Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Fulfillment

     Dust flew in little moats around Simon's sandal clad feet as he stepped into the only bit of shade he could find in the melting sun. This precious rectangle of cooler air was cast by a neighboring dwelling, its baked mud walls absorbing the piercing sun's rays and allowing the few who found it a break from the thermal oppression. On less busy days, Simon would meet John and Samuel here to talk together while business was slow. Though business was flourishing today and John and Samuel were not even in town, Simon came to this spot to catch his breath for a moment and watch the crowds.
     Some he recognized and many he didn't. Some he had known from infancy and others he faintly recalled from his childhood 30 years ago. By their ragged appearances, some had come a long way. By their lack of ability to pay for a room, some had come at great cost.
     The conversation that wafted in pieces through the dry air was lighthearted, excited recognitions and jovial greetings. Men clapped each other on the back and gesticulated animatedly to each other. The milder voices of the women wove through their more boisterous mate's. A child's high pitched squeal could be heard now and then as their parents snatched their fleeing bodies, trying to keep them from getting lost in the throngs. Simon listened in amusement to the natural rise and fall of conversation.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Can Do That?!?: Vanilla Edition

Did you know that garage sales can seriously change your life?
What? That was random. But really, a garage sale changed my life.
It was eight years ago, an early summer Saturday morning. Garage salers were out in force, looking for deals on chipped tea cups, dusty coffee makers, and drooled on toys. I, myself, wasn't looking for anything in particular. I was just combing through strangers houses, enjoying their collections of presidential plates and mini McDonalds edition beanie babies. While looking through a particularly large collection of cookbooks, I found one called Breads From La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton. It had a lovely cover with all manner of nicely browned breads. 'What the heck', I thought, 'I like books, I like bread, and its only $.50'. A relentless bargainer, I talked the poor book's owner down to $.25 and left with my treasure. Excited as can be about my purchase, I brought the book home and promptly forgot about it.
A few months later, I was cleaning my room and found the book. It was dusty. The bread on the cover did not look appetizing dusty. I moved to put it in the 'throw away' pile. Suddenly a breeze from my upstairs window blew open the cover. The sun came through at the same time, illuminating the words and I began to read. (Okay not really, but this was one of those pivotal moments that changes the course of life and I thought it deserved a good story.) Anyway, before I threw it away, I wanted to read what I had spent my hard earned quarter on.
Before this book, I had thought of bread as the holy grail of baking. To get bread to rise and taste good was a huge accomplishment reserved for professional bakers and my grandma. I had also assumed that using yeast was the only way to make bread. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
Get this! You can make bread (excellent, better than you've ever tasted in your life bread) with just flour and water!
This idea appealed to me. This was how people from the beginning of time made bread. They pulled out their rock, smashed some wheat berries, and fermented it with water. How cool is that? I loved the idea of getting back to the basics.
So someday, I may write about my bread adventures. (I did end up successfully cultivating an active, delicious starter and making bread from flour and water. Still gives me excited jitters.) But for now, I just wanted to write about my introduction to 'getting back to the basics'.
Pretty much every ingredient I cook with these days I think, 'how could I make this myself?' or 'How would my great, great, great, great grandma have done this?' Those questions don't always get me anywhere (I don't have the ability to mine sodium bicarbonate from the earth... yet.) but in some cases, like making my own vanilla extract, it does.
But why, I sometimes ask myself. Why, in Gods green earth, would I want to make my own vanilla? Well, I could say that it saves me money (which it does) or that I can control the quality of ingredients (which I can), or that it tastes way better than store bought (which it does). No, the real reason is that I feel pretty darn awesome about myself. When everyone else in the world is suffering from a vanilla extract shortage, raiding grocery stores for it, and swarming the one vanilla extract delivery truck that comes every two months from somewhere in Mexico, I will already have a lifetime stash of vanilla in my cupboard.
Yes, I am that pathetic.
But, I am what I am. And so, when it all comes down, you'll know who to come to for all your vanilla needs.
If you want, you can always make your own too. It's ridiculously easy. All you need is vodka (or rum) and vanilla beans. Here's how.

When I first read about making your own vanilla, the recipe said to use 'bottom shelf vodka'. Being highly ignorant of all things alcoholic, I went to the liquor store and asked for 'Bottom Shelf Vodka', thinking I was asking for some brand of fancy vodka. When the clerk looked at me funny, it all clicked. Looking sheepishly down at my feet, I mumbled something about just needing their cheapest vodka. Guess what? She grabbed it from the bottom shelf. Lesson learned. On a side note, did you know that you can get vodka in a plastic bottle for $4?

