Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Self Importance

I realize that this is a cooking blog.  While I happen to align myself as a Christ-follower, I am far from perfect.  I typically do not write on the subject of faith, but occasionally I enjoy writing out my thoughts as a way to form my opinions.  What follows is not, in my opinion, coherent or theologically sound, but simply my thoughts.  Faith is a journey, and this is where I am today.  

Recently, our church has been staging a sort of campaign (not declared, but this is my perception).  The campaign seems to be aimed at discouraging typical "Christian" behavior.  It's refreshing.  In fact, I kind of want to stand up and cheer at the beginning (until I realize that I, too, am massively guilty). 

In the midst of our sermon series, I've also been ruminating on several different experiences in my life as well as various things I've read or heard in the past few weeks. 

Part of my inspiration for this post came from this article.  I've been thinking about it a lot lately.  I think what impacted me, in addition to the words in the article, were the comments.  Most were supportive, but there were a substantial percentage that were judgmental.  I think many times the Christian community really believes that those with a certain kind of sin should wear a scarlet letter for the rest of their lives, in essence.  That the result of sin should be a lifetime of punishment and damnation. 

I also found this blogpost interesting.  When I read it several years ago, I wasn't ready for it.  Now, I think I understand it a bit better. 

I'll never forget a conversation in a small group in which one of our members was recounting an experience she'd had with a roommate.  The roommate had found herself pregnant and unmarried.  After the initial shock, she was excited to become a mother and to welcome her baby.  The member of our group was scathing.  She couldn't believe that someone who found themselves in that position could be excited to have a baby unwed and with the obviousness of her sin.  The ugliness of that judgement will live with me forever. 
I think the root of judgement of others is self-importance.  I think telling everyone how busy we are is self-importance.  I think staying within our little Christian bubble is self-importance. I think telling ourselves that because we "follow the rules" [and tell ourselves we will be rewarded for good behavior] is self-importance.

I am as guilty as the next person.  Mostly because I hate self-important people. I hate judgmental people.  I hate typical "Christian" behavior.  Each and every time I think through this issue of self-importance, I realize that my sin is just as great as those who are self-important. 

My mom recently read an article in which a dad shared that he actually relished the times his children messed up.  He felt that he could show them more love in spite of  their behavior than he could when times were easy.  What a strong spiritual parallel.  I don't think God wants us to sin.  I do think, though, that sometimes the repentance and redemption bring us back to Him in a way that smooth sailing would not.  How much more proof can we show that we love [than loving in spite of behavior]?

I am reminded that there are 47 verses in the Bible about "dying to self". I haven't been able to find any that extol the virtues of those that judge the judgmental (darn). 

I am curious to see what you think.  I certainly don't have any answers, I just wanted to write out my thoughts. 

As Christians we are commanded to show truth and love.  I don't think we're doing a very good job, in some cases.  I don't want to bash Christians on the whole, but I think some of us would be quite surprised if Jesus lived in our current culture.  I don't think He'd behave the way we'd expect Him to.  At all. 

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Baked Polenta with Tomato Sauce

I have only made polenta a  few times.  It's kind of unnerving how quickly the cornmeal becomes one glob.

When I saw this recipe for baked polenta, I was intrigued.  I happened to have some venison sausage defrosting and thought this might be the perfect way to tone down the spiciness of the sausage.  I've since made the baked polenta without adding meat and I like it just as much.

What it really reminds me of is macaroni and cheese with stewed tomatoes.  I think this combination is a Pennsylvania Dutch creation? I do make baked macaroni and cheese (and stewed tomatoes), but this is so easy [in comparison] that it's silly. 

I think it's also one of the cheapest meals I make.  I'm not good enough at math to figure out the cost per serving or anything like that, but the ingredients are all pantry staples (with the exception of the fresh basil, which I didn't have omitted).  You'll basically need: butter, salt, water, cornmeal, canned tomatoes, onion, and parmesan cheese.

