Thursday, December 6, 2012

On being baffled

Sorry about missing last week. This time of year I get a little… distracted.I started the post below, and then skipped a week of posting because I couldn't get my thoughts together, so I obviously haven't quite learned my lesson yet. :-)

Awhile back, I came across a G.K. Chesterton quote: "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly."* I have to confess that it baffled me. A short while later, a friend whose thoughts I generally regard as wise, if esoteric, repeated the quote excitedly. He looked for all the world as though he were pulling an unexpected gift from behind his back, presenting it eagerly and expecting that it would delight me, too. Instead, I nodded sagely, wondering what of value could be inside such a strangely wrapped package, and I put it aside to wrestle with later.

Months later now, I feel as though I've just found the edge of the giftwrap, though getting the lid off the darn thing is still eluding me.

The idea that an imperfect effort could have some intermediary value isn't too hard for me to grasp. I have art by small children covering several walls, and I love every piece. My childrens' art is worth creating, even if they do it "poorly" by technical standards. I'm sure a goofy little stick figure on a birthday card will still delight me when they're grown. But, for myself, the expectation of growth and of excellent results are intertwined; moderate performance is only acceptable as a means to an end, and not an end itself.

I'm trying to reframe this, trying to find a paradigm that accepts that life is not only the things that you are best at, with everything else for the fire. I amazed to find how deeply I define myself by results rather than actions.

It's hard to really wrap my mind around what things are worth doing, full stop, but I'm starting to see why my friend was eager to share this quote. I'm excited by the glimpses I'm catching as I struggle to unwrap this new framework, too.

This recipe is another quick and easy favorite. It was born not long after my six year old, in the new-baby crazy days of not always making it to the grocery store on time (read:sometime that week). It's vegan, and, if you use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, all the ingredients are something you can easily keep stocked in the pantry. (Store your pine nuts in the fridge or freezer to keep them from going rancid!) I like this dish quite peppery.  Also, I enjoy substituting canned whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped, for the diced variety. All measurements can be adjusted to taste. Serve with (spinach) salad and crusty French bread.

Pasta and Chickpeas
(serves 2ish as main dish, 4 as side dish)


  1/2 lb linguine
  1Tbsp olive oil (for pasta)
  salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1/2c canned chickpeas, rinsed and patted dry
  2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  1/2tsp dried basil
  1/2tsp dried oregano
  1/4tsp crushed red pepper
  14oz can diced tomatoes, lightly drained
  2 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil

  2 Tbsp pine nuts (highly recommend this addition - I love pine nuts!)
  1/4tsp ground coriander
  1/4tsp dried parsley
  1/8 – 1/4 tsp ground sage


 Start pasta water boiling according to package directions. Add pasta as directed.

Heat skillet over medium heat and add chickpeas and pine nuts, if using.  Lightly toast for 3-4 minutes.
Crumble dried herbs before adding to chickpeas.  Add crushed red pepper and stir.
Add oil to taste, stir and add garlic. Cook till fragrant.
 Add diced tomatoes, and reduce heat to medium.  Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes  
 have taken on the flavor or the seasoning and pasta has been prepared

Drain pasta, do not rinse.  Place in serving bowl, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Top pasta with tomato-chickpea mixture and serve.

*Where I found the official quote. Thanks internet!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Being Thankful

The last 6 years have been so full for our family. 

3 states, 2 kids, 1 PhD*. It's been an amazing ride. So very many parts of it were exhausting, but when I think of them now, from this position of relative calm, I am deeply grateful for all the fresh starts, for the good that's followed us and the changes of scenery that help to leave old habits behind.

Although we are beyond fortunate to have the amazing local friends we've made, it is the friends who stick with me through years apart that overflow my heart with thanks. The friend who showed me what it looks like to pick up the pieces after your world falls apart, who uses those eyes that see more clearly now to capture beauty. The friend who showed me what it looks like to own your passion and work towards it slow and steady, whose curiosity and drive combined couldn't have helped but meet with success. The friend whose voice so often comforts me, who showed me what it looks like to speak in the most stifling of places - where you're already known- whose voice, already resonating with life and hope, is becoming clearer by the day. 

