Monday, May 16, 2016

Time passing...

Groovy Girl was confirmed yesterday. It was a beautiful service with lots of emotional moments.  Six confirmands-all girls-have had a year of classes filled with interesting discussion.  A few girls-including G.G. were able to take a trip to Nicaragua to deliver shoe boxes filled with school supplies to children.  They've had overnights, a ski trip and a June mission trip to W. Va still to come. Most of the girls have grown up together in the church.

It is still difficult for me to wrap my brain around the fact that my baby is 13, confirmed, will soon take driver's ed, and will be in 9th grade. Crazy. Seriously. She was a miracle baby, born early, but oh, so healthy and rambunctious.  Effervescent as her youth director described her.

To celebrate her and her best pal, Katy, I hosted a brunch for family friends including our minister and his wife. Impressively ALL my dishes turned out amazing.  This does not usually happen for me. I have best intentions but things fail, fall, or just don't work.  This all worked and they were new recipes so if I can do it; you too could make these brunch happy recipes.  Groovy Girl loves breakfast food so brunch was the perfect choice even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon.

{laughing spatula}

I picked two dishes and two side dishes.  This Mexican Breakfast casserole from Laughing Spatula was a perfect main dish and we had toppings galore with sour cream, cilantro, diced tomatoes, chopped avocado, hot peppers, and homemade salsa.  I followed this recipe closely except I added a layer of frozen spinach (almost thawed) to the bottom of the pan. Groovy Girl always orders omelets with spinach so I figured this was a good twist.

I knew I wanted my second dish to be sweet and I browsed through many recipes on line and in my own cookbook cupboard.  Many with apples seemed too Fall-ish and G.G. is not the biggest fruit lover. Watermelon is her favorite and that does not pair well in any baked dish that I know of. She does love bread though and I happened to find just what I was looking for in "Not Your Mother's Casseroles" by Faith Durand.  I've used many recipes from this book but never made this particular one.  I really wanted my daughter to swoon with joy with my brunch choices and this one did it.

Cinnamon Roll Breakfast Bake

9 x 13 pan 
Bake time: 50 minutes

One 12 - to 16 - loaf good quality white bread (Italian or French) with crusts removed, cut in half lengthwise and then into thin slices. {I skipped all this, left the crust on my fat French bread and sliced it into medium slices. I wanted it to be hearty}

For the custard:

5 large {farm fresh} eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
2 T. sugar
1 {big} tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

For the cinnamon cheese filling: 

8 ozs cream cheese, softened
2 T. unsalted butter, softened
1 large {farm fresh} egg
1 T. cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

More cinnamon for sprinkling.

Preheat the oven to 325*. Lightly grease the baking dish with butter or spray.

Layer half the bread in the baking dish, overlapping and wedging them in tightly so they are in an almost solid layer.

To make the custard, whisk the eggs until fully beaten, then whisk in the milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Pour half of this custard over the bread in the baking dish, letting it settle in and soak the bread thoroughly.  Set aside the rest of the custard.

To make the cream cheese filling, in the bowl of a standing mixer or with a handheld, beat the softened cream cheese with the butter, egg, cinnamon, and sugar.  Beat until very soft and whipped. Spread over the first layer in the baking dish.  Layer the rest of the bread on top {making a sandwich} and then pour the rest of the custard on top.  (At this point the casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. {Think Christmas morning}

Sprinkle with extra cinnamon. Bake, uncovered, for about 50 minutes, or until it is firmly set. Cool for 15 minutes, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and serve.  

I skipped the powdered sugar-it didn't need that extra sweetness.  I did generously douse it with cinnamon though.  Also a few years ago I downsized my kitchen and I only have one 13 X 9 -in pan so I made this breakfast bake in my slow cooker. Perfect!  It worked so well I would do it this way again.  I made the cream cheese filling on Saturday night (after I'd made the Mexican egg dish and it was resting in the refrigerator" and then I layered the bread, custard, and filling into the slow cooker and let it soak for about an hour.  We turned it on low before we left for church and it was piping hot when I returned two hours later.  

