Monday, February 28, 2011

Grocery Bag

This week marks the beginning of the end of medical school for me: only fifteen days to go!  Life at home must go on, however, so here are my ideas to get us through a week of dinners.  I am looking forward to a few standard favorites (for T's call nights) and a few new ideas for our nights together.

Day One
Chicken pad thai
This fabulous recipe was shared with me by one of my best friends. We first enjoyed it with our medical school study group.  I can't wait to enjoy it again.

Dry ingredients: 
1lb thin rice noodles (prepare prior to beginning stir fry)
1/4th c peanut oil
1/4th c shallots, finely chopped
1lb thinly sliced chicken breast, ~1in pieces
4 egss, mixed
4c fresh bean sprouts
1/2 c peanuts
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
2c asparagus, cut into 1in pieces
8 stalks green onion, cut into 1in pieces
Thai chile sauce (sriracha)

Sauce ingredients (prepare early and set aside):
4 Tbs soy sauce
3/4th c granulated sugar
4 tsp ground black pepper
8 cloves minced garlic
10 Tbs fish sauce

1. put oil in wok until smoke appears, then add shallots. cook until slightly brown
2. add chicken and saute until light brown
3. add asparagus and stir fry for 1-2min
4. make a hole in center of wok ingredients and scramble the 4 eggs in the middle of the wok
5. add noodles, sauce and stir for 6-8min
6. add green onions and cook another 1-2min
7. add bean sprouts and Thai chile sauce (to desired heat level) and mix thoroughly
8. serve with peanuts and fresh-squeezed lime juice on top

Day Two
Hamburger Stroganoff from Cooking Light Magazine
with egg noodles and steamed veggies
This is a family favorite.  The kids devour it.  A quick, fresh version of stroganoff.  What's not to love?

Photo and recipe at

Day Three
Veggie Omelets 
(try this recipe version from Finding Joy In My Kitchen)
with fruit salad
Gotta love brunch for dinner!

Day Four
Baked Potato and Broccoli Soup from Southern Living Magazine
with homemade bread
This is one of my favorite soups.  Easy to pull together in the evening after work.
Photo and recipe from

Day Five
Broiled Ham Steak with
Sesame Noodles from Tasty Kitchen
Ham steaks are a family favorite.  I also love this versatile sesame noodle recipe, perfect for incorporating extra veggies into a tasty meal.

Photo and recipe at Tasty Kitchen

 Blessings on your kitchen this week!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Our (mini) Food Revolution, Part 4

Part Four: The Sustainment

Fifteen months into our (mini) food revolution, despite the challenges posed by family meals, hectic work schedules, limited budgets and the universal phenomenon of positive entropy, we are, if only by a miracle, still going strong.  I have learned a lot of lessons and adapted a great deal to numerous setbacks. The lessons I have learned and adaptations I have made will help us sustain our culinary changes, healthy habits and someday (hopefully) help us embrace new ones.  
For instance:

~Because our meat is more expensive, I learned to prepare many meals with less of it and learned to use every part of the meat that I had.  One organic chicken eventually became up to three meals and from the carcass came oodles of organic chicken broth that I wouldn't have to buy.  Not even my meat loving T seemed to notice or mind.  Plus, we loved the amazing steaks that came with our cow, and they have been a great treat to enjoy every few weeks.

~I FINALLY got in the habit of meal planning (thank you, Grocery Bag, you are my saving grace many weeks).  This allowed me to survey what needed to be used in our fridge (less wasted produce), be more specific and frugal about what I bought at the store each week, and helped me avoid the panic-stricken moments of returning home from work without a dinner plan and only time-consuming raw ingredients on hand.  A few hours of prep over the weekend yielded success after success at dinner time and in the grocery check-out lane.  

~Small changes can make just as much difference as major overhauls, and probably more, because the sanity they allow fosters fewer failures and greater sustainment.  Small changes also better accommodate the natural learning curve that comes with making changes in the kitchen.  Hey, dude, if you are like me and took Intro to Islamic Art in college rather than Cooking Healthy Family Dinner 101 (which, by the way, wasn't even offered!) then we may have a lot to learn and we can cut ourselves some slack.