There are so many of you, friends that have opened your homes to me while we've been on the road, friends who've been on the receiving end of pages-long email rants, friends who show me that endurance is possible when I feel sapped, and those who show me that my roots run deep, just not necessarily in one place, when I'm feeling tossed about. 

I am so impressed by all of you. And so fiercely proud to know you. I am so thankful that you are the people that fill this life of mine.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Aunt Nancy's Corn-Oat Muffins
This recipe has travelled with me, too. It's one my aunt modified, from what original I'm not sure. It was a favorite growing up, and a rare treat since it requires a little planning ahead if you're going to get the full effect. Right out of the oven, these are so soft and crumbly, I add a pat of butter and eat them with a spoon!


1c buttermilk (I often just sour a cup of milk with 1T vinegar or lemon juice. Buttermilk is yummier, but not necessary.)
1/2c yellow corneal
1/2c quick-cooking rolled oats
1 egg
1/2c packed brown sugar
1c all-purpose flour
3/4tsp salt
1/2tsp baking soda
1/2tsp baking powder
1/2c vegetable oil


Mix buttermilk, cornmeal, and rolled oats. Let stand 1 hour (not necessary if you're in a rush, but does make a difference in texture)

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix in egg and brown sugar.

Add remaining dry ingredients, stir till blended.

Add vegetable oil, stir well and divide into muffin cups.

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes.  Makes 12 muffins.

*Not mine :-)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On being an opinionated person

This week I posted something controversial on Facebook.

For the first part of life, I was told that there's one right way to believe, and you should conform your thoughts to that. And so I tried. Later, I discovered that other people say there's a subtly different one right way, definitely not the same as the first right way, and that I should conform my thoughts to that. And so I tried again. Then, one day*, I realized that the people before me, the people before my heroes and before their heroes, all thought differently from each other in small and big ways both. For the first time, I realized that when pieces of an idea just don't fit together, it's possible my understanding is the problem, but more likely the fault lies with the pieces themselves.

This started a cascade of reevaluation, but I'm stuck now wondering to do with the results of a half-decade of reorganizing my thoughts. For the first time, I largely own my ideas. It turns out when I actually believe in something I feel passionately about it. I want not just to be satisfied with correctness, but to wrestle with implications and press forward into application so that the world can become truest and most just version of itself.

Today, I read this post, and though we are living very different lives, I felt like I had found a soulmate when I hit this paragraph:**

In some situations, I feel like an acquired taste. I can be too strong, too opinionated, too pushy, too-often-in-the-deep-end-of-the-pool, for the average group of women. For example, I blogged all October about poverty while everyone else blogged about thankfulness and craft projects. I’ve learned to restrain myself, I’m trying to figure out when to move and when to listen, but I’m always keeping myself in check.

I've spent a long time trying my hardest not to be that intense. I learned the language of the insiders and downplayed my talents to not rock the boat. But I'm too rusty now at speaking the old dialects to fit in anymore; my accent is showing. I value my new perspectives too much to pretend I don't have them. It's amazing, and freeing, and makes me feel more vulnerable than I ever did with an official stance to hide behind. But what can I do?

This week I posted something controversial on Facebook. It might be small, maybe even be a little bit lame, but it's a start.


Much like my current opinions, this soup is something I would have rejected outright a few years ago, but am now thrilled to have in my life. It's the perfect soup for fall. The tahini (sesame seed paste) really makes it, giving it a rich, nutty depth you miss without it, so give it a try!  

