Thursday, August 28, 2014

Beef Stew

There are a handful of meals that are regulars in our family's meal rotation. This beef stew is one that we come back to again and again. It is hearty, easy to make in a large batch, and is so good as leftovers. I've never altered the recipe (which is rare for me) because it's just that good as it is.

The style of this beef stew is pretty straightforward, with chunks of carrots, potatoes, and meat simmered in a tomato base. For the best cut of meat, skip the pre-cut "stew meat," and buy a chuck roast and cut it yourself. I make mine in my beloved cast iron dutch oven, but a regular large pot will work too. Serve over rice or with cornbread.

Beef Stew 

print this recipe

3-4 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1 1/2- inch cubes
salt and pepper to season
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup red wine
1 large onion, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons sugar
1-2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
5-6 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3-4 potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons water

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and sear meat for approximately 5 minutes, or util brown. Lightly salt and pepper meat while cooking. Add garlic and saute a few minutes. Add wine and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Add onions and cook for a few minutes. 

Cover the meat with water. Add spices, bay leaves, and tomato paste; bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for approximately 1 hour. Add carrots and cook for about 10 minutes. Add potatoes, and continue cooking until vegetables are tender. Thicken with cornstarch mixture, and simmer for a few minutes. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Life Rhythms

With all the recent changes in our lives - moving from Los Angeles to Oahu, Aaron starting kindergarten, Alex turning 2 (like Crazy Toddler 2), Steve beginning a new ministry role with InterVarsity - many of our former life rhythms have been disrupted.

Isn't that true of any major transitions? Disruption happens. For a few weeks I've felt frustrated and a bit more on-edge. But then I realized that this presents an opportunity to reinvent and reimagine. I can embrace new habits and rhythms, and enjoy the gradual process of building something that fits our current reality:

Here are a few new rhythms that have been life-giving:
  1. Morning walks with Alex - after we take Aaron to school at 7:30am, we have the whole morning ahead of us. A walk around our very hilly neighborhood provides some good exercise, quiet time, and beautiful views of the island. And really, if I don't exercise in the morning, it just won't happen later because it's way too hot outside.
  2. Rest during Alex's nap time - the fact that Alex naps for about 2 hours in the middle of the day is my saving grace. She's so active, that we both need some rest by around noon. Sometimes I nap, read, cook, or blog - whatever I feel motivated to do that day.
  3. Finding some afternoon activities with the kids - I've been taking them to a nearby park. They both love the playground, and there are usually other kids to interact with. If we're not really feeling the park, then ice cream at Costco or swimming at my parents' pool are good alternatives. The kids are going to start swim classes soon, and Aaron says he wants to take "ninja classes" (meaning karate), so those will be fun weekly activities.
  4. Scheduled phone calls with friends - I am so grateful for a few inner-circle friends who I talk with regularly. They are an incredible gift and life-line, particularly in all of this transition. Just today I caught up with an old friend, and it was such a restorative time for me. 
  5. Connecting with friends nearby - we're grateful to already have friends and family here, and not have to completely start from scratch with community. Reconnecting with various people and hosting gatherings in our home have been joyful moments for us. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cookie Butter Frosting

Did you know there are zero Trader Joe's in Hawaii. I KNOW. It's a travesty. Now you feel maybe just a little bit sorry for us in so-called "paradise." Anyway, before we left California, we stocked up on some of our favorite Trader Joe's food to bring with us. It ended up being a massive box of wine, crackers, dried fruit, snacks, and one of our very favorite items, cookie butter. We're probably good for 6 months. After that, I may put out an emergency call to my mainland friends to send us TJ care packages.

I decided to turn some of the cookie butter into frosting for cupcakes for Alex's birthday party this past weekend. Even with over-baked cupcakes (as I learn the temperament of our new oven), the frosting made these really good. I took a standard peanut butter frosting recipe, and basically swapped in cookie butter instead. It was creamy and light, and paired perfectly with the rich chocolate cake. 

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cookie Butter Frosting
Cupcakes adapted from Ina Garten

print this recipe


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. 

In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. 

Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake cups to about 3/4 full and bake for 17-19 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Cookie Butter Frosting:

1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup Speculoos cookie butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Splash of milk

Cream together the butter and cookie butter. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time until thick. Add a small splash of milk and mix on high until smooth and creamy. Spread or pipe onto the cooled cupcakes.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Happy 2nd Birthday, Alexandra

I write letters to my children on their birthdays. Here is last year's letter to Alex.

Dear Alex, 

Happy birthday, sweet girl! You're a whole two years old today. 

