13 October 2012

FMF: Race

The doctor taped up my right ankle, pink and green, and I thought somehow he knew that would make me happy and please my preppy aesthetic. Later that day I taped up my left ankle with more pink tape. I continued to prepare for race day despite the agonizing pain in my stomach. Stupid ulcer. I didn't know how I'd complete 13.1 miles of the Portland half marathon in the morning, but to get the goodies I had to finish the race. It was completely foolish; my stubborn pride would not allow me to quit. I refuse to let my body keep me from doing what I want, living my life. I felt fine in the morning, and all during the race. Frequently, internally saying, "Take that you stupid ulcer! You can't keep me down!"
I finished the race.
Improved my time even.
And, I got the goodies - a pretty finishers medal, coin, pendant, and a not so pretty finishers shirt.

But I wonder, where is that same tenacity for my spiritual life? The determination to overcome the obstacles and hurdles? The perseverance to log the long hours training and building the foundation? Is my focus on the finish line, my goal on the best goodies - to hear "well done, my good and faithful servant?"

Which race am I running? Which one really matters?

{This post is part of Lisa-Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday's}

Five Minute Friday

19 August 2012

Ladies Night Gets Hot Under the Collar!

We were headed to Bend for the weekend which, in my opinion, necessitates a stop in Sisters for refreshments after coming over the mountains. My mother sat across from me at the picnic table behind the Sno-Cap diner, watching me as I took my first bite of a jalapeno pepper jack cheeseburger. She just watched as I enjoyed that first bite, which is always the best, and let out a sigh of delight. Her own burger waiting in her hands while all her attention was on me. After a moment to chew she asked if it was good. I gave an enthusiastic "mmm-hmmm!!" while my mouth burned with delight. "Is it spicy?" she asked. "Oh, yeah!" I replied as I wiped my nose on the back of my hand, it already running from the heat of the peppers. "I have NO idea where you came from!" mom offered back, sounding dumbfounded. We laughed at the oddity that I am in the family, the only one who likes spicy food among a bunch of milquetoast eaters. For crying out loud, my dad thinks garlic is too spicy! Garlic! It doesn't even have any heat! I am happy being the anomaly in the family, adding hot sauce, cayenne, and peppers to my food freely and liberally. I finished my cheeseburger, slowly, frequently stopping to let the fire die down enough so that I could actually taste it again, and to dab away the tears that would well up in my eyes, or wipe away the snot that threatened to run down my upper lip. That was one good burger!

I don't know what my body is trying to tell me, but this summer has been the season of jalapeno cravings. And I do mean crave! That's weird, right? I think so. I have been coming up with some creative ways to add the green heat to different dishes, but one tops it all - jalapeno popper dip!

I tried it out for the first time for ladies night several weeks ago. On a balmy Saturday evening a group of us gathered at Katie's house for food, conversation, laughter, and friendship. For the most part we were all friends in high school. Although they have maintained the relationships over the years, I am just recently re-forging these friendships - much to my delight. I was thrilled when I was invited to girl's night, my awkward self-conscious inner teenager was amazed that I was being included into the inner circle with the cool kids. This meant I needed to impress them with my culinary contribution to the Mexican themed dinner; I wanted to prove my value and worth to the evening's offerings with hopes of being invited again. This seemed like a perfect occasion to try out the recipe that I had recently pinned and hadn't stopped thinking about.

While it was a big hit and was very tasty, I felt it missed the mark. It tasted like a really good spicy queso dip, but not a dip reminiscent of jalapeno poppers. Of course I didn't follow the recipe exactly - that just isn't in my nature. Instead of the fresh and canned jalapeno, I substituted diced roasted jalapenos. Oh, and I used Trader Joe's Extra Extra New York Sharp Cheddar and Black Pepper Crusted Parmesan. One last tweak - since Traders doesn't carry fat free cream cheese, I used light. But I made up for this by using Fage 0% Greek yogurt. Oh... and, forget the bread crumbs.
Here is the original recipe: Jalapeno Popper Dip

Since then I have been experimenting with the recipe and have come up with something that I really like, that truly is reminiscent of a jalapeno popper! I can't stop eating the stuff! I still have a little refinement to work out, I'm not totally happy with the consistency as it has to be fairly hot for it to be dip-able. But at room temperature or cold, it is solid enough to use as a spread, which has its advantages as well (think sandwiches).