Chick-Pea and Spinach Soup with Garlic, from The Cook's Encyclopedia of Soup)


2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
5 cups vegetable stock
generous 2 cups peeled and finely chopped potatoes (2-3 middling size ones)
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2/3 cup heavy cream (the sauce broke when I used half-and-half the other day. Healthy eaters beware!)
2 tablespoons tahini
8 ounces spinach, shredded
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I often omit this, though it is a yummy touch)
fresh cracked pepper


1 Heat oil and sautee garlic and onion until soft and translucent.
2 Stir in the coriander and cumin powders and cook till aromatic.
3 Pour in stock and add chopped potatoes.
4 Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes, add chickpeas and simmer 5 more minutes.
5 Blend cornstarch with cream, tahini, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper as desired.
6 Stir into the soup along with the spinach.
7 Bring to a boil while stirring frequently and let simmer another 2 minutes. Adjust salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.
8 Serve immediately. (Preferably with a baguette or rolls)

*It all started with a quote from George MacDonald's essay "Life." Thank God for bunny trails through wikipedia.
**Please go back and read her whole post, check out the store and the opportunity to help with the relief efforts in the Dominican; she does amazing work and so do her friends.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On sick days

The first sick day of Kindergarten is upon us! 

It's days like this that make me grateful that I don't have much going on outside of these four walls.* It's a treat to be able to bring my daughter apple slices and sit and watch a Netflix episode or two with her, and bring the comfort that only your mom can give when you're little. 

I'll leave you all with a winter favorite for today. If anybody needs me, I'll be catching some quality animation with the best 6 year old around.

Chicken Noodle Soup:

This is the one thing that my children will unfailingly eat. Thus it is also one of the main reasons I always have a bag of frozen mixed veggies, or at least peas and carrots, in my freezer. I imagine this could serve quite a few as a side dish, but the four of us almost always finish the pot when it's what's for dinner.


2-3 chicken leg quarters (bone and skin included)
enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your pan
1/3 c dried minced onions
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
5-10 peppercorns, cracked
1-2 bay leaves
(1/2 tsp of any or all the following: thyme, parsley, basil)
salt to taste (start with 1tsp, add more as needed)

1/2lb small dried pasta of your choice (I prefer shells, because they're just so cute!)
1/2lb frozen mixed vegetables

You'll also need a fine-holed colander or cheesecloth to strain the broth and a big bowl or pan to strain it into. Shredded parmesan is a nice touch at the end, too.


Over medium heat, coat the bottom of a 4qt pot with a thin layer of olive oil. Insert chicken leg quarters, skin side down, and allow to brown slightly, taking care that it doesn't stick too much.  

Flip the chicken, then add onions, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves.

Stir intermittently for about a minute, or until the onions and bay leaves begin to color slightly. Don't let the garlic get too dark!

Add 3 quarts or so of water (enough to fill the pot to about 2" from the top), scraping the browned bits from the bottom as you do.

Add dried herbs if desired and reduce heat to medium low. Bring to just below boiling and allow to cook for ~45minutes. 

When chicken is cooked through, set aside. 

Strain broth into a large bowl. Discard bay leaves, etc. Return broth to original pot.

Heat broth to boiling. Add pasta and salt. Set timer to ~3 minutes before pasta is cooked.

Meanwhile, remove skin and bones and  chop chicken into bite-sized pieces. 

When timer beeps, add frozen mixed veggies and chicken to pot. Return to boiling. 
Test for seasoning and pasta done-ness.  

Serve with parmesan cheese on top if desired. 
*They also make me wish I kept it slightly cleaner within these four walls, but that's a different blogpost altogether. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On incremental progress

About 9 months after my daughter was born, a group of friends were planning to run a half-marathon about 9 months in the future. At that point, I am not sure I could have run a third of a mile* without keeling over, but somehow I was convinced to start training to join them for the big run.  And so I started. Within a few weeks I had run an under twelve-minute mile, panting and wheezing by the end. Within a week after that I began suffering from severe vertigo. I gave up on running. After a bit, the vertigo went away

About a year after that, we moved from Oklahoma to Maryland. For the first time I was neither working nor in school, and I was desperate for something to do to define myself.** Our church had several ministries that I volunteered with. I hinted that I had some spare time, and BOOM, suddenly I was helping run all several of them. I again developed significant vertigo that laid me out a few days a month. I dropped out of volunteering entirely*** The vertigo decreased significantly. 

