Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Amazing Grace

Every once in a while, I go back and scan my old blog entries. Boy, do I sound
Todd Bonita
sometimes. But, in case you do not know me personally, you should know that this blog is one of my outlets of lightheartedness.

 Allow me to explain. I am working on two degrees right now. And I'm the girl who stayed up late and went to a lot of rock concerts during my undergrad years. I watched every episode of X-Files (reruns) and suspenseful islandians on Lost that were in existence, mainly because my roommates and I loved to procrastinate doing homework. But I'm back in school now (Lord, why?) and, while undergrad was no joke, the content of my education now
I'm in seminary (cha-ching, watch out Wall Street! haha j/k) now, trying to understand this call to ministry God has put on my heart. In the meantime, the school of social work here at Baylor sucked me in because of the amazing work they are doing for a lot of hurting people (double cha-ching, watch out paycheck! heh)

So my days consist of class discussion that looks at the real trials that all people are going through in this world and how to prevent some of the horror and heal the wounds of those already hurting. It's the most gut-wrenching work I've ever been a part of and the most important I've ever been exposed to. My eyes well up every time I think about how honored I am to be here, right now. The beauty of the human spirit is incredible, and the constant love of the God of humanity is too incredible to explain.

I don't talk a lot about God on here because I don't like it when people get preachy, especially myself. I've been in places where people throw around the words "God" and "the Lord" like they were tossing pizza's much too much. However, the heart is pure and God's presence resides in the oftentimes small, secret places that only those we eternally trust can peek in and see. When God created me, He gave me an unusually big mouth that likes to be super chatty...therefore, I need to be careful with my tongue. I need to choose my words carefully and speak from the heart, not hurt people and turn them off to God. Oh, I digress. SO that is why this blog is silly at times and light...we all need a little light, don't we? You and I are all going through heavy stuff, and the only heaviness I crave is a big fat slice of chocolate fudge cake, with vanilla ice cream on the side, and chocolate syrup.

Have you been reading lately? Anything fun?
My mother-in-law is in a ladies' book club. They are at a point in the year where they all get together and pitch ideas for their next 12 months/12 books of reading. I suggested one that is quickly changing me.
Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol, is a documentary-style book about the people of Mott Haven, South Bronx in the mid-90s. I think I've mentioned this book before. The thing is, it's so powerful I can only read a few pages at a time, so I have literally been reading this book off and on for 3 months! It has made me cry, become inspired, see life in such a beautiful way. I recommended this book to my MIL's book club because the women in that group are thoughtful, analytical, educated and-most of all-love a good story. I hope they choose it, if nothing else to cherish the beauty that is the truth seen from the eyes of some of the country's most forgotten children. 
Another book I really enjoyed reading this semester was a deep one, too, although a little easier to move through the pages. Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, is an incredible nonfiction story about Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard physician who fell in love with Haiti and is doing groundbreaking work to eradicate tuberculosis and its difficult strains found in very poor places. He is literally saving thousands of lives each year, and it's so fun to read about a guy who hasn't died yet. That's no offense to my historical theology classes, but this is one ALIVE, tall white guy. :) The guy is so unusual. You learn about medicine and third-world practices, how a small grassroots non-profit gets going and, most of all, the dream of one man to change the world. It is a beautiful read.

Well, it sounds like I don't do a lot of textbook reading, eh? Ah, but I do! You see, somehow some very smart and nice professors let me sneak these two books into my syllabi. Little did they know I'd read them anyway...haha... I must mention that my husband's music co-llaborator, Chris, introduced me to Amazing Grace (the book). Chris is a counselor primarily working with children and adolescents, and he credits this book with changing his career direction to helping people. Whoa! See what I mean, how this book is powerful?

Hmm, what else to mention, since it's 7:15pm and I'm obviously not cooking tonight?

Oh, yes, I have my last internship lined up. Yay! In Dallas, the land of big shopping, bigger stone jewelry, and biggest hair. How do they get their hair that high? (Sorry, Dallasians...?) 
Matt & I are excited to have the last part of my education in place for next Spring. I'll take my last semester of classes in the fall while also working on a research project for my last internship site, then we'll move to Dallas at Christmastime. Must buy a teasing comb and some hairspray... 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't be scared, it's just Tofu!