Here is my version:
Jenn's Jalapeno Poppin' Dip
  • 1 block (8 ounces) of light cream cheese
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt (I prefer Fage brand)
  • 1 cup of sharp cheddar (Tillamook's Vintage White Sharp Cheddar is especially good)
  • 2 (or more) roasted jalapenos, finely diced - ribs and seeds removed, if any of the skin is extra black you may want to remove that as well. 
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
Dump everything into a saucepan over low-med heat and stir frequently until the cheddar is melted. Done. Yes, it really is that easy. 
I used a stick blender with just some of the yogurt and jalapeno to make a paste so that the jalapeno would be more evenly distributed. A sprinkle of some bacon crumbles on top would be a nice touch too. Let it sit for a day and the heat and flavor will develop more robustly. 
Transfer to a serving bowl and set it out with tortilla chips, red bell pepper strips, cucumber sticks, or Jenn style - with a big spoon. Or spread it in a tortilla and add some chicken, tomatoes, spinach, and black olives for a tasty wrap.


(And invite me over when you make a batch!)

14 July 2012

Brownies, you're the BOMB!

I don't need much of an excuse to bake.
Any of these reasons would do:
  • Mr. Cranky-Pants birthday
  • Kristi's birthday
  • Lindsay's birthday
  • Mr. Cranky-Pants visit to Portland (and he insists that I bake him something every. single. time. he visits.)
  • and because of this...

Trader Joe's is now selling crack, er... Speculoos Cookie Butter. 

Since all of the above reasons happened within two weeks time, it wasn't just a good excuse to bake, it was a necessity - and it needed to be over the top good. I have been holding on to this recipe, waiting for a good time to pull it out and drop this sugar bomb. This was it!

A gal at Bible study bought these one week and they were unreal! I'm not sure what she called them, but I have dubbed them "Brownie Bombs" because they are deceptively heavy and fall with a thud, because they cause an explosion on your taste buds, and it feels like a bomb went off in your belly after eating one. A very tasty sugary bomb. 

Start with these essentials:
Okay, those who know me, will understand that I tend to tinker and rarely follow a recipe exactly as written. It's that rebellious spirit in me. So let me state up-front that it would be easier to buy a box brownie mix and fix it according to the package directions. And the original ones I based this on used creamy peanut butter instead of Cookie Butter. But, c'mon! Why? WHY? Why would you use peanut butter when God created Cookie Butter?!?!

1 box of chocolate flavored cake mix (such as Devil's Food Cake, Dark Chocolate, etc.)
2 eggs
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), very soft
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
1/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup of water
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Also needed...
- 1 1/2 boxes of chocolate sandwich cookies (I recommend Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's, or Whole Foods 365 sandwich cremes, but not the national brand that comes in the blue box.)
-1 jar of Speculoos Cookie Butter (or peanut butter, but not the natural kind like Adam's brand)

Optional toppings...
Trader Joe's "Way More Chocolate Chips Cookies"
8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/2 packet of Starbucks Via instant coffee powder

Preheat the oven to 350°
Add the cake mix and butter to an electric stand mixer (or a large bowl and use a hand mixer) and combine slightly, add in all of the remaining ingredients and mix for a couple minutes. It will be a very thick batter. Because of the fluffy thickness, again, it may be easier to mix up a regular brownie mix that is a bit runnier. But, I made a couple just brownie cupcakes (because I ran out of cookie butter. GASP! The horror!!) and they were pretty much the best brownie I've had in a long time. Just make the cake mix brownie batter. And if you are wondering why I made brownies using a cake mix, well... I'm trying to use up my stash of unhealthy food and get it out of my house. 
Set the brownie batter aside.

Take two (yes, 2. 1,2, do-si-dos) of the sandwich cookies. Smear one with a big dollop of cookie butter and sandwich it together with the second cookie. Like this...
Drop this into a cupcake liner in a muffin pan.

An alternative, if you are not using the nasty chemical blue box kind, is to twist a sandwich cookie apart and spread the inside with cookie butter and only use the one cookie. I tried lots of variations. Several variations on cookie to butter ratio, and methods of application, and various baking times. Each batch looked a little different.

Cover each cookie with brownie batter. One of the variations I tried was putting a scoop of brownie batter into the cup and pushed the cookie sandwich down into it - that didn't work quite as well. If it had been regular (read, runny) brownie batter, it might have been better. I was trying to get the brownie to encase the sandwich better. If you find a way that works, let me know.
Bake for somewhere between 18-24 minutes. (Sorry, you'll have to figure it out exactly.) 
While the brownie bombs are cooling, mix up the ganache by adding all the ingredients into a microwave safe bowl or to a double boiler. In the microwave, heat in 20 second increments, stirring in-between until it is smooth. Spread a spoonful of the ganache on top of the cupcake and top with a "Way More Chocolate Chips Cookie." 
You'll end up with this...

It is very nice!!

Wondering what it looks like on the inside? Are you prepared for this? These really are the bomb-diggity-dot-com best brownies.

Oh, yeah! You can thank me now - and later. 