I may be a slow learner, but I am sensing a pattern.

A year or so after that, we moved to Texas, and a month after that my son was born. Having gotten a chance to reset my life twice, this time I decided to not do a darn thing. It's amazing how life fills up anyways - with friends, and chores, music classes and birthday parties, and now school. My oldest is off to kindergarten now and in the face of these free seven hours, I have been so tempted to fill them with hugeness, with glory and conquest and heroism.

Instead, stepping back for the small things has been its own sort of majesty. Managing the money just a little better, keeping slightly closer track of the myriad projects entailed in the development of two little lives (and two slightly older ones), pausing and taking in the pleasant reality of how very good the good things are. 

I've taken up running again. This summer, after all the madness of travel, I needed some place to put the difficult reality of how very exhausting life's challenges are, too; a gym with drop-in childcare was just the thing. I started slowly, so very slowly. And this week, I ran 1.67 miles in 20 minutes. It turns out I like running. The trouble was, I had been sprinting before, pushing myself to move faster than my legs were ready to carry me, holding the very breath I needed to fuel my pounding muscles. There just wasn't enough in me to meet the goals I was driving myself to. This time, running from strength and not from desperate need, trusting that my body can do just a little more than I've seen it do yet, has made all the difference.

Someday, I'd like to run a 5k, and I'd like to run in it under 30 minutes. But that's a goal for about two years from now. And that's okay.

Someday, I'd like a project that takes me outside these four walls again to make a difference, one where my skills intersect with real needs and I can point to tangible results from my efforts. But that's a goal for a few years from now. And I finally believe that that's okay, too.

- Addendum: Oh, the irony. I typed this post up on Monday afternoon. On Monday evening, I dropped 2lbs of frozen chicken on my toe, and broke it. I am now sentenced to 6 weeks of taking it easy. Time to put my money where my mouth is, I suppose. :-)

The successful completion of this recipe Sunday night marks the intersection of a lot of skills slowly accumulated over the last decade. There was definitely a time where produce went bad before I used up its bounty, where making a white sauce was daunting, and pie crust was out of the question. However, Sunday used up the rest of the veggie tray and leftover chicken, built a white gravy from scratch and rolled out the other half of the pie crust that had baffled my quiche last Thursday. Step by step, we get there.

Chicken Pot Pie:
(starting recipe courtesy of

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cubed 
(I cubed two pre-cooked chicken thighs and added to water with veggies to warm it up)
(1 large potato, 1/2" chop)
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed (I didn't use this)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup milk

2 (9 inch) unbaked pie crusts (I used this one, split into two thin crusts. I did not refrigerate it again before filling)


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C.)

2. In a saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, peas, and celery (and potato!). Add water to cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

3.In the saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.

4.Place the chicken mixture in bottom pie crust. Pour hot liquid mixture over. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape.

5.Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

*half-kilometer :)

** I've got my own issues, but it didn't particularly help that something like 90% of mothers work in DC and that I was the same age as most of the nannies. #awkward

***Sorry for being such a spaz, y'all! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On rearranging letters and substituting dairy products

Do you know how to keep a budding linguist occupied for hours? Hand her the word i-n-s-u-b-o-r-d-i-n-a-t-e and ask her to find all the possible words hidden inside. It's a fantastic word for that, really. It has all the vowels, plus r, s, and d, which leave open all kinds of affix possibilities.* 

As it turns out, I don't just see *words* as a series of abstractable components, I see everything this way.** Especially cooking. This doesn't lend itself well to baking, but is excellent for on the fly substitutions. Like when you realize that your playgroup will have 6 adults and 5 kids at it and 1 quiche isn't going to cut it, even though you only have a pint of half and half for a recipe whose single quiche requires 1 1/2 cups! A quick google reveals that you can make a quiche with the same amount of yogurt as of half-and-half in an otherwise identical recipe, and your lunch is saved! 

