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Archive for January, 2011

Two new recipes

You are in luck my friends. I created two recipes this weekend that were really great. The first, a cookie recipe, is based off a cookbook recipe, but I have adapted it so much that I consider it my own. It may not be unique, but I think it tastes fabulous. The second recipe, Green Chili Beef Stew, came out of sheer desperation. I had a steak that I needed to use and I needed to make the meal in the crockpot. The chili is very, very mild and I can heartily recommend it. If you try either of these recipes, let me know what you think. I am prone to typos so let  me know if anything seems off.

Chocolate-chip Oatmeal Craisin Cookies

Makes 6 dozen cookies

1 ½ cups white sugar

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup craisins

1 cup flaked coconut

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In large bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, and butter. Mix well until mixture is light and fluffy. Add vanilla and 2 eggs to mixture. Beat well. Add flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix well. Add oats, chocolate chips, craisins, and flaked coconut and blend well.

Drop cookies by rounded teaspoonfuls on cookie sheet. Bake for 8-12 minutes. Let cool for 1 minute on baking sheet for removing them.

Green Chili Beef Stew

Serves 4-6

1 pound steak, cubed

2 tablespoons flour

Salt

Pepper

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 red onion, diced

1 garlic clove

5-6 small red potatoes, cubed

2-3 stalks of celery, chopped

1 can diced green chilies

2 cups beef broth (can use bouillon and 2 cups water)

1 tsp. cumin

In a large Ziploc bag, toss the beef cubes with salt, pepper and flour until cubes are coated. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Brown the beef cubes in the oil. Put the browned beef cubes in a large crock pot. Be sure to scrape up any browned bits on the pan because they add great flavor to the stew. Add the rest of the ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 6 hours on high.

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Recently, I have read several novels by LDS authors. This is certainly uncharacteristic of me as I usually steer clear of LDS lit, with the exception of Anne Perry and Shannon Hale. My main complaints of LDS lit are the almost sappy, syrupy way real-life problems are portrayed and solved and very poor writing. I should admit that I haven’t read recent attempts in the genre and my feelings come from encounters with Jack Weyland and Gerald Lund. I don’t mean to criticize those who read and enjoyed these novels. There certainly is a place for them.

But over the course of several weeks I’ve read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (all four of them, but couldn’t finish the fourth, I got bored), Treason by Orson Scott Card (one of his earliest novels), and No Graves As Yet by Anne Perry. These three authors are LDS and for the most part, do not write for an exclusively LDS audience. I think LDS authors most likely struggle with the desire to appeal to the LDS population while writing a novel that appeals in a broad way to a wider audience. These authors always face criticism for how they how they walk the fine line.

In my opinion, I think that Anne Perry writes in such a way that doesn’t alienate either audience. She has a few things going for her that make her less controversial (and I haven’t really heard a lot of criticism of her work that directly offends the general LDS population). 1. Perry writes about characters in a certain time and place, i.e Victorian England and later, England during WWI. Her authenticity would be called under question if said characters didn’t struggle with certain moral issues. 2. She writes mysteries, which, by their very nature deal with the seedier side of human nature. Characters lie, steal, fornicate, commit adultery, drink, take drugs, prostitute themselves, forge, murder, etc. But all of these things happenwithin the moral framework that assumes that all these crimes are morally wrong. 3. Generally, the detectives in the stories have a tremendous compassion for the victims of crime and even the perpetrators. They make compassionate and just judgments based on a strong ethical and moral code. Although William Monk is a more complex character than Pitt or even Joseph Reavley as he has to develop that ethical and moral code while solving mysteries. But the common thread throughout all of Anne Perry’s novels is that sin and crime hurts society in general and individuals in particular. Anne Perry never glorifies crime and sin. She always shows the devastating effects of immoral actions. So an LDS reader could consider the books as morality tales. I would recommend the books to most readers with a caveat. Anne Perry doesn’t sugarcoat the seedy parts of life which include murder, theft, violence, rape and prostitution. However, while Ms. Perry doesn’t shy away from such topics, her descriptions are not graphic nor are they gratuitous.

