Friday, July 30, 2010

Murder-Mysetery Summer

I'm such a bookworm, but over the past couple years I've been steadily disenchanted with reading. I had too much assigned through school to pick up much for pleasure. When I did find time to just read, so many of the books I found were disappointing: too racy and too easy, to difficult, too boring.

A dear friend of mine completely understands, so we bonded together in pursuit of worthwhile books that we would read together, then meet up to discuss (and watch every movie adaptation available!). The only rule is they have to be pleasure books -- we both do enough research reading in our "real" lives. First, we read Emma -- I love Jane Austen.

The next book was my friend's choosing. I'd never heard of it before... but it was altogether facinating. The book is "Rebecca," written by Daphne du Maurier in 1938. The back cover proclaims that it is "one of the bestselling novels of all time!" Once I got into it, I totally understood.

There's something about summer that makes you want a predictable book, but not boring. I've never read mysteries before -- I thought they were dumb cop-and-robber stories with no plot, or all science like many of the popular TV shows. But this was rich storytelling. I found myself thinking just ahead of the characters, trying to solve the riddle. It was predictable enough to follow while throwing enough twists to keep me interested. All wrapped up in well-developed dialoge and a pleasant lack of descriptive romance. I never would have suspected I liked this kind of book if my friend hadn't suggested it (and put the copy in my hand, saying "Read this, it'll take some getting into but you'll love it").

So my question to you: What kinds of books do you like to read? How do you choose a new book / series / genre to try out?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bruchetta Pizza

This is probably the best treat I've ever eaten. I couldn't help sharing it with you!

My first ripe tomatoes have been coming in this week in any real numbers -- I pull in 2-3 a day (there's more coming, I have no doubt). I've been doing what I can to be creative with them -- there's not really enough for a good tomato sauce, and just throwing them into things seems a little haphazard. I came across a recipe for bruchetta: an Italian appetizer of bread toasted in olive oil topped with chopped tomatoes and basil, a bit of feta cheese and a drizzle of olive oil (plus salt and pepper). I had a bit of the topping left over and was trying to figure out what to do with it.

Well, Shaune beat me to the topping (using it as a filling for omlettes), but I came up with an idea: Why not use it on a pizza? And it was fabulous... you could taste the lovely fresh tomatoes, but it wasn't "just" tomato. Oh my... we ate the whole thing! I wish I had gotten a good picture, but alas, you'll have to try it yourself :)

Bruchetta Pizza
  1. Prepare your favorite pizza dough. Prebake it in the oven for about 15 minutes so it's nearly done
  2. While that's cooking, coarsely chop 2 tomatoes. If you have it, chop fresh basil. I used dried because I failed to plant any this year :(. Gently stir together tomatoes and basil, plus a few tablespoons of feta cheese -- just enough for contrast. Drizzle with olive oil and crack on some fresh ground pepper. Taste it -- if you need to, add a bit of salt. Sea salt is best. Set bowl in fridge until pizza crust is ready
  3. Totally optional (but adds extra nutrients): thinly slice a small zuccini into "coins"
  4. Once crust is baked, you get to build your pizza! Drizzle crust with olive oil (I like to take a paper towel and "paint" it all over). Sprinkle a bit of mozzarella cheese. Scatter the zuccini, if you're using it. Top with the tomato mix and a bit more cheese if you'd like -- I made it fairly not-cheesy, but whatever it takes to make your husband/kids eat it!
  5. Bake for just a few minutes -- 8-10 -- just so all the flavors meld, things warm up, and the cheese thinks about melting. Slice and enjoy!

We're pizza fanatics here, eating it bare-minimum once a week. Pizza night is never known for its health value -- until now! Round out the meal with a salad, or add some cooked beans or chicken to the pizza itself. Yummm...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Special Family Birthday

This may seem silly to many of you, but I just had to share: My dear little car just hit 200,000 miles!

200,000 miles of:
  • Visiting family
  • Strengthening friendships
  • Working for the Lord
  • Learning new skills
  • Having fun
  • Shedding tears

This car has been mine since I got my license. It was my Dad's for 5 years before that -- I've traveled all over the eastern USA as either driver or passenger. It's silly, but very significant to me!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thai Chicken

I've been holding this post back, in the hopes of taking a picture of this tasty treat. Lo and behold, we ate it again for lunch today, and AGAIN it all disappeared long before any thoughts of the camera crossed my mind. You'll have to take my word on it -- it looks just as yummy as it sounds :)

The best thing about Thai Chicken is it is ridiculously, 8pm and haven't eaten yet, easy. 4 ingregients. Think you can handle that?

  • Chicken
  • Peanuts, unsalted (Aldi sells them with the red lid. Blue lids are salty)
  • Jalapano, diced. Start with 1, build up from there if you like the flavor. I used 3 today
  • Soy Sauce

I precook a whole chicken early in the week and portion it out, so all I have to do is thaw a package. 5 minute meal. My dear friend Amanda, who shared this recipe with me, uses raw boneless, skinless chicken. If so, chop it up into bite-sized pieces and saute it in a little oil first.

