Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Who Would Have Thought

Christmas Eve has arrived.  It’s the most unlikely of days, the most improbable of events. There was a series of happenstances, occurring in such an order that they are incredible in and of themselves. Who would have thought that a baby born so many years ago would change the world so profoundly?

A baby, a little tiny person comes into the world dependent on others for care and love. Each contains promise and potential, unique gifts and strengths. Each is important. Not for power, politics, money or prestige; not for achievements, accomplishments or awards. The King, the Alpha and Omega, the one who would save the world came as a baby. He came helpless and small, not richly but simply.

It is estimated over 350,000 babies are born each day across the world. Each of these precious little lives has worth. They do not have to be accomplished, powerful, or attaining lofty goals. The King, who was there at the start of the world, came as an unlikely herald of joy, peace, and love; announcing it quietly in a little town with the birth of a baby. Who would have thought?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Don't Miss Christmas

I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday, taking place in one of my favorite seasons and a celebration of my Savior I love – Jesus! Boxes of decorations can make even the homeliest of Charlie Brown Christmas trees look like beautiful creations. Glittered gluey papers made with earnest determination of little hands are placed in special spots, to be admired in those initial instances and to be enjoyed for years of memories. Picking out presents for those we love and taking great joy in the giving is, for me, right up there with seeing the wonder of any child-hearted person as they glimpse something in a triangular dark green evergreen, white twinkle lights and spun glass bulbs. As a lover of Christmas trees, and a collector of them in all shapes and sizes, I sit here tonight in the light of white twinkly lights wrapped around the alpine trees and think about Christmas. 

The beauty of the decorations, the fun of the giving, the family gatherings and plans they are all good and worthwhile to have. But this week, as I looked at all there is to be done and needs to be done and what is left that will probably not get done, I felt the stress mount quickly. It’s all good things, things I want to do. But how do I do it all? Where do I find the time? Can I have an elf of my own for the holidays? I would gladly pay in cookies and milk! As I was looking at my to-do-list, these were the thoughts that whirled in my mind as I was looking at my to-do list and the calendar and feeling the stress rising. And then, a thought struck me – kind of like the bracing taste of water after a candy cane - Don’t Miss Christmas!

Christmas, with beautiful decorations, gatherings and season plans that hang like ornamental accoutrements of festivity, is really not about those trimmings and is definitely not to be missed in its purest form. It is the cry of a new parent’s heart who looks at this much loved baby with great hope, wonder and the weight of a new kind of responsibility. It is the quiet joy of arms carefully embracing a little swaddled figure, just pausing to watch him breathe. It is the excitement of shepherds receiving the announcement of angels, the fear and wondering at beholding the heavenly host as they proclaim great joy. Christmas is the largeness of history and the smallness of the family home. Christmas is that kind of joy, even in the midst of wrapping paper, memories that make me teary, and being ready to post a help wanted sign for an elf helper.  Tomorrow will be a new day and I’m looking forward to making cookies, running errands and writing a few more cards. But I will be taking a moment then and more afterwards to remember Christmas, the wonder and the majesty, the mystery and the hope, the loudness and the quietness. More than anything I will seek Christmas and not lose it in the wrapping paper. 

The thing about Christmas is that it is just the beginning of the story.  It is a story of truth that speaks of love. Real love – love that is perfect and whole, a love we cannot quantify or qualify. Yes, I will get teary at seeing my great grandmother’s nativity, I will still add the toppers to the Christmas trees, and address more Christmas cards. But, more than anything I will seek Christmas and not lose it in the wrapping paper. 

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them."  Luke 1:68

Monday, December 15, 2014

Football Soup – Gumbo Requires Patience

Gumbo is a great soup for cool late fall and early winter days, when the smell of something simmering in the kitchen makes the perfect complement for holiday decorating. Gumbo is also a dish that requires the practice of patience. Like the work it takes a muscle to be flexible and strong, patience also requires work to be in great shape. This dish is a great one to make when you have extra help in the kitchen. And I was very thankful for my help with a sore wrist!

Why the patience for gumbo? Because it is made from a roux that is cooked until it is nice and brown, requiring fairly consistent stirring and monitoring. For me, it seems like the change from white flour and butter to a light caramel color seems to happen right away. It is the much more gradual change from that light color to a rich deep brown that seems to take forever. Tantalizing hints of color swirl in as you mix, and then are hidden again. Then suddenly, patience pays off, the color deepens and your roux is ready to go!

