Gather in the kitchen (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 3, 2013)

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the kitchen counter watching my mom cook. The kitchen has always been the main room in our house where people tend to congregate. Everyone comes to the kitchen to find food and drinks (or just to scan the fridge for no apparent reason). We take inventory of the groceries and add items to the seemingly endless shopping list. We practice adding and subtracting fractions while thumbing through cookbooks together. We learn and try and mess up … a lot. We talk about curious topics and even important issues while stirring a pot, chopping veggies or unloading the dishwasher. The kitchen is where life happens in our home.

Speaking of which, food is an important metaphor in the Bible, as well. Let’s look at Isaiah 55:1-6 and imagine being invited to linger a while in the Lord’s kitchen as Isaiah shares these five insights:

·    Come: When you are thirsty for more in life – for the kinds of things that money can’t buy – enter the Lord’s kitchen for a buffet spread of his compassion, peace and joy.
·    Listen: What’s the point in having a cookbook if you don’t follow the directions? God’s instructions are for your best interests, so perk up your ears to him.
·    Pay attention: Be mindful of how you feed your soul; there’s a lot of junk out there that is tempting to consume, but God’s Word is nourishing and fulfilling.
·    Seek: We can think of the kitchen as merely a place to prepare food, or we can look for opportunities to do life together. He’s waiting for you to climb up on the counter like a small child and spend time with him.
·    Pray: You are never underfoot in God’s kitchen. He wants you to talk to him about your day, your triumphs, your worries, your dreams.

The kitchen may be the focal point of our homes, but I think what Isaiah 55 is trying to remind us is that God wants to be the focal point of our hearts. Like a child foraging in the fridge, when we hunger and thirst for something that can’t be found in the cupboard, we should turn to him to satisfy our spirits.

As Jesus once said to a woman drawing water from a well: “’Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:13-14, ESV). Are you satisfied with what the world has to offer, or are you thirsty for more?

Foodie Friday: Pot pie cups

2013-02-09 12.23.56I’m a fan of using leftovers, but in a family our size, if we ever have leftovers, it’s not enough for a whole meal, so we have to get creative. We picked up some chicken strips last weekend from our favorite, local fast-food chicken restaurant, and there were only about 6 left. So, I chopped them up into chunks the next day and mixed the chunks in a bowl with a can (drained) of mixed veggies and the leftover country gravy from the chicken meal, plus a little sprinkle of poultry seasoning just because I love it.

My 9yo and I smooshed out canned biscuits as flat as we could get them with our hands and lined a muffin tin with the dough circles. We filled the biscuit cups with the chicken/veggie/gravy mix and baked at 375 for about 20 minutes.

The result was a smashing success! The whole pan disappeared, and they’ve already asked when we can make it again. It certainly isn’t a low-carb option, but the kids enjoyed it.


Spaghetti squash - Feb13The spaghetti squash & green beans are sprouting! We are so excited & can’t wait to start planting our seedlings in the outside garden. Spaghetti squash is sometimes $2+/lb, so it would be awesome if we could grow our own! We tried planting some seeds directly in the garden last year, and they didn’t take, but the seedlings are off to a terrific start!

Most of the seeds that we are nurturing under lights indoors are ones that we’ve gathered from fruits & veggies that we’ve eaten, like bell pepper, eggplant, strawberries and spaghetti squash. Some are attempts at starting new plants from cuttings, like potato eyes and onion tops. Some are from seed packets, like basil, green beans, lettuce, tomatoes and pumpkin. We have quite a variety – even some apple seeds, though I have no idea where we’d actually plant an apple tree!! Perhaps we could get it started in a pot and then sell it.

Speaking of selling our produce, we have a plan for the spring/summer. My eldest and I are planning to go to Brazil with our church for a construction/Vacation Bible School project, and we need to save up to pay our way. We have been thinking of some ways to set aside money, and then the other day, No. 2 shared a great idea. I was watering the seedlings and made an off-hand comment that we might actually have enough produce from our garden this year that we could take some to the Farmers Market to sell.