We also had a strawberry spring greens salad and grits slow cooked with gouda right before guests were to arrive and strawberries mixed with a sprinkle of sugar just like my grandmother served in the springtime when she said the berries were still a little tart.  My son loves them just that way. My friend brought a dish or squared watermelon and we had glasses of mimosas to clink.  It was lovely and I have not one photograph of the table.  Happy guests though and a happy girl / young lady. Peace be with you.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The brilliant David Rhodes

David Rhodes (2013)

Sometimes you read the written word and you just get a lovely chill up your spine, a chill of delight. For last month's book club we read David Rhodes for the second time and I was again overwhelmed with his ability to create sentences, paragraphs, and chapters into such beauty.  After reading two of his books I'm now counting myself to be somewhat of an expert.  I have a just a few quotes here to share to entice you to read him as well.

"Nate was rubbing the back of his neck when his Breakfast Pie arrived in a deep blue ceramic dish. Curling blades of steam rose from cracks in the top.  He poked his fork in, pried open a piece of crust and released and eruption of scalding air. ...Freeing a small piece from the dish, he held it in midair, watched steam curl around the fork, and slid it between his teeth. Anticipating the heat, he didn't close his lower jaw until this tongue informed him of an acceptable temperature.  The taste moved into the corners of his mouth and his feature-detectors identified separate flavors; the crust, as he suspected was mostly seasoned bread crumbs and mild white cheddar; the mashed potato base held vegetable and ham, the binding savor owing most of its character to marjoram and thyme." (7)

Beneath the dock, lazy liquid slapped against oak posts, and water bugs skittered madly in and out of rolling shadows. The hoarse croaking of a bullfrog sounded like an ancient door pried open, thick ribbons of iridescent green slime grew underwater, and the smell of moist heat, earth, and damp wood rose into the air.  These sensations dove to the bottom of Kevin's mind, where they were set to work in the mines of his young imagination." (24)

"The giant silver maple at the top of the hill had a trunk nearly as wide as a garage door. He looked up into it and saw massive limbs flowing, outward and upward, supporting an array of branches and stems and a plantation of leaves that quivered audibly in the breeze.  The undersides of the leaves, lighter in color, glittered when the leaves moved.

It was twenty degrees cooler here in the shade, and Nate immediately felt his body relaxing.  He sat down and leaned against the trunk, then looked out across the ocean of cornrows below.  On and on the green plants grew, pulling nutrients from the ground and turning them into corn.

The darkness that had afflicted him earlier evaporated." (81)

"The morning, however, had an altogether different story to tell. After washing in cold water, dressing, making coffee, and carrying a steaming cup of it outside to drink, his surroundings unfolded before him a a way Blake had never experienced before.  The preying vacancy of the night before had been replaced by the silent marvel of dew and plant life shaking off sleep, regrowing the world. A new sun rose in the east, and the beads of moisture hanging from the spokes of his motorcycle burned like blue diamonds.  A chorus of wild fledglings sang about the significance of eating weed seeds, having feathers, and flying wherever they wanted. The air felt alive, and he participated in its vitality with every breath." (233)

Rhodes has an affection for the wild, a connection to nature and good food.  His descriptions simply amaze me and his characters are interestingly flawed.

We read his book Driftless last year as well and this continues many of the same characters and plunges them into another story.  If you are in need of a good book look no further than Driftless and Jewelweed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Beautiful Days...

Focus on the positive

Remember in March when I posted about the amazing meditation retreat I went to in Minneapolis.  Yes.  Read about it here if you missed it.  Sadly I didn't follow through.  Oh I've meditated sitting in my chair or walking around the library waiting for a class and that is all good. My goal though is to make meditation a daily practice; one where I literally getting down on the mat, bolster, pillow, floor, blanket, whatever and make it a ritual.

