Friday, December 19, 2014

White and Black Bread Pudding

Well, it's been a week. A good week.

I've been walking every morning. Just two miles. But, it has been great. I had daily back pain for about a month, and my chiropractor said I should give running a rest for a bit. Thankfully, an adjustment last Friday, combined with a wearing back brace for about 24 hours allowed my back to stay adjusted long enough to heal. I have not had any back pain since Sunday morning. (excepting for a little when I was grocery shopping the other day.) I am beyond thankful for the relief. I want to run. My feet are itching to run. But I am making myself wait until tomorrow. If everything still feels good, I'll be back to pounding the pavement. Just in time for snow...

But, walking. It has actually been a wonderful 30 minutes every morning. I spend the time thinking and praying for my people. Pondering life and cultural issues. It has been great. And I think my writing has been better because of it. I need the quiet thinking time in order to have anything of quality to write.

Speaking of writing and thoughts...I was thinking of how everyone writes post conference recaps-like the day they arrive home from the conference. Thoughts are fresh. Challenges are new. Excitement, motivation, and good intentions abound. But, what I'd like to read is a conference update update. How is everyone doing with all those things they were going to implement and change? Did they burn out, or is there noticeable differences?

I feel like the themes that were in my heart after Allume are manifesting themselves still, both here on my blog and in my day to day life. I am trying to write well-not simply write to have a post to publish. Walking, thinking, praying, writing. Writing about where I am at, what's making my heart beat, right now. It's been good-for me.

Btw, the blog will probably be quieter over the next 2 weeks. You will be enjoying time with your family, as will I. If I have a burning to write something, I will. Otherwise, I am going to be living in the season, and I hope you do too!

If there's NO posts, just assume that I finally decided to wrap the Christmas presents. We are getting down to the wire here.

So, the promised recipe...

Black and White Bread Pudding. Isn't it gorgeous?!

Just so you know, I do NOT like bread pudding. At all. It tastes too much like french toast, imho. Which is breakfast-not dessert.

But, then, I saw this recipe in a holiday hardcover edition of Christmas with Southern Living, and I knew I had to try it. Maybe this could get me beyond my bread pudding prejudice.

So, the key component in this recipe is the chocolate. A normal batch (9x13" pan) uses 1-1/2 pounds of the stuff. Now, it is a mix of white chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate. Nevertheless-1-1/2 POUNDS of chocolate. How can a recipe not be good with that much chocolate?

From looking at the photographs, I'd guess it would be a very involved recipe, but it's not.

Cube and toast the bread. Top with chocolate chunks. Make a custard with cream, milk, eggs, sugar, white chocolate and vanilla. Its not boiled, just heated. No sweat. Pour the custard over the bread, let soak for 10 minutes, bake for 40, and voila! a black and white bread pudding. Whip up an easy sauce of (more) cream, white chocolate, butter, bourbon and salt. Start to finish, hands on time, about 20 minutes. Seriously.

I had leftover sauce from the Christmas party, and I decided to make a half batch of the recipe to take to a friend's house for dinner last night. She admitted to me afterwards that she was not looking forward to dessert because she doesn't like bread pudding either. But, she was properly converted and asked me for the recipe.

Obviously, in case you are wondering, this is NOT gluten-free or dairy-free. It may be vegetarian though certainly not vegan. It is magic, pure and simple.

Black and White Bread Pudding
1 (12 oz) loaf French bread, cubed and toasted (350 degree oven, 8-10 minutes)
1 (11.5 oz) package semi-sweet chocolate chunks
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
6 oz (a scant cup) white chocolate baking chips
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cube bread, and place in a greased 9x13" pan. Toast for 8-10 minutes.
-Sprinkle chocolate chunks over toasted bread cubes.
-Cook milk, cream, and sugar in a large saucepan, stirring often, about 6 minutes or just until bubbles appear. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Whisk in the white chocolate until melted.
-In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then, while whisking, slowly pour in about 1/4 of the custard mix. Pour the eggs into the remaining hot custard, stirring constantly until well combined. Add the vanilla. Pour over the bread cubes and let soak for 10 minutes.
-Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until set. Serve warm with White Chocolate Bourbon Sauce.
*Note: I have both doubled this recipe, and halved it, and it worked just as well both times. Also, I used the "seeds" from vanilla bean pods instead of vanilla. (2 whole beans for the double batch, half a bean for the half batch)

White Chocolate Bourbon Sauce
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 oz (scant cup) white chocolate baking chips
1 Tbsp butter
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp bourbon

-Cook the cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, 2 minutes or just until bubbles appear. Remove from heat. Whisk in the chocolate, butter, and salt until the chocolate melts. Whisk in the bourbon.