29 June 2012

Five-Minute Friday: {Dance}

I remember going to the Lakewood Center for the Arts at the tender age of 8, maybe it was 7, for ballet classes. It was a love/hate relationship. I wanted to feel pretty. I wanted to have ballet slippers - the kind with the pink satin ribbon that would wrap around your ankle and up your calf, criss-crossing until tied off in a quick knot. But I distinctly remember not liking the teacher. Or the fact that every other week someone new joined the class and we seemed to start all over again. I was already keenly aware that I was big. Too big. And not graceful. I was already self-conscious and wanting to hide. My mother had made a deal with me that if I stayed in the class for a month (or was it three?), then she would open a savings account in my name and put $10 dollars in it for me. That seemed like a fortune and I patiently served my time in ballet class and the moment my sentence was up, I quit the class.
The ironic thing is, thirty-ish years later, I've gone back to dance and ballet class. I'm still not graceful. I'm still aware that I am 'bigger.' But it doesn't bother so much anymore. Instead I love the way it feels to move my body in the rhythmic flow and the way I can express myself without words, interpreting music with movement. In dance I have found another language - a heart language that I wish I had found years earlier. Like maybe thirty years earlier.

(A writing exercise from Lisa-Jo Baker, Five-Minute Friday)


Hello All,
How are you doing this Friday? True confession time: I have a fantasy of someday getting a tattoo. I doubt I’ll ever have the gumption to permanently mark my body with something for life, but I like to pretend that one day I will. And when that day comes, I want to be prepared with a design, something that represents me, says something about who I am, that will be true forever, and ever, amen! As I was dinking around on Pinterest last night I had the idea to type “tattoo” and “ink” into the search bar to see if I would get inspired enough to commit to something. Instead I questioned why I want to join a club of such freaky weird people. (C’mon – there are some frightening and bizarre tattoos out there!)

I looked through the images and thought, well… the time I’ve spent in central/eastern Europe has instilled a fondness for matrushkas. Apparently this girl really likes them too.
 I think I’ll stick with my lil’ pot holders that are mostly non-functional but so cute that I leave them on the counter (and use them as  trivets).

And as y’all know my favorite pastime is kitchen chemistry. I’ve been known to call my professional KitchenAid by the name “My Precious.”  While I am in awe of the artists ability to create the reflective surface, this may be a bit over the top for me. 

 Maybe I should just stick to the basics.

I have a severe case of wanderlust, and want to travel the world. How about getting the globe outlined on my feet? Oh, that’s been done. But I could have each state/country that I visit filled in and slowly color in the map and show where my feet have walked! But then my shoes would clash – that won’t do!

I am rarely without a camera. If I got a tattoo of a camera then I really would never, ever be without one – not that an inked one would be all that helpful.

I readily admit that I have a drinking problem. That’s not changing.

Coffee or tea??
One lump or two??

If an 8.0 earthquake hit, my home would stand strong – held up by books alone.

I like Animal! J (What girl doesn’t have a soft spot for the bad boy drummer??) J

This was the best find of the night!! In my perusing, I even found a photo of Eric's tatted up arm. Nice, dude! (For those who don't know, Eric is one of my co-workers who is constantly razzed about having squirrel slaves that power his house, which is in boon-dock New Hampshire.)

I just found this really funny. J

Well… I’m not inspired just yet. I guess the hunt for the perfect tattoo continues. 

24 June 2012

Party Cookies

Opening up my email on afternoon several weeks ago, I was greeted with a reminder for an event the next evening; an event to which I was supposed to bring a dessert. It would be so helpful if I had put that on my calendar. Alas, I needed a quick and easy treat, to give myself an extra challenge I wanted to use as many ingredients that I had on hand as possible. I turned to my favorite web-source of recipes: Pinterest. The weather is turning relatively warmer and chocolate seemed too heavy. I knew I had a package of funfetti cake mix in my cupboard, then I found a recipe for cake batter cookies, and with that I had a plan...

Lemony Funfetti Party Cookies!

Here is what you'll need:
1 - box of Funfetti cake mix
1 cup - white chocolate chips
1/2 cup - plain yogurt
2 - eggs
1 - lemon, zest & juice
1 teaspoon - vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon - lemon extract
dash of salt

Bake 10-12 minutes at 350°

Like I said, I needed something quick and easy and that was a selling point on this recipe. Basically, you dump everything into one bowl and stir it up until just mixed. The dough was really sticky and stiff which made scooping it out a little challenging, I think this was due to replacing the oil with yogurt. I made the substitution to make it a smidge 'healthier' and in hopes of adding some extra tang.

Simply scoop the batter onto a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat®
Bake them for 10-12 minutes at 350°; they won't change color much, just a little tan on top, so be careful not to over bake them. 

