"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philipians 3:13b,14

Monday, December 5, 2011

Creme Brulee French Toast! (Make-Ahead, Overnight, and DELICIOUS)

This french toast is taunting me.

There is a piece left over in the fridge.

I need to have a protein smoothie- it is race week for me, and I can't be eating Creme Brulee French Toast every day.

.....but I would if I could!

This tastes SO good!

And you can make it the night before, so all you have to do in the morning is pop it into the oven!

Here's what you need:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tb corn syrup (If you are anti-corn syrup, I am sure honey would work)
1 loaf  french bread, unsliced (Or 6-7 THICK slices french or egg bread)
5 eggs
1 1/2 cup half and half
1 tsp. vanilla 
1/4 tsp salt

So the night before, you're going to make the French Toast. In a small saucepan on low heat, melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and the corn syrup, and stir until the sugar is dissolved:

Then, pour this mixture into a 9x13 pan that's been sprayed with Pam:

Then take your bread and slice it thick (I do about 1 1/2" slices) and put 6 pieces into the pan. Then I cut some smaller pieces and fit them in, so there isn't much empty space:

Then, beat together the eggs, half and half, vanilla, and salt, and pour over the bread, soaking each piece.

Toe thumb sighting. Ugh.

I am sorry for the horrible lighting. It was late, and dark.

Ok, now at this point, cover the pan with foil and put it in the fridge until morning.

In the morning, the recipe says to take out the pan and bring to room temperature. I don't do that. I usually take it out before I run, and bake it when I get home, but that's usually only 1 1/2 hours or so. I have also baked it straight from the fridge. It just takes a bit longer.

Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the French Toast, UNCOVERED, for 40- 50 minutes, or until puffed and slightly golden.

I forgot to take a photo until we had eaten most of it! So when you serve the Creme Brulee French Toast, you'll flip the piece over so that the caramely yummy part is on the top. Mmmmmmmmm.....

This is a great recipe for the holidays, I have served it often for Christmas breakfast. So good!!

I slightly adapted this recipe from allrecipes.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Kind to People Who... Aren't

"Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not."
~Samuel Johnson

"Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you- not because they are nice, but because you are."
~Author Unknown

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

I am just going to be honest here.

This is a tough subject. 

I have people in my life that are difficult. I would imagine everyone does. People who tend toward unreasonable demands, who can be unkindly critical, who dislike core components of my personality.

In the past, I would deal with these types of people by being confrontational. That didn't work so well, because difficult people don't typically tend to look honestly at their own actions. (And mind you, I in no way consider myself to be innocent and perfect in any of my relationships. I am open to acknowledge my own faults and wrongdoings. Which, I know, are plentiful.) 

When that failed, I would, under the guise of creating "boundaries", simply refuse to be around these types of people. That doesn't work either, because there are going to be difficult people that you have to interact with, due to the nature of their involvement in our lives. For example, if the person is someone you work with, are you going to quit your job? What if the person is a family member? Are you going to avoid family functions? 

So with those options removed, I was left with another choice. Find a way to deal with difficult people and situations with integrity and kindness. (NOT that I am always able to do this well, or at all! But it is something I think about frequently, and truly strive to accomplish.) Here are some of the things I've learned:

It's not personal:
I know this seems like a contradiction- if someone is saying unkind or critical things about you, personally, how can it not be personal?? One thing I've learned is that people have insecurities, hurts from the past, walls built up that have nothing to do with me. Sometimes, after getting to know someone better, they share some of their history with me, and a light bulb goes off. They are reacting to something I am doing, not because they hate me or because I am doing something wrong, but because they have a previous issue that hasn't been dealt with. In those types of situations, I try my very best not to take the actions/words personally, and move on. Being confident of your decisions and who you are- that's infinitely helpful in this, because you don't feel as threatened or defensive. You can just chalk it up to a difference of opinion and move on.

Plan neutral topics of conversation:
This seems so silly, and feels contrived the first few times you put it into action. But when I have to spend more than a fleeting amount of time with someone who I know may bring up topics that will make me upset or defensive, I try and think up conversation starters that could lead to polite, interesting conversation. Maybe the person is interested in a certain hobby, or books, or movies. Perhaps you could ask them a question that is in their field of expertise. Try and brainstorm ideas that you can use to divert an unpleasant conversation, or fill too-lengthy silences.