You're welcome!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hospitality and the Holidays

On Monday I was looking up some recipes on this blog that I am making over the holidays. I was putting together my grocery list and I wanted to make sure that I have all the ingredients on hand.

I was somewhat horrified to light on this post, and to see that I served almost the exact same menu for our employee Christmas party both last year and this year. The only things that were different were the salad, vegetable and dessert. No wonder the menu sounded good to me. Because it had worked before. Sigh...

It was all really good. Scarpariello. Lamb. Couscous. Asparagus. French Bread. Somethings really can't be improved on. I suppose.

The dessert was a new recipe. Black and White Bread Pudding. How can it be bad when the recipe calls for 3 pounds of chocolate?

This recipe is going to be on the blog on Friday. It is easy, and gorgeous, and delicious.
And would make a show stopper Christmas dessert.

This is the majority of our roofing crew this past year. There were 2 or 3 others who worked a few days or weeks. But these are the guys who put in months and months. Hard labor. They put in long freezing hours in the winter, and long sweltering hours in the summer. We are so thankful for each and every one of them.

My menu fiasco brought to mind this post that I wrote for Womanhood with Purpose. Hospitality is not about the menu or the decorations-its about the people. Check out my post on Hospitality and the Holidays. 

I'll let you in on a secret...there is a giveaway contained in the post. You can win a 3 month subscription to She Plans Dinner. That would be a fun gift for yourself or someone else for Christmas! So, go enter!

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thoughts on Vulnerability

Our world cries for transparency and vulnerability. It sounds so good-in theory.

To be vulnerable and transparent in our world is often to admit that you use paper plates instead of china. You can't do it all but you still do a ton. It may be admitting that you yell at your kids or that your marriage is not perfect. But, it's not often getting down into the nitty gritty.

To be vulnerable is to let down your defensive armor and to make yourself open for attack. Thus, the vulnerability. It is to be susceptible to harm or hurt. 

In battle terminology, it is laying out your defenses-where you are strong, and then showing the weak spots. The place where if attacked, you may crumble.

Vulnerability is to forgive and then not to be pro-defensive in relationships because you might get hurt again. Vulnerability is to let down your guard, and think the best of people-even when experience tells you that you shouldn't. Vulnerability is not reading into actions and assigning motives based on past hurts and offenses.

Vulnerability is saying this is where I am weak. This is where my heart beats strongest. This is where I hurt. This is where I need help. This is my ugliness. This is where I sin. This is where I need forgiveness.

I've found most people react in one of three ways when you let your vulnerable hang out and are really transparent.

There is the group of people who exploit and rejoice at your vulnerabilities. They "ah-ha!" and use vulnerabilities against you. They attack you at your vulnerable points. Discretion and wisdom dictate that you really shouldn't share much with this group. Distancing ourselves from these people is generally a prudent thing. In battle, you don't point out your weak points with your enemies. It's not a matter of pride but of protection.

There is the group who are neither here nor there about your vulnerabilities because of their own vulnerabilities. This is actually most people in our lives. They don't care that you are wearing your heart on your sleeve or that you are floundering. They don't not care either. They probably aren't going to attack at the vulnerable spots, but neither will they do anything to help shore up the vulnerable spots. 

And then there is the group who sees your vulnerability in all its ugliness and sin and neediness and loves you anyway. They encourage, and pray, and challenge, and even rebuke. They forgive and they help. This group is generally just a handful of people for each of us, but they are the salt of the earth.

I've had about three endings typed for this post. And I've deleted them all. One felt too vulnerable for this platform. One felt too abrupt. One involved too many other people and thus their stories.

I tell you this because I don't have all the answers. But, I do have many vulnerable spots.

I am still processing my groups. And I am appreciating my handful. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wrong Shall Fail, Right Prevail

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This poem was written way back in 1863 in the throes of the Civil War. If we didn't know better, we could imagine that the poem was written today. Over 150 years later, the message is still the same. The problem is still the same. The solution is still the same.

God is not dead, nor does He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.

This year, this Christmas, 2014, hearts are broken over the wrong prevailing in our world. Ferguson and Michael Brown, Eric Garner, ISIS. 

Hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.

These words so could have been written about our world, right now. 

As I walked today, I pondered this whole issue in front of us. Racism. Hatred. Justice. The internet is hollering, screaming at each of us with millions of opinions. Millions of accusations. Millions of solutions.

And in despair I bowed my head.

Yet, once again, it is Christmas time. It is the time when hope springs anew. Despite the hurt and the anger and the pain, we can hope.

Not because the solution is in us. It's not.

The solution is not protests. The solution is not more violence. The solution is not even conversation. 

Our hope for peace on earth rests solely in the fact that God is not dead. He does not sleep. 

The solution is Christ. The Prince of Peace. 

Christ did not bring peace through His birth either. He brought peace through His death.

And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:20)

Peace will reign in the earth when Christ reigns.

Glorious light! see the dawn of Salvation:
Angels in white fill the skies with their wondrous song;
Awakening earth with news of His birth;
Join the hymn of the highest heavens!

Long has the world fought the song of the angels.
Heavenly music is drowned by a warring world;
Yet hope burns a light, that shatters the night;
Turn your heart to the call of glory!

Glory to God in the highest!
Peace to men on earth.
Come and adore Him with wonder -
Christ Lord of Heaven and earth.

There is a day all creation has longed for -
When all of time has been spent and the Lord returns;
His song we'll repeat as heaven completes;
Promised peace that will fill the nations!

-Keith Getty

There will always be war until Christ reigns. World peace will be sought after but will not be a reality. That is a Biblical theme.

But the hope of Christ's reign should affect our lives here and now. You and I, we can pray for peace. We can let the peace of God rule in our hearts. We can be instruments of peace. We can seek peace and pursue it. We can live at peace with all men.

Because we know the end of the story.

May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

It's Friday, and I am elbow deep in some baking and in planning for our employee Christmas party tomorrow. I try to cook a spectacular meal as a thank you for their year of faithful hard work. Because we very much appreciate our guys and their supportive girls.

I won't actually do any of the cooking for the party until tomorrow, but today is when I do the shopping and the planning. This needs to be started at this time. The intricate timing dance of any meal. Planning oven times so everything is ready when it needs to be.

I am making a good mix of old favorites and brand new recipes. I always hesitate to try a new recipe on anyone but my BFF or my family. I picked a salad that I've never made before, but that has ingredients I've had in salads before-candied walnuts, red onion, cranberries and goat cheese. It sounds magnificent. I mean, how bad could it be? Worse case scenario?

For the appetizer I am roasting grapes and serving a cheese. Roasting grapes brings out their sweetness. This is a really easy recipe. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over the grapes and then broil for 8-10 minutes. Can it get any easier? And, I will probably plunk the cheese on a cheeseboard and let everyone slice their own. It seems rather sophisticated (and lazy).=)

The main course will be Scarpariello, lamb, couscous, asparagus and french bread. These are all recipes I've made many times before. And they are all very simple.

The crowning touch is going to be a Black and White Bread Pudding. It has 24 ounces of white chocolate and 12 ounces of semi sweet chocolate. Half the white chocolate and all of the regular chocolate is mixed in white the bread and baked in a custard. The remaining white chocolate goes into a warm brandy sauce that gets served over top the bread pudding. I think it sounds glorious. I will share the recipe if it turns out. If it doesn't turn out, I guess we will all be eating frosted Christmas cookies.

Is your mouth watering yet?

The actual recipe that I have for you today is this Mexican Chicken Lime Soup. It has the comforting aspects of normal chicken soup with a Mexican twist. I am a fan of anything that combines chicken, cilantro, lime and avocado. I made mine without the jalapeño and it was plenty spicy for my palate-and my kids' palates. 

It really was simple to assemble. Some chopping, but nothing overwhelming. Shredding the cooked chicken breasts was easy, and made it seem like there was a lot more chicken in there than you'd think.

This recipe is gluten free and dairy free. No carbs from pasta or rice. It is hardy and delicious.

