Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thank you, Lord, for Dallas retail bliss. (Oh, dear.)

Well, it's official...we're in Dallas!

Thanks to Meliss and Luis for helping us, we would still be in Hewitt packing boxes without you two! (We owe you big.)

The evening after moving, my parents came to Dallas to celebrate an early Christmas. The day after they left, we flew to Kansas to celebrate with Matt's side of the fam.

Needless to say, we've been busy. Oh me, oh my, I think I know I have limits now.
Peter on the broken carousel...such a fun kiddo.
So, how was your Christmas? Did Santa bring all you could dream up, or did you focus on people and not stuff? Matt & I had a glorious time with all of our family (minus our newly-moved Tennessee family), eating and playing with kids and eating some more. Mmm. We even got to visit with my mom's 2 older sisters and family who live in Dallas. I've never moved to a place where we had family, ready to see us. So awesome!
Libby Lu...the youngest of our 5 nieces and nephs. Love her sass!

I do have one more announcement, thanks to Matt and bro-in-law Jake (aka Mustache Crony)...

I've wanted my own site for a while, and they made it happen. (Thanks, guys!) Right now, Blogger is still hosting, but we'll move things over as they come together. 

Thank you dearly as we have been finishing finals and projects, moving and traveling. We're in Dallas for the next 7 months and I'll be cooking, exploring and writing up a storm--I promise!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkuh, Kwanzaa, all the bit. 
Oh, and Happy New Year!

Food will follow...

Happy eating! Laurel

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Hello! It's been a while.

Well, it's the first official week of the holiday season, and that means overeating and overindulging, right? Wrong.
I absolutely adore coming around the table with family and friends and enjoying a tasty meal and each others' company. Matt & I are hosting Thanksgiving this year, with some of my family hitting the road and moving across the country (Be careful, guys!). That said, Turkey Day will be a little smaller this year, with just five of us. Of course, we will be cooking for 15 because that's how we roll (and we tend to give a lot away). The menu is shaping up, and here's the draft:

Okay, I can't help but laugh at the overabundance of food for 5 people. But it will be fun...and we will have lots of leftovers to eat while packing!

This Thanksgiving is more special than others for several reasons. One, it will be two years ago to the day on Thursday when my grandmother passed away. We still miss her terribly, but I think she would be proud of our family and how we are trying to pick things up without her. Two, this is Matt and my last month in Waco. What an adventure these last 3 1/2 years have been! We have learned so much and gotten so much closer in this time. We look back at fondness on these last few years, although they've been challenging, and we're excited to move to Dallas for a bit, and then on to who knows what?

As you go through your week, take time out to remember your many blessings and really ponder the wonder of life and breathing in and out. Life can be really difficult, and we have made it one more year. Blessings to you and yours.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A $35 Weekly Grocery Bill? Really?

I'm really proud of Matt and myself.
Oatmeal--inexpensive, tasty, filling, healthy
You see, we love food and we are on a pretty super-squished-tight budget while in school, so most all of any extra dollars we have goes to food. Where else? We were spending more and more on food, not realizing how those $10 or $25 transactions at the grocery store add up. In addition, we have more space in our home than 2 people need, and our stuff is getting out of hand. Something's gotta change.
Not only will our budget be tight again all year, but we're getting ready to move in December...into a place 1/3 the size of our current townhouse. One-third! Instead of panic (like all of you shopaholics out there), we're actually SO EXCITED. I'm living the simplest I ever have, and cleaning out our closets (oh, so many glorious closets) forces us (okay, me) to prioritize what to keep and what to give away. I say it's a personal challenge because Matt has mastered the art of decluttering his life. I'm not quite there, but it's a work in progress. (smile)
Frittata--cheap, delicious, quick, full of veggies
We have dreams of lifelong health and travel and exploring new places and people. I finally realize that, if I am serious about opening my heart to new people and new places, I have to be serious about not letting my physical belongings get in the way of that. It sounds silly, but my 50 pairs of shoes (now 15) and 100 shirts (now 40) get in the way of such freedom. If you tend to clutter like me, you know what I'm sayin'.
Homemade spaghetti--inexpensive, delicious, tastes better the 2nd night
With every pair of jeans I give away, every drawer I clean out, comes a little more freedom. Note: I didn't say opportunity for more shopping to replace those items. The irony in it all (and the value) is that we won't be replacing 99% of the things we're giving away. Our budget doesn't allow that. But the true value is in knowing what you really need for a joyful, happy, fulfilling life.
"Fried" rice and stir fry--two great options to use what you already have at home
I've said it before and I'm sticking with it...4 years of grad school would have been 500% less stressful if finances were not part of the equation. Dare I say it, grad school would not have been stressful much at all if tight budgets and difficulty in getting jobs weren't issues in our time here. Matt & I have learned so much, and we've done it together. Of course, we've had cheerleaders in our corner, but we still had to get out there and figure things out.
So, on to a $35 weekly grocery bill. It's possible because we do it each week. Matt & I eat all of our meals at/from home and allow ourselves one cheap date night a week (if we have the same free night together, which doesn't always happen). It takes planning, but no coupon cutting at all. It feels good to leave a grocery store with a half full cart and a full menu of meals. We use what we already have and merely supplement it. We don't eat many processed foods (granola bars and tortilla chips are the main ones), and we seek any window of opportunity to add produce into a meal. We cook for more than 2 people to always have leftovers, and we've gotten so much better at actually eating the leftovers. It works.
Working at a pharmacy attached to a grocery store, I see customers with carts full of frozen, processed, and fried meats and snacks wobbling over to the pharmacy to pick up their diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol medications. Not everyone of course, but many of these individuals have small children who are picking up on those bad habits--eating poorly and spending way too much on that processed, low nutrient, expensive, low quality food. I am convinced that a family can eat healthily, economically, and prepare meals quickly. Matt and I have committed to figuring out how to do that for our own family, as well as others who might not obsess over cooking as much as we do. :)

