Friday, November 26, 2010

Catchy Christmas Tune

Happy day after Thanksgiving dear readers! Are you relaxing after some hectic Black Friday shopping? Or are you hiding out at home to avoid the rush? Perhaps you are plotting how to best put all those leftovers to use (my favorite = turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce paninis!).

In my opinion, the day after Thanksgiving is when Christmas music becomes a valid listening option. One of the songs in my rotation this year comes from the Ed Quartet, featuring my friend Eunice on vocals and her husband Jon on drums (plus two other people I don't know, but I'm sure they're lovely). Enjoy a listen to their catchy tune, For It's Christmas. If you really like it, it's available to purchase on iTunes.

What could be more lovely, than the joy you bring to me? 
...All I want is to be with you, for it's Christmastime

Monday, November 22, 2010

Faces on the Fridge

In recent years photo cards have become the popular way to send holiday greetings. I, for one, couldn't be happier about this development. Why? Because of the sheer delightfulness of sifting through the mail, setting aside bills and sorting out junk mail, only to find a sturdy envelope containing a card with the smiling faces and warm wishes of people you love. Whereas I am unlikely to keep a regular Christmas card on display beyond the holiday season, I love keeping photo cards from friends and family posted on the fridge all year long. Seeing them there day in and day out reminds me how thankful I am to have them in my life, and prompts me to pray for them. Right now my fridge is a photo album of  missionary prayer cards, Christmas cards (from last year), and birth's been a baby-full year!

This will be the first year Travis and I send out Christmas cards as a "family" (it still feels strange to refer to the two of us as a family, though that is what we are!). Last year during the holidays I was still working on getting our thank you cards sent out for the wedding (and was sufficiently overwhelmed by the task), so many of those contained our holiday greeting as well, and Christmas cards per se went unsent. But this year I am primed and ready to send our smiling faces to the mailboxes of friends and family. Hopefully, we'll even end up on a few fridges. :)

I will be aided in this task by Shutterfly, which offers HUNDREDS of photo card designs. The hardest part will be choosing just one! Second hardest part will be choosing which photo(s) to use. Will we use photos taken in the course of our year? Will we do a special photo shoot to capture the winning shot? This is yet to be determined (and discussed with the hubby). In the meantime, I am having lots of fun looking through all the options. Here are a few of my favorites at the moment:
With the right photo, this one could be perfect. Plus, you get to include another photo inside!
If we decide to use a collection of photos from throughout the year, this card would be a great way to capture a collage.
I like this one because it's class and non-holiday on the front, and so lends itself to year-round fridge display.
I like the flourish on this one, and the fact that it says the year.

Earlier this year I used Shutterfly to design a photo book with pics from our trip to Spain in June. The process was easy (and fun!) and the finished product is beautiful. Want to take a look? Check it out here.  

Like what you see? Are you a blogger too? 
Bloggers get 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly: 

Comfort Food: Cinnamon Cranberry Applesauce

One of my favorite comfort foods this season has been homemade applesauce, cooked up in my crockpot. It's easy. It's healthy. It fills my home with lovely autumnal aromas while cooking. And it's inexpensive, but feels fancy and tastes rich; in fact, we usually have it for dessert. It's also open to endless variations of spices and mix-ins. Here's the recipe for my favorite version:

Slow-Cooker Cinnamon Cranberry Applesauce

5-6 apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1 Tb lemon juice
1/4 C water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (or a bit more, if you really like cinnamon, like I do)
1 Tb brown sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Use a 4-quart slow cooker. (Recipe could be easily doubled for a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker, or halved for a 1.5 or 2 quart slow cooker). Put the apples in the crock. Add the lemon juice, water, vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Give it all a stir.
Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. The apples are done cooking when tender enough to mash up with a fork. Do that, and then stir in the dried cranberries. Let cook for another half hour or so to allow the cranberries to plump up nicely. Serve warm (which I find most comforting) or cold, whichever you prefer. Serves 4-6.

Notes: The cranberries give this applesauce an extra texture element, and also a sweet-tart zing, which I really like. Depending on what kind of apples you use and your own tastes, you may want to adjust the amount of sugar used.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lisa: A Missionary's Life

It's not too often that I blog about things related to my job (I'm an administrative assistant with an international missionary sending agency), but on this occasion work intersects with friends and an incredible story, and I just have to share it.

As my husband puts it (and it's true!), I value context in communication, so here's the context: I came to know Tom & Lisa Seward several years before they became missionaries, and long before I came to work for the missionary agency through which they serve. They were volunteer youth group staff at my church when I was in junior high. It takes special people to work with and really LOVE junior highers; the Sewards are those kind of people. I remember them then, Tom especially, as the most unselfconscious people I'd ever known. When you're a quiet, reserved, awkward kid like I was back then, that makes an impression on you. I was drawn to them, and maybe a little fascinated by them. (If you're a regular reader, (a) you rock, thank you; and (b) you may remember the Sewards from the post about my attempt to make a Million Dollar Cake back in September.)

