SEMI-HOMEMADE BEER BREAD

Semi-Homemade isn’t just a technique I rely on for dessert.  When I’m in a pinch for time, it’s also my preferred way to provide side dishes.

Trader Joe’s boxed beer bread mix is one of my favorite go-to’s.  There is so much flavor in this semi-homemade bread loaf that only requires three ingredients: the box mix, a can of beer (ginger beer or carbonated water works too!), and a half a stick of melted, salted butter.

The melted butter is the key ingredient in this recipe.  And the secret is to pour it over the top before you bake it, rather than stirring it in the batter.  This technique creates a delightful crunch on the edges of the finished loaf, making this bread a frequent request from the people gathered at your table.

However it is important to note that it is critical that you use the right sized pan, which is a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan.  One time in a rush, I accidentally used an 8″ X 4″ inch pan.  The conclusion of that experience required a fire extinguisher.  Those are the kind of mistakes that you only make once!

Enjoy!

SEMI-HOMEMADE CUPCAKES

It seems that there are two types of people in the kitchen, those who prefer cooking and those who prefer baking.  I am one who prefers crafting a great meal that is hearty and satisfying, to the patience and precision pastry work requires.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy eating dessert.  And a celebratory feast doesn’t feel complete without a sweet finish.  I just prefer putting the bulk of my efforts into the main dish and then wrapping up a shared meal with something simple.

For cooks like me, semi-homemade is the best way to present a dessert that says, “I think you’re really special and I love to celebrate you – or a holiday or an event” – without expending the time, skill, and patience required to craft a spectacular homemade confection.

Thus semi-homemade cupcakes are my go-to dessert.  Because a few added techniques and ingredients enables you to craft a beautiful celebratory treat in a fraction of the time.

First start with the best quality boxed ingredients you can find.  

Add a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste (or the seeds of a fresh vanilla bean) to the batter made from a box of white cake mix before filling cupcake liners.  This simple addition will brighten the flavor, as well as add the aesthetic speckles of vanilla beans into the cakes.

Then elevate the frosting.  I wouldn’t put canned frosting on a list of quality ingredients.  But the day I made these birthday cupcakes, I didn’t have time to go to a second store.  And Chocolate Fudge Funfetti was my best option at Target.

So I put the canned frosting into my stand up mixer (and hand mixer will work as well), and whipped it on medium speed for about 4 minutes until the frosting transformed into something light and fluffy.


Next, use a rubber spatula to put the frosting in a zip lock baggie.  Snip the corner with a pair of scissors.  And pip the fluffy frosting onto the cupcake in a swirl.

I finished the cupcakes with rainbow confetti.  And ta-da!! Bakery worthy cupcakes in a fraction of the time.

Happy Celebrating!

SEMI-HOMEMADE

I am a huge fan of semi-homemade.

Because I love to cook.  I love to love people with food.  I love to be enjoyable when I sit at my table to share life with those who are gathered there.

And sometimes it is impossible to experience all of those loves, simultaneously, with from-scratch cooking.

So thank goodness for the modern convenience of semi-homemade….and Costco.

When I am pressed for time, I have found that adding a few fresh ingredients to pre-made products can create an inviting meal in a fraction of the time.

A sprinkling of fresh herbs, freshly grated Parmesan, and a few grinds of fresh pepper transforms an ordinary bowl of noodles, jarred sauce, and frozen meatballs into something lovely and satisfying.

Or finishing orange chicken (purchased in the freezer section at Costco and baked in my oven) with thinly sliced green onions and a light sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, served with steamed rice that is elevated by the addition fresh cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice creates a dish that is easy to make and pleasing to all of the senses.

You don’t have to cook from scratch to serve up a meal that says, “I care about you” to loved ones at your table.  You just have to serve a meal with love. 

Semi-homemade and reheated premade products – enhanced by a thoughtful finishing touch – are a great way to say to nourish the bodies and souls of those gathered around your table for a shared meal.  From scratch cooking really is optional.  Especially when short-cuts enable you to engage with the people gathered around your table in ways that are hospitable, not frazzled.