I encourage you to take the $35 grocery challenge! 
1. Check your fridge, freezer, and cupboards before even starting a grocery list--you'll be surprised by what you already have.
2. Think of 6 evening meals you can make with what you already have, and add the needed supplements (like parmesan cheese for your lasagna) onto your grocery list.
3. Then fill in the list with needed items that you regularly purchase each week for breakfast and lunch (yogurt, bread, cheese, etc.). Add in ONE treat item to make it more fun. Try to stay under $ can do it!
A recent grocery store splurge, Mint Aero bar.
 Matt & I are buying for 2 (very well-fed) adults, but we easily buy enough for 4 adults or 2 adults + 2 kids. (My point? You and your fam can definitely do this.)

Good luck! Enjoy the extra money in your wallet!

Happy eating.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mashed potato-stuffed peppers

This was a grand idea on Matt's part, stuffing raw red peppers with homemade mashed potatoes. The sweet and crunchy pepper makes a healthy bowl to hold the creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. Pretty healthy side, too.

Mashed Potato-Stuffed Peppers
Makes 4 servings

2 red peppers, sliced in half lengthwise (remove stem and seeds)
4 red potatoes (I call them new potatoes)
Salt and pepper
Garlic and onion powder
1-2 TB margarine/butter
1/3 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1/4 cup mushrooms, chopped

In a pot of salted water, boil the potatoes until tender. In a pan, saute mushrooms in 1 TB of butter/margarine for a few minutes, until tender.

Drain water from the pot. Using a potato masher or a wooden spoon (or mixer), mash potatoes.

Add salt and pepper, seasonings, margarine/butter, and milk. Stir. Fold in mushrooms and chives. Stuff peppers and serve soon after.

This can easily be made ahead of time for a dinner party (big or small) by preparing the potatoes and putting them in a large, covered bowl to keep warm. This was tasty, delicious, and I can't wait to see what other varieties of mashed potatoes we can come up with. Great job, Matt. Perfect with salmon and crab cakes!

Hope your Tuesday is looking sunny. Happy eating!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Banana Oats

pumpkin banana oats

Pumpkins mean one thing...Fall.

When I think of Fall, also comes thoughts of...
leaves in brilliant hues
crisp, cool breezes
oranges, reds, browns dressing porches and people
a need for comfort, for warmth
a desire for spices and a hot cup of tea
pies, pickled pieces, pot stews
and, of course...

I've now reached the double digits of loaves of pumpkin bread baked in our kitchen this month. (Don't worry about my cholesterol levels--all but 1 was given away.)

Daydreams of ideas and visions in cookbooks bring new pumpkin recipes to my growing obsession love for the pumpkin taste. I've been using canned pumpkin 1)because I don't have the energy to scoop out fresh pumpkin and 2)because it's actually pretty great for you, healthwise.

Hope this gives you more ways to reach 300% of your vitamin C daily needs and 50% of your soluble fiber needs, as well as a ton of potassium, all in one warm bowl.

Pumpkin Banana Oats
easily doubled, tripled, prepared on stove or in a slow cooker, or a zapper if you have class in 20 min.

1/2 cup oats
1 cup water 
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (unsweetened)
1 medium banana, sliced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of pumpkin pie spice (or nutmeg/allspice/cinnamon)
Dash of ginger (optional)
2 t. brown sugar (optional)

 Quick version:
Heat/cook oats and water until oats are 75% cooked. Add in remaining ingredients and stir. Heat until banana is softened and oatmeal is completely cooked. Savor the flavors.

