Saturday, August 29, 2009

CSA Adventure: Week 16

Everything is so tiny. Is that typical of organic gardening? When I think of eggplant or summer squash or bell peppers, I think of what I see at the grocery store--and what we are getting in our CSA is about half that size. (Or smaller.) No exaggeration: We got three green bell peppers this week, and I could hold all three in one hand, easily.

The tomatoes (also small, even compared to what we are getting from other people's [non-organic] gardens) are finally starting to roll in, so that's nice. SmittenKitchen posted a different tomato pie recipe last week--with corn instead of onions, and a different crust--so I think I am going to try that again this week and see which one is better. I also need to figure out how to make pesto. We keep getting more basil than I can use, and we actually have our own basil plant (the only one of five we planted in pots that is actually doing well), so I need to do something with all that basil.

This week's bounty:
  • one tiny eggplant
  • two small summer squash
  • 1-2 servings of green beans
  • three tiny green bell peppers
  • seven banana peppers
  • two servings of mixed greens
  • five tomatoes
  • two dozen or so cherry tomatoes
  • lavender
  • basil
  • oregano
  • six farm-fresh eggs
  • a grass-fed beef chuck roast

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 129

Thanking God this week for...

  • the ability to get my teeth professionally cleaned
  • the fact that I only have to get it done twice a year (ouch)
  • no cavities
  • a friend and her son who entertained Elijah while I was at the dentist
  • deep conversations with a friend on Tuesday (and just fun catching up/watching our boys play)
  • time at the zoo with a new friend and her kids yesterday--more great conversations
  • the beauty and variety of the animals God made
  • another awesome lecture for my class
  • inspiration from the blogs of beautiful writers
  • rhubarb sauce and crunch
  • filling me--opening my eyes to see my blessings and causing my heart to *feel* full

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Inspired to Ride

The bicycle is in the basement.

I don’t know how it ended up down there. I was riding, relishing the breeze on my face and the strength of my legs, burning those muscles I’d ignored so long, and then somehow, one day…well, I was too busy. I didn’t feel like it; it was too cold; it rained. I saw a better bike, realized how shabby mine looked. I watched the Tour de France in jealous dismay, and parked it.

But tonight all of a sudden I’m wanting to throw my leg over the seat and pedal around the block--or around town, or maybe even twenty miles, if I can make myself keep going…but the bicycle is in the basement. First I’d have to clear out all the junk that’s piled on top of it and all around and beside, and then haul it, heavy and awkward, up the narrow stairs, and then it’s all dirty and I’d have to find a rag, wet it down, wipe off the seat and the handlebars.

So instead I turn on the TV and find a race to watch, admire those cyclists pedaling furiously, flying through towns and over mountains, muscles doing the work they were made to do.

I can’t do that. My rides aren’t nearly so smooth, so quick. And yet the more I watch, the more I wish I was riding. I unearth my bicycle and climb on, grimy handlebars and all. The seat is dirty, but so am I, and this is work I was made to do.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mmm...Monday: Chicken, Corn and Tomato Pitas

Back in June, I was at a friend's house, absently flipping through one of her cookbooks, and ran across this gem. I copied it down, never dreaming at the time that I was stumbling upon my new favorite summer recipe. Except for some basic staples, I don't repeat recipes very often--in fact, lots of times we'll have something for dinner and Steve won't even remember that we have indeed tried it before, because the last time was three or four or nine months prior :) But this...this I have made five or six times this summer. So that's saying something!

The recipe is supposed to be served in pita bread halves, and so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try my hand at homemade pitas. A few months ago, I got hooked on Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It's a wonderfully revolutionary concept: mix about 3-4 loaves' worth of bread dough--no kneading required--and keep it in your refrigerator. Then, with just five minutes of hands-on time, enjoy a fresh, warm loaf of crusty, chewy artisan bread with your dinner. The basic recipe can also be used countless other ways--like for making pitas!