~There are more options everyday for buying free-range, grass-fed, organic and whole grain.  Many farms offer meat and vegetable CSA packages (CSA stands for "community supported agriculture") which offer the pricing savings of buying in bulk, but don't require you to absorb a whole half cow into your freezer at once like I did when I first bought ours.  Most require you to pay for several months up front and then the product is delivered or picked up on a monthly basis.  Also, more specialty and regular grocery stores are stocking free-range, organic and local products, and generic versions of whole grain products in response to demand and have started adding those products to their weekly price deals to attract interested consumers.  

~Bread makers are awesome, sourdough starters are needy, homemade chicken stock is amazing,  a freezer full of farm-fresh meat is a blessing, and homemade tortillas take extra time but never go to waste in our house.

NOTA BENE: Our kids still occasionally McDonalds.  We have not found some holy grail of food, our kitchen is not (and does not aspire to be) perfect, nor do I think that any grass-fed, free-range, organic, etc is without counter argument or blemish.  If you have me over for dinner, I can assure you that I will not be scrutinizing the meal, wondering what carb your meat ate, or picking out the non-organic ingredients in the casserole;  I will be so giddy with gratitude over not having to plan and prepare the meal myself that I will be the first one to have seconds, and I will be licking my plate as I get up to buss my dish.

Thanks to all of you who have encouraged me to both stretch myself and be realistic along our (mini) revolutionary path.  Thanks also to all of you who have inspired me and taught me your tricks (T especially thanks you).  Skeptics, remain skeptical, just keep an open mind (I am glad I did; I also think scrutiny is warranted and beneficial in many cases).  To those of you who are on the sidelines dying to get in the game, join us as we continue to take one baby step at time.  And to you, our first grass-fed cow and pig, we are thankful for the past 15 months of meals and all that God provided to us through you! 

The end,  I mean, onto plan my meals for the week.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Our (mini) Food Revolution, Part 3

Continued from Part Two: The Strategy

Part Three: The Setbacks

"Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can."
~Arthur Ashe

At this point in the story, someone needs to cross their eyeballs pretend to gag.  If you don't do it, I will.  

Grass-fed, free-range meat, organic fruit salad and homemade tortillas all sound great until we wake up to find ourselves in our real world of screaming toddlers, tight budgets and crazed schedules, right?  Id est, would someone please remind the good lady that she is one, a medical student, two, a mother of two toddlers, and three, making meals for a family of four on a very tight grocery budget (thank you, federally-set resident salaries) ?  At a certain point along our revolutionary journey I found myself in each of the following rather exasperating scenarios:
By a few months into our family food revolution,
I frequently found myself on the warmer end of this scale....

- Home from work at 7pm with no dinner ready, two crabby toddlers, so hungry I could eat my fist, and LIVID that I had no preservative-laden boxed dinner to make and no ideas how to use the wheat flour, week-old oranges and frozen ground beef that I had on hand (at least it was grass-fed ground beef, right?).

-Driving around to three grocery stores on a precious Saturday afternoon trying to find the best price on organic produce that was too darn expensive at the first store, totally unavailable at the second and, SHOOT ME NOW, even more expensive at the third.

-Staying up until midnight reading blog after blog about the dangers of GMO's (genetically-modified organisms), the merits of grinding one's own flour and eating only raw foods, why I should only make sourdough bread, and why I should have been soaking my grains all this time.....only to lay awake until 2am worrying about whether I really needed to do those things and, if so, how I would find the time.  Please just breathe.

My mother has an affectionate term for the crazed individuals she encounters in life: "gerbils on crack."  She most often and most appropriately uses the term to refer to her justifiably neurotic yorkshire terrier, Tinkerbell.  I will appropriately use the term to refer to myself, especially during the above-mentioned periods of our food revolution.  There must be a better way.

And, slowly but surely, through each situation, I found that there is.