Happy eating! Laurel

Blueberry Olacakes

Blueberry Olacakes

It's time for an installment of something warm, cozy, easy and healthy.

Another Olacake

Blueberry Olacakes
makes 6 olacakes, 2-3 servings
1 cup raw oats
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/4 t. baking soda
2 TB sugar
1/3 cup apple juice
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
handful frozen blueberries

Mix dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients and mix all together in a bowl (this is not a precise recipe). Stir.

Heat up a nonstick pan/griddle, spray the pan, and cook the 3-4 inch olacakes like you would pancakes. Serve hot, with maple or blueberry syrup if you like.

Ever had a Peruvian tangelo? Try it, you'll like it. 
Thanks to Matt for this treat.

On to more paper-writing. Happy eating! Laurel

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How about a turkey burger, shall we?

The following is to be whispered in Texas...I've never been big on beef burgers. I appreciate the American cultural and roller skates and all that. I also love the varieties of meats (and non-meats) used, as well as the creativity in ingredients, pairings, the such (see HOPDODDY on the Restaurants page). The idea of burgers are kind of amazing. I like eating anything on a deliciously hot and fresh homemade bread/bun. However, my body's not so big on the beef. (Okay, I'll admit it, I can't do beef anymore...ever.) But, before you go and feel sorry for me by eating a 2 lb. Cow-on-a-bun in my honor, please don't. Save your limited artery-clogging space for chocolate macaroons (I'll post them later) or a variety of pumpkin-infused sweets (which I'll also reveal someday...promise), something sweet and delectable...not a mooing entree!

So let's make a turkey burger. Simple, easy, tasty.

Quickie Turkey Burgs (Trivia: Burg is German for "castle")
serves 4 grown-ups (1 burger will be bigger than the others...for the sweaty griller)

1.25 lb. lean ground turkey
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 TB dried oregano
1 TB dried basil
1 t. chili powder
Dash of salt
Dash of thyme
4-6 crackers, crushed
1 TB mayo (optional)
1/2 t. crushed red pepper (optional)

Carefully mix all ingredients together in a bowl, using a spoon or your hands. Form 4-5 patties and put on a plate. Let flavors come together by chilling raw burgs in fridge for 1 hr. Grill and eat.

Potent Notables: Turkey burgers tend to fall apart on the grill. That's why I've added a few club crackers (crushed) and some mayo (egg whites keep the meat together, just like in baking). You can use breadcrumbs, most any absorbent bread/crackers crushed, or an actual egg white if you'd rather.

Happy eating! Laurel

Monday, October 10, 2011

Busy, busy week

This is a crazy week...

Lots of assignments/reading due
Thesis proposal due
Pat (MIL) coming to town Wedn! yay!!
My ordination is Sunday in Houston
Going to Dallas tomorrow and Austin Wednesday

This is such an exciting week but also so tiring. Would appreciate your prayers. :)

Someday I'll post those pumpkin donuts and pumpkin butter from this weekend. Here's a pic to get you excited. :)

Happy eating! Laurel

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Surprise dinner and Caramelized peaches

Happy Sunday!

This weekend has been full of work and papers and a (little) bit of baking.
Matt surprised me with a deliciously tasty shrimp pasta. Mmm.

 And, to thank him, I made dessert...for myself. Oops. Easiest dessert ever.
 1 very ripe peach, sliced
1 1/2 TB margarine/butter
1 1/2 TB brown sugar
Dash of cinnamon

In a saute pan, add margarine, cinnamon and brown sugar. Stir until melted. Add in peaches and cook on a lower heat for 3 minutes. Cover (with lid propped open slightly) and let simmer for 8 minutes or so. Eat!

Serve by themselves or over yogurt or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy.

 On a random note, after 24 years, I have stopped biting my nails. I just had to document it! Okay, enough of that. Go eat the peaches.

Happy eating! Laurel

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Banana Shake

I'm finishing up a reflective paper on Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water. While I've read A Wrinkle in Time and know she's super famous and the bit, I don't think I knew her until this book. Like, really know her. She mentions things that I didn't realize other people also thought about, and that is a sign of a good writer...someone who gets me out of my own little world and let's me think bigger. I recommend it. She relates her Christian faith to her identity as an artist, but my assignment in class was to replace "artist" with "minister" every time I read it. As far as I'm concerned, you can replace "artist" with "mechanic" or whatever your profession is, because this replies to everyone trying to understand life and their place in it.

It's time for something quick, tasty and that will satisfy my super sweet tooth that comes out when I have to (procrastinate and) write a paper.