I believe this strongly, I live this often, and I’m adding a tab to my recipes page for “Semi-Homemade recipes and menus”.

Here’s a few recipe links that have been recently added:

If you have any ideas for semi-homemade goodness, please share with us in the comments section.

Happy Cooking!

REFLECTIONS FROM MY MIDLIFE CRISIS

Hi there!  It’s been a while since I’ve written.  Not just for my website, it’s been months since I’ve written anything.

Like everyone else, I’ve been busy. But the whole truth is that I’ve been busy having a midlife crisis.  Not a major one.  Not the kind where I abandon my life and my people.  Nor the kind of midlife crisis where I buy something really expensive to distract me from troubling thoughts and emotions.

I’m just experiencing a run-of-the-mill, forty-something, midlife crisis that provoked me to retreat into my thoughts.  Questioning and over processing everything.  Evaluating and examining every decision, and every investment of my heart and soul so far – family, friendships, purpose, calling, work, vocation, ministry.  And feeling like so much, especially me, comes up short.

The existential ponderings of my personal crisis are so cliche that it’s almost comical, and yet the struggle is indeed real.

But I am also discovering that there is comfort in the overused expression of midlife as a crisis, because everything I’m wrestling with connects me to the shared experience of aging.  And viewing my midlife crisis as a shared experience reminds me that I’m not alone.

The proverbial midlife crisis seems to be a communal rite of passage – like puberty, #adulting, and receiving your welcome letter from AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons…which I recently learned arrives – unsolicited – in the mail shortly after your 5oth birthday).

Rites of passage are important, as they create opportunities to reaffirm solidarity with our community.  As we participate in this hard work of continually maturing, transforming connections are made as we share our raw and unfiltered thoughts with trusted friends as we pass through the portal of a major life milestone hearing the words “Me too”.  

Almost everyone my age is evaluating the fruit of whatever they have poured their heart and soul into the past 20 years – whether it be marriage, family, career, ministry, or something else. Us 40-somethings all seem to be scratching our heads and asking the same questions.  

Beginning with something like, “Really???”

Followed by, “THIS is what a 20 year investment in _____ looks like? Huh. Not what I expected.”

And then the resulting feelings range from disappointment, to dissatisfaction, to despair.  Cue the midlife crisis.

During my own season of midlife crisis, it is tempting to simply berate myself for whining – because nothing in my life is truly horrible  – and then get on with it.  But I do believe that when we wrestle with unbecoming feelings rather than convincing ourselves that we are foolish for having them – beautiful growth eventually blossoms from owning unhappiness and letting it teach us something we need to know.  

The trick is keeping ourselves tethered to the wisdom of God and others who speak constructive truth into our discouragement and keep us pointed in a healthy direction while we wander in our lament.  You can read more about how I participate in this type of soul work by clicking HERE.

In my recent months of existential crisis – evaluating and questioning the point and value of everything that makes up my life – I’ve been steadfast in praying and reading and talking and listening and thinking.  All the while my belief has remained strong, and yet being what I believe has been much harder.  

The gap between genuine belief and actually being hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving feels like an immense desert. 

In her book “When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions”, Sue Monk Kidd describes her midlife struggles and how God nurtured and protected her weary soul through the process of cocooning – or active waiting.  And while God was always with her – equipping her with strength and endurance – the work of emergence was hers.  Because the God who created everything knows that once a caterpillar completes the wonder of metamorphosis, it’s final preparation to thrive in the world as a butterfly can only be completed by making it’s own way out of the cocoon.  If a butterfly is rescued from it’s cocoon she will never gain the strength she needs to survive long enough to fulfill her life’s purpose.

I think the same is true for metamorphosis-ing forty year olds.

And while I feel like I still haven’t made my way to the end of this dreary desert, the blurry image of it’s edge far off in the distance seems to be taking shape.  

