Preparing for War

I took my life into my hands and waltzed into Publix on Saturday with the goal of buying a smallish turkey and spiral cut ham (with all the trimmings, of course!) Wandering the aisles in no hurry, for once, I browsed the choices and compared prices.  Too many leftovers would only sabotage all the hard work I have done this year to get into shape.  I determined to refrain from making a huge pan of dressing because, first of all, I don’t need the carbs and, second, my kids won’t touch the stuff despite all the years I have set it before them.

I’m sure it’s a texture issue.

We have dear friends joining us on Thanksgiving day, along with my beloved mama and daddy.  I could not be happier that I will have a table bursting with food and laughter and ten kids running all over my house.  It is going to be delightful.

Delight-full!

I chose a smallish turkey (about ten pounds) and placed it carefully in my basket, moving on to the next aisle.  It should be enough and I can make bone broth from the leftover bones.  That is always a good thing as winter approaches.  As I turned the corner, though, there was a case of huge turkeys awaiting my eyes.  My mouth dropped open and I stood there, momentarily stunned and unsure of how to proceed.  I looked at the little bird in my basket, then up at the huge ones piled up in the freezer case.  I lifted one up and felt it’s weight, more than double the one in my basket.  My mind immediately imagined our table with this as the centerpiece, golden and seasoned and surrounded by sweet potatoes, cranberries, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole and all the pies we have planned.  I looked at this turkey and realized what I held in my hand.

A weapon.

I heard a quote by C.S. Lewis this year at Hutchmoot, on the first night as John Cal invited us to partake in the feast he had spent all day preparing.

“Feasting is an act of war.”

I returned the smallish turkey to it’s former home and replaced it with the huge one.  It is way too big.  (Remember, I also bought a spiral cut ham!) We will be tired of leftovers before it is all consumed.  I will have made soups and sandwiches ad nauseum and, still, it will take up half of my refrigerator before I throw it in a big pot and boil it down to smithereens.

But it will stand, glorius and golden after many hours brined, basted and baked.  It will bless eyes and bellies and surely put us all into a food coma.

And we will fight together, friends and family, against the darkness, pushing back once again as we rehearse for the Great Feast that is to come, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.  Fight hard and fight well!

 

 

Hearthfire and Frost: Finding Joy in the Gifts of Autumn

It did this mama’s heart so good. All seven of us, together in the same room as Daddy lit the first hearthfire of the season and we marked it with a feast, a liturgy and laughter.

Chicken pot pie was the main dish, an easy dinner that brought everyone to the kitchen. Green beans were served alongside chopped salad with hot bacon and the grease drizzled all over the lettuce before the ranch dressing even had a chance. Crusty bread cleaned our plates and then, with mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows, we gathered. Us, who have been too often fragmented. Seven people leading seven busy lives, four of whom are often in different counties during the day or any given evening.  But this night, we were all seven piled into our living room with only five seats and that made it cozy. And sweet. One squeezed in close beside her sister in the rocking armchair that squeaks. Another stretched out on the rug, warmed by the first Autumn fire.

Together, we read the prayer. Eyerolls were, miraculously, few and far between. The leather-bound book of liturgies, a new-ish family treasure, was passed hand-to-hand as each person read a paragraph then placed a log on the fire. After more than a few giggles and a couple of quickly-dampened arguments, not to mention younger ones fearing the hot ash that leapt from beneath the flaming logs as the new ones fell into place, the first hearthfire of the season was beautifully ablaze and no one was in a hurry to leave.

We sat, talking and gesturing, then belly-laughing as our oldest told a wild story and it hit me hard that this is likely his last Autumn at home. Next year he will be in college. Come next Fall, he may just be visiting and everything will be different. He will be different. We will all be different.

I willed myself not to allow tears to form and almost succeeded. I looked upon my family, my whole family, with deep joy and gave thanks to Jesus who makes all things new.

We went to bed at peace with the day, the smell of smoldering coals filling the house for the first time this season and anticipating the first frost in the morning.

Sure enough, I was awakened by a blaze of pink illuminating my bed. I parted the sheer curtains and gasped as the sky exploded in beauty, mist rising from the still-warm pond and dancing in the barely frozen air. The grass was gray with frost and sparkled in the first light of dawn.

My soul delighted in this gift and, again, I whispered a prayer of thanks to my God who knows how much I love a golden sunrise. In moments like this, I’m sure I’m his favorite.

How to Simply “Fall”

Summer went out with a hissy fit.  The last few days were hotter than blue blazes.  We sat, melting, on the sidelines of a soccer field and I drank a half-gallon of water within an hour plus I got a sunburn.

Just a week later, on the heels of a thunderstorm, Autumn moved in.  I put out my mums and scarecrows and decorated the mantel with a colorful orange and yellow-leaved garland.  The days are beginning their slow cooling, with highs in the 70’s and sunset coming earlier and earlier.  Fall is always my favorite.

