Monday, August 02, 2010

Feels like Fall

Lately, the clouds have been covering the sky, giving the promise of rain--but usually without delivery. I do wish it would rain-- my tomatoes would really love it, and so would our watering bill--but right now, I'm loving that hot coffee and tea actually are enjoyable. And that being outside isn't miserable. And the color of the sky, the beauty of the trees--it makes me think of autumn.

I can't wait.

The anticipation of a new school year is also with me; I'm looking forward to teaching something totally different. And interesting. And cool. I just hope my students think so! I might like it so much, I might not want to go back to ELA.

~

And that was all the time I've had to write since beginning this year. It's beautiful to look back on the anticipation, now that I'm there, and working hard, and tired, and trying to stay one step above my students in Spanish. At least I speak more than any of the rest of them--that is, except for the native speakers, which get the joy of correcting their teacher. Quite a bit.

So many have asked me if I like teaching Foreign Language and Cultures better than ELA. I love my planning period. I love the variety. Right now, I appreciate the class length, due to the fact that it would take me even longer to plan and learn and work if the classes were any longer. I don't love all the planning. The "trying things out" can be scary. And teaching three grade levels? To quote one of my new favorite people at work, "It is what it is." Each grade level has its strengths--and its weaknesses.

I'm tireder than I have been in a while from teaching. Master's class is once again absolutely ridiculous, and I'm contemplating, again, even three classes from graduation, if it's worth the pay raise for all the trouble I've been through. So far, it hasn't conquered my weekend-- but I'm kind of waiting for the hammer to fall.

Even with life whirling around me, my God is so good. His grace extends to me, every step of the way, and sustains me. I'm blessed.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Traveling Journal

A month ago, I was boarding the plane to what feels like my third home. (My first being heaven, my second being the South, USA.) It's still in the south--as a good friend said, you can't get much souther than Melbourne...

I went to Australia to visit my good friend, Alysa, in what was their (very mild) winter-- beautiful, green, and crisp. And I found so many things to love--so many that I'm afraid I can't still name them all. I'm afraid, however, that if I don't try, I'll forget what I do remember. So here's my go of it: let's hope I don't miss anything.

  • "Let me just pop that in there for you... " I love the English influence in Australia; so much more than in the U.S. Their politeness defies expectations. It's expected that you small-talk with a cashier--not something I claim to be particularly good at. After one such exchange, I asked Alysa, "Do you know her?" Of course, she didn't.
  • The beach. The ocean. The shore. It's incredibly beautiful, no matter where you go and no matter what you call it.
  • Fish and chips on the shore. Yes, "chips" aren't very different than French Fries in the States--but they're still better. Five Guys comes close, but not quite.
  • The people--not only because I have such a very good friend that lives there. But also because of the other amazing folks I met--people that made it feel as if I've known them much longer than I have.
  • Good coffee. Everywhere.
  • Small towns, and the small town mindset. People bring their dogs to town and wear Wellies as if it were the most natural footwear in the world. In Australia, dogs seem to be a family-oriented sort of animal to own, even more so in the U.S.
  • Natural-feeling heating/AC-- I doubt people are prone to freeze themselves in the summer, as they didn't roast themselves in the winter.
    (My dad's favorite seasonal words are get acclimatised, so I appreciated it.)
  • The local, small-town shops. Every town seems to have a vast selection of family-owned, beautifully kept shops, not invaded by chains, and willing to special-order for you. The bigger towns and suburbs are the ones with the chains.
  • Wool shops. And wool. and tea shops. and tea.
  • Amazing views. Beautiful countryside.
  • Staying with Alysa and her family--and her mum allowing me to invade her kitchen. :)
  • Jokes galore. That wingey-wongey sound... :)
  • Realizing that cooking in Australia isn't much different than cooking at home, as long as you cook from scratch.
  • Aussie grocery stores... I spent some lovely time comparing U. S. to Aussie ingredients. :)
  • Local open-air markets.
  • Amazing meetings. Christ-centered prayer. Holy Spirit Power and Presence. The peace of God that passes all understanding. Blessings that last through the return trip to my U.S. home.

I didn't have enough time-- next time I go, I'll stay longer. If real, practical life were the same as my trip, I could live in Australia in a heartbeat. That is, if I could move everyone I love over with me. :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Yay!!! There are others like me out there!

That is, there are others on a clothes "diet."

Last Spring, as I switched my closet from summer to winter, I made a discovery: I didn't lack for anything. Anything. At all. In short, had/have too many clothes. In fact, it kinda made me sick to see how many clothes I really owned. So I decided that, for the duration of the summer, I wasn't going to buy anything. No shopping trips to the local outlet mall, no "retail therapy" whatsoever. It's been incredibly do-able; I've really not even missed it. I like what's in my closet--for the most part--and what I don't like, I have been trying to weed out.

But now, I have a decision to make. Should I join these ladies? I can't decide.

I might, though if I do, I'm (mostly) sticking to my original rules:

  1. No new clothes (But my sewing doesn't count. Still. The idea that I can sew myself something new has been a saving grace. Not that I've had time to shop; not that I've actually sewn anything.) I might just say no new fabric, considering my stash. Though that can't apply to this stuff...

  2. Even though "The Great American Apparel Diet" allows the purchase of shoes, I'm going to try to stick to not buying them--with the exception of my birthday boots. Yes, I'm buying myself boots for my birthday and asking for contributions from those who would normally buy me a present. Otherwise, the price would be unconscionable.

  3. I can still buy accessories. Not that I need them.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Mathew 6:19-21

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Biscuits: Morning, Noon and Night

(Otherwise known as the exhaustive biscuit post)

I once heard a particular scathing remark for those who don't learn how to cook: shotgun biscuits. "It sounds like a gun done gone off in the kitchen..."

Ahem. These are not those biscuits. You see, you can't develop any sort of reputation as a cook in the South with those ungodly things. The truth be told, those biscuits can do many things when you're in a tremendous hurry, as many TV darlings with deep southern accents have proven. It still doesn't make them taste any better, though-- doughy and generic flavor that comes from oils produced from who-knows-what.

I have a couple of biscuit recipes that I keep in my overflowing recipe collection for whenever the urge strikes. For no matter how much I may need protein in the morning, sometimes nothing but biscuits and gravy will do.

I do have one caveat about my biscuits: I always, always use half whole wheat (soft white) and half all-purpose flour. Sometimes I'll even use all whole-wheat. The half-n-half thing actually makes most people think it tastes better.

I also find that some have issues with cutting flour into butter (or whatever fat you're using). It's a skill better learned by experience rather than taught, but it's something you can also see-- though it's even better to feel it with your fingers. Honestly, it's better to underdo it rather than overdo it. If you overdo it, you'll end up with a gluey mess and biscuits that won't rise. If you leave larger pieces of fat in your dough, you'll just end up with puddles of butter in your dough, which will eventually make holes. That doesn't do much-- it just makes your biscuits flakier. :)

This is what looks right to me: all of the flour is coated with fat, but there are still larger pieces of butter in the mix. Those larger pieces will create flakiness, which make your biscuits tender. This is especially essential if you're planning on shaping your biscuits. You need those larger chunks of fat in there to support the turning and flouring and patting down and rolling out that your dough will go through.