One of my favorite verses is found in the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 2, written about the Israelites wanderings in the wilderness for forty years between fleeing the tyranny of Egypt and entering The Promise Land:

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have made your way around this hill country long enough.  Now turn North.'” v. 2-3.

They still had quite a distance to travel until they reached the end of their desert experience, but the season of aimless wandering was over.  

It’s time to turn North.

HOW I’M NAVIGATING MY MIDLIFE CRISIS

I recently published a post entitled “REFLECTIONS FROM MY MIDLIFE CRISIS”.  Within that post I shared insights that I learned from reading “When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd.  Her profound reflections helped me understand the significance of cocooning, waiting, and emerging within the challenges of midlife. You can read my full post HERE.

But there are other insights and resources helping me to navigate the desert of my midlife crisis that I’d love to share as well for anyone who’s up for a longer read.  (I think this might be helpful for the quarter-life crisis too):

SCRIPTURE – The Book of Ecclesiastes is pretty good read for anyone in a midlife crisis.  Apparently King Solomon had one too.  He acquired everything – both material possessions and the prestige of men – and then wrote a whole book questioning the point and meaning of any of it.  He concludes with, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”  In other words, life is hard.  And at times will feel unsatisfying and pointless – love God and your neighbor anyways.

But the midlife lament of Ecclesiastes doesn’t just say quit your belly-achin’.   He offers encouragement as well throughout his lament, like “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A chord of three strands in not quickly broken.” 4:12.

We really do need each other.

PRAYER – Seasons of desperation have taught me the power of claiming the truth I believe from the scriptures, rather than merely pleading for God to help me.  I have spent much time in prayer in recent months claiming what I believe to be true, even when I can’t feel it.

One of my most effective prayers during this season has been proclaiming that the active movement of the Holy Spirit that was true for Ezekiel in a desolate season is also true for me.  I made parts of Ezekiel 36 & 37 my daily prayer.  Claiming out loud – “The Lord WILL remove this heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, because God has put his Spirit in me.  The Sovereign Lord says to my dry bones, “I will make breath enter you and and you WILL come to life!”.  I prayed this daily for weeks, until I felt in my soul and the soul of my family.

SERMONS – “It’s Halftime!” – my take away from the Mother’s Day sermon at my church by my dear friend and pastor, Melissa Tucker.  She preached on a passage in 1 Peter and made the analogy of Peter’s letter being like a halftime speech.  Imagine Peter as a coach, standing in a smelly, messy locker room, delivering a passionate speech to his team at halftime.  Peter is reminding the recipients of his letter who they are, what they’ve overcome, and casting a vision for the second half because he can see victory.

Raising a family is hard – as is raising a career or developing a ministry – and there are significant blows and disappointments along the way.  In regards to my family, I feel like the first quarter was great, but the second quarter was really rough, and at midlife I’m feeling pretty discouraged as a parent.  But it’s still only halftime.  My job as the matriarch is to remind my family of who we are (God’s beloved), and cast a vision for the future that points us all towards victory…which doesn’t necessarily mean winning.  For us it means surviving raising three boys through the teen years with our relationships still in tact. (You can listen to a podcast of this sermon on 5/14/17 entitled “Living Sanctuaries” by clicking HERE.)

THERAPY – I don’t feel like I’m someone who struggles with control.  And yet the challenges and disappointments of midlife have forced me into an awareness of my inner wiring that is more than a little uncomfortable to explore.   I’m thankful for qualified therapists who can serve as a guide through this part of the journey.  For example, my kind counselor has gently encouraged me to accept that intentionally living a good life does not mean that I’m entitled to all of my expected outcomes in return for my lifework.  Well, I guess that’s a good enough reason to be less angry.

READING – A dear friend recommended the book “40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Vision in Midlife” by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty.  It is one of the lifelines keeping my head above the waterline of this storm.  So many profound insights in this book, such as “Midlife is hard because 40 is the old age of youth, but 50 is the youth of old age.”  So there is hope and there is camaraderie.  This season of evaluation and disappointment will end.  And many good things are still ahead.