In one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments, No. 2 said, “Mom, why don’t we just give our extra stuff away, instead?” So, we talked about it and decided that if we grow enough fruits & veggies to sell the extras at market, then we’ll use those proceeds for missions — either our Brazil trip fundraising or just our regular missions offering. With that kindhearted idea of his in mind, I’m praying for an abundant harvest! What a wonderful hands-on way to get the kids involved in ministry!

Speaking of the Brazil trip, I’ll share more as we get closer to the time, but we got our passport pictures yesterday, and we have an appointment later this week to turn in our paperwork. We are so excited!

Foodie Friday: Nutty Crackers

2013-01-22 09.32.08I was in the mood for something crunchy, so I thumbed through my favorite low-carb cookbook to see if I could find something to curb my craving.

Dana’s recipe (p. 135) called for sunflower seeds and shredded cheddar cheese, but I had pistachios and shredded colby jack on hand, so that’s what I used.

In a food processor, chop up about 1.5 cups of nuts, then pulse in 1.5 cups of shredded cheese. Add 1/4 c. water while pulsing to blend it all together. When it starts to pull away into a ball, it’s ready to mash.

This was the fun part! One of my 8yos helped me spread the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. We put another sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough and used our fingers and a small rolling pin to smoosh it out as thinly as possible. We got it to the very edge of the parchment paper and tried to make sure it was evenly smooshed. I didn’t measure the salt; I just lightly sprinkled the flattened dough. Pistachios are already kinda salty to me, so I didn’t want to go overboard.

Dana’s recipe says to score the crackers before baking, to make them easy to separate later, but I completely forgot that step, oops! I baked them at 325 for about half an hour, and as soon as I took them out of the oven, I remembered that overlooked step. So, I used a pizza cutter and gently scored the batch into about 6 dozen crackers. Thankfully, the dough was still somewhat soft & didn’t crumble.

The crackers tasted delicious, and my little sous chef gave them a big thumbs-up. Next time, though, I think I will halve the dough and make two batches that I can really thin out, because some of the crackers in the center weren’t as thin & crispy as I would have liked, but we didn’t have any more space to smoosh the dough.

Foodie Friday: Swiss chard soft tacos

swiss chard1

Sauteed Swiss chard with garlic & onion

I was buying some fresh spinach the other day and noticed that Swiss [red] chard was on sale, so I decided to try it. Like other leafy greens, chard is chock-full of good stuff like Vitamins A, C & K, not to mention fiber and even some protein.The stalks are a brilliant red that reminds me of rhubarb, and the leaves are deep green.

I’ve seen chard before but never knew what to do with it, so I looked up some recipes. I modified and combined a few tips here and there, based on ingredients I already had on hand, and this was the yummy result:

First, I sauteed about 1/4 white onion, coarsely chopped (one of the recipes suggested red onion, but oh, well) with about 2 Tbsp minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Swiss chard soft tacos

Swiss chard soft tacos

As the onion and garlic perfumed my kitchen, I added a couple of dashes of salt and a few heavy sprinkles of pepper. One of the recipes I found called for nutmeg, so I threw in a couple of dashes of ground spice, too.

I added 3 leafy stalks of Swiss chard, coarsely chopped, then splashed in about 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar. I sauteed it for 3-4 minutes until the chard was somewhat wilted.

At first, I was just going to eat it straight from the plate, as shown above, but then I decided to wrap it in a warm corn tortilla. Wowza! That’s good stuff! The three younger boys eagerly tried it and wanted second bites. No. 2 said it was “ok” and thought I should add paprika. No. 1 tried it grudgingly (it had green stuff, after all), and he declared it “not terrible, but not great.” Alas, coming from him, that’s a pretty good compliment! 😉  Post-fast, I might add grilled chicken or pulled pork, but I thought it was yummy in veggie version, too.