Since I'm going to be including a recipe with every post, it seemed only fair to warn you that the recipes will likely be a bit more of a meta-narrative of ingredient assembly than a precision manual to follow, and it's likely that my blogging may be a bit esoteric as well. Feel free to ask for clarification on either any time. :)


I grew up thinking that quiche was in the mystical category of things that were best left to the professionals. It's been a delightful surprise to discover that I was wrong. Once you've got a good pie crust - make or buy, whatever works for you!- it is not any harder than anything else made from scratch. You put a bunch of shredded cheese, (semi-)liquid dairy, beaten eggs and some precooked filling (if you don't "sweat" it first, it will make your quiche more watery than you want) into a pie crust and stick it into the oven. 40 or so minutes later, you get a glorious egg pie.

Basic Quiche:

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups half-and-half (or today, I made it with 1c half-and-half and 1/2c plain yogurt)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 ounces Jarlsberg cheese, shredded (I used baby swiss)
2 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (I used cheese sticks!)

1-2 oz shredded parmesan

1/2-1 cup of other filling ingredients (I used a mix of bacon, broccoli and onion).

1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and half-and-half. Season with
salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Place shredded Jarlsberg and mozzarella
in the pie shell. Pour egg mixture over cheese.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F
(175 degrees C), and bake for 25 minutes, or until crust is golden and
filling is set. Allow to set 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

*To be honest, I'm kind of itching to stop writing this now, bust out a ballpoint and an envelope back and go to town. ursine! bruised! binders! … Where were we again?

**Bureaucracies, man. They are just a bunch of people with boxes to check. Help them check their boxes and it will go well with you.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On perfectionism

I cannot tell you how much I miss working part-time. It was such an ego-boost. The walking away from the ineptitude of new mothering and into the competence of perfected roles. Tidy, and even not-so-tidy, piles of Important Things that Other People needed done. In my eclectic life, I've done various jobs: I can plumb and ventilate a building (its plans, at least); I can find host families for exchange students; I can executively assist a small corporation. What I cannot do is delight while anxious, follow through when distracted, engage when tired. And yet, those things, not alphabetizing and collating, are the lion's share of my current job description.

Eighteen days this summer were spent in a thin-walled, small town hotel. Eighteen. With my then five- and one-year olds. My husband was working 8-16 hour shifts, helping people get safely home from unlocking the atmosphere's secrets. Days were spent with rigid structure - you can't go with the flow the same with two as with one - but nights found me sitting in the dark in our open plan suite, reading Flannery O'Connor* by tiny booklight, so as not to wake the tiny ones unaccustomed to sharing a room. We had a mini-fridge and a microwave. I brought along our fondue pot and some kitchen utensils. I had such plans! I still ended up one night piling the kids, shoeless, into the car to use the drive-thru in the adjoining parking lot, to buy burgers and fries.**

Having left my smartphone on the roof of my car as we left home***, structured life with children left me no access to my usual lifelines. No friends to talk to without waking little ones. No internet to drown my sorrows in, no camera to step back, and document, and instagram into beauty the ups and downs of our life. There was nowhere to be, nowhere to go but right there, with myself for company. I was so very tired of myself.

The summer almost broke me. Truth is, I was already broken.

I read a post the other day at Deeper Story, that so captured the ache I have from mothering imperfectly these tiny children that I love. I want so much to be perfect, for them, and for myself.  But perfectionism makes me weight things wrongly. In looking for ideal performances and easy excellence, I miss beauty, and the glory of a hearty, fully-lived life.

This summer, in the midst of what some days felt like an endurance cage match, there was fun and there was wonder - trips to the zoo and the sculpture tour, to the playplace at the mall, to the park and splashpad, to touch-a-truck day. Days spent at "home" because all the going was too much. Secreted naptime tea parties, fancy sugar cubes and all!, with my daughter while my tiny son slept. So much ice cream that my kids didn't want to go to Braum's for a month afterward.