I do! But here's what my dear loved ones think:

Mom--Doesn't it look and taste like cardboard?
Dad--The hippie era ended like 25 years ago, Laurel, youknow, when Tears for Fears shook the world...
Hubby--I like tofu, but it's best with a little steak mixed in.

I don't cook much with tofu, mostly I leave slicing and grilling it up to Thai restaurant professionals. But I thought I'd give this a try...

Hella Easy Tofu
1 lb firm tofu
1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
Any other spices you like (crushed red pepper, peanut butter, etc)

1. Mix soy sauce and any other spices in a bowl or coffee cup.
2. Slice tofu into 1/4 inch slices (long or square, whateva) and place on foil-lined cookie sheet. Spray with non-stick spray.
3. Brush soy sauce mixture on both sides of each piece of tofu. Let marinate/sit for 10+ minutes. Bake at 375 for 25--30 minutes, or until brown and crisp on the edges. Inside will be soft and tender.
Baked tofu in a pool of soy sauce. Mmm

The flavor is mild and soy sauce-y, but not too salty. It's really good and too easy!! The best part of tofu is that
1) it's healthy.
2) tofu molds to whatever sauce/flavors you add to it. Example: if you add soy sauce and ground ginger sauce, the tofu will taste like the sauce. Make sure your sauce has lots of flavor.

*same as you would chicken cutlets/nuggets that you can top with gravy or any sauce or dip
*slice into bite-sized pieces for a soup, stir fry, pasta, casserole
*serve on a bun with french fries for a healthy alternative
*any other way you like!! so versatile.

We made a stirfry...

Tofu, sweet peas, celery, broccoli, pineapple, mushrooms on a bed of rice.

And Matt found 2 signs that sum up my parents' destressors in a silly way...hmm, which one is mom's and which is dad's?
Keep calm and go shopping. Keep calm and rock on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Contraffatto Polenta Ochenta


I've had it maybe three times in my life. (Sorry, Italians.) But I respect the polenta, and that's what counts.

I respect it enough that I used polenta in a tube for fear of overcooking the real stuff. I know, I try to avoid anything in a tube but I was desperate to invite polenta into my home in a comfortable, warm environment that did not involve scalding it.

I digress. So, polenta. I needed a quick meal, like a 20 minute cook & prep time meal. In comes the polenta...
And the spinach...
1. Heat your grill pan on med-high. Drizzle with some olive oil.

Coat the polenta in olive oil and cook at least 5 minutes on each side (until cooked and getting a bit crispy). Add some Italian seasoning (or basil, oregano, salt, garlic powder) and a little crushed pepper if you like.
Tasty sauce with a little kick.
I literally just heated the frozen spinach, drained it, and added a tablespoon of this. A little goes a long way. Get it at Target. Love the Giada.

Con queso. 20 minute dinner. Move over, Rachael Ray.
No queso.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Souper Bean

The Facts
60% of daily fiber needs
15 g of protein (40 g total daily)
20% of daily iron needs
227 calories
0 cholesterol and 0 sugar
40 cents for canned beans, 10 cents for raw bagged version

The truth is, black beans are amazing for a healthy diet, full of thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus and folate. And, if you keep the sodium low, you can add lots of flavor and life to a pretty awesome bean. I had a bean party the other night and made (surprise!) two gallons of bean soup. Heh, I didn't mean to, but now I have bean soup for the rest of my life...or the next month or 2. I've adapted it to 1 gallon (enough to fit in my 4-quart crock pot). Here's how it went:

Makes 4 quarts, or 8 entree servings

8 oz dry black beans, rinsed and separated
4 oz green lentils, rinsed
4 oz white beans, rinsed
6 oz black eyed peas, rinsed
4 oz of another bean of your choosing (kidney, lima, navy...I used split green peas)
2-3 quarts of reduced sodium organic stock (chicken, vegetable, or beef)
1/2 teaspoonful sea salt, more to taste (smoked salt, if you have it)
olive oil
1 large onion
red pepper flakes, garlic powder, smoked paprika, jalapeno (optional)

Put all of the raw beans in a stock pot and cover with cool water (leave 2 inches of water above the beans). Let sit, uncovered, for 1 hour to soak.

After the hour, strain out water and fill pot again with same amount of water (or part water-part stock if you're feeling fancy). Boil on medium high for 15 minutes or so, checking to see if the beans are a little soft and cooked. (Don't overcook...they will cook more in the crock later.)

