Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lost in the corn

I had a friend in high school that attended college in the nation's capital. When she found out I was going to the Midwest for college, her comment was: "Isn't it just cornfields there."

I insisted that I was going to a decent-sized college town just two hours away from two major Midwestern cities. But I couldn't deny that I had to drive through a lot of cornfields to get my college town. It also wasn't long before I discovered cornfields can also be a lot of fun. And every fall I found myself visiting a corn maze with friends.

It's been five years since I went through a corn maze, but this weekend I changed that and went to my first corn maze in Virginia. And I realized that there are just some things the Midwest does better than the East Coast.

I dug up this photo from the corn maze I went to in college. Notice the tiger sign, that was the shape of the maze that year. (Also, this photo is from freshman year, and I have to admit I cannot remember who these people are.)

Here's an attempt at a photo of the corn maze I went to this past weekend. There was no plan, just a four-wheeler knocking down corn.

Of course, I still had a blast at the corn maze with friends. We even won pie pumpkins and got to enjoy a hayride to and from the maze through some beautiful scenery (an area where the Midwest loses).

I don't want to diminish the fun I had this weekend. I just feel like I am constantly raving about this place where I live, and I felt like I shouldn't forget my Midwestern life on this blog.

Here are some additional photos from the apple festival I went to where the corn maze was. Unfortunately, it was about 90 degrees, and I was sweating through it all.

The apple sling shot: Five apples for a dollar.
I would be pretty happy living in this house.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Did you know...

That this what a beet looks like?

I did not. I have not tried them yet, but it might happen this evening. I am skeptical, but I'm committed to trying them. I did cut them down to this, per instructions in one of my cookbooks.

But I did try some new things this weekend. I attended a vegetarian festival that was just a few blocks from my house. There was everything from vegetarian food samples to pet adoption booths, animal activists and henna tattoos. It was an interesting scene.

There was also a food court with vendors serving all vegetarian food. And I was brave enough to try a veggie dog. I'm not going to say it's the best thing I've ever eaten, but it's probably as good as any other hot dog, just a slightly different texture.

After the vegetarian festival, we headed out to an apple festival. I've got great pictures and plenty to share about that soon but not in this post. The point is that I came home with a pie pumpkin.

I've never cooked with pumpkin — fresh or canned. I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie, but I do like pumpkin bread, though so far I've been content buying it from a bakery. But I felt like the pumpkin was a challenge to make pumpkin muffins from scratch. So I turned to Pioneer Woman for directions on how to puree the pumpkin.

I cut the pumpkin in half, gutted it and roasted it in the oven.

I peeled it, though I'm not sure it was ripe because the skin didn't come off as easily as it should have. But I it pureed in the food processor just fine. I did add a couple of tablespoons of water because it was pretty dry.

And I was able to turn it into pumpkin muffins.

Here's the recipe I used from AllRecipes, though I've discovered I'm completely incapable of following an entire recipe correctly. I left out the cloves because I didn't have any, and then I doubled the nutmeg by accident. I also forgot the chocolate chips (yeah, very unusual for me), so I just sprinkled some on while the muffins were baking.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
    •    3/4 cup white sugar
    •    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    •    2 eggs
    •    3/4 cup canned pumpkin
    •    1/4 cup water
    •    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    •    3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    •    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    •    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    •    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    •    1/4 teaspoon salt
    •    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    •    1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease and flour muffin pan or use paper liners.
Mix sugar, oil, eggs. Add pumpkin and water. In separate bowl mix together the baking flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.. Add wet mixture and stir in chocolate chips.
Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Non-fried okra

So the other night I dreamed that I forgot to pick up my co-op share. I literally woke up panicked that I overslept and missed my pick-up time. I was able to reassure myself that it was only Thursday and about 4 a.m., so I have not missed my chance to get my share. But it further proved how important this co-op has become to me if I'm having nightmares about it.

Though this post is about something I haven't gotten in my share: Okra.

A friend told me she was surprised okra passed my pickiness test, and I will note that my quantifier was that it had to be fried. But I was born and raised in the Deep South, and okra is a staple there. I also think the fact that I could douse it in ketchup helped the situation.