I’ve also been reading blogs like Beth Moore’s letter “To Servants of Jesus in your 30’s and 40’s”.  This poignant letter is a summary of what older women in the church need to say to the middle-aged women:  that the middle stage is hard, but to keep pressing forward because it gets easier and the coming joy is worth staying in the fight.

COMMUNITY – Even though some days, and even some weeks, have felt long and hard and discouraging, I have not stopped meeting with my community.  My commitment to them is not based on how I feel.  It’s rooted in what I believe to be true.  We are created to need each other, and I will miss out on the fullness of what God has to say to me if I’m not listening for his voice in the words and presence of My People, as part of my intimate conversations with him.

For example, we concluded our spring bible study season with a scripture study of Acts.  We didn’t read any commentaries, watch video lectures, or fill in a workbook.  We simply read several chapters each week, and gathered together to share what we learned, what we felt challenged by, what inspired us, and what we question.  We didn’t come together to give each other answers.  We gathered to listen and to care and to encourage.  And this session will always be counted among my most favorite in life of Monday Night Bible Study.

An insight from this Acts reading that is particularly encouraging to me is from Chapter 12, Peter’s miraculous escape from prison.  I’ve interacted with this story countless times: through my own reading and sermon illustrations, rejoicing over the angel’s rescue and laughing at the shock of the believer’s who are praying for Peter when he actually shows up at their front door.  What I never noticed in this chapter – until I was reading it with my community, in the midst of my own personal life crisis – is that this great miracle is book ended by tragedy and injustice.  The chapter opens with a reference that James has been martyred (he did not receive a miraculous rescue) and closes with a note that the jailer was executed because the Roman government assumed Peter escaped, and that was the consequence of the day for failing at prison work.  Total injustice!  And yet there is a miracle to be celebrated in between.  Remarkable.

The fullness of this story teaches me to willingly accept all of my life.  The parts that are great and the parts that are hard, the parts that are miraculous and the parts that feel totally unfair.  These things have always been, and always will be a part of everyone’s story.  And even though life feels hard and discouraging, I can’t stop living until I’m pleased with every storyline because that is never going to happen.  But the gift of faith is that I can know joy anyways, and that I am invited to take part in God’s work of bringing freedom and justice in this world.

THEMES – Every time I stay committed to prayer and seeking the presence of God in the midst of tribulation, reoccurring themes surface in what I’m reading and in my conversations, and in sermons and my thoughts.  I claim these themes as God’s response to my prayers, questions, and laments.

The reoccurring theme of my midlife crisis is “be okay with ordinary”.  But that doesn’t mean I can be lazy and self-deprecating, or that I shouldn’t dream and work towards goals, or continually evolve into better versions of myself.  Let me explain.

We live in a culture that puts so much pressure on everyone to be amazing, to do something BIG, and to be noticeable and unique.  But most of us will live ordinary lives.  Lives that may not be described as extraordinary by societies definition, or look extraordinary on social media.

But all of us can live a life that is characterized by doing small things with great love (That’s wisdom from Mother Theresa).  Loving people well in our families, around our tables, and in our communities.  Living lives that are characterized by investing whole-heartedly in the piece of holy work that God has assigned us, and spending less time coveting a different piece.  

Living in a way that is beautiful, meaningful, AND ordinary requires us to be radically reliant on faith – not the praise or recognition of men.  It also makes the space for us to experience God’s mighty and ferocious love because of who we are (his created and his beloved) not because of what we do (accomplish or achieve).

There is so much joy to be lived in that space if give up needing to make ourselves great and instead surrender to being ordinary people who God can do wonderful things in and through.

You can read a more about this concept in “Searching For Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans, “The Little Way of Saint Therese of Lisieux” by John Nelson, “The Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren, and “God Hides in Plain Sight” by Dean Nelson.

