a book; of course reading the book guarantees frustration with the movie but anyway... I'm still in the Italy section, and it just makes me want to pick up and go back to Europe. I'm thinking a trip in 2011, any takers? If only I could drop everything and travel for four months!

My schedule at work changes today. I'm going in later which translates to coming home later. It's definitely not second shift like I had before, but it is going to be a change. I'm trying to set some goals for myself so I don't fall back into old habits of sleeping late and not eating on a normal schedule. But I'm going to have to learn to cook faster, so I'm not eating dinner at 10 p.m. every night. Or else find some recipes that transport and reheat well.

My life at work functions on quarters, as in the year is divided into four three-month intervals. And I've found that three months is just enough time to forget what the end of one quarter and the beginning of another is like. The transition from June to July was rough, and I am starting to feel like I deserve this three-day weekend.