But this week I proved that okra doesn't even have to be fried for me to like it. I picked some okra up at the city market on Saturday and tried a couple of different recipes and didn't fry any of it or even make this semi-fried recipe. In fact, I think my favorite way to eat okra now is sauteed in some vegetable oil with sea salt for just a few minutes so it is still crunchy.

Here are the two recipes I tried:

Pan-Roasted Corn and Okra

  • 6 ears of corn, shucked (I used one ear)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for brushing (adjusted this accordingly)
  • 2 pounds okra, trimmed and halved lengthwise (I used much less, of course)
  • Sea salt 
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn just until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and cool under running water. Pat the corn dry and, working over a bowl, cut the kernels from the cobs.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet or griddle until very hot and brush lightly with oil. In a bowl, toss the okra with 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and season with salt. Cook the okra in batches over high heat, turning once, until charred and tender, 3 minutes per batch. Transfer the okra to a platter.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the corn kernels, season with salt and toss to coat. Add the corn to the skillet and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred in spots, about 3 minutes. Add the corn to the okra and toss. Serve hot or at room temperature.  
This is one of those very obvious recipes, and I ended up using my toaster oven for this one.
    •    18 fresh okra pods, sliced 1/3 inch thick
    •    1 tablespoon olive oil
    •    2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
    •    2 teaspoons black pepper, or to taste
    Preheat an oven to 425 degrees.
    Arrange the okra slices in one layer on a foil lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another book post

In my continued struggle to come up with something to write about, I thought I'd share what I've been reading. I did this a few months ago, and I found that it was at least helpful for me to remember what I've read.

I have indulged on actually buying a lot of books over the last few weeks, and I have a lot more to work my way through.

The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
I just finished this one, and I'm still not sure what to say about it. It's historical fiction, which is one of my favorite genres, but it was a pretty slow moving book. It's about a POW camp in Wales during WWII and a relationship that forms between a girl and a German prisoner. It had some really great themes, and as I was reading it, I kept thinking it would be a great book to write an English paper on in school. But in terms of pleasure reading it was hard to get through. I felt like the plot didn't really develop until the end, and a lot of the book was wasted on unnecessary side story lines.

Promises to Keep by Jane Green
This falls into the chick-lit category for easy reads, but it was deeper than the typical chick-lit novel. It is a story about a woman with cancer, and it also shows the impact she has on the people and relationships around her. It also contains recipes throughout the book, since one of the main characters is a chef. I've loved and hated some of Jane Green's books, but this definitely rose up above all the rest of her books.

Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout
I had seen this a lot of places and recently read a good review of it, which was motivation for me to pick it up to read. It's definitely different than most novels I read, but at the end I could definitely say I enjoyed it. Most of the first half of the book gives you a picture of Olive, the character the book is named for, while the second half is told from her point of view, and somewhere between the two you get a good picture of this woman and the circumstances of her life. I picked up another book by the same author in hopes it will be as good as this one.

Going Home by Harriet Evans
I'm not sure when this author started writing novels, but I was in Barnes & Noble and saw four or five she had written. I started with the first one, and it does fall under the frivolous chick-lit heading. But it was set in London and the English countryside, which will pretty much convince me to read anything. It was a good story, and when I'm looking for another light read, I'll probably pick up one of the other books she's written.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis
I don't read all fiction and chick-lit (though mostly). This book is about the financial crisis but looks at it from the view of the people that saw it coming and profited from it. Even though I read a lot about the financial world at work, I didn't mind reading this outside of the office because there was some storytelling to it. Also, hindsight is 20/20, and it's fascinating to see the problems that should have been obvious in the years leading up to the crisis. Of course, it would have been nice to have invested funds with these guys that figured it out.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I know I mentioned that I started reading this a few months back, and I did finish it before seeing the movie. I can honestly say that I liked the book and the movie, which usually doesn't happen. The movie left out some details, but all in all I think it was a good representation of the book. My mom and I discussed the movie after we'd both seen it, and she made a good point: The story is about not being satisfied with ordinary and seeking something extraordinary, which I think is what makes both the book and the movie inspiring and popular.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Six mostly unrelated thoughts