I also use a pastry blender rather than a fork or my fingers. If I'm in a kitchen without one, I'll cut my butter into small (1/2-inch) pieces, use my fingers for a while, and end with a fork. I'll also use the food processor when I have large quantities of flour and fat. It all depends on your comfort and your tools.

Easy Drop Biscuits

This first recipe is one I mastered as a teenager, intent on imitating my aunt D's skills as a baker. It's really her recipe, tried and true, from many family get-togethers. Of course, my aunt probably has more biscuit recipes than a butcher has cuts of meat, but this is the one I remember the best. Mine never turn out exactly like hers; I think it's in the way she shapes them, and the way I don't. These are lazy-day biscuits, for when you don't feel like getting out your pastry mat or your biscuit cutters. This is also the recipe I use when I want to throw in cheese, chives, spices, and other lovely things. They're incredibly flexible. They also make up for their ugliness by being melt-in-your mouth good, and they need nothing to make them better. (Not that a little maple syrup or honey hurt anyone... :)

These biscuits are also so fast that you can whip up a batch for Sunday lunch after you get in from church, while everything else is warming up.

2 c. all-purpose flour (half soft white, half all-purpose)
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2-4 T. sugar (depending on how sweet you want your biscuits--two is perfect for most)
1/2 c. butter
2/3 c. sweet milk
Preheat oven to 450 (230 C)

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces, and using your fingers, a fork, or a pastry blender, cut butter into flour. When the largest lumps of butter are pea-sized and the rest of the dough resembles coarse cornmeal, add in milk. Mix very briefly. Drop in mounds onto a baking sheet (you can use parchment, if desired). Bake for 7-10 minutes, depending on the size of your biscuits.

(You can shape these to make them more uniform: using floured hands, gently round spoonfuls of dough between your palms and put them, barely touching, in a high-sided pan to bake.

Cheese and chive variation: (or, the Red Lobster version)
Reduce sugar to one tablespoon; add in 1/2 c. cheese and 2 Tablespoons finely chopped/cut fresh chives right before adding in the milk. You can also 1/2 t. minced garlic.

Cinnamon and spice variation:Mix in 1 t. cinnamon, 1/4 t. nutmeg, and 1/4 t. cloves into dry ingredients before cutting in butter. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 Tablespoon butter. Drizzle the cinnamon-sugar topping over biscuits before baking.


---
Sky-High Biscuits
If I'm really in the mood for butter and jam, what I want are my Uncle D's biscuits. (Well, really, he's my second cousin. He just treats me so well, I feel like his niece instead.) When I visited him and Aunt B. last fall, I woke up one morning to D. mixing up this recipe. I'm not sure anyone can make these biscuits quite as well as he does, but I'm still trying. When made right, these biscuits are beautifully buttery, fluffy and--the name doesn't lie--sky-high. An appropriate name for a recipe that comes from a former Air Force pilot, no?

These biscuits have a similar delicate flavor to the ones above, but they are built for butter and jam. They remind me of what's best about baking powder biscuits.

3 cups all-purpose flour (half soft white, half all-purpose)
2 Tablespoons baking powder
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 c. butter
1 egg, beaten
1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C).

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add butter, cut in until crumbly.

Mix together beaten egg and milk; add to flour mixture and mix quickly. Knead lightly, folding dough over itself to build layers.

Pat gently to about one inch thickness and cut into 2-inch biscuits. Place slightly apart on a cookie sheet; bake for 15 minutes.
---
Heavenly Flour-Bread Biscuits (or in Southern vernacular, Angel Biscuits)
from Dori Sander's Country CookingThe last biscuits, I'm almost beyond words to describe. They aren't a bit like the other two--because they include less fat, copious amounts of buttermilk, lard, and yeast. Yes--though most don't consider yeast to be a part of biscuits, they are in this recipe. And it makes these biscuits wonderfully hassle-free and delicious. Because these contain yeast, I usually start the dough the night before and place it in the fridge. The next morning, all I have to do is roll out the dough and cut them out-- though I usually fold the dough several times (as you would puff pastry) to make sure it's the right consistency. This also helps the dough develop layers, which makes it a great pull-apart-with-your-fingers kinda biscuit. The other great thing about this recipe? They taste good for at least one day after they're freshly made, sometimes two--but only if you use lard. I've made them with all butter before, and they just weren't as good.

This makes a massive amount of biscuits, but don't fear, you will use them up. You could also halve the recipe or freeze the leftovers.

1 Tablespoon dry active yeast
2 Tablespoons warm water

5 cups all-purpose flour (half soft white, half all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar

1 cup lard or butter (I use 6.5 ounces of lard and 1.5 (3 Tablespoons) of butter)
2 cups buttermilk

In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal. (I usually use a food processor.)

Add the buttermilk to the yeast water, stir, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until the mixture is just moistened. The dough, which will be very soft, may be covered and refrigerated overnight at this point. (I always do this.)

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, sprinkle the top lightly with flour, and knead 6-8 times. Reflour the surface and roll the dough out to a thickness of a bout 1/2 inch. Using a biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut into rounds and place on a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet. For lighter biscuits, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for twenty minutes. For quick biscuits, proceed directly to baking.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Reflect

The end of another school year--really, the end of anything--is always my turn to turn inward and dig deep. I don't like the words "deliberate" or "dialogue", or that over-used word, at least in badly-written books, "process". (It's always made me cringe.)

I prefer reflect. Perhaps because I equate that to what the Lord Jesus wishes to do with every Christian--to beat the dross and muck of the world out in order to see Himself, to shine to others through us.

I'm looking in the mirror this time, hoping to find more of Jesus Christ in my life and actions. And right now, my response back to this view is Lord, help me. Because I don't see what I should. And I can't do it; I can't change; only He can do that work. He's the one to break fetters, turn back hearts, tame tempers, close mouths, and show grace, both in failure and in success. All I have to do is surrender to the sweet Holy Spirit, more and more, every day.

Take my life and let it be
A living sacrifice to Thee.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why I drive with duct tape

I've had an interesting car or two in my time. White Lily, for instance. Unfortunately, I've also sealed my reputation as a driver with a couple of accidents. But my latest (and longest lasting-- at least in my hands) car, Lady Jane Grey, has managed to steer clear of most of my driving issues. Until now.

This past winter, we had an ice storm or two. We only had one official snow day, but we also had one two-hour delay. I drove to work about an hour later than normal-- right before the de-icing trucks got to the road. I ended up in the ditch; the road was simply to slick for my car to stay on course around the elbow-sharp turn. My car was fine, except that it looked like it was missing a tooth or two in the front. My bumper was messed up.

I put off fixing my bumper into the indeterminate future. One, because my parents already had a vehicle in the shop. Two, because I had no earthly idea where to go. (Okay-- I still don't. But I'm goin' somewhere.)

Flash forward a few months.