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 large sweet onions
  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 12-14 cups of chicken stock
  • 2 t. salt
  • ½ t. cayenne
  • 2 t. Cajun seasoning
  • 1.5 lbs Andouille sausage
  • 4-7 lbs of chicken (already cooked)
  • 1 cup green onions
  • 1-2 cups of white rice

  1. Before staring the cooking the roux, prepare the chopped ingredients. This will allow you to cook the vegetables and meat while preparing the roux. Onions and peppers need to be cut into bit size pieces, mince the garlic, and chop the sausage to about ½ inch bites. Keep the sausage separate from the other ingredients as it will be cooked separately. Chicken needs to be pre-cooked, and if you want to add an extra richness, use homemade stock from the chicken. If you have help in the kitchen, and gumbo is great for a cooking party, let helpers help while the roux is started.
  2. Once everything is ready it is time to start the gumbo! In a large skillet melt 1 cup of butter and slowly stir in 1 cup flour over medium heat. Stir frequently to avoid burning. Keep working with the roux until it is a dark caramel or milk chocolate color.
  3. In a very large pot, add the chicken stock, chicken, salt, Cajun seasoning and cayenne. Add low heat to start heating the stock.
  4. While preparing the roux, in a lightly greased skillet over medium heat, add the chopped sweet onions, garlic and peppers. Lightly caramelize vegetables in the skillet until they start to soften. Add them to the stock   and mix.
  5. In the heated skillet sear the Andouille sausage to keep those tasty juices inside. Stir occasionally until lightly browned. Add the meat to the   pot with vegetables and stock.
  6. Slowly add the roux and stir well. Let the gumbo simmer until it reaches the desired thickness, for about two hours. Stir regularly. Add more Cajun seasoning and cayenne to taste.
  7. After the gumbo is hot and smelling wonderfully, cook the white rice like normal. Serve with chopped green onions and add hot sauce if desired.

Just like many other things that are worth the practice of patience – so is gumbo. Pull a bowl and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Worship in a Box

A series of boxes hold Christmas decorations. Each box is completely full and packed tightly. It’s time to start decorating, but to my complete confusion I have found someone who insists that we only use the decorations in one box, one box that they have filled. I can see all of the other choices, but the response is an insistence to just use that one box. I agree, hoping that when we get started with one box, others will be added – building on momentum. One box gives us the bottom of the center pole for a Christmas tree, three of the needed branches, a dozen ornaments, and a door hanger for a wreath.

Sound odd? Sound like hyperbole? Sound like there is more to the story? 

There is! But, we need to take a small side trip to get to the ending.

A few years ago, I heard someone talking on the radio about choosing a different word each year to mull over, think on, study, and intentionally consider over the course of the comings and goings of the next 365 days. I have done this for a few years, and my word this year is worship.

In studying the word worship, I find that it is first mentioned about 700 years ago in a format we would find more familiar in an English root. Basically, it is defined as a sense of reverence for something that is worthy of honor, glory; a divine being. I love how big this word is!

After learning about where the word came from, I started looking around at how this word is used around me. I caught glimpses of that broadness, but most of the time I have found worship smashed into a box, kind of like those Christmas decorations. (Told you we would get back there eventually.) 

Remember the one odd ball box of decorations? I don’t decorate like that and I bet you don’t either. But I found worship compressed into one media - one style - one speed - one color, or maybe if it was a big box, two or three.  The one, two or three worship definitions smashed into the box has nothing wrong with it. Not wrong, but limited. I have struggled and grappled with this all year, looking for my own box limits in worshipping God. After all, who best to revere than Jesus? I have found many spots where I needed to expand and look at several boxes.


I want to encourage you to consider, as you also haul the Christmas decorations in boxes through the house, what your worship boxes are. Will you join me in expanding horizons?

An Advent prayer from Common Prayers:
Give us ears to hear, O God, 
and eyes to watch, 
that we may know your presence in our midst 
during this holy season of joy 
as we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Apples in the Snow

Thanksgiving weekend is wrapping up, turkey comas have passed and leftovers abound. After a month of thankfulness the attitude carries us into the Advent season, it is a good reminder of an attitude that is important throughout the whole year. It is important when things are difficult, it gives us perspective. It is important when things are good, it gives us appreciation. It is important for the big things, and for the little.