I made mostly popper size cookiettes, but I also made a few bigger "regular" size cookies. Straight out of the oven (with a little time to cool) I think the bigger ones tasted better. Yet, the smaller ones tasted very good and even better the next day. 

Yummers! Tangy, zingy, lemony, creamy & happy cookies! 

01 June 2012

Hard Days Are Fighting Days

Some days are just hard.
It's still dark outside but the bladder will let you sleep no longer. Throwing back the blankets with annoyance, you take care of business without really opening your eyes. Wiggling back under the covers, sleep is just about to fully take hold again... and the alarm goes off. Hitting snooze leads to an arm being flung over the side of the bed - and staying there, until it starts to tingle, go numb, and the cold exposed skin wakes you too much to be ignored. Tucking the stray arm back under the covers, sleep starts to grab hold of you again. While not really awake, you rationalize that if you are this tired, you need the sleep and should maybe skip the gym just this one morning. Resetting the alarm, snuggling in for one more hour of shut-eye, suddenly you are wide awake. With a loud sigh of exasperation you throw the covers back once more, swinging legs over the side; today will not be the day to skip the gym.

It feels good to move the body, get the blood flowing, see the sweat dripping; better than sleeping one more restless hour. But the dalliance with the alarm has put your schedule off and now you are running late. While you make it in time for the train, it required bringing your make-up bag with you to apply it while riding along to work.

Stepping off the train early, choosing to walk the rest of the way to the office, it seems like it may rain making the choice questionable. An odd mix of people are passing by on the sidewalks first thing in the morning in downtown Portland. It's the crazy homeless man that spits loud and profusely on the sidewalk along Powell's Books that grabs your attention, not so much because of his looks, smell, behavior, or spitting - but because you caught yourself walking to the far side of the curb away from him. "What ugly, unloving behavior! He isn't so different than the residents at the hotel you minister at." you chide yourself with such remonstrations. And out of the blue you hear, "He's crazy, he'd probably ask you out too since it's only crazy people that have an interest in you. Well, the crazy, and the social awkward, or the scoundrel who absconded with more of you than he should have." Suddenly you are judging every man that crosses your path, many who can be 'interesting' in Old Town. But there are those few who are dressed for work, who took some care about their appearance, and don't seem to be crazy in the least; and as you check those things off, the whiny voice asks, "Why can't someone like that ask me out? What's wrong with me that only creepy Chris is interested in me?" With the tailspin starting, the ache of loneliness scourges out your insides leaving you achingly hollow. Is it the wind or the pit on the inside causing your eyes to water? No matter, they both sting. The mind wanders, back to memories with the scoundrel, and longing stirs into the mix. Not so much for the scoundrel himself, but for the connection, the togetherness and sharing of life. Walking down memory lane leads nowhere good, so you put a halt to the amble with a road sign that reads, "He REJECTED you!" Painful, but effective. Also effective at creating an opening for evil to lob their familiar arsenal:
You are unwanted!
You are unlovable!
You are defective!
You are utterly alone!
You have been forgotten by God!

Under this heavy unrelenting barrage, you buzz yourself through the front door of the office, but walls and structure provide no protection from this kind of attack. The ride in the elevator to the 7th floor is agonizing, as you want to seek refuge under the covers that were so comforting only four hours ago, you just want to hide and wallow.

Starting everything up, while programs boot, you start to get caught up on the blogosphere.
And you read this post:
The King is Enthralled By Your Beauty

Those bombs that have been exploding in your heart start to fizzle as truth starts to break through the smoke and ash.
You are loved!
You are delighted in!
You are thought beautiful!

And if you were still doubting, this blog post shows up:
beautiful you
Another cleansing sweep of Truth washes over the battlefield of your heart, reminding you that you are indeed loved, seen, known, and thought beautiful by the almighty King of kings who is always with you. He cares so much that He orchestrated two posts, using the same verse, to send His message.

Some days are hard.
Some days you just need to fight a little harder.
Fight for truth. Fight for love. Fight for healing.
And be generous with mercy and grace.

Learning to be loved by my Creator, allowing myself to be loved by myself and others, accepting that I am loved and lovable is hard work for me. I need constant reminders. On those morning walks from Jeld-Wen field to the office I keep my eye out for hearts, love notes from God to remind me on my way of whose heart I belong to and where I am kept tight.

Hearts abound

"Hearts Abound"

31 May 2012

Patrick commands it!

I have been given the opportunity to work from home on a regular basis. I can choose a couple days a week, and I'm struggling. Do I really want two days, or is one enough? Oddly enough, I actually like being in the office. With co-workers like Patrick, the day goes by much more entertainingly.

