Monday, August 30, 2010

It's my party and I'll eat pancakes if I want to.

Today is Monday.  There isn't anything significant about it, except that it's my birthday!  There's nothing worse, though, than having your birthday be on a Monday.  Although, on the flip side, you get to skip a crappy Monday if that Monday happens to be your birthday.  None of this matters when you don't have a job, which is my current situation.  So I can be thankful for that, at least for today.
I would like to give a shout out to my sweet husband for rushing around this morning and making me breakfast in bed, sort of.  I say sort of because I didn't actually eat it in my bed.  He worked very hard to bring me these Berry Meyer Lemon Pancakes. Yummm...  I am a pancake fanatic.  I didn't used to like them very much, but now that we make them homemade I live for the rare morning when we both have time to make them together.  I wish I had possessed the wherewithal this morning to take a photo of the perfectly browned delights.  It would also have been funny to have a photo of the aftermath in the kitchen.  Justin is a much messier cook than I.  Pancake batter was married to the stove top, flour strewn about the floor, and pretty much every measuring cup and spoon was in the sink.  And somehow, a smoky hue filled the whole house.  Ah, wonder they're usually my job!  I am so thankful for a husband who would take time on a Monday morning to make me breakfast. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The best chocolate chip cookies you will ever eat. Period.

Hi ya'll.  I wish I could post a drool-inducing photo of these cookies, but they don't stick around long enough for me to ever photograph them.  I'm making them this afternoon to take to Justin's sick grandfather, so I thought I'd post the recipe for you.  The recipe comes from Sir Alton Brown.  Incidentally, he attended the same church as we did in Atlanta but I was never brave enough to speak to him.  If I had discovered this recipe sooner, I would have groveled at his feet right there in front of God and everyone in the sanctuary.

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cup bread flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 375.  Place a silpat or parchment paper onto your baking sheet. 
Melt butter over low heat.  While that's happening, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside.  Pour melted butter into the mixer's work bowl.  Add the sugars and cream together.  Then add the egg, the yolk, milk, and vanilla.  Mix well until combined.  Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Chill for about 30 minutes and scoop onto baking sheets.  I do 6 per sheet because I like big fat cookies.  Bake for 14 minutes, rotating halfway through. 

If I'm making them just for my family, I'll only make 6 at a time.  You can flash freeze pre-scooped cookies on a baking sheet and then store in a freezer bag for about 3 months.  Or, you can be lazy like me and just wrap the dough in wax paper into a log shape.  Then, slice and bake when the need for cookies arises!  In my experience, the first bake is often very pillowy while the after-it-was-frozen cookies are a tad flatter.  BUT, they always stay CHEWY in the middle!!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Recipe Rewind

I don't know if you've noticed, but I haven't posted any recipes lately.  There's a reason for that.  I prefer to see photos when I'm following a recipe.  I also don't like to post a recipe without photos.  It's prettier, and I figure that there are other people like me who won't try a recipe unless there's a photo.  Unfortunately, tragedy has visited the McDonald household [technologically speaking]. 
We have two computers: one laptop from college and one newer desktop.  The newer desktop was apparently damaged in a lightning storm, but aside from that the disc drive doesn't work and I can't upload any photo software.  The laptop, which I used to upload photos, suddenly stopped working about 2 weeks ago.  I kept hoping against hope that it would somehow start working again.  We could fix the disc drive in the desktop, but our tech guy told us that it wouldn't be worth it because it's probably going to crash some time soon.  Of course, he didn't think we could even get it to turn on and, Lord willing, it will continue to work fine just as it has for the past few days.  It's funny, the laptop crashing on the same day the alleged "fried" desktop starts to work.
 Purchasing a new computer is simply waaaaay beyond our family budget right now.  So, I am now forced to post sans photos.  I'm sorry.  I hope you'll still read the rest of this post and the ones to come this week as I catch you up on what's been going on in my kitchen.

We really enjoy hummus.  However, it's kind of expensive when you consider how little is in the package.  Also, we eat it so much that it doesn't warrant the cost.  Now I know that I could have just gotten out a can of garbanzos and whirled them around in my food processor with storebought tahini.  That's a perfectly acceptable and still more economical way to make this delicious snack.  However, I took it upon myself to do the whole soaking of the beans and all of that.  I did some research, compared several different recipes, and here's what I came up with. 

