Thursday, May 31, 2012

Checking In

Hey there!

The past week has been, shall we say, slightly busy?

Oh, heck, the past month has been nuts. What with finishing up classes, getting one kid home from college and then off for the summer, hosting one college friend for a few days, getting another kid graduated from high school and having her party last weekend, having most of our families here for graduation, and getting ready for more friends next week (woot!), there is blessedly little time to blog.

Which is O.K. because I highly subscribe to the philosophy that life is to be lived. Writing about it is great, too, don't get me wrong, but sometimes I just have to live it.

And that's what I've been doing.

But don't fear . . . I've got a GREAT guest-food-post coming tomorrow. You won't want to miss this one! And another addition to my England series. And lots more updates to come.

But for now, I've got some more living to do.

See you soon!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food {Memorial Day Edition} - Blue Cheese Potato Salad

Well, friends, it's Memorial Day weekend, which for a lot of us means firing up the grill and having a good, old-fashioned cookout. It's supposed to be hot here this weekend, so I know we'll be cooking outside as much as we can.

For us this weekend, it's not just Memorial Day. This weekend is high school graduation, so we're hosting family and friends and celebrating together all weekend. It's going to be great!

Despite the craziness that will surely be happening around our house this weekend ("You, go get the tables and chairs." "You, pick up the balloons." "You. Ice. Now."), I'm still cooking just a bit. These people have to be fed, you know!

(And, my readers, you didn't think I'd leave you high and dry on a Friday, did you?)

One thing we will be eating this weekend is my famous Blue Cheese Potato Salad which is one of my husband's favorites. Oh. my. word. this is heaven on a plate. If you like potato salad and you like blue cheese (and really, who doesn't?) you have to give this recipe a try. It will be a perfect compliment to your brats or burgers or whatever you throw on the grill this weekend.

First, make your sauce by combining the mayo, sour cream, vinegar, celery seed, parsley, salt, and pepper in a bowl.

Set that aside while you cook, cool, and dice 2 1/2 pounds of red potatoes. (I leave the skins on because I like them that way, but you can peel them if you want to.)

Next, you'll need the potatoes, celery, green onion, bacon, and blue cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about this.

Combine the potatoes, green onion, celery in a bowl.

Toss these together gently, then pour the sauce over and combine. Gently. Those potatoes will break up if you're not careful.

Add the bacon and the blue cheese, and voila! The best darn potato salad that ever ticked your tastebuds.

I'm not kidding. You think I'm kidding, but when you try this recipe you will see that I absolutely am not.

I like to make this up ahead of time and refrigerate it for a few hours to let the flavors combine. 

So there you go. A new recipe to add to your Memorial Day feast. It really isn't hard to make and is SO worth the effort. You sure won't get a potato salad that tasty from behind the deli counter.

For a printable recipe, click here.

Now tell me, what will be on your Memorial Day cookout menu?


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

For the Love of England - Part 2

So there I stood, cheese sandwich in hand, on a street in London. LONDON!!

You guys (that’s Midwestern for “y’all”), I grew up in the cornfields of Illinois. Occasionally my parents would take us to Chicago where I visited beautiful museums and a handful of old buildings, but as I looked around me, seeing London for the first time, I realized that I had never really seen anything old.

My country was a baby compared to England. A mere 200 years old compared to her thousand or so (give or take a few hundred) years. The buildings and museums I had visited in Chicago would be considered “modern” in England.

Granted, Chicago was nearly completely burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, so pretty much everything here has been rebuilt since then. So you’ve got to give Chicago a bit of a break for that. Chicago truly is a beautiful, modern city.

But still, I had never seen anything like these buildings.

Very quickly I fell in love with the sense of history and the preservation of it. It became clear to me on that first visit and has been impressed upon me every time I’ve gone back, that people in the U.K. clearly love their history and their buildings and monuments.

And why not?

These are some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. Not to mention all the crazy goings on that have taken place in them!

Tower Bridge (NOT London Bridge—that’s the next bridge down)

Hampton Court (King Henry VIII’s home—sure would love to have been a fly on the wall back then!)

(tee hee! I just noticed that my sister is in the corner of this picture. Hey, Jenn!) 

Edinburgh Castle (O.K., technically not England, but definitely in the U.K. and definitely old and mysterious)

The hallowed halls of Oxford

Not to mention the old homes and pubs you see on every single street

The sense of history and of preservation in England is truly amazing to me. It sparks my imagination and gives me a great appreciation for the people who have seen fit to carry on this legacy.

Last week you told me one place you love to visit, now tell me: what do you love about where you live?


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

For the Love of England

The very first meal I ate on British soil came from a food cart near a sidewalk on a busy street in London. The man who sold it to me (30 pence!) wore a newspaperman’s cap and got impatient with me when I couldn’t figure out the coins.