I know that each year in your life will come with its own changes, but this past year felt especially accelerated. 

Your expressiveness, language, and personality have emerged in all sorts of ways. You really show us how you feel, whether angry when we can't understand what you're saying, or overjoyed when Daddy gets home. 

You've picked up so many words, though still spoken in sometimes indecipherable baby language. 

Gak = milk
Ca-ca = coffee (or the Starbucks logo)
Ayax = Alex
Dee-dee = thank you
Ooh-ooh-aah-aahs - monkey (or her pacifier)
Jimmy Fa-fa - Jimmy Fallon

You're charming, social, quick to try new things, resilient, and pretty fearless for a toddler. You love to flash your smile at people, give them an exuberant, "Hi!," and wait for them to respond. You can pretty much climb anything at the playground with confidence. And if you get hurt, your emotional recovery is quick. 

You love bath time, playing with Play-Doh, eating (nearly all the time), doing whatever Aaron is doing, getting tickled by Daddy, piggy-back rides, reading books together, giving hugs, playing at the park, and attempting to do things by yourself. 

Like a typical two-year-old, you have a strong will and lots of emotion. Sometimes that gets frustrating for you - to want something but not be able to adequately do it or express it. But we'll make it through this. 

I love your fireball spirit. I love that you're feisty and tough and joyful. And I hope that we can be a family that is a safe place for you to be yourself. 

I love you, daughter. 

Your Mommy

Monday, August 4, 2014

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

We've been having quick and easy meals lately, since moving and unpacking leaves little time. Plus, our pantry in our new house is sadly understocked, so we need to eat simple foods for the time being.

I made this peanut butter banana smoothie today, and it really hit the spot. It's sweet, refreshing, and high in protein. The banana and peanut butter marry together nicely, and any milk can be used. Just toss the ingredients in the blender, and whirl until smooth. Sweet enough for a snack, healthy enough for breakfast!

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

print this recipe

3/4 cup milk
1 ripe banana
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter
1 cup ice

Mix all ingredients in a blender, and blend well. Makes 2 servings.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Well, it's been a crazy last few weeks, but we made it! We're now residents of Oahu, Hawaii.

Here are a few things I'm particularly grateful for...
  • A house! My parents helped us find a great place in Honolulu to rent. It's just the right size for our family, in an ideal location in the city, has incredible views from the porch, and happens to be in the district of Hawaii's top elementary school. Yay for not having to camp in a tent on the beach!
  • Friends and family who helped us with packing and moving. Oh man, I am so thankful for every single person who dismantled furniture, packed boxes, cleaned our house, took stuff to Goodwill, and helped us find a house on Oahu. You are all officially invited to stay with us during your next visit to Hawaii.
  • Our kids for being troopers during the move. Life has been chaotic, with very few normal rhythms. Despite the increase in crankiness, somehow our kids have survived the transition with commendable resilience.
  • Our car making the trek to the Islands, and hopefully our 20-ft. container of stuff. 
  • Amazon Prime. Over the last two days, I've probably ordered at least 30 items from Amazon. When you move, there seems to be an endless list of things to get...a shower caddy, trash cans, paper towels. Thank goodness for free shipping. 
  • Finally being able to settle into our new lives. We feel welcomed by friends and family on Oahu, and are glad to be here. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Life in Verbs

Countdown to our move to Oahu: 9 days!

Our house is a disaster zone, I haven't exercised in weeks, and finding a few minutes to blog feels like a luxury I can barely afford. It may be a while till I get back into my normal groove of writing here, but until then here's a glimpse of what's going on.

Trying... to find a house to rent on Oahu. That's of this moment we are 1 1/2 weeks from arriving in Hawaii, and STILL LOOKING FOR A HOUSE. Am I freaking out? Just a little. 

Feeling... sort of sick recently. That does not mesh well with needing to pack up a house and move. All my body really wants to do is lounge on the couch and sleep all day. Ugh.

Loving... last moments with friends. Goodbye hugs and tears have been so hard, but also a true reflection of how much we've had here in Los Angeles. 

Reading... Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, an engrossing love story set in the magic of the circus during the Great Depression.

Anticipating... a big camping trip this weekend with Steve's side of the family! So excited to be outdoors and commune with nature. We'll be on the coast of Santa Cruz, where Steve's family used to take annual trips. 

Hoping... that we survive the next few weeks of moving. I have my eyes set on setting foot on Oahu's beach, and eating a warm malasada from Leonard's. 

What have you been up to recently? Share a verb or two of your own in the comments.