Strain beans from water and transfer to your crock pot, setting it on high heat. Add one quart of the stock. Cover and let simmer.

Meanwhile, drizzle a little olive oil (1 t.)  in a pan and saute the chopped onion. I like to saute it just enough to brown the edges but not enough to make the onions limp and greasy. Throw those in the crock pot. **Disclaimer...this is your opp to throw in anything that you don't like to eat every day but that every health guru/nutritionist/Jillian Michaels says you should eat. This includes kale, spinach, broccoli, corn, roasted red pepper, bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, leeks, and other such rabbit foods. I would saute those for a couple of minutes, depending on the crunch you want, then throw them in the crock.***

Okay, back to the soupiness. At this point, add the second quart of stock and add the spices of your choosing. I used red pepper flakes, the amazing alderwood smoked sea salt from Whole Foods, garlic cloves (3), garlic powder (redundant), a little Cavender's, and a smile. Then I walked away from the crock, covered, and let it do its thing. While waiting, I went to Target and picked up a few things, did some homework, and did some laundry.

Ah, the joy of the crock babysitting necessary. If I told you I stirred it every 10 minutes to keep the flavors blending, I would be lying. I came back in two hours. Yes, two hours.

Matt & I found our big red ladle, scooped up 2 cups of soup in each bowl, and he topped his with smoked swiss slices and smoked paprika. Mm, mm, good.

So that, my friends, is why soup is awesome. It is easy, you can leave it alone for a long while, and it always tastes better on the second or third day (yay for leftovers!). Don't stress out, it's just bean soup. 

*Serve it on brown rice or even a whole grain pasta, like bowtie, if you're feeling super fancy.
*TOTAL COST: $10 (That's 8 meals for $10!!) EVEN BETTER, you have enough beans left over for a 2nd batch!
*This soup is as creative as you, so throw in produce that needs to be eaten soon, frozen veggies that you've been meaning to cook, and maybe a meat or tofu that were from a leftover.
*This soup freezes well...I put it in 2 cup containers (for lunch) or pint containers (dinner for 2) for easier storage and quick grabs.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pancakes & Teeth

 No, you're not seeing double. I don't usually slab 2 pics of myself all ova here, but today's an exception. I did the Zoom whitening treatment at the dentist this week...ever tried it? 

It involved three 15-minute sessions of UV light on my mouth. It was a little tingly, but overall no biggie. I think my teeth are a bit whiter (not tons), but I was glad it looked natural. It was a b-day gift from my parents...thanks, guys. If you have sensitive teeth, DON'T TRY THIS! But I thought it was decently good and worth it.

Enough of that. One of the bad things about having my teeth whitened was that I couldn't have fun things for a few days:  tea, wine, BERRIES.

I kept forgetting and kept grabbing green tea or Sweet Leaf in a bottle (a fave), taking a swig, and --with the swig in said mouth--saying Oh, dear! I'm not supposed to drink tea! So I broke the rules a little. HOWEVER, I did not eat berries for several days. (so hard, so hard) And what did I do to celebrate???


makes 4 giant or 8 small pancakes
My favorite budget-friendly choc chips...I used vegan this time, though.
1. Mix first 5 ingredients in medium bowl, heating a medium sized skillet (or pancake griddle) to medium-high heat. I use olive oil or coconut oil to keep the cakes from sticking. Pam and butter don't work as well for me. Mix in coconut and rosemary (fresh or dried). If you can handle the savory and sweet, throw in a few chocolate chips, too. Mix the batter well.

Ladle, ladle, ladle, not made out of clay...with my ladle I shall play...
2. Using a ladle, spoon 1/2 cup of batter into skillet. Lay the strawberries on top of the batter and press down a bit. Cook each pancake on each side for 2-3 minutes, turning with a giant spatula.
3. Serve on a heated plate (2 min in the microwave), top with extra coconut and any leftover strawberries.

Add caption

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kitchen Tips

One of my favorite things to do, as it might be yours, is to WATCH people cook. Reading a recipe is good and all, but I like to see how they put the tasty dish together. And, with a good teacher cooking while talking, you might also hear some of their tips for cooking in the kitchen.