Struggling for topics to write about right now, so here's a random collection of thoughts:

1. I had a post written on Friday, but it pretty much turned into a debate about what to use to clean my toilet. I don't think that's worth a full post, but here's my issue: I bought one of the wands and the disposable scrubbers because I hate toilet brushes. But now I can't find the refills to fit the wand, and I even checked two stores. I can't stand to have a toilet brush in my bathroom, but I didn't want Clorox to win by starting all over with the disposable stuff. So I'm back to the toilet brush but still disgusted, any other suggestions?

2. About the time we were wandering through the garden at Thomas Jefferson's home, my sister, who came to visit this weekend, pointed out that the theme of her weekend here was local food. And it's true, I took her to the city market, an orchard for some apples and cider and to restaurants that pride themselves on using local ingredients. But I feel like it is more than just a theme for the weekend — it's a theme of this town and of my life for the last few months. And I'd like for it to continue to be a theme and not just a passing fad for me.

3. My sister and I also did some shopping, and I remembered why I never buy anything when I shop by myself: I don't have my mom or sisters there to pick stuff out and be honest with me about what I try on. My sister found a cute dress and a good sweater for fall for me that I never would have noticed. Now I'm on a hunt for some black boots if anyone has suggestions.

4. I rediscovered my perfectionist tendencies last week when I was trying to finish this project for my niece's nursery:

As I was working on it all week, I was also reading about God's sovereignty in John Piper's Desiring God. Piper talked about God's narrow lens, where He sees and grieves over the hurt and sin in specific situations, but He also looks through His wide-angle lens and sees the way good comes out of those things and helps bring together His ultimate plan. God's sovereignty is something I've struggled with before, especially when things seemed difficult, and found this imagery very helpful. But I also used this theory in trying to get over the imperfections of this canvas I worked on all week — forcing myself to step back and realize the imperfections aren't as noticeable as I think they are when you look at it from a distance. So please don't look at the middle of the B too closely!

5. A lot of times when I go out to eat, I am still surprised at how my decision-making has changed and how many things I'm willing to eat on a menu. At dinner on Saturday, I was debating between a pasta dish and a steak but was struggling because I really wanted the asparagus that comes with the steak. Normally, the asparagus would prevent me from ordering the steak. I also realized it's been a while since I had a steak because I am so satisfied with veggies these days. I did get the steak, and it was worth it — for the meat and the asparagus.

6. My friends, however, reassured my sister that some things don't change: I still order a plain turkey and cheese sandwich at Subway and always ask places to leave off the mustard and/or mayonnaise. But I even broke that rule when I ordered a tomato sandwich for lunch on Saturday. Ordering the tomato sandwich alone was significant change for me, but I got it with the mustard/mayo on it. I not only liked it but think something would have been missing from the sandwich if it wasn't on there. (I did ask for the foie gras butter that came with my steak on the side, and there was definitely nothing missing by leaving that off!)

That's about all I've got today. I picked up some fresh okra at the market this weekend, so hopefully, I'll try some new recipes this week. And here's hoping that fall does actually arrive when it's supposed to and it cools down around here!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Squash success

I was definitely skeptical when I picked this up in my share on Saturday.

I really thought it was a gorde or something that would be better used as decoration than dinner.

But I learned that it's a delicata squash and is described as tasting like corn and sweet potatoes. Considering sweet potatoes have so far been on my list of things I don't eat, I can't really compare the two. But I did actually like the squash and ate all of it on consecutive nights. Maybe this means I'll like sweet potatoes when they come along.

I cut it in half lengthwise and used two different recipes to prepare it, although they were pretty similar. 

Garlic Delicata
    •    3 delicata squash (I used half of one.)
    •    1/4 cup olive oil (I used enough to coat the pan.)
    •    3 cloves garlic, minced (I used about 1 clove or 1/2 tsp.)
    •    1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (I used about a tablespoon of dried parsley.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 9x13 inch baking dish.
Peel delicata squash, slice in half lengthwise, and remove seeds. Cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Place in baking dish, and toss with olive oil, garlic, and parsley.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until tender. (Even with just half of a squash, it still needed 30 minutes.)