Dairy-free Banana Shake
3 bananas, peeled and frozen for 2+ hours (in freezer, duh)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/3 cup milk (I used light vanilla soy)
Optional: handful frozen strawberries, 2 TB nuts, unsweetened coconut, chocolate syrup, anything you'd put on an ice cream sundae)

Blend bananas and milk in your blender for 2 minutes. Line a glass with chocolate syrup. Pour half of shake into glass. Scarf.

Happy eating! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Banana bread muffins

One of my favorite things to do is take a healthy, flavorful bread recipe and turn it into a muffin...especially a mini muffin!

With the semester back in full swing, I've started baking a "batch" of mini muffins (about 24) and storing the cooled muffins in sandwich bags with 3 in each. Then I freeze them and can grab them on the go. I'll keep them frozen in my lunchbag but, for breakfast and immediate eating, I microwave them for 30 seconds...perfection! It's way better tasting than frozen waffles, as well as much better for you.

Like most people who like to spend time in the kitchen, I've made more than a few different banana bread recipes but this is probably a combo of several because-today-I walked into the kitchen and threw a few things together. (Sorry, not sure who to give credit Michael Jackson? My agent? :) ) Hope this is tasty and fun to make.

Banana Bread Muffins
Makes 24 mini muffins or 10-12 regular sized muffies

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
Dash of salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg (optional)

2 TB agave nectar
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 ripe, soft bananas--peeled and "smooshed" with the back of a spoon
1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup brown sugar
2 TB margarine/butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped pecans/walnuts (whichever you like)
1/4 cup of raspberries, slightly frozen (put in freezer for 30 min) 

1. In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients.
2. In a large bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Put topping ingredients in a small bowl, stir together, and microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside.
3. Pour dry into wet ingredients and gently fold with a wooden spoon, until all is moistened and gooey. (Don't over stir.)
4. Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray (or whatever your routine is) and gently pour 1 to 1 1/2 TB of batter in each tin. Top with either 1) half a raspberry or 2) 1 t. drizzle of topping mix.

Bake at 350 for 8 minutes, or until they've risen and browned a bit.
Voila! Baby bits of happiness. Leave them in the pan for 2 minutes before putting them on a plate/cooling rack to get to room temp. Try not to eat all of them while they're cooling. HAPPY TUESDAY!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Matt did something funny the other day that I must document...

Through some crazy circumstance, my silicone baking mat was ripped to shreds. Not only did Matt replace it, but -wait- there's more.

He held out the mat and said, "BED"

He held out a bright red microfiber dish dryer and said, "BATH"

He held out a silly egg-shaped spatula and said, "AND BEYOOOND!!"

Truly adorable, charming, and a bit dorky. And now he's playing Damien Rice's Rootless Tree (see chorus). Heh, I love him.

Has someone close to you ever done something sweet, thoughtful and a bit dorky? I don't think we should underestimate these kinda have to put yourself out there to do them, be a little vulnerable. And, in order to receive said dorky gift, you must be a little vulnerable, too. Every day I am reminded that marriage and relationships in general are special, can be really strong, but they're always a little delicate. I'm not the super mushy type, but there's nothing wrong with a little mush here and there. Just not smush...that's a Jersey Shore term and not to be repeated by a pale, non-jet-black-dyed extensioned-hair girl of German and unknown descent. Haha. That's enough.

Happy night.

Nutty Ginger Peach Oatmeal

This is tasty. The inspiration is from Americanized Indian foods that combine the ginger-peach flavors--chicken dishes, hot teas, desserts. Why not roll it into breakfast?

Nutty Ginger Peach Oatmeal
serves 1 but easily double, tripled
1/2 cup oats
1 cup water or unsweetened vanilla soy milk
1 TB ground flaxseed
1/2 peach, bite-size pieces
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon candied ginger, sliced into tiny bits
1 t. brown sugar

Pour each ingredient, in order, into a ceramic bowl.

Microwave for 3 minutes (or on the stove for 5 minutes, covered). 

Once cooked, stir gently. Serve piping hot.
The flaxseed gives the oats a nuttiness, the peaches bring comfort and sweet tang, and the candied ginger adds zest and a spice out of this world. I like my oatmeal a bit sweet so the brown sugar balances everything. Yummm. This should fill you up for 3-5 hours.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Wow, it's been a while! School and work have been so time-consuming, and I missed being here.

Let's get right down to it with a little food, shall we? While I have been away from my blogging desk, I have NOT been away from the kitchen. Matt (and I) have whipped up some tasty things these last few weeks. Let's start with dinner.

