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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Cooking

Twice-baked Potatoes: "to look the world back into grace"

Ben Goshow

Twice baked potatoes are on the menu for tonight. No, my friends, this isn’t functionality for dinner. This is the extravagance afforded when the second draft of Mom’s book has been turned in, and there is time for massaging potato skins with oil, baking them at leisure, scooping out and ricing the entrails, beating them into a frenzy with fat, and then returning them to the oven to let each crown of cheddar cheese get gooey. Nathan is the foodie of the family. Today, when he drops his school bags at the door and asks what’s for dinner, I’ll tell him “twice baked potatoes” and can expect to be emphatically and unapologetically kissed, never mind that he’s eleven and in middle school now. (Yesterday, I had a gigantic hug on the basis of homemade guacamole.)

Food is love. And because I have a piece about this I wrote for Today’s Christian Woman, which will be published in a couple of weeks, I dare not spill all my stories here. Still, it’s fascinating to me that I feel the compunction to begin this blog post to tell you what’s on the menu.

Yesterday, tacos.

Today, twice-baked potatoes.

Maybe I’m thinking of food because, having now turned in the second draft of my book, I’m back to reading and have taken up, The Supper of the Lamb by Robert F. Capon. The entire book is dedicated to one recipe – and to the spirituality of food and the gathering it inspires. This book comes highly recommended, and I know I’ll enjoy it despite that at Camille’s piano lesson yesterday, I was falling asleep through chapter five, which appears to be a long and poetic meandering. Beautiful, I’m sure, but not the kind of reading to keep you awake in a dimly-lit room at 7:30 at night. Not when your head is thick with a cold, and you got out of bed at 4:45 am.

But here is a beautiful part in an early chapter of the book: it’s about seeing and about the beauty we re-see into the world when we pay it some attention.

“There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it into bits – witness the ruined monuments of antiquity. One the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its light and shadow warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling . . .

The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men.”

Our world is beautiful because God made it so and sees it so. And when we do the work of seeing — when we pay the “whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string” some rightful attention — we begin to more fully belong to him.

I suppose the kitchen is a place, for me, of seeing: of seeing my family, of seeing the beauty of food, of seeing the holiness of something as everyday and unextraordinary as whipped potatoes. I feel more alive when I’m living with the materiality of food – and recognizing my body’s presence in space and time.

But then, I must write about it – because it’s almost as if I can only make it most real by naming it. I have to write because without those words, I am tempted by blur and busy and bustle, too hurried to really live.

So then, twice-baked potatoes. And a blog post – to tell you what’s on the menu.

Eat with Joy: Book review, author interview and giveaway!

jenmichel@me.com

Eatwithjoy(Leave a comment today and enter to win a free copy of Rachel Marie Stone's Eat with Joy!) * * * * *

I’ve learned to watch for spring’s arrival in asparagus and rhubarb stalks. And it has arrived – finally! – here in Toronto. After our farmer’s market spree this past weekend, we celebrated with strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert and bacon-wrapped baked eggs and poached asparagus for Sunday breakfast. (Find the original recipe for the eggs here).

As they say, food is love.  And I say, pass the romance – it’s finally in season.

It’s probably easiest to read Rachel Marie Stone’s Eat with Joy (Intervarsity Press, 2013) in the spring, when the farmer’s market is coming alive with color and texture. Where’s the corn? Andrew asked optimistically this past Saturday as we strolled through asparagus and rhubarb, fiddleheads and pea shoots.

Not yet, I said. But July’s coming fast.

Reading Rachel Marie Stone’s wonderful book about eating that is joyful, generous, communal, restorative, sustainable, creative and redemptive is a perfect entrée into the spring and summer harvests, and I want to highly recommend it to you, whether or not you are the one who actually does the cooking in your home. In fact, I recently just told my husband that he’s going to need to read this book. It says what I feel about food, I told him.

Stone does a beautiful job of setting the table theologically for the idea that food is more than fuel. She takes her cues from the creation and salvation narratives, which portray God as the gracious host of creation. “[In the garden of Eden], we eat because God, having prepared for and welcomed us as honored guests, loves to feed us.” In the New Testament, of course, Christians have a meal, which Jesus commends as a way to remember him, and we’re looking forward to a feast, which he will prepare for us as the wedding supper of the Lamb. Everything in the book flows from this idea that God welcomes us, feeds us, hosts us, and here are several examples of how her theology implicates practice:

Hospitality. “Eating with others and inviting people over and cooking for them in your house are things worth doing, and here’s why: because we need to take turns being guest and host, like Jesus did. We need to go to awkward meals at other awkward people’s messy houses and have people over to our awkward, messy houses because that’s where grace comes to us - in the awkwardness and in the mess.”

Slow Food. “I do think that overemphasizing speed and convenience can rob us of the sense that food is important - a way in which God extends loving care to us - and an important way for us to practice God-given creativity while celebrating God’s own creation.”

Justice. “If we hold them (those who prepared our food) in our minds and bring them before God, we will not remain numb to their suffering and eat the fruits of their labor in ignorance.”

Gratitude. “Slowing down, paying attention to the food and to the people who made it and with whom we’re eating allows us to take in more deeply the pleasures of the table, made possible by the hand of the God who feeds us all.”

Stone’s book is more than theoretical, however. It is filled with beautiful stories (my particular favorite is how Rachel took steak to 91-year-old Jack every Saturday night in the nursing home!) and practical advice for how to get started in the practice of joyful eating. There are prayers at the end of every chapter (I’ve included my favorite below) as well as delicious recipes (I tried the black bean and corn quinoa – yum!).

And for those of us generally overwhelmed with the thought of one more responsibility, Stone’s book is more delight than duty. You won’t find the book heavy on condemnation for eating food that is processed or trucked in from Argentina. In fact, the spirit of the project and the tone of the book is gracious; I find Stone willingly grants a lot of room for our humanity. We don’t get things all right all the time, nor is any of us really capable of overhauling all of our habits today.

“Don’t despise the small but significant act,” says Stone, quoting from N.T. Wright, and that’s just the kind of invitation I think galvanizes courage for change.

In the final chapter, Stone addresses the “less than perfect” food situations in which she and her family sometimes find themselves. Though she obviously holds strongly to ideas about food and table, she doesn’t wish for those ideas to become a club of judgment wielded against those who do not.

“I’m a Christian first; and as strongly as I feel about food as a conduit of God’s love and as a site for loving God and neighbor, choosing the ‘right’ kind of food (whatever that is) is much less important to me than giving thanks to God and being kind to my neighbor.”

You’ll find reason for guiltlessly feasting – on grace AND on pie – when you read Rachel Marie Stone’s Eat With Joy.

And I hope you will.

* * * * *

“God of the just weight,

and the fair measure,

let me remember the hands,

that harvested my food, my drink,

not only in my prayers,

but in the marketplace.

Let me not seek a bargain

That leaves another hungry.”

* * * * *

Here are some questions I asked Rachel, who is a fellow contributor at Christianity Today’s blog for women.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for American families wanting to "eat with joy?"