I get my vanilla beans online, which is the only way I get my vanilla beans because it is so cheap. ( is cool).
So, to make vanilla, just take three beans, split them open, cut them in half and stuff them in a jar. Cover them with about 2/3 cup vodka. Make sure to push the beans down into the vodka. Put the lid on and put the jar somewhere out of the way. It takes eight weeks for the alcohol to extract the vanilla essence, so just wait. You can shake the jar up a little every week but make sure to get the beans down to the bottom of the jar again. In eight weeks, you have vanilla extract! 
So great, huh? The best part is that, as you use it, just replace the liquid with a bit more vodka. Then you don't have to wait another eight weeks. 
There you have it. Super easy. Super fun. And you may just feel like the coolest ever for making it yourself. 
Now, go find a garage sale. It may just change your life.

My Playlist:
All things Mumford & Sons  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ten Digits

This is how dinner time goes at my house an embarrassingly high number of nights...

"So, what do you want for dinner?" - Me to my hubby (from now on referred to as Fireman because that is what he is) at 5:00 pm.

"It doesn't matter to me. What were you thinking?" - Fireman, while looking slightly alarmed that, while he was working hard outside all day, his wife hadn't planned anything yet.

"I wasn't thinking, that's why I asked." - Me, slightly irritated at Fireman that I was expected to figure out dinner (but mostly at myself for not doing it).

"Do we have anything?" - Fireman, looking even more green around the gills as the possibility of no dinner looms closer.

"No." - Me, thinking that we really do have food around but not anything easy.


Finally, I meet his eyes. In the seven years we've been married, there has been one gigantic vice that we have shared.


Not just any pizza. Coburg Pizza Company pizza. Greasy, cheesy, stuffed crust, pepperoni and sausage Coburg Pizza Company pizza. The kind that makes life blissful for a few delightful hours and then leaves you sweating pizza in bed at midnight cursing that 4th piece.


When our eyes meet, with just one special look, we both know exactly what is going to happen. 

"Do you want to call or should I?" - Fireman, with a tone of excitement and defeat all in one.

Now, like I mentioned before, an embarrassing number of nights I would say without hesitation, "You can call." Fireman would sigh, pull out his phone, and dial those ten digits that we know so well. The Coburg Pizza Company would answer the phone with "Hi, Chase Family" having known our number by heart for years. They can usually guess what we want to order and we know exactly how much it will cost us. "See you soon," we'd say. That is how things usually go for us.

But not this night. Maybe it was the sun that peaked from behind a particularly gloomy cloud at just the right moment that inspired me. Maybe it was the two innocent, pure, mostly un-pizza-tainted children looking up at me. Maybe it was the slight biting of my jeans waistband into my side. Whatever it was, this night I would not let the pizza beat us. 

"No." - Me, with a triumphant lift of my head and what I imagine to be a little bit of crazy in my eyes.

"Okay..." - Fireman, the slight green tinge making its way back to his face, as the possibility of no dinner overcomes him again.

"No. I mean, I will make dinner." Me, still triumphant, feeling as if I had just stuck my country's flag into a previously undiscovered island.

"Are you sure?" - Fireman, the green fading a bit.

"Yes. Yes, I'm sure." Me, turning with a flip of my hair and leaving Fireman behind, having unnecessarily (yet successfully) panicked and bewildered him in just a few minutes.

He'll be alright.

(In case you're wondering, here is what I made.)

Venison Stuffed Acorn Squash

2 small acorn squash
-- Cut squash in half. Put on a rimmed baking sheet with cut side down. Pour a cup or so of water around squash. Bake at 375 for 50 - 60 minutes.

1/2 c. uncooked bulgar (could use rice too)
1 c. Water
-- Boil water, add bulgar. Let simmer until water is absorbed into bulgar. Remove from heat.


1 T Olive Oil
1/4 medium onion (chopped)
1 clove garlic (minced)
-- Heat the oil on medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic, cook until translucent and soft.

1/2 lb ground venison (could use ground beef)
Salt and Pepper
-- Add the venison. Cook until no longer pink. Salt and pepper to taste.

The rest of a bottle of white wine (who knows how old) about 1/4 cup
-- Deglaze pan with wine and let it cook for a few minutes to evaporate.

2 T. Arrowroot powder
3/4 C. milk
A few sprigs of sage
Salt and Pepper
-- Sprinkle arrowroot over venison and onions. Cook for a minute. Pour in milk. Add in sage and enough coriander to taste (this is slightly tangy spice that goes well with venison, hard to overdo but probably about 1/2 teaspoon). Cook until mixture is thickened. Salt and Pepper to taste.

-- Add cooked bulgar into venison mixture. Cook for another couple minutes for flavors to combine.

Nutmeg (if you want)
-- After squash are done, stuff with venison mix and sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for another 30 minutes.

You could add cheese if you wanted, but I think it would overwhelm the other flavors.