Little – like eating apples when it is snowing. What a luxury to eat a fresh, crispy apple with cold and sticky fingers covered in apple juice with snow on the ground.

Happy Thanksgiving – may your heart be full of gratitude and hands full of apples to enjoy when it is snowing. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pack a Shoebox and Change the World

Can one shoebox packed with a few chosen items really make a difference to a child? Not only a momentary difference of the excitement over a new toy or soon dissolved candy. But a lasting, life changing and momentum building difference – can that come from a shoebox that is chosen, packed and sent by a stranger? Can it make a life better, a family stronger and a community healthier?

Operation Christmas Child would say yes. If you aren’t sure of what this whole shoebox thing is, I would encourage you to take a moment and check out their website, 
( I’m a fan of this movement led by Samaritan’s Purse and encourage you either take a step to reach out to a child in this way or find something else that will let you invest into a child’s life.

As great as this whole thing is, I want to take about a dozen steps back and ask – does this singular activity of one person make a difference? 

I’m going to wager a loud yes! Yes, one person makes a difference.  We can do one thing that will lead to another and then another. It can create a chain reaction, a domino effect that is worth putting into action. Pack your shoebox, drop it off – or take care of it online. Though you may never know what the impact is, be prepared that you may just start something that starts something that changes the world. Pray about the child who will receive this gift. Pray for their family and community. And then, don’t call it quits – keep taking small steps and planting seeds to make a big change in your world. What is small to you may be huge to someone else.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Football Away Game Soup – Chili

Our first winter of the season has arrived!  As a fan of the flakey white stuff, I was very excited to wake up to big fat flakes falling from the sky. The snow outlines all of the subtle structures of tree branches, a fire is in the stove, the winter garden is starting to show off its unique beauty and it is a perfect time for a big bowl of chili.

Chili is one of those soups that seem to have as many recipes as it has chefs. Beans, meat, spicy, mild, topped with crackers, cheese or creamy – these choices are just a small list of the choices that can be made with chili recipes. Each hand that makes the chili makes it a little differently. It’s a lot of fun to try these different recipes, enjoying many variations on a culinary tune.

With thousands of variations all falling under the name of chili, individuality added by each hand preparing that shared pot of soup adds distinctive flavors belonging just to them. There is not a right or wrong, just different, and yet all falling under this one category. Many ingredients are mixed together in a composition that creates a final flavor. There are many styles and tastes, but they are all chili. I love not being stuck in a box. 

My absolute favorite recipe (though I do have some close seconds) is the chili my parents make. My mom starts it and my dad flavors it as it cooks. There is always a discussion over the level of spiciness and if it will be too hot to share. And it always turns out perfectly.

This is their recipe and it makes a canner full.  Plenty to eat, share and freeze the leftovers for enjoyment on another snow day.

Family Chili for Away Game Soup
  • 6 lbs. ground beef\
  • 46 oz. can tomato juice
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans of 28 oz. diced tomatoes and green chilies mild
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in a puree
  • 28 oz. tap water
  • 2 cans of 30 oz. can of chili beans
  • ½ qt. size bags of bell peppers (I used frozen bell peppers from the garden this summer), diced
  • 4-5 large onions, dice
  • Chili powder and salt 
 Heat a large skillet, my personal preference is the iron skillet, and brown six pounds of ground beef. Stir regularly to keep the meat from sticking or burning.

While the meet is browning, dice the peppers and onions. Add the other canned and fresh ingredients to the canner. Stir the tomato juice, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, chili beans, water, bell peppers and onions together.

After the meat has finished browning, drain it and add it to the tomato mixture. Start heating the soup on low.  

Stir regularly to keep the chili from sticking. For this large size pot, add ½ cup of chili powder and start with several shakes of the salt shaker. Once the chili has cooked a while, add another ½ cup of chili powder and stir.  Let the chili cook.  Add chili powder and salt to taste.

Chili is best when it has time to cook and really let all of the flavors work together. This is a great make the day ahead soup.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November Dates

This month is full of important dates, with Election Day passed, Veterans Day today, and Thanksgiving still to come. It’s really rather appropriate that Election Day and Veterans Day would fall so closely together. The ability to raise a voice is something that is not guaranteed world around. Voting that reflects changes of people in power, well surely you didn’t see the tanks rolling down the streets or barricades around blocks. No? Neither did I. It is easy for us to take this for granted, but it really should be recognized and celebrated.