First, you need to make some tahini.
4 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp warm water

Toast the sesame seeds on low for about 5 minutes.  Once you can smell them, as with any seed or nut, they're done.  Then grind them in a clean coffee grinder.  Add in the oil and salt, and then grind again.  Scrape it out of the grinder, add in the water, and whisk until smooth.  There may be an easier way to do this, but this was all I could come up with. This made about 2 tablespoons, which was just enough for the hummus.  You may like more, I'm just not a huge fan of sesame oil.

For the hummus, you will need:
1 large bag of dried garbanzo beans
1 tsp finely minced garlic
2 Tbsp tahini
4-5 Tbsp lemon juice, depending on your preference
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil

I soaked the garbanzo beans for 24 hours.  Then I drained them and cooked them in the crock pot for 7 hours.  You only need half of the cooked beans for one batch of hummus.  I put the rest in the freezer so that this part is done when I run out of what I made this time!
Drain the beans after they've been cooked, and put them in your food processor.  I first tried to do this in my blender.  Suffice it to say, don't do it if you don't have to.  I have a love-hate relationship with my food processor: I love what it does but I hate to put it together and then take it apart to clean it.  Ugh.  In this case, it's totally worth it.
Add in the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.  You can add more olive oil if you need it to be more smooth; it all depends on the texture and "doneness" of the beans.  You can add in roasted red pepper, olives, or whatever you prefer to enhance the flavor.
It's time consuming, but well worth it!  Try it some time. 
Note: if you don't want to go through the soaking and altogether 2-day process of cooking the beans, one can of garbanzo beans, drained, will work just fine!

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's my birthday week!

In seven days I will turn twenty-seven.  Rather than lament about how close 30 is, how I don't have kids, have no current plans to purchase a home, and altogether have no clear direction in my life [ok, just kidding about that last one], I thought I'd compose a birthday list.  Mostly, this is for my husband.  He needs photos and very precise instructions when it comes to my presents. 

1.  I think this would be lots of fun to cook in.  Little Black Apron

2. I really do need this.  Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3.  This book gets good reviews among even conservatives.  Green Like God

4. I learned a lot about baking from Mrs. Johnnie Gabriel while we lived in Georgia.  This is her second book, available in October.  I'm proud of her!  Second Helpings

5.  This item is a really big WISH.  I don't have a photo for it, but it's something I really need to help me in the kitchen.  I'm saving my pennies, but I'm hoping to be able to get this someday!

6.  I need 2 of these.  We have limited cabinet space and these would be amazing!

Ok, I could go on and on and on about things I need/want.  Here's something to get you started!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Fun-day

I hope everyone is excited about the weekend.  Weekends aren't the same, exactly, to me since I'm not working.  My husband says that every day is Saturday to me.  It's not like I lay around on the couch watching TV.  In fact, I rarely even turn it on because I do have a schedule and lists with things to check off every day.
I wanted to share with you something that I shared last night at Zumba.  I found it to be surprisingly encouraging to me, even as I gasped for air while trying to offer these thoughts after class last night.  Psalm 139:14 is a verse that many people can rattle off, as it is often something that we teach to children.  "I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  We teach it to children to help them understand how important they are, and how God created them, and yada yada yada.  However, we tend to forget that meaning and importance of this verse as we age. 
I don't know about you, but I can definitely find the "fearfully" in myself.  When I wake up in the morning, my eyes are kind of puffy.  I'm nearing my 27th birthday this month, and I'm pretty sure I have a teensy crows foot on my left eye.  If I'm going to have wrinkles I'd at least like them to by symmetrical!  It's so easy for us as women to point out our flaws.  We are constantly trying to lose weight [whether we need to or not], some women think their butts are too small [do you know anyone like that?], our teeth aren't white enough, our skin tone isn't even, and of course the ever-popular, "My breasts are too small".  I am thankful that God created scientists who have given us the ability to have great makeup, hair products [all natural, of course], and clothing.  When we get older we'll have wrinkles and new hips or new knees and saggy breasts.  I will probably color my hair when it gets gray, I'll definitely never leave the house without some form of makeup, and I'll continue to work out as long as my body is able.  One thing I'll never do, though, is any kind of plastic surgery.  That is just not for me.  I'm not against it, I'm just not going to undergo any kind of optional surgery.  When I lie down at night, my boobs will be right underneath my arms, where they should be.  That's just the way it is.
So what about the whole "wonderfully made" part?  Do you think you're wonderful?  Well, like it or not, you are!  Do you know it?  OWN IT!  Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God's workmanship [read: masterpiece].  Can you believe you're a masterpiece?  You're like a Picasso only all your parts are in the right place.  And you know what else?  Your friends are masterpieces, too!  Women you meet on the street are wonderful creations from God.  Wouldn't it be nice if we accepted this about ourselves and others, and made it our mission to make sure other women embraced it? 
It's often very easy to compliment our friends and acquaintances.  When we like someone's hair, shoes, ear rings, cooking, decorating, singing, etc, etc, we will go out of our way to tell them so.   We are actually praising God when we compliment others.  It's His handiwork, after all!  When someone compliments us, however, we are often quick to explain it away or change the subject.  We squirm and don't believe it.  When we do this, we're denying our Father his worship.  Ouch.  I don't know about you, but I do that all the time.  I struggle with low self-esteem, always have.  When someone compliments me, I can't ever just say thank you.  I'm learning, though, and I hope you will too. 