Voila! And, honestly, way better than pizza. Well, maybe not way better...


My playlist:
Honey Bee - Blake Shelton
Little Moments - Brad Paisley
Home - Dierks Bentley
Barefoot Blue Jean Night - Jake Owen


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Moms Say the Darndest Things

And now for the first of, what I assume to be many, things I have said that I never thought I would (or should) have to say.

"Don't swing your bacon around." To Will - Age 3

A Roof and a Floor

Let me start with honesty. There are a few things you should know about me.

I love being a woman. I love being a wife. I love being a mom. I love being a follower of God. 


It is difficult being a woman. It is even more difficult being a wife. It is downright hard being a mom. And in some moments, I think, being a follower of God is impossible.

On Being A Woman:
(Just so you know, I may not define 'being a woman' the same as pop culture's 2012 definition. I'll let you figure out what my definition is.)

My life as a woman has been very much blessed so far. I am grateful for the perspective being a woman has given me. I am grateful for the 'womanly intuition' that I think most (if not all) woman are blessed with. I really enjoy that I don't have to be the primary bread winner in my family. I love that I am called to support my husband and raise my kids. On another note, I am also glad that I'm not the tallest person in the family, expected to wear my hair super short, or let my armpit hair grow. All things to be thankful for. 

The same things that make being a woman great are sometimes the things that make it difficult. It would be nice to have a mans perspective, which would be, in my case, a lot less emotional. Sometimes it sounds nice to work outside the home more and support our family financially (sometimes). It would be nice to be the tallest in the family sometimes. It might be nice to wear my hair super short (less time getting ready in the morning anyway). And it really might be great to let my armpit hair grow. Pesky razors.

On Being A Wife:

I have the best man in the world as a husband. Sorry to all of you other women, but it is true. I won't go into an exhaustive list of his amazingness, so you'll have to take my word for it. (I just learned that amazingness is not a word. Oh well.)

Although I have the best man in the world as a husband, he is still a man. And I don't mean this in a condescending feminist way. I mean it in the sense that all men (and women) are flawed sinful creatures. So, my marriage is not perfect. It is not easy. It is a journey filled with joy and pain. But it is one that I am so happy I embarked on.

On Being A Mom:

Well, isn't this a hot topic at the moment. With two kids (ages 3 and 2 months), I am in the thick of it. I love my kids with a love I didn't know was possible. They are bright lights in my life and always will be. I am constantly surprised by what intelligent tiny humans they are. They are beautiful, sweet, and my happy thoughts.

My kids have also challenged and stretched me in ways I didn't know were possible. How can people so small pack such a strong psychological punch. Whether it is trying not to cry and shout after my 3 year old uses a permanent marker on my 100 year old hope chest or stumbling around and crying at 3:30 in the morning after my 2 month old hasn't slept all night, kids push me farther than I thought I could go. But after the permanent marker comes off with some nail polish remover and the baby falls asleep nursing at 4:00 am, I am consistently happy to be given the chance to grow and learn. Well, happy may not be the best word for it. But you get the idea.

On Being A Follower of God:

God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of the Bible. The Alpha and Omega. Jesus. What a beautiful, amazing, dynamic world He has given us. That He saw fit to have me recognize His authority on earth and heaven, is the biggest gift of all. That He saw fit to (hopefully) give me mercy and grace, is worth more than my life. I love looking at my family and the world with clear eyes. It is more than I will ever deserve.

When the world and the people in it start to close in, there are more than a few times when I doubt it all. How can I believe in something I can't see, hear, smell, or touch? Not only believe but attempt to center my whole life around? I find myself constantly relearning and exploring why I believe what I do. Each time I come back to the same place. But it is a process, and one that I don't think I will reach the end of until I stand before my creator.

Whoa, that was a lot of heavy and not entirely how I intended to start this whole bloggy thing. But I'm going to leave that as my introduction. I don't really want to do an 'About Me' section because I'm not entirely sure 'About Me' myself. I have a roof and a floor but the walls and contents of my house are constantly changing.

What I would like for this blog, is to have a place to share. (I'm not a writer or a photographer so sharing may be pretty boring. Fair warning) I cook a lot and usually never the same thing twice (which makes me a horrible cook) but I'd like to be able to share some of my recipes. I'd like to share my love of gardening and the outdoors. I'd like to share my crazy way-too-much-work-for-a-momma-of-two projects that I sometimes do. And if no one reads this, then I have successfully created a place to document my many failures and rare successes. So stay tuned, or don't.

Now, if you've read this far you must be my mom. I love you, Mom. 

My playlist (Songs I listened to while writing this):
Free Fallin' - John Mayer
You'll Be In My Heart - Phil Collins
What if You - Joshua Radin
Turning Page - Sleeping At Last
A Thousand Years - Christina Perri