There are a thousand things I love about this season.  Some physical, many symbolic.  I want to do all the Fall things, eat all the Fall foods, but you know as well as I do that it is just not possible to do everything.

I am notorious for overloading my to-do list.  Whether it is recipes to try, traditions to uphold, or activities for our family to enjoy I set high expectations and even higher ideals, only to be frustrated when I fail to meet them and another beautiful season has come and gone too quickly with me busier than I wanted to be, distracted and unable to sit and just watch the leaves turn to the glory of God.

This year we are in a new house, a new neighborhood surrounded by green hills about to explode with color and a big sky above with constellations glimmering by moonlight.   I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

So how do I simplify?  How do I make the Holiday season memorable for my family without stressing us all out?  How do we make each moment count without obsessively counting those moments and lamenting as they slip through our fingers?

Consider this idea:  Choose what you are not going to do.  I know that sounds odd.  With the advent of Pinterest and all the other social media that reminds me of the amazing things everyone else is doing (making me think I should be, too) I can misguidedly believe that my kids are missing out if we don’t do x, y or z.  But what if I say no?  What if I say lets SLOW and hey, guys, y’all go ride your bikes and meet up with friends while I finish my book on the back porch.  What if celebration means we don’t actually go anywhere to enjoy Fall, but stay right here…put down deep roots and watch the hills explode come October?

What if I pick one or two delightful Autumn treats and we only indulge on Sundays?  Maybe we don’t need four dozen cut-out and artfully iced cookies.  Maybe one dozen will do.   I have been following the Trim Healthy Mama plan since June and feel better than I have in years.  Do I really want to undo all the good health I have attained because it’s getting cold outside?  Remember how awful sugar made me feel the last time I gave in?  It’s just not worth it.  I can make a hot Trimmy and enjoy every sip without guilt.  The ingredients for healthy homemade biscuits and gravy are in my pantry right now.  Soups and stews are so easy to make without ingredients that will spike my blood sugar.  It can be done!

Pumpkin farms and petting zoos abound around Nashville.  Scenic day drives and salted caramel everything are all around me.  There is no shortage of opportunity to go and see and do and get really, really tired.  But I have two dogs who enjoy being petted.  My kids have, sadly, outgrown the pumpkin farm phase and we just buy ours at Wal-Mart.  We have seven beautiful horses living in the pasture right in front of our house.  Trees cover the hills all around us and my porch is the perfect spot to enjoy the cooler evenings with a fire going in the firepit.  Why do I think “out there” is where the fun and memories lie?  Not that there is anything wrong with ANY of these activities, but sometimes the wisest and most restorative thing we can do is sit right here and just be together.  Let the boredom creep in.  They will survive and, likely, thrive in it.  Let long stretches of silence go uninterrupted.  Sip a sugar-free mug of hot chocolate and munch on a cinnamon muffin that blesses your body while your breath fogs in the crisp Autumn chill.

Cuddle the kids.  Even the big ones.

Keep Autumn simple.  Don’t worry about what everyone else says they are doing.  You do what brings peace and rest and the presence of God into your home.  Slow down.  On purpose.

Your family will thank you.

 

 

My Mama’s Chicken and Noodles

Two recipes in a row?  Well, yes, because I wanted to be sure to share this while it’s still cold outside and our bodies are craving warm foods!

My mom makes the BEST Chicken and Noodles.  I grew up with this as a holiday staple and just started making it myself in the past couple of years because, as you probably know, it always tastes best when your mom cooks it.

Am I right?

So, last week my middle and I decided to whip up a batch for our family.  It is a little time-consuming because you do hand-cut the noodles.  BUT IT IS NOT DIFFICULT.  And the process is actually fun when shared with someone you love.

Now, before I go any further I do want to let you know that I have all kinds of pictures of the steps involved in making this goodness, but none of the finished product because…

WE ATE IT.

My apologies.

But if you make it, you will understand.

Here you go!

Mom’s Chicken and Noodles

For the noodles…serves 3-4 (I double this for my family of seven, triple or quadruple for company!  It tastes even better the next day.  Trust me.)

1 egg

1 Tablespoon milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup all purpose flour (plus more as needed)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and work together until it forms a small ball.  Work in flour, kneading in thoroughly, until the dough is very dry and will not absorb any more flour.  It must be very dry and stiff.  Divide in two and roll each section as thin as possible.  Then fold it over and begin rolling from one edge until you have what resembles a Swiss Cake Roll.

Not that I eat those.

Oh, who am I kidding?  Swiss Cake Rolls defined much of my childhood…a perfect dessert after chicken and noodles, don’t you think?

Take a sharp knife and slice at alternating angles, making VERY thin slices.  I actually should have made mine thinner.  It gives you a better texture when they are cooked.Separate the noodles and lay them out on a flour-sack towel, covered with another, to dry overnight.

Doesn’t my girl have the prettiest hands?
I love that she loves to help…Beats and all:)

Covered and ready to dry out overnight.