I apologize for the quality of these pictures - I was majorly chasing daylight! (And, yes, the pans are sitting on my rug by the back door)

baked polenta - just needs a stir and to sit for 15 minutes

clockwise: sauteed venison, tomato sauce, polenta

Here is the original recipe, courtesy of Joy the Baker:
Baked Polenta with Tomato and Basil
makes 4 servings

For the Polenta:
4 cups water
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the Tomato Basil topping:
1 (28-ounce) can whole and peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 onion, peeled and sliced in half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
Parmesan cheese for topping

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In an 8×8-inch baking sheet, or a 2 qt baking dish, stir together water, coarse cornmeal, and salt.  Stir to combine.  The cornmeal will sink to the bottom of the pan and the water will turn a bit cloudy.  Place in the oven to bake for 45 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and add butter.  Stir until butter is melted.  Return to the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
Polenta will have a dry top and not jiggle when fully baked.  Remove from the oven and stir in red pepper flakes and cheese.  Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

While the polenta bakes, cook the tomato sauce.
In a medium saucepan combine entire can of tomatoes, juice and all.  Add butter and onion halves.  Keep the onion halves intact, we want to be able to easily remove the onion at the end of cooking.
Place the pan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The butter will melt and create glistening beads on top of the tomato sauce.  The whole tomatoes will bread down, but still maintain just a bit of their tomato chunkiness.  The sauce will thicken as it cooks down.  After the sauce has cooked down, remove the onion halves and discard.

Remove from heat and gently spoon onto cooked polenta.  Top with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Serve warm.  

I made the recipe as instructed and it was perfect!  If you have five minutes to prep and an hour to wait, this is the perfect weeknight meal!  Rob, Josh, and I loved it.  Kate forced herself to eat it and Emma didn't even try it.  You could definitely add roasted veggies, sauteed meat, or various cheeses - I'd say the possibilities are endless.  I think that's the mark of a good recipe - a solid foundation that can be built upon to suit different tastes.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

San Diego, CA

While Rob and I were staying in the Phoenix, AZ area, we talked about various day trips.  When I realized that we were only five hours from San Diego, I suggested we utilize our last two free days and head for the coast.  About thirty minutes later, we were packed and driving west!

We reached the sunset cliffs of Ocean Beach right at sunset.

We checked in to our hotel and then looked for a dinner option.  We decided on TJ's Oyster Bar in Chula Vista.  They specialize in fish tacos, which we tried and liked.  But, our favorite were the smoked tuna tacos with cheese.  I know that sounds weird, but holy cow - one of the best things I've ever had.  We also really enjoyed the tostada with octopus.  (Much better than when we tried to make octopus!)

I know this looks less than appetizing, but trust me - it was so delicious!  The plate in the foreground was the octopus tostada - sorry we didn't save any tentacles for the picture!  The plate to the right were the tuna tacos.  I liked their fish tacos, but I found that they lacked the flavor of the other parts of our dinner.  This was a great yelp score, and our total bill was $29.

If you're ever in Chula Vista - go to TJ's!  I would suggest getting there early though, the whole place seats about 20. 

Point Loma and Coronado Island

This past week we visited San Diego.  Our time actually only provided a 2-night, 1-day stay, but we tried to see as much as possible.  We walked from our hotel in Mission Bay to the nearest Starbucks, walking on the beach most of the way. 

We decided to visit Point Loma and Coronado Island, selecting just two sights of the many things to do in San Diego.

We saw one sea lion, many surfers, no gray whales, and miles and miles of Pacific Ocean.  Every vista was stunning.

gorgeous Pacific Ocean

tidepool areas at high tide

view of San Diego - notice the snow capped mountains

road to Cabrillo National Monument

one of my favorite pictures - endless ocean from a towering viewpoint

original lighthouse, no longer in use

crystal from the lighthouse

naval cemetery

We drove to Coronado Island, forgoing the ferry for the sake of time.  The beaches were empty, but the scenery was breathtaking.  We enjoyed the sun deck at the Hotel Del Coronado.  Perfect afternoon.

wide and beautiful beaches on Coronado Island

Hotel Del Coronado

soaking in the sun

we enjoyed watching this sailboat

our carnivorous feast at Phil's BBQ

We walked a lot!  It was about two miles each way to our Starbucks in the morning and we walked a few miles during our travels the rest of the day.  We enjoyed dinner at a San Diego staple, Phil's BBQ.  We arrived right before the line formed outside of the door.  We didn't feel one bit guilty about our baby-back ribs, bbq chicken,1/2 lb cheeseburger, fries, baked beans, coleslaw, and a whoopie pie.  It was a perfect day to see as much as possible in San Diego, CA.  Til next time......