I'm tired, it's early in the morning, and I'm returning from NYC, going to work. My contacts are in, but I'm not focused. And too late, I see what looks like a deer in the road, already dead. I brace myself, run over it, and listen for anything funny. When I don't hear anything, I relax and keep on driving.

A few days later, on the exact same road, I encounter the exact same scenario, only it's at night, it's a dead dog, and I am paying attention--only there's a car in the oncoming lane. I once again brace myself-- and immediately feel the SCRRRRRRRGH of a flat tire. Not that I would know. I've never had a flat tire before.

Pulling onto the side of the road, I immediately call my dad. He's the one with the technical know-how-- in fact, so much that I've never felt the need to learn how to change a flat tire. I know that's ridiculous-- twenty-seven year old single gal who doesn't know how to change a tire?! Yup. That's me.

Only, when I climb out of my car to see the damage-- or rather, feel the damage, since it was at night--my tire bounces back against the toe of my shoe. There doesn't seem to be any problem with my tire. Or any of the other tires. I look a little closer, and happen to notice that my bumper is no longer just hanging onto my car. It's now dragging the ground.

Thankfully, the closest WalMart was within slow-driving distance. Where I bought duct tape. Where I sat in the parking lot, laughing my head off while I carefully applied duct tape to my bumper.

And this, my friend, is why I drive with duct tape.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Easiest. Turkey. Ever.

Okay, maybe it's not the absolute easiest turkey ever, but it's really easy. And really, really good.

My pursuit for a new turkey recipe came after talking to my sister about Easter's dinner. "Turkey?! Why not ham?" she not-quite yelled into the phone. But my sister wasn't about to get her wish: my mother had already started defrosting the turkey. It had been sitting in the fridge for two days already, so instead I went on a mission to find a turkey recipe that was more like ham. I found it on www.epicurious.com, which happens to be one of my favorite places to find recipes.

You see, I believe in moist turkey. I think everyone does from a theoretical standpoint, but it's more elusive in home cooked turkeys rather than your commercial deli slices from the grocery store. Thankfully, there's always one key ingredient in moist turkey: salt. Before this weekend I'd always added in my salt through brining the turkey using this recipe. (My gravy and stuffing are also rifts off the linked recipes on this page.)

Brining makes a delicious turkey, but it requires you to start several days in advance. It's also bulky, and a bucket full of turkey-plus-a-gallon-or-two-of-salt-water is heavy. And my favorite brined recipe can be time-consuming and labor-intensive when it's in the oven, with lots of basting involved-- not something I would have time for on a Sunday. A new recipe was most certainly in order.

And this recipe? It's great. It's easy and relatively labor free--at least as labor-free a turkey as I've ever made. One reason I like it so much is because it goes with the low and slow method of roasting, which almost guarantees you a moist bird. It meant I didn't feel like I was going to burn my bird when I left for church, the oven timed to turn off somewhere in the middle of the service. And while it also included basting, it seemed to somehow work into a Sunday morning. And my family loved it. Enough endorsement? Here's the recipe:


Brown Sugar-Cured Turkey

Bon Appétit | November 1997

recipe from www.epicurious.com

Yield: Serves 10
ingredients
1 20-pound turkey
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup coarse salt
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground mace

2 large onions, quartered (or in sixths--more my style)

2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth

Rinse turkey inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey on platter. Mix brown sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, allspice, cloves and mace in small bowl to blend well. Rub brown sugar mixture all over outside of turkey. Refrigerate turkey uncovered 24 hours.

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 300°F. Arrange onion quarters in large roasting pan. Place turkey atop onions. Tie turkey legs together. Tuck wings under turkey. Sprinkle turkey with pepper. Cover loosely with foil.

Roast turkey 2 hours. Uncover; roast 30 minutes. Add 1 cup broth to roasting pan; baste turkey with broth. Roast turkey 1 hour, basting occasionally. Add 1 cup broth to roasting pan; continue to roast turkey until dark brown, basting with broth every 20 minutes, about 1 hour. Cover turkey loosely with foil; continue to roast until thermometer inserted into innermost part of thigh registers 180°F, about 1 hour 30 minutes longer.

Transfer turkey to platter. Tent with foil and let stand 30 minutes. Serve with Wild Mushroom and Roasted Onion Gravy.

Wild Mushroom-Shallot Gravy

Bon Appétit | November 1997

I modified this recipe from a reduction sauce to a pan gravy, since I didn't have any extra cream on hand. (The cream I did have went into homemade ice cream.)

Yield: Makes 3 cups

roast onions from the brown sugar turkey, tough pieces discarded, and cut into chunks
oil and drippings from roasting pan, separated
(You can use olive oil or butter here, if you'd rather not use the "grease" :P

12 ounces mixed wild mushrooms (such as oyster, morel and stemmed shiitake), sliced
~ 1/4 c. flour (I always use freshly ground whole wheat pastry flour. I just like what whl.wht. flour does in a gravy.)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage or 3/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
~1/2 cup dry white wine
~1/2 milk
~1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth (you can use part of the drippings here-- just be careful for the salt.)
salt/pepper to taste

(When I make a pan gravy, my ingredient amounts are always inexact.)

preparation:

Transfer 1-2 tablespoons of butter, olive oil, or grease from roasting pan to a heavy, large saucepan. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, sage, and roasted onions to saucepan; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Add in flour; make a slurry with the vegetables and flour, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add white wine; reduce until syrupy, about 6 minutes. Add stock; cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add milk; boil until mixture thickens to sauce consistency, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with turkey.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

So Far...

This week is Spring Break. Which means I'm off--for the next 3 days. (That's a kind-of depressing thought, considering I had a whole week plus a couple of days at the beginning.) But all things considered, it's been the kind of break you want from your job. So far, I've:

  • spring cleaned the kitchen.
  • sewed. Quite a bit.
  • blogged. I know there's no evidence of it here, but there are a couple more posts in the works.
  • cooked. Of course.
  • revamped my closet for Spring. I think maybe I should admit the fact that I have no reason to go shopping this Spring, and yet, I will. Because I'm tired of wearing the same fifty million outfits over again? Heh. I think if I go shopping for anything, it had better be tops. Not that I don't have enough of those, either.
  • Shopped. Before I reorganized my closet.
  • Went to that-awesome-market-that-sells-everything---food-wise.
  • Made Lamb for the first time. Yup. And my dad--who isn't big on lamb--told me it was the best he'd ever had. (That made me soooo happy!) And the awesome thing about this recipe? It's done in the crock pot.
What's sad is that the other stuff-- school stuff--hasn't made it to my list yet. It's sitting by my left side over here, reproaching me. I've got to get to it before my break is over. But in the meantime, if you ever decide to make lamb, here's an easy but delicious recipe:

Roast Lamb in the Crock Pot


Modified from a great blog I'd never read before now. There are a lot of similar recipes out there, but this one caught my eye.

A mortar and pestle do help in this recipe, but if you don't have it, you can always use a mini-chopper or one of those pampered chef things, the back of a spoon--or your fingers.