Even with extra pounds and saggy body parts, we are still quite remarkable because You made us.  Help us to spend more time praising You for Your handiwork and less time complaining.  And may I learn to accept compliments as gifts knowing that my attributes and talents come from You.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hurry Up Already!

I am so over summer.  I'm tired of the heat, the humidity, and the dryness.  The first 6 months of 2010 were, dare I say, crappy.  I lost my job and therefore 50% of our income, and to top it all off we moved to another state in June.  I guess I'm ready for the symbolic letting go of the season, both literally and figuratively. 
At the cusp of a season change, I always find myself frantically organizing my house.  I spring clean at least 4 times a year.  This week I've been organizing everything, one room at a time.  When we moved to this house I just kind of put things in any place I could.  We downsized considerably so I just stuffed things in the closets, shut the doors, and hoped not to have to open them for awhile.  And I didn't.  I took my time, grieving the loss of urbanized living [ahem, Target] and learning to embrace rural America.  I grew up living in small towns, but I left it all for big city living 4 years ago and hoped to never return. 
Now that I've worked through the latest change that 2010 sent my way, I'm ready to settle in.  It's been 2 months, for heaven's sake.  I've almost organized the closets and have come up with more things to donate. 
In an effort to be a better steward of our home and our finances, I find that less is definitely more.  It's easier to offer up my home as a place of hospitality and service when it is less cluttered. 
I finally threw away most of my college things.  I have been carrying around at least 3 large boxes of random things  from college for more than 5 years and frankly, it was time to let it all go.  I threw it all out except for a few memories, photos, and papers, downsizing to one small box.  I guess I always thought that if I held onto those cards, photos, and movie stubs, it was somehow keeping certain relationships alive.  People are more important than papers, and they also take up less space in your closets.  That was a joke. 
And now that we've gone around our elbows to get to our noses, I just want to shout from the rooftops that I AM READY FOR FALL!!!  I can't wait to go to the local apple orchards, buy mums, plant geraniums, and put pumpkins on my porch.  I'm ready to wear jeans without sweating through them.  [I don't know if that happens to you, but it does me.]  I want to wake up to crisp air in the mornings and take walks in the cool of the evening with my husband and my dog.  Poor Bailey practically has a heat stroke on her afternoon walks, if she even gets one at all.
My favorite part about autumn is the cooking!  There are so many timeless recipes that you just don't make any time of year.  The coming on of fall also marks the start of using one of the best kitchen appliances: the crockpot.  Ahhh...I can feel my life getting easier, knowing that I can throw some stuff in the crockpot in the morning and not have to think about it until supper time.  I also think that the onset of cooler weather means a smaller grocery bill because we make things like stews and casseroles that create leftovers and therefore make it unnecessary to plan out every single meal.
Here are some new recipes that I cannot wait to try.
Apple Walnut Flax Seed Bread
Spicy Lentil Soup
Carrot and Squash Curry Soup

