Saturday, January 26, 2013

January's Getting to Me

I heard radio announcers say earlier this week that Monday was supposed to be the lowest emotional day of the winter. Christmas is over, credit card bills are arriving in mailboxes, the days are short, the sky is gray, and spring is still months away. I don't usually suffer from the winter blues given my rather obsessive appreciation of the seasons, but January caught up to me this week.

In weeks previous, I've had plenty to keep me occupied, friends from college visiting, Owl City songs, and discovering a delicious pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe being the chief pleasures. However, reality started to catch up to me this week. Two of my housemates are moving out in the next couple weeks and we don't have new housemates lined up (partly due to my neglient procrastination). This certainly brings an increased financial burden; however, it's the lack of companionship I'm particularly mourning this week. One housemate especially has been a good friend for over five years and made my transition to Whitworth as a freshman infinitely easier and more fun. I pondered this reality--the soon-to-be lack of companionship reality--as I walked to my car after work this week under a steel-gray sky.

On Thursday night, I came home from work feeling noticeably tired. The rest of the week, I had been taking walks in the evenings around the neighborhood, but I simply didn't want to walk on Thursday evening. Instead, I ate my leftover Caramelized Red Onion, Prosiutto, and Goat Cheese pizza and watched Northanger Abbey. On Friday, I was home by 3:30 PM and knew I needed to take a walk to take advantage of the daylight. I hadn't had anything planned outside of work this week, which was refreshing for the introvert in me, but I was getting to be a little too introspective for my own good. I needed a fresh perspective on life and walking seems to be good for that.

I called my parents, to whom I often speak when on walks, but they were about to go out for a walk themselves. I wavered briefly in my resolve, but shook off my hesitation, jammed my feet into my boots and set off. In the daylight, I love walking in the large, hilly, open space behind Whitworth known as the Back 40. I trudged through the snow at the beginning of the walk, disgruntled and sulky. But the more I walked and breathed in the vibrant fresh air, the more relaxed I became. The open space of the Back 40, uncluttered by houses and trees, the nippy air, the crunching snow all did something to untangle my thoughts and soothe my rumpled spirit.

The funny thing about walking by myself is that I seldom think about anything profound. I don't usually have epiphanies about personal problems or take advantage of the time to pray for friends and family as they come to mind. Walking is a way to just be. In fact, the only epiphanies I usually have involve God.

I walked farther yesterday than I have in a while. I walked up the hill to Whitworth, through the campus, and came back down the other side of the Back 40, a distance of two miles. On my way across the upper Back 40 to start my descent into the neighborhood, I was suddenly struck by the difference in perspective from the top of the hill. The slushy mess of snow on the streets below faded, and I could even see a hint of blue sky. At the time, I didn't connect my walk to any spiritual revelation, but as I think back on it now, it seems that the change in perspective from the top of the hill was most striking because I could see more clearly where I had been before on my walk.

In the midst of the grayness of January and the unsettled roommate situation, my walk gave me a gift. It gave me the perspective to see that I have the choice to trust that at some point in the future, I will be able to see from the mountaintop what I couldn't see in the valley. This perspective, while it doesn't make me particularly happy or change the reality of my situation, does give me hope. And hope is a wonderful thing to have in the slushy cold of January.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Food Interlude

I have a post of a more thoughtful nature coming this week, but I wanted to post these pictures of the Butternut Squash Prosciutto pizza I made with my friend Kari a couple weeks ago. The sauce is pureed squash:

Then we layered on mozzarella cheese, cubed and roasted butternut squash, and pieces of ultra-thin Trader Joe's prosciutto. Here we are layering on squash cubes:

The original recipe called for arugula on top, but we added kale, which is what I had on hand. We decided to try it on just half the pizza because we weren't sure how it would turn out.

And here's the finished product! It was delicious, but very squashy. In the future, I would put a rosemary-infused olive oil sauce layer (or even Alfredo) and keep everything else. I'd love to try it with arugula, too, instead of kale. But, in the end, all who tasted the pizza were happy and contented and wonderfully full.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Blessed Fellowship

I've had some great times of fellowship in the past week. Here's a couple snippets:

1. Last Friday night (1/4), I had a potluck dinner with two friends from church, Margaret and Bethany. Margaret's retired and Bethany is in grad school. I made Sweet Potato Black Bean burritos, Margaret had a delicious Italian salad with olives and tomatoes, and Bethany made a delicious chocolate pudding cake. We just had the most wonderful time talking together all about life and our Christmas vacations and families. I love hanging out with people of all different ages.

2. The first Tuesday of every month is a lunch with Partners friends that we call FIRED, Food is Really Ethnically Delicious. We moved the lunch to the second Tuesday this month because of New Year's Day, and we had the most wonderful experience. We were going to eat Thai food, but the restaurant was closed, so we ended up eating at an Ethiopian restaurant in a gas station/convenience store that's just opened about a mile from work. The couple that runs the restaurant came from Ethiopia 10 years ago to give their children a chance to get an education. It was our first truly ethnic meal for FIRED. We didn't order, though there was a menu. Rather, the owner brought us each a dish she made, a sampling from the menu. Before we ate, she walked around to each person with a special bowl and pitcher. She poured a warm stream of water over our hands while we scrubbed and then we dried off with a towel. We did this because you eat Ethiopian food with your hands by wrapping pieces of Injera flatbread around the meat and veggies. The food was delicious and the owner also roasted coffee beans and made us strong Ethiopian coffee. I even tried a bit just for the experience. It was fun!