Here are just a few celeb cooks/chefs who are great teachers:
Giada De Laurentiis
Alain Ducasse
Rachael Ray
Julia Child, of course

But they're rich and famous and make cooking seem like a breeze on TV. But I'll start today with a running list of tips in the kitchen. I thought about putting the source next to them but, the truth is, I'm not sure where all of these came from. Plus, multiple people say the same tip sometimes. So here goes:

*To save time, money, and sanity*

Clean: Clean out your fridge every 2 weeks (before you hit the grocery). Share the cleaning responsibilities. From Matt: Kiss your wife when she's baking cookies.

Counter: Clean that counter! I learned this from matter how busy and crazy the mornings are, she always wiped down the counter before leaving for work. This left an inviting touch for coming home tired and cooking dinner after a long day. Clean now, play later. (I'm learning.)

Dishes: Clean as you go. Soak pots in warm, soapy water before you eat at the table. This saves so much time, sanity, and prevents fighting between spouses. Reuse bowls when baking or making sauces.

Gadgets: Keep your gadgets organized in a drawer in organization trays. I'll post some of my favorites another day (my weakness).

Garlic: Crack and peel (and press) an entire bulb of garlic. Put it in an airtight container or baggie and pop it in the freezer for easy grabbing. Use the side of a knife to crack the clove and save time on peeling.

Ginger: Instead of wasting an entire "branch" from sticking it in the fridge for weeks (guilty), take the piece home from the store, peel it all, and stick it in an airtight baggie in the freezer. When you need it, grab it..frozen ginger is easier to grate, too.
Pots & Baking: Hand wash pots, pans and baking sheets. This keeps them from warping and, if non-stick, keeps the coating intact longer.

Produce: After coming home from the store, fill your kitchen sink with cold water and rinse everything off before putting it in the fridge. That way, you can grab lettuce, apples, whatever, quickly!   

Spices: Buy them in bulk, or at least from stores where you fill them in baggies. It's almost always cheaper to measure out spices yourself rather than buy the little jars. Plus, you get to try out new ones. When you need common ingredients like bay leaves, cinnamon, sea salt, look for the "International Foods" versions (like cinnamon from Mexico) because they are $$$ mucho cheaper and equivalent quality to the common brands.

Storage Containers: Keep a set that matches (I love the swivel set with the same lids to add to any size.) to save sanity and messy cabinets of Tupperware. Buying a couple of "fun" enticing storage bowls the size of one family meal (2 servings in my house) will encourage you to eat your leftovers, stretch your dollar, and make meals easy. Also, put one-serving containers together for next day lunch. Freeze leftovers you know you can't get through in a few days.

Utensils: Keep your knives sharp. Have a jar full of staple utensils easily accessible. Include: slotted spoon, wooden spoons, spatulas (grill, big pancake, icing), silicone tongs, ladle, mallet, potato masher. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Family Recipes

Every family has favorites, even if they come from a delivery boy in a large flat cardboard box. I found a couple from my grandmother's family, and this definitely shows the housewife in heels and pearls, Southern charm and the incredible tasty creations that the women of my family can whip up in a kitchen. Hint: when you see the word "Southern," think creamy, high fat and high comfort. Just a warning. Here are a few charms...
from Aunt Ouida

12 boneless chicken breast halves
12 oz cream of mushroom soup
12 oz cream of chicken soup
8 oz sour cream
3 oz cooked beef slices, diced (roast beef from the deli works)
6 slices bacon, sliced in halves

1. Layer beef in bottom of 9X13 casserole dish.
2. Wrap each breast in half a slice of bacon. Place chicken on top of beef in pan.
3. Combine soups and sour cream and pour over chicken.
4. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste and bake at 275 for 3 hours. Serve over brown or dirty rice.

not my pic (Hubpages)
from Karol's
(adapted from Mama & Aunt Sherry)

1 head lettuce (bibb, romaine)
1/2 cup each, chopped: celery, chives, green/red/yellow peppers (any)
10 oz snow peas (frozen is fine, but thawed)
6 sliced, boiled eggs (I prefer no yolks, so 9 eggs)
8 oz grated sharp cheddar
8 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1 pt lite mayo
2 TB sugar (up to 2 more TB to taste)
1 1/2 c lite sour cream

1. Layer the top ingredients in the order above (start with lettuce, end with bacon)
2. Mix topping ingredients. Use a spatula to spread evenly over the top of the salad.
Indulgent, creamy, a little sneaky (really? does this count as salad?). Reminds me of holidays.

