Make Like a Tree

He is jealous for me. Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree….(from “How He Loves”, David Crowder Band)

Wow, did I need to hear that song today. It’s been a hard week. In every way, all around. Big problems to solve. Big disappointments to face. Big things to forgive. Most importantly, Big lessons to learn.

I’ve got a LOT on my ptree-in-fieldlate, as I usually do. I kind of like my life that way–I certainly never get bored!–but it wears me out sometimes. This was one of those times. Too many questions, a way-too-long To Do list and many as-yet-unanswered prayers. I asked for prayers of encouragement at church today because I’m so weary of trying to spin plates, of waiting, and of striving to keep everyone around me happy. Then I heard that song.

It was a much needed reminder of just how much God loves me. I said…Just How Much. Beyond my comprehension, actually. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it most of the time. I have moments, but I’m not quite there yet. Like us all, I have not had a lot of experience with being loved unconditionally. There always seems to be something else required of me in the mix. And it seems I often disappoint myself, and others (ugly stuff!).

But, with God it’s different. So different. He loves like no one in this world can. All I heard in my head during that song was “I will not let you fall”. He will not let me fall. No matter how tired I get, the ugly emotions I let take over my mind, the lessons I have not learned yet, the actions I don’t take and the words I don’t say when I know I should. He loves me in such a BIG way (like a hurricane!) and He is patient as this little tree learns to let that love rain down on me, overtake me–knock me down, even, sometimes. I don’t get that kind of grace from anyone else, and I can’t really expect to. We’re not capable of it, but He is.

So, I got a sketchbook this afternoon and let all that I have pressing down on me out onto the paper. Just brain-dumped it all. It’s a LOT. And I don’t know what to do about most of it. But He’s got me, I know it. He will not let me fall. When I stay in the center of that amazing, huge, powerful hurricane. Stay in the eye, where it’s always the calmest. And let Him love me as only He can.

Cooks and Bakers…

I really, really wanted to be a “good mom” today and bake some cookies for Missy Pie after school. After procrastinating all day, I finally got them in the oven just-in-time. Completely justified, though, because this way they’ll be “hot out of the oven” and even Better! (right?)

Here’s whaoatmeal_cookiest I discovered today: The biggest difference between “cooks” and “bakers” comes down to patience. I have not much, and bakers…and Lord knows, Pastry chefs!…have much, much more. My unspoken rule is that it has to be a one-shot deal. In other words, all the batter has to make the right amount to fit onto two cookie sheets. Because I don’t really want to hang around and do it all again. Once is enough. And, as I found out today…I will squeeeeeze those cookies in, and EAT any remaining batter in order to avoid another go ’round. Nice, huh?! (I’m also not a fan of getting dusted head to toe in flour)

So…hats off to all you Bakers out there. If you’re more of a Cook, like me, and would still like to show your fam some love…I suggest you do what I do and get a handful of insanely easy recipes that you can pull out once in awhile, and still warm their hearts (and tummies)  :  )

PS–My cookies don’t look as good as the ones in the picture…hmmmmph!

Minivan-Friendly Munchies, Part 1

I am now, officially, a ‘soccer mom’. Just a little bit, though–one kid, one practice, one game a week.  But darned if they don’t have that one practice smack in the middle of dinnertime. In this house, you don’t mess with dinner! About the time I started to think about how we’re going to handle this midweek inconvenience, my sister called me looking for inspiration and ideas because she’s looking at more like FOUR nights a week of practices, games and activities! So, big sis, and all you other crazed moms running taxi services….this is for you  ;  )

Fall (Back) in Love with Your Crockpot
Now, I love the idea of a crockpot. Dump it all in and go, then you’ve got dinner waiting when all’s done (or even if you’ve got time for just a quick pit stop at home in between activities). What I could never reconcile, though, was compromising my good-eating sensibilities by pouring in a can of gloppy condensed soup or some high-sodium seasoning packet as most recipes call for. That’s OK here and there, but if I was going to really take advantage of my crock pot then that meant consuming that stuff regularly, and that doesn’t fly when my goal is to eat and enjoy good, whole foods with my family. So I started re-inventing…