1 leg of lamb (that will fit in your CrockPot – if not, get the butcher to cut off the shank end) – with or without bone
or-- we bought a lamb shoulder. It was a much better price at the market than the leg, and it worked just as well.

1 lemon
4-5 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped finely
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried, which is what I did)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme (I had it on hand from last Sunday's turkey and gravy-- that's another post, though)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. coarse salt (I used Kosher Real Salt)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

some wine, chicken or beef stock, tomato juice or water
(I used some very dry wine, and some apple cider to cut the dryness.)

On a chopping board, pat your lamb dry with paper towels and remove any excess fat. Finely grate about half the zest off the lemon and grind into a paste with the garlic, rosemary, oil, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle. Rub the paste all over the lamb. If you like, let it sit on the counter for half an hour or so, or refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors soak into the meat.

Put it into the CrockPot. Add about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup of liquid. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the top. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

For gravy: use a gravy strainer to strain out the fat. Either make a roux and use the liquid to round out the sauce, or set on a pot, and add some corn starch, plus a little milk.

Serve with some sort of potato-- we had some mashed, and it was delicious.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Some things

Some things are bigger than a paycheck.

I wrote this beginning line about a week ago, after finding it on a writing book in my classroom. It stuck with me, and now I see why.

This week, my principal called me in for a chat. That can be scary and unexpected. Frightening, really. Especially if you just got back from an extended trip where you had to miss two days of work. Where you missed a faculty meeting, and you really don't know what's going on. When you're running on three hours of sleep.

Basically, he asked me to take a different position within the school. Next year, instead of teaching ELA as I have for (almost) the past five years, he's asked me to teach an elective course: "An Exposure to Spanish and French Culture". I'm still reeling. Maybe I shouldn't be writing this yet, because I'm still reeling.

I find it ironic that this year, the year when I'm not aching for change about now, is the year I find myself in a change. Perhaps this is only me, but I can't help but see that God could work in this: how He could use it in my life, as well as the life of my students. I guess, in the back of my mind, I can't help but think this could be a very good thing.

I've got the cultural background to help me out- though granted, I'll have to do a lot more research for Spanish than I will for French. The French thing will mostly just be recalling what I've learned over the years. The Spanish will require me to learn a lot: language, culture, traditions, celebrations... and so on. Thankfully, that comes fairly easily to me. And thankfully, I found out from one of my administrators today that they did weigh in what I do in the classroom.

For me, this is a lesson in not defining yourself by your job. I resisted that, especially in the beginning, but I've also forgotten not to. I've been in a comfortable groove where I am: I love the team I'm on, I like teaching ELA, and I like where I work. This new position hasn't changed some things, but somethings will change: new curriculum (which I will be creating from scratch), new students, at differing grade levels. New planning period (one that I'll actually be able to use), new timings (I'm going from 90-minute blocks to 45). Twice the number of students, and then some. New classroom management techniques. (Drill seargent, anyone? Don't smile 'till...?) More students, less individual attention. New creative opportunities, new ways to incorporate things I care about: music, art, language, food, and cultures. It's always a trade-off.

One of my sisters thinks this just may be the best thing to ever happen to me. Right now, I can see it as either the best or the worst, depending on my frame of mind. But I also see it as a way for me to grow, a new way for me to surrender to the Lord.

But for now? Spring break is here. I'm planning on visiting my sisters, doing some sewing, reorganizing my closet and working on a project for class. I'm planning on relaxing and spending some time in the sun. I'm planning on living. Some things are bigger than a paycheck.


I've seen hard times and I've been told
There must be a reason for it all

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NYC Spring 2010



More pictures are on my Picasa.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pizza Tonight!

My dad once went to a junkyard near home and bought a part for his still running, decrepit, '69 Datson 510 station-wagon, also known as the "Little Green Lima Bean". I don't remember what part he bought, but I do remember his description of the northern red-neck manning the junkyard. Scraggly hair, missing teeth, dirty pants and shirt. When daddy forked over the fifteen bucks for the part, the old codger crowed back towards his shack, "Pizza t'night!"

And that was that.


The car is long gone; the phrase stuck. I still think about it when I make pizza. And I love to make pizza. The dough is amazingly forgiving, and (with enough olive oil), it's crispy-tender loveliness. The toppings aren't half-bad, either.

This dough recipe comes from Rosemary Levey Barenbaum's Bread Bible-- a great cookbook for reading, learning, and baking. It's also one of the cookbooks in my growing-collection-that's-already-too-big that gives weights instead of just volume for flour. I've had a kitchen scale for a couple of years; I got it (for less than fifteen bucks) soon after I got my wheat grinder. I love it for several reasons:
  • Flour's volume is affected by the weather and can vary up to (I think-- don't quote me) 1/4 cup, depending on how dry or damp the weather is. And 1/4-cup can be the difference between a dry cake and a moist one. The safest option is to weigh your flour when your concerned about moisture, or if you're just wanting to be careful.
  • If you grind wheat, the volume between wheat berries and ground flour is quite different. If you're wanting to grind just enough, then your safest bet is to weigh your flour. (Though that's not really such a concern for me anymore; I just store the extra in the freezer.)
  • It's also easier to just measure while you pour everything into the mixing bowl-- it actually takes a step out of the process of mixing and baking.


But this post is about pizza. I've made pizza dough before, but I never made pizza that tasted this good until I happened upon this recipe, in this cookbook. I think the key difference between this recipe and others is the wetness of the dough and the massive amount of olive oil. I also modify this recipe to include 1/2 whole wheat, though I'm sure you could do all. I would add about a teaspoon of gluten, and and I think you'd be set.

I also double this recipe from the original, since the amount of dough you get from the original recipe makes either a very small pizza or a very thin-crust pizza. I like thin crust, but my dad doesn't. And the little pizza doesn't make enough for even our small family.

One last note about the recipe: Ms. Barenbaum is nothing if not exact in her directions-- it's one reason her cookbooks are great for doing something for the first time. I tend to read through the directions the first 2-3 times, then follow my nose the rest of the way. You choose. :)

Perfect Pizza Dough
from the Bread Bible

8 oz. (1 1/2 c. plus 2 T.) flour (I use 1/2 whole wheat, 1/2 bread flour)
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 c. water
8 t. olive oil
1/2 - 1 t. wheat gluten (If using whole wheat and want a little more lift)

equipment:
1 large pizza pan, or a large brownie/edged sheet pan (my preference)
1 large pizza stone (I leave mine in the oven all the time-- it helps everything bake more evenly)
  1. One hour before shaping, (or for best flavor development, 8-24 hours ahead) mix the dough: Whisk together flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in water. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, gradually stir the flour into the water until all the flour is moistened and a dough just begins to form, about 20 seconds. It should come away from the bowl but still stick to it a little, and be a little rough looking, not smooth. Do not overmix-- it will make the dough stickier.

