Monday, April 30, 2007

According to Brett...

...It's springtime. Here's where I got my laugh from.

My sister and me

Emily, my sister, is one of the most thoughtful and empathetic people I love. We've shared some pretty special memories together over the years (in spite of all of the ones we fought) and she summarized many of them in this email she wrote to me. Love you my dear sister!
Note: some of them have been slightly altered so as to protect the identify of the blogger and aforementioned persons)
1. I love you for sharing gingerbread pancakes with me in the Caribbean
2. I love you for being the only girl I know who loves Anne of Green Gables' quotes as much as I do.
3. I love you for laughing with me about that guy in Pottery Barn who made eating noises at me on that one year's shopping trip
4. I love you for running the Army 10-miler with me
5. I love you for loving baked beans and mustard
6. I love you for the way you love to journal
7. I love you because it is so much fun to sing with you
8. I love you for loving me enough to laugh at me about the Ritual, "Guys, Guys, look at me!", and Smoking lead.
9. I love you because you are so adventurous, like when you and Laurie went to 7-11 and how you buy Heeley's and climb mountains and such
10. I love you for sneaking into Washington Grove Lake for midnight-swimming with me and Brett.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

According to Brett...

I think I'll start a new side column in this blog for days (weeks) where I just don't cook: I'll call it "According to Brett". This week in the life of the sixteen year old brother, he claims:
"This would be a completed life dream: Going into a corn silo."

I just love his sense of humor. Thanks bro for the smile.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nora's Believe It or Not

I am still eating lettuce from Easter.
One of the glorious benefits of living in Arizona is that stuff stays alive longer in your fridge than I have EVER known. Therefore, when I purchased about 3 heads of lettuce for Easter festivities, and then got a bonus 3 heads of lettuce from my co-op, I am still benefiting from chopped romaine in my fridge.
We had some friends over the other night to eat dinner and play Mexican train, a dominoes game, and this salad was created by being, as my mother loves to say, "resourceful" (for in her opinion she thinks this word is the definition of my wifely life.)

Resourceful Salad

1 head romaine, chopped
2 cups strawberries, quartered
6 spears grilled asparagus
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup crispy fried onions
1/2 head Thai basil, chiffonade

Dressing (processed in the blender)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. sugar
1 clove garlic, mashed with coarse salt
2 Tb. vegan mayonnaise
The hint of minty basil was wonderful with the sweet citrus of the strawberry and the nice round acid of the balsamic cut with the red wine vinegar was a great complement to the pungent richness of the onions and cheese.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

State of Grace

For self-sufficient people who think they can do everything, it is usually a long fall to the bottom when you realize you're not. That was last week.
This week, I am trying again. Just kidding. No, I am trying to learn that if I recognize my "state of grace", my "unmoving mountain of rest" is God's love towards me, I can rest in God's amazing grace, no matter what the circumstances. My friend Megan, wrote this very encouraging post, that summarizes my "state of grace" that I can always be secure in.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Thoughts on Submission

From Piper's blog:
The Deepest Root of Womanhood: Hope in God

The deepest root of Christian womanhood mentioned in this text is hope in God. “Holy women who hoped in God.” A Christian woman does not put her hope in her husband, or in getting a husband. She does not put her hope in her looks. She puts her hope in the promises of God. She is described in Proverbs 31:25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” She laughs at everything the future will bring and might bring, because she hopes in God.

She looks away from the troubles and miseries and obstacles of life that seem to make the future bleak, and she focuses her attention on the sovereign power and love of God who rules in heaven and does on earth whatever he pleases. She knows her Bible, and she knows her theology of the sovereignty of God, and she knows his promise that he will be with her and help her strengthen her no matter what. This is the deep, unshakable root of Christian womanhood. And Peter makes it explicit in verse 5. He is not talking about just any women. He is talking about women with unshakable biblical roots in the sovereign goodness of God—holy women who hope in God.