I can't afford to miss the good moments for fear of the imperfect ones.

As much as I crave one to know I'm on track, family doesn't come with a quarterly review, and letting go of unrealistic expectations is one of the best gifts I can give all of us. They are my children. I am their mom. We can't all be Mobutu Sese Seko.****


This recipe was my go-to in our hotel room, one of the gifts of a challenging summer. It's become an easy, from the pantry/freezer favorite at home, too. I have to say, though, that it's much easier to make on a stove. :)

Salina Noodles:

1 lb pasta of your choice (usually shells or rotini)
12-16 oz frozen mixed vegetables
3-4 T butter, cut into chunks
generous teaspoon (or to taste) of pasta seasoning (this or this are great!)

Add-ins we tried this summer:
1-2 finely chopped green onions
3-4 chopped cheese sticks (mozzarella, generally, but experiment!)
diced bell or sweet pepper
or whatever you feel like you want to add :)

Bring fondue pot (or any 3-4qt pot) of salted water to a boil. Add noodles, setting timer for 2 minutes less than suggested time. When timer beeps, add frozen vegetables, then cook for 4 more minutes, or until noodles are done and water has returned to a boil. Strain noodles, then return to pot and add butter, seasoning blend, and any optional add-ins. Serves a family of 4 with little kids. Especially with a salad or fruit on the side!


*Pro-tip: I suggest if you are going on a month-long trip, bring something other than the entire collected short stories of Flannery O'Connor. Her stories are a great choice for pondering the nature of Humanity. They are NOT a great choice for times when you are lonely and facing the fundamental weakness of your nature. 

**I'm not sure I could hit any more of an American stereotype if I tried: harried, slightly overweight white lady piles two kids into minivan to get drive-thru fast food someplace they could have walked to. Maybe if there had been organized sports or TV involved? Our hair was still wet from the hotel swimming pool, if that helps. 

*** #$%#@$!!!!

****In 1972, Mobutu renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga ("The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake."), Mobutu Sese Seko for short. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Poem: Book I, #17

Rilke's Book of Hours has been blowing my mind lately. This one, especially, takes my breath away.

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth –
it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration

where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it’s you she receives.

You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her
to hold you.

I, 17

Casseroles... known only by their contents.

So, one day I made up a casserole. It's gone through several iterations. Here's one that doesn't require the unorthodox things like Krakow Nights seasoning that I have in my spice cabinet thanks to @Amyonymous (if using that, put in 1tsp of it instead of the dried parsley). You can substitute basil for the marjoram.

It comes in two parts - the casserole, and the bread-crumb topping.

Chicken Broccoli Rice Cheddar Casserole (serves 4 adults)

  • 4T butter, divided
  • 1.5c dry rice, cooked per package directions (~3c cooked)
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4c minced onion (~1/2 small onion)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1.5c frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 2c grated cheddar
  • 1/2c whole milk
  • Crumb Topping, as listed below
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Begin cooking rice.
  3. Meanwhile, combine chicken, garlic, onion, salt & pepper in bowl.
  4. Create crumb topping as listed below.
  5. Over medium heat, melt ~2T butter in large dutch oven.
  6. Add chicken mixture and cook approx. 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add marjoram, parsley, and broccoli. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through. Add more butter as needed.
  8. When rice is cooked, add to cooked chicken. Stir.
  9. Add cheddar cheese and milk. Stir until cheddar is melted in and mixture is well blended.
  10. Transfer mixture to 2 quart casserole dish, cover with crumb topping and heat in oven until topping is lightly browned or crisped ~10-15 minutes.
  11. (Optional) Any remaining butter or extra cheddar cheese may be used over crumb topping.
Crumb Topping

Combine the following in food processor and blend until bread and crackers are crumbled:
  • 2 slices bread
  • 1/2c cheddar goldfish
  • 1/4c grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp rubbed sage
  • 1/4tsp paprika
  • 1/4tsp black pepper
  • dash cayenne (optional).
If any of you try this, can you let me know if the recipe works out? A friend asked for it and it's hard to proof your own directions. Thanks!:)

For Amy, and maybe Stephanie, too.

