Friday, September 19, 2014

Decadence on a Plate: Reese's Cheesecake Brownies

Today marks the first time in weeks-if not months-that I have written each day, Monday through Thursday. Not posted-written.

This is a big deal. And hopefully it means that life is settling into a good rhythm. School in the mornings. Writing in the afternoons. Chores in both morning and afternoon moments. Bike rides occasionally, when I can fit them in. Which is not nearly enough, but it is what it is.

I still have yet to figure out when I am going to learn Spanish. But, I have got the kids doing their lessons on various days. Each lesson takes almost 2 hours to complete, and each of the three oldest kids need to do the lessons. Meres is just along for the ride. She is picking up a bit. Though I don't think she knows what she is saying. Anyway, I decided to have BMV do the lesson first and then supervise Freckles and LC as they go through the lesson. This will reinforce the language in his mind, and will free me up a bit. But, I still need to get moving on it, because I don't want to be the quintessential dumb mom in the new culture.

Btw, Meres has been having nightmares about dragons. (thanks to How to Train Your Dragon.) Thankfully for her, she has a dad who slayed the dragon, Draggy, in her dream. Yay for dad! Ironically enough, I didn't make an appearance in her dream. She had a different mom. Humph! Who snuggled with her, and gave up an 11 mile run, so that she would go back to sleep and not dream of dragons? Not the dragon slaying dad. Just saying.

Dragon slaying (or way too early mornings 4:41), is definitely more feasible when accompanied by chocolate. And, do I ever have a chocolate recipe for you!

Thick layers of brownie and cheesecake topped with a decadent layer of ganache, sprinkled with Reese's peanut butter cups. Oh yeah!

They look amazing, and they taste even better. Let me warn the adventurous amongst us...these are VERY, VERY rich. The temptation lies in wanting to have a huge chunk because it is so fantastically delicious, but resistance is vital. Less is more. I would say that you can cut the pan into 20 squares and 20 sweet tooth's would be quite satiated.

Serve with a tall glass of cold milk or a hot cup of espresso. Perfect pairing.

Reese's Cheesecake Brownies
1 (9x13") fudge brownie mix (and anything it calls for)
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (12 oz) package of Reese's Pieces
1/2 (12 oz) package of chocolate chips (1 cup)
1/2 cup whipping cream
12 large Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, chopped

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13" pan.
-Prepare the brownie batter according to package directions and pour into the greased pan. Set aside.
-In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk, and beat until smooth. Stir in the Reese's Pieces. Spoon cheesecake over batter evenly.
-Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until the cheesecake layer is set and the sides are golden.
-Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, and then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the whipping cream and chocolate chips. Stir and heat just until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Pour and spread evenly over the top of the brownies.
-Chop the 12 peanut butter cups, and sprinkle over the top of the brownies. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Next week Thursday I am taking a food photography class. I am really excited. I feel my pictures have definitely improved, but I know they can be much better.

Have a magnificent fall weekend!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Poverty and Me

Rob not the poor because he is poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause and spoil the soul of those who spoiled them. (Proverbs 22:22-23)

I read these verses again last week. Verses I've read hundreds of times. Yet in this reading they stuck out.

Rob not the poor, because he is poor.

How much social injustice is propagated because of an unchangeable characteristic? Poverty, race, sex, nationality.

We don't pick our skin color. We don't pick the country we are born in. We don't pick whether we are born male or female. And most people don't choose to be poor either.

The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is maker of them all. (Proverbs 22:2)

Sometimes poverty is something the individual can do something about. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it isn't for me to make the judgement call on whether someone can or can't do something about their poverty.

Have you ever read any of Charles Dicken's novels? For the most part they aren't a very pleasant read. Death, poverty, brokenness. Charles Dickens confronted social injustices-particularly poverty. His readers are forced into one of 3 categories. The have nots. The oppressing haves. The compassionate haves.

And there is a big difference between sanctimonious do-gooders and people who are motivated by love.

I am confronted by my own heart attitudes. How often do I think to myself that the panhandlers should just get a job? How often do I speculate that someone's circumstances are the result of poor choices?

How guilty am I when held up to the mandates of this verse?

For the Lord will plead their cause and spoil the souls of those who spoil them.

God takes this very seriously. It surprises me how often the thoughts of poor people and oppression are in the same verses in the Bible. It was a major problem. And a major reason for judgement on individuals and nations.

He that oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker: but He (GOD) honors him that has mercy on the poor. (Proverbs 14:31)

It is rather sobering, and maybe a bit ugly.

Give to him that asks of thee...