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles for many families is the sense many of us have that meals must either be gourmet, Pinterest-worthy affairs or else that cooking and eating meals together is a waste of time. In other words, I think many families feel pressure on the one hand to make every meal an ‘event,’ and on the other, that meals aren’t worth the time it takes to make and eat them together. Many families are really busy, and feel they don’t have the time to sit down and eat together. This often leads to eating fast food a bit too often and to a sense that meals are less important than whatever we’re rushing through them to get to: soccer practice, music lessons, church events.

What are your particular challenges to eating with joy in Malawi? (Rachel lives in Africa with her family.)

It is sobering to realize how many people in the world still really struggle with food security; how many children experience stunted growth and intellectual limitation simply from not getting enough to eat, or enough fat and protein. At the same time, encountering these hard truths on a regular basis reminds me of the importance of gratitude for what we have, the need for wise stewardship of what resources we’re blessed with.

You offer so many points of action in your book (which are WONDERFUL). But if I'm in a family who eats processed food or dines out (and NEVER cooks), what first small step do I take toward implementing "joyful eating?"

I’d suggest trying a new ‘from-scratch’ recipe or two each week. And start with something simple…like pancakes from scratch. Many, many things that we’ve grown accustomed to buying prepared or in a mix are actually startlingly easy to make yourself. It can be really satisfying, for example, to make a cake or muffins NOT from a boxed mix. It’s so much easier than many people realize.

Do you have any particular cookbooks you like recommending?

I certainly do! I love the Mennonite Central Committee cookbooks—More With Less, Extending the Table, and Simply in Season—the recipes are simple, healthy, and frugal, and the goal of each of the cookbooks is to get people cooking and eating with greater mindfulness toward issues of hunger in the world while encouraging them to enjoy new foods. They influenced my thinking about food tremendously. In a totally different vein, I love the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, especially the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. These recipes come out perfectly every time (if you follow them exactly!) because they’ve been tested extensively, and they have great explanations of the science behind certain results—why, for example, cookie recipes tell you to add eggs “one at a time, beating after each addition.”

In the process of writing the book, did you ever feel you were too busy to cook in the ways that you wanted to and that you were commending to readers? Were you able to continue your ministry of hospitality?

This is where community life is fantastic. My mom and dad were around to help out with practical things, and my husband was able to give me extra time to work on the book. So I did, for the most part, continue with our regular sorts of meals. Cooking is such a different activity from writing that it was actually great to step away from the computer and do something that engaged more of my senses. However, there were a few times during the writing of this book—when I’d be out for the day writing in libraries and coffee shops—when I’d be so engaged that I’d forget to eat. How’s that for irony!?

(More about book writing) What is the biggest lesson about writing that you learned in the process of writing your first book? What worked? What didn't? And what will your second book be about?

The biggest lesson about the process is that it is just that: a process. Six years ago I wrote out almost a full manuscript of a book very like the one I just published, and eventually scrapped it. That’s right—scrapped it, and started over. It didn’t have the focus I wanted, but it helped me find the heart of what I really wanted to say. And when I found that, creating a new outline and writing new chapters flowed pretty organically.

I also learned that there is no formula, no single right way to write any single chapter or any book for that matter. I used to think that I ‘had’ to structure things a certain way, and I learned that this isn’t true!

As for the second book, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with the folks at Olive Branch Books/Peace Hill Press on their series of religious education curricula for children. God’s Upside Down Kingdom, a book about Jesus, will be out later this year.

 

 

 

Monday's Menu: Food for Thought: Philosophy, Politics, and The Business of Calling

jenmichel@me.com

Coming Up This Week  First, I'll look back at the calling series I started in August. (I know, I know. I'm famous for fast starts and slow finishes). I'll take two days to review snippets from the fifteen days I've written so far. Then, I intend to finish five additional days on the subject of calling. (And no, this won't all be done this week.)

Day 16: Wind and Waves: Why calling may rock your boat

Day 17: Ordinary: You never thought it would feel like this

Day 18: Waiting Room: Until God calls your number

Day 19: You Suck: "Tell me something I didn't know"

Day 20: Body Life: How the Church matters in the business of calling

 

Food for Thought

What Christian Women Want This Election Season: Your guide to the issues that matter this November (by Rachel Held Evans, Karen Swallow Prior, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Anna Broadway, Trillia Newbell). This promises to be a persuasive, fair-handed look at the issues that we should be considering for our upcoming presidential election. 49 pages, and only $4.99 for your Kindle!

The 5 Steps to Writing a Book by Donald Miller. This is terrific encouragement for the despairing writer. "By writing, you are saying to God I agree with you, you gave me a voice and the gifts was not in vain."

A Philosopher Defends His Religion (A New York Times Book Review of Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism." The book gets high marks, and while the review (and no doubt the book) aren't the lightest reading you'll do today, the discussion is worth it.

Top 200 Church Blogs: (in case you weren't already busy enough)

This is Our City Essay Competition: Christianity Today is documenting the "common-good decisions" of Christinas who aspire to make a difference in their cities and the lives of their citizens. Do you have a story to share?

 

Quote of the Week

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. -Thomas Edison

 

Verse of the Week

In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

 

Prayer of the Week

Thank you, Father, for the gift of Sabbath rest, which reminds us that we are more than machines. Thank you Father, for Mondays and the work that lies ahead of us this week. Let us do Your will in Your way in order that by your grace, we may resist both overwork and laziness, anxiety and indifference.

For Christ and His glory,

Amen.

Monday's Menu: Food for Thought (Comedy, College, and a Consistent Pro-Life Ethic)

jenmichel@me.com

Coming Up This Week: A four-day guest series on "The Anatomy of An Apology." You'll never want me back after this week's reflections from my friend, Wendy Stringer.

The Thiel Fellows: Forgoing College to Pursue Dreams: Billionaire Peter H. Thiel is awarding 2 year fellowships ($50,000/year) to aspiring young entrepreneurs to dive into the real world of science, technology and business rather than going to college.

Tina Brown's Must Reads: The Modern Woman: Editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, Tina Brown shares must-reads related to the changing role of women.

Gaining the Whole World Wide Web Without Losing Our Souls by Amy Simpson. Christianity Today's Womens' Blog, Her.meneutics, ran this post about technology use and our potentially addictive behaviors.

No Exceptions: The Case for a Consistent Pro-Life Ethic by Karen Swallow Prior. Her.meneutics featured this essay, which is a powerful and particularly challenging. While it may not necessarily answer the political question (what are we to do about the abortion issue in a country where public opinion is divided?), it argues for a coherent moral answer.

Confessions of a Christian Author by Adam Jeske. Hilarious. "In conversations, my mind sometimes wanders, asking, 'Will this make a good blog post?'"

A Comedian and a Cardinal Open Up on Spirituality: Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York discuss the role of humor in their spiritual lives.

Does NPR have a liberal bias? On the Media explores answers to this question. I heard this segment on Saturday and appreciated that NPR invited an evangelical Christian listener to give his take. AND, Ira Glass dropped by to make the show all the more interesting and lively.

 

Quote of the Week

The most important question we ask of the text is not, "What does this mean?" but "What can I obey?"

- Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book

 

Verse of the Week

Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation. Isaiah 25:9

 

Prayer of the Week

Father, help us to learn to trust you more each day, believing that Your only plans are for our welfare. Why is Your heart given to blessing us? We are certain that this measure of Your grace is something we do not deserve, and yet You continue to abound in steadfast, forgiving love. Today and this week, we live gratefully, prayerfully.

