Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Getting Holy for Holy Week...

So, not exactly...

But, sort of.

This week is traditionally labelled Holy Week in the Christian world. It is the week that coincides with the final week of Jesus' life including His death, and culminating in His resurrection.

My holy week too often consists of buying 20 pounds of jelly beans to fill almost 300 eggs. Hosting a huge Easter Egg Hunt in my yard/house. Cooking, cooking, cooking. Sewing new dresses for the girls. Spiffing everything up.

It is crazy. Busy. Not very reflective.

But, what is the purpose of the holidays if not to pause? To reflect? To remember? To give thanks? To be changed?

Easter, Good Friday-they represent the most important event in the history of the world. The.most.important. Bar none.

What you believe about these events and their impact on you, is literally the difference between life and death.

It's not the Cadbury Eggs, the jelly-bellies, the potato salad or the lamb.

It is the Lamb of God. The Lamb who died to take away the sins of the world.

It's not the Easter Egg hunts or the baskets full of goodies.

It is the death and burial of the innocent God-man. The Savior.

It is not the family gatherings or the well set tables.

It is Christ risen! He is risen indeed!

As you are in the midst of Holy Week, this year, 2014, consider...

Consider reading...the Four Gospels' accounts of Holy Week. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Read one, or read them all. Each has a unique perspective. As you read the words, let them sink down into your soul.

Consider listening to...Handel's Messiah. This is good listening for both Christmas time and Easter.

Consider attending...a sunrise service. Honest confession...this is something I have never done, but that I have always wanted to do. This year?

Consider teaching...the resurrection eggs. This is a great visual aid for teaching the Easter story to children. They love seeing what is in each egg. You can purchase a set, but it is also really easy to make your own.

All you need is an empty egg carton, 12 plastic eggs, and these items that you can probably find around your house. You can tell the story, or read these verses. (or have the verses printed on small strips of paper that are rolled up in the egg with the object-and have the kids read them) Either way, it reminds the kids what Easter really is about.

Egg #1 Oyster cracker (or bread) Matthew 26:26
Egg #2 Silver coins Matthew 26:14-16
Egg #3 Purple cloth Matthew 27:28
Egg #4 Thorns Matthew 27:29
Egg #5 Rope Mark 15:15
Egg #6 Cross John 19:16-17
Egg #7 Nail John 19:18
Egg #8 Sign that says, “This is the king of the Jews.” Luke 23:38
Egg #9 Sponge (with vinegar) Matthew 27:48
Egg #10 Cloves or spices Luke 24:1
Egg #11 Rock Matthew 27:59-60
Egg #12 EMPTY! Matthew 28:5-6

This week, I pray that you will consider. Consider Him-Savior. Lamb. Shepherd. Redeemer. Risen. Glorified. Lord. Quiet. Innocent. Majestic. Sacrifice.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Saucepan Guinness Cake

So, last week I was craving something sweet. Something chocolate.

I was desperate. Like eating hot fudge topping out of the jar type desperate.

Thankfully, in the nick of time, I remembered that I had pinned a Guinness Chocolate cake recipe on Pinterest. And I had leftover Guinness from St. Patrick's Day black apples. And chocolate. And butter. I was all set.

This is a very easy recipe that whips up in a saucepan. By hand. How awesome is that?

It is a very dense cake. Very rich. If you are hoping for a light and fluffy Duncan Hines end product, this is not the recipe for you. If you are looking for an almost brownie, but cakey and good brownie, this is the recipe for you.

In all my research, this cake is topped with a cream cheese frosting. I am not a fan of cream cheese frosting. Except on cinnamon rolls. Plus I didn't have cream cheese, and running to the store was out of the question.

Buttercream didn't seem like a good fit. But this whipped flour frosting had Saucepan Guinness Cake written all over it. I have made this frosting before. The two secrets are...cool the flour and milk completely. Completely! And beat the snot out of it! I used my stand mixer on the second highest setting for at least five minutes for the sugar/butter whipping, plus another 5 minutes (at least) when I added the flour/milk mixture.

Saucepan Guinness Cake
1 cup guinness
17 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
¾ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda

-Preheat the oven to gas mark 350 degrees. Grease a 9" springform pan. (I used a 9x13" because my springform pan sprung a leak. It worked great.)
-Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter-cut into 8 or 9 pieces-and heat until the butter is melted. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Remove from heat.
-Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and soda.
-Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake. 
-After cooling completely, you can un-spring the cake. I frosted my 9x13 right in the pan.

Whipped Flour Frosting
5 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup Butter
1 cup Granulated Sugar (not Powdered Sugar!)