Orson Scott Card is a different bird. I’ve read some of his fiction and admired it intensely. Other books don’t appeal to me at all. I consider him to be a wildly creative and inconsistent writer. Card doesn’t flinch from the difficult aspects of writing as an LDS author. In Treason, Card bangs along, clumsily toying with sexuality without being graphic. I couldn’t make up my mind if it was gratuitous or if it was really necessary to the plot. Not all of Card’s characters are admirable. He never paints the perfect person, dull without weaknesses and inconsistencies. His characters make major mistakes and often have to grapple with the consequences of those mistakes. Sometimes he handles it deftly and other times he fail miserably. I would not recommend Card to everyone. Not everyone has a taste for science fiction and fantasy. I can see LDS readers disliking some of the subjects.

Personally, I have the most conflicted feelings about Stephenie Meyer. Her books are not exclusively intended for an LDS audience. But her novels were embraced heartily by LDS teenagers and women alike. Part of the appeal of Stephenie Meyer is that she is LDS and many of these readers felt they could read without worrying about sex, language or violence. I’ve heard different critiques of the novels. One friend was very offended by the semi-sexual situations and language of the characters. Others loved the books. Some even described them as addictive. I personally felt like all of her characters crossed sexual lines that are not appropriate for the LDS audience. However, her books are decidedly tame to the “gentile” reader, used to more titillating sexual details. In fact, the strongest argument I’ve heard by non-LDS readers about the books is that the relationship between Edward and Bella is subtly abusive and creates false paradigms of healthy relationships.

Shannon Hale is just a favorite. I haven’t read anything that is questionable, although I haven’t read all of her books. I love her style, magical topics, and deft ways of storytelling.

So can an LDS writer write a book that appeals to both audiences: LDS and non-LDS? I think so, but it seems like a really difficult line to walk. Many LDS readers refuse to read anything that they think will have morally compromising situations. While I can understand and respect that, I feel that one purpose of literature is to instruct. People must struggle in life. Good books that are worthwhile reading show real characters struggling with weaknesses and not always overcoming them.

Favorite LDS authors:

Shannon Hale, Anne Perry, Brandon Sanderson, Angela Hallstrom

Who are your favorite LDS authors?

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I’m checking in for my weekly musings about my goals.

I’m doing well. I could list, in detail, how things are going, but I’ve already been there! The short answer, really, is the most accurate. I’m doing well and feel happy. Even when I’ve had challenges (and I’ve had some funny challenges this week that would typically throw my week into chaos), I’ve met them with determination. These minor misadventures haven’t thrown me off my game. My house is still clean, we are still eating yummy meals, my kids are still going to bed at a reasonable time, etc. So all is good.

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Indelible Marks

Three years have past since moving back to the States after living in Sweden for 5 1/2 years.

Some things about my experience in Sweden have left indelible marks on me.

I still think words in Swedish and have to translate them back to English. It’s funny when I do it as it doesn’t really have a discernible pattern.

I still debate endlessly with myself whether or not I should call a doctor. So my child could have a fever of 102 plus a rash and I hestitate. Should I call? If I do, will they get me in? If they give me an appointment, it will probably be just a virus. And then they’ll make me feel stupid for bringing in my child to the doctor for a virus. Never mind that the pediatrician is always happy to see us and never makes me feel stupid for bringing in a child with a virus. I just can’t get the picture of Swedish health care out of my head.

I still apologise to the doctor for bringing my sick child into the office–as if I’m wasting their time. Perhaps I endured some psychological trauma as a result of medical experiences in Sweden???

American chocolate has been ruined forever for me. I can’t eat it. I find myself dreaming about Swedish chocolate.

I now know that a fresh, ripe pear is one of the best fruits on earth. Until living in Sweden, I had never tasted a ripe pear–just canned ones. I still search for that  elusive perfect pear in the U.S.

I have developed a taste for good cheese. Sadly, my budget limits my cheese buying.

I miss riding my beautiful pink bike.