What you’ve got to do is take a fresh look at that old friend. The basic concept is combining your meat and/or vegetables with seasoning and some moisture. So…your seasoning doesn’t have to come from a packet. You’ve got spices and dried herbs in your cabinet. You’ve got rich flavored veggies like sweet potatoes and bell peppers in your fridge. You’ve got things like lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and peanut butter that all provide flavor. And, really, that condensed soup was just short-cutting the seasoning and the moisture step. But how hard is it to pour in some low-sodium chicken broth, or some diced tomatoes instead? With just a little effort, you can find recipes to slip into your repertoire that are just as quick and easy, but with the added bonus of knowing you’re eating real ingredients that are nourishing your little sports stars at the same time!

Start by taking a look at some of the crock pot recipes you already make and love and look at how you can replace the processed ingredients with the fresh versions and spices of your own. Another way is to (yikes!) search for some vegetarian crock pot recipes online. Find some where you like the flavors. Hang with me here a minute! These recipes tend to call for natural, healthy ingredients anyway, so that’s a head start to your recipe. Then, if you’d like, go ahead and either add meat to it at the beginning (browning it first and adding a little extra liquid than called for) or; at the very end, turn the crockpot to “high” and slice up some leftover chicken breasts, or steak, and add them in there to heat through. Either way, look for the leanest cuts of meat you can, trimming off visible fat before hand (make up for it with more flavorful ingredients!) and try to add in more veggies wherever you can that pack a punch nutritionally, like tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes or butternut squash. Fresh spinach can always be stirred in at the very end of the cooking time. And remember, too, crock pots tend to “mellow out” flavors over the day so be sure to keep the quantities of spices a little more aggressive than you might normally do, or add some in towards the end before serving.

Right here on my blog, check out Asian Crock Pot Pork or Turkey Meatloaf with BBQ/Cranberry Sauce (which can be done in the crockpot as well–you can even throw in the sweet potatoes!) for a few ideas.

Presto Chango

I love for things to be fun. Even the simplest things, I’m happy as long as I find a way to make them fun. For instance, putting on really great music, nice and loud, while I clean the house does wonders for me! So playing with flavors and “What if’s” when I’m cooking keeps me from ever getting bored with the weeknight dinner routine.

Take this recipe for a verrrrry simple vegetable “ragu”–a sort of stewed, cooked down mixture of veggies that can be used lots of ways. The basic idea is to dice your veg, in this case yellow onion, orange bell pepper and tomatoes (use “Petite Diced” ones, it’s quick!) and saute them in a little olive oil over a medium-low heat so they cook down and mellow out nicely, for about 20 minutes. Then…use them for an appetizer: a dollop on top of toasted crusty bread spread with cream cheese! Or; make it a meal and toss the mixture with pasta, or serve it as a sauce over some grilled chicken. Get the idea? Be open to what you might use it for and you’ve got lots of new options. But that’s not all….! (just like an infomercial, right?!)

Now, let’s play with flavors and that same easy ragu can go in lots of directions:

–As it’s cooking, sprinkle in some Italian flavors like Basil, Garlic & Oregano (or use my Italian blend from the shop, called Vinnie the Knuckles! http://www.spicetravelerprescott.com )

–Or go Middle Eastern: Add Cinnamon, Smoked Paprika, Curry powder and Mint! Start with a little of each and adjust from there to your taste. In this case, a little cinnamon mixed in the cream cheese for your appetizer would be awesome, then top with mint.

–How about Latin American? Add a touch of Cocoa powder, Cumin and Chili powder, then some fresh Lime zest at the end.

Same three veggies, but…Abracadabra!…it’s something new  :  )

Keep cookin’ and have FUN!

