December 27, 2010

God's promises

A gift from my best friend who knows me and my God so well.


I love rainbows. They remind me of God's promise to never forget his covenant. They remind me that he is always faithful. God still comes through on stuff, even when we doubt, even when we are impatient, even when he think he has forgotten us and the cries of our hearts.
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 
(Genesis 9:12-14 ESV)

December 21, 2010

It's Go Time

This is the last evening that I am guaranteed to have at home, for sure, until December 30. December 30th! Last night at home! My brain is about to explode. I have lists written in at least four different places. To do lists. Baking lists. Packing lists. Don't forget to take this to Mom's house lists. Wrap this. Clean that. So much to do. So little time.

But, first things first. It's time to make Grammy's Cheese Dip for our work pot-luck lunch tomorrow. Last year Kraft was in the number one spot on my naughty list. They discontinued one of the major ingredients in Grammy's recipe - the bleu cheese. It was like they had canceled Christmas. Luckily, all those calls to their customer service department to politely inform them of their major mistake paid off. Kraft bleu cheese jars were back on the shelves this year!

Grammy's Cheese Dip

2 jars Kraft Old English
1 jar Kraft Roka Bleu
1 8oz package cream cheese
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 (hefty) dash garlic powder







Mix soft cheeses together (best done with a wooden spoon - it's not worth getting out the mixer). Mix in Worcestershire sauce (I almost always add a little extra) and garlic powder.  Mix until everything is well mixed and it's a creamy solid color.

Refrigerate until serving. Serve with crackers and celery sticks. (No one eats the celery, but you'll feel better having a veggie on the table.)


December 20, 2010

Christmas Monday

Did you go to work today? I did. Did it feel like any other Monday? Nope? Mine either!

I love Christmas and I am in full count down mode. I didn't make a paper chain this year, but I'm really wishing I had. Nothing is more satisfactory than tearing off those red and green construction paper links at the end of a day and knowing that you are that much closer to Christmas. Family. Delicious food. Warm fires. Vacation!



Three more mornings waking up to the alarm clock.
Two more days of work.
One free night left to shop, wrap and pack.
Oh my!

December 15, 2010

Easy Coconut Macaroons

If you've been around the blog for a while you may have guessed that I have a soft spot in my heart for sweet treats - especially around Christmastime. This year is no exception. I've been baking up a storm. I ran my dishwasher twice today alone.

This Coconut Macaroon recipe came from my friend Angie last year. She brought them to a party and they were gone within minutes. Since then, they've become a staple in my kitchen. This is an easy recipe to have on hand. The ingredients can live in your pantry for ages and be ready for any last minute occasion and, at the same time, are festive enough to belong to your Christmas treat oeuvre.

Coconut Macaroons


1 bag shredded coconut (don't buy the cheap stuff, it's worth the extra 30 cents to get the real deal)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (I bought mine at Aldi's)













And...um...that's all.

Mix sweetened condensed milk and coconut together in a large bowl. (Sometimes I try to use a spoon, but I always end up mixing with my hands. Tip: Start the water in your sink ahead of time so you can wash your hands without touching anything, your hands will be very sticky.)

Roll the mixture into small bowls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake about 10 minutes at 300 degrees or until the tops start to brown.
Then, eat. YUM!


December 14, 2010

A Generous Heart


gen·er·ous

   

[jen-er-uhs]  Show IPA
–adjective
1.
liberal in giving or sharing; unselfish: a generous patron of the arts; a generous gift.
2.
free from meanness or smallness of mind or character;magnanimous.
3.
large; abundant; ample: a generous portion of pie.
4.
rich or strong in flavor: a generous wine.
5.
fertile; prolific: generous soil.
This advent, at my church, we've been talking a lot about being generous. We live in a world that is obsessed with stuff. Coveting versus contentment. I'm just as guilty as the next girl. I covet a nicer apartment, a better wardrobe, and I wouldn't turn down a large gift card to Starbucks. I like my comforts and I pay for them.

As a Christian, as a member of my church, though, I'm commanded to be generous. After all, my money, my resources, all that I have, and all that I am - it's God's anyway. I know that to be true. He's provided for me always. Always. I've been in want, but I've never been in need. When I give on a Sunday morning, I'm supporting the Gospel. That's why it's such a big deal. Ministry takes money. No way around it. I know that, I work for the church. If people stop giving, I stop getting a paycheck.

Sunday I left church a little sad. I'm sad because I haven't always managed my money very well. I'm ashamed because my debt keeps me from being extravagant in my generosity. My first job was  a very good one. I brought home a nice paycheck, but instead of paying off debt, I spent it. I justified it by spending some of it on charity and friends, but truth be told I spent most of it stupidly and on things that I thought would give me happiness, contentment, but they never did. Now, here I am looking at my future from a deficit. I wish I'd gone to a college that had offered a larger scholarship. I wish I'd saved more. I wish I'd never used a credit card. I wish I hadn't spent thousands to start a master's degree I never finished.