Stir fry. You love it. I love it. Healthy for your body, especially your heart.

i heart stir fry
*6 servings*
1 bag frozen or fresh stir fry mix (16 oz of chopped red pepper, edimame, water chestnuts, green beans)
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 cups broccoli, bite-sized
16 oz extra firm tofu (I ate tofu, Matt chopped up 4 oz lean boneless porkchop)
Handful (about 1/3 cup) raw cashews or your favorite (peanuts, etc.)
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 TB sesame oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds
salt to taste + crushed red pepper (optional)
3-4 cups rice

1 wok, 1 wooden spoon, 1 basting brush, 1 tiny bowl
1 rice cooker (or pot with lid), cookie sheet with parchment paper/foil
*you'll need 2 woks or 2 pans if you're cooking "meat" separately from veggies

1) COOK THAT MEAT! Press the tofu with a few paper towels to remove all excess moisture. Cut into reasonable slices (I did strips this time, about 1/4 inch thick). Lay down on parchment paper or non-stick sprayed foil. In the tiny bowl, mix 1 TB of sesame oil, 1/2 of soy sauce and orange juice (optional). Stir ingredients together with brush and brush generously onto the tofu pieces. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Start cooking your rice, in whichever way you like.

If you're cooking pork or chicken, put meat into a wok or pan and pour the "tiny bowl" ingredients into the pan. Stir and watch carefully. Cook until no longer raw, between 5--10 minutes. Set aside.

2) CRISP THOSE VEGGIES! Adding 1/3 cup of water to the pan, cook the veggies thoroughly, adding 1 TB of sesame oil once the veggies are lukewarm and the water has mostly evaporated. Allow the veggies to soak up the oil. Add in the rest of the soy sauce, cashews and 1/8 t. of crushed red pepper (optional). Cover and cook for a few minutes, until veggie are hot but not soggy.

3) STIR FRY! Uncover and stir the veggies. Combine the meat and stir, if you like, or serve separately. Add salt or more red pepper flakes to taste. Eat!


Tofu is awesome,
Tofu is yummy,
Tofu's sure to make
A happy, full tummy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Apple Olacakes

Sitting in our freezer are several little baggies containing 3 mini muffins each, the perfect grab and go breakfast (after 30 seconds in the zapper). I'm continuing the homemade grab-and-go breakfast kick with a new addition...OLACAKES (oh-la-cakes).

Olacakes--easy to grab, healthy
and tasty pancakes topped and 
cooked with granOLA on one side
I admit it, they're good! My first try at these are as follows:

Apple Cinnamon Olacakes
Makes 14 olacakes, or 6-7 servings

1 medium apple, grated (I kept the peel)
1 1/3 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t. each: baking powder and baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 egg whites
2/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (2% cow's milk works, too, or 1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk)

1/2 cup uncooked, dry oats
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut

ONE: Spread coconut and oats onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, or until coconut is toasted. Set aside.
TWO: Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together in a large bowl. 
THREE: In a small bowl, whisk egg whites for one minutes. Add grated apple to the egg whites and gently stir. Pour into dry mix bowl, along with almond milk. Stir until just moistened.
FOUR: In a non-stick pan, drop pancakes, 2-3 TB at a time. When pancakes are 75% cooked (before flipping), sprinkle 1 TB of the toasted coconut/oats mix on top of each pancake. Press down a bit with a spatula. Then flip and cook for 1-2 minutes, or when coconut/oat mix has stuck to the top of the pancake. You have now made an OLACAKE!

Serve warm, cold, topped with syrup, caramel, agave syrup, peanut butter, or eat plain (which is still so tasty!). A great breakfast grab-and-go, snack or guilt-free dessert. 

Happy eating! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Randomosity has been one of my favorite (non-existent) words since middle school. It can be applied to so many situations, as in this blog entry. This last month has been a, reading, Wisconsin by car, Pearl Jam, apple obsession, dental work, stressful work environment, and--to make things windier--very little cooking! Oh, dear. So, here are some random, hopefully insightful facts about life and me right now...

1. I have been eating applesauce (with granola and cinnamon on top) and drinking diluted apple juice every day for the last month. 2 year old diet, I know.
2. Pearl Jam junkies really are amazing people. It was fun to meet the hardcore ones. Thanks for all of the accolades and tickets to Canada shows.
3. Sometimes, Matt & I get out the IKEA catalog and dream about design late at night.
4. I like shockcessories--pink shoes, orange purses, neon scarves. Apparently my grandmother was the same way.
5. I can't throw a ball to save my life...thank goodness Matt has mad baseball skills because sports have never been my strength. When he teaches our future kids to toss a ball, I'll be sitting in on that class, too.
6. I could live off of French bread and orange juice. My parents used to tease me about it.
7. I've recently retaken the Myers-Briggs (Jung's) personality test...I am a strong ENFJ. Five years ago, I was a strong INFJ. How did I go from introvert to extrovert? Still not sure about that one.
8. I've had a long daydream about owning a coffee shop. The name is already me.
9. We finally know what Sam (our dog) is! He's a Jackshund or a Jackweenie...a dachshund/jack russell terrier mix. Who knew people actually bred dogs to be that weird? I'd take 100 more Sams...he's great!
10. Henri Nouwen's writings are quickly changing my life, even if I didn't ask them to.