There are a host of others that I've already earmarked from cookbooks I have that I am going to be adding into my cool weather recipe arsenal along with some classics, and I can't wait to share them with you here. 
Do you have any fall recipes that you'd like to share?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Just a little tip

This may or may not be a news to you, but vinegar is a very versatile product. You can cook with it, clean with it, and a host of other things.  I have recently read about using it as a a substitute for fabric softener and I decided to try it today.  I gathered up some blankets and set up the washing machine like I normally would, except I filled my fabric softener ball with plain old white vinegar.  I was so surprised to find that the blankets came out of the dryer softer than they usually are!  There was no trace of any kind of smell, either.  I learned how to do laundry the "proper" way in college from my friend Danielle, and thanks to her I am very picky about how my laundry is sorted, washed, and how it smells.  I used Downy for years but I switched to Gain about 2 years ago because I liked the smell better.  However, I think I can get over thinking that my clothes have to smell a certain way when it means I"ll be saving about $10 every 6-8 weeks by not purchasing fabric softener!  As long as they're clean, I'll be just fine!  Try it out and let me know what you think!

Do you have any other uses for vinegar that you'd like to share?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Proverbs 31 Woman: Pass or Fail?

In all of my attempts to learn more about stewardship, sustainability, simplicity, and intentional living, sometimes I get frustrated.  Do you ever just fall flat on your face?  I know I'm not the only one.  I consider myself a student of this "new" way of living, and if I had to give myself a grade I'd have to go with a C-. 
Last week started off crazy as I began it with catering a business event for a friend.  On Tuesday morning I sat down for a while and did a two-week meal plan.  That part I passed with flying colors!  I even included some new recipes while working with the things that we already have in our cupboards and freezer.  I went to the grocery store and for less than $90, I had 12 meals completely covered.  That's still probably too much money, but it's hard to eat "cheap" when you're purchasing high quality, organic ingredients.  Next year we are definitely having a garden. 
Consider Proverbs 31:14b, "She brings her food from afar."  We definitely have to bring our food from 'afar' because I have to drive over an hour to get to what I consider a decent grocery store.  I can get some staple items at the local Wal-Mart, but it's kind of hard to find organic coconut milk and fresh pluots in this county.   In the same chapter it is written, "She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard" [verse 16].  Here's where my failure comes in.  From my earnings, I overspent at the grocery store on Friday.  We just needed a few staples from Whole Foods...and I just got trigger happy.  I am embarassed to say how much I spent, but it rivals a person's electric bill.  The first problem was that my husband was with me.  He loves to have an over-abundance of food, and we just love cooking together so much that it's hard not to get inspired by shiny bottles of Asian condiments and plump, house-made sausages.  We stuck to the meal plan, but we purchased "extras".  The second problem was that I completely, on some subconsious level, abandoned my calculator.  Normally when I'm shopping I keep it handy as a reality check.  I was pretty upset when we got in the car [buyer's remorse...shouldn't that follow shoe shopping?].  However, here is my justification.  Number one, produce is expensive.  All summer long we've barely had more than bananas in our house due to budget restraints. It isn't fair that apples are $3 a pound.  We chose to purchase pluots because they're only available this time of year and that are a fruit that we learned to enjoy while living in Texas.  Secondly, we were in the city visiting Justin's family as his grandfather was gravely ill and they had called all of the family in to say their goodbyes [thankfully, he seems to be making a miraculous recovery].  We needed to feed some of our family supper because they were numb and unable to make decisions on the necessary.  Part of that included purchasing fruit, cheeses, and tea for them to have around their home as needed.   
Do you ever have experiences like that?  I tried so hard to stick to our budget and only purchase what we needed, but it just got away from me this week.  I'm thankful that it was only food, something that won't waste but rather sustain.  It ended up being ok in the end.  I mean, it could have been shoes or makeup.  :)
"She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." Proverbs 31:27.  Tomorrow is the start of a new week.  I'll be making homemade tahini for homemade hummus, French bread, and a cake for someone's anniversary. Should be an exciting week of learning more about intentional living!  I hope that you are encouraged by my "failures", and are as grateful as I am that God grades on a curve!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