Sometimes the kindest thing is silence:
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am NOT a quiet person by nature. I talk a LOT. I am opinionated. I get passionate about certain issues. I almost incessantly joke around. Those things are part of who I am. There are times, however, when I can add nothing constructive or kind in a conversation, either because I disagree so strongly with the bent of the opinions being offered, or because I know my opinion or joking will be taken in a way other than it is intended.  I have found, in those times, the best and kindest way to participate is to politely disengage and be quiet. You don't always have to argue your point. Especially if you have been all the way down that road with someone multiple times. They know your opinion. You know theirs. Neither appears to be softening. Why get your hackles up? Silence doesn't always imply agreement. It can also imply class, kindness, strength, and self-control. It can allow you to still have an agreeable conversation, later, about a less polarizing topic. 

Think about Jesus:
I know the whole "WWJD" thing has been way, cheesily overdone. But sometimes, when I get hurt or upset about something someone has said that attacks or demeans me, I think of Jesus. He came to earth to save us. He was and is perfect. But a lot of people hated Him. Treated Him like garbage. Lied about Him. 

......and eventually killed Him.

No one is doing or saying anything to me that even slightly, remotely touch the things that were done to Jesus. If He endured with love and integrity and dignity, I know, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can too. 

I won't do it perfectly. I sometimes won't even do it well. But it is a worthwhile effort.

Being kind glorifies God:
It is important to remember that being kind to someone who isn't is not intended to benefit the unkind person. It is intended to be an act of obedience that glorifies God. This is a something to remind yourself about over and over. People, including unreasonable people, see kindness and are impacted by it. Even if is seems like they aren't. Even if you feel like you're being a fool, or being taken advantage of, or looking weak. You aren't. The only thing that is going to last from this life is the relationships we invest ourselves in. Sacrifices that seem to garner nothing here will look different in eternity. Remember that. Better yet, remind yourself of that constantly. 

I love this quote from Spurgeon:
"A good character is the best tombstone. Those who have loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble."

Even the seemingly unpleasant things we do while we're alive count. So press on and do the best you can to love others. Even the difficult ones.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Quick and Easy Baked Ziti (For Dinner or For the Freezer...)

This is one of those dinners that I love for multiple reasons.

It's quick and easy to put together.

You can make it ahead of time, stick it in the fridge, and pop it in the oven at dinnertime.

It is GOOD left over for lunches or future dinners.

It freezes VERY well.

It is ideal to take to someone if you are bringing them dinner.

.....have I convinced you to try it?

Here's what you need:
1 lb tube-shaped pasta (I used penne)
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 onion, chopped
2- 26 oz jars pasta sauce
2 cups shredded cheese, mozzarella, monterey jack (what I used) or provolone
1 1/2 cups sour cream (I used light)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook up the pasta, drain. While it's cooking, brown the ground meat and onion in a large saucepan, drain, and add the pasta sauce. Simmer until the pasta is done, or about 10 minutes.

Grate the cheese. Or buy already grated cheese. (But just so you know, already grated cheese is a rip-off)

Oh, except this Parmesan cheese, it's the same price as the block of Parmesan,

Spray a 9x13 pan with Pam. I used a disposable pan, because I was taking this to someone else for dinner. If I was going to freeze the baked ziti, I would also use a disposable pan, just so I'm not putting one of my regular pans out of commission. 

Put half the pasta in the pan, then half the shredded jack cheese, spread all of the sour cream over that, then add half the sauce:

Then put the other half of the pasta, the other half of the jack cheese, and the rest of the sauce. The pan will be full. Mmmmmmmmm.

Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top:

Spray some foil with Pam, then cover the ziti with the foil, Pam side down.

Okay, now you have three options! If you want to freeze this for a later day, let it cool then freeze it! I usually put it in a large Ziploc bag or wrap it in saran wrap before freezing. When you bake this from the freezer, you can either thaw it and bake it for 30-40 minutes at 350, or I have put it directly in the oven from the freezer, and it takes about double the cooking time, same temperature.

Option two is to put the covered pan into the fridge for later that day, then bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes at dinnertime. This option also works for taking this to someone else for a meal! Just add a sticky note with the instructions!

Option three is to bake right after you assemble the pasta. If you do this, bake it at 350 for about 20 minutes. It takes less time because it's already hot. 