The next thing to see about Christian womanhood after hope in God is the fearlessness that it produces in these women. So verse 5 said that the holy women of old hoped in God. And then verse 6 gives Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as an example and then refers to all other Christian women as her daughters. Verse 6b: “And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”\

So this portrait of Christian womanhood is marked first by hope in God and then what grows out of that hope, namely, fearlessness. She does not fear the future; she laughs at the future. The presence of hope in the invincible sovereignty of God drives out fear. Or to say it more carefully and realistically, the daughters of Sarah fight the anxiety that rises in their hearts. They wage war on fear, and they defeat it with hope in the promises of God.

Mature Christian women know that following Christ will mean suffering. But they believe the promises like 1 Peter 3:14, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,” and 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

That is what Christian women do: They entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. They hope in God. And they triumph over fear.

Almost Family

There are friends. And then there are friends. Christina and Luke would be my friends, people I've known since before I was born. Jon Payne (and now his wife, Lory, and now there new little girl, Eliana) is that friend to Travis. They joined us for Easter at the Shanks, and it is such a joy to listen to my husband hash over long over told stories with his friend from childhood. Thanks Lory for insisting that we get them in a picture together. Now if we could only get them to act like they're friends... men never stand close together in pictures :)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Challenge, Overcome

Things I have always been timid about are: blood and throw-up. I don't stomach either well. However, when duty calls, I guess you just have to step up to the challenge.
On Tuesday night, my friend and I held a cholesterol/glucose screening, using real blood. Off real people. Off of real fingers. And guess who had to do the sticking and squeezing? Me.
Me, the one passes out almost every time my blood gets drawn (not from not being able to stomach it, but because I have low blood pressure.)
But I did it. I drew about 10 people's blood and successfully have overcome my fear of blood draws. At least, on other people. Guess I could have been a nurse after all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Travelling Salad Bowl

The other salad that I made was in an effort to continue a tradition that last year's Easter guests brought to the Shanks' households. Kelly Johnson brought her special salad to every church event last year. I fell in love with it. Not only that but she brought this salad to Easter last year in this bright orange and yellow glass salad bowl. The bowl has a story.
Apparently she had a circle of friends who passed around this salad bowl over time to all of their friends, like for instance when they brought a meal to someone who had a baby, the bowl went too. It was always given with instructions to pass it along to another person in hopes that the bowl would travel along carrying lots of stories and memories.
It didn't get out very far this year, so I reclaimed it's use and declared that it should always be brought to other people's house with Kelly's salad in it with the story of her creative genius.
Kelly's Spinach and Berry Salad
makes enough for 12

1 large bag of baby spinach
1 container of strawberries, sliced into quarters
1 carton blueberries, washed
1 carton blackberries, washed
1 carton rasberries, washed
1 cup candied slivered almonds

Vanilla Balsamic Honey Dressing
1 cup water with 1/2 vanilla bean pod, simmered over low heat until reduced by half
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 Tb. vegan mayonnaise
Blend in the blender until combined.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Steve and the Steakhouse

Although we resorted to the standards for Easter of ham and turkey, Steve loves steak. So does Travis. And they both love Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. We recently went there with a (very generous) friend and enjoyed steak. Everyone comes back raving about the steak and the service, of course. No one talks about the sides. That is typically because they are boring at best. But one side does stand above from the undercooked au gratin potatoes and mediocre mixed vegetables: the House Chopped Salad.
Steve said those thrilling words to me last week at church, "So, what do you think makes that salad so good???" I took that as a challenge and when asked to bring salad, I thought Easter would be a perfect celebration to discover why this salad, above all others, has unusual powers over men who love steak.
I unearthed the recipes online and went to task. This salad is quite lengthy in it's ingredient list, so it isn't for a weeknight recipe. Make it for when you want your man to talk about how good your vegetables are, not "Where's the meat?"