This day was awaited with a flurry of final combat missions, hope, doubt and celebrations around the world. A change was coming on November 11 at 11 AM – the armistice in 1918 was made active. People took the idea of peace and started the hard work of rebuilding. There was rebuilding on all sides, structures in war torn areas, infrastructure, people to feed, and supplies to be gathered before winter hit in full force. There was also rebuilding slowly in the parts of families of veterans as they welcomed home loved ones. Time had not stood still for the veterans or their families. The changes that they would all have to adjust to were profound.

This war to end all wars was not the last. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, Grenada Intervention, Persian Gulf War, Bosnia & Herzegovina Intervention, Afghanistan, Iraq – these places since that Armistice was signed are all reflections of where people have left their families and homes, traveled elsewhere in the name of peace.

To all of those who have served, to all of those families who have waited at home, to all who have returned home and to those who never will – thank you. Happy Veterans Day. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Look Is All It Takes - Trust

It is a good thing that I wasn’t one of those kids that was embarrassed by my parents singing in random public places, at home, on stages, and pretty much everywhere between. I would have lived in a constant state of mortification otherwise! I learned at a very early age to add my voice instead. Hey – it beats stage fright! My part is alto and I join in with my mom and dad. When we have the opportunity we’ll add more voices to the mix; family joining the chorus, making the sound so much richer and stronger. 

Singing together, lots, for lots of years, you learn to “read” each other.  A look can tell someone to switch parts because you feel a sneeze coming on, warn me off from heading flat, or share a moment of sweet relief when something touch and go comes together. For me, being an alto, reaching the high notes can create squeaks that I would really rather not put out for public consumption.  So, some switching goes on and almost always the audience is completely unaware of what is going on. The same way with slowing down the tempo or deciding to sing the chorus one more time, it doesn’t take a word, you just know.

It’s all done with a look, a nod, a flick of the hand, a sway – most of the time it doesn’t require a verbalized thought. What is seen as a comfortable knowledge of the other person, the part they will take, how they hear the music, their strengths and where they will struggle, it all boils down to trust. It is something that takes time to develop, but when it is there, the music can be so sweet and freeing. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Currents in the Mist

Autumn in the Midwest brings cooler temperatures, lovely displays of fall colors and mornings with thick blankets of misty fog. These are the misty fogs that can be watched rolling in and slowly envelop the still heavy eyed and sleepy morning risers, such as me, in a cloud. Fog or no, the first thing in the morning is to let the dogs out. Spotlights are turned on and I can actually see thousands, hundreds of thousands of tiny water droplets moving on air currents.                                                                                                                                         Positioning myself just right in the lights, I can now see how my movements are changing the patterns of the air. I can’t resist moving my arms and legs, slowly raising my arms over my head, then balancing on one leg. The water droplets twist as they are caught in small airborne whirlpools; the currents are changed by my movements.                                                                                                Most of the time, we can’t see how everyday movements impact the currents of air that swirl around. It is the occasional fog or smoke that makes these things visible to the naked eye. Subtle things, those currents, like influences of people in my life.                                                                                                                                                        An eighth grade math teacher of mine passed away yesterday. He made a subject that has always been a challenge for me into something intelligible. I remember being able to do math and I remember his kindness. There have been many that have made wonderful influences in my life as well, sweet currents that have surrounded me and others.  Teachers who have grown, mentors who have guided, friends of celebration and solace, pastors to shepherd, family to love, and many kind strangers who have been eddies.
                                                                                   We often do not see the true twirl and whirl of our influence, the changes our movements make in the currents. The unlooked for encouragement that may change a life, the writing that enables the courage of good men, and songs that let us share our most gentle loves; churn words, spin and twirl in the fog – create beautiful currents around me and the people around me. I may not be able to see them, but I can choose how to shape them. I want them to be beautiful.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Looking at Pumpkins

Pumpkins come in all of these really fun varieties.  They are white, green, orange, striped, mottled, big, small, oblong, perfectly round, squat, skinny, fat, bumpy and smooth.  They can have stems that are large, small, short and long. In all of these shapes, you can see in pumpkins how creation has this wonderful echo throughout, design elements are used in clever ways over and over.    
A pumpkin sitting on the bale of straw in the front of the house caught my eye. I noticed that it wasn’t truly just orange.  It was like a faux finish of orange, on top of a cheery yellow.  It looked rather sunny.  In face it looked rather like photos of the sun.  Seemingly random bits of orange in thicker and thinner patterns cover the surface, like it could have a pumpkin flavored solar flare from any moment. 