I'd say for Heather, but I didn't take any pictures;-).
(Below is the recipe verbatim. Below that are my adjustments - not too many, though.)

Chicken Minestrone
(aka, quite possibly my favorite soup)
(from Cook's Encyclopedia of Soup by Debra Mayhew)

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 chicken thighs
3 bacon slices, chopped
1 onion, minced
a few fresh basil leaves, shredded
a few rosemary leaves, minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley
2 potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 or 2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 quart chicken stock
1&3/4 cups frozen peas
scant 1 cup stellette or other small soup pasta
salt and freshly ground black pepper
parmesan cheese shavings, to serve

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the chicken thighs and fry for about 5 minutes on each side; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add the bacon, onion, and herbs to the pan and cook slowly, stirring constantly, for about five minutes. Add the potatoes, carrot, zucchini, and celery and cook for 5-7 minutes longer.

3. Return the chicken thighs to the pan. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 35-40 minutes, stirring the soup occasionally.

4. Remove the chicken thighs with the spotted spoon and place them on a board. Stir the peas and pasta into the soup and return to a boil. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes or according to the package directions, until the pasta is just al dente.

5. Meanwhile, remove and discard the chicken skin. Remove the meat from the chicken bones and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

6. Return the meat to the soup, stir well, and heat through. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

7. Serve hot in warm soup bowls, topped with parmesan shavings.

YUM! This last time I made this (read: Thursday), I substituted about 4-5 big leaves of kale, chopped, for the celery and zucchini. For pasta, I use small shells (which amusingly get the frozen peas stuck in them all the time). Dried herbs are fine, with the standard rule of use half as much dry as you are asked to use fresh (although the fresh herbs are just a little more awesome). And no, I neither measure my olive oil nor warm my soup bowls. I like to live on the edge like that;-).

How Motherhood kicked my butt (into shape!)

A friend of mine called yesterday to say she had just seen her baby in a sonogram for the first time. Since Ella's little 20wk-in-utero face was the last thing I had posted on my previous blog, this got me thinking about all that has happened during the last two years. If I remember right, I was pretty awesome at being pregnant. We moved across town, we helped 3 people move, we drove to Wisconsin, then flew to Iceland, 2 weeks later we flew to NY unexpectedly, we had house guests 3 times, and I worked part-time through a 100+ degree summer 7 months pregnant. I was still doing my own grocery shopping at 8.5mo pregnant. I kept myself busy enough that I didn't really let myself work through my insecurities and fears. But when Ella was breech and I had to have a c-section, everything changed. Suddenly, that veneer of strength was removed. I went from being pregnant and hauling groceries to not being allowed to lift any more than my 9lb baby. I went from driving all around town for work and errands, to not being allowed to drive for 2 weeks, or to flip the laundry or empty the dishwasher for 6. And I was a wreck emotionally. I was lucky to not have PPD as badly as some, but I think Post-Partum Anxiety might actually capture the irrational fear I had of driving to Jamba Juice and the weird insomnia/nightmares and instance of sleep paralysis (see possible causes - if that doesn't sound like new motherhood with a major surgery, I don't know what does!) that sent my world emotionally crashing down around me. Even though I regained my footing somewhat after a few weeks (months?), I was still hesitant to go anywhere I hadn't been before with Ella. What if she ... cried?!? The powerlessness was overwhelming. I can honestly say that if I were looking for the easy path (just for me personally, I can't speak to your experience with either of these!:)), I would take grad school any day over being a SAHM. Being a new mom kicked my butt.
BUT, this is where motherhood has also jumpstarted a part of my soul that was dying off. Being a mom reveals my every weakness all day long. For a long time I hated it, ran from it, sat zombie-like in front of my computer hoping that someone, somewhere would write something that would take my mind off of the numbing sense of inadequacy that haunted me. I still have those hours (and occasional days), and I still hate my weaknesses, but as I see Ella beginning to grow, and to imitate me, I find that something finally appears more important than my neuroses. I realize that I want her to be better than I am, more confident, more aware of her passions, more able to dive in and determine her own course. And that means having to model that, and to dare to let myself want it for me, too; this is where motherhood is kicking me into shape. I want our home to be beautiful and orderly so that Ella can find peace and delight here. I want to take good care of my body so that she can know hers is worth loving and taking care of, too. I want to pursue my interests wholeheartedly, because looking through the mirror of a small child makes me finally ask, why in the world would I not do what I love? And so, I'm starting to, step by step.
I was terrified when I found out I was having a little girl 3 Mays ago because I feared the gaping holes in my identity. I'm so thankful that loving her has opened the door for me to find myself worthwhile, too.