Last spring, T forwarded me an article from ABC News entitled, "How to Eat Well on a Food Stamp Budget" (I later posted my thoughts on the article here). The AP had asked two chefs and the editors of one of my favorite cooking magazines to plan out 7 days of meals for a family of four within a food stamp budget.  Although we are fortunate enough to not qualify for food stamps, I felt both validated in my struggles and fascinated by how much organization, education and work goes into family meal preparation. Even the experts noted how much advance thought and work went into planning the menu, shopping and preparing the made-from-scratch meals they proposed. They acknowledged that this would be a hard thing for many families, especially with two working parents, erratic schedules, tight budgets, or less knowledge about home cooking.  

Balance is key in many situations, such as family food revolutions, for example.

So, I had to be real with myself:

Grass-fed, free range meat is expensive.  Our budget does not allow for unlimited amounts.

Organic produce may be expensive or unavailable.  Our budget does not allow for unlimited amounts.

I will not be able to make everything from scratch.  

I do not want to make everything from scratch.

I am not able to grow my own produce.  We live in a city in a home with no garden space.

Every alarmist internet post is not certifiable scientific evidence that must be followed or face imminent human peril.  It can be hard to know what is best for us to eat.  There may not be a right answer, we are mortal, and we are all going to die someday regardless of what we eat.  

Thank God for the food that you do have, the money you have to buy it, 
and any faculties you have to prepare it.

Just as important as the setbacks were the lessons I learned from them and the ways I (*sometimes*) adapted to them.  Which brings me to how I have not only survived but am learning to thrive in our post-revolutionary kitchen.

Next:  Part Four: The Sustainment

Our (mini) Food Revolution, Part 2

Continued from Part One: The Setup

Part Two: The Strategy

"Food is essential for life.  Therefore, make it good."
~Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-a

The last time I bought meat at the grocery store was October 2009.  

I still remember the first dinner I made after T and I finished watching Food Inc.  I made a pork roast, one that I had proudly purchased as part of a buy-one-get-one-free deal a few weeks earlier.  While the kids munched happily on their dinner, T and I picked at our plates.  Although we are both committed omnivores, we had both been affected by the scenes of industrial animal farming methods.  I am ok with an animal dying to provide food for people to eat.  But, I suddenly felt that my purchasing power was supporting some industry practices that respected neither the lives of animals nor the people that raised and processed them.  If my dollar could support better farming conditions, less antibiotics & disease spread, healthier animals & more nutritious meat, that seemed to me to be the way to spend it.

I decided we would finish all the conventional store-bought meat in our refrigerator and freezer (no reason to be wasteful on top of everything else), but my next purchases would be free-range and grass-fed.  Why did I think that would be better for our family?  My analysis went something like this:

Nutrition and Benefits of Grass-fed Meat

Grass-fed BeefGrain-fed Beef
Low saturated fat levels, similar to chicken breastSaturated fat levels 3-4 times higher.
2-6 times higher levels of omega-3 (most often found in fish).Grain-fed cattle lose nearly all omega-3 during their time in the feedlot.
3-5 times the level of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a possible new defence against cancer.As CLA comes from the grass itself, low levels of it are present.
Reduced exposure to E.coli bacteria.E.coli is a constant risk and growing concern where animals are overcrowded.
No risk of BSE (mad cow disease), since cattle are not fed animal by-products.Cases of BSE have been confirmed in this country among conventionally-raised beef.
Ecologically friendly agricultural practices."Factory" production requires significant energy, chemicals and gasoline.

I was won over by the information I found at well-respected sites like  Additionally, I was impressed with the way I was able to confirm the information I was reading about grassfed beef and free-range farming with primary scientific sources.  For instance, claims that grass-fed beef results in a reduced exposure to harmful E. coli bacteria are based on a major study published in the 2000 Nebraska Beef Report (check out pages 39-4, it's a long document).  The 2000 report confirmed previous study findings that even short-duration hay feeding reduces acid-resistant E. coli populations (read: bad E.coli) in cattle feces by over 99% (page 41).

