Friday, July 31, 2009

The Gift

You thought I had a talent for babbling? You had no idea. This post goes on forever. If you only have a few moments, please scroll down to the story the title refers to. It's in green text. If you have more time, stay for a while, endure my babbling. It's a rare bit of vulnerability I'm sharing today. Everyday is a gift. In my ripe, fossilized age of 32 years, I'm old enough to realize that now. I know I'm not indestructible. I know my time on earth is finite. Every morning that the sun rises to a new day of smiles from my children and new chances to not repeat the mistakes of yesterday is a blessing. But this evening I was given an extra special gift from God. A moment that I'm still carrying with me and treasuring up in my heart. I'll share it with you in a moment. But first. I am in love with this blog. I have created this cozy space all for myself. It's all mine, and everything in it is special to me. I don't regret one single word typed here, one picture uploaded, and certainly not the new friends made. I haven't made any special effort to keep my posts lighthearted and sanguine, but that has been its natural tendency. That is just the way this blog has bloomed. It has bloomed straight from my heart. It's something that is all my own. Only, I don't want to keep it to myself. I love that you're here! For as long as I can remember, there have been people in my life whose voices have always been larger and louder than mine. Their personalities come across stronger and more robust than mine, and I become a mouse. Somewhere along the line (and probably in several places along the line) I learned that what I said or thought was Stupid. Foolish. Irrelevant. Not As Important. That belief lead my mind to second guess itself in every exchange. Coherent words leave my brain and make their way to my tongue. But by the time they reach my tongue, enough self-doubt squeezes its way in to enact a gag order. I learned a long time ago that it's usually best to keep quiet. But there are times when it really hurts not to be heard. When the people I want to acknowledge and validate me the most just bulldoze over me with their own powerful or dismissive nature. For the most part, though, I have learned to be gracious. Due, in part, to the fact that for the first time in my 32 years, I know that my worth rests in the gentle, capable hands of Christ. I don't need to be heard or exalted in this world because He hears me. Every word uttered, every thought conceived is important to Him. I am a child of God. That is my identity. I find that when I'm surrounded by big, overbearing voices, if I can just settle into quietude, surrender the competition, I can find clarity. I don't drown, as I had feared. Rather, I'm buoyed by God's voice whispering peacefulness into my heart. But despite all that, I have enjoyed such exhilaration from having my voice heard on this blog. Or maybe it's because of learning those lessons that I now have the freedom to enjoy it. My wish to be heard is coming from the right place. I don't need to be amazing. I don't need others to tell me I'm important. I just want to share what I love and have a feeling of connection with others who can relate or who just take cheer in reading what I write. I absolutely relish having this space and having you here makes it a warmer, safer space to do all those things. A blog blossoming with flippant, merry accounts of my life (packaged as some kind of bizarre cooking show?) does not mean that I have a smile on my face every day. There are days when my heart is deflated. There are days when I'd rather stay in bed than greet the day with a fresh perspective. I have trials and worries and misgivings. I have headaches, an intermittent pain in my left knee and bouts of vertigo. I have struggled with anxiety from the time I was old enough to be self-aware. I flirted with depression after my twins were born. I carry shame, that I can not live down, like luggage, everywhere I go. I have genes that I would be devastated to pass on to my children. I have secrets that are dark. For now, I just choose not to air them out here. For now, this blog has developed into a place of joy. Maybe it won't always be like that. But for now. And so, I've been thinking for some time about writing a post about gratitude. Contentment. I told Relyn that I love to wallow in my contentment. I wallow in it because there's a lot of discontent to be waded through each day. But if I can sort through it, I can always find that oasis of contentment, and there I wallow! Even on the worst day, my oasis can be that God is still my savior, my help in times of trouble. Relyn's blog, Come Sit By My Fire, is probably one of the most peaceful places I've ever visited on the internet. I saw she had a category "A Habit of Gratitude" which takes you to a collection of blessings counted. I love that. That, in part, spurred this post. The other part is the story I've been waiting to tell you. The gift.
The twins were in their high chairs. Dee was lovingly drooling on and softly murmuring "dah dah" to a green plastic spoon. Bex was so drowsy that he was in a trance, staring out the kitchen window. I was sitting in a kitchen chair facing the twins and a groggy Bug was in my lap, snuggling in to my chest. I could feel her hot little hands held tightly to my back, sometimes gently patting. I sat there running my fingers through her wispy blond hair that smelled like grapefruit and quietly singing along to a Nichole Nordeman cd playing in the background,
"Not well-traveled, not well-read.