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I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a good day. The school called at 5:30 a.m. to inform me of the snow day–the third snow day in two weeks and thus extending the  four-day weekend  to five. Shortly after that, the baby awoke with an extremely soggy diaper. I popped him in the tub, which he found to be a bit of a shock to his sluggish system. The rest of the kids soon awoke, sluggish, grumpy and argumentative-even though they were asleep by 8 p.m. I didn’t sleep well either, despite my best efforts to go to bed early.

I spent most of the day breaking up arguments, dealing with a very emotional and grumpy 11-year old, and trying to keep up with my normal daily work.

My children narrowly missed death on several occasions. I really just wanted to crawl back in the covers and push rewind and make the day start over, or push fast forward and get it over with as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t a good day to go outside. Freezing rain fell for most of the day, causing the snow to develop and unpleasant crust and creating large patches of ice. So we stayed in, festering in our cabin fever.

Even our bedtime routine was soured. The kids were antsy and wouldn’t sit still for the scripture story. Then I pulled out my little electric massage machine. I started massaging the back of my oldest son. He soon relaxed and stopped whining. The kids all clamored for a massage, so I sent them to their beds and sat with each for a few minutes, rubbing their backs and feet.  Tension melted out of the room and was replaced with a quiet calm.

I like my children again, and I’m pretty sure they like me back. But I pray that the roads will be clear tomorrow and they can go back to school.

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I am sure I am boring the few readers I have with my never-ending musings on my small domestic pursuits. Whether you get a kick out of reading my domestic triumphs and failures, I get a kick of recording them. Some small part of me wants to trivialize the work I am doing at home, but fortunately the larger part of me realizes that I am doing important things. Creating a home that runs well and is happy is good, honest work. And that, according to Elder  D. Todd Christofferson, is God’s work. And so I plug along, recording my feelings about my work and boring you all. Oh well, you don’t have to read if you are falling asleep from my rapturous descriptions of washing dishes and vacuuming my carpet.

So week 2 went smoothly.

I’m reading my scriptures and the  conference articles daily. I’m making progress, checking off chapters and articles. I will finish reading the conference talks by the end of the month. I’ll continue to listen to them while I clean or scrapbook just to keep the thoughts and ideas fresh in my mind. I won’t keep a notebook about the articles  after I finish reading them. That will give me more time to read more in the D&C. I’m not just reading, but keeping a notebook about my thoughts and impressions as I read. So that is time-consuming. I’ve also committed to reading earlier in the day as opposed to the end, when I’m tired and not great at focusing on the doctrine in the sections. Reading daily feels good and is really helping me. My husband is away on a business trip and I find that I need to be at my best because no one is there to pick up the slack. I’ve felt a lot of strength and help from studying the scriptures.

I’ve already fulfilled two of my creating goals. I finished the quilt and hung it on my wall. And I completed my December/Christmas 2010 album. Finishing those projects really gave me a boost in happiness. I’m making good headway on my 2006 album. I have about 29 groups of pictures to finish. I enjoy reflecting on that year. I’m at the point in my album where my daughter was born. She’s four now and a real firecracker. I love to look back at her baby pictures and remember those happy times.

I started stretching and doing some exercises while I watch netflix in the evening. I need to go to bed earlier, but that’s proven tough because I am often chatting with my husband on the computer at that time. He is in Saudi Arabia and with the 8 hour time difference, talking to him around 10 p.m. is my only option. The kids get so excited seeing their dad on the webcam that conversation is impossible. And I’m not sleeping well because I don’t sleep well when I’m not beside my husband. I’m still managing to get along during the day without a nap, so that is good.

I already wrote about my cooking goals. I’m very happy about where that is going. I do think that in two weeks, I’ll need to start groups of recipes, with shopping lists that I can just pull out and use for shopping. That wouldn’t be too hard and I could create a binder with the recipes and shopping lists. Hmmm . . . something to think about.

My major goal this year is to reduce the stress and tension of the morning preparations for school and the evening homework/dinner/scripture/reading/bedtime routines. Those two times of the day are typically my most difficult. I admit, I don’t feel at my best and have yelled far too much and often at my kids.