I'm not good with follow through sometimes.  The only ritual I maintained as my kids were growing up was reading to them at bedtime. That I did without fail.  I began other rituals like prayers, blessings, and poems at dinner time.  That didn't last.  We do have meals together-that is a good simple ritual we've maintained. So reading and meals are my two rituals. Makes complete sense as books and food are priorities for me.

I got up on Saturday and did it, just rolled up my favorite blanket, lit a peace candle, and plopped myself down facing the wall.  
I focused on all manner of positive words, thoughts, and phrases. My eyes closed I just let the thoughts flow freely. I thought about my family, peace, love, harmony, gratitude, forgiveness, my dog, the earth, ice cream, sushi.  It was far from perfect but it was a good start. The peaceful feeling stayed with me all day long. I loved it.  It's the honeymoon phase. The important and hard part is to keep it going.

Join me in my 21-day challenge if you'd like to make meditation or any good ritual as part of your daily routine.  What change would you like to make?


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Where is Spring?

It's been cold, rainy, super windy here.  For awhile.  I need some sunshine and heat.  I want to get out and walk outside around a big pond while the birds are chirping.  I want to poke my fingers into dirt and plant a few seeds.

Every morning I wear my winter coat still to work.  Today I actually didn't need it when I walked out the door after school.  Halleluja. But then I had things I had to get done and I'm left just gazing outside.  I can hear a bird chirping loudly every few minutes.  His chatter seems to say "Where is Spring?"

Now that I'm done with my inside meetings and appointments I'm headed outside for a quick run around the block, some stretches in the cemetary park across the street, and maybe, just maybe I'll have some time to get some seeds started in my starter pots.  For now I leave you with this springtime poem.


By William Shakespeare
When daisies pied and violets blue
   And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
   Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
   And merry larks are plowmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
   And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

It's Shakespeare...
Does he mean married men are mocked because it is Spring?  
I don't know. I like the rhythm of the poem though.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Weekly Recipes 13

My husband celebrated his birthday last week and somewhere before that day I had read a blog post about really doing it up for your kids' birthdays. Balloons across their doorway, balloons in the cabinets, singing, cupcakes for breakfast.  It was a fun read and inspired to go the extra mile in celebrating his big day.

First a little background on my guy. He's the artistic director at our local community theatre. He is a talented and creative guy. He is also crazy busy.  He is in the middle of directing Cabaret; a big and serious show. His birthday fell during tech week.  You do not take a day off during tech week. He had rehearsal at 6:30 so we scheduled around it and had dinner plans with the kids for 4:45 approximately.

Because we weren't celebrating at home I had kinda thought I wouldn't make any dessert for him until I read the blog post.  After I called a local store to ask about a cake.  Usually I make everything from scratch but my cake idea was for cast and crew and I thought a big sheet cake was in order.  Until I checked the price.  Wwhhhaaaat!  Highway robbery for a stupid cake that has fake plastic-tasting frosting.

I made my own.  And he loved it. And the cast and crew demolished it. He's not a fake frosting kinda guy anyway.  He isn't even a chocolate cake kinda guy.  I made this Oatmeal-Raisin Snack Cake for him and it's a keeper.  I didn't even get a bite but he came home raving and rolling his eyes back about how wonderful the frosting was-this is a man who does not love sweet.  My heart sang.  From one of my favorite food bloggers...Brown-Eyed Baker.  Click her link or the recipe title above for the recipe.  The recipe was very easy but you do have to wade past all the new ads on her site.

We did have a lovely dinner together. We laughed. The kids had excellent gifts for him. I had a big bouquet of balloons for him.  And tickets to the Blue Ox Music Festival.  He did make it to rehearsal.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Everyone needs some meditation...

Last weekend I was able to attend an amazing one-day zen meditation retreat with my brother on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.  The day was crisp, cold, and it had just snowed.  March Madness.