Nothing fancy, nothing exotic. Just a slice of cheddar cheese squished between two slices of white bread with maybe a little butter on it, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: it was the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

I was a 21-year-old college student, far away from my family for the first time and had just flown across the Atlantic with the group from my college with whom I’d be studying and sharing the summer. First stop: London.

My roommate and I dropped our bags in our hotel room, grabbed the girls from across the hall, and headed out to explore. None of us had been in London before, and none of us had any clue where we were going, but, armed with a few pounds in our pockets and an insatiable sense of independence, we ventured forth.

To the sandwich cart on the street below.

And that’s pretty much where our independent adventure ended for the day because as we were munching on white bread sandwiches, jet lag hit us right between the eyes and none of us could walk a step further.

But in that moment, sun streaming down on us (confusing me even further because isn’t London supposed to be rainy?), I fell in love. And this has been a love story that has spanned nearly three decades and six visits (and counting!).

I’m not sure I’d consider myself an Anglophile. I know some things about the United Kingdom, but not as much as a true Anglophile would. I’ve visited a few times and have a pretty good understanding of how to get around, even while driving on the left-hand side of the road. But I’m often overcome by how much I don’t know about England and how much I’d still like to know. So I don’t call myself an Anglophile (too often, anyway).

What I do know is this: a long time ago I visited a place that captured my heart. A place that I have shared with many and still wish to share with others. A place that is as calming and as beautiful and as soul-saddening as any I’ve ever visited. A place that calls my name every year about this time.

I’d like to share a little bit of my love for that place with you over the next few weeks in a series I’m calling “For the Love of England.” I hope you’ll come along as I explain why I love that place and why I keep going back. Maybe you'll fall in love too!

In the meantime, tell me . . . is there a place that has gotten under your skin? Where is it and why do you love it? Share in the comments!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Unexpected Blessings (Part 2) - How we chose our Compassion child

Y'all! This is so weird! I was totally going to add some of my own photos to this post, but after I took the pictures and then took the memory card out of my camera and then walked upstairs, I somehow LOST the memory card! Go figure! If I ever find it again, I'll put the pictures up. But for now, I need to finish my story.

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

So, after the women's retreat when I received an unexpected check, I decided I would sponsor a Compassion child. My motives, as you now already know, aren't always that stellar. I mean, Nordstrom almost won out over Compassion.

And now I have to confess something else: sponsoring a child through Compassion was also somewhat of an experiment. See, my husband had signed up to sponsor a child through another agency a couple of years earlier. It's been fine, and we still sponsor her today, but the communication we've received from that other agency hasn't been great. I'd call it spotty at best.

So my curiosity got the best of me, and I started to wonder, after following several Compassion blogger trips over the years, if Compassion would be any different. How would their communication compare to the communication we'd been receiving from the other group? And that's why I decided on Compassion.

Not the best motivation, I know. Pitting one Christian agency against another. Who do I think I am?

But on to my story of how I chose my Compassion child. . . .

It was just a random day, really. Julia had just gotten home from school, and I must have had the Compassion website pulled up on my computer. I knew I needed to commit to sponsoring a child soon or else the pull of Nordstrom might become too strong.

So there we were, sitting in my kitchen, me on my laptop, Julia with her hand in the cookie jar, literally.  I told her what I was doing and, already feeling like I wanted to sponsor a child from Africa, I said to her, "So Julia, where should we sponsor a child from?" (Please excuse the poor grammar--school is finished for me.)

Julia thought for a second and said, "I think Africa."

My sentiments exactly.

"So where in Africa, do you think?"

"I know, Mom! How about Ethiopia? K is from Ethiopia."

K is one of Julia's dearest friends who lives on our street. The girls have gone through elementary and middle school together and will be headed to high school together next year. K is one of the sweetest, smiliest, most endearing kids I know, and she was adopted from Ethiopia.

So Ethiopia it was. In honor of K.

We have sponsored Melat for a little over a year now, and I have to say that I have received more letters from her already than we have from the other child we sponsor through another agency. And you know what? I have written more letters to Melat than to the other girl too. I love writing to her!

Melat is about five years old now. She lives in a city in Ethiopia in a house made of mud and corrugated iron sheeting. She likes to play with her siblings and to draw pictures. In every letter she says, "Please pray for God's protection over me."

Do you know how that breaks my heart?

When my children were five, they never, I am certain, gave a single thought to their own safety. I am sure that they never thought to pray for their own protection.

I wonder sometimes what Melat has seen. What she experiences on a day-to-day basis. I wonder how she's getting by. I wonder if she's safe. I wonder what her street in Ethiopia looks like and if her mother loves her. I wonder so much about her.

I'm sure she wonders about me, too. She probably wonders who this American woman is--the woman who sent her a picture of her family. She probably wonders what my life is like and what my street looks like. I'm pretty sure it's vastly different from hers.

So, in the end, I randomly chose to sponsor a Compassion child because I was curious about Compassion as an organization. I randomly chose a country based on someone we knew. I randomly sat down one day and clicked a few keys on my computer and suddenly sponsored a little girl.