This kind of dish is perfect for our current crazy holiday time of year, when your people still want to eat, but you have less time to cook!

I got this recipe from allrecipes.com

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oreo Overload Cupcakes

It was Wade's birthday recently.

His usual birthday "cake" of choice is Key Lime Pie, which I made for a family birthday dinner.

But I wanted to surprise him by taking something to his work.... and he has been on an unbelievable Oreo kick lately! I sometimes wonder if I am being some kind of enabler by continuing to purchase multiple packages of these cookies. I sometimes try and put my foot down..... but Wade is really cute. It's hard to say no to him.

So I found several recipes, and sort of combined a few, simplified, and came up with these!!

Yeah.... exactly. Make these.

Mmmmmm hmmmmmm...

Here's what you need:
  • 1 box chocolate cake mix (Yes, all the recipes called for a from-scratch cake. But cut me some slack, I was totally sick for a week, and have been playing catch-up. Sometimes practicality wins.)
  • 1 package regular Oreos
  • 1 container of the mini Oreos (for garnish on top of the cupcakes, not necessary, but cute.) (I mean, cool. Wade wouldn't want "cute" cupcakes.)
  • 2 containers of the white "whipped" icing- if you are going to use a knife to spread the icing on the cupcakes, you could probably just use one container. I plopped the icing in a Ziplock and snipped a corner off and sort of piped the icing on so it would be thick. I used most of the 2 containers.

Hey, just a side note- when you see these labels on packages, you should save them!! Schools get money when they turn these in, so even if your kid doesn't go to a school that redeems these, I'm sure you know someone who has a kid that DOES go to a school that redeems them! Free money rocks.

Line 24 muffin tins with paper cups, and place an Oreo in the bottom of each cup, like so:

Then make the box of cake mix up, according to the directions.

A side note here- some genius at Betty Crocker decided to put "Do Not Eat Raw Cake Batter" on the box. They did the same thing on their brownie mix box. Now, I know this is probably because someone sued them. But SERIOUSLY??!! Who is going to be deterred from eating raw batter because of a bossy box?? It seems like a waste of ink to me. Unfortunately, I was not consulted on the matter.

Okie dokie, now that you have made up the cake batter (And taken care NOT to eat ANY raw cake batter...), fill the cups 2/3 full, and bake according to the box directions. Note how I choose to follow some of the instructions on the box, but not all of them. YOU, of course, are free to follow the non-eating-of-the-cake-batter instructions. It's a free country.

Meanwhile, blend up or crush 3 Oreos to make crumbs. Mix these with the icing. After the cupcakes are cool, ice them. Then stick a mini Oreo on top of each cupcake.

Happy Baking!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crock Pot Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

The cooler weather has come to town.

Flannel sheets.

Jeans and sweaters.

Gloves and a beanie for running.

......and crock pot meals!!

This roasted chicken is SUPER easy, and tastes SO good!! Plus, when whole roasting chickens are on sale, you can generally get several and freeze them, so that you have some on hand! This is a VERY inexpensive meal that tastes awesome!

Spray the inside of your crock pot with Pam. Then add some peeled, cubed potatoes and carrots. For our family, I used 4 potatoes and 3 carrots. Other things I have added when I have them on hand are; a quartered onion, whole garlic cloves, or whole shallots.

Then drizzle the potatoes and carrots with some olive oil. Note the classy rubber band closure holding my watch band together. I am too cheap to fork over the $$ for a new band. And yet I'll pay $80 to run a race. 

I have problems.

Season the potatoes and  carrots well. I like Lawry's salt, Mrs. Dash (the Trader Joe's version is called 21 seasoning salute) and garlic. If I put pepper, inevitably Nicholas gets a large chunk, declares the meal "too spicy" and doesn't want to finish his portion. So I omitted it in the interest of peace.

Here's the chicken. I have no idea why you would want a "young chicken". And I also have NO idea why ANYONE would need to know that "pars of giblets may be missing"!!! GIBLETS ARE NASTY! It is so gross that they have those things in the chicken! It is hard enough for me to touch raw meat without having to deal with internal organs on top of it! (Part of which may be missing by the way, according to the package. In case you were wondering where the kidney went.)


So dump the guts out <GAG>, rinse the chicken out with water, pat dry, and plop on top of the potatoes. Then drizzle with olive oil and season. I used Lawry's salt, Mrs. Dash, and rosemary sprigs. Then I added one quartered lemon, because I bought a huge bag of lemons earlier in the week. 