While the daily health benefits might have been enough to make me switch, the farming families I met while searching for our cow and pig were the icing on the cake.  I found several great grass-fed and free range farmers in our Minnesota area and I loved that my dollars were directly supporting their families, their organic, sustainable farming methods and their animal treatment.  While I could buy free-range and grass-fed meat at certain specialty stores in town, I found that bulk buying from family farms was tremendously cost-effective.  Here are some of the farms that we have purchased from:

Grassfed Cattle Co. : I purchased our first grass-fed beef 20 lb. starter pack from them and loved it.
Anderson Farm:  Soon after, I bought my 1/4 pig and four chickens from the Andersons, located in WI.  It took us nearly a year to finish our 1/4 pig.  Their meat is outstanding, competitively priced and they have regular farm open houses with cooking lessons, tastings, animal viewing, etc.  I love getting their emails; you can sign up on their website.
Sunshine Harvest Farm: I later met the Brauchers at a local farmers market and was won over by their chicken prices when I had just run out.  They have another great farm raising grass-fed beef & lamb and free range pork, chicken and eggs.
Shepherd's Hill Farm:  Another outstanding grass-fed beef farm in MN, managed by a great family.

Before I knew it, our basement freezer was full of grass-fed, free range meat.  It has taken us 15 months to go through a 1/4 pig, 10 chickens and a 1/2 cow that we split with my parents. 

Following our transition to grass-fed beef, I made several other, less dramatic changes to our fridge and pantry: 

*High fructose corn syrupI started looking at labels and stopped buying products containing high fructose corn syrup.  I posted previously about that decision here.  I was amazed how omnipresent HFCS is (in everything from the yogurt I was buying to the pancake syrup and tomato sauce I used) and grew increasingly concerned by studies correlating adverse health effects to its omnipresence in our diet.  Thankfully, my changes were mostly cost-neutral, as many vendors or grocers carry items that use cane sugar in place of HFCS.  Bonus, none of my family members seemed to notice or care.  By way of update, I have since noticed that several of the brands I previously stopped buying due to their use of HFCS have since changed to sugar.  Perhaps our votes are counting?

*Whole wheat and complex carbohydrates: whether pasta, bread, tortillas or goldfish crackers, I began to stock the whole wheat varieties of the carbs we ate.  I started experimenting with other complex grains and adding legumes to our diet too.  The result was greater satiety and a lower glycemic index for my family.

*Selectively organic:  I also previously posted on this transition here.  I became convinced of the adverse human health and environmental effects of certain pesticide use on our produce.  In an effort to maintain a rational cost-effective organic approach (I needed to prioritize because organics can be expensive) I started using the "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides," which you can find at  Summer farmer's markets, freezing when fruit is on sale and shopping around (Midtown Market Produce Exchange is the BEST!) has helped me keep my costs in check.

*Make it homemade:  The best way to know what my family is eating is to make it myself.  Over the past 18 months I have learned to make pita bread, tortillas, crackers, frosting, salad dressing, granola cereal, granola bars, irish soda bread, sourdough starter, beef, chicken and vegetable broth, oxtail soup, macaroni & cheese and countless other foods myself.  I started making all our bread in our bread maker, because buying wholesale oats, whole wheat flour and yeast was much cheaper than buying multiple fancy, healthy loaves at the store every week.

I should emphasize that I made several of these changes gradually, not all at once.  Many articles like this one in Time Magazine on the high price of cheap food renewed our resolve along the way.  However, these changes took some trial and error.  And in the interest of full disclosure, our revolution was not without setbacks.

Next: Part Three: The Setbacks....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Johnson Food Revolution

Next week I will be finishing the last of the meat from our grass-fed cow and free-range pig.  This has been a 15 month journey for us.  It represents a milestone of sorts, as this cow and pig were our first venture into the land of free-range bulk meat.  In honor of our first, beloved, grass-fed, free-range friends, and because I have received several requests for more information about where and why we buy our grass-fed meat, it is high time I shared the whole tale.  In our family's culinary transformation we claim neither originality nor fanaticism.  But, because the last 15 months have been filled with big changes in our shopping and eating I feel justified in entitling it The Johnson Family (mini) Food Revolution.