I have met people that are like this.  They just seem to burst with life and joy.  They are encouraging, vivacious, and warming – just like the sun.  I have also noticed that these tend to be multi-faceted individuals who have experienced flares in life and learned from them; using them later to bring warmth, comfort and courage to others. These are people I, and others, want to be around as they are drawn to the genuine caring.

This is a wonderfully green and orange pumpkin with deep grooves that lead to a valley where the stem is.  That stem, with a round of green at its base rises up like a mountain out of a plain.  Variances of color and a twist of the stem leave the tip of the stem uneven; undoubtedly a peak weathered with many mountainous weather fronts.

There are a few women who I have met that are many years young, and in years of age rather elderly.  And they have done that gracefully. They are like these mountains rising out of the plains, standing as beautiful monuments. Wrinkles, lines and scars indicate the weathering they have witnessed. But they still stand, and gather life in beautiful ecosystems around them. Water flows from snow capped peaks to nourish the cycle of life. They share their wisdom, gracefully and lovingly; they relinquish controls that I think would be very difficult to relinquish. Not placing their value in the ability to do, but in being. 
Is it a pumpkin, or is it art in pottery?  Something in a light tree trunk brown with a crackled white glaze.  The small lines of tannin peek through the white and remind me of the shape of waves moving through the ocean.  Lines indicate movement, just as those cresting waves show the movements of the wind and water. 

The artists, entrepreneurs, movers of large and small movements; those who see an idea in their mind and heart and then go about trying it – these are people who enrich the world around them. Encouraging by example to do, experiment, hypothesize, research – to try; these are the people who I think teach me bravery to move.  To move with the wind and the water, and know that perhaps I will find myself on new shores.

I’m going to keep looking, who knows what other worlds will be seen; microcosm within a macrocosm.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Football Away Game Soup – Minestrone

 A damp fall day, where yellow leaves fall and beautiful orange pumpkins stand out bright against the golden browns of the season, is the perfect season for hot minestrone soup. This hot soup full of veggies and swirly pasta is hot in the Crockpot and ready to savor.

Have you ever sat down with a group of strangers, soon to be friends, and reveled in the differences and similarities? I have had that opportunity not too terribly long ago. It is such fun to find that our differences are not as wide as we originally think, and that our commonalities are so much greater. Sitting down over a meal and sharing a little bit of our lives can create something beautiful and sustaining. 

Minestrone is a great fall soup that is full of the mix and match of fresh ingredients still available in the Midwest as the temperature cools. There is not a right or wrong mix, just add your favorite ingredients and enjoy. 

In a hot skillet, add Italian seasoning and one pound of ground pork. Stir the pork in the skillet, until it is cooked. I prefer to let larger chunks of the ground pork remain unbroken, adding an additional texture to the soup later. Let the pork cool and add it to the Crockpot. 

On a cutting board, coarsely chop one pound of carrots. Slice mushrooms into large slices and garlic into small slivers. Peel and cut large chunks of zucchini. Slice a dozen cherry tomatoes in half and quarter two large sweet onions. Add the vegetables to the Crockpot and stir. Open up a favorite jar of spaghetti sauce and add it in. Mix everything together. Then, pour beef broth into the Crockpot to make the desired thickness of soup. 

Turn on the Crockpot and let the soup cook.  When all of the vegetables are tender it’s time to prepare the pasta. Heat water in a large saucepan until boiling, I chose campanelle because of its fun curly shape. Once the water is at a full boil, and bubbling along merrily, add the pasta. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.  After the pasta is completely cooked, add it to your hot soup.  Use a large spoon to mix everything up, pull out your favorite soup bowl and enjoy.  Or even better, share it with someone else!

