Tuesday, January 28, 2014

recipe challenge!

I didn't realize that cooking is a hobby of mine until we moved to Frederick. Sometimes I think my hobbies sound so boring. Reading, writing, crosswords ... blah, blah, blah. But cooking! Cooking isn't boring! Especially when I get to use my cast iron skillet! Oh wait, I've just confirmed that I'm secretly 85.

I like the idea of going into 2014 with a few new dishes under my belt, and I love the idea of having a few friends do the same! Who wants to join me in trying four new recipes in February? OK who wants to try at least ONE new recipe in February? I'm lookin' at you, boo.

I'll be picking a bread, a veggie side dish, a pork entrée and a recipe taken from a magazine. You could do the same four categories as me, or you could change them up to fit your interests. (A soup? An ethnic dish? A Super Bowl appetizer? Something from Pinterest you've always wanted to try and never got around to because it looks intimidating but the picture is pretty and you think maybe one day I'll make that five layer cake with homemade ganache?)

pics from halfbakedharvest. com and realsimple.com

Here are a few recipes I'm considering:
Bread- Pretzel sandwich buns or Naan
Veggie side- Kale chips or Sauteed Bok Choy and Broccoli
Pork entrée- Braised Pork Ragu or "Pork in Milk" (milk clusters?!)
Cookbook/mag recipe- Chicken and mushroom farro risotto or Spiced dal with cilantro yogurt

In case you missed them, I recently added two new recipes to my Recipe page: a crave-worthy meatloaf and spicy fish and potato soup.

Monday, January 27, 2014

spicy fish and potato soup

Do you ever get excited over a recipe in a magazine, rip it out and then completely forget about it? This is one of the few torn-from-a-magazine recipes that I made within days of seeing it! It's also what we're having for dinner tonight. :)

photo by Raymond Hom

Now that I think of it, the last time we ate this soup was the night John died. My parents were visiting to watch Andy's softball game, but it was cancelled due to rain. We picked up pizza from Wegmans and played cards instead. I had been dying for my parents to try the soup, so I ladled tiny portions for us to each have as a taster before the pizza. It's a fantastic dish—both unique and incredibly easy—and I hope you'll try it! If you do, I hope you'll think of John. I know I will!

The following was copied from realsimple.com:

Spicy Fish and Potato Soup (from the April 2013 issue of Real Simple)
Serves 4| Hands-On Time: 30m| Total Time: 40m

4 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped, plus leaves for serving
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 large russet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
kosher salt and black pepper
1 pound skinless firm white fish fillets (such as striped bass or tilapia), cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to a plate. Increase heat to medium-high.
Add the onion and celery to the drippings in the saucepan and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the broth, potatoes, bay leaf, crushed red pepper, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 15 to 18 minutes.
Add the fish to the broth mixture in the saucepan and cook until opaque throughout, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Sprinkle with the chives, bacon, and celery leaves.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

in case you ever find yourself craving meatloaf

It can happen, you know. One minute you're watching "Man vs. Food" and the next you're saying, "I have never wanted meatloaf so badly in my life."

I only make meatloaf maybe once a year. Why is that? I really never think of it on my own. A friend will mention she's making it, or I'll see some Pinterest pin about all the things you can make it muffin tins. I still haven't convinced one friend that she needs to try it—apparently once you've been served dry meatloaf, you're traumatized for life.

THIS meatloaf is not dry. Trust. I only had a little over one pound of beef on hand but didn't alter the recipe any, and it was perfect! I served the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and corn.

Best basic meatloaf
makes 4 man-size servings or 6 normal portions

for the meatloaf:
1.5 lb of ground beef
1 cup of milk
1 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 heaping Tbsp of ketchup
1 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
a few pinches of salt and pepper

for the sauce:
1/2 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp ground (dry) mustard or 1 Tbsp of prepared (wet) mustard

Mix meatloaf ingredients thoroughly and shape into a loaf in a loaf pan or baking dish. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Then, stir sauce ingredients together and spread over the cooked meatloaf. Bake for 15 minutes longer, then slice and serve.

Monday, January 13, 2014

things that make my life easier

Today marks six months since John died, which is sad and weird, but on a more positive note today also marks six months since I began truly attempting to showing myself grace. I can't remember another time in my life that has caused me to struggle so much with being hard on myself. There isn't an aspect of my life that hasn't been affected by my grief. It's as if every little bit of me was shattered into pieces and I'm still working on picking them up and putting them back into place. I've never felt more dumb—like my brain has just stopped working. I've cried at work (thankfully not in front of the kids, but still—super embarrassing). I've slacked on my housework. I've slacked on cooking. I've even bathed less than ever before. (How's that for transparency?)

Sometimes I hear a voice whispering, You are a mess. You can't handle this.
I used to hear that voice and feel defeated. I'd hate myself for it.
Now I hear that voice and think, "That's true! I am a mess! I can't handle it—at least, not on my own."
It has been such a relief to realize that God sees my mess and loves me anyway. That when I fail to cook dinner or go to work, I'm not losing points with God. That when I fail to be patient with people and end up saying things I shouldn't, God isn't throwing up His hands and saying, "that's it! I give up on her!"