  2. Let the dough rise: Pour the oil into a 4-cup measuring cup (to give the dough room to double) or a bowl. With oiled fingers or an oiled spatula, place the dough in the measuring cup with the oil and turn it to coat on all sides. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap. If you want to use the dough immediately, allow to sit at room temperature for one hour or until doubled. For the best flavor development, make the dough at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours ahead, and allow it to sit at room temperature for only 30 minutes or until slightly puffy. Then set the dough, still in the measuring cup, in the refrigerator. Remove it on hour before you want to put it in the oven.

  3. Prepare the topping (ideas below)

  4. Preheat the oven: One hour before baking, move oven shelf to lowest position, place baking stone on shelf, and preheat to 475 Fahrenheit.

  5. Shape pizza and let it rise: With oiled fingers, lift the dough out of the measuring cup or bowl Holding the dough in one hand, pour a little of the oil left in the cup or bowl onto the pizza pan and spread it all over the bottom of the pan with your fingers. set the dough on the pans and press it down with your fingers do deflate it gently. Shape it into a smooth round (or rectangle) by tucking under the edges. IF there are any holes, kneatd it very lightly until smooth. Allow the dough to sit for 15 minutes, covered, to relax it.

    Using your fingertips, pres the dough from the center to the outer edge to stretch it into the size of your pan. (I use oiled plastic wrap to help me stretch the pizza dough; if I do it with just my fingers, I always end up tearing the dough.) If the dough resists stretching, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for a few minutes longer before proceeding. After dough is stretched, brush it with any remaining olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30-45 minutes, until it becomes light and slightly puffy with air.

  6. Bake the pizza: Set the pizza pan directly on the hot stone and bake for 5 minutes.

  7. Add toppings

  8. Finish baking: Return the pan to the stone for another 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden. For an extra-crisp crust, use a pancake turner or a baker's peel to slide the pizza directly onto the baking stone.



Toppings
are something I don't get too persnickety about. There are thousands of ways to dress a pizza, and everyone's going to have their favorites. Here are some of mine:

Pizza Bianca with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Zucchini:
There aren't pictures of this one, since I haven't made it since last summer's zucchini.
This pizza is great with a super-thin crust.

1/2-1 c. ricotta
3-4 T. Parmesan-Reggiano (freshly grated is the best)
1- 1 1/2 c. mozzarella
Sun-dried tomatoes
1 med. zucchini, sliced thinly
2-3 T. olive oil
Salt, pepper and spices (onion powder, garlic, parsley, a touch of nutmeg... whatever.)
(Or, my favorite store-bought seasoning blend for a lot of things--including zucchini-- is Simply Organic's Grilling Mates Chicken Seasoning.)
  1. Pour oil into a cast iron or frying pan and allow to heat. When hot, saute zucchini with salt, pepper and spices. Set aside.

  2. Spread ricotta on crust, sprinkle Parmesan-Reggiano and mozzarella on top. Finish with sun-dried tomatoes and sauteed zucchini. Finish in oven.

Caramelized Onion and Sausage Pizza:
1/2 lb. sausage
~2 T. olive oil
1 med-large onion, sliced in thin strips, end-to-end
~1 t. sugar
~1/4 c. white wine
salt to taste

Basic Pizza Sauce
OR: 1/2 c. Alfredo Sauce (homemade is super-wonderful)

1 T. Bleu Cheese or 1/4 c. feta cheese, crumbled
2 c. mozzarella cheese
  1. Fry sausage in a cast iron pan (or any frying pan-- I just like cast iron.) Remove from pan, leaving drippings.

  2. Add olive oil to pan and allow to heat. Add onions. Fry on medium-low heat. As onions start to color, add in white wine, sugar and salt (I usually eyeball these amounts). Let cook until onions are soft and caramelized, 20-30 minutes.
  3. Spread pizza or Alfredo sauce on pizza crust. If using Bleu cheese, sprinkle on top of pizza sauce. Add mozzarella on top, top with onions, then sausage. If using feta, sprinkle feta on top. Finish in oven.


Basic Pizza Sauce:
I never used to know what to do for pizza sauce until my friend Alyssa taught me a trick: just use tomato paste with some seasoning. So that's what I do now.

1 can tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons Italian Seasoning
  • Mix all ingredients together. (Whew! Wasn't that hard?!) :P

Alfredo Sauce:

2 T. butter
1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
(dash of nutmeg--optional)
  1. Melt butter into a sauce pan; add cream. Bring to a simmer, cook until cream starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
  2. Add in Parmesan and whisk until smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Mangia!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Pot Roast Post

You know when you have the perfect recipe, and you make it-- a lot-- and then you get tired of it? That's what happened to us.

Mama and I love the basic pot roast recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I like Mark Bittman's cooking style; he writes simple recipes that work.


Basic Pot Roast:
1-2 cloves garlic
1 (3-4 lb.) piece chuck or rump roast
1 bay leaf, crumbled finely
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. olive oil
2 c. chopped onions (about 2)
1 c. peeled chopped carrots
1 celery stalk, chopped (optional)
1/2 c. red wine
1 c. chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
  1. Peel garlic clove and cut into tiny slivers; insert into several spots around the roast, poking holes with a thin-bladed knife. Mix bay with salt and pepper; rub roast with mixture.
  2. Heat oil over med-high heat in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot that can later be covered. Brown the roast on all sides, taking your time. Adjust the heat so that the meat browns but the fat doesn't burn. Remove the meat to a platter and add the vegetables to the Dutch oven. Cook over medium- high heat, stirring frequently, until softened and somewhat brown, ten minutes.
  3. Add the red wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until wine has almost evaporated. Addd about half the stock and return roast to pot. Turn the heat down to where the liquid just simmers.
  4. Turn the meat every so often (Bittman recommends every fifteen minutes, but mine's lucky if it gets turned every half-hour to hour) and cook until it is tender-- a fork will pierce the meat without pushing too hard and the juices will run clear-- about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours-- but possibly longer if your roast is large or "tall". Add more stock if it looks like it's drying out-- not very likely. Do not overcook; when the meat is tender, it is done. (Another note on this-- there are varying degrees of doneness with roast-- I like to stop when the "bones are loose" and the meat is "fork-tender".)
  5. (You can skip this step if you wish) Remove the meat from the pot and keep it warm. Skim the fat from the juice and reduce the remaining liquid until it's al most evaporated. Serve the roast with the pan juices.
  6. Note: This can be cooked in the crock pot on high for 4-6 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours. It all depends on the size of your meat. Just test it-- when it just starts to fall apart and is tender, it's done. My favorite way to cook this, though, is in my trusty IKEA enameled dutch oven. (It's not Staub or Le Cruset, but it's made in France and the top knob has no problem with oven temps. It's the same material as the pan.)

The only problem is this: we've made it too many times this winter. My dad is tired of it. We've made it with beef. We've made it with venison. We've made it a lot. So last Saturday, as I was contemplating the meat we have stored in our freezer, I decided to try something different. I've wanted to make a roast with tomatoes, Italian-style, for a while, but the basic recipe was so good that I didn't want to mess it up. But when you're tired, really tired of a recipe, you're willing to mess around. I looked in my trusty '93 edition of Joy, and found a recipe for Italian Pot Roast.