Once your chicken is cooked or thawed, throw in the diced jalapanos. Cook until bright green, only a minute or so. Throw in the peanuts. You may want to crush them a bit; I do sometimes and don't other times. Cook for a minute or so. Pour over enough soy sauce to make everything brown and wet looking. It'll only take a few tablespoons, but I never measure so I can't tell you for sure how much to use. Start with a little -- you can always add more, but you can't take any away!

We serve this layered into a bowl. The bottom layer is plain white rice. The middle layer is a veggie -- the best is the tiny frozen green beans, lightly steamed, from Aldi. I was out of those today so I used peas. I've also used steamed asparagus, chopped small. Scoop some chicken on the top, grab the chopsticks, and enjoy!

I love easy meals that taste like a million bucks :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Education

A couple times a year, my 10 year old brother comes to stay with Shaune and myself. It's a special time for all of us. Matty gets to have different rules, different house, different EVERYTHING! We get to play parents -- all the fun, none of the suffering :) I am still the cool big sister, after all. It's always a good time. We watch movies and play games. And, Shaune and I have a chance to share our values with him. There's a subtle vein of education running through most things we do.

For example, we don't have cable television and the Internet in our apartment is pretty iffy. So when he's with us, Matt learns the value of being bored. It leads to all sorts of fun -- gardening, board games, even fishing. Plus the joy in learning how to just be quiet, without outside stimulation.

He also learns how to get his hands dirty. I'm not sure where he learned this, but he hates touching pretty much anything. Shaune and I had fun with this. When Matty caught a fish (his very first ever!) Shaune wouldn't take it off the hook for him. Shaune coached, and guided, and even provided a glove! but declared that if Matt wanted to catch fish, he had to do the whole job. We had lots of laughs over that one. Then later, we were making personal pan pizzas. Matty didn't like how squishy the dough was... so we buried his hands in it :). It's all in good fun, but it's also an important thing to learn. How are you going to get through life if you won't touch anything yucky?

We taught him about movies that actually have a plot, and no explosions. We taught him how to find the tip quickly at a restaurant. We even took him to a museum to practice thinking critically about the claims that "scientists" (or biased exhibit designers) make. But most importantly, we taught him once again that we love him and we're here for him, and he can always ask us questions and receive an honest answer (even the ones that are hard to ask parents). We teach him life. These are the weekends that make life worth living.

Monday, July 19, 2010

First M.E. Church

There's a beautiful new stained glass window installed at our church. It used to be in the old building downtown -- they moved it into a frame and stored it when that building was sold. They've just now pulled it out and hung it.

The stained glass was made back when our church was the First Methodist Episcopal Church -- a denomination that no longer exists on its own but is a part of the United Methodist Church. "Methodist Episcopal" has too many letters for a stained glass worker... they shortened it to M.E.

First M.E. Church. Every time I see the window, I get a knot in the pit of my stomach. It's beautiful, yes, and the intended meaning is innocent enough. But every time my critical eyes view it... I see a commentary on the culture of our church... and the vast majority of other churches I've visited.

First, me. I'll pray, but first me. I'll worship, but first me. I'll serve, but first... me. My needs, my wants, my preferences take higher priority than serving the Lord. I'll join the Bible School committee, but only if we do it my way. Does this ring true for your churches? Not everyone, all the time... but some of the people at least some of the time. First, me.

Lest we be too harsh on the modern church, the "me first" mindset has been a problem since the very beginning:

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give
to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When
the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Matthew

The young man was focused on his wealth, his comfort, his earthly security blanket. He was saying, "First me."

He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family."
Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." Luke 9:59-62

These situations seem good -- caring for family -- but Jesus declares them both to be unfit. These men, too, said "First me." I'll follow you after I do the things that I want to do. Even good things can be bad if we lift them to a higher position than following Christ.

Jesus never said that following him would be easy. In fact, he said the exact opposite: "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." John 16:19. We are to be hated, despised, persecuted. Even if that person hating you is your own family (Luke 8:19-21).

So who's first in your heart? Yourself? Or Christ? Although I still struggle with this every single day, I'm glad there's a window at my church reminding me that I don't want to be a part of the "First Me" church culture.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garden Mystery -- Solved!

So I posted a few days ago about a mystery in my garden: the two jalapano plants were producing very different peppers. I think I just figured out what happened.

One plant cross pollinated with the bell pepper plant right next to it!

The jalapano didn't change much in flavor, just in appearance. The bell peppers -- which I pulled the first from tonight for a pizza -- didn't fare so well. They look like bells... smell like jalapanos... and taste somewhere in between. They have some kick, let me tell you!