Patrick [2:36 PM]:
Ok, well I will continue to work on this list. I will cc you on my response to the Test team. It will include the items that are retired that will need to be removed
Jennifer [2:37 PM]:
perfect. thank you.
Patrick [2:39 PM]:
Can you come down here
Patrick [2:39 PM]:
Ro and Jay want to yell at you
Patrick [2:39 PM]:
in a nice way
Patrick [2:39 PM]:
with love and candy
Jennifer [2:39 PM]:
what!? no way! if they want to yell at me they can come up.
Patrick [2:40 PM]:
they want to talk to you about something and they want me to chime in about stuff
Patrick [2:40 PM]:
so they would like you come down
Jennifer [2:40 PM]:
what's the magic word?
Patrick [2:40 PM]:
You are great?
Patrick [2:40 PM]:
You are the best?
Patrick [2:40 PM]:
Flattery will get me everywhere?
Jennifer [2:40 PM]:
(it starts with a "P")
Patrick [2:40 PM]:
Patrick [2:40 PM]:
Patrick commands it!
Patrick [2:41 PM]:
Is that what you were looking for?
Jennifer [2:41 PM]:
so close, and yet so very far away
Patrick [2:41 PM]:
Jennifer [2:41 PM]:
Oh, okay! Just one lil' moment.
Patrick [2:41 PM]:
ok, thank you

14 May 2012

Getting Right

It is May, April slipped by with a solitary post that only taunted you with the promise of more to come in the month. A broken promise. When the words wouldn't come, the sentences more fragmented than usual, the desire to write all but entirely absent - that is when I finally knew, I was heart sick. My soul in need of some serious TLC. My heart needing balm to heal.

On the outside I looked fine. I kept "keeping on" out of sheer necessity, projects at work didn't give me an option. If I allowed myself to open up and enter in to the mess, it meant I wouldn't be able to function. So I numbed myself. I buried myself in work. I obsessively read "The Hunger Games" trilogy. I watched TV and movies. I hit the gym with more frequency. I shopped. I ate. I drank (and not just copious amounts of coffee). Feeling and processing wasn't allowed, strictly verboten. Occasionally my heart wandered when the numbing started to wear off, but it only brought tears, incapacitating sorrow, unbridled anger. I didn't know - and still don't - how to delve into the muck while functioning in life. The only thing I knew to do was shut down and ignore my heart. It is awfully hard to write from the heart, about living a life of faith, learning how to live whole-heartedly, if you are silencing it.

But this can only go on for so long. I felt the fissures in my facade creeping, making their way to critical joints, the wall separating my heart from my head was about to crack. It made me nervous. Thankfully, it was also about this time that I finished my part in a major project at work. No one was waiting on me to finish something before they could start their work; I was no longer a roadblock for others. Enough time had passed since March's escapades that some vacation hours had accumulated in my time-off bank again. This meant - I could escape!! A couple weeks ago, I took an afternoon off from work and found the brackish balm that I so sorely needed. Pulling out of my driveway a few minutes after noon, I drove straight to Sleepy Monk Coffee in Cannon Beach. (It really is the best coffee and worth the drive just to pick up a bag of beans.) After stashing my bag of beans in the car, I walked across the street and found the sand and surf and started walking south. And kept walking south. Then went a little further. Finally, I had to stop as I didn't want to go for a swim to get around the bend to Hug Point Park. Most of the way I was alone, not another person in sight up or down the coastline; just me and God, walking and talking. Pouring my heart out, needing Him to show up and care for it, to rescue me, and remind me just who I am.

And God did show up.
As I pronounced myself wretched, sinful, rebellious, and unworthy of love, Jesus said, 'No. You are redeemed, forgiven, and not only worthy of love, but you are loved.'

Presenting the 'evidence' of my single, solitary, lonely aloneness as proof of my unloveableness. God refutes me, and reminds me that I am loved. Deeply. Beyond measure. And I am not alone, not ever, that I am part of a much larger family. A community that loves me, if I would allow them.

Ranting and whining about recent events of the past six months, questioning God's goodness, wanting to know why I am being punished. The Lord, with gentle loving kindness reproofs me, 'I am good. I am the giver of all good things. I lavish you with my goodness. Don't confuse punishment with living in a fallen world.'
I have never, ever found even one whole sand dollar on the beach. I brought home over 20!

Nearing the turn to get back to my car, just when I start to question am I totally crazy for believing God would talk to me, talk to my heart, had I made it all up? He sends one more reminder.