GRATITUDE – In the little gem of a book, “A Theology of the Ordinary”, Julie Canlis presents a great case that the fall of man and the brokenness of this world occurred because Adam & Eve stopped being grateful.  They lived in paradise but at some point it just didn’t feel like enough and they felt entitled to more. Ingratitude is at the root of their sin that lead to their banishment from the garden.  Living the abundant life Jesus promised does require us to be intentionally aware of all that is good and beautiful, in seasons of plenty and times of want.  Midlife is a great time to start following Shauna Neiquist’s advice, and write down three things I’m grateful for every day, regardless of whether it’s been crappy or fantastic.

FUN – I am no longer waiting until I feel better to spend time with people who make me belly laugh.  Likewise, I’m intentionally engaging in shared experiences that make my soul sing, and giving myself permission to choose moments of joy, in the midst of a season of frustration – not after it or in spite of it.  God is actively at work enlarging my soul to hold all of it.  I partner with him in this work every time I let the hormones that feed discouragement take a break, while the endorphins that reinforce happiness wash over my cerebrum.

DOING – I have put in enough time thinking.  Thinking alone isn’t going to get me to feeling consistent joy.  Doing is the next step.  Doing what is healthy and right, even if the corresponding feelings of satisfaction aren’t quite there yet.  My season of pondering and evaluating will never end if it remains an intellectual, existential pursuit.  The end will be reached by doing.  Being the wife, mom, friend, mentor, leader, writer, professional, etc that I want to be before I have the feelings of being effective or accomplished or satisfied with those things.

That’s it.  That’s my list so far of what is helping me navigate a tough season rather than being consumed by it.  If you have any thing you can teach us about healthy ways you have learned to managed your midlife or quarterlife crisis, please share with us in the comments section.

I truly wish you all the best from your travels.

BLOOMING VEGETABLE TART

I was recently asked to bring a vegetable side dish to a family potluck.  A quick search on google led me to this recipe on Delish.com.

This delightful tart meets all of my requirements for a truly great recipe.  It is beautiful and yet surprisingly simple to make.  While this side dish does take some time to create, it doesn’t require exceptional culinary skills.  And the finished dish looks and tastes amazing.

I made some slight modifications to the original recipe – adding fresh rosemary, and decreasing the initial baking time so that the crust doesn’t overcook before the veggies are roasted in the final baking.

This tart can also work well year round by adjusting the fresh herbs to compliment seasonal flavors, like using sage instead of rosemary in the fall, or using some fresh mint or dill in the summer.

ingredients

  • 1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium yellow squash
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Unroll crescent dough and separate into triangles. Arrange triangles in an 8″ pie pan in a circular pattern around the pan, with the narrow pointing toward the center. Pinch the edges together slightly. Bake until barely golden, about 5 minutes, then let cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine cream cheese, Parmesan, lemon juice, thyme, rosemary, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and beat until mixture is very smooth.
  3. Cut the zucchini, yellow squash, and carrot in half lengthwise. Lay each vegetable on a cutting board, cut-side down, and thinly slice each vegetable lengthwise into long thick strips, about 1/8”. (You should be able to bend them.  Use a mandolin if you have one.  A veggie peeler used on the long, flat side works well too.)
  4. Spread cream cheese mixture on baked crescent crust. Roll one of the vegetable strips into a tight coil and place it in the center of the tart. Arrange vegetable slices in tight concentric circles around the middle, alternating colors, until the tart is filled. (If necessary, cut the squash lengthwise so that the veggies strips are all similar in width.)  Brush the top with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bake until the vegetables are tender and the crust is a deep golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

ENJOY!

A RALLY CRY THAT WE ARE ALL HOMEMAKERS

“Homemaker”. It is what I write in the box for occupation.

As a stay at home parent I spent my younger years rallying for acknowledgement that I too am a working mom.

But as I age and grow – and my perspectives enlarge – I realize how one sided my soap box issues have been.