Our story begins with two skeptics, T & B.  Not just skeptics but self-confident skeptics, which is truly the worst kind.  We were both raised in great families with mothers who are exceptional cooks, and, being of average healthy weight and (oh, bother) in medical training, we thought rather poorly of the organic, Whole Foods, anti-fast food crowd.  Sure, in our daily professional lives we were awash in the medical complications of the very real Obesity Epidemic.  But surely the problem is really just one of failing to observe moderation, right?  After all, aren't those "wholesome" grocery stores just for food nuts and trendsetters who are more concerned with the fashion statement of their grocery bags than putting meals on the table?  Aren't organics just snobbery -- more expensive and elitist versions of the fruit we commoners could afford?   Who cares if my apple came from Bloomington or Brazil?  And what self-respecting, freedom-loving American would forbid other citizens the occasional, convenient, and cost-efficient pleasure of a Big Mac?

And then, in October 2009, we, the skeptics, viewed the documentary Food Inc.  The tag line promised, "You'll never look at dinner the same way again," and we scoffed.   But, as the documentary brought us through America's industrialized food system and it's far-reaching effects on our health, environment, economy and workers rights, our scoffing slowly softened and gave way to disbelief.  We were able to see connections between the American food production industry and our daily experience with obesity, infectious disease, other diseases and preventative health.  We bristled at the catch-22 experienced by many rural farming communities which looked remarkably like towns we lived near growing up.  But, in the end, we felt hopeful and empowered in our ability to change both our family's eating habits and the system, because after all, as the documentary pitched, when it comes to food we all vote three times every day.  We were ready to cast different votes.

Next: Part Two: The Strategy

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2 Weeks to Ash Wednesday

Two weeks from today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  I have been thinking of how to best prepare for March 9th, mostly because I am scheduled to be taking my clinical skills Board exam in Chicago that day.  I am overwhelmed by the inconvenience and cost of having to travel to Chicago, take the test, leave my family.  It feels like so much unnecessary hassle....

I realize that is, coincidently, how I tend to approach Lent and Ash Wednesday as well.  So much inconvenience and personal cost (read: sacrifice) to observe the Lenten disciplines of fasting, giving, and repentance.  Isn't it really just unnecessary hassle?

The preparation that I am putting into accomplishing my clinical skills exam is not wasted energy, though it does feel like a hassle this week because I would rather think about other things.  When I finish the exam, I will have completed the last major hurdle of medical school before graduation.  The preparation and the process of the exam bring me closer to my goal.

Likewise, any preparation I put toward my Lenten disciplines, any commitment I make toward my Lenten observations should be directed toward a higher goal -- renewing and strengthening my relationship with God.  Far from being a hassle, it is among the greatest of opportunities!  And by preparing ahead of time for the season, perhaps I can make the most of each Lenten day and the opportunities that the traditions and observances provide.  So perhaps tomorrow, after I finalize the logistical plans for my March 9th trip to Chicago, I will turn my thoughts toward the other significance of March 9th and consider preparing for Lent.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Grocery Bag

We're back at it this week.  I will need to be resourceful, as we are snowed in around here!  Here are my ideas for dinner success in our kitchen.  

Day One
Bourbon Chicken with basmati rice
This is a family favorite, way better than takeout.

Bourbon Chicken by Queen B
Serves 2-3

1 lb boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs ginger, minced
1/3 cup carrots, finely chopped
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fruit juice (pineapple, apple, or orange)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbs ketchup
1 Tbs cider vinegar
1 Tbs finely chopped orange peel (about 1/4 orange peel)
2-3 cups frozen broccoli floretes
1 Tbs corn starch

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok.  Add the chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned.  
Remove chicken from pan.  Add garlic, ginger and carrot.  Saute for 2 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients (except broccoli and corn starch).
 Heat sauce over medium until well mixed and dissolved.
Add chicken back to pan and bring to a rapid boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for ~20 minutes.
Add 2 Tbs water to cornstarch, mix to form a slurry.  
Add cornstarch slurry and broccoli to pan, cover and simmer 3-5 minutes until heated through and sauce is thickened.

Serve over rice.