For the Love of Salad

Don't buy salad dressing!  There, I said it.  Salad dressing is filled with all kinds of unidentifiable oils, preservatives, fake flavors, lots of fat, and all sorts of other things that someone created in a lab and called "food".  It's hard to eat a salad when you can't feel good about what you topped it with.  If you do find a healthy organic dressing, it's usually upwards of $5 and still may have secret enemies hidden inside.  We've been experimenting with making our own dressings for awhile [blue cheese, ranch, honey mustard] but I haven't found an "everyday" dressing.  I keep bottles of Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinaigrette in our cabinet because that's the best I've found. Until now.  This is the BEST salad dressing I have ever tasted.  I've been reading up on other women who make their own dressings and this is kind of a compilation of what I thought looked good.  And I will share it with you. 
You will need:
1 cup of good olive oil [I don't think it matters if it's extra virgin]
1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar [I bet you could try balsamic or champagne]
1 teaspoon onion powder
t teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 heaping tablespoons of Dijon mustard [forgoing the use of egg yolks to emulsify--I'm cheap that way]
1 squirt of honey

To make it easy on myself, I just whisked everything together at once in my 2 cup glass liquid measuring cup.  I ended up with 2 cups and put them into two mason jars.  Keep this refrigerated and it should last up to a week and a half.  Shake before use, obviously.  Now go eat some salad!  Fill it with dark greens and lots of colors!

Do you have a homemade salad dressing you'd like to share?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chicken Curry in a Hurry

I must preface this post by informing you that I've never eaten curry.  I've had it in that old-fashioned chicken and broccoli casserole, but never Indian curry.  I just haven't had the opportunity to eat in an Indian restaurant.  However, for some reason, I woke up today and just needed to have it.  How could I prepare a meal when I've never even tasted it?  What was the texture like?  How long should I cook it?  I decided to put these questions behind me and do a little research.  Curry is so complex and interesting, using ingredients like fresh ginger and coconut milk.  Since I live in a small town with limited access to foreign ingredients, I had to ad lib.  Here's my version; it serves 2.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Brown rice
Sour cream
Red onion
Ground ginger
Salt and pepper to taste

You could realistically make this meal in about 20 minutes if you already have brown rice cooked.  I didn't, so I just put a pot on the stove while I straightened up my cabinets.  I make my rice with a ratio of 1 cup of rice to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth.  First, I rinse the rice and when the broth begins to boil, I toss in the rice, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Put about a tablespoon of oil [your choice] and a tablespoon of butter in the bottom of your pan.  Put the onion in to saute on low.  Now for the chicken.  Cut it into chunks and then sprinkle on some salt, pepper, curry, and ground ginger.  Put the chicken into the pan with the onions and cook slowly. When the chicken is almost cooked thoroughly, spoon in about 3/4 cup sour cream.  Slowly stir it in and then add about 3 teaspoons of curry and 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger.  You can season it to your taste.  I added in 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour to thicken the sauce.    When you can see that the miexture has thicken, turn off the heat.  Serve over rice with a side of steamed broccoli, and I'd call that a pretty balanced meal! 

How do you like your curry?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Try this at least once in your life

I, like many others, am on a journey to make life simpler.  Simple doesn't mean easy.  Making household cleaners, gardening, sewing, cloth diapers...none of that is really very easy.  People are doing many different things that aren't 'easy' in an effort to have a simpler more sustainable life.  For our house, the main focus is food.  What we put into our bodies fuels it.  We don't want to be fueled by chemicals and marketed manipulations of what used to be a whole food.
It's important to work for your food so that you can feel a sense of pride as you enjoy each bite.  I like to feel connected to my food, if only a little bit, and the best way that I have found to do that is by making homemade bread.  It sounds intimidating, time-consuming, and scary.  It's definitely time-consuming, but with a little planning ahead you can make it work with your schedule.  I'm not talking about mixing something up out of a box and throwing it in your bread machine.  There's nothing wrong with bread machines, I just don't see the need since I have an oven.  All you need is your hands to do the work and your oven to do the baking.  I hope you'll make bread at least once. 
This recipe is pretty easy to start out with if you've never made bread before.  It comes together in just about 10 minutes of hand-kneading.  This isn't exactly definitely isn't whole grain, but it is a pretty fantastic chemical- and additive-free addition to your family's dinner plate.  Let's talk about Parker House Rolls.
The Parker House Roll is said to have originated in the 1870s at The Parker House [now Omni Hotel] in Boston.  I love food that has some history behind it.  This is a delicious, warm, buttery, melt-in-your mouth bread that people will be so impressed by.  Make them for your mother-in-law.  Not that you want to put on airs about your homemade bread, but you'll see.  Just make them.