I am understanding the verse in Philippians 2:11 so much more that says "...continue to work out your salvation..."  It's all a process. We are all in process. My afternoon and evening at the beach did a world of good for me. I physically feel lighter, as though burdens were literally taken off my shoulders, words are starting to trickle back in to my mind and are being turned over in my heart, forming into phrases. I'm getting back to right, but it's a new right as God is moving, changing, renewing me. It's a process. I'm a process. I hope to get back to posting regularly soon, and share some of my process with you, but if it seems slow, please be patient and kind - I'm in process... just like you. 

02 April 2012

Salty Sea

I want to run away.
Run to the edge of the world,
Where sea and sand meet.
To hear the pounding surf,
taste it's salty wisps.
While salty tears streak down my cheeks,
have it pound out the voices in my head:
*you are forgotten
*you aren't worth the bother
*you are unlovable
*you are too much
*you are totally alone

Sometimes God's voice is like a gentle whispering breeze;
other times like a thunderous roar.
I want to run away, to the place where sea and sand meet,
listen to the mighty thunder of the ocean tumble,
and hear within its tumult God speaking "Not true." over and over again until the voices in my head are pounded out.
Not True.
-You are my beloved
Not True.
-You are worth more than the most costly jewels.
Not True.
-I am always with you.
Not True.
-You are wonderfully created by me.
Not True.
-I moved heaven and earth for you.

I want to run away to the place where sea and sand meet, to cry salty tears until I melt into a pool, a pool that is swept up into the sea, becoming one.

27 March 2012

Houdini Lessons

February obviously has been studying with Houdini. How else could it have pulled off such an amazing disappearing act? March is trying to follow suit and escape before I notice it is here by creating diversionary tactics. "Snow in March? Surely not! It must still be February." I have a hunch it is going to escape as well before I can catch it. But it isn't like I have been sitting idly by while two whole months have passed. Their ease in escaping was assisted by my frenzy of activity. April will not be so lucky, I already have blog plans for the month. In fact, I'll give you a sneak peek. Here are some working titles of upcoming posts:

  • Holley Gerth's "Your're Already Amazing" review + giveaway
  • Sensuality of the Single Christian gal
  • God's Masterpiece Looks Like a Jackson Pollack Painting
  • Choosing to be the Prodigal Daughter

Do I have your interest?  I promise to catch up to April and not let it escape, so come back over the next few weeks.

To prove that I wasn't being a sluggard, and had quite a bit of fun while the days zipped by, here is what I have been up to over the past few months.

The end of February brought The Justice Conference (which required a heap of prep work for the Micah booth) and a visitor from Honduras, the beloved Marvin Morazan.

Marvin was able to stay for a week and we had a ton of fun, including going up to Government Camp to play in the snow on Mt. Hood. It was the very first time Marvin was able to play in the snow. He had been wishing to make a snow angel for 12 years. And I was there and helped make his dream come true. It goes down as one of the best days EVER in my whole entire life!! And I am not exaggerating. 

The tail end of Marvin's visit overlapped (see! I wasn't lying about being busy!) with the 2nd ACT Journey retreat. After all the craziness of getting ready for the conference, attending the conference, entertaining and shuttling Marvin around, it was wonderful to find a spot of rest.
The Dream Giver's Inn is in the lovely Yamhill valley. This photo was taken from the (almost) six mile loop that I like to walk when I'm there. There is another picture from Sunday morning that I wanted to post, but it was taken with my big camera and I seem to have misplaced my card reader. Maybe by now you're believing me that I've been busy and not concerned enough to take the time to find it; which is a pity because I have some fantastic photos of my brother that I want from the same memory card for blackmail purposes. 

A few days after the retreat (3 days to be precise, because I wouldn't want to let any moss grow under me) I flew to Colorado with my mom to spend four days with my brother, his fiancée, and her family. We went with them to their wedding planning appointments, including a tasting at The Sanctuary, where they will be married, an amazing location, and best of all - cake tasting! There was also a bridal shower for Amy with a "Mad Men" / 50's housewife theme. It was so much fun, especially the apron fashion show. I really like my new sister! (And not that you would ever know it from this photo, but I had been using self-tanner on my legs in anticipation of having bare legs for the party. My legs really could have been whiter!)