And you know what? I'm the one who has been blessed. Blessed to know that one less child in the world will go to bed hungry. Blessed to know that Melat knows that someone halfway across the world cares for her. Blessed to be a part of something much bigger than myself.

Won't you choose blessing today, too? Please sponsor a child through Compassion. You can be sure that your money will be well-used to bring a new life to those who need it most. Simply click on the picture at the top of this post, and you'll be whisked away to Compassion and children who need sponsors (lots of them!) and blessing.

And finally, please check out the Compassion bloggers posts. (Nester's post from yesterday--oh my!) You will be so blessed by reading their posts and experiencing just a little of what they're experiencing.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Unexpected Blessings

What do you do with unexpected money?

I know, I know, “unexpected” and “money” don’t usually belong in the same sentence. But every once in a while it happens. Money we weren’t expecting just “happens” to find its way to us.

My first inclination, should money just “happen” to float in my direction, would be to head straight to Nordstrom and spread the wealth. (I usually have a pretty long Nordstrom wish list going on in my head.)

Hardly ever do I think about giving it away. Giving is my husband’s spiritual gift, not mine.

A couple of years ago I came into some unexpected money after speaking at a women’s retreat. I was thrilled to be asked to speak at this retreat and, being new to the speaking thing, I did not give any thought to getting paid. But when the event ended, the woman in charge handed me an envelope. With a check in it! A check that I did not expect.

I thought about that check while I drove home from the retreat. The fun I could have with that money! I must have spent it a dozen different ways in the short time it took me to drive home.

But somewhere between here and there, God started to nudge me: Shelly, what could you do with that money that you weren’t expecting?

Well, Lord, there’s this really cute pair of shoes . . .

No, not shoes.

How about a coat? It’s getting colder and my winter coat is looking pretty ratty.

No, not a coat.

What then?

What if you gave it away?

Before I got home, I had realized a few things. One: I wasn’t expecting the money. Two: the money wasn’t really mine in the first place. Three: I could experience lasting joy by giving it away, rather than spending it on shoes that I probably wouldn’t be wearing today.

By the time I pulled into my driveway I had made a decision: I would sponsor a Compassion child for one year with the money I received from the women’s retreat.

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

I’ll continue my story tomorrow, but for now, I want you to know that several bloggers, including my friend Maggie/Gussy who saved me a seat on a Southwest flight one time, are in Tanzania with Compassion this week. You can check out their posts here.

And if you have found some money that you weren’t expecting, why don’t you consider sponsoring a child, too? You can sponsor a child by clicking on the picture above.

So tell me. Have you ever found unexpected money? What did you do with it? (Don't be ashamed to share--like I said, I'd normally go shopping!) Leave me a comment and let me know.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food - Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

Isn't Ina Garten fabulous? Doesn't everything she makes turn out wonderful? Isn't she just too cute?

You don't have to answer those questions. Those are what you'd call rhetorical. But just in case you were wondering, I really do think Ina's pretty great.

And her food. Oh my! Her food!

I've featured a few other Ina recipes here before--if you haven't tried one, you should because they are delicious. Today, however, I think I've reached Ina Garten heaven. THIS has got to be one of my favorite Ina recipes EVER. I made these the first time a few weeks ago, and I loved them so much that I made them again . . . the same week!

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts are going to be a go-to recipe for me this summer, I can tell you that already. My family will be sick of them by the end of June, I'm sure (but that's O.K. because I'm getting out of here at the end of June).

So, with that overblown intro, let's get cooking.

Assemble your ingredients: Puff pastry, olive oil, onion, white wine, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, freshly grated parmesan, garlic and herb goat cheese, tomatoes, and fresh basil. (I know it sounds like a lot of ingredients, but they go together perfectly.)

First, you need to caramelize your onion. (I would show you how to do that, but I forgot to take pictures.) Caramelizing onions takes a while if you want to get it right. And you do. Want to get it right.  Basically, put some olive oil in a saute pan over medium to low heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute the onions for 15-20 minutes, until they are nicely brown (but not burned!) and delicious. Add a splash of wine, the thyme leaves, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and cook for a few more minutes.

While the onions are cooking, prepare your puff pastry (make sure you thaw it first). Now, Ina says to make larger circles than this, but I decided to use a biscuit cutter to make individual little tarts. They're cute, no?

Once your puff pastry is ready, place the circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet (do as I SAY, not as I DO--don't you know that yet?--see below).

Once the onions are ready, all you have to do is assemble your tarts. They go like this:

- pastry
- parmesan
- onions
- goat cheese
- tomato slice
- basil
- more parmesan

Here you can kind of see the progression of things from the front row to the back.

Now put the tarts in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry looks golden brown.

Place on what? A pretty plate, and serve warm.

Now you're in Ina Garten heaven. Enjoy!

For the full recipe, click here.

Now tell me, what are YOU cooking this weekend? (I'd really like to know because I am fairly well out of ideas these days.)