Football Away Game Soup – Minestrone 

1lb. ground pork
1 lb. carrots
1 package of mushrooms
1 medium zucchini
2 large sweet onions
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 large can beef broth
Italian seasoning
12 cherry tomatoes

1 box campanelle pasta

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mind Your Lines

I am a people watcher in stadiums, airports, shopping malls and just about everywhere else. I don’t really think about it, but just seem to soak in observations of the characteristics of people around me; people often watching other people. Children in particular are watchers, with their seeming affinity for teenagers, watching these newly semi-independent and driving high school and college students. They have much in common, but yet the world of the teenager and young adult has expanded in ways that children dream of. Children, they seem to see everything. I know we are all unaware at times (maybe most of the time) of how our daily actions, words and choices can impact others. So, I want to encourage us all to mind our lines.

I did the marching band thing, so I heard a lot – A LOT – about each persons’ feet being in the designated spot at the designated times. Watching and paying attention to how individual choices impact the whole encouraged all of us to mind our lines. One person standing a half-foot off of the mark, and voila, the next thing you know a third of the line is off as well. 

Mind your lines in marching band because there is a child watching and dreaming. They are seeing themselves on that field in the future. You can make sweet music of possibility. 

Mind your lines on the cheerleading team as you go through carefully choreographed routines. You are displaying graceful and dynamic strength. 

Mind your lines on the football field as you choose how to play with heart, reacting to challenges along the way. You are showing sportsmanship.

Mind your lines in the stadium as you call out encouragement to the team, those words can get carried away in an instant.

It is not group conformity, this minding of lines. It is much more demanding. It is leading with good choices and setting an example.  It is making these good choice even when the others around you are stepping off on the wrong foot and miss the hash mark on the marching step.  Mind your lines, set an example. There really are others watching and learning, it’s an incredible opportunity to make a positive impact. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Football Soup Season – Chicken Pot Pie Soup

I love autumn. I think it may just be my favorite season, minus those snowy nights that are perfectly still and quiet, with bright full moons shining down. The ever changing hues of fall are something which attracts my eyes; as leaves change from green to orange or yellow, red or burgundy. Corn stalks are burnished gold in the sunshine. Leaves fall, sounding like rain drops and are great fun to try to catch. The smell of rain is different, not made up of the thawing smells of spring or the hot misty smells of summer. 

Beyond the feel, sounds, and smells of autumn – I love the flavors! Crunchy apples with each bit ranging between tart and sweet, I have to pause to enjoy each bit and each apple’s fragrance. As the temperatures cool outside, the warming influence of a bowl of soup is lovely and welcoming. A soup that is easy to put together and is a handy crockpot recipe as well.

In the crockpot, add a bag of frozen chicken breast; this is a great recipe for one of those big bags that you can get a good deal on. With that, add a bag of frozen green beans and another of corn. A family size can of Cream of Chicken soup should be spooned in, adding water to the can and pouring it into the crockpot as well. 

Peel approximately a pound of carrots and about a dozen yellow potatoes.  Chop them coarsely and add them to the pot of soup.  Include two large white onions, cut into quarters.  I finish by flavoring my soup with red pepper and a little rosemary.  

Cook until chicken and vegetables are cooked through.  The potatoes and carrots will be tender when cut. Add milk to richen the broth and cook about another twenty to thirty minutes. The chicken pieces will be very tender to either pull apart with a large fork, or remove them with a slotted spoon, cut them up and add back in. 

Chicken Pot Pie Soup - enjoying the warming goodness of the pot pie filler without all the extra calories of the crust.
1 bag of chicken breast, skinless and boneless  *
1 family size bag of frozen green beans
1 family size bag of frozen corn
1 lb. of carrots
1 medium size bag of yellow roasting potatoes
1 family size can of Cream of Chicken soup
2 large white onions
1/2 cup of milk     
Red pepper and rosemary to taste

*If I had had time, I would have used a whole chicken to make this soup.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Time Travel on the Driveway

Time has been on the minds of people for a long time. Our myths from centuries back tell stories of time travel, moving forward or backward in time, being able to see what is coming or what happened. We seem to be fascinated with time, time management, time efficiencies, and making the world ever smaller in ever faster technologies. Whether it is a desire to see what will come, has gone, or a way to pause; the need to slow down is one that hits me regularly. I need to slow down, taking time to think about and look at the world around me. It is recharging for me and lets me gather perspective as I listen for a quiet voice of God.