Not well-to-do or well-bred.
Just wanna hear instead
'well done good and faithful one'."
I joke about the chaos that goes on in this house, and while exhausting and sometimes trying, I love it. But this was a rare moment of serenity for us all.
I started to reflect on how blessed I am.
Bexie's face was so tranquil, so fair, so dear to me. My eyes were fixated on him. Something snapped his reverie and his eyes met mine. Recognition flooded his angelic face and his serious expression broke into a smile that unmistakeably conveyed his utter adoration for me. I was literally surrounded by love. Engulfed in it. I thought my heart might burst.
I'm passionately addicted to this life I'm living.
That is a gift from God. The whole thing is a collection of small gifts from God. It was a gift to be holding my daughter in my arms. A gift to watch my twins before me. A gift to be conscious of the moment that was unfolding. A gift to have enough sense to cherish it. A gift to see the bigger picture. That though, yes, my life could improve in some areas, though my life may change next year, tomorrow, next hour, where I am right now, this second, is perfection.
What an oasis to wallow in.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tomato Takeover Part 1: Stuffed Tomatoes

We are in the midst of a tomato takeover in our house and quite frankly, it's getting downright scary around here. Before our home explodes like a tightly squeezed ketchup bottle, I thought I'd put them to good use. (I didn't photoshop these tomatoes--my camera just hates red. It likes to transform anything that's a perfectly normal shade of red into a blinding, nauseating, fluorescent red. Nice).
This recipe for Stuffed Tomatoes is the first in a three part series (oh good grief, who do I think I am, Katie Couric?) of recipes that one might be interested in if one were looking to use up lots of tomatoes to avoid a tomato coup.
I'm really excited to show you this recipe because the stuffed tomatoes look so sweet plated up. Plus they taste divine! I'm not kidding, you will truly love these.
First we'll get some rice going because we want it to cool before we use it. We need a cup of cooked rice. It's the only thing that is cooked in this recipe.
I love this Full Circle brand. I've seen it at Save Mart and Raley's/Nob Hill. It's like organic for people who still wish to keep making the mortgage payments. This is the bowl I'll be using to mix all the ingredients. While I'm not normally inclined to show you pictures of my dishware, I had to put this picture in here just because I know Dawn will like it. (And right now Dawn is wondering why I keep mentioning her in my posts and hopes she hasn't acquired a nut-job stalker). (It's just that she mentioned Pyrex Love on her blog). In whatever bowl you use, be it vintage pyrex or an old margarine container, add 1 3/4 cups corn kernels. This is equivalent to about 2 1/2 ears of corn. Yes. Yeeeeeeessss. Fresh would be best. However, I will confess that I used a can of corn and it was just lovely. Not as lovely. But just lovely. Then we need 1/2 of an avocado, chopped. Look at these foxy ladies: Avocados are one of my most favorite things in all the earth. They're quirky. But so creamy and buttery that I forgive them their quirkiness. Aren't the bright colors wonderful! Look at these two interesting characters: Oooo! That reminds me. Look what I did to green peppers for a Halloween party we had a few years ago. Talk about foxy ladies! Isn't that fun? I also did this to a pair of goofy butternut squash: Then look what I did to poor little Bug: DfS's son doesn't look particularly amused at his mother's choices either. Oh! And the twins last year! The poor poor twins! No one but a mother with little babies will ever understand what drives another mother to dress up her little babies any which way she pleases for her own delight and perceived photo opportunities. I remember (from the foggy recesses of my weary unslept brain) that all the twins wanted to do at that moment was sleep. But I was ever so determined that they would join in on the Halloween fun. See there? Don't they look like they were having a barrel of laughs? Well, that was the mother of all tangential babbling. I think we were talking about yellow peppers. It was ages ago, but the dark hollows of my 'weary unslept brain' do hold on to a few key pieces of information. Once in a while. We need to add 1/4 cup of chopped yellow pepper.
It really wasn't my intention to deviate from the recipe again, but around the time I was chopping yellow pepper, Bug was using her "magnifying glass" to study all things small. It was terribly cute.