The process of making a homemade pita is fascinating to me, and so simple. Instead of letting the dough rise, you roll it out thin, like this:

You then bake it at a very high temperature (500 degrees!) for a very short time (6-8 minutes). The steam gets trapped inside, causing a pocket to form inside the bread, and you end up with this:

[A new friend recently introduced me to a fabulous food blog called Smitten Kitchen. Not only do the recipes sound good, but the photography is scrumptious! I'm newly inspired to take my camera into the kitchen and practice on my food :) So Friday and today, you get pictures to accompany the recipe. I definitely need to practice.]

Anyway, the filling for the pitas begins like this: yummy grape tomatoes, diced grilled chicken, green onions...

Saute some corn and add it in, and whisk together a homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing complete with fresh thyme (which I suspect would also be is also awesome as a marinade for grilled chicken, but have not yet tried). Then stir it all together...

...and you've got a healthy, tasty, refreshing meal. It's also great leftover. Plus, if you buy pitas at the store, you don't even have to heat up your kitchen!

Chicken, Corn and Tomato Salad
(adapted from Cooking Light)

1 1/2 c. corn
1 1/2 – 2 c. chopped grilled chicken breasts
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 c. sliced green onions
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 T olive oil
2 t. lemon juice
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t. Dijon mustard
1/4 t. salt

Saute corn over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chicken, tomatoes and onions. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over chicken mixture, stirring to coat. Serve in pita bread halves. (Makes 6 servings.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

CSA Adventure, Week 15

I forgot to inventory our share this week as I unpacked it, so I'll have to try and reconstruct from memory. It was once again disappointing...I haven't gotten up the nerve to say something yet :/ I did ask if we could get zucchini instead of more cucumbers--and was generously told that although zucchini are over for now, she would be happy to substitute some other things.

So, no new cukes this week and I successfully got rid of the remaining the 5-6 we still had sitting around here, via a cucumber salad in yesterday's church potluck--yesssss :P (I did also take some homemade bread to compensate.) I also learned that cooking is no fun when you are cooking something you don't even enjoy eating!

A couple of the tomatoes we've gotten this week and last are really strange-looking--okay, they're ugly, if I'm honest. Back when this CSA started, I remember them talking about Black Prince tomatoes (an heirloom variety), so I think that's what these are. They taste pretty much like normal tomatoes, but they're dark purplish. It almost looks like they're rotten or something. My question is, why on earth would you want to grow these instead of regular red tomatoes--when the red ones look so much more appealing when cut up and spread all over, say, bruschetta pizza (tonight's dinner)?

One of the things she said she could substitute was collard greens. So I assume that's what this huge bunch of greens is...but what do I do with collard greens????

This week's bounty (as best I can remember):
  • about 1/4-1/2 lb. green beans
  • a handful of salad greens
  • a big bunch of what I *think* are collard greens
  • jalapeno, banana and cayenne peppers
  • several tomatoes--regular, heirloom, grape/cherry
  • 2-3 very small eggplant
  • parsley and thyme
  • five farm-fresh eggs
  • two pounds grass-fed ground beef
  • two cuts of grass-fed filet mignon!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tomato Pie: OH MY YUM.

If you have access to good, home-grown must try this recipe. Run, don't walk, to the grocery store and pick up the essentials: sweet Vidalia onions. bacon (you can't go wrong with bacon). cheese, lots of cheese.

Be brave and make your pie crust from scratch. If I can do it, anyone can!

And then enjoy your very own Cheesy Tomato and Onion Pie.

(The crust is not as burnt as it looks...I mean, it's burnt around the edges, but it's dark because I used white whole wheat flour. Which worked just fine, by the way. But, holy moly, I had no idea pie crust was so. incredibly. full. of. fat. This recipe called for 1 1/2 sticks of butter and 1/2 c. shortening! I know, ew, shortening. The recipe said it was important, so I cringed and obeyed.)