Mexican Chicken Lime Soup
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions
4 stalks celery
2 medium jalapeño
8 cloves garlic
1-1/2 lbs chicken breasts
12 cups chicken broth
2 (14-1/2 oz) cans diced tomatoes w/ chiles
2 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp cumin
2 limes
1 bunch cilantro
2 avocado

-Dice the onion, celery and jalapeño. (scrape the seeds before dicing). Mince the garlic. Cook the vegetables in the oil in a large pot over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
-Add the whole chicken breasts, broth, tomatoes, oregano, and cumin. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and let simmer for one hour.
-After the hour, carefully remove the chicken breasts and use two forks to shred the meat. Return the meat to the pot. Juice the limes and add the juice to the pot.
-Rinse and roughly chop the cilantro. Add to the soup.
-Peel, seed and cube the avocado.
-Serve the soup in bowls, topped with the avocado.

Have an amazing weekend!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Crafting

This is a bonus photo. You're welcome...
I wanted to show you what I've been up too. Remember I said that I made wreaths with my mom and sisters while in Texas? Well, here is the look I was going for...

Here is what I ended up with...

So, I liked the burlap wreath idea. It was pretty fool-proof. Just weaving burlap in and out and around a wreath frame from Michaels. I found that I needed about twice as much burlap as the tutorial claimed. I must have had a bigger wreath form. Anyway, I liked how the brown burlap looked, with the contrasting holiday printed burlap, but it didn't come off as very Christmas-y.

I stewed over it, and pinned more images, and finally settled on 3 clusters of 3 balls. But, it still wasn't right. That's when I found my ribbon in my bin, and decided to make a bow. This bow...

I even learned how to make a bow...(here)
The bow tutorial was awesome. Seriously, if I can whip up a bow in less than two minutes, and it can actually look good? Well, that is an amazing tutorial! I ended up clumping 6 Christmas balls together, opposite the bow. I like the end product, plus, after Christmas I can remove the balls, and add some flowers to make it more everyday. Talk about efficiency!

LC also wanted to make a wreath. I saw this one on Pinterest and thought it was one she could make. Cut ribbon and tie sweat....
this became...(here)
Except, Pinterest ideas have a propensity for no being as easy-peasy as they look. I bought ribbon with wire. No bueno. We couldn't tie it into bows. And, it certainly wasn't turning out like the one above. 

We decided to just tie the ribbons on with a regular knot-no bow. It looked cute, but wasn't quite what either of us were going for. Then I had a moment of brilliance...

We used a pencil to curl the ribbons. That was easy, and it looks way better. Trust me on this. We added a couple balls, hung it on the girls' door, and everyone is happy.

We have most of the house decorated now. I have no idea how everyone gets those nice photos for their "open house" blog posts. My photos are not fantastic. I have to actually read the posts I've pinned about how to photograph Christmas lights. And then I can try another post.

Or not.

Our tree. Glorious in it's eclectic-ness. The kids did most of the decorating. I had to do a bit of rearranging and spacing so there were no glaring bare spots. But, it is beautiful and it is ours.

Not only do I stew over how to make bows and what embellishments to add to wreaths, I also spend several days thinking about how I am going to decorate my house this year. Do I do basically what I always do? Or do I mix it up a bit?

I moved the nativity to the hutch this year. It makes the dining room more festive. Plus the greenery and lights on the top give off a lot of season cheer.

One of our favorite decorations is this music box from my great grandma. It has the year we were married on it. It plays God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I love it, because I loved my great grandma and it reminds me of her. The kids love it because they love winding it for the song. Here I am teaching Meres how to wind it properly. I guess we were pretty intense about it...

I played with my open bannister this year. I saw an idea in an old Southern Living book that used small wreaths, and the 12 Days of Christmas ornaments on the bannister. I ran out of time and/or money for 12 wreaths this year, so I tweaked the idea. I used the ornaments sans wreaths, but still hanging from ribbons, and then hung some greenery from the top of the railing.

I like how it turned out.

I decided to send out Christmas cards this year, and to write a letter to accompany them. I used Snapfish to print the cards and then I just wrote up the letter today. I love receiving Christmas cards-don't you? I think it is because it is fun mail (not junk or bills). I figure that since I like receiving them, others probably do too. I try to send them out every other year or so. We actually don't have a recent family picture, so I used a picture of the kids, plus the rocking triathlon pictures of Mr. Hippie and I from this summer. May as well show our good sides....

I started on my baking. I made frosted sugar cookies. And I let the kids decorate them. Which was...well...they used more colored sugar on their pans of cookies than I usually use in a couple years worth of decorating. They made them fanc, all kinds of designs. They are beautiful. And I didn't have to do all the work-so it is worth the colored sugar. 