No strings. No remonstrances. No nothings.

He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)

He that has mercy on the poor, happy is he. (Proverbs 14:21)

He that hath pity on the poor lends to the Lord; and that which he has given will He pay him again. (Proverbs 19:17)

For as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me. (Matthew 25:40)

Another Biblical author put it this justly, love mercy, walk humbly. That is what the Lord requires. And rewards.

Moral of the story-you will not ever lose out in being kind and generous to the poor. Ever. No if's, and's or but's.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Agenda: Why & What is Written

Last week, we started a new series of lectures with a new professor for our history class. In the intro lecture, the professor mentioned that the way we learn about historical events is through two sources-archelogical finds and historical documentation.

Both have their pluses and minuses.

The minus about historical documentation is that it is always written by a fallible human being.  Mistake making is human, right? Some historical writers definitely colored the truth, if not outright lied. But, all writers are hobbled by agenda.

And, I do mean agenda in it's purest form. No person can ever write every single detail about anything. Even in striving to be truthful and present the whole picture. No one can hit every fact and detail. There isn't time. Each writer must make choices. What to include? What to omit?

(The BFF and I are having dinner in 2 hours. I don't know what we will talk about, but I do know we will fill those couple we are together. And I also know that we will part knowing that we could have talked for hours more, and still not have covered everything.)

Every writer makes their choices based on interest, or environment, or personality. Even writing about the same event, two writers will emphasize different points or write from polar opposite positions based on personal interests, views and passions. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martha Stewart would write two completely different accounts of the past couple decades.

A classic historical example of this would be the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all wrote about Jesus' 33 years here on earth. Yet, they wrote vastly different books with only some correlation. Some of the exact same miracles or events or parables are shared. But, each has a slightly different emphasis. The author's back ground comes through in their gospel. Luke's gospel has more medical term because Luke was a doctor.

So, how does this play out in my life?

-I write about homeschooling and cooking and running and current events and time management and the Bible, because those are my passions. Someone else writes about organizing or their kids or fashion or art, because those are their passions.

-I also weigh discretion and vulnerability, especially here on the internet. I want to share my struggles. I want to share my story. My goal is to be real. My goal is to inspire each of you.

But my story intersects many other people's stories. How do I share transparently and authentically while at the same time honoring others? How do I vulnerably share from places of hurt and struggle, so others can realize they are not alone?  How much is too much?

-I know that my story is my story, and if someone didn't want me to write about what they did to me, they should have thought of that before they did it. But, I think it often isn't as clear cut as that. It isn't as tit for tat.

-Nurturing my marriage and my kids is more important than baring my soul on the internet. Dealing with hurts and issues IRL is more important to me than having a viral post on the internet. Approaching someone face to face is far better than hurting them if they happen to read my post on my blog.

-I want to be recognizable from and in real life. If you know me in real life, I want you to hear my personality (voice, laugh) in my writing. And if you only read my blog, but happen to meet me someday, I want to be recognizable to you. To be consistent. This is how she really and truly is. 

-Also, once you put stuff on the internet, it is there for everyone to see. It becomes public. And I try to remember that when I write. Do I want everyone and their neighbor to know such and such about me? Whether good or bad-some stuff is too private for the very public forum of the internet.

-I don't want to rose-color everything, but I do want to be positive. I want to encourage and inspire you all. I want you to be glad you took the time to read my blog on any given day. Because, really, this is my blog, but it isn't all about me. It's about you all too.

So, these things are all the filters in my writing that form my agenda. My passions and personality, vulnerability and real, protection and discretion, public and private, encouraging and inspiration. It is how I choose my topics, and my words. The things I write about are the things I am thinking about. Sometimes it is just that simple.

Historically speaking, would my writing present a clear picture of me and my life? My family and my passions? My dreams and my day to day?

I hope so.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What I Have Learned from Bratty Protagonists

*nut-shelled...Don't be the brat in your own story.

My least favorite Harry Potter book is the Order of the Phoenix (#5). Professor Umbridge is horrid, and Harry is a brat. I know, I is because Lord Voldemort is infiltrating his mind a bit, but still... Harry doesn't understand why he isn't a prefect. He sulks. He's a brat.

I think JK Rowling set out to make Harry not very likable in #5, and she succeeded very well.

I greatly dislike when protagonists become rather bratty. It's like they start to drink their own Kool-aid and it just isn't pretty.

Harry is a whole lot less odious in books 6 or 7. He is more pleasant to be around. A lot nicer to his friends.

It was the same storyline in How to Train Your Dragon-the movies, not the book. Hiccup is a lovable blunderer in the first movie. He saves the day and saves the dragon and everything is great.