from Mom

3 c sugar
1 c buttermilk
1 t baking soda
2 sticks butter/margarine
1 1/2 c pecans
1 t vanilla extract
pinch salt
2 TB white corn syrup (or Agave)

1. Mix sugar, buttermilk (w/soda), butter, salt, and syrup.
2. Cook on med-low heat over stove until it forms a rather hard ball when a drop is dropped in water.
3. Add vanilla and pecans. Stir for 30 seconds.
4. Cool rapidly, beating it with whisk as it cools. Once it gets to a warm (but not scalding) temp, it is ready to drop.
Kingking cakes in Nawlins--oh, the cakes are good, too!
5. Using a tablespoon (sprayed with non-stick spray), drop spoonfuls on wax paper or a non-stick baking liner. Oo, delicious! Now soak that pot in warm soapy water and go eat a praline.


I've spoken before about the "entire stick of butter in each" kolache(s) at Gerik's Ole Czech Bakery.



Oh heavens, Gerik's has opened a location in Hewitt, AKA ONE MILE FROM OUR HOUSE!

Now 1) this is dangerous for my waistline and 2) this is dangerous for our grocery/food budget.

But, in order to be strong and power through it, I must 1) de-Paula Deen myself away from the butter and sweets happiness and 2) run by the new Gerik's and just make sure their lunch menu is as good as I think.

After all, I've never ventured past the pastry counter to the entire restaurant at the downtown location. There's a whole Gerik's world out there I have yet to explore.

Matt got the Club...which was a giant homemade croissant with large, thick slices of smoked ham, turkey, melted cheeses, crispy pickles, tomatoes, and about 10 other creamy things that looked like mayo. He said it was good and messy.  I ordered the Daily Special, Chicken Spaghetti (I didn't eat the half of a chicken breast among the pasta), which was creamy, homemade, and full of mushrooms and black olives. It came with a heaping serving of herbed potatoes (reminded me of German style, although it is a Czech place) and a salad. Yum! Rich!

The kolaches are still my favorite...okay, the giant $1.75 cinnamon rolls are my REAL favorite, but the actual food in the restaurant was good, too. Definitely not a healthy foods restaurant, but full of comfort foods that your favorite Czech grandma used to serve you. (Not that you're Czech, or have a grandma that would stuff butter infused foods in your mouth.)


Venture Beat pic
Matt & I went to Austin for a little birthday celebration. (My real birthday was a work/school day, so this was the celebration time.)

It involved:

1. Food
2. Design
3. Shopping!! 


Wahoo's Fish Tacos 
Wahoo's Banzai Veggie Burrito
*Okay, a Cali chain but might as well be a local place by Austin's standards

Whole Foods Cannoli

Holy Cannoli
*I love cannoli, I can't help it. Maybe it's all of those mafia movies taking a hold of me. Maybe I'm Italiano...(who knows?)
From  Beautiful!

Blueberry Fudge Mousse Thumbelina (made-up name)


(Almost) too cute to eat

Crate & Barrel
Pretty and functional

This look = my annual salary. But it's still loverly.

I wish those people would leave my beautiful loft...and dream kitchen.
We bought a few fun kitchen towels, a soy sauce pitcher, apps spoons, a few other things. We mostly got some good ideas and oogled at the crazy prices. Honestly, Matt & I are risky enough that we could recreate several of the design ideas. Do we have time? No. But it's an ego boost.

*the flagship store @ 6th and Lamar, which was crazy and busy
*We bought some healthy food essentials:
Chia seeds, Tahini, Organic couscous, Soups, Specialty beers (okay, not the healthiest), Laurel Hill snacks, Brown rice flour, Ginger granola, Espresso sugar, Clove sugar, Alderwood smoked sea salt, Agave raw syrup, other treats as well.

EMERALDS on Lamar (my fave boutique in Austin) and Waterloo (Matt's fave record store in Austin)
*We stop here most times we come to Austin
*I was very good on my birthday day and only bought greeting cards for some special people in our lives. Matt was not so good (haha) on my birthday day and bought a record and t-shirt. Haha, it's all good.

We did go to some other places, but why share all of the fun? 

That's just a snip-it of a relaxing, chill day. Now onto a crazy week...