I always make tons of Christmas cookies and bars for the season's gatherings. I will probably do a big baking day next week. Pans and pans of seasonal goodness...

Speaking of goodness, I whipped up a batch of sugar scrub this week. Talk about an easy gift! I love it! It takes about 5 minutes to mix together, and 10-15 minutes to package-depending on how fancy you make it. Find some sugar scrub recipes (here).

All my Christmas shopping is done except for 3 things. I will finish up next Monday. The wrapping still is not started. I have even thought about putting it on a to-do list yet. I have a friend from Chicago who might swing around the pond one of these days and help me wrap. That would be a hoot. A ton a laughter to make the job lighter.

Well, that's where we are in the midst of the Christmas hustle. Frankly, not hustling much. Just enjoying the elements for what they are.

How is your Christmas stuff going?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pull an Elsa and Let It Go

If you have a child or grandchild under the age of 10, chances are pretty high that you have seen Frozen. Even if you haven't watched the movie, you have at least run across all the Frozen gear on the internet and in the stores. It's everywhere.

Probably the most popular track from Frozen is Let It Go. It's when Elsa goes all stormy and let's her real, wintery person out. She's done with being the good girl.

Which is what it is. The fact of the matter is, we all still have to face up to our responsibilities, even when finding ourselves. That's where the story ends up. It really is a good movie, even if I will never give my daughters a Frozen themed party. (That's only because I'd never do a themed party regardless. They're just not my thing.)

But, the truth of let it go...well, it is a truth.

I don't think God is calling us to go all ape and leave storms and destruction in our paths.

But, letting it go...that is a recurring theme in my life. Almost any time I am going through deep waters, the mental picture that comes to me is of open hands. Palms up. Empty.

Every time.

'Cause obviously I haven't quite learned that lesson yet.

There's a whole lot I need to let go right now. And, even though right now is the holiday season, I am not talking about holiday season stress and hustle. I'm not talking about doing less or doing more meaningful.

No, I'm talking about life junk. The need to let go





Expectations of people's actions that I can't do anything about.


Vindication and justice. (My sense of justice is acute. This is a huge thing for me.)

These are the things I need to let go of. Actually, all of them but pride and control are justified. There are hurts from this past year that run rather deep. There is forgiveness that has been given and taken back. There is anger that festers over injustice.

And I look at these things in my heart and I see the case against people. I know that their actions were wrong. It is not just in my head. It is real offenses that cut deeply. If I told you the details of what I've been through, you'd be angry for me. You'd hurt with me. You'd say "that was wrong." You would.

But, I can't approach the people who have hurt me, and bring up the junk, and expect that they are going to say they are sorry. I can't expect that they will admit they are wrong. Actually, the opposite has been true. The parties feel they were justified in their actions or in their lack of actions.

So, where does that leave me? Hurt. Bruised. Angry. Unforgiving.

Yet, I have a choice. I have the choice to open my hands and my heart and let it go. Permanently. To never bring it up again. Not even when another offense reminds me of these offenses.

I have a choice to let it go, and let God be God. To let the Holy Spirit do His work of conviction, if that is what He wants to accomplish. When He wants to accomplish it.

In all honesty, my efforts to gain an apology or an admission of wrong doing has fallen on deaf ears. It is not doing me any good to try and play the Holy Spirit.

I have a choice to not confront, but to forgive. To allow myself to admit that wrong was done, and then to accept and dispense the grace and forgiveness that comes with that admission.

Forgiveness is not saying that someone or some action was right. It is saying it was wrong, and there is something that needs forgiven. It is bearing the cost of the damage and hurt instead of expecting and hoping the offender will bear it.

Forgiveness is giving up the right to nurse my hurt and anger. To treat it like a pet. To feed and water it and stroke its fur with remembrances of issues and offenses.

Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary. It is compassionate and merciful, absolving and admitting to both their's and our humanity. We offend and are offended. Hurt and are hurt.

Forgiveness is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is possible because I have offended much, and I have been forgiven much.

And I weep as I write these words because it does hurt, and because I know what I have to do. I have to let go. 

It is as I let it go, that God has room to work in my heart. He has room to heal me. Instead of continually picking at the scab, it can heal. The broken can be made whole.

Anyway, I don't know if any of you need to hear this, but I did. When I prayed about what to write, this is what God laid on my heart. Because this where I am at today. This is what I am struggling with today. This is what God wants to do in me today.

Let it go...