For the second half, I kind of combined several things I read and added a substitution of my own.

I seeded the squash, but I didn't peel it. I spread butter over it and added salt and pepper. I had read a recipe that recommended brown sugar, which I was out of, so I sprinkled some cinnamon/sugar on top as well. I cooked it, cut side up, for almost an hour at 450 degrees, until it was soft.

I liked it prepared this way as well, and I don't know if I could choose which one is better. The skin wasn't bad on the second one, but I mostly tore the squash away from the skin.

I have a feeling there is more winter squash in my future, so I'm glad I liked this first one.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Change in season

I've been looking forward to the change in season not just because fall is my favorite season and it was a miserably hot summer, but also because it brings some variety to my pick-ups.

And this week, I definitely got some variety, including some things I have never heard of, much less tasted.

This is a Lambkin melon, it's just a little sweeter than cantaloupe. I don't usually eat honeydew melon, but I would guess it has a similar flavor.

Though I have plenty of produce every week, I have still missed a few things, including grapes. But this week I got grapes, but they are concord grapes and unlike any other grape I've ever had. It's like a explosion of grape juice when you bite into one.

Then there's this:

I posted this photo on Facebook over the weekend and was told it is a delicata squash. I haven't had time to do anything with it, but I'm sure I will be posting about it this week.

I'm definitely getting to try new things!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A failed experiment and a recipe

I was ready to get on here and blog about what an amazing oven I have. Don't get me wrong, I love my gas oven, but it had some features I thought were really going to put it over the top for me. But it failed.

My oven allows me to set it to start preheating at a certain time and then cook for a set time and turn off. I really haven't utilized this feature, just the preheating part a couple of times. But I was trying to make foccacia bread fresh for Bible study. Since I am usually cutting it pretty close between work and Bible study, I decided to set it up to cook on its own so it would be ready when I got home from work.

Well, my plan failed, and my bread was more than crisp when I walked in the door. So I guess there is no replacement for actually being in the kitchen while cooking.

Fortunately, I baked cookies the night before and had those to take to Bible study. The recipe makes a lot of cookies, and I purposely made them this week because I knew I had several places to take them.

I found the recipe in a novel I read recently, but I discovered that by posting the recipe, I am perpetuating an Internet rumor. The recipe is for "Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies," though apparently it is not actually the recipe from Neiman Marcus (here's the real one). And the book raved they are the best cookies ever, and while I would say they are better than slice and bake and maybe slightly better than the Nestle recipe, I don't consider them the best cookies I've ever had.

  • 5 cups blended oatmeal
  • 2 cups butter, softened (I know, that's four sticks.)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1.5 pounds chocolate chips (2 12 oz. packages)
  • 8 ounces good quality dark chocolate, grated (I skipped this because I didn't have any dark chocolate so maybe this would have taken them over the top.)
  • 3 cups chopped nuts (I left these out.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Grind the oatmeal in a food processor until it is a fine powder.
Cream the butter and the white and brown sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla. Stir the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda into the mixture. Add the chocolate chips, grated chocolate and nuts.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or 10 to 12 minutes, for a crispier cookie.

I usually don't half recipes when I'm baking, but if I make these again, I'd definitely half it and don't think it would be a problem.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A little taste of fall

This post is going to turn into one of those I love where I live posts, so if you're bored of reading those, you can skip it.

We got a taste of fall this weekend, and while the temperatures have returned to the 90s, fall is definitely coming and I'm so glad. Fall in this part of the country is the best season, and it is absolutely beautiful here when the leaves change.

And this weekend I got to take advantage of the great weather. I pulled out my bike for the first time since I don't remember when and went on a gorgeous ride. It was intense, but totally worth it for these views.

I got to spend some good time with friends eating outside, enjoying frozen yogurt (I might have gone to the new place twice) and walking on my favorite trail.