Coming home from Colorado landed me straight into a crazy hot sticky mess at work as we try to figure out work-arounds for our old software systems to create new tests. Ugh! Since I had become so accustomed to not being home on the weekends, I spent the next Saturday at the Selah conference at George Fox, my ol' stomping grounds. Just in the nick of time, last Saturday I squeezed in a 5k race - the Sellwood Scamper - to keep on track with my goal of doing a race every month of the year. Considering the junk I was eating and the lack of sleep the week before, I'm somewhat impressed that I was able to run most of it and post a decent time. For April, I'm getting the race business out of the way immediately with the Race for the Roses on April 1st. 
Phew! I'm tired just remembering it all, no wonder the bags under my eyes have bags of their own! February and March also brought with it some very fun tickets. Mom and I went to the Blazer vs. Nugget game (our Christmas gift from brother), 'A Tribute to Benny Goodman' concert with the Oregon Symphony, and best of all "Wicked!" Oh, my good gravy, I LOVE this show! I have declared it my second most favoritest musical ever. It doesn't quite trump "Les Miserable" but it sure is close. There was also the hair trauma in early February, which is no longer traumatic. And then there were two weeks spent in a whirlwind obsession with my Kindle as I devoured "The Hunger Games" trilogy. Life wasn't all rosy. Not by a long shot. My fixation with reading was driven just as much from the need to escape real life and numb myself, even if only for a little while, just long enough to get through the day, to the heart ache that threatened to spill out from my eyes at any given moment, as it was from the engaging adventure of Katniss and Peeta. 

Yes, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

29 January 2012

Chubby Hubby Reinvention - Take #2

I got my baking groove on over the holidays and made some great treats. For Christmas I made one of my favorite desserts- chocolate bread pudding using panettone for the bread. It is beyond decadent! For dad's birthday (known to the rest of the world as New Year's Eve) we celebrated with peppermint chocolate cheesecake bars, a recipe I found courtesy of Pinterest, my obsession is paying off with very tasty treats. Then there were the neighbor goodie bags filled with puppy chow/muddy buddies/monkey munch - let it be known that by whatever name you call it -  I make the best, spritz cookies, homemade peppermint marshmallows, and candy cane hearts. And it wouldn't be Christmas without maple pecan sticky buns. No wonder I gained weight over the holidays, even though I gave most if it away. But the new year has started, I am setting the goal that I will get to a healthy weight this year with Project: {me}, I have teenage boys to keep up with after all, so it's not really an option. Yet it was hard to get back on track with healthy eating after so much indulgence. Not helping in the efforts was the leftover ingredients hanging out in my pantry and fridge. (Cream cheese makes my diet brownies taste so much better!) The only thing to do was make one last epic dessert using all the leftovers. I took stock of what was on hand, particularly those items that are a weakness and/or couldn't be stored in my garage pantry long term, out of sight and out of mind. I wanted to avoid buying any more ingredients to complete a recipe, the point was to get rid of things. I came up with this list: cream cheese, peanut butter, eggs, pretzels, chocolate chips. It was really just the eggs and the cream cheese I needed to get rid of, the pretzels are not a temptation but they would go stale, and then I'd just throw them out, and that is just wasteful when they could be made into something yummy.

Pondering that list and knowing the other things I had on hand I started thinking about a new reinvention of chubby hubby. This time instead of a cookie base, what about mainly cheesecake... mmm... peanut butter cheesecake, that's an excellent starting point. I delved back into Pinterest world to help me shape my idea. This is what I came up with: Peanut Butter Pretzel Cheesecake bars.  Will you allow me to brag for just a moment? These things are amazingly
I took the pan to work and they got rave reviews, it was a major hit with the guys, especially in the media department. The pan was empty before the end of the day, always a good sign.

Want to try them for yourself? Here is what you need.

Equipment: A stand mixer with the whisk attachment and food processor with  the metal blade.

2 packets of grahamies (or graham crackers to a normal person)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 handfuls of mini-twist pretzels
1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 blocks of cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup peanut butter (creamy will work best, and not the natural kind)
1/3 cup half n' half
4 eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of half n' half
3 ounces of crushed peanuts
2 handfuls of mini-twist pretzels, broken into pieces

For the crust: In the bowl of the food processor, put in all the 'crust' ingredients except the butter. Turn it on and let it do its thing until the graham crackers and pretzels are obliterated into a sand like consistency. With the machine running, slowly pour in the melted butter through the feed tube. I would suggest doing it in two batches, stopping the machine in-between and scraping down the sides. After all the butter is added let it run a little longer to make sure it is all mixed together well. Once it seems mixed and about the consistency of damp sand and will clump together, dump it into a 9x13 baking pan, patting it into a nice even layer along the bottom. Bake it at 350° for 12 minutes. Take it out of the oven and let it cool while you whip up the rest of the dessert.

For the filling: In the bowl of the stand mixer add the brown sugar, cream cheese and peanut butter. You might want to give it a bit of a start on the mixing with arm and spatula as the cream cheese and peanut butter are kind of thick at first. Once it is blended together add the rest of the ingredients and mix until it is well mixed and a little foamy. Remember to periodically stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. When it looks ready, pour it over the crust. Bake at 350° for approximately 25-30 minutes - until the middle only sorta jiggles a little when the pan is wiggled. Let it cool before putting the topping on.