So, note to self, next year the pepper varieties need to be located a little bit further apart. Or else I can leave them close together -- mysteries are kind of fun!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Eats

I've never been good at menu planning. I've tried -- I've read books and blogs, all excitedly touting the benefits to your health and your poketbook. I make a beautiful menu that doesn't look so beautiful by Tuesday's Lentil Casserole. I'm giving up for the summer. There's no point -- and with a lovely garden outside, there's no need!

My summer cooking routine is simple:

  1. Choose protein. There's a wide variety of frozen, cooked beans and meats ready to go, as well as some quick-cook meats like ground turkey. Set selected protein on counter to sort of head towards thawing.
  2. Choose starch. We love rice here and go through the 25lb bag from Sam's every 3 months of so. I set rice or brown rice up in the rice cooker (yay single button cooking!) or a pot on the stove for noodles. If I'm really lazy we just eat bread.
  3. Visit the garden and pick whatever's ripe. Lately there's been nothing but squash, but today I found my first red tomato and two lovely jalapanos -- Mexican-ish it is! I can't wait for the green beans!
  4. Chop veggies, stir fry or something with the protein, grab a can of sauce if desired (I've always got spaghetti sauce and italian salad dressing ready to go) or spice if you'd rather.
  5. Serve the veggie mix over the protein and GO!

One caveat -- I almost always know what should be ripe in the garden, so I do think ahead a tiny bit with the protein. Like, I knew the tomato was ready today... only one, and none others even close, so it would have to be eaten alone.

Today's Garden Simple Meal

  1. Black Beans (precooked and frozen in a meal size package. Never canned -- too salty)
  2. Brown rice (rice cooker love. This and my crock pot are the only two appliances I couldn't live without)
  3. Tomato, 2 jalapanos from the garden, plus a couple cloves of garlic from the store

Put the rice on to cook even before going to the garden. Cook the peppers and garlic, chopped, in olive oil til fragrant. While cooking, chop tomato and toss in when ready. Stir until tomato starts to break down. Break frozen chunks of black beans into the pot, stir til thawed. Hit with a little water, little salt and pepper, then let simmer. This kinda made its own gravy... yum. Put in a generous helping of rice (more for the boy, he's always hungry!) and top with the beans. It was literally heaven in a bowl.

We've lately also had squash with tomato sauce and noodles, zuccini and spinach soup, Thai chicken (theres a recipe I've got to share!), and all sorts of salads. Garden dinners are never boring and never preplanned, so we can eat what we want each evening. And, I'm pretty sure we've doubled our veggie diet! I love summer :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Garden Mysteries

I absolutely love having a garden. If you were around last year, you probably laughed while I experimented with growing for the first time. I used Rubbermaids on the balcony. It was fabulous, but I knew there was more.

This year we have ground of our own and I have been living it up! The garden lines one side of our house. It's only 3 feet wide, but 2 bedrooms long (so exact, I know). I love staring out my window at the flowers on the squash and tomatoes... I feel more connected with the "real" world even while I'm tapping away at my computer.

This basket is my new centerpiece for the kitchen table during the growing season. Today's selection: lettuce, spinach, and a crookneck squah. Some days the selection is still store-bought, but every day there's more home grown and less hothouse!

But I have a mystery to run past you all: Do you know why 2 plants, exactly the same, purchased together on the same day, planted side by side... would turn out two completely different peppers? They taste the same -- they're both clearly jalepanos. But they look so different! One plan it putting out the rounded-end, shiny peppers. The one next to it is producing matt green peppers that are long and pointy. I repeat -- they taste the same. I'm just curious to see if anyone has any input, as I'm new to this green thumb thing!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bobbin Lacing -- oops! Edited with pictures!

7/6, 10:13 pm : I can't believe I posted a project post without photographs! It has been remedied and will NEVER happen again! Unless I forget again...
I have been wanting to write this post for a week! Life keeps getting in the way, and, you know, life must be lived or else there will be nothing to blog about :)

When we were at the Jacksonville Civil War event back in June, I met a neat lady sitting under a tree doing something I had never seen before. Her hands were flying, throwing around these little wooden sticks displayed beautifully on a blue pillow. And what what happening when those pretty sticks crossed? LACE!

I couldn't help myself... I had to learn.

Because that's what I do... Learn stuff :)

The lady was generous enough to invite this crazy blonde into her home, promising me she'd teach me the basics of bobbin lacing. So last Wednesday found me jumping in the car on an adventure to Bloomington to learn this beautiful art.

My first lace: one section of each of the 3 stitches

Learn I did. Ramona taught me how to wind the bobbins (the little wooden sticks), then she taught me the stitches. There's actually only three stitches in bobbin lacing and they're all pretty easy. Lace is made when you put the different stitches together and grab different bobbins each time.

My first pattern!

I wish I could explain it to you better, so that perhaps you could learn, too... but I can't. All I can do is demonstrate my extreme excitement and encourage you to find a master, too! Learn! Or I can muddle through showing, maybe... but not online. What fun! I already have like a bazillion projects designed in my head to decorate all the pretty little somethings I've also designed. Maybe one day they'll get made!