Alrighty then. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup chopped green pepper,
but I only had red, so red it is. Then we add 1/4 cup red onion, chopped.
To this, we add 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
That I should get some kind of compensation from Trader Joe's for
all the advertising I do for them? Me too!
Honestly, I love the way this olive oil tastes.
Maybe it's because it's cold pressed. I don't even know what that means.
The recipe then calls for 3 tablespoons of cilantro.
Alas, I didn't have any, so I omitted that.
(But I was secretly happy because I sooooooo dislike chopping fresh herbs.)
Next we add 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice.
Yes. Yeeeeeeessss. Fresh would be best. However, I will confess I used this bottle of lemon juice and it was just lovely. Not as lovely. But just lovely. (I just had a weird case of deja vu. Huh.)
Okay, I'm not even kidding.
My kid is scampering around
handing out Trader Joe's stickers.
This is getting out of hand.
That's it.
I'm demanding a paycheck. Now we're going to add 1/4 tsp sea salt.
Meanwhile, Bug is observing the
engrossing details of a 1/4 teaspoon. Also, we'll throw on 1/4 teaspoon each of pepper and cumin.
We grab 4-6 tomatoes from our tomato army and slice their tops off.
Off with their heads!
I was busy scooping out the insides of these tomatoes
when I realized Miss Blue Eyes was over
in her high chair being beautiful.
So I had to go over and dote on her a little bit.
The rice has cooled so we'll add it to the mix.
We'll toss all the ingredients and spoon it into the
hollowed-out tomatoes. This is what it turns out like.
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! Aren't they precious?!
Besides being ridiculously cute,
these stuffed tomatoes taste like summer in a dish.
If you taste these and don't immediately have visions of
sipping lemonade on a porch swing, then put on a straight jacket
and commit yourself because you are certifiable. I just could not stop taking photos of these little darlings.
And what's more--Bug devoured them.
She found it so pleasing that the "bowl" was edible!
After about 1 minute, the spoon proved to be too slow,
so she picked up the whole tomato and ate it like a taco.
It was an ingenious idea, so following her lead, we all ate them like that.
Going, going, gone. Mm, mm good.
An update on Spellchecker. As some of you may know, Spellchecker and I have had a long and tenuous relationship. We reached our breaking point last week with a certain word (which I have promised to never retype). After a good deal of soul searching on both sides, we decided to patch things up and try to move on. Everything was going swell until smartypants Spellchecker thought it best to point out to me that "unslept" is not a word and suggested I change it to "unsalted". I think that's a little unreasonable. I feel the truce starting to unravel.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chicken Salad Croissants and Strawberry Spinach Salad

Friends are coming over today! I can't wait. I've been looking forward to this all morning. The thing about friends coming over in the middle of the day is that it's an interesting adjustment to have a conversation with someone who says more than "dee dah" or "how come?" in return. But I bet I'll manage. When they ring the doorbell I'll try not to open the door and say "Well helloooooooo wittle munchkins!!" in a really high pitched voice.
When company comes over for lunch I have a sure-fire menu I like to use. Chicken Salad Croissants, Strawberry Spinach Salad, and some fruit. Yum. It's a bill of fare that is full of fresh ingredients and adds a rich palette of colors to the table.
First you chop up 1/4 cup each of celery and onion. Pretty!
Then add 1/2 cup each of golden raisins and dried cranberries.
Next you'll add 2 cooked, shredded chicken breasts.
Then 3/4 cup mayonnaise. Does mayo gross you out a little? It does me, if I think about it for too long. So let's not think about it anymore. Just add it and move on.
Add some salt and pepper and then you mix it all together. This is what it looks like. Chicken salad has never been a favorite of mine, but this recipe changed my opinion. If you feel the same way, just try it. Give it one chance. That's all I ask of you. Anywhere you go let me go too! Love me, that's all I ask of you! (Ahem. Sorry about that. Phantom of the Opera suddenly overwhelmed my senses). Back to chicken salad.
You alone can make my song take flight! Help me make the music of the night...
Good gracious, forgive me! I can't get a hold of myself.
This chicken salad is salty and sweet at the same time and there's delightful bits of crunchiness throughout. It really is a treat. You'll be pleasantly surprised that a chicken salad could win you over. And make you sing Phantom of the Opera songs out of the blue. We'll put it on some sinfully flaky croissants with a layer of green leaf lettuce. It's gonna be wonderful. Just wait til I show ya.