Day Two
Creamy Tomato Soup by Martha Stewart with
Canadian bacon & mozzarella sandwich squares
Yum.  Perfect for the cold, snowy days we are having this week.
Photo and recipe from

Day Three
Meatballs with egg noodles
and roasted carrots from Everyday Food Magazine
Toss the egg noodles with the meatballs, pan juices and some parmesan.
Photo and recipe from

Photo and recipe from

Day Four
Steak fajitas from Real Simple with homemade tortillas
and mango salsa from Cooking Light Magazine
We are finishing up our grass-fed cow this week.  My friend's homemade tortillas are our favorite and a must-try!  Mangos look great right now and are a welcome visitor to our weekly fruit rotation.
Photo and recipe from

Day Five
Nicoise Salad from Simply Recipes
I love nicoise salads, and this is a great recipe.  But, this will be a new attempt for me with my kids.
I will be sure to segregate the salad elements for them, as they do like the individual ingredients (potatoes, eggs, green beans, tuna, etc) and are more likely to eat everything if it is separated and recognizable. Wish me luck!

Photo and recipe from

Blessings on your kitchen!

First Trip Away

After four years of parenthood, T and I just enjoyed a first-time experience together this weekend: a trip without the kids.  What a rite of passage.  I feel like the luckiest woman in the world tonight.

I haven't mentioned it before, because I didn't think it would actually happen--even up to the last minute.
But in secret, I have been dying to go with T to San Diego since last fall, when we first considered the possibility of combining a 5-year anniversary trip with his conference schedule.

Ah, the AAOS.  You know if it's in town.  

Impossible logistic after impossible logistic seemed to stand in our way.   To make a long and overly-complicated story short and sweet,  I finally flew out to meet T in San Diego on Thursday for the remainder of his conference weekend.  When I stepped off the SuperShuttle into the hotel lobby late  Thursday night, I couldn't believe that I had actually made it.

The view from the hotel lobby the next morning was exquisite:

  A smitten couple and a beautiful city:  what fairy tales are made of.

T had already attended quite a bit of his conference before I arrived, but I still managed to be there for his presentation day, which of course made me burst with pride.

T presenting at the AAOS conference.  What a guy.  I proudly served as his personal paparazzi. 

When he was done, we headed out to Coronado Island for a late lunch at a fabulous, perfectly-priced cafe, Tent City,

a walk to the beach, 

On the beach after the conference.  Goodness, I love this man.

and tour of the famous Hotel Del Coronado.

On the steps of the Hotel Del.

Meanwhile, G-Bear and E-Bear were having a romping good time sleeping over with Grandmo and Papa.   Smothered with grandparent love and chocolate milk, Disney movies, brownies, & play places, G & E-Bear were blissfully unaware of the monumental parental-separation milestone that their parents were enduring.   Thankfully, we quickly realized what a great vacation the kids were having themselves, which meant that T and I were able to set aside our anxieties and really treasure our alone-time together.

Forty-eight hours alone with my best friend, who is also (all praise to Divine Graciousness) the love of my life and the amazing father of my children, was nothing shy of heavenly rejuvenation.  People, I can not overstate the fun we had.  Honestly, I could be shut in a TV box alone with T for 48 hours and I would probably love every minute of it, but we were in freaking San Diego!  Plus, on Friday, while T took a nap, I got to take a bath by myself.  You did indeed read that correctly.  I find motherhood is glorious in many respects, but bathroom privacy is more mythical in my life than the unicorn. Yet, this weekend I had an entire bathroom to myself for over 20 minutes, I took a bath, and I read a magazine.  Now that is a hat trick.

On Saturday our good friends drove all the way from L.A. to spend the afternoon with us.  Gosh, are we spoiled rotten now.  T & T were unstoppable as usual,

T&T at Neighborhood, where we grabbed a bite together.

while J and I lovingly rolled our eyes and enjoyed catching up.

J and I enjoy catching up.