Arizona/California Trip

Rob and I just returned from a week-long kid-free trip, part vacation, part meetings.  Rob had a conference in Tempe, AZ, and we enjoyed some extra days filled with sightseeing, good food, and time together.

On our first full day, we hiked in Scottsdale, AZ at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve - 8.4 miles, to be exact.

We hiked up to Inspiration Point, timing it to enjoy our lunch there.  We.Were.Starving.  The hiking was gorgeous, but a bit challenging at some points.  It was totally worth it, though.

Can you see how desperate I am?  I packed several things, apple wedges with peanut butter being on the menu.  I could not get the peanut butter open.  Rob had been taking un-flattering pictures of me all day, so I guess he saw another good opportunity!

This was a great start to our trip!  We were so ravenous by that evening, that we inhaled double-double burgers with cheese during our first experience at in-n-out burger.  Yum.

The next day we impulsively decided to hop in our rental car and drive five hours west to San Diego.  We loved it!  We didn't take tons of pictures, but I'll share the highlights.  We utilized yelp to nail down great little restaurants.  None of our meals totaled more than $30, and they were all fabulous.

It's good to be back, but time with Rob and time in the warmth and sunshine were priceless. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Beef Stew

This is a re-post, but this remains one of our favorite winter meals.  Beef stew.  Chunks of beef simmered with browned onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots in a tomato and beef broth.  The best part?  I serve it over creamy mashed potatoes. 

Wanna know my secret?  Dark beer.  The richness of a porter or stout adds a level of flavor not found in a simple meaty component. 

See all those brown bits of goodness on the bottom of the pan?  That's the result of high heat, olive oil, root vegetables and beef allowed to reach a glorious crispness.  You should smell our house.  I'm experiencing simmering nirvana. 


Click here for the full recipe.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Letter to my younger self.

Country signer Brad Paisley has a song entitled, "if I could write a letter to me".  He writes a letter to himself at 17, and gives advice to his much younger self. 

My life has changed a lot and not much in the past nine years.  We still live in the same house and we're still the same people, but we're all older, and in same ways, wiser. 

If I could write a letter to my almost twenty-seven year old self, it would go a little like this:

1.  No matter what your dad tells you, you're not going to miss this.  Truthfully, you're not even going to remember the crazy pace of life with a baby, a two-year old, and a kindergardner.  Take lots of pictures, the rest will be a blur. 
    a.  You are going to miss your evenings.  Your kids go to bed at 7:00pm, but in nine years, you'll be
         running those babies around to sports practices, games, gymnastics, and school events past 9:00pm.
         The horror.
     b.  You are going to miss the fact that your kids, right now, are very affordable.  They don't each much. 
          They don't play sports.  They've never heard of Ugg boots.  They're happy wearing hand-me-downs.
     c.   You're going to love your kids as they grow up.  You're going to love having real conversations with
           them.  They get even more enjoyable the older they get.

2.  You won't always be this poor.  Keep your head up.  You're not going to starve.  Your bills will get paid.  Don't stress your husband out about money.  He's working hard for you, and before you know it, his integrity will result in more clients than he ever thought possible. 

3.  Don't sweat the small stuff. 
     a.  While it's important that you feed your kids healthy food, you need to find balance.  They will be
          hanging out with friends and you want them to make good choices.  If you over-control, they will
          go crazy when they find a little freedom. 
     b.  You can't always protect these little ones of yours.  Remember the time you took all three to the 
          doctor?  Two had pneumonia and one needed a cat scan.  They will get hurt again.  Badly.  It will
          be okay, just keep praying for them.  

4.  All your hard work will pay off.  You'll get a call from your son's nurse telling you how much she appreciated his politeness.  She literally says the words, "kids like him make my job worth it".  Success.

5.  That baby that surprised you?  You're going to love her like crazy. 

6.  Make sure you make time for your husband.  Your life is going to get so much more crazy.  You'll barely see each other some weeks.  Keep taking vacations with just the two of you.  You'll need it. 

7.  Before you know it, your kids will all be in school.  You're not going to have a perfectly clean house.  You won't lose all of your baby weight.  Just give it up. 

The funny thing is, that probably in nine years, I'll figure out that I didn't know anything at this point in my life.  

If you could write a letter to your younger self - what would you write?