Cook on high for 6-8 hours. Your house will smell amazing. 

The leftovers, if you have any, are a great addition to soup, salads, or casseroles! 

Here are a few more crock pot recipes!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Peace in a Free Fall

Before I write the rest of this post, I have to get something out of the way.

It is woefully ridiculous that I am using this particular analogy.

I would never, NEVER jump out of an airplane with a parachute. (Barring, of course, some unforeseen compulsion by a killer who is holding my children hostage, or a zillionaire who offers me millions of dollars.....) (The first scenario is far more likely to compel me than the second...)

Do you know what I mean, though, when I talk about being in a free fall? Something that puts you in a complete and utter panic. Something that makes you feel powerless, out-of-control, overwhelmed, ill-equipped, alone. Most of all, afraid. Terrified, even.

.....I have things like that.

Financial burdens, relationship failures or serious tensions, medical issues, death, children living in disobedience, unemployment...... these are all situations that can throw us into a free fall.

For me, being in a free fall means it's hard to focus on the rest of life. I have a hard time eating or sleeping. It feels like there's constant chaos inside my head. I can't just be. I'm antsy, jittery, discontent, constantly searching for a solution that will satisfy the overpowering fear in my heart and allow me to have some respite.

There is a solution. And it's simple.

......simple, but not easy.

I mean, we're talking about peace during the free fall.  Not peace after your chute's opened like it's supposed to, and you're close enough to the ground that you're pretty sure you won't end up as pulp. I imagine free fall being more like the chaos in my head- loud, out-of-control, overwhelming, dissonant, scary. All-encompassing.

The (short version) simple answer is this: take a deep breath and do the next right thing. The VERY next right thing.

Here's the long version....

God is in control:

Psalm 16:5 says "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure." Everything that we have to deal with is assigned by God. I don't say that callously or flippantly. I have been in situations that were horrible, unfair, not to be understood. And I know there are some of you that are immersed in things that I couldn't even fathom. I get that. I feel the weight of that.

...and yet still, I believe that God is in control. That He makes our lot secure. Ultimately, there is nothing we can lose that can't be restored on the other side of eternity. I know that does little to lessen the pain and struggle of loss and trials right now. But sometimes, the hope we have is this- whatever we are experiencing is finite, temporary (even if temporary seems like a long, long time). That is enough to help us take a deep breath, know that the creator of the universe is in control, and, eventually, we will be ok. Whatever that means. However that gets worked out. Our job isn't to work it all out, our job is to obey and have faith.

Accept your limits:

I like to be on top things. (That is a very polite way of saying I like to be in control of things). But guess what? I'm not in control of everything. Sometimes it seems as though I am in control of nothing. When I am in a free fall, not having control feels AWFUL!! I feel like I want to do anything within my power to gain some portion of control.

This is what I've learned- there's some times in life when I am not going to have control over a situation. Accepting that helps me deal with the trial in peace and contentment. Instead of exhausting myself by trying to imagine ways in which I can gain control, my energy is sometimes better spent figuring out how exactly I can best obey God's will for me in the midst of the circumstance. I can then turn my focus to myself- my attitude, my actions, by thoughts, and make them obedient. By doing that, I AM in control. No matter what the external situation in, I can still be in control of my response, my path.

Stay in the present:

Let's say you're in a free fall. You need to focus on the very next right thing. If you expend too much effort planning your landing strategy, and forget to pull your rip cord....uuhhh.... that's not going to work out so well. To use another analogy, that's why I LOVE trail running. When you're on mountain trails, there are a ton of rocks, roots, debris that you have to run through. You have to, each step, look and find the right spot to put your foot. That takes all your focus. (I know this, because when I try and chat, or look that the view, I fall down. Ugh.) The thing I love about that, is that it FREES me. All I am ABLE to think about is where my next step will go. I HAVE to do that for my own self-preservation. I can't dwell on other things. Having a single, focused purpose is so amazingly liberating. Calming. Restorative.

Sometimes we get into situations that are complicated. Problems that, despite our best efforts, we cannot see where we can go from here, or how the solution will come. We can look to the past and try and see how we got there. We can look to the future and do mental gymnastics trying to figure out how we will get OUT of the hard spot.