In my early twenties I needed boxes to organize my rapidly changing life.  As I navigated a big, overwhelming world filled with so many options, putting boxes around my roles helped me to contain life’s wild uncertainty and possibility.  In the season of emerging adulthood, when the I had to make huge life choices – without the benefit of wisdom learned through life experience – boxes helped me define who I was and who I was becoming.

Maturing has invited me to an awareness that life is alive and active and dynamic and evolving.  Lines will always be blurry and moving and changing.  And all of us are so much more than the labels we use to complete a standardized form.

I am a homemaker.

And working moms are homemakers as well.

Men and women are homemakers.

Singles and couples are homemakers.

People who have launched kids, and people who never had kids are homemakers.

Furthermore, I’m not just a homemaker for my sweet family of five.  I am a homemaker for everyone who comes through my front door.

And so are you.

Today my rally cry is that the calling of Homemaking is for all of us.

Because a home is defined as “a persons residence; the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.” 

Home is not defined by size or location, whether you rent or own, or the relationships of the people who live there.

And maker?  Well a maker is defined as a person or thing that makes.  Maker – with a capital M – is also a synonym for  God.

So a HOMEMAKER is someone who intentionally makes their residence a place where love and kindness are the center.

All of us are Homemakers every time we invite others to gather around our tables to be loved and fed through the nourishment of belonging, unity, and connection.  

We are Homemakers when we invite others to our tables not based of what they do or what they offer, but because of who we all are.  People who are enough.  People who are worthy of friendship and acceptance and being truly known. 

And in this process we find that our homes become a reflection of the force making earth as it is in heaven.  A great feast of goodness and love where everyone is invited.

We are indeed all HOMEMAKERS.  

Let’s invite someone to our tables and get to work.

CHILE-LIME MELON SALAD

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen – one of my favorite cooking sites – and prepared it recently for my people.

This tasty side dish really is as refreshing as it looks.

I altered the original recipe a bit to fit my preferences – I added more cheese, more lime, and a dash of cayenne pepper for more heat.

And I altered it to fit my patience – I don’t want to take the time to form perfect melon balls…chopped chunks is faster and works just as well.

In my opinion the freedom to alter recipes to match personal tastes and styles is one of the joys of homecooking.

This recipe also doubles, triples, or quadruples well to feed a crowd.  But when multiplying spices, always do so gradually, tasting along the way.  Quadrupling spices and the lime juice will likely overpower the flavor even if you’ve quadrupled the fruit.

Let me know in the comments if you discover a way to improve on this zesty salad.

Enjoy!

CHILE-LIME MELON SALAD

ingredients:

  • Approximently 4 cups chopped melon (fruit from half of 1 seeded cantaloupe, half of 1 seeded honeydew, and half of 1 mini, seedless watermelon)
  • Juice of one lime
  • Coarse salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • A dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely crumbled cotija or feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon toasted, salted pepitas
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, plus more to taste

directions:

  • Place chopped melon in a large mixing bowl.
  • Squeeze lime juice over.
  • Sprinkle with salt, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.  Toss gently.
  • Scatter with cheese, pepitas, and cilantro.  Toss gently.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl or platter.
  • Serve immediately.

CLEANING REALLY IS OPTIONAL

Hospitality and entertaining are not the same thing.

“We invite people into our home to create moments that matter, not moments that impress.”

This is one of my mantras.

I keep saying it because I believe that it’s true.  And it’s what I practice.

On Easter Sunday we invited our community to join us for a hot dog lunch and backyard wiffle ball.  This was the climax of a very full weekend.  That morning I woke up tired and so I chose to sit in my chair to enjoy a cup of coffee before the Easter service instead of cleaning my house like my hair was on fire.

It was lovely.

So when people came over after church the beds were unmade, clothes were strewn across the bedrooms, hand towels were hanging haphazardly in the bathrooms, and my kitchen was cluttered with dirty dishes and items on the counters waiting to be put away.

And you know what…we had a great time.  We laughed and played and ate and shared life.  Even though my house actually looked like imperfect people live here.

When our desire is to gather people around our table to connect in meaningful ways, cleaning really is optional.

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