Happy day, any way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beginnings and Endings

Monday was my last first day of school. I've been in school a total of 21 years, including Kindergarten and this year. Wow, 21 years.

If anyone had come up to me as an insecure 7th grader--braces, crazy afro hair, zits, awkward written all over me--and said:
  • Laurel, you are one day going to have the focus of an arrow hitting the target
  • You will be so certain in God's voice calling you to Christian ministry that it will become you're life's mission
  • You are going to meet all kinds of people--rich, poor, educated in school, learned from the streets, homed, homeless, black, white, brown, yellow, happy, angry, joyful, bitter, ignorant, open, small town, big city--and they will each teach you something very important
  • You are going to be given responsibility to meet real needs, and some of these needs are life or death
  • You are going to go to grad school for four years
...I would be shocked.

But that is what it has come down to, lots of opportunities, lots of learning moments, and even a few "Come to Jesus" meetings. And now I am in my last year of equipping from a formal education perspective, and I have so many emotions. I am the same person, but I have certainly been changed. I am excited about life, seeing Mountains Beyond Mountains. There is hope in hurt, and we experience that each day as ministerial and social work students. I have formed lasting bonds with professors, homeless people, supervisors (so many supervisors...), fellow classmates, coworkers, and friends. Each day is a new challenge and brings a new growing pain in muscles in my heart and mind that I didn't even know I had.

The closer I am to these degrees--pieces of paper--the less I want to talk about it.

It's incredible how people treat you differently when they find out you're in grad school. It's sickening, really. I'm just me, and I sometimes have a messy car and sometimes show up late to something important, just like many of you. I am particular about my baked goods and get cravings for vegetables and will do anything to bring about justice and show some mercy, too. But God called me to graduate school. Even though I have fought Him for some of this time, have been in mourning some of this time, and have thrown my hands up in the air in confusion ("Why here, God? Why now?), I have learned some tough lessons and met some even tougher situations that have given me the strength and drive to press on.

As I close this non-food related blog (Sorry, my lunch is consisting of mini blueberry muffins, corn & black beans, and carrot salad...weird, I know.), I'll leave you with something beautiful. This song helped me through my senior year of college (mostly the chorus) and continues to be a source of centering and encouragement today as I go honestly, humbly, to God.

Humble Me
(Norah Jones)

Went out on a limb
Gone too far
Broken down at the side of the road
Stranded at the outskirts and sun's creepin' up
Baby's in the backseat
Still fast asleep
Dreamin' of better days
I don't want to call you but you're all i have to turn to

What do you say
When it's all gone away?
Baby i didn't mean to hurt you
Truth spoke in whispers will tear you apart
No matter how hard you resist it
It never rains when you want it to

You humble me Lord
Humble me Lord
I'm on my knees empty
You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
Please, please, please forgive me

Baby Teresa got your eyes
I see you all the time
When she asks about her daddy
I never know what to say

Heard you kicked the bottle
And helped to build the church
You carry an honest wage
Is it true you have someone keeping you company?

What do you say
When its all gone away?
Baby i didn't meant to hurt you
Truth spoke in whispers will tear you apart
No matter how hard you resist it
It never rains when you want it to

You humble me Lord
Humble me Lord
I'm on me knees empty
You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
Please, please, please forgive me

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Crunchy Carrot Salad

It has taken me a long time to develop a friendly relationship with carrot salad. I like creamy desserts but creamy "salads" and healthy do not go together much for me. I had never made carrot salad before but, thanks to SusanV's recipe, I was encouraged to try it. I wanted more crunchy, less creamy and more sweet, but less sugar. I definitely modified her recipe, but I thank her for the idea.

Crunchy Carrot Salad
1 pound of carrots, washed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 TB agave nectar
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup granola (optional, preferably with a little cinnamon or apple)

Time to make: 5 minutes; Time to eat: 5 minutes; Servings: 4
In a food processor, grate carrots. Of course, you can do it by hand, but the processor takes 1 minute flat.
Put the grated carrots in a medium bowl. Using a fork, stir in lemon juice, agave nectar, and raisins. Top with granola for extra crunch. 
Fridge for 30 minutes to let flavors set. But, if you can't wait like me, devour immediately.  