Ruth's Chris Chopped Salad
makes enough for 12
1 head radicchio, sliced thinly
1 head romaine lettuce, sliced thinly
1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced thinly
1 small bag baby spinach, sliced thinly
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, thinly sliced
12 basil leaves, chiffonade (rolled together then thinly sliced)

6 oz bleu cheese, crumbled
3 hardboiled eggs, diced
6 oz artichoke heart (or hearts of palm), diced
1 lb bacon, fried and crumbled
6 oz green olives, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced thinly on bias (or red onion)
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 bag unseasoned croutons
2 cups crispy onions

Lemon Basil Dressing
3/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup basil chiffonade
1/4 cup cup thinly sliced green onions
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
-- Blend in a blender until combined.

The variations I took on this dish were the green onions for red onions (texture choice), addition of parsley, a dressing of my own making and spicy jalepeno green olives for some zing to cut through the creaminess. I also cheated and used canned fried onions because I don't have a deep-fat fryer and it isn't worth it to fry anything in an apartment. I would smell it for 2 weeks.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cupcakes for the Cuties

Happy Easter! I tackled several recipes for this happy occasion for several different of my favorite people. I love cooking, but I love cooking even more for people that love good food and make special requests as a cooking challenge. I will post some of these recipes separately profiled with the person(s) for who they were made.
This recipe is dedicated to the Zigler boys. These cupcakes are a bite of sunshine for the five little boys who are a ray of sunshine in my life. What better reward than to see a plate filled only with a piece of turkey and one of those cupcakes? Or to see sticky mouths with empty wrappers strewed all over their table? Take a bite and see if it doesn't take you back to those simple joys of childhood's pure sugar highs.
Lemon Ricotta Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Glaze
makes 18 cupcakes

7 oz almond paste
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 eggs, slightly beaten, room temperature
2/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
2 Tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Beat almond paste and sugar on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Add ricotta and beat again. Add softened butter and beat on medium-high until light in color. Add eggs and beat two minutes. Whisk dry ingredients together separately and add to wet ingredients along with milk. Fold ingredients to combine.
Line cupcake pan with liners and fill with batter until 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned.

Lemon Curd (from Joy of Cooking) chilled overnight.

To frost: let cupcakes stand overnight uncovered. Take one tablespoon of curd and spoon over tops of cupcakes. Let stand uncovered for several hours, or until ready to serve. Can decorate with lemon zest strips or as desired.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Non-Lent Feasting

We have had some amazing food experiences in March. Not to brag, since we basically, by a stroke of sheer generosity, have not paid for almost any of them. Here's a "amuse bouche" of our culinary carnival through Phoenix as of late:

Sauted Sweetbreads at Vincent on Camelback
Rosemary Garlic Panko-Crusted Onion Rings at Joe's Farm Grill
Fresh Ricotta and Mozzerella Calzone at Baci Italian Restaurant
Egg rolls with Lettuce Wraps and Fresh Herbs at Cyclo
The Rosa pizza with Arizona pistachios at Pizzeria Bianco
Hummus and Pita bread at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant
The House Chopped Salad at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

And then to top it all off... we went to the West of the Western Culinary and Wine Festival due to some fluke volunteerism with the American Society of Safety Engineers (Thanks George!). We were able to sample some tastes from almost all of the best restaurants in Phoenix like MaryElaine's and Windows on the Green. My favorite was (as already hinted at in a previous post) the desserts from Fox Restaurant Concept's The Greene House-- Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mandarin Orange and Lime Kiwi Coolee. Some of our other favorite tastes were:

Ostrich with a petite onion ring and fresh herb sauce
Hot and sour Thai Shrimp Soup from MaryElaine's
Pumpkin Soup with Pepitas
Foie Gras with Crepes and Rhubarb Vinegar Sauce
Salsa Seviche
by Windows on the Green
Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Pistachios in a Sweet Corn Tortilla Cone by Kai

There were so many at this festival. And so many great wines... But it was an experience I have always wanted to go to and God provided a way for us to go for FREE! How awesome is that. There were so many things to taste and try. And to boot-- we got to take Christina and Luke too for free! What a memory.