I can't go back in time. I can't undo my mistakes, but I can do my best to give regularly, sacrificially and cheerfully. Every month my largest check goes to my debtors. My second largest to my church. I hope that one day this is not the case.

What do I covet? I covet a life without debt so that I can give more than my 10%. So that, in addition to my church, I can give to those who are in need. So I can buy dinner for a friend who is short on cash. So I can pay the heating bill of someone I don't even know. So that I can give more to my church so that the Gospel can continue to go forth in our city.

December 13, 2010

A good excuse to take a day off.

Cookie. Exchange. Two words that were meant to go together. I love baking. I adore cookies. I do not have a fondness for messy kitchens or dirty dishes. So, on Friday, when I was invited to head out to the county and spill flour in someone else's kitchen with a gaggle of my favorite gals, I thought it was the perfect excuse to use up some vacation time.

I loaded up my go bag with flour, sugar, butter, and baking trays and headed out. Four (and a half) of us piled into a mini-van and headed across the river to, what felt like, the middle of no where. We passed open fields and barns and very few cars. Finally, we pulled up to a lovely brick house with Christmas music playing.

We took stock of the pantry...


And we mixed...

Grammy's sour cream cookies were a big hit!

Half Pint was a big help all day long.

and we baked...

Pumpkin chocolate chip. Yum.

and baked...

The oven wasn't ever without
at least
two cookie trays baking away.

Before we knew it the sun was close to setting for the day and we were exhausted. So we city girls piled back into the van and headed home laden with six varieties of cookie (more than 60 treats all together!) and not a speck of flour landed on my own kitchen floor. Now that's a good day!

December 12, 2010

My Tall Drink of Water

I'm not sure if you are aware, but someday I'm going to write a book. It will be about my family and it's tentatively entitled "My Family: You can't make this stuff up." Subtitled: "Names have been changed to protect the guilty." My Tall Drink of Water, that's what Cousin and I decided this chapter should be called.

Saturday my boyfriend met my dad. That's right. It was a big day, but, you know, one of those big days that you try not to make into a huge deal. Keep it light. Keep it relaxed. No biggie. Even though, we all know, it's a pretty big deal, more than medium-sized at least.

My father is great. Really. He is. He didn't used to be, but, now, he is and I am so grateful for that. He's kind, welcoming and charming. I knew my gentleman would like him and I knew my dad would like my guy. They had to. It wasn't that part that I was nervous about. It's just that, well, my dad, he says what he's thinking. His filter is not....how do you say?...turned on all that time. The first time he met my sister-in-law he asked her if other ladies hit on her since she had a short haircut. Nice, dad. Very PC. (For the record, her hair cut was super cute.) If you are not horrified and nervous on my behalf then, well, I just don't know what to say.

We arrived mid-morning. Introductions when smoothly. Dad even remembered his name (there was some concern here). We exchanged pleasantries. Then, just when I had begun to sigh my sigh of relief, it happened. We were walking into the kitchen for an early lunch before we got cozy in the mini-van and headed off to Little Sister's basketball game. Dad looks my guy up and down and exclaims "Erin, he sure is a tall drink of water!" Cringe. Blush. It's true, my guy, he's handsome and tall - basically wonderful. I could have gone without the comment though.

Oh well, on the scale of potential embarrassment that the day held, I think it went very well. This girl cannot complain. I escaped without major embarrassment and they loved him. He whispered their dog (a major accomplishment - Teddy's a biter), he fixed the computer, he made my step-mom laugh, sat through my ten year-old sister's basketball game, and appeared interested when my twelve year old brother told us about his robotics tournament.

On the way home my dad texted me with his "two thumbs up." Phew. Family introductions are nearly complete. Only one set of grandparents and a few random cousins, aunts and uncles to go. Sigh. I'm glad we're in this together.

December 8, 2010

Stir up our hearts.

Last night I celebrated the second week of advent with Cousin and on Thursday I'll celebrate with a dear friend. The season continues to be one of great hope and anticipation. God is. Jesus came. The Holy Spirit is here among us. Jesus is coming back. So good.

O King of all nations,
Jesus Christ,
only joy of every heart,
come and save your people.


Stir up our hearts, O Lord, and prepare us for the coming of your only-begotten Son, that we may bring glory and praise to Him who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God.

December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I love traditions. Sadly over the years, many of the traditions of my childhood have come and gone. We don't pretend that Santa sneaks in with presents while we are gone at Midnight Mass. We don't cram the entire Mueller family into a three room (that's room, not bedroom) house and eat Grandma's burnt turkey and cauliflower with cheese sauce. I was ok with seeing that one go, but I'm glad to say that St. Nicholas Day lives on.