Time for a slice of humble pie...
I found this great recipe for Chicken with Swiss Chard. I'd never cooked with chard, so I was excited. Matt was excited to eat it. It was a 
I know, it's horrible!
The cooking went well, and I followed the recipe closely (a rarity). HOWEVER, we realized that neither of us like the taste of chard. It was too earthy. Maybe we'll try it again another time. But for dinner last night, we had the chicken and then some Blue Bell. (Matt got it to cheer me up...I haven't bought Blue Bell in quite a few years.) So there's our little run with chard. Next time, I'll have it at a restaurant. Any tips? Let me know.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Quickest smoothie ever

Ever need a quick breakfast, but a granola bar isn't enough? Grab this.

Quickest Smoothie Ever
Serves one in a hurry
1/2 cup orange juice
1 frozen banana
1/2 frozen peach
3 frozen strawberries
1 TB ground flax

Blend all together. Gulp down immediately while running out the door.
Have we talked about flax seed yet?
I suppose it's time.

FLAX SEED is a superfood. This WebMD article summarizes a lot of it.

  • Can be traced back to Babylon as early as 3000 BC, and King Charlemagne thought so highly of the food that he passed laws to command his people to eat it.
  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids, "good" fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
  • Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed contains 75-800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
  • Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.
  • It is linked to preventing cardiovascular and lung diseases, as well as preventing certain types of cancers (lung, breast, colon).
  • The omega-3s in flax seed can reduce atherosclerotic plaque buildup (in the arteries) by up to 75%.
  • Daily intake of flax seed can regulate your cholesterol levels and even your blood sugar, for current and potential diabetics. (This is so huge.)
  • And, for middle aged ladies, 2 TB of ground flax seed in your yogurt or on fruit twice a day is believed to reduce hot flashes by 50%.
    Golden and dark flax seed are equal in nutritional value
Okay, if that hasn't convinced you, just try it. Flax seed in inexpensive (bought in the bulk bins at the grocery store or in bags in the healthy living/vitamin departments at the stores). It's cheaper to buy whole flax seeds and then go home and ground them in your coffee grinder or food processor. I keep a little jar of them on the kitchen counter, right next to the sea salt. It's easy to sprinkle on yogurt, fruit, in smoothies, oatmeal, in baking breads and cakes, in pasta, soups, taco meat, anything really! Doctors recommend 1-2 tablespoons a day, and consuming ground flax seed is absorbed much better than the whole seeds. It has a bit of a nutty flavor when eaten alone, but it virtually tasteless when mixed into foods.
Ground flax seed

 And now for something random...
This is what my summer has looked like.

No, do not fear, my husband and I are doing really well. I've been taking a Premarital Counseling class so I can be certified to counsel couples as they prepare for marriage. It involves a LOT of reading, including books like this that make for interesting conversations (or sympathetic stares) in the dentist office waiting room. Ha, that's okay, just another (humbling) sacrifice for a minister's calling, right? Hope your day is wonderful, fabulous and FLAXulous. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lulu's Lemon Latermelon


Now those of us who attended "foot functions" (aka dances where a boy and a girl hold hands...scandalous!) long ago and met their future spouse at a church square dance (like my parents) might not go for this particular frozen beverage. But no worries, even those Bible-thumping preachers can modify this for their alcohol allergies. Lulu won't mind.

This cocktail (aka cold beverage to sip on the veranda) is creamy, refreshing and so easy to make. It combines citrus with summer watermelon for a sweet tang. It was created by a nervous lady last night at midnight, afraid she'd wake up her neighbors and their sweet baby with all of her kitchen racket, hence the name Latermelon

Lulu’s Lemon Latermelon

1 cup frozen watermelon chunks
2 TB lemonade or orange juice
Juice from ½ lemon
1 oz vodka
½ oz triple sec

Blend all ingredients for 30 seconds, or until creamy. Serve immediately, and garnish with a lemon slice and mini melon pop (frozen watermelon chunk on a toothpick).
Oh boy, it's tasty! And it's pretty to look at, too. Happy sipping!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lemon Cake with Fudge Frosting

Matt heard from our friend/his bandmate Chris that they were making a cake the other night to accompany a cookout. Matt requested I make a cake here. What kind? I asked. He thought lemon with chocolate frosting would be lovely. I thought it would be weird. I was wrong. He thought I'd whip up a cake mix out of the box. I spent 2 1/2 hours making it from scratch. He was wrong. But it's okay, because now we have a yummy delicious cake that I gently adapted from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa).
That Ina fascinates me. I've only seen 5 minutes of her TV show here and there, at the dentist office or while dozing at home. But she's so fun! I think it's because all of her food looks really tasty and her "no fuss, no stress" attitude makes the dishes look createable in our own kitchens at home. So I tried making her lemon cake. This one's delicious and unique because you basically pour a lemon simple syrup over the lemon cake, making it very moist for days and adding a lemon punch in every bite. If you like lemon, use the 6 lemons she calls for. I do love the lemon, but I think I'll scale it back to 4 next time to lessen the tang. Here goes.