....that is exhausting. And, most often, not really helpful. Sometimes counter-productive. Because, while pressing forward to the future is beneficial and God-ordained, I believe we do that by making right choices in the here-and-now, the present. By being singular in our focus. God says, in Philippians 3:13,14 "But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." We are pressing forward, not to a set of specific solutions that we have pre-figured out, but to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.That one purpose. We are pressing forward in obedience, being thankful for the hope and future that Christ provided for us. A future that is perfect and secure. Even if our "right now" isn't.

Fake it 'till you make it:

I am just going to tell you, this WORKS. But is is HARD.

Emotions are not a good indicator of how we should act. Emotions change, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute. If our emotions are the driving force for our actions, well, that makes for a very tumultuous existence.

After taking the time to think through how to best obey God in a certain situation, we often (almost always) face the daunting, unpleasant task of beginning the path of "doing the next right thing" in complete contrast to our emotions. Likely in opposition to our sense of self-preservation. Usually in a direction that takes us out of our comfort zone. I am going to tell you the secret to accomplishing this.

Suck it up. Do it. The feeling will come.

Sorry. There's no magic that makes it feel better. But it will feel better. The route of obedience leads directly to peace. I don't know how that happens. I just know that it DOES. A switch flips after a while. But there's a lag time, a time in which you will feel afraid, uncomfortable, like you're using an eyedropper to fill a chasm. I promise you, with all that I've experienced, that feeling goes away.

Do the NEXT right thing. Take a deep breath. Do it again. Find people who will encourage you in this venture. Focus on what YOU are supposed to be doing. Not on how unfair the situation is. Not on someone else isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing. Not on how so-and-so has it so much easier. Doing the next right thing takes effort. Don't waste your energy on thoughts that take you away from your goal.

When the peace comes, be thankful for the Provider:

Don't forget, after you're out of the free fall, how bad you thought it was and how you were brought through it. Remembering God's provision and help to us in the fiery trials of life gives us hope for the next round- but only if we remember His hand in our lives. For some people, journals provide this reminder. I like keeping track of God's provision in journal form. I also have a pile of "remembrance stones" on my front porch- each painted with a reminder of God's provision for myself and some of my close friends..... something like that can be an aid to help us. To remind us to get back into the place of trust and obedience when we face circumstances that throw us, again, into a free fall. God is good. He truly helps us and loves us. Remembering that is key to staying focused and not getting sucked into a hopeless pit.

After you're back on the ground, you have a responsibility- to use the things God has taught you to live differently. This is good news. God shapes us through trials. In a wonderful way. He gives us tools and means that we didn't have before. He equips us. Be mindful of that, and walk in the strength of it. You survived a free fall. That is an amazing thing.

....It seems fitting to end with one of my favorite quotes from Elisabeth Elliot is this: "The secret is Christ in me, not a different set of circumstances."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mouth- Watering Crock Pot Pot Roast

I really just wanted to type pot pot to see if anyone thought it was a typo. Ha ha.

I have to apologize in advance- I got so busy around dinner time that I forgot to take an "after" photo of the Pot Roast all served up on the plate!! But rest assured, it is delicious and will get rave reviews from your people!

PLEASE don't tell Wade that this recipe contains Cream of Mushroom soup!! He loathes mushrooms, yet loves this roast. (It makes me sad that I am the only mushroom lover in the house. Here is what I don't get- the boys will eat CANDY CORN for Pete's sake, but not mushrooms!! Seriously??!)

Here's what you need:
  • Potatoes (either a small bag of red potatoes, or 3-4 baking potatoes peeled and cubed)
  • Carrots (I used a small bag of baby carrots
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup (shhhhhhhh)
  • 2/3 soup can of milk
  • 1 packet Lipton Onion Soup mix
  • pot roast- I've used all different cuts, between 2.5-5 lbs. 
  • a handful of rosemary sprigs (optional, but good)

Throw the potatoes and carrots in the bottom of the crock pot. Plop the frozen meat-sicle on top. You can also use a thawed roast. I usually put mine in frozen, but I have put a thawed roast in and it works just fine!

Mix up the mushroom soup, milk, and onion soup. Pour over the top of  the meat.

Throw the rosemary sprigs in... and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

P.S....... when your dad gives you a roast from his side of beef, make sure there aren't little strings tied around the roast. Because those strings are not delicious. That is all.

I got this recipe from www.allrecipes.com