Every year we'd put out our shoes and, every December 6th, we'd wake up to shoes stuffed with Minty Bells and a new ornament. St. Nick, as he was known in our house, didn't leave anything extravagant, but those Minty Bells were the best, and I loved hearing the story of the true Santa Claus. Even after I was mostly a grown-up, out of college and on my own, my mom would find a way into my apartment and stuff my shoes full of yummy surprises or mail off a little box marked "DO NOT OPEN until St. Nicholas Day."

This year, I wanted to share the St. Nicholas tradition with my fella. And, since I don't have easy access to his regular shoes, I went back to my roots and crafted it up. I found this easy tutorial for paper shoes on doodlesandnoodles and set to work. I think it's a win.






December 5, 2010

Merry Early Christmas!

This Saturday was pretty much a perfect day. I slept in...until 10! That's huge. Usually sleeping in is around 8 o'clock for me. I had fallen asleep on my couch so I woke up in front of my Christmas tree. That's the best. I had a mug of the best coffee. I wrapped Christmas presents.


I cleaned the house (I even mopped the floors...well, that was after I found the sign of an old enemy. Luckily I think the little turd dropped out of the vacuum and his friends haven't moved in.) I took a leisurely shower. And that was all before lunch! I think somehow God made my hours expand or something. When I went to pick up my favorite fellow after lunch, the day only got better.

Somebody may or may not be very patient about opening presents. Package #1 had arrived earlier in the week and somebody else may or may not have been able to wait to give it to me. I didn't mind. (Insert grin here.)



My own tea making supplies! These aren't off-brand tea bags either. No way, this is fancy stuff!


A personal tea pot. Isn't it cute? There's enough room for two steaming mugs of tea. Three kinds of tea - spearmint, Irish breakfast and rooibos vanilla. Yum. Sugar crystals. They're so much prettier than your plain old run of the mill sugar - and so tasty.


I can neither confirm nor deny that I have had 6 cups of tea in the last 20 hours.

December 4, 2010

Practical Advent Tips

Advent can be a great foundation for tradition building. I've been celebrating for years with close friends and hope to, one day, celebrate daily with my husband and children.

All you need is an Advent wreath and some time to gather together and even that is flexible. Setting aside time daily as an individual and then gathering with friends one to two times per week has worked out well for me.

There are all sorts of wreaths. Many types are available at your local Catholic Supply or on Amazon. I prefer the traditional three purple and one rose candle set-up, although I currently have all white candles because I couldn't find the colored candles at the right price.

For the prayers, ask your church if they have any traditions, if not, there are some great resources online. I use prayers from adapted from this site.

I also have enjoyed praying the daily offices out of Phyllis Tickle's book The Divine Hours. They are in sync with the traditional church calendar and geared towards advent throughout December.

December 3, 2010

Come and Dwell Among Us

Advent is upon us.  I am grateful for this season that we remember and celebrate that Jesus did come and look with hope-filled hearts to the time that he will come again.

O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,
Desire of every nation,
Savior of all peoples,
Come and dwell among us.

These four weeks are an occasion to remember that we live in the darkness of a fallen world and that Jesus brings us light and great hope.

John 1:1-5, 9-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through hi,, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines int he darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh not of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

December 2, 2010

Christmastime is Here

I have loved Christmastime ever since I was a little girl. It appeals to the little traditionalist in me.

Yes, that's a Flashdance t-shirt.
No, I have no idea why my mother let me wear it to visit Santa.

Yesterday I could hardly wait to pack up my computer and leave the office. My commute home was punctuated with stops at three stores and ended with a car bursting with bags full of the Christmas essentials. Sugar, flour and pounds of butter for baking. Whole chickens and Brussels sprouts for roasting. Little gifts to fill stockings hung with care. Trees and poinsettias for decorating.

Even the bathroom got a poinsettia this year.

After three trips down to the car (living on the second floor can have it's advantages but I never remember what they are after a big trip to the grocery), I had finally unloaded my loot. I put some soup on the stove, settled my favorite gentleman on the couch with a good book, and set about untangling the Christmas lights. No matter how careful I am to roll them up, unknotted, the year before they always manage to work their way into a giant mess over the spring and summer months. Maybe they are just mad at me for leaving them in the scary basement. I wouldn't like it down there either.


Every year growing up my mo.... uh hum... St. Nicholas would leave my brother and I a new ornament. When I left my mom's house for my own home, they were packed up for me to use to decorate my own tree.


These ornaments hung on my Grandma's tree for most of my life. The blonde on the left is Cousin. I'm not sure what happened to her other pig-tail. I'm on the right with my boy-cut brown hair. We jointly inherited the ornaments when Grandma stopped putting up a tree. Now they spend every other year on my tree or hers. We couldn't bear to separate them.