Ingredients? (sort-of) Check. Technique? Check. Time? Check. But if you've ever cooked out of Joy, you know that their recipes can be somewhat fussy. This was no exception; I took out the second reduction with wine and broth and stuck with one. I also added a smidge of sweetening because it tasted just a little too herby/sour. (But then, that could have been from the can of Italian tomatoes I threw in instead of regular. And it could have been from the dried herbs.)
And I cooked it all night in the crock pot (low heat) so we'd have less fuss on Sunday afternoon.


Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)

3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. tightly packed fresh parsley leaves (or 2 T. dry)
4 fresh sage leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 beef roast, 3 1/2-4 lbs.
1 t. salt
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf, broken
1 1/2 c. red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 c. beef or chicken stock
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed
(1 t. sugar--optional)
  1. Combine garlic, parsley, sage, and rosemary. Divide approximately in half; to one half add the 1 tablespoon olive oil and black pepper. Make about ten slits in the roast; stuff olive oil and herb mixture in slits.
  2. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in dutch oven on med- high heat. Add roast and brown an all sides until brown and crusty on all sides, about 20 minutes. Remove roast from the pot and sprinkle it with salt.
  3. Add onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms and bay to the dutch oven; cook until onion is lightly browned. Add in the remaining herb mixture and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and 1/2 c. red wine, and boil until almost dry. Add in remaining wine, stock, and tomatoes. Add roast; bring to a simmer and then reduce heat so that the liquid barely simmers. Taste; add sugar if needed.
  4. Cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, turning every 30 minutes or so. When the meat is tender, remove to a platter and cover with aluminum foil Skim off fat; tasted and adjust seasonings. If the sauce seems weak, boil it down a little. Slice meat and moisten it with braising liquid. Serve with polenta.
  5. Notes: This recipe can also be cooked in the crock pot on low, 5-8 hours. I didn't turn it in the crock pot but once (I think).
The verdict? My family liked it, so I'm happy. The Italian Pot Roast made a lovely sauce, even in the crock pot. And served with the polenta, it felt extra-special.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Polenta Post

A confession: I love Sunday dinners at home. I love them for a lot of reasons: because I love to cook. Because the cousins get more time to run around and play together. Because I know what’s in the food. I love them because I love to feed people.

So, if I can, I like to plan and cook Sunday dinner. It’s usually Saturday when I start cooking, because trying to cook on Sunday morning makes me late for church. Sometimes Mama joins in the fun, sometimes not.

Last Saturday found me contemplating the recesses of our freezer. I pulled out a roast and made an Italian version of pot roast. The recipe I used calls for serving it with Polenta.

Polenta is made from finely ground cornmeal, so it has the corny flavor of good grits with the smooth texture of cream of wheat. Sauteed onion and cheese swirled in complete the flavor profile. But if you try to explain that southern style, it doesn't come out so well: anyone for some cornmeal mush with fried onions and lotsa parm?

So, on Sunday, some of my family had polenta for the first time ever. Because the roast was large, I made a double recipe of polenta--plenty for leftovers, I thought. Or not. My family ate the entire double recipe, and I ended up using pasta with the leftovers for my lunch the next day. (It's just as well; polenta isn't as good when it's left over.)

I changed the recipe just a tad to make it more healthy: I freshly ground the corn (and it's best to make sure your corn is organic--then you know it's free of GMOs), and I soaked the corn in lime water. Lime water is basically water treated with pickling lime to make it acidic, and this helps break down the phytates (indigestible stuff) in corn. I keep a half-gallon jar of lime water in my fridge and pull it out when I need it. When you're making polenta, soaking it in the lime water has the added benefit of a shorter cooking time.


Polenta:
from '93 edition of Joy of Cooking (with modifications)

serves 4-6
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup lime water
3 T. butter
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
3 cups chicken broth or water (or a mix of the two)
1 t. salt
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
(if you're using the box stuff, use less-- 2T. to 1/4 c.)

  • Place cornmeal and water in a lidded container; stir together until there are no lumps. Cover and let sit at room temperature for several hours (up to 24).
  • In a dutch oven or heavy saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and saute until onion is translucent and just starting to color. Add in broth and water, then add in cornmeal and water mixture. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.
  • Let simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring often enough to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom. As the polenta thickens, test it for doneness. The finished polenta should be smooth with very little to no grit in the texture.
  • Once polenta is cooked, remove from heat and stir in salt and cheese. (If you want, you could also add extra butter.) Serve with Italian meat sauce, vegetables, or pot roast.

lime water:

a quart or half-gallon glass jar
Pickling Lime
water

  • Place about half an inch of lime in the bottom of the jar. Fill up the remainder of the jar with filtered water. Let sit until lime settles to the bottom; the remaining liquid is lime water. Use to soak grains, especially cornmeal. As you use it, simply add more water to the jar to make more lime water. Store in the fridge.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Lard Post

I threatened to write this post long ago, but there's no time like the present to do it!


Lard is the fat that comes from a pig, and pigs are big animals. There's no getting around that fact. I'm sure, back in the day when people actually raised their animals from life to death, making lard was much more of a chore than it is now. For some, they look back to all of that work and ask:

Why choose to make lard when you can actually buy it from the grocery store right beside the shortening?

As our food becomes more factory-oriented, it becomes less pure. Shortening is a chemically modified fat, whether or not it has trans-fats, and the lard you get from the store is hydrogenated to improve its shelf life. You also don't know where the pigs came from, what they ate, and how they lived, which are all things to take into account when you're talking about the health of your fat. The quality of life an animal has when it is living shows up in all of its products, but especially in its fat. That's why I attempt to buy pure fat when I go to make lard. I usually buy Eden Naturals pork fat from a farmer's market.

Making your lard is also pretty cheap. This is about ten pounds worth of fat.

This leads to another question:

Why choose lard, or another traditional fat, when shortening is available at the store?
A lot of people might wonder this when they haven't heard of Nourishing Traditions, the Weston A. Price Foundation, or other sources of information that challenge commonly held pseudo-nutritional beliefs. Here's a little bit of information: the diets of your great-grandparents were much healthier than ours today, not just because they didn't eat as many pesticides and chemicals. They ate food full of lard, tallow, butter, and coconut oil. The modern industrial diet today includes more monosaturated fats, such as corn oil, rapeseed (canola) oil, and soybean oil. These are some of the most common oils in the modern U.S. diet, and each has its issues: corn oil can come from GMOs and can cause bone density loss, canola oil comes from a toxic plant and goes through many chemical processes to make it fit for human consumption. (It's also registered by the EPA as a pesticide). The last one is common as an ingredient in processed foods. Soybean oil has all the bad characteristics of soy: it's difficult for many to digest, it causes a spike in estrogen production (in both males and females), and it can be a factor in cancer or IBS. Basically, your best bets for fat are to try to eat like your great-grandparents. That's where making lard comes in.