-In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You want it to be very thick like a brownie mix. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. (you can place the saucepan over ice in the sink for about 10 minutes or so until the mixture cools.) It must be completely cool before you use it in the next step.
-While the mixture is cooling, cream the butter and sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy. You don’t want any sugar graininess left. Then add the completely cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat the living daylights out of it. If it looks separated, you haven’t beaten it enough! Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream.
-Spread on cooled cake.

Perfect! Have a wonderful spring weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 Staple Recipes...

Alternately titled...A Well Stocked Kitchen...

What are your go-to recipes? The ones that regularly make the menu or are always on standby in case of crazy days?

I have several. Quite a few of them center around pasta. What can I say? Pasta is quick. Everyone in my family loves it. Plus, in the time it takes for the pasta to cook, I can have the topping all put together.

Here are some staples I always have on hand...

-1 to 2 pounds of short pasta, like penne or cavatappi
-dry onion soup mix
-shredded yellow cheese, 1-2 pounds
-chicken thighs
-boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-cream cheese
-heavy cream
-parmesan cheese
-sour cream
-evaporated milk
-baking chocolate squares
-baking cocoa
-pesto (I make a batch & freeze half)
-ground beef
-cream soup

Here are links to my favorite go-to recipes. They are all quick, easy, and family favorites. They are familiar. These are the recipes my family terms comfort food...

Chicken Enchiladas
Depression Meatloaf
3 Ingredient Pesto Chicken
Green Noodles
Macaroni and Cheese
Oven Fried Potatoes
Chicken and Rice
Lava Cakes

What recipes does your family go back to again and again and again? For more fresh ideas for meals, check out my sister site, She Plans Dinner.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

One Spring Day

I am sitting in my backyard. It is a glorious day-a glorious moment.

The trees are still bare-except for that fuzzy look.

There is still a pile of snow in my neighbor's yard.

But it is brilliantly sunshiny. The temps are in the 50s (albeit low 50s). My irises are making tracks, and the daffodils are seriously considering opening their green leaves to unfurl their spring yellow.

I can smell the pungent scent of a skunk in the neighborhood.

My flip-flops are gracing my toes, and my shoes have taken up their summer residence under my dresser.

The windows are open. The newly washed rugs are drying over the fence.

I hear my wind chimes tinkling in the breeze and it is apparent that it is no longer winter. We aren't on the cusp. It is definitely spring.

And we all heave a huge sigh of relief and thank the Lord that we survived another cold, grey, snowy winter.

Winter is the time for dormant and burrowing, dreaming and barely surviving.

Spring is the time to stretch the wings of your dreams. It is the time to revel in new life and new starts. New plans to flush out. New goals to pursue.

Renewed energy, motivation and purpose.
April 2013

April 2014-Look how they've grown!

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dust If You Must

Do you believe in dusting? Does dusting have merits in your book?

I answer yes and yes to both questions.

Dusting makes the house look and smell clean. It keeps dust down to a dull roar, which helps keep my allergies in check.

But, I am also a dusting procrastinator. It is my only chore that regularly gets a pass. Which is sad. Everything has higher priority than dusting-laundry, cooking, writing, paperwork (and you know how much I like that), scrubbing toilets and floors.

I pass this chore off to my kids. I give it a lick and a promise. I simply don't do it.

Maybe it is because dusting has been my chore my entire life. From the time I was very young I was dusting my mom's tons of bric-a-brac. Which always too forever.

That is probably why this poem made me laugh when I read it last week...

Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there's not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world's out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it's not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.

-Rose Milligan

So, it is Tuesday, my dusting day. The question is...will I dust?

Only if I must...

Monday, April 7, 2014

24 Things To Pray

Consider the evening before the cross...

-Peter with his vehement declaration that even though everyone else would desert Jesus, he never would.

-Jesus telling Peter, "oh, but you will." (BHG translation). Also warning Peter that Satan desired to have Peter to sift like wheat. But, Jesus had prayed for Peter.

-The evening progresses and the scene changes to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus leaves the majority of the disciples and asks them to watch with Him while He prays. He takes Peter, John and James further into the garden and instructs them to stay and watch.

-Jesus prays earnestly for an hour-to the point of sweating great drops of blood. He returns to the three and finds them sleeping. He says to Peter, (Matthew 26:40)

"What, could you not watch with me an hour? Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Jesus, as God, knew what He would be facing in the next hours. His answer was to pray.

Peter, as a fallible man, denied what Jesus told him he was going to do. He slept.

Would praying instead of sleeping have better prepared Peter for the temptations he was going to face?