Enough

The over-arching theme to my life lately–if it were a movie–would be “busy”. Make that waaaay too busy. An extra busy sundae with tired on top.

And while I’m out there being super woman, my mind is almost always thinking in the background about how I’m not home enough, like I used to be. I’m not cleaning my house enough. I’m not watching over homework enough. I’m not–gasp!–cooking enough. I’m not being a good enough Mom, or wife. I’m not keeping up with…anything. Yet I know each day I’m doing as much as I possibly can, I’m organized and a good multi-tasker. And I’m prayin’ for the strength to do it all. So what’s the problem?

I think it’s my definition of “enough”. As women, I think we’re prewired for this misconception. We’re either Wonder Woman and still feel like it’s not enough or; we feel guilty because we’re not “that woman”…either way we end up with the same voice in our head saying “not enough”. Maybe it’s time to examine that word. I’m not sure it’s doing us any good.

I am passionate about making good food a part of your life and most importantly, part of your family’s life. I say, “cook with your hubby and kids!” and they will grow to have an appreciation for food that’s good for them, they’ll be healthier, they’ll have skills for life. But the best part, the little nugget of gold in all that is this: they will mostly love the time spent with you. Yep…that’ half an hour together with you, where you’re not doing four other things, you are present. Or maybe a better way is to say: you are a present for them. That is “enough” (in fact, it’s more than enough!). It doesn’t have to be fancy, or complicated. It can be a simple sandwich and soup. Or a batch of cookies. The most important thing is that you are there, with them.

I was surprised to find out that my hubby doesn’t value the things I do. Sounds bad for a marriage, doesn’t it? But truly, he does not see the copious amounts of dog hair on the floor (and therefore doesn’t care), he doesn’t really care if I’m behind on laundry. What he does love is when I stop moving. When I sit with him a few minutes, kiss him hello and remember to ask him how his day went. That’s enough for him. It’s plenty, in fact.

See where I’m going with all this? I say “I feel like I can’t do it all and do it well!” So I go and go and go. If I’m constantly ‘waaay too busy’, my family will feel something missing–me!  But really, it’s the small things that we take the time to do that mean the most to those around us. And they make up for the times when we truly are very busy and need to get stuff done. Sit a minute and cuddle on the couch, a note in their lunchbox. I know it’s hard (Mary and Martha, anyone?!) but I’m trying to remember that if I can just do those things, maybe I can eventually quiet that little voice completely…”enough” is enough!

Unchartered Waters…

Sometimes you’re just “out there’. You know? Circumstances change in your life, or you’re busy handling the day-to-day, and one day you stop in your tracks and think, ‘ I don’t even know what I’m doing! How am I going to keep doing this?’ Whether it’s a new job, being a mommy or caring for aging parents, maybe you’ve been there.

It happened to me recently in the midst of what I had been seeing as a newfound blessing in my life. While trying to get my cooking class/consulting business off the ground, I got a part time job at a little shop in my town that sold, of all things…olive oil and balsamic vinegar…What a perfect fit for a full-on foodie like me! I was having a ball, and getting out of the work-at-home-in-your-jammies mode and meeting people was so much fun, too. If that wasn’t great enough, the owners came to me one day and asked if I’d like to partner with them to open up a second store, all herbs and spices, called Spice Traveler. It was like God said, “Here you go, Erin. Here’s a little gift I made happen just for you because I love you so much.” I was concerned about all I didn’t know about operating my own store. My past work experiences, although varied, did not include this! And how was I still going to be the kind of mom I want to be?

They made it clear that it was my knowledge of cooking and food that was key to this store happening. How flattering! They gave me full rein to develop the product line. Yay!  They said they trusted me to design the decor for the store. Wow!  Then, they left for a month-long trip to Africa with our opening date looming. They even had enough confidence in me to have me manage the olive oil store while they were gone. Okaaaay…..I decided this was not the time to let my daily prayer time slide. I knew I needed all the strength and wisdom God could provide to get through the next couple of months!