Super Lemon Cake
Makes 2 rounds or 2 loaves
gently adapted from Ina Garten


  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature (or 1 stick butter + 1 stick margarine)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. (I used one loaf and one 8 inch round), lining the bottom of the pans with parchment paper (optional).
Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
2: Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 35--45 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.
3: Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray. Spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
See the puddle of lemon syrup on the plate? The cake will soak this up within an hour.

For the frosting...
I used another simple recipe that I found in an old cookbook of my grandmother's. It is not at all healthy, but this is a special occasion cake anyhow.

Creamy Fudge Frosting
makes 3 cups of frosting, or plenty for two round cakes or two loaves

3 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 stick of softened butter
4 tablespoons whipped topping (like Cool Whip, but you can use heavy cream, too)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: In a medium bowl, sift the sugar and cocoa powder.

2: In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 1 cup of sugar/cocoa mixture, along with 1 TB of Cool Whip. Whip until smooth. Repeat process, adding 1 more cup of sugar mixture with 1 TB of Cool Whip. Repeat one last time, making sure all ingredients are smooth and creamy. 

3: Spread on cake with a spatula or dull knife.
So, there you have it, the lemon cake with fudge frosting that sounded kinda weird but tasted pretty great. Happy baking and happier eating!
*If you wanted to mix up the lemon cake with a simple glaze or vanilla frosting, I would add 2 TB of chopped mint or rosemary to the batter for a little pizazz.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Guilt-free Green Lasagna

Okay, normally green lasagna makes you think of those 3 week old leftovers in the back of the fridge that never quite made it to the trash. Ick. This lasagna was Matt's idea, and it's some of the best I've ever tasted. Not only is the cheese melty and strategically placed to make your tastebuds happy, but it's actually quite healthy with all sorts of veggies and good stuff. And there aren't 300 ingredients in it, like in a chefs lasagna, so you don't have to spend $8,000 on all of the ingredients.*

Kids can help you make this tasty dinner, and it's enough for two casserole dishes (16 generous adult-sized portions, or one hyper 3 year old's entire messy birthday party).

Guilt-free Cheesy Lasagna
Makes two 9X11 pans of lasagna, 16-18 servings, or can be easily halved

2 large jars marinara
2 12-oz packages of wheat (or whole grain) lasagna noodles
1 pound ground turkey
5 garlic cloves, sliced thinly (remember the razor blade that sliced paper-thin garlic slices in Goodfellas?)
1 16-oz bag frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
1 16-oz bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
3 TB Italian seasoning 
1 TB dried or 3 TB fresh basil 
Dash of black pepper
Dash of red pepper
1 quart low-fat ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella

1 large pot
1 large skillet/wok with lid
1 large bowl with ice cold water
sharp knife
wooden spoon
2 casserole dishes (AKA lasagna pans, 11X7, 12X8, 13X9) 

step one: Boil a large pot of water and cook lasagna noodles, 5 at a time. 
step two: In the meantime, brown the turkey in a large skillet and drain, if needed. Keeping the heat on medium-high, add the garlic and a drizzle of olive oil and let the turkey soak up the flavors for a couple of minutes. Add broccoli and spinach and let cook for a few minutes. Then stir in marinara and seasonings. Cover and put on medium-low to let flavors unite. Preheat the oven to 350 now and take the cheeses out of the fridge.
{a small learning moment}
{Depending on the flour in the noodle, lasagna boils for 7-11 minutes. Tongs are the safest (avoid boiling water burns) but can be slippery.}

step three:  When the first batch of lasagna noodles are cooked (soft to the touch by a tongue, but not falling apart), transfer noodles to big bowl of cold water. This prevents sticking and frustration while assembling the dish. Leave the noodles in the cold water for a minute and lay flat on a plate. Repeat this cooking process with the next batch of noodles until all are cooked. (Trust me, this goes by faster than it sounds.)

step four: Time to assemble. This goes by really quickly with a buddy. Layer of sauce, noodles, ricotta (use the spatula), noodles, sauce, noodles, ricotta, etc. Of course, layer how you like. Just be sure to top the lasagna with lots of mozzarella, 2 cups per dish. Spray a sheet of foil with nonstick spray and top the casserole dishes (spray side down, to keep cheese from sticking to foil). Bake for 40--45 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly on top. Let sit for 10-20 minutes and serve. Yum.

Hope your weekend has been loverly. We had a bunch of dear and not-so-near friends visit for a couple of days. So much fun!
Happy cooking and happier eating! 

*Disclaimer: a slight exaggeration, but only slight. :)