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. :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blueberry Pie Breakfast

This has been my breakfast the last 2 days, and it will probably continue to be all week.
ooey, gooey blueberries
hearty, piping hot oats
melt-in-your-mouth brown sugar
crunchy, nutty pecans

So much tastiness in a bowl! It's healthy, right at 300 calories, and has kept me full for a solid 4 hours (a feat, trust me).

Blueberry Pie Oatmeal
one bowl
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (or whatever you have)
1 cup water
1/3 cup blueberries
Dash of cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped pecans (optional)
In a microwaveable bowl (I used the trusty ceramic Fiestaware), add oats, water, blueberries, and a dash of cinnamon. No need to stir.

Microwave for 3 minutes, or until oats are bubbly and cooked. Careful, hot! Top with brown sugar and pecans.

Wait 5 minutes to cool. The longest 5 minutes of your life. Enough time to wonder if you should grab those donut holes on the kitchen counter to hold you over. Resist the donuts. Then eat this satisfying, healthy breakfast. :)