For the soup…this is where it gets good!

1 small whole chicken (or 2 lb bone-in thighs/breasts)

1 carton chicken broth

1 teaspoon onion powder (optional)

salt & pepper

flour for thickening

Boil the chicken until the meat is falling off the bone.  Add a little salt and pepper to the water as it cooks.  Reserve and strain the broth.  Debone the chicken and either make bone broth with the leftover parts or toss ’em.

Bring the broth to a boil when you are ready to make the soup, adding salt, pepper and onion powder (if you like) to the broth just before adding the noodles.  Once the broth is boiling add the dry noodles, one handful at a time, stirring to make sure they don’t stick together.  Add more broth from the carton until the noodles have plenty of room to move around.  Taste as you go and add salt/pepper to taste.  Simmer until the noodles are cooked completely through and just firm to the bite.  If the soup needs thickening, combine 1 Tablespoon (or more if you have made a big batch) of flour with 1/2-1 cup of cold water and whisk the lumps away.  Add slowly, stirring constantly, to the chicken and noodles and simmer until the soup has the consistency you want.

Serve this simple, yummy concoction up in bowls with crusty bread and smile as your kids rise up and call you blessed.

Because they will!

If you make this, let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

Idiot-proof Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

Ok, y’all.  You are going to laugh, maybe even smack your head and say, “Duh,” but all I know is this simple little “recipe” made my kids happy on a snowy January day.  Get ready…

This will be so easy.

You just need a can of Campbell’s Broccoli-Cheddar soup, about a cup of leftover steamed, seasoned broccoli florets and some shredded cheese.  (I used Mexican blend because, well, I am from Texas.)

Put the can of soup, one can of milk, and the broccoli in a medium pot and simmer on med-low until bubbly.  Serve up in pretty bowls and sprinkle the cheese on top.

That’s it.

Yes, it’s just Campbell’s canned soup.  It’s not on anyone’s diet plan.  But something about the extra broccoli and the fresh cheese just added a bit of oomph and, maybe it was the frigid temps messing with my brain, but it was the perfect antidote to this cold, Tennessee winter weather!

So, try it.  Let me know what you think.  And feel free to share any “not exactly from scratch” tricks you have up your sleeve in the comments!

Stay warm, friends!

Belgian Waffles. Real ones.

We interrupt your weekend preparations with a recipe sure to make your mouth water, you pants tighter, and your family rise up and call you blessed!

Belgian Waffles, just like the ones found on a food truck in the Market of Stockel in Brussels, Belgium.  Our family took a trip to Belgium a few years ago and these, my friends, were some of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth.  After we arrived home I had to recreate them.   I perused countless recipe sites and blogs, finally finding one that was close and tweaking it until I achieved perfection.  Even our friends who lived in Belgium, when they came home for a visit, tried them and pronounced them “spot on!”

They have become a staple of our holiday celebrations.  We enjoy them on Thanksgiving morning, Christmas Eve, New Year’s and even Easter.  They are tres delicieux!

So, without further adieu, I give you the REAL Belgian Waffle.  (Do not be fooled by the IHOP, frozen or other versions.  They are not even CLOSE!)

Stockel Belgian Waffles

Ingredients:
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pearl sugar (such as Lars’ Own-you can order it from Amazon.  This is the MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT!)

Directions:
Sprinkle the yeast and white sugar over warm milk in a small bowl. The milk should be no more than 100 degrees F (40 degrees C).  Let stand for 15 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam.
Whisk the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract into the yeast mixture until evenly blended; set aside. Stir together the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place (80 to 95 degrees F (27 to 35 degrees C)) until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Gently mix in the pearl sugar.

Then (DO NOT skip this step.  It is the secret to the hot, doughy center and crispy outer layer!) roll the dough into baseball sized portions and place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  You will have between 8-12 dough balls depending on how big you make them.

Do you see the little pearl sugar chunks?  I’m telling you, they are about to turn into golden nuggets of bliss!

Refrigerate at least two hours, overnight if possible.

 

When you are ready to cook these lovelies…
Preheat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Place a ball of dough on the preheated waffle iron. Cook waffles until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes.

 

I mean LOOK at this.  Caramelized sugar sizzling around the edges, perfectly crispy crust with a soft, not-quite-done cookie dough texture.  Mmmm…

Repeat with the remaining dough balls. As you cook subsequent waffles, the sugar will begin to caramelize and the last waffle will be even more tasty than the first.  But don’t tell your kids.

 

 

I can hardly wait.  

 

Pretend you are being selfless and going last out of loving sacrifice for your hungry tribe.  It is worth the wait, I promise!

Allow the waffles to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.  You can top them with fruit, whipped cream, etc. but, honestly, mine have never lasted long enough to be topped with anything!  They just go straight to our bellies!

Please refrain from licking the screen.

 

Try it for yourself and tell me what you think!  Bon appetite!