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.