It makes me laugh to think about, but now when I cook up a meal or look over a room I've cleaned I have double the pride as I would have before John passed. When I can get through a sub job without feeling shaky and insecure and sad, my spirit soars and I can't stop saying God, thank you! Progress IS being made. Little by little, those shattered pieces are being put back into place, and I'm appreciating them more than ever.

Maybe you're feeling a bit like a mess yourself. What's been helping you get through it? Here are a few things that are helping me:

1. Rejoicing over ANY progress that's being made, even if it's something small. That might mean getting dressed, not desk-crying at work, getting through traffic without cursing...it could be anything.

2. Two words: dragon noodles. (Really those two words should be "insanely easy recipes." Well, that's three words.) I can handle making this meal even when I'm overwhelmed with life and my day has totally sucked. I use 4 oz. of udon noodles, 1 Tbsp of butter for the egg and I add a spoonful of peanut butter to the sauce. I also rarely ever make it with green onions because I don't always have them on hand. This dish brings me to a happy place. I don't know how to explain it. It's magical! And it's delicious reheated or eaten cold. 

3. Asking for help. My mom has driven up to Frederick countless times over the past six months to lift my spirits (and help me accomplish tasks). It's easier for me to ask her for help than my friends, but that's important too. It's practicing humility—recognizing that you can't do it all on your own. 

4. Happy music. A friend of mine reminded me of how great the You've Got Mail soundtrack is, and I've had that and the soundtrack from The Parent Trap playing on repeat. I can get into a funk SO easily, and sometimes I have to purposefully carry my laptop into the bathroom, turn the volume all the way up and make myself sing along while I'm showering (I really do bathe). You can't belt out "Splish Splash" and still have a bad attitude!

5. Walks. A walk does my body good, whether it's sunny or gray, five minutes long or an hour. I never listen to music on my walks. I prefer to daydream or think of nothing at all. I now understand that guys really mean it when they say they aren't thinking about anything!

6. Repeating Truth. I picked Psalm 91:1-2 to be my focus verses for 2014. Meditating on these verses brings my heart and mind to a place of peace and security.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013—my hardest year yet

I've always done "year in review" posts, and in the past I've always looked forward to writing them. Not so much this time. I'm tempted to be bitter and complain about what a sucky year it's been, but in my heart of hearts I know that there have been memories made this year that I will always treasure. Thinking back on 2013 and reading old blog posts is painful for me, and I can't explain all of the heartache that follows reflection, even reflection on happy times. Don't let my attempts of being positive lead you to believe that I'm not still struggling with being angry, cynical, anxious and terrified. I have to stop myself from despairing and choose to remember the good. I have to remember that in this world I will have trials and sorrow. I strive daily to take heart and cling to the knowledge that God has overcome the world.

I didn't blog much this year. 35 posts to be exact—nearly one hundred posts less than 2012. At first it was because I was pregnant and sick, and then it was because I was pregnant and our baby wasn't healthy and I didn't know how to write about it, and then it was because our baby died and I couldn't write anything without crying for the rest of the day. I never wrote about our family vacation to the beach, or our trip to Chicago, or the little changes to our home I've made... all things I would have normally blogged about. I did write a handful of posts about my experiences with grief, though, and I'm more proud of those posts than of anything else I've written. In the spirit of continuing to be vulnerable with my readers, here are a few things I'll remember from 2013:

Even though I wanted so much more, I'm grateful for the time I had to be John's mother. 

22 weeks - the week I found out John wasn't growing,
and the last week we took a picture of my bump.
This was a happy day, though. We took baby to a Blue Jays game!

Even though I also saw him cry with sorrow, I'm grateful my husband talked to our baby—even after we found out he was dying. He is a wonderful father.

Even though I was tempted to never leave the house at times, I'm grateful for friends who distracted us with fun occasions.

we almost didn't go to this wedding because we had JUST gotten the "diagnosis." we wanted to be there for our friends, though,
and everyone was so sweet and helped us keep our minds off the bad news.
Arrested Development viewing party! Rita, Lucille, Maggie and Kitty (hair up, glasses off).

Even though I was terrified of my baby's impending death, I'm grateful that I got to go to the beach with my family, introduce baby to the ocean and witness every one of my prayers concerning that vacation being answered.

Even though it wasn't how I dreamed it would be, I'm grateful we got to meet and hold our son.

Even though I would have rather been holding a healthy newborn baby, I'm grateful for the opportunity we had to travel to Chicago (again!) with dear friends. It was a fantastic trip!

Even though it's due to tragedy, I'm grateful for increased closeness with my husband, and that I have a partner who truly cares for me in sickness and in health. His tender care and killer sense of humor make my darkest days much more bearable. 

Even though I've never struggled more with consistently reading my Bible and attending church, I'm grateful for confidence in my salvation, rest in God's grace and the power of intercessory prayer.

Even though I'm not successful by the world's standards, I'm grateful for two flexible part-time jobs and the time I've had to rest and grieve, the sweet and silly kids I've met through substitute teaching and the huge blessing it's been to write for a Christian website.

Even though I've been an absolute mess for the majority of the year, I'm grateful for the patience and love of my family and friends. I've never felt MORE LOVED than I have this year. Now THAT is something to remember about 2013!