I also went out to a drive-in to catch Ramona and Beezus with a friend. This was something that has been on my list to do all summer, and we had the perfect weather for it. We had the windows down and actually got cold the later it got.

I thought I needed to get out of town for the weekend, but I'm so glad that I stayed in town and enjoy a pretty perfect three-day weekend all within a 50-mile radius of my house.  And it has me looking forward to fall!

Also in case you were wondering, most of the watermelon has been distributed. I gave away huge chunks to whoever would take it. I pureed some of it and made popsicles that taste pretty good. So at this point I've gone from this:

To the two tupperware containers with chopped watermelon and popsicles. And yes, I'm tired of watermelon, but I've had a lot of good laughs from the ridiculousness of the experience.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Delighting and desiring

I'm sure you guys didn't notice, but I didn't write much (or anything) about the Beth Moore conference last weekend. But I think I've slowly been digesting what God was saying to me.

The only photo I have is this one from a cell phone camera:

Despite the lack of photos, it was a lot of fun and such a sweet time with friends, both old and new. I had one of those weird experiences where I didn't know how to introduce myself. I went with friends who know me by my full name (which I purposely don't use here, Google is a powerful tool), but we met up with my best friend from high school and one of my youth leaders from high school who have both always called me Lizzie. As I was meeting their friends, I literally found myself caught between two worlds, but it was actually really fun to see those worlds come together. And it's pretty incredible that in an arena with 9,000 women, we were able to find each other and sit together.

Beth Moore did an amazing job as usual, and it was fun to see my friends who had never seen her live respond to her teaching.  This was the third time I've heard her live
(there was no personal interaction this time, but I'm starting to feel like I know her personally!), but every message has been different and spoken to me right where I am. The message was on John chapter 1, and it was a lot about returning to the Word and going back to the beginning. She touched on grace and truth, which God has been teaching me a lot about, but what stuck with me is the idea of returning to the foundation, God Himself.

God clearly had a hand in my weekend because on Sunday morning, my church started a new sermon series on — can you guess? — the book of John. So Sunday's sermon was also on John 1. It correlated very closely with Beth's messages and cemented what God was telling me: "Draw near to Me."

The study on Galatians changed my view of God and helped me see how much I was putting between myself and God — between my idols and my goal of manipulating Him. I'm still trying to grasp the full amount of grace God has for me and will continue to for the rest of my life, but I see that it has opened the door for a change in how I relate to Him.

The verse, "Delight yourself in the Lord..." (Psalm 37:4) has been coming up in a number of ways for me. (I stop it there because that is what I need to focus on.) And I think for so long I've struggled with that because I either felt too sinful or I was seeking God out of my sinful desires and hopes to manipulate Him in some way. But I'm seeing that because of the truth and grace of the Gospel, I am beautiful before Him and that trying to "use" God takes me farther away from Him. So my focus is on getting "back to the Word" and finding that place of delighting in Him — not because my circumstances are perfect or because I'm trying to get Him to change them — but because He's God and is the only one who can fulfill me.

But then there's another point God showed me this week. It's not only that I need Him, but that He delights in us (Zephaniah 3:17). The theme of the sermon series is "How does God dwell with us?" And the answer in Sunday's sermon was "by His desire." He desires to dwell with me! Someone linked to this blog post (it's worth clicking through) that gives a great picture of God delighting in us as His daughters who desire to twirl before Him.

Beth Moore also provided a visual that has stuck with me from John 13:25: "So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, 'Lord who is it?'" The disciple John was so close to Jesus that he was actually leaning his head against Him at the Passover table. How I desire to lean against Jesus and just know Him better.

This post is more for me to just process what God has been saying to me but figured I'd post anyway. I'm looking forward to cooler weather and the three-day weekend!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Got watermelon?

I don't even have words for this so here's a photo.

I submitted a testimonial about my co-op, and I was given this 97-pound watermelon. I am counting maneuvering it into my house as my work out for the week. Here was my transportation method:

But the real challenge might be actually cutting it. If you want a chunk, let me know!