For Christ and His glory,

Amen.

Monday's Menu: Food for Thought (a new weekly blog feature)

jenmichel@me.com

If you've been around here since the beginning, you'll know that I originally book-ended each week on the blog with a menu feature on Mondays and a how-to tip on Fridays. Those features quietly disappeared - maybe when summer began? - although I honestly can't remember, and it's clearly too much trouble for me to look back. Anyway, this is about as much clamor as I heard for their return:

 

 

(Crickets.)

So, inspired with a new idea, I think I'm going to do a Monday feature with some links to thoughtful articles and blog posts that I've found interesting over the past week. There won't be likely be that many, just a noteworthy few. Feel free to comment about what you've liked or what has sparked your curiosity. And throughout the week, as you find articles/posts of interest, send them my way for the next edition of Monday's Menu: Food for Thought.

* * * * *

As the election approaches and the parties grow more and more polarized, here's a prayer that Jena Nardella prayed at the Democratic Convention last week. It asks God to renew our moral vision for Christ's redemptive work, because [God's] kingdom is not divided into Red States and Blue States."

This Wall Street Journal article, "Opting Out of the Rug Rat Race," is adapted from a new book released this past week. The book by Paul Tough is entitled, "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character," and it promises to tell you why getting your children into the right preschool isn't the game-changer you might have thought it was.

Laura Ortberg Turner, daughter of John and Nancy Ortberg, argues against American overparenting this week in Her.meneutics (Christianity Today's Women's blog). What? We don't need to greet our children at the back door after school everyday with homemade cookies in hand? This is welcome news. I might actually get a book written this year.

Gretchen Reynolds on the New York Times well blog talks about the importance of fitness. Cardiac fitness at mid-life can significantly decrease the length of time you spend at end-of-life with chronic disease. A needed reminded for those of us pursuing a lifetime's worth of faithful service to Jesus.

And finally, a great post on the courage required for our calling was sent my way by a fellow Redbud writer. I needed the encouragement it offers for the chasms spanning between my own life and calling: "Inevitably, every Christian leader, even those among us who appear to be the most fearless, must face their own chasm, the chasm between our calling as Christian leaders and our own personal resources."

 

Quote of the Week:

Every act of self-discipline is a service to the community. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

 

Verse of the Week:

Words from a wise man's mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. Ecclesiastes 10:12

 

Prayer of the Week:

Father, where our courage fails this week, renew our vision of You. We are weak and often afraid. Strengthen the sinews of our faith. Remind us that Your hands steady the spinning globe and hold together all that would fragment and splinter off apart from Your sustaining grace.

For Christ and His glory,

Amen.

 

 

Monday's Menu: How will kids make healthy choices?

jenmichel@me.com

Ryan and I had yet another conversation this past Saturday about the future’s looming possibilities. Of course there’s nothing to decide: we’re not sure if we’re staying in Toronto or going back to Chicago. Truthfully, it won’t necessarily be up to us. The sheer indecision of it is enough to drive me mad some days. One question that will necessarily have to be settled whatever we decide to do is: where will our children go to school? We’re literally tasted every educational variety: public school, Christian school, homeschooling, and now (secular) private school. I think we’re disabused of the notion that there is any perfect option out there. And at the same time, we believe that God asks us to exercise wisdom in puzzling out the implications of each choice and to make our decision prayerfully and thoughtfully.

When we talked this past Saturday, we considered what it would be like to go back to Chicago and send our children to public school (and there are many great public schools in Chicago). But Sunday morning, I woke up to a disturbing article in the New York Times (“Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill") and was persuaded that the only safe option for our children was to hunker down somewhere in the middle of Montana: just our family, sequestered on some isolated ranch. (And because we’re American, we’d be bedded down with our guns, of course.)

The article talks about the chilling rise in many competitive high schools of the abuse of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. It’s the good kids taking these drugs simply so that they can continue performing (and excelling) in their academics and athletics. Madeleine, one girl they’d interviewed who is now a college freshman at an Ivy League school said, “People would have never looked at me and thought I used drugs like that – I wasn’t that kid.” She explains how her drug abuse began. “It wasn’t that hard of a decision. Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, and then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”

I couldn’t help thinking how easily our own children could arrive at logic like that. Getting good grades, getting into a good university, making my parents, teachers and coaches happy – worthy goals, right? And if I can only achieve those goals with the help of a prescription drug, what’s the harm in that?

Which brings me to the larger question for parents: what prepares a fourteen-year old for a temptation like that? I find a glimmer of an answer in the story of one high-school sophomore interviewed for the article, who talked about his experience trying Adderall but his decision not to continue using it. He “disliked the sensation of his heart beating rapidly for hours.”

What we need to do is teach our children early on that they have a body: a completely obvious answer, I know, but one that bears repeating and one that we often forget as adults. How much we sleep, what we eat and drink, if we choose to exercise: these are important choices for our bodies and effect how we feel in terms of energy, focus, and mood. By helping our children make the connection between their choices and the consequences on their bodies, we can prepare them for the decisions ahead, which will have much graver implications.

We can hope that one day, they’ll have what it takes to decide that risking harm to their bodies simply isn’t worth it.

 

Monday's Menu: Just a Spoonful of Sugar

jenmichel@me.com

I have two potential leads for today’s blog post: Lead A: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has recently proposed a ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks, which could take effect as early as March of next year. “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh this is terrible.’ New York City is not about writing your hands; it’s about doing something,” said Bloomberg in a recent interview.

Lead B: I walked into Camille’s classroom last Friday morning and set down, next to the trays of croissants and pains au chocolat, the breakfast cereal, juice, and milk I’d been asked to bring for their class breakfast. I stacked Special K, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Fruit Loops: guilt rose in my throat.

Lead A is so perfectly distant. Let’s talk New York City, okay? Lead B is the story I’d rather not tell, especially to my friend, L____, who reads here and has made it her mission to make the food served at our children’s school healthy and nutritious. What will she say when I admit I served Fruit Loops to a class of eight-year-olds for breakfast?

L____ and I talked this past Saturday night at our neighborhood picnic, music blaring in the background, DJ’s telling kids to, “slide to the left, slide to the right.” For as long as I’ve known L____, I’ve known that she doesn’t eat either sugar or flour. Which isn’t to say that she’s impossibly severe and stern-faced, wagging fingers at those of us who do our fair share of indulging in both. However, she is committed to healthy choices for her family, and she’s also committed to food education in schools.

L____ tells me about her recent efforts to work with other parents from our children’s school to plan a menu for the middle school dance, which will be held from 4:30-6:30. How about fruit kabobs? she suggests. A quesadilla bar? And no, the kids don’t need cupcakes and cookies, she adamantly asserts.

She tells of the looks she receives from the other parents, the ones where they grimace at the apparent snakes slithering out of her scalp. They’re not convinced. “But this is a special dance, and it’s ok for their to have a small treat,” they contend. L____ doesn’t swallow the whole treat argument. She counters that these kids are getting treats every day.

But the mother in charge of the whole affair stammers, “But I just don’t want everyone to remember the dance that, ‘Johnny’s mother hosted,’ as the one that really sucked.”

That woman should have known she was barking for sympathy up the wrong tree.