And that’s how I got through the day-to-day. But there were many days where I’d be in the middle of umpteen tasks to get our doors open, and dinner needed to be made, and soccer practice was that night. And I’d have a mini-breakdown, tears and all. They were just trusting me with SO much I didn’t know how to do, had never done before. Everyone was asking me questions, needing my decision.
I needed to be in “leadership’ mode almost constantly…and it was exhausting (and scary!).

Well…I’m happy to say opening day was a huge success! And I felt a huge relief at being “done”. But now I find myself with a “what’s next” list. Things I want to– need to–do, in order to help the store do well. And of course, it’s those same ‘unchartered waters’ again. Things I’ve never done before, things I don’t have the answers to right now.

So…for once in my life, I can look back with joy that, although I faltered here and there, I kept trusting God for the big picture. I will do that now with my “Next” list. Like Peter stepping out of the boat, I know I have to keep my eyes on Jesus and just keep moving forward.
All I can see is a million tasks, and questions and doubts. All He can see is where I’m going and what I’ll become.

From Wallflower to “Wow!”

After a bit of hiatus–life got in the way!–I’m back. Still cookin’ away and finding inspiration everywhere…

Recently, on a trip back East, I had lunch at this cute little diner in Philadelphia. Hubby had a “Homemade Meatloaf Pressed Sandwich”, which he said was quite good. Little Missy had a grilled cheese. I was all excited to order a salad that just could not have been more up my hippie-leaning alley: Greens & Grains with Roasted Vegetables. My mouth was waiting impatiently for it to arrive.

Well. Let’s just say the concept was awesome, but they just didn’t pull it off well. I’m not usually a ‘returner’, but when the server asked how I was enjoying my salad, I just had to be honest. There was pale iceberg lettuce, beige grains of some kind, mushy over-roasted veggies (I actually couldn’t tell what kind of veggies they used to be!), and it was all tossed together when it arrived, looking very unappetizing. I thought: This idea deserves way better than this.
So when we got back, I gave it a shot. We now have a new star in the lineup at home and I’m happy to say it’s a doozy: good for you and good lookin’, too!  Hope you like it, too:

G  R  E  E  N  S     &      G  R  A  I  N  S
w/   R  O  A  S  T  E  D    V  E  G  E  T  A  B  L  E  S

Start by cooking whatever grains you want to use. You can even cook them the day before. I used lentils and a Trader Joe’s grain mixture that had quinoa, garbanzo beans and cous cous. Anything you like will do: brown rice, wheat berries, whatever, just be sure to cook them according to the package directions and start them ahead so you’re not waiting on them.

Then, preheat the oven to 350° and start cutting up veggies. I was looking for a visual punch so I used red bell peppers, yellow squash, zucchini and mushrooms. Cut them all approx. the same size, around 1″ pieces or slightly larger. Put them on a cookie sheet and season them nicely with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper. Pop ’em in to roast.
They should only need about 20 minutes–roasted but still a little “al dente”. Too much and you’re back to mushy veggies.

I found it was nice with both the grains and the veggies just warm, not hot, and certainly not refrigerator-cold (if you’ve done them ahead). So while those are cooling down or warming up, depending on what you did, make a quick dressing: 3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar (I used balsamic for some sweetness), salt, pepper, garlic and some dried thyme. Whisk it all together. It could be any kind of dressing, but I would keep it light, not a creamy dressing.

Now, you’re done! Fix the plate with a bed of spinach mixed with spring mix–really nice and colorful (and way more nutrition than iceberg lettuce!). Spoon some grains onto the middle. Then spoon some of the veggies across the top. Drizzle a little dressing and there you go!

When you serve it, it’s a feast for your eyes! And–I’m even guilty myself–usually a salad-as-my-dinner doesn’t satisfy me and I’m looking for something more in an hour, but this one is different. The grains do the job and it’s really a wonderful thing :  )  Enjoy!

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