Heather at posted this recipe two years ago. I printed it off then, and saved it for two years (I'm anal-retentively organized like that), but never got around to trying it out--partly because I didn't have access to good tomatoes. Which are absolutely CRUCIAL to the recipe's success. But last weekend, my in-laws brought us some yummy 'maters from their garden, and I decided this was my chance to give it a whirl.

Can you believe this was my very first time ever making pie--not just crust, but pie, period? I decided to go for broke and make the crust from scratch. I got that recipe from a friend at church. I don't normally like pie crust, but I actually enjoyed the crust on the pie Mandy served when she hosted us for dinner a few weeks ago. So I asked her for the recipe. Fabulous.

I'm linking to the tomato pie recipe, instead of posting it here, because I didn't change anything except the name. It was originally called "Tomato, Onion and Bacon Pie"--but I couldn't even taste the bacon, so I think that's a little misleading. I think next time I'd double the bacon. And I found out afterwards that part of the reason mine was runny was possibly because I used light mayo. Next time I'll use the real stuff, or try substituting cream cheese. (Though it wasn't at all runny after it cooled.) Also, the recipe at the link doesn't mention peeling the tomatoes, but the original from two years ago said to peel them, so that's what we did (dunk them in boiling water for 30 seconds to make the skin slide right off).

I won't lie, this pie was a bit of a pain--but I don't think it will be next time, now that I know what I'm doing--and it was totally worth it. I'm enjoying another mouthwatering piece right now as I type. YUM.

For more stories of kitchen courage:
Fearless Fridays at Home-Ec101
For more food of all kinds:
Food on Fridays with Ann Kroeker

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 128

Thanking God this week for...

  • not one but TWO JCPenney "$10 off your purchase of $10 or more" coupons...meaning I got a white camisole, two kitchen towels and a bed pillow for $4.43!
  • grace for small victories
  • filling my heart with praise and gratitude
  • Steve's unexpected day off last Friday
  • coconut-scented lotion
  • not having to iron very often
  • the feeling of being clean
  • a visit from Steve's parents, younger brother, and granny
  • a lunch date with my hubby while his family babysat the little guy
  • the work my father-in-law did on the house while he was here
  • the joy Elijah gets from an empty plastic salad dressing bottle (who needs expensive toys?!)
  • the fun of realizing Elijah knows things I didn't even realize he understood
  • giving me eyes to see His irresistible beauty
  • breathing life into my dead, helpless soul

Known and Not Rejected

"He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge—the Lord—knows the thoughts of man..." (Psalm 94:9-11)

Our new church (have I blogged about that yet? remind me to blog about that...) has a unique practice of incorporating more Scripture into the Sunday morning worship service. Each Sunday, we read one psalm and one chapter of the New Testament--we're simply reading consecutively through each. One of the men prepares some thoughts on the psalm, and another man offers an outline of and/or reflection on the NT chapter.

I missed it this week, because Elijah had a rough day in the nursery, but I'm still thinking about the reflection on Psalm 94 from the Sunday before. The man who spoke on it chose to focus on verses 9-11 and the omniscience of God. He stressed how God knows ALL our thoughts, overwhelming concept that that is--He knows the thoughts we had 20 years ago, and the thoughts we had five minutes ago. And (to paraphrase this man's reflection) the truth is, if you all knew every single one of my thoughts, you would be disgusted with me. You would be appalled, and you would judge me--you would want to keep your distance.

But God...God knows every single one of my thoughts, and instead of being disgusted with me, He loves me. Instead of keeping His distance, He draws me to Himself. Instead of judging me, He puts all the wrath I deserve on His Son, and calls me His daughter.

God knows my thoughts--and does not reject me! How unfathomably wonderful is the gospel of the glory and grace of Christ.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two [Birthday Celebrations]

Our little man, who turned TWO last week, is blessed to have TWO sets of grandparents who love him very, very much. Last year, we went home to Ohio for his birthday and all celebrated together. This year, we stayed home in Tennessee, and the grandparents came to us.