In the second movie he has a more bratty aura. He doesn't want to be chief. He wants to be with his dragon, exploring. He ends up endangering his whole tribe. And then saving them-once he accepts who he is and the responsibilities laid on him.

I find that very interesting.

In our culture we are encouraged to follow our dreams. To know ourselves and our personality type. Yet, even Hollywood acknowledges the fact that life doesn't work properly when all we focus on is our dreams and ourselves.

See, when all we are focusing on is ourselves, the effect is rather bratty. And who likes a brat?

Neither dreams or self-knowledge should trump the fulfillment of our responsibilities and commitments.

But, neither can either replace the other. Both are necessary to live full lives. Dreams and responsibilities. Self-awareness and selflessness. Risk and commitment.

It is a balancing act that on occasion seems more like a high rope circus act. It is an acknowledgement of life seasons. It is a never ending process of weighing and evaluating, counting the cost and adjusting. And it is an acknowledgement of the intrinsic idea that there is a time for everything.

For training your dragon and ruling your tribe. For starting businesses and doing laundry and raising kids.

How are you learning to balance dreams and responsibilities?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spicy Romano Chicken

Another week has passed, and fall is here with a vengeance. It has been cool and wet and gloomy for the past couple days. But, the gloriously colored trees will appear sun. And, of course, there will be gloriously sunshiny fall days too. So, I will not complain.

The cooler weather is great for baking. I currently have french bread and regular bread rising on my counter. And I am going to make cookies this afternoon. The kids are never happy when the cookie jar is empty. Their mom is never terribly happy about it either, but you know...

Last week my parents were in town, so we had a family dinner with them and my brother and sil that live down the block. Since we all had a race the next day, we went with a carb heavy dinner. Races are good excuses to carb load.

This recipe is one my sister shared. (the same sister who just gave birth to a girl yesterday! Megan Joy. So amazing!) It is delicious. I can't believe it took me this long to make it. It is spicy-but not too spicy for kids. We all thought it was amazing. And it didn't haunt us the next day either.

Spicy Romano Chicken
1 pint heavy cream
4 Tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 cup grated Romano/Parmesan cheese blend
1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (this is where you can add or remove hotness)

1 pound bow tie, cooked
2 Tbsp butter
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 green onions, sliced
3-4 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced in 1" strips
1/8 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp heavy cream or white wine

-Cook pasta according to package directions.
-I grilled my chicken breasts and then sliced them later.
-Melt butter in a large skillet. Add cream, salt & pepper and heat to a boil. Remove from heat and fold in Romano/Parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
-In another large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add mushrooms, green onions and tomatoes. Stir for 1 minute. Add chicken and 2 Tbsp of heavy cream and stir well. Add pasta and all the sauce to the skillet and stir gently until mixed well. 

Serve this with a lettuce salad and French bread for a complete meal. You can also sprinkle extra Romano/Parm on top of the pasta if desired.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Reviews: Bittersweet and Notes from a Blue Bike

I have recently read two eBooks, Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist and Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenrider. Both are available in paper form also, but I got a good deal on them in Kindle format, so I decided to read them that way.

I am still totally a paper book acolyte, but I do appreciate having a book or two on my iPad to read. Ebooks are really handy when I am out and about and waiting, don't have wifi access, but would like to use my time somehow. Having a book on my iPad allows me to spend slivers of available time feeding my soul instead of doing nothing or wasting time on mindless games.

I've said before that I am not a big fan of self-help books or devotionals. And I much prefer fiction to nonfiction. Yet, I have been reading more nonfiction lately. And I've been enjoying it.

I finally figured out why. Just what types of nonfiction do I like?


And books that are essentially collections of essays. By this I mean that each chapter pretty much stands on its own. They might all have a common theme, but you can read just one and feel benefited. One chapter does not depend on the previous, per se. These types of book allow me to read and digest in small bites without getting overwhelmed by information or bored out of my gourd. I can peruse whenever I have the time, and it works.

Which is why Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. His chapters are longer, but they all stand enough on their own. They each contain fascinating stories and facts and have a nutshell concept to take away. I love it.

Bittersweet and Notes from a Blue Bike were both very much this way. In both books, the chapters ranged from 2-4 pages. Perfect for reading during an oil change or an orthodontist appointment. Their length reminds me of a blog post. Few words, complete thoughts.

Both of these books have gotten a lot of hype in the blogging world. It's because the authors are friends of other bloggers/authors and they all promote each other's books. Meaning that sometimes books are promoted on the merit of friendship not just on the merits of the book. (to see what I mean, look at the graphic for Notes from a Blue Bike)

This isn't necessarily a bad or a good thing. It is simply the reality of social media and books these days.