3 Tbsp warm water
3 Tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 stick butter, unsalted
1 cup whole milk
2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 to 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Stir together the warm water, yeast, and only 1 Tbsp of sugar.  See how it's all bubbly?  That's how you know the yeast is active.  It's aliiiiiiive!!! It's aliiiiiiive!!!

Melt the butter slowly in a saucepan.  Once it's melted, add in the whole milk until it heats through.
Pour the butter and milk, once heated, into a large bowl along with the yeast mixture.  Then add the remaining 2 Tbsp of sugar, bread flour, and salt. 

See how happy the yeast is?  It loves the flour.  It is very important to use a wooden spoon to stir it all until just combined.  Don't over work it, work it, work it... 
Why is the wooden spoon so important?  I don't know, but I think there's some science to it.  Once it comes together, dump it out on the counter.  Here's where the all purpose flour comes in. 

 While you're kneading the bread, it will be way too sticky unless you add the all purpose flour.  Start out with 3/4 cup, and work up to a total addition of 1 1/2 cups if you need it. 

After kneading for about 10 minutes, it should look like this:

It should be smooth and only slightly sticky at this point.  Put it into a large bowl that you've buttered; turn over to coat in butter.  Cover it and let it rise in a warm place like you stove with the light on for about an hour.  It should look like this after it's risen:

At this point it's not too puffy, but it has risen.  It's not as tight as it is after it's first kneaded, and everything has come together into one big doughy family.  Then I just kind of press it lightly and use my pastry cutter to get about 20 pieces which I will turn into rolls.

They aren't all the same, but I just take some from the bigger pieces and add to the smaller.  Put your rolls into a greased 13x9 pan.  Then use a floured chop stick or a knife to cut a little slit in the top.

Aren't they precious?  They look like little baby bottoms.  Brush the tops with 2 Tbsp melted butter and then slide it on into the oven.  After about 20 minutes, you get this:

Hot. Buttery. Bliss.
[You can thank me later.]


There are certain unalienable rights [and responsibilities] when you get to be all grown up.  For instance, you have to pay your bills, but you can also spend [and save!] your money however you want.  You can get your own house, live in Alaska if you want, and buy a boat.  You can get married, and even have a baby, if you're into that sort of thing.  You can try new things and hopefully be mature enough to recognize that just because something fails doesn't mean that you are a failure.  Being a grown-up is great.  I exercised my right to purchase this week: I bought new sheets and bedding.  Not just any sheets; 450 count.  Maybe that isn't the nicest in the world, but it was a big step for me.  I have subjected my poor husband to sleeping on the same sheets and quilt I got when I graduated college.  We didn't even get new bedding when we got married.  I kept thinking "Oh, someday I'll get new bedding.  I don't really need it right now."  Trust me, I needed it.  YOU need it.  I just didn't understand the difference between my cheap sheets that I bought 5 years ago and the nice sheets I got this week.

Now on to purchasing a headboard...
Also, I wouldn't recommend sleeping in a full-sized bed once you're married.  After 3 years, it's getting kind of uncomfortable. 
Get yourself out there and do something grown up today!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Today my husband and I celebrate our 3rd anniversary.  In some ways it seems like we've been married a lot longer than three years.  We've been through a lot.  We got married while in seminary in 2007 and here we are now, three years and three states later.  We've grown so much as individuals and as a couple since our nuptials.  We have had to say goodbye to a lot of old friends in order to say hello to new ones. 
On our anniversary, I always sit back and reflect on our crazy wedding weekend, and all of our friends and family travelled from their homes in other states to HOT Fort Worth, Texas.  Just a word of advice: NEVER try to have a wedding in the summer in Texas.  You can wait until fall, trust me.  We always remember how thankful we are for our friends in Texas that helped us as well as the sacrifices our friends and family made to be there for us on our special day.
Here are a few of my favorite photos from our wedding day.