Rather than having everyone here at once, we decided it would be more enjoyable to spread out the visits--so we had TWO small birthday celebrations, one with my parents on Elijah's actual birthday, and one with Steve's parents, younger brother, and grandma the following weekend. It was a whirlwind of a week, but I'm finally catching up and thought I would share a few photo highlights...

Elijah loved being sung to. Grammy and Pops (my parents) started singing "Happy Birthday," and when they paused a moment too long after the first line, he started signing "more" :)
Hates getting messy. Did not want to dive into the cupcake...
...but enjoyed the sugar immensely as long as someone else was holding it and giving him bites.

We thought this puzzle from Grammy & Pops would be too hard, since he's only ever done 8-9 piece puzzles--but he shocked us all by immediately putting it together without any problem!

I went all Betty Crocker and made a lion cake for celebration #2. Elijah loves animals of many kinds, especially lions...lots of times, when I go to get him up in the morning, the first thing he does is roar hello to his giant stuffed lion across the room :) "ROAR" was actually one of his first words.

He was a fan of the chow mein noodles I stuck in the frosting to make the mane. They actually tasted kind of good the first day, but the second day, they got soft and were gross.

Slightly more interested in opening presents than last year.

Giving his new stuffed hedgehog (from Grandma & Grandpa) a squeeze (our word for hug).

Friday, August 14, 2009

CSA Adventure, Week 14

So the Chinese cabbage was a total bust. Yesterday I made Asian style beef short ribs, in the crockpot (a Real Simple recipe). We'd gotten the ribs from our CSA a few weeks ago, and I thought I could sub the cabbage for the regular green cabbage the recipe called for. Wrong. I took one bite and spit it right back out on my plate. Bitter! I don't know what else to do with them, so I will probably just end up throwing the other two bunches out. I'm glad I didn't chop them up and ruin a whole pot of fried rice with them, as I'd originally intended to do.

The ribs, for what it's worth, were not great either. The sauce was fine, but that was the saddest cut of beef I've ever seen. I don't know what beef short ribs typically cost per pound, but the cost per pound of edible meat must be astounding, because after fighting through all the fat and cutting off the huge bone, I ended up with about five bites of meat. Good grief.

I couldn't help but remark how small everything is this week. The eggplant is tiny and the green peppers are miniatures. Steve said, "Well, there's a reason people use all those nasty fertilizers and such...they work." Hmm.

This week's bounty:
  • tomatoes--one regular, six cherry, and two mysterious purplish ones that are sort of like a cross between a Roma and a cherry
  • three small eggplants (and I do mean small)
  • cucumbers (oh joy)--one regular, three lemon
  • about 3/4 pound green and purple beans
  • five banana peppers
  • three tiny green bell peppers
  • basil
  • thyme
  • six farm-fresh eggs
  • two pounds grass-fed ground beef

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 127

Thanking God this week for...
  • an up-close glimpse of a beautiful, intricate spiderweb--built overnight across our back door
  • new words from Elijah every day
  • the beauty of hearing "mama"
  • opportunities to practice hospitality
  • early morning time with Him
  • Dr. Powlison's brilliant article on Psalm 119
  • fresh eyes to see and enjoy that psalm
  • Elijah doing great in the nursery so that I got to sit in both Sunday school and church
  • sunglasses
  • yummy fresh pineapple
  • my parents' visit
  • getting to see them delight in their grandson
  • air conditioning
  • cupcakes with sprinkles
  • promising us a kingdom that cannot be shaken

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two!...and some thoughts on trust

Two years ago right now, I was feeling completely shell-shocked, holding a minutes-old newborn baby in my arms.
Can I just say how glad I am that it's August 10, 2009, and that I'm not reliving that day?