3. On Tuesday, despite rather treacherous road conditions, five women met together at one woman's house for our montly Colbert Women Connecting With Women event. Because there were only five of us, each of us had a longer time to share than normal. We shared all about our Christmas breaks and the emotions that accompanied our vacations. It's always so good to share in these circumstances because several of us were experiencing similar emotions, especially reflecting on how family dynamics change as children age, move out of the house, and get married or have kids. Did anyone experience a different Christmas with these kinds of changes? What was it like?

4. On Thursday, my friend Kari who is visiting for the week, my housemates Pam and Heidi, and I had Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes for dinner with grapefruit, scrambled eggs, and kale/craisin/goat cheese salad. It was so fun! I love breakfast for dinner. After dinner, we had an awesome dance party! Yay for Owl City and One Direction! :)

5. Yesterday morning, my housemate Heidi and I had book club with our former professor Laura Bloxham. We've been discussing a book of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I highly recommend. But the most lovely part of the morning was the way Laura asked thoughtful questions about my and Heidi's lives and about the story we were studying. She is always interested and listens attentively and graciously. It gives me the wonderful feeling of being heard and understood. It was a good reminder to me that I need to continue to cultivate these qualities. What a lovely gift to give to someone: careful listening and thoughtful questions!

Each of these experiences and many more this week are evidence to me of God's continued and unmerited grace in my life. I tell these stories to inspire you to look for times of fellowship in your own life and to thank God for them. And honestly, my weeks vary. I'm not always surrounded with such opportunities for fellowship, but when the opportunities arise, I want to relish them.

The last thing I want to write about that's unrelated is the snow today. It's been simply gorgeous the past two days with blue skies and sun and continued so today. As I was sitting in church this morning, I looked out the window and the snow was falling so gently and quietly that it looked like it was floating in slow motion. It was magical. When I walked to my car, the snow sparkled on the ground like crystal. Thanks for the beauty, God!

May God bless you each with times of precious fellowship this week!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A New Year's Trip to TJs!

Does anyone have a New Year's resolution to be healthier? I have a resolution to eat more vegetables. This means I'll be eating vegetables I've never had before and finding new ways to cook familiar vegetables. I can't wait! Of course, this resolution of mine necessitated a trip to my two favorite foodie spots in Spokane: the Rocket Market and Trader Joe's. At the Rocket Market, I only ended up buying a Carlito Burrito for lunch, which has chorizo sausage, egg, sweet potatoes, yams, and spices. It's delicious! But at Trader Joe's, I snagged all this: 
And yes, I am going to repeat a former post in which I told you all about what I bought at Trader Joe's and why. :) It's easy for me to be hospitable at the beginning of the year because I have a number of friends visiting Spokane who live elsewhere. This coming week, I'm hosting two friends for dinner, and hosting another friend for a week's stay. The good news is that I get to cook for other people besides myself. YAY! A lot of what I bought at Trader Joe's today is for my hosting gigs this week. Here's what I bought:
1. Kale: I've recently been eating kale in salads. It's yummy, versatile, and healthy. My gluten-intolerant cousin made a delicious salad for Christmas with kale, dried cranberries, and goat cheese that I wanted to replicate. I have a potluck on Tuesday with women from Colbert, so I'm thinking of taking my cousin's salad.
2. Rice Medley: I don't normally buy frozen food because my freezer's already plenty full. But this rice looked really tasty. It's a combination of brown and red rice and black barley and each little package is ready in just three microwavable minutes. I'm thinking of making a West African Chicken Peanut soup this week when Kari's in town and thought this would be a great accompaniment.
3. Smoked Gouda: I bought Gouda cheese from Trader Joe's back in November for ham sandwiches and thought I'd try the smoked variety this time. Last Saturday, I bought a 6.5 pound ham from Egger's Meats, some of which is destined for sandwiches with this cheese. I had a yummy ham sandwich at Petit Chat recently that had mango chutney in it, so I think I might add some of my homemade tomato jam to the ham and gouda. Yum! :)
4. Prosciutto: When Kari's here, I'm thinking of making this butternut squash pizza. It doesn't call for prosciutto, but how could you go wrong? Plus, I can't recall every eating prosciutto, so I'm going to give it a try.
5. Goat Cheese: This is for the salad with kale and cranberries. I was tempted to get a bigger package, but I'm not quite sure how I would use it.
6. Polenta: I had just seen a polenta recipe in this Moosewood cookbook. The recipe is Polenta Casserole with Greens and Winter Squash. I'm thinking of making this for Angela Hunsaker and Jessica Leonardi, the friends who will be over for dinner this week. But I do have a dilemma now. Should I use the bagged kale for this recipe or for the salad? Any thoughts? I was thinking of buying two bags of the kale at Trader Joe's, but decided against it. Silly me.
7. Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins: A couple of my coworkers and I are watching the premiere of Downton Abbey Season 3 tomorrow night. This is my contribution to our party. My one coworker loves these cookies, and I have to agree that these elegant cookies have just the right aristocratic air.
Do you have any new year's resolutions? Tell me about them! I'd love to hear.
I hope everyone's having a blessed Saturday!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christmas 2012