Our trip did have a rather unexpected ending.  Late Saturday night, T got a phone call from the airline, informing him that our flight the next afternoon had been cancelled due to snow forecasts in MN.  Not sweet.  T had been rescheduled to fly out at 6:30AM instead, but the airline hadn't included me in the rescheduling.  After 4 hours on hold waiting for a representative (now it's 2AM), we were informed that the soonest I could be guaranteed to fly out of San Diego was Monday night, arriving into MN on Tuesday morning.   So, instead of enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning at our hotel, we were headed to the airport at 4AM on our rescheduled SuperShuttle.  After unsuccessfully fighting back tears for 2 hours, waiting at the gate to see if I could fly standby on T's new flight, I nearly collapsed with thanks and relief when the attendant handed me a boarding pass and said I could board the plane home.  I have never been so happy to land at the MSP airport.....thank you, Jesus.

We're off to church in the snow!

Yet, all's well that ends well.  We have spent the day as a reunited family, sharing stories from our weekend, napping and watching the snow fall behind our cozy window.  Tonight we trudged home from evening church on foot through the snow piles, because there was too much snow to drive our car. I couldn't help but think of being on the beach with T the day before.   Yet, the best part is being home together.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Hotel for Daddy

Last night the kids and I kissed our beloved T good-bye at the airport as he headed out to a conference where he will be presenting this week.

G-Bear:  "Mommy, where will Daddy STAY while he is gone?  Will he stay in a house?"
Me:  "No, sweetie, he will stay in a hotel.  Remember how Mary and Joseph tried to stay in a hotel when they went to visit Bethlehem?"
G-Bear:  "Will there be room for Daddy?"
Me:  "Yes, sweetie, there should be room for Daddy."
G-Bear: "Is Daddy ever coming BACK?"
Me: "Oh, yes, G-Bear, he will be back in just a few days."
G-Bear: "*Sigh* I miss him already."

....Me too, G-Bear, me too.

Thank you dinner

This week, with apologies, I have no grocery bag to offer.   This is partly because we have been feasting on leftovers for most of the week!  This past weekend we hosted all of T's junior residents and significant others for "Thank you Dinner" for all their hard work during his last rotation at the VA hospital.  We had a great night with lots of fun people and wonderful food.  Here was our menu; since the leftovers have already graced our table in various ways this week, this is as close as I can come to a grocery bag :)

Thank You Dinner from T & B
(T made the menu--didn't he do a great job?)

Cheese Fondu
Sweet Tea with Lemon

Main Course
Caramelized Pork Loin with braeburn apples, sweet onions, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar
Old South Grits with Canadian bacon, red bell pepper and sweet onion
Whole Kernel Creamed Corn served Southern-style
Sweet Potatoes with brown sugar and vanilla
Sister Shubert's Yeast Rolls served warm

Brownie Trifle with dark cherry chocolate, whipped cream and peppermint

If any of the above sounds appetizing, you can find the recipes below.  I will admit that I tweaked several of the recipes just a bit to fit our tastes, but not in any substantial way.   All of the recipes below are either old favorites or new attempts that turned out great.  All worthy of repeats!

Caramelized Pork Loin with Apples from Health Magazine
(an outstanding pork recipe, easy enough for a beginner like me!)

Grits and Greens from Cooking Light Magazine
(wonderful savory grits recipe. Prepare right before serving to prevent grits from firming up)

Creamed Corn from Southern Living Magazine
(T's favorite creamed corn, tastes just like grandmother Johnson used to make)

Soul Sweet Potatoes from The Pioneer Woman
(My favorite way to make sweet potatoes, T could eat a whole batch himself.  
I confess that I only use 1/2 of the sugar called for in the recipe--
but sweet taters are so sweet that we never notice and no one ever complains.)

Brownie Trifle from Southern Living Magazine
(Outstanding trifle and easy to make!  We replaced the coffee and toffee candy with chopped peppermints and dark cherry chocolate.  It was delicious and pretty for relatively little work.)

Blessings on your kitchen this week!

Monday, February 14, 2011

I love my Valentine

Scrapbook at

How is it that I have had ten years with the best Valentine ever?
He happens to be on trauma call tonight.
I love you, T.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Thankful Saturday

Today was a great Saturday.