But this also doesn't mean they aren't decent books. I think each is a good read, and something can be gleaned from both. My caveat is that just because every blogger you read may be talking about a book does not mean that it is going to fall into the category of one of your favorite, re-read forever, books.

So, Bittersweet was a poignant book about a year or two in Shauna Niequist's life. It was a rough year. But, the foundational concept of the book is that it takes the bitter things of life to remind us of the sweet things. It was a story of pain and loss, redemption and healing. It was real and sometimes raw. It didn't actually have a happy ending. As a matter of fact, if I hadn't read her later book, Bread and Wine, I'd probably think her life kind of stunk. Regardless, I think her point of the beauty in the broken, the sweet in the bitter, came through. I know I have found that to be true in my own life.

I loved her references to Grand Rapids. I know the places she mentions. I've been there. I can picture her in my town. It was a neat side line.

Notes from a Blue Bike is somewhat of a memoir. Tsh writes about living simply and intentionally in our world that embraces busyness and stuff. She writes about technology, travel, schooling, eating, houses and stuff. My favorite section was on travel, because I have the same philosophy. I'd rather travel and see the world than use my money to buy a huge house and a fancy car. My least favorite section was about food. It leaned a bit towards preachy and I just don't care that much where my food comes from.

If you enjoy Tsh's blog, Art of Simple, you will probably enjoy this book, because you are already striving for a simpler life style. I must insert that this is not really a how-to book. It doesn't really give tips for how to live more simply. It is more an account of what they have chosen to do.

Anyway, that is what I've been reading lately, as well as skipping amongst chapters in Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw. (a marketing type book with anecdotal stories about iconic products)

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Most Precious Commodities

Commodity: a useful or valuable thing

Last night I was mentioning to a friend how much bicycling I did this summer and the fact that I love it so much. The sunshine. The exercise factor. The wind in my face.

The quiet.

Most of my bike rides are by myself. It is just me and my thoughts. No one is talking to me or talking at me. Having four kid talkers, you have got to know that silence is golden.

There are a few people out and about when I cycle, and I greet them. But, for the most part, it is just me, myself and I. In the wind. With the crickets.

So wonderful.

This whole train of thought continued on (incidentally, on a bike ride this afternoon). What else do I value? What is precious to me? What do I miss the most when it becomes increasingly absent from my life?

Time. I think everyone values time to some degree. Most people are keen to save time. We want to use our time wisely. Because, the thing about time is, that once it is gone-its gone forever. You will never get that moment, that sliver of time back. And, each one of us is only allocated a very finite amount of time in this life. Every day we have less and less time left to us.

My kids. They fill the corners of my life 24/7. They are always around. Tugging, talking, asking, fighting. But, I really don't know what I'd do without them. They are my most precious commodity. They are the primary thing entrusted to my care. To nurture and train and love.

Water. So, this is not a green agenda thing-'cause I am not green. But, I do value water. I value cold water for drinking and hot water for showers. I value the sound of water cascading over rocks and spilling out of fountains and thundering on beaches. I appreciate water in pools and lakes for swimming. And I really value water when I am on a long training run or in a race. Every drop seems necessary to combat dehydration. Water is awesome!

Chocolate. Dark chocolate. Is there any need to say more?

Sunshine. I love the sunshine. I LOVE the SUNSHINE. I wilt in dreary November and February. I lag and drag on gloomy days but perk right up when the sun is shining. There is no such thing as too much sunshine (imho). I soak up the rays and glory in it during the spring, summer and fall, because the winter is so long, grey and gloomy.

Mr. Hippie. I don't think there is a limit on how much time I can spend with him. The more time we have together, the more I want. The conversations. The fun times. The quiet times.

I can live with out a whole lot-I think. I can even live a month without chocolate if need be. But, I crave sunshine, quiet, water, time, Mr. Hippie and my kids (generally). These things are my core commodities. Some are tangible. Some are intangible. They are the things that I put first when I am arranging my schedule. I will arrange and rearrange my days to fit as much of these things in as possible.

These thoughts bring to mind two verses... know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold...but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot. (1 Peter 1:18,19)

For the redemption of their soul is precious...(Psalm 49:8)

God's most precious commodity was His Son, Jesus Christ. But, He gave that precious commodity out of sacrificial love for the world. The price you are willing to pay for something drives up it's value. Which makes the value of a soul very high. Very precious indeed.

What is your most precious commodity?