My little man is TWO years old today! And what a delightful, hilarious, adorable toddler he has become. I feel like I'm finally getting a little bit more comfortable in my mama-skin, and I'm enjoying this process ever so much more than two years ago, one year ago or even six months ago, to be totally honest. We've seen SO much growth and change in Elijah just in the last few weeks, and it is such a joy to watch him learn new things.

I haven't blogged about it here, for various reasons, but the last six months have been interesting ones around here, as we've been doing early intervention with Elijah. Our pediatrician referred him for evaluation after his 18-month well visit, and he qualified for services, especially because of communication delays. So for the last several months, we've had someone coming to the house once a week and working with us.

It could be that Elijah is just a late bloomer and will catch up without a problem. Or it could be that he has more long-term developmental struggles--we don't know at this point. But more than anything, it has been an occasion to learn in new ways what it means to trust God.

Just in the last few weeks, Elijah's language skills have really taken off. He's constantly surprising us, and I'm having so much fun as he becomes more communicative. In fact, we had an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist last week, and in the time between when we first started the referral process and when he actually went in, he had changed so much that he didn't even end up qualifying for speech therapy--his skills are on the low end, but within the range of normal.

So more and more I'm inclined to think our little guy is simply a late bloomer, but the questions remain the same: Is my hope in my son being "normal" (or even "exceptionally bright"), or is my hope in God? Is Christ my greatest treasure? Do I believe that He is sovereign, good, and loving, regardless of whatever challenges my son may or may not face? Will I let my fearful heart run away with "what-ifs," or will I choose to put my trust in the Lord?

I'm reminded of a conversation Steve and I had over a year ago, in which he drew a comparison between two men we know: one brilliant, but obnoxiously so; the other simple, yet loving and wise. Steve remarked that while of course he’d love to have a bright, intelligent child, comparing these two men showed him that intelligence isn’t the best or most important thing to hope for. Wouldn’t we rather have a wise son, one who is devoted to God and trusts Him, than a brilliant son, when brilliance is so often a stumbling block (both in relationships with other people and in submission to God)?

Rather than hoping that Elijah would be smart or being disappointed if he’s not, rather than worrying about all his milestones and whether he’s developmentally behind other children, our job is to nurture and enjoy him for who he is—not who we might foolishly think we want him to be.

So as Elijah turns two, I'm grateful. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of this little guy. Thank You for choosing such a kind, generous, beautiful way of refining me. Thank You for changing my heart and giving me grace to be a mother. Thank You for increasingly giving me eyes to see my young son as a blessing and not a burden. Thank You for the laughter and joy he brings to our family, for the kisses and squeezes he generously bestows. Most of all, thank You for opportunities to trust You, and for being infinitely trustworthy and the most perfect source of hope.

And, of course: Happy Birthday, Elijah!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

CSA Adventure, Week 13

Nothing too exciting to report this week. I've got a couple of new recipes on deck to use the Chinese cabbage we've been getting. Sliced up the tomato this morning and it was so red and fragrant and tasted great in my omelet. Still not loving the cukes :) I wish we could trade them for zucchini--I actually had to *buy* zucchini, which I've never done before, because I wanted to make zucchini bread this week.

I'm actually more excited this week about what I've been getting from the Nashville Farmers Market. I sure wish we lived closer to that--I'd forego the CSA altogether and be shopping there very frequently! Although I don't know what, if anything, there is organic--I doubt much--and it *is* nice to just lightly rinse a tomato from our CSA and not have to wonder what pesticides are on there or whether they're really coming off as I wash it.

Anyway, we were at the farmers market on Monday and got some peaches that were to DIE for...good enough that I stopped again yesterday (since I had to drive through Nashville anyway) and got about two dozen more :) I also got some fresh tomatoes for last night's bruschetta chicken (FYI, we put about three times as much topping on the chicken as that picture shows!). YUM. That meal is one of my favorites anytime, but it's fabulous with fresh, flavorful tomatoes.