If there is one thing I like about L____ (and there are many things I like and admire), it’s the sense that she is unapologetically principled. If she believes in something as right and good, she’s unafraid to defend it, no matter what conclusions you’ll draw about her.

And so, talking with L____ got me thinking about our sugar consumption around here. If you know our family, you know we eat generally healthy. I suppose “healthy” is a relative term, but because I enjoy cooking and because we believe in the value of gathering our family around a table, we’re maybe more naturally inclined toward healthier choices. Not to mention I grew up with a mother who banned soda and sugar cereals and generally cooked nutritious meals for the family: I have a history of healthy choices behind me for which I am grateful.

But what about our sugar consumption? How much were we really eating? I’d say we probably eat dessert two, maybe three times a week. I’d thought that was moderate. But I started to consider the hidden sources of sugar in our home, in things as innocuous as the bread we eat (not to mention the not-so-innocent sources, like juice and syrup). Consider that 5 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Now, picture your sugar bowl on the table, and dole out the allotted sugar into the food you’re consuming.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and add 1 tablespoon of your flavored creamer: 3 spoonfuls of sugar.

Pour yourself two small bowls of Rice Krispies: 2 spoonfuls of sugar

Toast two slices of your favorite cinnamon raisin bread: 3 spoonfuls of sugar.

Eat one small container of flavored yogurt: 2 ½ spoonfuls of sugar.

Hello, and that’s just breakfast?

We had a conversation last night with the kids about sugar: why is it bad for you? And if it’s really bad for you, what’s a reasonable amount to be eating? Little people have terrific sense: they draw their own smart conclusions.

Ryan and I reminded them that as their parents, our job is to make the tough decisions for their well-being, decisions they are very likely to resist, decisions that may be very unlike the choices that most other people make. Doing the right thing always feels like swimming upstream, against the current. But if you care more about doing what’s right, and less about what other people may think, that’s real courage in the making.

Heck, when you take your children to the doctor’s or dentist’s office and they leave with a lollipop in their hand, what further evidence do we need that we’ve gone pretty far off course in terms of our sense about sugar?

Here’s your challenge: look at the sugar in your diet. Are there small ways you can begin reducing your sugar consumption? Around here, we’ve decided to:

  1. Stop eating breakfast cereal. (This was an especially easy afternoon snack. The onus is now on me to figure out healthier alternatives.)
  2. Eat dessert one time a week. (L____ will not agree with me on this one, but for now, I think this is a step in the right direction of moderation.)
  3. Treat fruit as a sweet treat.
  4. Make more homemade bread. (This is an easy way to eliminate hidden sugars. I’ve just recently bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and yesterday was the first batch I mixed. I do think it’s as easy as five minutes a day to make your own bread!)
  5. Eliminate sweet snacks like cereal bars and dried fruit.

Just a spoonful of sugar. . .

 

 

 

Monday's Menu: Pie Crust Debacle

jenmichel@me.com

After another attempt at pie crust baking this weekend (4 failures, 4 successes), I am benevolently passing along my lessons learned. (It's sweet of me, I know.) 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Pie Baking

  1. DO verify that you have all required ingredients/supplies before calling your neighbor twice and sending your husband to the store once. (And hypothetically speaking, let’s just say that, upon his return, you discover you’re short on flour?!)
  2. DON’T taste the pie dough as you work with it. After all the butter you consume, you will have to run tomorrow, and you know how much you hate to exercise.
  3. DO station above-mentioned husband at the second entrance of your galley kitchen (the first entrance having already been blocked by the bi-fold door you’ve closed): give him a rolling pin with the instructions to channel Teddy Roosevelt and keep the kids out of the kitchen. Speak softly and carry a big rolling pin.
  4. DON’T attempt your inexpert skills of pie baking the day of your 38th birthday, unless of course you enjoy standing six solid hours in the kitchen because the first four crusts you make are a complete flop.
  5. DO loudly exclaim, “Geez Louise!” when you realize that your first attempts are a complete failure and your eleven-year old is standing at your shoulder.
  6. DON’T button your four-year-old son’s pants, serve afternoon snacks, or fill water guns when you’re intently cutting in the butter for your 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th crusts. Ask above-mentioned 11-year-old to help her younger brothers.
  7. DO call your friend from whom you took a pie baking course. When she doesn’t answer either her home phone or her cell phone, consider terminating the friendship.
  8. DO NOT drink the vodka you’re borrowed from your neighbor: it’s for the pie crust, dummy.
  9. DO consult Google with search terms like, "Pie Crust Troubleshooting." For kicks, try, "I'm an idiot," just for fun.
  10. DO NOT give up: there’s rhubarb at stake.

 

Monday's Menu: Rhubarb Pie

jenmichel@me.com

If you saw the picture that I posted last week, you have guessed that I was somewhere tropical. Ryan and I left our FIVE children with my mother to spend SIX days in St. Thomas. The good news is that we returned to find the house – and children – intact. The bad news is her services are not for hire. We went for the purpose of business (Ryan’s, not mine, although I think I could make a very strong case for why the Caribbean is on optimum destination for writers). One of the few consolations about coming home (other than hugging and kissing my children) was finding the first crop of rhubarb on Saturday at the local farmers’ market. With the rhubarb season now initiated, I’d like to officially declare my dieting plans heartily abandoned.

For the not-so-sweet lovers out there, rhubarb is just the thing you need to make a delicious pie. Because it’s more tart than sweet (and although this recipe calls for a considerable amount of sugar), it makes the perfect pie. And this recipe calls for nothing more to prepare the rhubarb than to wash it and cut it into one-inch pieces.

Last fall, I took a baking class taught by a friend and learned the ins and out of making the perfect pie crust. Keep all of your ingredients cold. Use two knives to mix in the shortening and butter. Handle the dough as little as possible. But it appears as if I’m an official flunkie of the course, at least on the basis of the tough, chewy crust I produced this weekend for the first rhubarb pie of the season. I now vacillate between forswearing any further attempts at pie crust and resigning myself to crisps and cobblers, or working diligent every week for the next six weeks of rhubarb season to perfect the technique.

(Source)

If you’re not sure what rhubarb looks like, you’ll find it in the produce section of your market: it looks a lot like red stalks of celery, although it’s generally thicker than celery. This recipe calls for six cups of rhubarb – that’s two bunches of about 4-5 stalks.

Rhubarb Pie

Pastry for 2 crust pie

6 cups rhubarb, in 1-inch pieces

5 T flour

1 ¾ C sugar

pinch of salt

2 eggs, slightly beaten

3 tsp. Butter

Mix flour, sugar and salt. Add eggs, and stir mixture into rhubarb. Dot with butter. Fill pastry-lined pie pan. Arrange top crust, and don’t forget to vent the top crust (you can prick it with a fork). Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes; reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 40 minutes.

 

Monday's Menu: I'm Hungry for a Story (Granola Recipe)

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Up until the moment I had to get up from our second-row seat and march him up the aisle towards his impending doom (during the silent prayer of confession, he'd been anything but silent), I was having visions of heaven. We had sung two old hymns, which I learned from the pews of the Southern Baptist churches where I did my growing up: "I Stand Amazed," and "Blessed Assurance." How marvellous, how wonderful,

And my song shall ever be

How marvellous, how wonderful

Is my Savior's love for me.

