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!