Unpacking the shoe boxes of carefully wrapped treasures is like seeing old friends after a long year. My favorite decoration is the nativity scene. I bought this one on a trip to Burkina Faso, West Africa several years ago. It's hand carved soapstone and the reason I loved it so was not just because it's beautiful, but also because baby Jesus is a separate piece. That way, he won't make his appearance until Christmas morning.

Once the lights were up and the ornaments were hung, Christmas had officially descended on my apartment.

November 29, 2010

So much Thanksgiving. So little stomach.

I think I'm still full.

Yea...we're cute.

Wine. Handsome guy stoking the fire. Smile.

Thanksgiving day with my family. Boyfriend meet the crazies. All in all it was quite tame. I shouldn't have been worried. Aunts remained sober. Embarrassing childhood photos were kept at a minimum. We came. We ate. We were on the road before the tryptophan could put us down.

A beautiful drive set to the smooth sounds of Jon Yerby.

Oklahoma bound! Three days that could arguably demand that this post be re-titled "How much can we eat in 72 hours?" Turns out the answer is - a lot. A whole lot. Chocolate cookies. Banana pudding. Oyster stuffing. Garden eggs. Lasagna. Blueberry french toast. More garden eggs. Turkey sandwiches. And that was just the first stop.

Cow babies!

Then it was off to Tulsa. More family. More food magic. Taco Bueno (which is, in fact, bueno), duck, ribs from Jameel's, pecan pie with whiskey sauce (yes - whiskey sauce!!). We also managed to fit in two trips to Jamba Juice and a quick pop-in at Topeca Café in honor of Momma West. I almost forgot the biscuits and bacon gravy (mmm....I hope Nanny is willing to do that every year). Oh and Schlotzsky's. Ah geez. Thinking about all this food again makes me want to take a nap.

Wish you were there, momma! 

All in all, a really great trip. Meeting the extended families part one concluded and, I think, a big win. This girl is excited about part two coming in two weeks. Watch out Peoria. Here we come. We're on a roll.

November 24, 2010

Baking, baking, baking....

Schedule yesterday:

Work. Meetings. Work. Power Nap. Bake. Cousin. Bed.

....alright...I also watched some Friday Night Lights on Netflix streaming. Season 4. I'm addicted.





November 22, 2010

Tasty Treat turned Perfect Gift

Thanksgiving is Thursday, this Thursday. I'm not sure how that happened. It really snuck up on me this year and, this year, is a big one. There will be the traditional afternoon eat-your-heart-out-two-turkey-lots-of-sides dinner at my mom's house and then it's time to hit the road again and head to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I'll be spending the majority of the holiday weekend with various members of a certain handsome guy's family. I'm really looking forward to it. There will be naps, walking around on the farm land and, I'm pretty sure, I've heard something about a trip to Jamba Juice (?). I'm also hoping to sneak in a trip to Topeca Coffee for a cup of Santa Ana roast. But, all this to say, that a girl shouldn't go meet the extended family empty-handed.

What does it take to turn a tasty treat into the perfect gift? The packaging makes all the difference. You could just stick some Holiday Pecans in some regular old tupperware or you could put on your crafting hat and snazz up a few mason jars.



What you need:

Mason Jars (I happened to have a few mason jars in the basement, but you can also pick them up at almost any discount or grocery store. They'll run you about $15 for a dozen, depending on the size and type you choose.)
White Shipping Labels or Craft Paper and Tape (You'll use these to make your own labels)
Ribbon or Fabric


I designed my stickers on the computer and printed them directly on the shipping labels. It takes a steady hand to cut them out, but creates a nice sharp look. You could also get extra-crafty with some markers (a great job for little ones if you're making this a family project).


Wrap some pretty ribbon around the body of the jar and fasten with your sticker label.



Next, divvy up your treat of choice (I'm using Holiday Pecans) evenly between your mason jars and be sure that the lid is sealed tight. Ta-da!



I kept everything pretty simple due to time and travel, but you can go all out with your jar decoration. They make great containers for any bite sized gift. Go. Bake. Decorate. Give.

November 21, 2010

Holiday Pecans

Consider my holiday baking procrastination ended.

The Recipe:

This is my mom's recipe. She makes them best, but mine turned out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Making the pecans is easy, it just takes some time. I tripled the recipe below so I'd have enjough to enjoy and share.

1 egg (separated)
4+ cups pecan halves (the sugar mixture is enough to coat more than the 4 cups of pecans the recipe calls for)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Beat the egg white until foamy. Gently stir in the pecan halves until lightly coated. Set aside.


Combine cinnamon, sugar and salt. Sprinkle over pecans and toss gently until coated.


Spread coated pecans on a lightly greased 15x10x1 in. Jelly Roll pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Cool completely and store in an air tight container.