We arrived at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center 10 minutes before the retreat was to begin. The roads were slippery and the drive wasn't easy but we made it as we walked through the porch door kicking snow off of our shoes.  There were people gathered on the porch all staring at the view out front-beautiful Lake Calhoun-or at the wall.  It was a little surreal to walk in feeling like we had already missed an introduction or instructions of some sort.  We did have one person tell us in a whisper to find a spot and that at exactly 8 we were expected to be on a pillow.

Not ever having been there it was confusing, plain and simple but on the porch there were hot pots of coffee and water with a basket of tea, people seemed friendly or at least interesting.  NO one was talking though. I mean I know meditation is done in silence but I expected there to be a beginning meet and greet kind of time and there was it just came later than expected.  We meditated for 30 minutes to start off and then we gathered in the main room and heard a lovely dharma talk and understood that the entire retreat was to be in silence.  I missed that memo in the retreat outline-truthfully-it wasn't there as I guess that is an understood norm for everyone else but me.

I am an introvert and struggle to make daily conversation and hate chit chat yet it was very hard for me to spend the day in silence.  I do like to crack people up and often love to make jokes in inopportune moments. This would have been one of them if I wasn't trying so hard to fit in.  I was uncomfortable at first, everyone around me seemed to know so much more.  Come to find out almost everyone else in attendance is a regular there.  My brother and I were first timers and that made it quite a challenge. By the end of the day though I was thrilled with the experience. We did sitting meditation, walking meditation, and mindful work meditation (which for us was ironing cloth napkins). Even eating lunch was a meditation-and the lunch was vegetarian and delicious.  I was able to focus on a few key items in my life that I struggle with and I did a lot of silent (of course)praying for my whole extended family.  I loved my one-on-one session with Wanda Isle, our guide for the day.

It was an amazing experience. My brother and I chatted on the way home about our experience, some similar and some different. I was ready to get myself a pillow and a mat and start practicing every day at home.  I had the best of intentions.

I looked for cushions and mats-they are expensive.  I can just use a pillow though and yet I never once was able to sit down and do this like I know it should be done, not once during my week. I'm a little frustrated with myself.  I did do walking meditation once at work when I had some stressful moments and it helped.

I do want to make this part of my regular day, every day.  I will work to find some space to do this.  I need help though.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Spring Break

Walker Art Sculpture Garden

Groovy Girl and I spent 3 days in the Twin Cities visiting my brother and his family. We enjoyed relaxing with them and we spent Monday off on our own in Uptown and by the Walker Art Center. Turns out I forgot that the Walker is closed on Mondays and yet we managed to enjoy our day together. 

The one sculpture left is the big spoon; all the rest have been moved.

Our lunch spot

Minneapolis skyline on a foggy day
L is for Lowry or lunch
Trying on hats at Calhoun Square
She had a hard time picking just one lunch item.
Fish and sweet potato fries and my fish tacos- all were delicious.

Last year at this time we were in Little Rock and I had my amazing reading retreat with Verda and Angelle.  While I wish I could do that every Spring Break this was a fun day to share with my Groovy Girl.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pizza and game night

I'm so excited. Tomorrow night we are hosting our son and his girlfriend for homemade pizza and a serious game of cards. 

Even though we live in the same town we don't see enough of each other. He's a student, works full time and has his own thing. We talked at our Christmas brunch about a game night and we are just getting around to doing it. Hello Spring.

Because of the book fair/conferences we won't be able to begin our night until 8:30. That's okay. They eat late all the time. Because of that I am spending my night prepping most ingredients. I'll make the dough in the morning. That way it will be easy to assemble after I close the book fair down. 

I am cooking a pound of good sausage, sautéing mushrooms, onions, and garlic. I'm chopping tomatoes and artichokes. And I'll start my tomoto sauce in the morning while I make the dough. 

We've made pizzas so many times as a family event that we can all help roll, toss, and top our pizzas just the way we want them. I loved that when Tristan's girlfriend suggested the pizza idea for the game night that his response was "oh if you want pizza, my mom will make pizza!"

He knows homemade is almost always better!