Drum Parade - before and after!

I have another post kicking around in my head about the rhythm of life I actually live vs what I would do if left to my own devices, but until that one comes together, here is a picture of the drum I made for Ella today:
It is a pretty small thing, but it feels like a triumph on so many levels - coming up with a fun way to reuse what would be sent out in the trash, actually making it to the store with Ella and surviving her in a stroller with racks of fabric everywhere to be grabbed, getting up my gumption to actually cut fabric and use modgepodge, and generally just getting this done instead of leaving it to decay in my "good ideas" bin. I had a lot of fun doing it.
I'm especially proud of the strap. There is a smaller blue button on the inside of the sturdy polyester ribbon that slots perfectly into the slot left behind by the old blue ice cream handle and which is sewn through to the fun decorative yellow button that hides the end of the strap. (This picture does not do it justice) It was fun to come up with a way to attach it that worked with the structure of the ice cream tub and was still decorative and neat.

Thoughts on processing life in community

(This entry is from an old blog, now deleted blog - starting over!)

Last Thursday night, I discovered I am not the only one who lies to my diary. In a roomful of talented fascinating women, I discovered about half of us would openly admit to such ridiculous self-censorship. The reasons varied. What if my parents read it? What if the only record of me were this book, these writings? What if I admit to myself who I am, and I don't like what I see? For me, I realized, it is a question not of my own character as much as facing denial. Not so much of finding myself in the wrong, but finding myself being wronged, choosing passivity, suppressing rage. And seeing my own responsibility in enduring that fate. And then one of my fellow self-censurer said maybe it's best that way. As I listened, I heard her lay out, as she does so often, a powerful challenge. She said maybe we can't process all these big things alone. We're meant to live in community, having our rough edges smoothed and our finer points sharpened by the grace and forgiveness offered by others, and affording them the same. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that she's probably right. I lie to my diary because it can't give me what I want, what I need. It's not worth the arduous pain of self-expression to keep it to myself. I am so thankful to the dear friends who have let me share my heart with them and have had the tissues ready, and who don't hide their pain from me. And I grow more confident each day that sharing all these heavy burdens really makes the loads lighter all around.

There's a hole in my blog....

A good friend of mine is always telling me that I should write. To which my response is always: well, what shall I write, then, dear Liesl?*

However, I have just recently come to the realization that that, in fact, is the central question of writing, and one that no one else can answer for you. I find content modification to be more natural than content creation,** but in an effort to stretch both my comfort zone and my skills, I'm planning to put up a blog post every Thursday for the next six months, with the likely exception of Christmas break. I have no idea what they will be about yet, but I guess we'll find out together!

 Thanks for leaving me in your RSS feeders for so long, friends. I'll be back to visit again soon. :)

* Hole in my Bucket Song Lyrics, in case you are unfamiliar due to living on an awesome island in the middle of the North Atlantic. :)

 ** Send me your papers, your resumes, your complicated training manuals and your translations, rough drafts of all shapes and sizes! I will help bring out their beauty, and it will make me so happy to do so!