This week's bounty:
  • two bunches Chinese cabbage
  • tomatoes: one small, four small Roma, two cherry, four grape
  • two regular cucumbers
  • two lemon cucumbers
  • about 1/2 pound purple beans
  • about 3/4 pound green beans
  • banana, jalapeno and cayenne peppers
  • sage
  • chives
  • oregano
  • five farm-fresh eggs
  • grass-fed sirloin tip roast

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 126

Thanking God this week for...
  • dinner with some new friends from church last Thursday
  • scrapbooking with some ladies from church on Saturday
  • dinner with some old friends from our old church on Sunday
  • a beautiful neighborhood in which to take walks
  • a clean, sweet-smelling boy wrapped up in a duck towel and saying (for the first time) "Kack!" when I said, "There's my little ducky!"
  • the smell of freshly ground French vanilla coffee
  • Google Maps
  • soft, stretchy t-shirts
  • Steve's day off on Monday and our family outing

  • the Nashville Farmers' Market
  • fabulous peaches, best I've had in years
  • the creativity God has endowed to men
  • the pleasure of cool water to drink and splash in when you're hot
  • Elijah's generosity in giving kisses and squeezes
  • deep theology discussions with Steve
  • Method non-toxic shower scrub
  • the awesome article by Dr. Powlison on Psalm 119 I read last night for my class
  • Christ's death for my sins

Saturday, August 01, 2009

First Day of School

It's been six years since I've gotten to experience the excitement of the "first day of school"--the thrill of new school supplies, the unknown of walking into a new classroom with a teacher you've never had, wondering who your classmates will be, the overwhelmingness of reading the syllabus...ahh. All of it a distant memory until this month. My binder is ready, my books are purchased, my syllabus is printed, and today is my first day of school!

Over the last few years, I've thought many times about how I would do things differently if I could do college over again. For starters, I'd focus more on personal enrichment and taking advantage of every learning opportunity, less on the grade and just plowing through to get the work done. I miss being a student, and sometimes I feel a little wistful when I hear about former classmates and their grad school experiences. I don't know that I really have a desire to ever go to grad school, though, and at this point in my life it would be totally unrealistic/pointless anyway.

Over the last several months, I've had more and more exposure to the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. I knew about them before, and had read a couple of books written by CCEF faculty. Then I subscribed to their podcast a while back and have just found it to be fascinating. Their mission is "Restoring Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church"--the idea is that we need to look to what God says in His Word to understand the human condition, to diagnose the problems of the heart and find real, deep, lasting change. Scripture is incredibly relevant and helpful to the problems we face, if we would trust what God says and learn how to really apply it to the nitty-gritty of our lives. But most of us only know how to apply it in really superficial ways.

So when I put these two thoughts together...I started looking into CCEF's distance education program. And after talking with Steve, I registered! The first class all students have to take is called Dynamics of Biblical Change. The lecturer is Dr. David Powlison--I've read many articles by him and have found him to be a profound, insightful man. In fact, he wrote one of the textbooks for this class. I've got 12 weeks of mp3 lectures by him to listen to, and then I'll submit assignments to an online instructor and participate in a community message board for the class.

Dynamics of Biblical Change serves as an introduction to the concept of biblical counseling. I'll be learning to connect the truths in Scripture to real-life struggles and situations, both in my own life (one of the major assignments is a self-counseling project) and in the lives of those around me. The class covers "the nature of idolatry and faith; the relationship between motive and action; the way Christ's past, present, and future grace intersects with and affects how people live their daily lives; and the interplay of suffering and other situational factors with a person's actions and reactions." Awesome!

I don't feel any sort of calling or gifting to become a counselor; I may not take any other classes beyond this. But I think first of all, this class will be really beneficial and enriching just for me personally. And then I anticipate that I'll have plenty of opportunities to use what I learn in my relationships--with Steve and Elijah (when he gets older), in informal situations with family and friends, in mentoring (whenever I get the opportunity to do mentoring again)--to be able to give wise, biblical counsel.

So that's my big news--I'm going to be a student again, and I can't wait!