Slept in with T until 8:30,
when the pitter-patter of little feet arrived in our room,
and we snuggled in bed with G-Bear, her blanket and some storybooks
until we heard E-Bear singing in his bed,
and we brought him down to join us.

Breakfast of strawberry smoothies, biscuits and ham,
lazy conversation around the table until 11am,
when we decided to retire to baths and showers 
and get ready for the day.

Plenty of playtime, laundry and crafts,
the kids making sticker collages at the table,
while T and I started prepping dinner for friends,
our favorite tunes playing in the background.

We finished dinner prep during nap time,
dancing to the music.
I love few things more than cooking with my love,
especially when we are cooking for friends.

Twelve of us gathered for dinner,
a 'Thank-you' from T and me to them,
his fellow residents from his last VA rotation,
a close-knit, hard working bunch.

And now we lay exhausted,
at the end of a sweet, sweet day,
baby cozy in my belly,
children nestled in their beds,
"I love you, mom, dad," each has said.

What more could we want?
Wish for? 
Truly, 'Dat Deus incrementum'
that is, 'God gives the increase.'
(1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

St. Valentine's Party

"I love you more than there are stars in the sky or waves in the ocean..."

G-Bear's St. Valentine's Party was today at preschool.  Last night, we signed her princess valentine cards for her classmates and set aside her valentine treats that she would bring for the party: Nemo fruit snacks for the boys and My Little Pony fruit snacks for the girls.  This morning, she could barely contain her excitement as we packed them all in a bag for her to bring with her to school.

When I got home from work tonight we sat together on the couch as she excitedly recounted the IMMENSE excitement of her day and showed me each of her valentines and each treat from her valentine party bag.  What joy!  The best surprise was the valentines that she made for T & me with the help of her teachers.  Here is what she wrote:

To me:

To T:

Hard to beat love like that, folks!  Not bad for the first valentines we have received from our daughter.  My heart could have burst with love and pride.  We love you too, G-Bear.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Disagreement and Civility

How do you argue?

I have been asking myself that a lot this week.  I don't like to argue and infrequently find myself in circumstances in which I feel argument is warranted.  But I recently found myself confronted by another person in a way I felt was unfair, leaving me feeling defensive and wanting to justify my perspective.  In considering how to respond to the confrontation, I have struggled with how to combine my desire to defend my perspective with my desire to respond with Christian charity toward another person. 

To the rescue, T found a great essay perspective from one of our favorite Christian authors on the idea of Christian Civility.  The following is an excerpt from the essay, which was written by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in New York City.  It helped me re-think my approach to disagreement and encouraged me to prioritize respectfulness, humility, and unselfishness if I choose to offer my opposing perspective to another person. 

"Os Guinness has said that civility is too easily dismissed as simply “niceness” or even squeamishness. Worse, it is seen as unwillingness to contend for what is right and true.  Civility, however, has to do with how you contend, and it is an expression of caritas—charity or Christian love. It is not a refusal to criticize. Indeed, uncharitable discourse makes no attempt to really persuade the opposition. Uncivil discourse merely castigates and caricatures the other side. It doesn’t try to win over the opposition with the truth, but only to marginalize and disempower them.
         Uncivil speech is designed to intimidate, silence, and stir up opposition. It does not aim to persuade more people to believe it. Ironically, when Christians speak this way, it shows no confidence in the Truth at all, but only in power, and that is a very secular view of the world....
         By contrast, what does Christian civility look like? First, it shows respect for persons in the image of God even as it argues that their views and positions are not worthy of respect. James 3:9 says we should not “curse men made in God’s likeness”—a remarkable warning against wishing ill on people.
         Second, it shows humility as you argue. That means a lack of eye-rolling, sighing, sneering, and pejorative vocabulary..........

        Third, it would be good to follow the ancient rules of debate. One is not to attribute an opinion to opponents that they will not personally own, even if you think it is the logical outcome of their views. Another ancient rule is: before arguing with your opponents you must state their position positively and so well that they say, “Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then and only then may we proceed to argue. "  ~Tim Keller, January 7th 2011

Food for thought.