Well, I grew up and went through the high school, and then off to college. Meanwhile, the Sewards went to serve as missionaries in Africa. I kept tabs on them, I guess you could say, through my parents, who were part of their support team during those years (and still are). Fast forward to 2004, when I came to work for my current employer, and back into regular contact with the Sewards, now as an adult. A few years ago I joined their support team as well, and through their ministry also began to sponsor two young African girls so that they can attend school in Mali and receive an education. (If that opportunity resonates with you at all, please tell me so in a comment. There are other kids waiting to be sponsored, and I'd love to connect you with the Sewards and/or give you some information about getting involved in sending a Malian kid to school.)

Back to the reason I'm excited to blog about the Sewards today: Lisa is featured in the cover story of the November/December issue of Hearing Loss Today, which was just released. I know you're wondering, what's hearing loss got to do with it? Well, in 2008, Lisa came down with malaria while serving in Mali; long story short, she got really sick, and some of the antibiotics she was given to help her get better actually caused her to go totally deaf. Just like that. Deaf. What's happened between then and now is her incredible, inspiring story, which you can read here (it's a big PDF file, so be patient if it takes a while to load).

Want to learn more about the Sewards? Check out their family blog and also Lisa's personal blog, where she talks about life with cochlear implants.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Year of Deer, Episode 21: Slow Cooker Shepherd's Pie

Well, friends, we are coming to the end of both the year and the deer. Not including the pound of ground meet I used for today's recipe, I have one more pound of ground venison and about two pounds of chops left in my freezer from the doe Travis shot in Michigan last Thanksgiving. When it is gone, I think I will feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction...which I will hug tight to my chest as I brace myself for a possible Second Year of Deer. The Lord has generously provided a place for Travis to go bow hunting for deer in Illinois this year (about which my handsome hunter is positively giddy) and so there very well may be a whole new deer coming soon to a freezer near me.

On to today's episode. My goal was this: make dinner using a pound of ground venison and other ingredients I already had in the house. The answer came (as many do) from my favorite cookbook of late, Stephanie O'Dea's Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. I substituted venison for the beef in her recipe for Shepherd's Pie. The spices, frozen veggies, shredded cheese, and potatoes were all things I had on hand. This recipe takes more prep than many slow-cooker recipes because everything goes in already cooked. Thus, the meat had to be browned, and the potatoes had to be cooked and mashed. Not that big of a deal, though. The reward has been tasty aromas all afternoon, and dinner that's ready to go whenever my husband gets home, which varies on Mondays.

Update: here are pics of the shepherd's pie at the end of the cooking time, and then plated. Travis was a big fan of this meal and asked for seconds. He also took the leftovers for lunch today.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wee Bit Wednesday

Another Wednesday, another round of questions to reveal a wee bit o' me.

{one} do you still use a checkbook? 
yes, but i rarely write checks. i mostly use the check ledger to keep track of money in, money out.

{two} what size shoe do you wear?
size 10. when you're six feet tall, it's pretty much a given to have big feet. 

{three} scary movies or happy endings? 
oh definitely happy endings. i don't do scary movies. 

{four} do you prefer spontaneity or stability?
while my husband has taught me to be more spontaneous than i used to be, i still lean toward the stability of planning things out ahead of time.

{five} what is the most embarrassing CD that you own? 
hmm...perhaps Partridge Family Greatest Hits

{six} do you watch reality TV? 
yes, i'm a devoted fan of Survivor, the Amazing Race, and the Biggest Loser. 

{seven} what is your favorite home-made meal? 
that's a tough one. probably the meal that i come back to the most often is creamy chicken apple chili. 

{eight} do you have any allergies? 
none known. given my parents' afflictions, that is a miracle of genetics.

{nine} if you could open your own restaurant/store, what would it be? 
i daydream about owning a comfy coffee shop / book store in an old house. 

{ten} would you ever go skydiving (or have you been)? 
i went for a friend's bachelorette party in 2005. it was incredible.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Spaghetti Squash

If you've been following my blog this fall, yes, I've been a bit obsessed with squash. Once I got past the intimidation factor, you see, there was no turning back - they're just too good! And there are so many different ways to prepare them!

Last night I cooked my first spaghetti squash. Oh my! Spaghetti squash, where have you been all my life? I let this recipe be my guide (halved for one squash and just the two of us), and dinner was served. Husband was equally in awe of this magical foodstuff. Our post-dinner conversation in the kitchen went something like this:

DH: How'd you get it to do that?
ME: I just split it in half (without hurting myself...whee!), drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled on some salt and pepper, and then roasted it on a baking sheet at 450, cut side down, for about 40 minutes. Then I took it out, let it cool, scraped the flesh out with a fork, and VOILA! Spaghetti from a squash.
DH: [shaking head in wonderment] Who thought of such a thing?
ME: Um, God.