For the topping: In a microwave safe bowl, preferably glass or ceramic (I'm convinced plastic adds an odd flavor), add the chocolate chips, butter, and half n' half. Microwave for 30 seconds and then stir really well. Microwave in 10 second intervals until melted, smooth, and combined. Spread it over the top of the cooled cheesecake, moving quickly, while it is still warm press broken pretzel and peanut pieces into the chocolate.

Chubby Hubby inspired Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars!

(Notes: I used half n' half because that is what I had, but if I were making this again I would use sour cream in the cheesecake filling for a little more twang, maybe upping it to 1/2 a cup. The batter had a strong punch, but once cooked it was rather mellow. Also, the topping could have been better using heavy cream instead of the half and half, and a little more of it at that.)

26 January 2012

Chubby Hubby Reinvention - Take #1

I have a slight addiction to Pinterest. And to food blogs. It's a dangerous combination, especially when a favorite co-worker is having a birthday. Jon's birthday was early December. I had a little giftie for him already, it had been purchased at a sale two months earlier. But it is expected by my co-workers to bring in baked goods on birthdays, at least those who have a earned special favor with me. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know Jon has curried much favor with me, which meant I needed to pull out the big guns and come up with something amazing.
I started regularly checking the food category on Pinterest and carefully considering each dessert recipe that popped up the various food blogs that I follow. What was going to be the winning idea? I found inspiration in a post from Brown Eyed Baker for Chubby Hubby Truffles.

As amazing as they sounded, it was too much work and effort to make truffles for a crowd at work, even if it was for Jon. But it got me to thinking... what about a peanut butter pretzel cookie? After looking at scads of recipes for peanut butter cookies, blondies, peanut butter blondies, chocolate peanut butter cookies, peanut butter brownies, I came up with this: Jon's Birthday Chubby-Hubby Brownie-Cookie bar.
I collected ingredients from my pantry and with an idea in mind, got to work.

The Supplies

I made a standard brownie box mix adding a little coffee grounds (maybe about a tablespoon) to the mix. I believe coffee and chocolate are the nectar of life, and as such deserve to always be paired together. I poured it into a lasagna pan which is a little bigger than your standard 9x13 and set it aside.

Next came the cookie part. I started with a basic peanut butter cookie recipe from Cook's Illustrated, my go-to source for all things food and kitchen related. But I don't follow directions well, and tweaked the recipe a bit. I used 1/2 a cup of White Chocolate Peanut Butter, which I had on hand because Brown Eye Baker had raved about it and when I saw it at Target it magically jumped into my cart, and 1/2 a cup of crunchy peanut butter - because that is what I had. The recipe called for actual peanuts (crazy! a peanut butter cookie with peanuts?!) but since I don't like them unless in butter form I didn't have any and left that ingredient out. I then actually followed the directions, until it came to the add-ins. I precisely measured and added by the handful semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup), peanut butter chips (maybe 1/2 cup), butterscotch chips (a generous 1/4 cup), and broken up pretzel bits (close to 1 cup). Turn the machine on and let it do the hard work of incorporating all of that chippy goodness into the dough.

The dough ended up being really stiff. There was no way I was going to be able to spread it over the brownie base like I had intended, especially as the brownie batter was rather runny. Hm... what to do. Scoop it!

I ended up scooping out the cookie dough, covering the brownie batter filling in gaps here and there. It was time consuming and my hand hurt by the time I was done. Next time, if there is a next time, I'd reverse the two layers. Put the cookie dough on the bottom, patting it into place to cover the whole pan, then top with brownie batter. Oh... then maybe when it's done, it could be frosted... with peanut butter buttercream, or caramel buttercream, and dusted with pretzel bits... I think there will be a next time.

Okay, back to this baking venture. Once the cookie dough was more or less covering the brownie mix, I dropped spoonfuls of caramel sauce all over the top. It was another, 'Hey, I have this in the fridge from this other event, let's add it in!' But I think Kraft caramel squares, maybe cut in half or quarters, would work better, sprinkled over the brownie layer. Next time.

I wasn't sure how long to bake it, so I went with the brownie instructions since they had a longer time, adding 10 minutes to account for the extra thickness. It still needed a few more minutes, but then it went too long. When it came out of the oven the cookie part was a bit dark, maybe a little overdone, for my liking (another reason to reverse the layers).

Ta-da!! Doesn't it look scrumptious? (If not a little overly yellow because of the film+lens combo in Hipstamatic.)

I would show you a cut view, but I forgot to take one... and it didn't last long at work. This recipe is not for the weak. I mean that literally. The stinking thing weighed a little over 7 pounds. Lugging that to work on the train was a trick, but Rockstar deserved it.
Happy Birthday, Jon!!