If I really understood the nature of things, would I pray? Would I pray more? Would I pray earnestly?

Christians are in a war. Not against people-flesh and blood. Against principalities. Against powers. Against the rulers of the darkness of this world. Against spirit wickedness in high places.

That is the true nature of things.

We forget this. We don't pray enough. We don't pray earnestly. Often, we don't even pray. We are all but sleeping-spiritually and figuratively, if not physically (during our prayer times).

In our self confidence, we are sure we are doing just fine, thanks. We are successful. We are victorious. We have got this.

Our spirit is willing. Yet, we are still flesh and blood and flawed.

We need to pray.

Here is a list of 24 things from the Bible that we should pray:

deliverance (Psalm 116:4)

success and salvation (Psalm 118:25)

peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6)

those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)

God's will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)

God's kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10)

daily bread (Matthew 6:11)

forgiveness (Matthew 6:12)

to not be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil (also translated the evil one) (Matthew 6:13)

laborers for God's harvest (Matthew 9:38)

intent of our heart be forgiven (Acts 8:22)

not do wrong, but be honest (2 Corinthians 13:7)

restoration (2 Corinthians 13:9)

to be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom & spiritual understanding (Colossians 1:9)

walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing (Colossians 1:10)

be fruitful in every good work (Colossians 1:10)

increase in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10)

strengthen with all might unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness (Colossians 1:11)

utterance and open mouths to boldly share the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-19)

Word of God may have free course and be glorified (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

deliverance from wicked men (2 Thessalonians 3:2)

sharing of our faith would become effective (Philemon 1:6)

clear conscience in all things (Hebrews 13:18)

go well with us and be in good health (3 John 1:2)

The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man (woman) avails much. (James 5:16)

I don't know if any of you needed to read these words. I know I did. I'm too often like Peter-confident in myself. I need to be more like my Master and Savior, Jesus Christ-who stole off very regularly to pray all night. Who prayed before the most important event in the world. His death on the cross to pay the price of my sins.

Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation...Who do you need to be praying for?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pastitsio: Layers of Comfort

look at that steam wafting off the top...
Raindrops on roses...

I am still eagerly awaiting the roses part of the raindrops. But, I must admit I am very thankful this week that the raindrops are raindrops and not snowflakes.

It has begun its slow creep, barely showing its face, but there have been a few subtle signs of spring this week. A few...

-Monday I had 57 degree run-in sunshine. I actually unearthed my capris to celebrate. I think the temps topped out in the 60s that day.

-On the same blessed run I saw snowdrops. Which must be differentiated from raindrops and snowflakes. They are tiny flowers that are often the first to show their faces in the spring.

-The trees are getting that spring fuzzy tree look. You know what I mean? No leaves, but buds making the limb lines less stark. 

-A choir of birds singing in the mornings. Chirping away. Lifting my heart with their joyful chorus.
Sigh...yes, spring is coming.

I am not yet eating spring foods. We are still elbow deep in casseroles and soups for another month or so. Because spring in the Midwest is a very fluid concept. One day it is sunny and 70. The next day it is raining or snowing and in the 30s.

I am sharing a recipe with you today that is atypical for me. It is easy enough, and it definitely is delicious, but it has more steps than most of my recipes. It takes a good 45 minutes hands on time. But every bite declares the time and effort worth it!

Pastitsio-Greek comfort food…

2 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
4 Tbsp snipped parsley
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
8 eggs, beaten individually
6 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp pepper
3-1/2 c milk, divided
1 c grated parmesan, divided
2 c elbow macaroni

-Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions, drain.

-In a large skillet, cook meat, onion, and garlic until meat is browned. Drain fat. Stir in tomato sauce, wine, parsley, oregano, salt and cinnamon. Bring to boiling and reduce heat. Simmer 10 minutes. Gradually stir the meat mixture into 2 of the eggs. Set aside.

-For sauce, in a medium sauce pan melt butter. Stir in flour and pepper. Add 3 cups of the milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir one minute more. Gradually stir the sauce into 4 of the eggs. Stir in half the parmesan cheese.

-Toss the macaroni with the remaining parmesan cheese, milk and 2 eggs.

-To assemble, in a greased 9x13” baking dish, layer half the macaroni mixture, all the meat mixture, the remaining macaroni mixture, and all the sauce. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon.

-Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes or until set. Let stand 5 minutes.

macaroni, ground beef, custard

What are you having for dinner? Just a reminder...time is running out on our grand opening sale for She Plans Dinner. To save your $5, enter celebrate5 at checkout for any better or best deal. Offer ends tomorrow, April 5, at midnight.