Black coffee

I wasn’t going to post anything about this until toward the end of the month, but I had an experience this morning that I wanted to share, and besides, I could always use some accountability. I’m doing a modified fast for three weeks, which began Jan. 1. The reason is two-fold: 1) Against my better judgment, I’ve managed to rediscover about half of the weight I lost in 2011, and I’m disappointed in myself for letting that happen; and 2) I’ve been in a funk emotionally & spiritually, and I need a fresh perspective. It isn’t a resolution, per se, but I guess I would just call it a benchmark for the new year, where I focus on making positive improvements.

I’m generally following the Daniel Fast protocol, which is based on the passage of Scripture in Daniel 1 about giving up choice foods and drink. The modern interpretation includes avoiding sugars, meat, leavened bread, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. I’ve joked before that if I had enough recipes for hummus, eggplant and tofu, then I could become a vegetarian with no problem. Now, I like meat as much as the next Texan, but that was one of the easiest things for me to axe for a few weeks.

Reincorporating sugars and bread into my diet is what caused all this weight to find its way back to my gut, in the first place, so those are things I’ve been needing to avoid for a long while and just have slacked off about it. The first three days weren’t bad; in fact, I [re]discovered a few things that were really yummy — like oatmeal naturally sweetened with finely chopped dates and warm corn tortillas with salsa.

I wanted a glass of wine last night, but I poured myself a glass of water, instead. I do drink a few (4-5?) servings of caffeinated drinks (diet soda, iced tea) every day, so I was a little concerned that I might have caffeine withdrawal. I started getting a headache yesterday (Day 3) afternoon, and although I took ibuprofen, it still lingered this morning. The weather here has been a roller coaster of typical Texas winter craziness, so it’s hard to say if the headache is from no caffeine or just allergies. At any rate, I hope it goes away soon. I don’t drink coffee every day; in fact, I have it primarily on cold days. I really wanted some on this cold & drizzly morning, so I had a cup of decaf — black. I was prepared to pour it down the drain if it was gross, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t terrible. It’s like unsweetened hot tea (which I happen to enjoy), only more earthy, if that makes sense. I will say that the half-cup that I drank before eating my oatmeal was decent, but the first sip after eating the oatmeal was blech. I guess the sweetness of the oatmeal was just enough to make the “earthiness” of the coffee taste like dirt. Note to self on that.

All that is to say, I’m regaining some control over what I allow my body to consume, and I’m focusing on getting my head & heart back inline with the Lord. I understand that fasting is supposed to be a personal endeavor (Matthew 6:16-18), and I’m not aiming for any pats on the back, but I do think that we can (and should) encourage one another. So, if there’s something that you are committing to change (whether as a New Year’s resolution or otherwise), let me know, and I’ll join you in prayer & return the encouragement.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you aren’t sick of my Thanksgiving play-by-play yet, I wanted to let you know that the turkeys turned out great! The boys and I each tried a small bite as I sliced them up last night, and everyone agreed that they were yummy. My 11yo even said that I could win a turkey-cooking contest. Coming from an aspirant Food Network chef, that was high praise! 🙂

I was a little concerned that the meat might dry out overnight &/or during reheating, so I added the broth from the drip pans to the storage containers. The one we were taking to church went into a large, plastic click-top type of tub, but the one for family went into a new aluminum pan wrapped snugly in plastic wrap. I knew we’d be reheating that one in the oven, so I arranged large pieces of the roasted skin over the sliced meat to help insulate it and keep it moist. I just replaced the plastic wrap with foil for reheating, and it worked out great.

Even my cousin (who normally brings the turkey and is known for speaking his mind) said that I’m now nominated to do the turkey for the next, oh, 30 years. haha! 🙂  I appreciated the kind compliments, and I’m glad it turned out so yummy!

Thanksgiving play-by-play: Prepping for the smoker!