And

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long.

"We live today in a world impoverished of story," says Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book, and it's as if I realized as we sang those hymns yesterday, that heaven was, at least in part, going to be a feast of story. From the beginning of time until the time of Jesus' return, God will have been gathering for Himself, not just a multitude of saints, but an anthology of stories. People from every tribe, nation, people and language will sing the melody of grace in their collected psalms and poems of their lived experience; each will be a song of salvation. I can imagine it will take an eternity for that concert of praise.

Stories are sacred: they are our threads of continuity, of belonging, and for those of us who believe in the risen Jesus, they are always stories of salvation. Salvation happens in unexpected places: in backyards, in bedrooms, around the table, and at the kitchen sink. There are stories (salvation?) in our recipes, especially those we've collected from our mothers and grandmothers. I think of my friend who lost her mother years ago to pancreatic cancer, and how it has been her sacred work to type and save all of her mother's handwritten recipes. We all need to belong and to matter to someone, and our family recipes (and their flavours of an irretrievable past), can grant us that.

Today's recipe is from a family cookbook I own, although the names on the front cover aren't ones I recognize: Wheeler, O'Brien, Christensen, Porter, Ralph, Dillon. It was Cathy Dillon who gave me a copy of her family's recipes and stories. Cathy and Bill lived in the white colonial on Chestnut Avenue in Arlington Heights, Illinois, next to the first house we ever owned. We loved that grey-frame house whose nursery became an office and reincarnated, years later, again as a nursery. And we loved Cathy and Bill, feeling that we had the good fortune of settling beside the protective watch of grandparents.

The "Isle O'Dreams Family Recipes - Second Edition" is exactly the resource you want to consult when there's fresh rhubarb at the market and you've determined to make a pie like your grandmother made. And the granola recipe featured on the first page of the "Breakfast and Brunch" section has now made its way into our family lore. Several summers ago, we had two college girls we knew from church live with us, and for all that may have been inconvenient or irksome about sharing a space with FIVE young children, it was quickly forgiven the moment warm granola was taken from the oven.

Here's the recipe in its original form, although I will also suggest the changes I've experimented with over the past several years. This granola makes a great gift, and when my kids wake up later this morning and realize it's on the menu for breakfast, I might be in contention for Mother of the Year.

Granola

4 C uncooked oatmeal

1 1/2 C wheat germ

1/4 C non-fat dry milk powder (I never have this on hand, so it's usually omitted.)

1 T brown sugar

2 T cinnamon (I use a little less.)

1/2 C honey (I prefer maple syrup as a sweetener. Audrey loves this recipe with molasses.)

2/3 C canola oil (You can also substitute half of the oil apple sauce as a low-fat alternative.)

1 T vanilla

1 C nuts or seeds (We prefer almonds.)

1 C dried fruit (Usually craisins or dried cherries)

* I also like to add 1 tsp, of almond extract.

*You can also add a couple of teaspoons of ground flax seed or flax seed oil.

Mix the dry ingredients. Heat the honey and oil in the microwave. Add the vanilla; pour over dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Spread in a jellyroll pan, (You'll be glad if you spray it with non-stick), and sprinkle with nuts. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. (Keep an eye on it. It doesn't have to be completely crispy when you take it out of the oven because it will continue to get crispy as you store it.) Let cool, and sprinkle with dry fruit.

Serve with milk or yogurt. Enjoy!

Monday's Menu: An Essay Review and A Recipe for Alfredo Sauce

jenmichel@me.com

I read like I eat, having to decide between the savory flavors of non-fiction and the sweet of a great story. I’ll take the bag of chips any day over a tub of ice cream. Pass the non-fiction, please. And, feeling the pressure of days since past when babies screamed and food got cold if I didn’t gobble it up in three enormous bites, I have the unhealthy habits of eating -reading - too quickly, not letting my body or mind digest the diet I give them. My bedside table is my overstocked refrigerator, and when I feel like munching, there is a book to taste. Right now, you’d find there, along with four back issues of The Atlantic and an article from The New Yorker, which someone has clipped for me:

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Marytr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

Confessions by St. Augustine

Ryan asked me the other night, “How many books have you actually finished this year?” And it’s a fair question because like a bored lover, I cast off books abruptly, jilting them for newfound crushes. My reading habits, plagued as they are by attention deficit, are nothing of which I am proud, and 2012 was supposed to be a year of working to stay faithful to a list of books I’d set down in January as books I’d like to meet and sit with. I’m happy to say that this year, I’ve finished:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (OK, maybe I didn’t get all the way through.)

Junia is Not Alone: Scott McKnight (an e-book, SHORT!)

Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (uh, yeah, only half)

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

The real truth of it is, only TWO of these books were on that list I made four months back, and they were the two books I didn’t finish.

But I didn’t start this blogpost with the intention of laying out all my dirty laundry when it comes to my failure as a reader, but it makes for a handy segue to the essay I came here meaning to tell you about. It is a MUST READ for the women out there who have, like I, struggled to find meaning in their daily responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" was the 1998 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality given by Kathleen Norris at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame. You can’t buy it in print, I don’t think, but it’s a quick download from Amazon onto your Kindle or iPad.

Norris opens with her an experience at a Catholic Irish-American wedding, which began for her a season of re-exploring the childhood faith she’d left behind. She watched with fascination as the priest, in the middle of the mass, washed the chalice. "After the experience of a liturgy that left me feeling disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework. This was my first image of the mass, my door in, as it were, and it has served me well for years." When Norris couldn’t sink her teeth into the non-material ideas of spirituality, she lay hold of the housework present in the mass. It became for her a metaphor of the spiritual life.

Her essay brims with hope for a woman like me, who struggles against her desire for contemplative silence and the realities of my noisy family. "I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demand of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self."

She reminds me that making dinner, straightening shoes, and matching socks are not the interruptions I imagine: "But it is the daily tasks, daily acts of love and worship that serve to remind us that the religion is not strictly an intellectual pursuit . . . Christian faith is a way of life, not an impregnable fortress made up of ideas; not a philosophy; not a grocery list of beliefs. . .It is the paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation.”

And she takes aim at my wayward longings for a life that is far more spectacular than the one I lead. "We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places - out of Galilee, as it were - and not in spectacular events, such as the coming of a comet."

Read the essay, and make dinner tonight for someone you love. Do both for the sake of following Jesus.

Here's an alfredo sauce recipe that is EASY. Make fettucine, boil broccoli with your pasta, and stir in the sauce at the end. Poof. Dinner on the table in 20 minutes. Or, spread it over a pizza crust, and then add your favourite toppings. With alfredo sauce on a pizza, I love chicken, spinach, broccoli, feta, ricotta. Any of the above!

Alfredo Sauce:

  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon garlic powder (to taste, as you like it)
In a saucepan over low heat, mix the cream, butter and cream cheese, stirring constantly, until melted and well-blended. Mix in Parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Continue to cook and stir 15 minutes, or until Parmesan is lightly browned.