The Process:

So far, I've tried three different ways of making lard: on the stove, in the oven, and in the crock pot. The crock pot batch was the last, so that's the one recording first.
  1. First, it really helps to have some equipment:


    Last time I made lard, I used just a cleaver to cut up the fat. This time, the food processor saved my hand, even though I still had to chop up the larger slabs of fat.
  2. Put all the fat into the crock pot on low heat, and let it cook for a really long time: 8-12 hours (depending on how hot your food processor is). What you're looking for is the fat to leach out of the structure of the cells and leave behind cracklings. You'll also smell it--a sweet, cloying pork smell. It's not the greatest, and it seems to be worse in the crock pot than on the stove or in the oven.
  3. Once your fat is rendered, you've got to remove the cracklings from the lard. It's easiest to do this by first dipping out the lard that you can, and straining it through a piece a clean rag. I've found that cheesecloth isn't fine enough and lets some sediment through, so I like to use a piece of old sheeting. (I also like that I can throw it away afterward, guilt-free.)
  4. Many folks will be content with packaging up the lard now, but I take one more step. There are still some protein fibers floating around in the lard, so I like to clarify it. All that means is that I add some water to the liquid lard--usually about 2 cups--and stir it around. I then put it in the fridge to harden. The water will pull the proteins to the bottom of the fat, and what's on top will better quality.
  5. If you don't feel like going through the last step, package up the lard into the containers you wish to use, and refrigerate or freeze. If you did do step four, take it out of the fridge, cut it up into smaller chunks, trying to leave out the protein bits. Usually, when you're down to half a container, the big lard "chunk" will come out of the water on its own; you can then scrape off the proteins on the bottom.
  6. I like to divide my lard into the right portions for biscuits, since that's what I use it for most often. I also freeze lard, since it will keep in the refrigerator for three months and in the freezer for over a year.
On the Stove:

Put the lard from the food processor in a large stock pot along with 1-2 cups of water. The water keeps the lard from burning or catching on fire. Just like the crock pot method, put the lard on the lowest heat, cover, and let cook for 8-12 hours.

In the Oven:
Put the lard on a rimmed cookie sheet or oven-proof pan. Warm the oven to 250-275 degrees and put the fat into the oven.  Let render for 3-6 hours, checking every thirty minutes or so to pour off the already rendered lard.

So, which method do I like the best? After doing the crock pot and stove methods and finishing with the oven method, I think the oven method will be my go-to one from now on. It smells less, it seems like it's less clean-up, and the whole process seems more contained.


Of course, if this sounds like too much work you can do what my sister does: she buys lard and tallow (among other things) from US Wellness Meats.

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    Room Redecoration: Study and Sewing Room

    These pictures are late-- really late. I finished this project over a year ago,
    though details have evolved slowly over time.

    The desk is a little too tall for me-- I usually end up putting my laptop on the keyboard shelf to type.
    When I get the courage, I'll ask Daddy to chop two inches of leg
    off .

    The "settee" that's big enough to double as extra sleeping room.
    The big pillows were a hold-up; I don't know why. They were easy enough to make!

    I'm still debating on the effectiveness of the round, shirred pillows.
    I'm beginning to think they're too fussy.


    The other side, and the wall I don't like. It's a little too blank, yet I don't want it covered with a lot of stuff, either.

    --The sewing/crafty side...



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    Saturday, February 27, 2010

    A Wordle



    Isn't it funny that tomatoes is so big? :)


    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    The February Post

    With the beginning of February I've been even more busy than normal. I'm now hosting an international teaching fellow in my room. I hope to make her experience the best it can be, yet because I've never hosted another teacher in my room, it's been a learning curve for me as well. Overall, I really like what I'm gaining from the experience--mostly in the way of keeping more organized, because I have to. I love organization, but I sometimes have to remind myself of its merits.

    I'm also taking a Children's Lit and Technology class-- I'm still in the Master's program, and still not sure why-- :)--but this class is particularly fun, and not hard at all. It's also practical-- I'm making projects I can use in the classroom without any modification. I've also managed to get my computer fixed. This is the first entry in a long time from ye old laptop.

    I'm also ready for Spring. We've now had at least one snow, one ice storm, and plenty of cold weather to do me in. I'm actually okay with the weather-- what I'm not okay with are the clothes. I'm ready for color--if not outside, then at least on me. Maybe this will lead to sewing? 'Cause I certainly haven't been.

    I have been knitting though-- first, I finished a hat for my nephew, then I made myself a hat. Finally, I made one for my brother-in-law. And now I'm working on a raw-silk cabled scarf--in which I can't keep up with how many rows I'm supposed to make into a cable. I need to pull out my nifty row counter so that I'll stop making mistakes that make me rip back. I'm looking towards a sweater-- I've got some lovely rust-colored yarn to make up--but I'm not sure I'll get to it before my knitting fervor runs out--it does, invariably, in the first warm days of spring.

    I've also been baking-- mostly brownies. I've made the same recipe so many times--a slightly modified version of Dorie Greenspan's Classic Brownies--that I've memorized the recipe. Today I also (finally) made something different from this cookbook-- a "Swedish Neighbor Cake"--and it was just about as amazing as the brownies. We've been eating Sunday dinner at home more recently, usually because Mama and I have cooked too much more than anything, so I've been trying to keep something sweet around on the weekend. This time, I made the batter while everything else was warming in the oven and put it in when we pulled everything else out. It was wonderful, warm, lemony and fragrant. (Thanks, Aunt Debbie, for this cookbook! I love it.)

    What I haven't been doing is writing. It's been my goal to post at least once a week on here, and, well... that hasn't happened. I think it's the mid-winter slump--and hopefully it will end sooner than later.

    Classic Brownies
    slightly modified from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

    5 T. butter, cut into five pieces
    4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli chips)
    2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
    3/4 c. sugar
    2 eggs
    1 t. vanilla extract
    1/2 t. espresso powder
    1/4-1/2 t. salt (I use a rounded 1/4 teaspoon)
    1/2 c. flour (The original recipe called for 1/3--but I made this "mistake"
    the first time I made the brownies and I like the extra chewiness)

    3/4 c. walnuts, chopped coarsely

    Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 8" square brownie pan.

    Combine chocolates and butter into a saucepan and melt together, using the very lowest setting on stove. When chocolate is mostly melted but still contains lumps, take off heat and stir to melt the rest of the chocolate*. Using a wooden spoon or a whisk, mix in sugar (it will be grainy). Mix in eggs one at a time, then add in vanilla (it should be smoother now). Mix in salt and espresso powder.

    Using a rubber spatula, fold in flour (you should still be able to see streaks--just like muffins). Fold in walnuts. Pour into pan; smooth out the top of the brownies so that batter is evenly distributed over bottom of pan. Bake for 30-33 minutes, or until top is dry and a knife inserted into middle comes (almost) clean. Let cool on a wire rack, and cut into squares.

    *This always works with our gas cooktop-- it's just about how I always melt chocolate. If you don't feel comfortable with this, Dorie G. recommends the double boiler method.