Hickory chips soaking in bourbon

The cooler worked out great for brining; the turkeys were still very cold this morning and ready to prep for the smoker.

I started the charcoal and put some hickory chips in a tub with a very inexpensive bourbon (not wasting the pricey stuff on wood chips!) to soak while I tended to the birds.

I put carrots, onion, celery and garlic in drip pans and rubbed the outside of the turkey with olive oil, sage, salt & pepper (poured into little bowls ahead of time, so I didn’t contaminate the spice jars with my fingers that had been handling raw meat). The older two boys helped chop apples to stuff inside the turkeys (one per bird), along with 2 cinnamon sticks and 6-7 cloves.

Seasoned & ready to cook!

I tried to tuck the wings under, as best I could figure out how, so they wouldn’t burn too easily. I probably should have used larger aluminum pans, because it was a tight fit. I put them in the smoker uncovered for about an hour to sear them, and yum – they look so good!

Seared & ready to cover with foil

After an hour, I covered them with foil rotated them (so the one nearest the firebox doesn’t burn) and set my alarm for another hour to rotate them again. So far, so good! 🙂

If I played my cards right, then the turkeys should be ready before I need to go pick up the younger three from their No School Fun Day program. Then, I’ll let the birds cool a bit before I slice and package them for transport: one to the church first thing in the morning and the other for our family meal at my great-aunt’s house.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving play-by-play

My dad gave me a smoker for Christmas last year, so I’ve been practicing with chickens & brisket. The boys were complimentary of my grilled ribs, steak & asparagus, too. Lest I sound too braggadocios, I must admit that not all of my efforts have been successful; I scorched a chicken and destroyed some eggplant, but for the most part, nearly everything has turned out pretty good.

So, I decided to try my hand at smoking a turkey. Our church is doing Thanksgiving meals at our inner-city mission community, so I signed up to make a turkey for that. I figured while I had the smoker fired up, I might as well make another turkey for our family meal. No pressure, ha!! 🙂

Brining, Step 1: The spices smell wonderful!

I found a couple of great recipes for smoking and seasoning turkeys on my favorite grocery store website, so I devised a combination of the two. This morning, I started the brining process. I wasn’t sure if my cooler would be large enough, but it worked out fine. Since I’m doing two turkeys, I didn’t quite double the brining recipe, but I did use more than the original recipe called for.

I started out with about a gallon and a half of water in my largest stockpot (the recipe called for 2 gal, but my pot wasn’t big enough). Some of the adaptations I used include ice cream salt instead of kosher salt (Alton Brown might cringe, but good grief – the price difference was atrocious!) and dried spices instead of fresh sprigs (due to price/availability).

Brining, Step 2: Turkeys chilling out before their big debut

The brine solution included 4 c. of rock salt, 4 c. of sugar and 2 Tbsp each of rosemary, sage & thyme. I also used about 1.5 c. peppercorns and 2 garlic bulbs. The recipe also called for apple cider to add to the cooler in the next step, but it was more expensive than plain ol’ apple juice, so I threw in 1 Tbsp each of cinnamon & nutmeg to compromise. I heated the spice/water mixture to a low boil and stirred till the salt & sugar dissolved. The kitchen smelled heavenly! I took it off the heat and let it sit a bit to cool down while I prepped the cooler.

I tossed 8 small oranges (halved) and 6 apples (halved) into the cooler, then put the turkeys breast-side-down and poured 2 gal apple juice over them. I added the saucy solution and 2 bags of ice. I will check it throughout the day and add more ice, as needed. It’s supposed to stay at 40 degrees for 24 hours.

Tomorrow morning, I will pat the turkeys dry and proceed with the next steps: soaking the hickory chunks in bourbon, firing up the smoker, seasoning the birds, rotating the birds in the smoker every hour for even cooking for about 7 hours and drinking some bourbon & diet. 😉  Should be yummy (the turkeys, too)! I’ll keep you posted.