On our first anniversary, we packed a moving truck.  It was August 4, 2008.  It was 112 degrees in Fort Worth that day, almost as hot as it was on our actual wedding day. 
That wasn't exactly how I thought we'd spend our anniversary.  We did go eat dinner at The Italian Inn.  If you're ever in Fort Worth, it is such a fun and romantical restaurant.  They have a dance floor and live piano music.  And, you can leave your mark.  I wonder if it's still there.

Here's a photo of us from that first anniversary.

Not exactly a closeup, but that way you can't see how tired we were.  The next morning we loaded up and drove to Atlanta, destination number 2 on the journey of our marriage.

Here's us on our 2nd anniversary.  As is the trend, we didn't have much money for an elaborate celebration.  We went to a lovely dinner at what would become our favorite place for celebratory dinners in the Atlanta area, Relish

This is a more recent photo of us.  Each anniversary so far has been celebrated in a different state.  This year, we're in Kentucky [next year, who knows?].  We're planning to have a quiet supper at home tonight and go out one night this weekend.  Some people get to celebrate their anniversaries by taking trips...we haven't been blessed with that opportunity, but maybe someday!  We're just thankful to have another day together and are excited to see what comes next in the life of the McDonalds! 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Nice girls keep their cookies in a jar

Do you have a cookie jar?  I don't.  I always wondered if the cookies would get stale.  Also, if I had a cookie jar, I would eat cookies all the time and frankly, I don't need that kind of temptation in my life.  However, if you have a cookie jar I won't judge you.  I will only say that you should fill your jar with Dorie [cue angelic choir] Greenspan's Chocolate Oatmeal Drops.  This recipe along with a great many others can be found in her book, Baking From My Home to Yours.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 sticks butter, unsalted
1 Tbsp water
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
9 oz. bitter sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 350.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and cinnamon.
Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl and add the water, then the brown sugar and the chocolate.
This is 9 ounces of chocolate.

This is what it looks like after it's been chopped to smithereens.

Here's everybody in the pool.

Melt on low heat, stirring occasionally. The mixture does get smooth but it stays kind of grainy.  See, smooth but grainy.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Whisk in the dry ingredients, then the oats. Try not to stir it too much, though.

It's thick and kind of hard to mix, but be thankful you don't have to wash your KitchenAid.

Drop by tablespoonfuls on to your Sil-Pat or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes.  After they bake, let them cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes.  Place on a cooling rack to come to room temperature before storing.

This recipe makes about 50 cookies.  Sometimes I wish my cookies came out looking more uniform, but they never do.  These are particularly lumpy and rustic.  But that's just fine. I consider myself lumpy and rustic from time to time. Being lumpy and rustic is juuuuust fiiiiiine.

Next time I'm going to substitute coconut for the oats and see what happens.  These cookies are great with milk or coffee.  Because the chocolate isn't sweetened much at all, the complexity of the flavor of the cocoa itself really shines in this cookie, with the slightest hint of cinnamon.  Also, the center stays kind of chewy so that's always a win in my book.  These cookies were delivered to a local high school and also to a friend who had a baby over the weekend and therefore deserves to eat as much chocolate as she wants.  Enjoy, ya'll!

Monday, August 2, 2010

A recipe for living.