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    Thankful List

    • good music
    • playing music (Even better with other musicians, preferably ones better than myself. That's not hard to come by, and I learn more that way)
    • cooking and baking, simmering and stewing
    • knitting
    • reading Elizabeth Zimmerman and Julia Child
    • re-reading books I read as a teenager, and realizing how my perceptions have changed with experiences
    • marking things off to-do lists :)
    • listening to Bro. Branham
    • the word sword is mostly word
    • quick, fun sewing projects
    • a working sewing machine :)
    • writing
    • sisters
    • old friends
    • my oldest nephew's mental connections
    • my oldest niece's zest for life
    • my middle nephew's smile
    • my youngest nephew's hugs
    • my youngest neice's sweet baby chatter

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Catography

    Kitten, five inches long:
    Scratch and careen through the house
    Gallop on wood floors and
    Make an entrance larger than your size
    Dig into the carpet to slide it skewed
    And bristle at the squirrels outside.

    After a year, scare at your shadow
    Beg for petting while eating,
    Then bite the hand when finished.
    Ignore the string dangled in your face
    But tear up toilet paper and fight socks
    And attack the legs that walk past

    After five years discover the power of ears
    Lay them back to show disgust
    Forward to show interest
    And perked up to listen.
    Tilt them just so
    For feral intent.

    After ten, sit in the flowers and weeds
    Stare at the human digging dirt
    Follow puppy-style though the yard
    Swish your ringed tail at birds and talk squirrel.
    Exercise front paws on the glass door
    And jump ten feet when it slams.

    And in year fifteen, discover your inner lion
    Fight off six dogs and make them cry
    Claw them 'till it hurts.
    In your pain, growl at the helping hand
    Brave the knife, fight for life
    And once again live.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Not I, But Christ

    I remember the quality of light that day, as well a the Message playing across the house. The sunlight streamed into the kitchen window as I mopped the old yellow linoleum. I was listening to How Do I Overcome, and as I listened, I realized that this Christian walk was all about surrender. I remember praying, Lord, I can't. I don't know how to do that.

    Four years before, I'd given my heart to Christ. I knew it was my day and time--the message that morning called me, and I knew it was my time to go God's way. After I'd walked up to the altar, surrendering my life, Daddy baptised me in muddy-blue lake waters. That afternoon, as he sat down at the piano to play, I asked him the one question that still bothered me: what do I do about the desires I know are against the Lord, but are still in my heart? He took me to Romans seven--Now it is no more I that doeth it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. I tried to understand, but I didn't. I still fought against the desires that lived within me. I didn't know how to get rid of them. Four years later, I still didn't have the answer--but I knew I needed the Holy Ghost.

    That's where life found me on that June afternoon. My pastor was preaching on How Do I Overcome, and we were just about to have our first annual tent meetings. I remember getting up during the mornings and, sitting on my bed and praying, trying to surrender myself to a higher power, but ending up more emotional than anything else. Where was the power? I wondered. Where was the strength? What do I do to get there?

    During those first meetings, so many were blessed. The Holy Spirit came down, and I watched my sister be reborn. But I couldn't seem to break through. I watched around me as people received their need: chains broken and peace restored. But after the meeting was over, I wasn't different. I needed more. I still needed the Holy Ghost.

    Despite my need, the Lord was still working on my life. I'd just graduated from high school, and struggled with going to college. I knew my place, and I knew what the Lord had spoken to my heart two years before. Just when I had decided to "give it all up" and stay at home, the Lord laid in my lap a scholarship I didn't deserve, based on an essay I'd written at the last moment on a rehashed topic. I didn't know what to do, so I asked both the university and the scholarship committee if school could be pushed into the future six months. By God's grace I got my break.

    I spent the summer helping some good friends and neighbors renovate their house. I watched as the Twin Towers fell on my mother's birthday. And then, two weeks after the Towers fell, my parents and I boarded a plane for Arizona. We were going to camp meetings. I could go because I wasn't yet in school.

    I had fun for the first couple of days. I joined the camp choir. I played some volleyball, met some wonderful brothers and sisters, and was having a great time. But the desire still rang: Lord, I need the Holy Ghost.

    It was still ringing that Friday night as I walked up to the platform with the choir. We began to sing, and the Holy Ghost began to fall. As I watched the audience, I felt that desire well up again. I didn't ask Him how. I didn't ask Him what I had to do. Lord, I wish you would come down to me, I prayed. I walked down from the platform back to my seat, and with my parents beside me, He answered my prayer. In the moments following, I learned full surrender. I met Jesus Christ, face to face, and He answered my need.

    Not I but Christ. Since then, I've fallen flat on my face. I've been rebellious at times, but I've been forgiven, and I've been refilled. I've had to learn, over and over, that it's His work; it's not mine. And His Grace grows sweeter daily. His Work isn't finished; I'm still clay in His hands. And when my desires are contrary to His, the only answer is a surrendered heart. He taught me how.

    For through the law I am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
    I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:
    and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,
    who loved me and gave Himself for me.
    --Galatians 2:19-20

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    What to Write About

    I'm here to write. I've not figured out what about yet-- I've just got the urge to be here, and to to write about life. (Does this only happen to me, or does it happen to others? )

    I could write about my exciting, exhausting Holiday from school, where I took two successive trips and sandwiched in Christmas at home--barely. About what an awesome and wonderful time I had hanging out with my good friend, Alyssa from Australia, and making two cheesecakes for/with those great folks from Indiana, learning I wasn't a hopeless ice skater, visiting the Creation Museum where I found the perfect gift for Noelle, and playing Message Trivia with good friends. (Alyssa ransacked us all.)

    I could talk of the journey home-- the gorgeous icy drive through the mountains, stopping by the Walmart on a snowy afternoon and the successive snowball "fight"--The trip to downtown Greenville for great Thai food, my talkative and hilarious sister, Rebecca who made Alyssa and me laugh. I could mention running back up to Asheville the next day to visit Heather, then spending the evening at home making the best pizza I've ever put in my mouth. (I need to make it again.)

    I could talk of Rebecca's birthday breakfast--the slow and relaxing day at home, in which we only went out to see the (flooded) church, and came home to tea and more relaxing and knitting--and not-so-relaxed packing.

    I could talk of getting up the next morning at 4AM, driving to fly, flying to drive, and arriving at a camp where I knew but one other person. I could write of meeting others, meeting the Lord Jesus Christ, playing and playing and playing the piano, loving the interchange between instruments, chatting music, and playing--all for the glory of God. I could talk of how doctrinal differences don't ruin the Holy Spirit's flow--as long as I don't get in the way.

    I could write about coming home--how, for the first time, a commercial plane felt slightly more like my grandad's--how my heart was glad to see the mountains--how the feeling of homeward-bound-ness and going to church that night was euphoric. I could talk of the next couple of days, where I was a couch potato, and then discovered school was looming right around the corner.

    And now? I could talk of the goodness of the Lord. The strength for the days the Lord has given me, both in sickness and health, stress or not. How it's good to see my students again--even the ones that drive me a little crazy. How I admire my family, and think they're just about the best people around. How I'm thankful for the new ideas, the beautiful thoughts and the crafty stuff that collected on my Google Reader while I was absent.

    Perhaps that's what I should write about.



    I didn't realize just how close to home I was when I snapped this outside my plane window.