Monday's Menu: Marinade (Fire up the grill!)

jenmichel@me.com

Originally, when I started to blog, I planned to feature a recipe every Monday. It was a means of margin in the blog, a sort of free pass for Mondays, which typically tend to be overwhelmed by laundry and lists. And I'm not usually great about margin. I think I've told you about my penchant for over-planning and over-estimating my time and energy. (Um, yes, I'm sure I've told you because I'm recalling a friend who recently came over for dinner and brought me some seed packets. When her daughter handed them to me, I looked at her quizzically, and she was nudged by her mom. "Tell Jen we've been reading her blog."" So back to Monday's Menu: this feature began so that Monday morning, when I was lean on time, I could post something quickly without too much thought. In recent weeks, I haven't really kept the feature up. Maybe I felt sheepish about my blogging sleight of hand. (I hate feeling gimmicky here.) And maybe I just realized that most of you aren't reading my blog to find fabulous recipes.

But over this recent Easter week, as I've been meditating on the Scriptures and posting prayers here, I have seen over and over again how much emphasis there is in Scripture on the meal. Our pastors are preaching through the book of Luke, and several weeks ago, one made the observation that in the Gospel of Luke, there are 19 feasts, 13 of which are exclusive to Luke. In the book of Luke, as the events are detailed of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, there are three meals referenced: the Passover meal, which Jesus shares with His disciples before He is betrayed; the meal shared by the disciples and the resurrected Jesus in the village Emmaus; in another meal with more disciples, where to prove he is a resurrected man and no mere ghost, Jesus asks for something to eat and is served broiled fish. The Scriptures actually tell us that "Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread," (Luke 24:35).

So maybe a menu feature on Monday's isn't gimmicky. Maybe it's not laziness on my part. Maybe it's a weekly reminder to hold sacred the meals we share with our family and friends. Maybe it's my not so subtle campaign for slow food and slow church in a culture where we think we can microwave everything, including faith. And for me, I'm in constant need of the reminder that all my kitchen duties are worthwhile. I spend hours shopping for food, preparing food, clearing and cleaning dishes, and it is all too easy to do that work, believing it to be an interruption to the real work of ministry I'd like to be doing. When I give into that lie, I quickly detour into habits of quiet resentment ("Here I am stuck in this kitchen while everyone else is having fun!").

This Easter weekend was all about food and feasting. We hosted four families here yesterday in our not-so-big house: 8 adults, 13 children. And while there were moments of quiet stress (no explosive anger, thank God!), generally it was an occasion of real togetherness and community. Saturday, I did the food and flower shopping with my beautiful daughters while my husband and son tended to other errand-running and yard work. That night, Audrey and I made homemade rolls together when the other kids were finally tucked into bed. I won't lie: it was a lot of work! But my prayers are always that when people enter our home and sit at our table, they would know the presence of Jesus.

More regularly than I've done recently, I'll be back here on Mondays, giving you recipes or tips for having people into your home for a meal. And to tip off this week, here's a great marinade for summer grilling. It works for either chicken or steak, and I need to thank my friend, Lynne Kern, who is the source of the original recipe. Thanks, Lynne!

Marvelous Marinade

  • Vegetable oil – enough to cover the bottom to a large Rubbermaid pan or large Ziploc bag
  • Soy Sauce – 1/2 to 1 bottle ( I use low sodium)
  • Vinegar – 1- 2 tablespoons
  • Syrup – 1 – 2 tablespoons
  • Ketchup – enough to thicken
  • Garlic Powder – lots!

Monday's Menu: Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

jenmichel@me.com

I've been stocking my freezer recently, preparing to leave for almost an entire week. You heard it right. Mother bird is flying the coop, and Dad is taking over. For all the many wonderful ways that Ryan is completely capable, he is not and has never been a cook. And while he'll manage perfectly well without me for a week, getting the kids to and from school and music lessons and hockey, he will NOT be preparing dinner. One of the many things he'll find next week in the freezer will be crockpot beef stroganoff, a recipe I quadrupled last week and now have 3 freezer bags full for future meals. This is an easy-to-prepare, easy-to-freeze dish. (For easy freezing, prepare according to the instructions, and cool whatever you're freezing before spooning it into a ziploc freezer bag. Squeeze all the air out possible, making the bag flat. Double bag, and voilà! You have a meal for the crazy days when you're chauffeuring, or when you, like me, get a chance to fly the coop!)

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

  • 1 lb. cubed beef stew meat
  • 2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed golden
  • mushroom soup
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (softened and cubed)
  • Dollup sour cream
  • Salt, pepper
  • Fresh garlic, minced
  • Beef bouillon cube (I like Better than Bouillon, pictured here. I'm telling you, this your SECRET weapon for anything that calls for bouillon. You can find it in chicken or beef flavors.)
  • ½ packet onion soup mix
1. In a slow cooker, combine the meat, soup, garlic, onion, Worcestershire sauce and water. 2. Cook on Low setting for 5-6 hours, or on High setting for about 3 hours. Stir in cream cheese the last hour of cooking time, and add the sour cream right before serving.
** Your crockpot will probably not hold more than 2x this recipe. If you're crazy like me and want to quadruple the recipe, you can use a dutch oven. You could cook everything covered in your dutch oven on a low temperature (250 or 300) for 5-6 hours or until the meat is as tender as you like it.

Monday's Menu: Chicken Parmesan

jenmichel@me.com

When was the last time you invited someone to dinner? Friends we knew from Chicago made hospitality their priority. And their life was no easier than ours: they had six children and lived on a modest pastor's salary. But it became their practice every Sunday to go to church prepared with lunch invitations.  Saturday night, she would have made two pans of lasagna, and if they ended up inviting more than that two pans of lasagne would feed, they would stop by KFC on the way home from church and pick up a bucket of chicken.

Their meals weren't Martha Steward perfect. But it didn't matter because what people really longed for wasn't an elegant meal but authentic fellowship. And fellowship can happen over fast-food chicken any day.

We want to make hospitality our habit as a family, but I need reminders like:

- My house doesn't have to look perfect.

- The meal doesn't have to be elaborate.

- A table set with authenticity and sincere love is the most elegant of all.

source

Here's a great simple recipe for having guests in your home. This is no-fuss entertaining. Open up a bag of salad, and throw some frozen garlic bread in the oven. You're done!

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thickness (To pound chicken, I cut each chicken breast in half, place it between two sheets of plastic wrap, and whack it with a rolling pin or mallet. Your kids might like to help!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil + 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 8 slices mozzarella cheese, or more
  • 1 jar (16 oz) spaghetti sauce
  • Parmesan cheese or four-cheese shredded Italian blend
Whisk together the egg and milk. Dip the chicken breasts in milk and egg mixture and then in bread crumbs. Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken in the hot oil on both sides until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Set chicken in a baking dish (sprayed with canola cooking spray). Cover each chicken breast with mozzarella cheese slices. Pour 1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce over all (or more if you like). Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and a little more mozzarella and bake at 350° for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve over spaghetti with garlic bread and a nice green salad.

Monday's Menu: Mexican Lasagna (and 5 ways for making dinner preparation easier)

jenmichel@me.com

Does your house, like mine, erupt with a kind of volcanic chaos just when you're making dinner? This is especially true in winter months when it's simply too dark or too cold to send the kids outside to run off some energy. Making dinner becomes a kind of Olympic feat of the most grueling proportions. Today, I'm sharing five suggestions for getting dinner on the table easier, and I also have a great kid-friendly recipe for you. 1. Make your meal plan for the week. Did you read last week's post? Step one for less-stress dinners is having thought through what you're actually making this week. Check your meal plan in the morning in case you need to defrost something for tonight's meal.