I’m reminded of this need to slow down every time I come down the driveway. There are many kinds of driveways, concrete and asphalt, gravel and dirt. My driveway is a mix of gravel, dirt, and asphalt chunks. It is rutted and uneven in places where water has cut trenches through and left hills and valleys. It needs some work. But, part of me really likes the driveway this way. It forces whoever is coming to the house to slow down; to watch out for dogs that don’t get out of the way of cars and to be on the lookout for rabbits that believe strongly in perpetual rabbit right-of-way. It is a reminder to me to slow down, such an important reminder in our fast paced world.           

I wouldn’t want to give up my cell phone, email, facebook, and other media timesaving technologies forever. What I do want to do is create a balance with reminders that often cause me to pause and look around. Yesterday, I looked up and saw a cloud move across the morning sky. The sun wasn’t quite up yet, and the clouds still had a heavy grey look to them. I thought they looked thick until I saw a lacey view of the moon, edged in a graceful and moving frame. This morning, a golden fog caught the sunlight and let it display its beams suspended in droplets of vapor. The feel of autumn crispness is reflected in the crispness of sweet red and tart green autumn apples. Beautiful fawns have lost their spots, and are now preparing for winter’s cold by growing out their thick fuzzy coats. Their mouths seem to be in a perpetual state of chewing as they utilize the end of summer foliage to prepare for the upcoming chill. A small moth landed on the window, spread its wings and sunned itself in a wonderful leaf disguise.

Maybe our many myths and scientific studies of time travel can be brought to our daily lives by stopping to breathe in the smells, watch for the wispy clouds, feel the sun-filled water droplets in the foggy air, and slow down when coming down the driveway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Football Soup Season – Ham & Beans

Football season in my house means cheering on the UNI Panthers and preparing away game soup. Away game soup is a meal for our neighbors after they travel back from an away game. You know how it is the day after a trip - no food in the fridge and too tired to make something for dinner. And soup is perfect football food, especially as the weather is turning colder and fans are also turning colder as they cheer on their teams. That is where the away game football soup tradition started, and I’m already looking forward to trying new recipes!

This year kicked off with a white bean and ham soup, complete with veggies and a nice thick broth. To top it off, it is a great Crockpot recipe too. This recipe is one that can be prepared ahead of time, turn over the cooking to the Crockpots later the next day.

Start by rinsing and soaking one pound of navy beans overnight. Leave plenty of space and water for the beans to grow.

I start by soaking the beans and then use the opportunity to prepare the other vegetables before mixing them all together. 

Earlier in the weekend, I had a chance to dig out fresh potatoes and onions from the garden, like finding buried treasure! Of course, all the mud needed to be removed, but once done – they really are quiet beautiful. You can't judge a potato (or an onion) at first glance.  Just like people.  You really may just see the environment they are growing in.

A good potato brush and tepid running water removed the mud and left a bowl of beautifully cleaned up little potatoes.

Setting aside the potatoes to be added later to the Crockpot, they reminded me of a trip to the Byward Market in Ottawa.  The vegetables there were arranged with great pride, each so beautifully shined and cleaned that I would have felt comfortable taste testing the fresh foods throughout the market.

Pull out a cutting board and a sharp knife to prepare all the vegetables. I added mine directly to the pot of the Crockpot and mixed after all of the vegetables were added.

During cooking times, my helper was quite happy to keep an eye on me from the comfort of her pillow. With a view into the kitchen, as long as I remain within eye range, she is content to watch and relax. A break is in order to go pet that fuzzy face!

Break is over...  Peel and chop five large carrots, pausing to enjoy the wonderful smells and beautiful color. Then, add them to the Crockpot.

Quartering potatoes and onions, add them as well. Wash the kale thoroughly and remove the leaves from the stem.  I crushed them just a little with my hands to help them soak in all the good flavor and share its own savory taste.

1 lb. white navy beans
5 large carrots, peeled and chopped
5 potatoes, quartered 
3 onions, quartered 
1 cup kale
1 precooked ham
water and broth 
rosemary and bay leaf

Rinse the beans thoroughly. Soak them in water and set them aside. Quarter onions, potatoes, and chop carrots. Add them to the crockpot or soup pot. Remove the kale leaves from its stem and lightly crush with your hands. Add it to the soup pot. Pour the beans and water into the mix and then place the ham in the pot as well, pouring in broth as needed to finish covering all of the ingredients.  Finish this off with one bay leaf and a sprinkle of rosemary. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the ham is completely heated.