Okay. Now. Since friends are joining us today, I had to put my indentured servants to work. The twins were given dish duty, of which they tackled with zeal.
Oh my word. Bex is a beast of a baby! Look at him! He's totally Jumbotron!
I love when they touch each other. So sweet. In reality, Dee is probably about to shove Bex out of her way or squeeze his tender arm skin until he screams, but for the sake of this picture, I like to think she's just lovin' on her big brother. They do that sometimes.
Once, I think.
Or maybe I just dreamed that.
Oh yeah. Here we go. The fun's just beginning. A twinado's about to touch down. Oh wait. The twinado got sidetracked by his own reflection. He'll marvel at himself there for a while. You know, like 2 seconds. That's a long time in baby concentration time. A perfect companion for the chicken salad croissants is Strawberry Spinach Salad. You don't like spinach? You do now. I guarantee it or your money back. Look at these dark green baby spinach leaves. Even if you don't care for spinach, you have to admit, the color is gorgeous. Add some toasted almond slices. I put my almond slices in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes and nearly burned them. Live and learn. Wait. No, burn 'n learn. HA! I'm so clever! (eyes rolling)
Slice up and add a bunch of strawberries. (Don't be intimidated by my technical measurements).
Okay, now for the dressing which is the part that's going to make you a believer.
1/2 cup oil (I'm pretty sure you can use any kind you like. I use canola. Sometimes olive.)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon worcesteshesteshesteshestashire sauce (more eye rolling)
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds (both poppy seeds and sesame seeds can be found on the spice rack at the supermarket. I know you knew that. I was just saying that for the other people who didn't know that).
Shake up all ingredients and pour over the salad. Toss.
I like mini croissants. They're so perky. But big'ns would work out just dandy too.
Any summer fruit pairs nicely with this lunch.
Here's the sandwich assembled into a perfect little treat for your mouth. You can savor it with approximately 12 delicate little bites
or you can hork it in about 3 huge unlady-like bites. I know you couldn't guess, but I choose 3.
Wanna see it up close? No problem.
They're heeeeeerrrrrre! This is Roxann and Sara, mother and daughter. They are beautiful. And sweet. And funny. They're just good people. People you want in your life. Nice people.
Nice is such a generic word.
What I mean is gentle, kind, gracious, warm. You know. Nice.
Roxann is a grandmother
(among other things, like photographer, Close To My Heart consultant, creative mastermind, and chocolate chip pancake maker extraordinaire,
to name a few).
It's easy to tell she's a grandma--
The kids gravitate to her. And Sara! She's just a natural born mom. She loves kids and kids love her.
Grace thinks Sara is quite possibly the best thing to ever happen to her.
(They're enjoying a plastic citrus picnic here)
Look at Bug's face in this picture. That about sums up her adoration for Sara.
If Bug had her way, Sara would still be sequestered in Bug's room (for the next 8 years) and Bug would still be ordering her around on how to play dollhouse.
I found an anonymous quote to sum up the afternoon:
Good friends are cheaper than therapy.
That's what the visit was like--therapy!
We talked about Cricuts, scrapbooking, The Bachelorette, babies and blogging. We ate, we played, we laughed. Truly, is there anything more to this life?
And just so you didn't mistake the summery outfit Bug was wearing earlier as a corner turned, here is a photograph I took literally minutes after Sara and Roxann left. Honestly, I don't think their car had even turned out of our neighborhood. Ahhhh....winter clothes. All is right with the world now.
On another topic, I'm worried. When I typed "worcesteshesteshesteshestashire" sauce in the recipe above, my spellchecker said this: "no suggestions". Those two words looked so forlorn. Usually it gives me a hopeful list of 2 or 3 words, optimistic that I might choose one, even though I rarely do. But this time, it has given up on me. My spellchecker is depressed! It's like it realizes it has lost the battle it once waged with me on made-up words.
I'm sorry spellchecker. I'm sorry I've saddened you. Dismayed you. Frustrated you to the point of resignation. I'll try to be better. Here, watch. I can be rehabilitated. Look, here's one of my favorites: "butterific". Okay, spellchecker. I'll change it to traffic, just like you like it. There, there. Traffic....traffic...