2. Assign a dinner helper who's on-call for whatever you need. (I do this for every meal of the day.) Currently, Audrey is my dinner helper. She runs into the basement to get anything I need out of the second fridge or our overflow pantry. She sets the table and serves the meal. She pours drinks, and the best part is, she's also responsible for the last minute, "I need another napkin!" or "May I have more milk?" kinds of requests that are generated all throughout dinner.

3. Plan easy, healthy meals. A great website is mealmakeovermoms.com, the original source for the mexican lasagne recipe below. I think the work of making dinner feels worth it when you know you're preparing something healthy and yummy that everyone can enjoy. Disclaimer: today's recipe is one of the rare meals that everyone enjoys. Generally, at my house, there is one person grumbling at every meal that he or she doesn't like something. The rule is: you don't have to eat it, but there will not be anything else to eat before bed.

4. Thirty minutes before dinner, try to insist on some quiet play. This is worth your time and focused effort. Make this the time kids look at books independently, or color, or listen to music quietly in their rooms. I've finally realized it's OK to forbid running circles through the kitchen just as I'm getting dinner on the table!

5. Light a candle at the table. Make your gathering as a family around the table a sacred time together. Insist on everyone sitting down at the table, and turn the t.v. off.  Lighting a candle and dimming the lights is a visual symbol for the kids of this sacred space you're creating. Make your mealtimes together even more purposeful by prayer, Scripture reading, and great conversations starters like, "What was your high and your low today?"

Happy Monday!

Mexican Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean or higher)
  • 1 large carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • One 16-ounce jar salsa
  • One 15½ -ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • One 10-ounce bag or box frozen corn kernels, thawed (about 2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Five 8-inch flour tortillas, cut in half
  • One 16-ounce container low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1½ cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Cook the meat and carrot in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up the large pieces, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Add the salsa, black beans, corn, chili powder, and cumin to the skillet and stir to combine.
  4. To assemble the lasagna, arrange a third (about 2 cups) of the meat mixture in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish. Layer half the tortillas over the meat, allowing them to overlap. Spoon half of the cottage cheese and 1/2 cup of the Cheddar cheese over the tortillas and spread evenly.
  5. Place 2 more cups of meat mixture over the cottage cheese. Layer with the remaining tortillas and cottage cheese. End with the meat mixture.
  6. Top with the remaining Cheddar cheese and bake uncovered until the cheese melts and the lasagna is heated through, about 25 minutes.

Monday's Menu: Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping Made Easy

jenmichel@me.com

Disclaimer: I said meal planning and grocery shopping made easy. I didn't say fun. This is what works for me, but I'll admit up front that I am not a coupon shopper, nor do I go to multiple stores looking for the best deals.

(If you're in Columbus, Ohio, and you want to save money and have the time and energy to do the multiple-store thing, check out my friend's blog for great tips.)

My motto is: one store, once a week (plus Costco every week and a half).

Now for the tips:

1. Maintain your grocery lists on your smartphone. Here's the app I use and love: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shopper-grocery-shopping-lists/id284776127?mt=8. I keep a number of different ongoing lists, including for stores that aren't grocery stores (Ikea, Michael's, Target). You can input your own items easily to their pre-made lists (although the categories they suggest are strictly grocery categories). Once you've used the app awhile, all your lists will be customized!

2. Plan your meals weekly. This is the best and worst hour you'll spend every week. Best, because it will take all the thought out of the looming question every day of, "What's for dinner?". Worst, because it's a grueling discipline, one you'll find every reason to avoid. But it's only an hour, and anything can be endured for an hour! (P.S., I keep all my recipes on MacGourmet, which is super smart and usable software for the kitchen!)

3. For your weekly meal planning, try using this spreadsheet (if you have excel). I keep on file a generic spreadsheet that I fill out each week. Then, as I do each week's meal plan, I save it with a different seasonal name: Winter 1, Winter 2, etc. If you made four winter meal plans, you could simply circulate through those all season long! Here is the generic meal plan along with an example of one I've used earlier this winter:

Meal plan, generic

Winter 2

If you're not a spreadsheet kind of person, here are some other printable grocery lists/meal planning sheets that I've used in the past.

grocery list

Meal planning

Also, if you're using MacGourmet, for an extra $10 or so, you can add their mealplan plug-in. You can use select from your recipes to make a meal plan, and then the software creates your own shopping list. This is super handy, especially if all your recipes are imported into MacGourmet. The drawback is that you'll be forced to input your favorite recipes from your cookbooks to MacGourmet if you want to use this option.

4. Try going to the grocery store only once a week. You'll save money and save time. But this requires you do your meal plan and make a very thorough list. No ifs, ands, or buts!

5. Two days before you shop, do your meal plan and make your list. Don't do this on the same day you shop or your entire day's activity will be groceries. Also, by making your list two days before, you're giving yourself some lead time for remembering the random items you've been missing from your pantry.

6. One day before you shop, clean our your fridge, toss the old leftovers, organize your pantry, and wipe down your refridgerator shelves. Also, inventory your staples.

7. Do not cook the day your grocery shop. That's your day to order pizza or pull a meal from the freezer. Nothing makes me grumpier than an entire morning of grocery shopping and then an entire afternoon making dinner. So generally, the day I shop is a day I don't cook. Or, if I'm at Costco, I pick up a rotisseries chicken along with my other grocery items and have that for dinner!

8. In your week's meal plan, make a soup as well as a pasta meal to double (and freeze). Soup leftovers makes for great lunches all week. And the meal you double and freeze will be great for last-minute company, a meal to take to a friend, or for next week's shopping day.

If you have some great tips on how you shop or meal plan, please add them in the comment section!

Happy shopping and eating this week! On the menu for us tonight? Beef enchiladas. Yum!

 

Monday's Menu: Barbecue Beef Sandwiches (in honor of Tim Tebow)

jenmichel@me.com

After the Broncos fantastic overtime win last night, something simply had to be said about Tim Tebow. What do you make of 10 completed passes for a total of 316 yards? Divine intervention? Mere coincidence?

I can't really presume to know if God is helping this 20-something Denver Bronco quarterback. But I can tell you that I am a fan.

No matter what Jesus thinks about football, no matter if He is or isn't helping the Broncos' win, Tim Tebow is real hero, and I'm grateful for his example, especially for little boys like my son, Nathan.

In honor of Tim Tebow, here's a great winter recipe, perfect for inviting friends over this coming Saturday to watch the Broncos play the Patriots.

Barbecue Beef Sandwiches

  • 1 ½ cups ketchup
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons prepared Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 lbs. boneless chuck roast
In a large bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, Dijon-style mustard, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir in salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Place chuck roast in a slow cooker. Pour ketchup mixture over chuck roast. Cover, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
Remove chuck roast from slow cooker, shred with a fork, and return to the slow cooker. Stir meat to evenly coat with sauce. Continue cooking approximately 1 hour. Serve on sandwich buns. Enjoy!