Needless to say I am doing situps for the next month as payback. Too much feasting. Not enough Lenten fasting. Good thing we're under grace not the law!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Vanilla Fever

My husband brought me home some Tahitian vanilla beans, flown in fresh from Tahiti, from some friend of a friend of a friend (I love the investment world...) which has had me dreaming of vanilla bean everything. We also have had an incredible food experiences lately that piqued my interest in vanilla essence lately with vanilla bean panna cotta with mandarin oranges and lime kiwi collee (more on those experiences later). While I was at my parents, I made dinner twice, and this is one of the recipes that turned up well. I have to say that I am always inspired at my parents, where I can raid their well-stocked pantry with all sorts of incredible, fresh ingredients without once thinking of my food budget :) Thanks Dad!

Vanilla-Balsamic Grilled Chicken over Spinach Salad with Balsamic Pears
serves 6

8 cups fresh baby spinach
3 semi-ripe pears, sliced
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

6 boneless skinless chicken breasts marinated for 3 hours in:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp vanilla bean paste (from Trader Joes)

Honey Whole Grain Mustard Dressing (make your own or purchase)

Heat grill to medium-high. Grill chicken breast 6 minutes to a side until cook through but where the meat is still slightly pink. Let rest for 10 minutes under foil.
Meanwhile, slice pears and marinate in balsamic vinegar with salt and pepper. Add spinach and walnuts and Parmesan cheese. Toss together to coat.
Slice chicken diagonally and place strips on top of portioned salad on a plate. Drizzle with dressing and serve. Fresh ground pepper to taste.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Goodspeed and Godspell

As we sped towards the airport, my stomach was already flip-flopping. Probably from the fact that we got up at 6am after a late night out partying with Christina and Luke on their last evening here for their annual spring Phoenix visit. That nervous energy and the undigested Pizzeria Bianco pizza settled in after I got on standby with my friends for my flight into Baltimore.
It was perfectly calm too when I walked through the garage door on Thursday evening.
My mom stood with her back towards me at the kitchen sink, washing some swiss chard. I said, "So, what's for dinner?" She turned around at my voice and her faced changed from a look of suspicion to surprise and then to tears and smiles. We have only successfully surprised my mother like three times in her life. This was worth every lost hour of sleep for the look on her face upon my surprise arrival. Her exact quote was, "I don't think I can recover". She was so surprised that she couldn't finish preparing dinner.
Brett's response was a little more age-appropriate. He said, "What! What are you doin' here?!". Neither my mom or Brett knew that I was coming to DC for the weekend on the generosity of some friends who gave me a standby ticket. My visit was not primarily to surprise my mom (although the victory of achieving that end was enough for me). I went back for my little brother, Brett's, performances in Godspell.
The show was amazing. I had to erase several adjective in the typing process because they all fit: amazing, incredible, outstanding. It was difficult to sit there and remember that they were in highschool. The quality of the acting, the singing, the dancing, and their comedic timing was beyond the other shows I had seen produced. It was even better than the first time my friend all performed in it; and yes, we all have to admit at some point that was ten years ago...
But overall, it wasn't just everyone in the cast who was great. There was our little brother Brett stealing the show. His voice was piercingly mature. The question my mom keeps getting is: "Where did that come from?"
There are several things to attribute it to logically. My mom would say it was from all those years she insisted on piano lessons. It could be that those formative years (your natural musicality is achieved by third grade) Brett had all of us playing piano from the time he was in utero until he started his piano lessons (with me, I might add!) Then, there is always the influence of an incredible vocal teacher Brett had early on in I Cantori that teaches kids how to sing in a group without instruments. My uncle has sung opera professionally too. But I know why-- I think it all started with my dad. His voice was the beautiful tone that put us to bed every night when he would sing "The Steadfast Love of the Lord". Brett has his same tenor qualities. But with a little more raw talent (sorry Dad).
No matter what, we are all proud of his gift. It send shivers down your back and makes you cry when he sings so powerfully from the depths of his heart. Today, he needs some speed to finish his chemistry homework. We can't wait to see where his future speeds him tomorrow. He is definitely "god-spell", some good news.