It was so good to be home for Christmas. And when Elizabeth gets a cookbook, you know things are going to be good. :)

I flew to Portland in the morning on Friday, December 21. My friend Lorry picked me up, and we drove to Molalla to visit Lorry's husband's aunts. Lorry makes a delicious cardamom bread at Christmas, so we delivered two of the loaves to the two aunts and chatted with each of them for a bit. The countryside around Portland is so beautiful. Lorry and I talked a blue streak, and continued our time together at a Middle Eastern restaurant called Selma's in Gresham.

My dad picked me up at Lorry's house, and we drove to a place to pick out new glasses for my dad. The employee who was helping choose glasses for my dad was quite unique. She was very petite and couldn't sit still, like she'd just consumed five cups of coffee. She'd sit on the rolling chair at the desk and two seconds later would pop up, long black skirt swinging, and dodge here and there, pulling glasses off the display cases. My dad must've tried on 15 pairs. If anyone's read the Mitford novels by Jan Karon, this woman reminded me of Fancy Skinner, the hairdresser; a carbon copy!

On Saturday, my sister, mom, and I spent most of the day at my grandpa's Christmas tree farm. It was fun to spend time with my sister, and we had the most delicious grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch with artisan bread made by Lorry.

Julie and I left the tree farm at 2:30, and I drove to Vancouver to spend time with Tyler and Lydia Thralls, good friends of mine from Whitworth. Tyler and Lydia have befriended a Chinese exchange student at WSU-Vancouver and so they had invited this student and three of his friends over for dinner. Tyler made a bean/rice/ground beef African meal that was delicious.

We went to church on Sunday morning and then prepared for the Christmas party at my aunt and uncle's house with my mom's extended family. We ate dinner together and had a gift exchange of homemade items, which worked out surprisingly well. People were quite creative with what they made, and we had a good amount of stealing. My grandpa's homemade gift was two paper airplanes! There were lots of cookies in the exchange, too. In case we hadn't consumed of my aunt's homemade egg nog. :)

On Christmas Eve, I spent the morning with my friend, Ruth, and her family, whom I've known since my sophomore year of high school. Her dad, in his hospitable way, tried very hard to get me to drink a cup of coffee, but I valiantly resisted. I did happily consume a mug of hot cocoa made by Ruth's ninth-grade brother, who had grown about three feet taller since the last time I saw him. :)

My family went to the Christmas Eve service at Greater Gresham Baptist at 3 PM. The theme of the service was Light in the Darkness, and they had a beautiful narrated play about the themes of light and darkness in Scripture. It was very moving.

This is the first Christmas Eve/Day that we haven't had an extended-family party. Instead, a good family friend, Claudia, came over for dinner Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day. Claudia's husband and son were both away for the holiday for work, so it was a great pleasure to have her at our house; she's family.

On Christmas Eve night, we had individual homemade pizzas that were delicious (much to Julie's surprise), and then played Taboo together. On Christmas day, we woke up and opened our stockings and then had these:

They're called Pull-Aparts and it's our Thanksgiving and Christmas morning breakfast every year. They are SO good that I had to have one for breakfast again on Wednesday morning as my mom drove me to the airport. :) We always take a photo, too, of us getting ready to scarf down several pull-aparts apiece. I think this was the weirdest one yet, but I love it! Then, we opened presents. Here's one choice photo:

Contrary to the box above, this was actually a gift certificate from Julie to my dad. :)

After presents, I set my roll dough to rising and my mom, dad, and I took a walk around the lake in a drenching rain. My dad and I raced the last block, my dad narrating as though we were horses in the Kentucky Derby. Claudia came with a honey-baked ham for a mid-afternoon feast. We rounded out the meal with my Walnut Potato rolls, cooked broccoli, pineapple, and twice-baked potatoes with cheese. It was absolutely delicious!

Before and after dinner, we exchanged presents with Claudia. The four of us had each gotten her a gift, and she got us each a gift. It was so fun! We laughed so much, as some of the gifts were inside jokes, such as the ones above. I thought it was clever that Claudia had wrapped my and my mom's gifts in "nice" paper, Julie's in nice and naughty (because we're not sure which she is), and my dad's in naughty paper. I suppose in reality, though, we're all a mix of both. :) 

We ended the day at Claudia's house with yummy frosted sugar cookies and hot cocoa. We watched the animated Grinch and Home Alone. It was a delightful, peaceful end to a fun-filled day. I am so blessed by the friends and family God has given me. May we faithfully thank God every day of the year in light of all the good gifts God bestows, especially the most precious gift of Emmanuel, God With Us.

Happy New Year!