Come to the Table (A Christmas recipe)

jenmichel@me.com

This morning, we head to the States to visit family and friends for Christmas. Forgive me, but I'm ending the Advent series a couple of days early. I'll make it up to you with a fantastic recipe. And maybe food isn't that far from thinking about Jesus. Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "Every home can be a temple, every table an altar, and all of life a song to God." The past seven years, we've woken up in our own home for Christmas. Traveling this year is going to require that our kids - and our traditions - be flexible.

Christmas breakfast is usually an elegant affair at the Michel home. We set the table with china, and I pull out all the stops. Homemade cinnamon rolls. Ham strada. Something egg-less for allergy twin. And yes, apple pancake.

I'm happy to report that the traditional Christmas breakfast is still on for this year. (I'm even happier to report I won't be cooking it.) My mom emailed several days ago, asking for the apple pancake recipe.

It made me think to share it with you.

And invite you and yours to come to the table, marvel in the mystery, find your planted pennies, and choir the proper praise.

* * * * *

Apple Pancake (I think I found this recipe at epicurious.com)

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅔ cup all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces granny smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced 3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon in large bowl until well blended. Add flour and whisk until batter is smooth. Place butter in 13x9-inch glass baking dish. Place dish in oven until butter melts, about 5 minutes. Remove dish from oven. Place apple slices in overlapping rows atop melted butter in baking dish. Return to oven and bake until apples begin to soften slightly and butter is bubbling and beginning to brown around edges of dish, about 10 minutes.
Pour batter over apples in dish and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake pancake until puffed and brown, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Serve warm.

Thank you for sharing Advent with me. Blessings from our family to yours.

 

A bit of housekeeping (again): I've heard from some of you who had subscribed by email that you're not receiving updates post-launch of the new design. If that's true, you may have to re-subscribe through the new site. Sincere apologies!

Monday's Menu: Thanksgiving Turkey (and meat thermometer recommendation!)

jenmichel@me.com

It's Thanksgiving week! The turkeys and cornucopias have long since disappeared as Canadians celebrate their Thanksgiving in early October, but we'll still celebrate down-home American style. I'll be baking pies, roasting a turkey, making homemade rolls, and showing my our nephews (who will be visiting) a bit of this amazing city. (If I disappear from blogworld after today's post and don't re-emerge till next week, you'll know why.) I confess: I've only once been responsible to roast the turkey. I'm on again this year. Oh, the pressure. But I think I have a great recipe, and guess why it's so marvelous? Yep, butter. Under the skin and inside the cavity. My theory is that anything tastes better with more butter. Oh yeah, and the basting. I know there are tons of theories out there about basting, but Julia Child bastes. Enough said.

If you're in the market for a good meat thermometer, I have a recommendation. Another confession: I don't yet own this, but I will in about four fours. It's called the thermapen. It comes highly recommended from two trusted sources (thanks, Janey and Becky!). Yes, it's expensive, but if you do enough cooking, I think it would be worth it.

Good luck!

Herb-butter Turkey

  • Gravy base
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs. turkey necks and/or wings
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 1 cup diced peeled carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 6 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
  • Turkey
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, divided
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme plus 15 fresh thyme sprigs 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon plus 5 large fresh tarragon sprigs 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary plus 5 fresh rosemary sprigs 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage plus 5 fresh sage sprigs 1 14- to 16-pound turkey
  • 4 cups low-salt chicken broth, divided
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
1.For gravy base: Melt butter in heavy large deep skillet over high heat. Add turkey necks and/or wings and sauté until deep brown, about 15 minutes. Add onions, carrots, and celery and sauté until vegetables are deep brown, about 15 minutes. Add 6 cups chicken broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2.Pour gravy base through strainer set over 4-cup measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract liquid. If necessary, add enough chicken broth to gravy base to measure 4 cups. (Gravy base can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before using.)
3.For turkey: Mix 1/2 cup butter and all minced herbs in small bowl; season herb butter with salt and pepper. Transfer 2 generous tablespoons to another small bowl and reserve for gravy; let stand at room temperature.
4.Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 425°F. Rinse turkey inside and out; pat dry. Starting at neck end, slide hand between skin and breast meat to loosen skin. Rub 4 tablespoons herb butter over breast meat under skin. Place turkey on rack set in large roasting pan. Sprinkle main cavity generously with salt and pepper. Place 4 tablespoons plain butter and all fresh herb sprigs in main cavity. Tuck wing tips under. Tie legs together loosely. Rub remaining herb butter over outside of turkey. Sprinkle turkey generously with salt and pepper.
5.Place turkey in oven and roast 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Roast turkey 30 minutes; pour 1 cup broth over and add 1 tablespoon plain butter to roasting pan. Roast turkey 30 minutes; baste with pan juices, then pour 1 cup broth over and add 1 tablespoon butter to pan. Cover turkey loosely with foil. Roast turkey until thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 175°F, basting with pan juices and adding 1 cup broth and 1 tablespoon butter to pan every 45 minutes, about 1 hour 45 minutes longer. Transfer turkey to platter; let stand 30 minutes (internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees).
6.Strain pan juices into bowl; whisk in gravy base. Melt reserved 2 tablespoons herb butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat; add flour and whisk constantly until roux is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Gradually add pan juice-gravy base mixture; increase heat and whisk constantly until gravy thickens, boils, and is smooth. Reduce heat to medium; boil gently until gravy is reduced to 4 1/2 cups, whisking often, about 10 minutes. Season gravy with salt and pepper.

Monday's Menu: Fruit Smoothies

jenmichel@me.com

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times this summer about dieting. Entitled, "Counting Calories? Your Weight-Loss Plan May Be Outdated," the article looks at some of the newest research about food and weight-loss. Traditional plans to cut calories and add regular exercise to your regimen may not be enough to keep off unwanted pounds. (Boo-hoo.) Research indicates there are certain foods to be avoided at all costs and others that may prove to actually help your metabolism and keep you slim. One finding is hardly surprising: French fries are a no-no. And with the french fries alone that we've consumed over this past week of travel, I'm sure I've gained five pounds.

Yogurt is our friend. Three cheers! That's why I'm featuring a fruit smoothie recipe today. I'll be making these every day this week, as penance for my bad behavior.

I do traditionally make these pretty regularly for breakfast. They also make a great afterschool snack, too (when it's not snowing!).

I buy everything from  Costco: the frozen fruit, the fruit juice (here in Canada, they have a great fruit/veggie juice blend) and the dairy products.

I have a huge 56 oz. blender, and obviously, we feed 6-7 people with this recipe. You can either trim the recipe as I've given it to you or make the whole thing and freeze the leftovers in dixie cups with popsicle sticks for a frozen treat.

Fruit Smoothies

8 oz. plain low-fat yogurt

8 oz. low-fat cottage cheese (It sounds disgusting, but don't worry, it gets blended!)

4 C (approx) of frozen fruit (We've listed our favorite combinations further down.)

24 oz. juice (Look for a fruit/veggie blend. Your kids won't know the difference.)

Add the yogurt/cottage cheese to your blender first, then the frozen fruit, and the juice last. If you're feeling really ambitious and healthy, you can also add wheat germ, protein powder, flax seed, or tofu.

Our favorite fruit combinations are:

Cherry and mango

Strawberry and banana

Mango and a berry blend

Blueberry and peaches

We'll be having these for breakfast this morning!