So, I’m doing some new things:

1. Get up at 6:15 and wake the kids at 6:30.

I bought an alarm clock for the kids that says really funny things when it goes off. The kids have been getting up at 6:15 without my help and are downstairs, dressed by 6:30.  This routine has been working so well that I think I can incorporate the next phase of the morning routine: piano lessons and piano practice. I want my kids to learn and I’m an experienced and excellent teacher. This is our best time for that to happen.

2. Get the sink ready to wash dishes.

Before we eat, I empty the drain rack (we don’t have a dishwasher) and fill the sink with hot, soapy water. This simple step has really reduced my workload. The kids wash their own dishes after eating.  In 15 minutes all the dishes from the meal are washed. The payoff for this simple step is huge. I used to let things pile up and then would dread going into the kitchen. I hate washing dishes, but don’t mind it when I only do it for 15 minutes. And being able to cook in a clean kitchen for every meal is awesome. Today, I was really tired after lunch. I wanted to take a nap after lunch and was tempted to skip my simple steps. But knowing that I would have to clean it eventually galvanized me into action. Within 10 minutes, all the dishes were washed and the table and counters were wiped.

3. Reduce my personal workload by having the kids help more with chores, cleaning and picking up.

Ideally, I want my bathrooms cleaned, kitchen floor mopped, furniture and knicknacks dusted, etc. once a week. That hasn’t always been happening, because I have other responsibilities that are time-consuming. But I function poorly and more grouchy when my house isn’t clean and organized.

The kids have been cleaning their rooms once a week instead of once a month. The boys have cleaned the bathrooms and my oldest son mopped the kitchen this week. That’s really made a big difference for me.

We pick up the living room and library each evening, so the house is tidy when we go to bed.

4. Start the bedtime routine at 6 p.m.

I suppose my readers think I am crazy about this, but my children need a quiet, peaceful routine that isn’t rushed before bedtime. And yes, I’m putting them to bed at 7 p.m. –all of them. Studies have consistently shown that children need more sleep than they get. My oldest son, in particular, is a nightmare when he doesn’t sleep.

Overall, things are going much smoother at home. Because of my cooking routines, cleaning routines, and scripture routines I find that I’m better prepared to cope with the morning and evening rush. I’m happier and yelling less. I find that when I keep up with these simple routines, I have much more time to spend with my kids and work on my projects. It really pays off.

Things I want to focus on this week:

1. Get to bed earlier.

2. Read every night with my son.

3. Start piano lessons.

4. Read scriptures earlier in the day.

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And the verdict is. . .

In an effort to work on my cooking goals, I tried something new for me. I  recently subscribed to Everyday Food magazine–a Martha Stewart magazine and found a section that I just love. It has a five day menu complete with a shopping list. I decided to give it a go rating it in three areas: affordability, quality of the recipes, and time-saving.

Affordability

I spent about $70 for five meals that were well-rounded and balanced. I consider that fairly reasonable. I didn’t waste anything and had just what I needed. I had leftovers from each meal, which tells me that I would have had enough for husband, if he were home. Even though each recipe said it served 4, I was able to feed all six of us at home and would have been easily able to feed Brent as well.

Quality of the Recipes

The recipes were interesting in a good way. They were simple to put together, without weird or difficult instructions. My kids enjoyed every meal I made. They disliked the roasted acorn squash, but loved the mustard greens I served the next day. I like learning how to cook a variety of vegetables in different ways. I should have spent more money on a better quality salmon, but still felt satisfied with the meal itself. I also should have added grated ginger to the stir-fry dish. It wasn’t in the recipe, but would have added to the flavor.

I definitely felt like I was expanding my knowledge about cooking methods. I learned a new way to cook fish (steamed with potatoes). I learned how to roast squash and glaze it.

All five recipes were keepers and will be added to my collection of good family meals I can make quickly.

Time-saving

I saved a lot of time doing this. Having a simple checklist at the grocery store made me zip through the store. Shopping is my least favorite part of cooking for my family. This week,  I didn’t feel stressed or concerned about picking up extra items. I just bought what was on my list.

I followed the directions and prepped my meals in about 30 minutes on Monday. It made a big difference in how quickly the meals came together and saved me cleaning time as well.  

So overall, I was very satisfied with the experience. I’m going to the store today with a new list in hand, ready to try out five new recipes. It should be good!

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