Today I spent 3 hours at a doctor's office.  Did I mention that said office is an hour and a half away?  To make matters worse, the waiting room was full of screaming children that belonged to women significantly younger than me.  I kept thinking to myself, "Are these women crazy?  Don't they know how to prevent this from happening?" I was admittedly feeling pretty judgemental.  I'm pretty sure that while I waited [1 hour and 45 minutes!] the other women were glaring right back at me.  I was just sitting there reading a cookbook, not pregnant, absent of any little munchkins hanging on me, chewing on my keys, or smearing crumbs in the chairs.  I finally got called back into the little room, I waited another hour before the doctor came in!  She then had the nerve--the nerve!--to ask if I'd been waiting too long.  Too long?  TOO LONG?  Doesn't she know how important my schedule is?  Doesn't she realize that...wait...I'm just a regular person, no different than any of the other women in that waiting room.  I didn't complain, and she was really nice anyway.  I should know from my own work experience that if you make a doctor's appointment in the middle of the day, expect to wait.  When I finally did leave, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I am not yet a parent, but remembered to leave my self-righteousness back in the examination room.  Maybe those women want all those children and I just can't understand that because I'm not a mom.  Maybe I need to remember that central Kentucky is definitely not Atlanta, and that it's normal for women to have children a lot younger outside of the urban areas of the US.  Maybe some of these women didn't plan on pregnancy either, but GOD did.  I felt myself flash a sympathetic smile towards some of the women still waiting as I left the building, ever so grateful that God hasn't given me that gift [yet]. 
After this escapade, I went to Subway where I got a sandwich, chips, and water.  Upon consumption, I promptly got sick.  That's what happens when you eat naturally as a rule and then eat something processed.  Where was my whole wheat?  Where were the organic veggies?  And, dum du dum, what about saying NO to nitrates?  Well you know what, I should have packed a snack.  I choose to be thankful for food when so many don't have it.  I choose to be grateful that I had a little money to pay for food instead of having to wait until I drove all the way home to have something to eat.  
Sometimes we just have days where things don't go the way we planned.   I didn't plan to essentially pay wait at the doctor.  I didn't plan to get a massive headache after I ate Subway.  The Bible says, "In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps" [Proverbs 16:9].  Some days just don't turn out like we think they will.  I don't know if you're like me, but I'm a planner.  Not with everything, but I like to know ahead of time what's expected of me on a given day.  I have learned to do this in order to survive.  Most people have no idea how introverted I am, and that's because I plan.  We have to allow room for the unexpected, and that is especially hard for me.  I'm getting old [27 on Aug. 30] and I am definitely stuck in my ways.  I hope you and I will remember that sometimes what's unexpected on our side of heaven is exactly the step that God planned for our life today. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Let's talk about cake, baby...

Not just any cake.  The best chocolate bundt cake since sliced bread.  When I first came across this recipe I was intrigued because it seemed old-fashioned.  As you may have noticed from my recent post on pie, I've taken it upon myself to revive seemingly "old-fashioned" recipes and make them a part of my recipe repertoire.  Yes, I spelled 'repertoire' correctly.  Anyway, I am now trying out any and all recipes that contain the words "mystery" or "surprise".  So far I haven't regretted it.  I think "bundt" falls into the same category, at least in my world, because I never see anyone making bundt cakes anymore.  I got the following recipe from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. 

This photo was taken the very first time I made this and if you look on the top side, you can see where part of it collapsed.  Hey, bundt pans are tricky!  But I've made it twice since then and I've got it down pat now. 

1 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp brewed coffee
3/4 cup cocoa
2 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp All-purpose flour, sifted

Put the coffee and cocoa in a small pot and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.  Let it come to room temperature before you get started on the rest of the batter.  Mix the sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs, and egg yolk.  Add in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, mixing for one minute.  Add the flour and mix for 2 minutes.  Then add in the cooled cocoa mixture and mix for 3 minutes.  Pour into heavily [I say that to ensure the cake will come out] oiled bundt pan.  Bake for one hour.  Let the cake cool almost completely before you take it out of the pan.  If you take it out when it's warm, you'll mess your cake up.  Trust me, I've done it!  When it's basically cool enough to handle, you'll know it's time to invert it onto your cooling rack.  While it's cooling the rest of the way, you can make the glaze.

6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup sour cream at room temperature
1/4 cup brewed coffee, cooled

Let me start off by saying that this glaze, to me, is too much for this cake.  I like a little glaze with my cake, not the other way around.  But you try and see what you think.  You can half this recipe, or you can use it to make sandwich cookies or extra-decadent chocolate-dipped strawberries.  Now let's get started...
Melt the chocolate slowly over a double-boiler.  While this is going, melt the butter into a seperate pot before whisking it into the chocolate.  When the chocolate and butter are smooth, remove the bowl from the double-boiler and sift in half the powdered sugar.  This makes it seem like the chocolate is seizing up or getting chunky but it's not.  Add in the sour cream and whisk to combine.  Sift in the remaining sugar until smooth.  Add in the coffee at the end to create a glossy glaze.  If chocolate had sex appeal, it would be found in this glaze.  You can put it on your cake in whatever manner you choose.  Just put it on the cake!

This cake always wows a crowd.  It's very moist and embodies the flavor of chocolate without being too sweet.  That's what the addition of the coffee does to the chocolate. 
I hope you try it!