Thursday, September 18, 2014

Happy Things: Fashion Edition

For today's Happy Things, I thought I'd share some of my fashion favorites:

Abalone Necklace (Modcloth)
Great statement piece for both casual and dressy looks.

Comfortable and stretchy enough to wear before and during pregnancy.

Reversible tote (Nordstrom)
So many options with this reversible tote bag. Who wouldn't want this?
It comes in various colors. 

Your eye make up stays on all day long with this stuff. 
And it's super cheap! $1.00 in most drugstores or $3.88 on Amazon.

Someone buy this for me, please.

Silver ballerina flats (Jessica Simpson)
I wear these all the livelong day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pesto Pull-Apart Bread


It's September, so how about we bake some bread? If I haven't already convinced you that homemade bread is the best thing ever, I haven't done my job and I'm sorry.

One of life's purest pleasures is baking bread. When you see bubbling yeast awaking in warm water, lovingly mix and knead dough, and smell a beautifully risen loaf baking in the oven, everything is right in the world.

Pull-apart bread takes some extra work, but is totally worth it. The dough is a simple French bread recipe that has become my go-to (also used in this sausage stuffed bread). Layers of bread are brushed with pesto. I used my own pesto, but feel free to use store-bought sauce to simplify the work.

The process of pulling off pieces of the warm bread begs to be a communal experience, which makes the bread extra enjoyable. This particular pesto pull-apart bread was shared over dinner with friends alongside a pasta dish.

Happy bread baking!

Pesto Pull-Apart Bread

print this recipe

2 cups water
2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cups canola oil
1 tablespoons Kosher salt
4 cups flour
1/2 to 1 cup pesto sauce 

Put 110-degree water, yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for about 5 minutes until it gets frothy.

Add canola oil, salt, and flour. Mix ingredients. Slowly add flour. Knead for about 8-10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball. Place dough in a large greased bowl, and turn once. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Place dough in fridge for at least one hour to make it easier to work with.

Roll dough out onto a floured surface into a rectangle about 20x12 inches. Spread pesto sauce all over the surface of the dough. Dough should look very covered. Cut the dough into 5 12x4-inch strips, then put the strips into one stack. Cut the stack of strips into 6 4x2-inch slices. Place the stacks sideways into a greased loaf pan. Cover with a dishtowel, and allow to rise for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pan in the oven, and bake for 30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes to make sure the top isn't getting too brown. If the top looks like it's getting to brown, cover it tightly with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time. Internal temperature of bread should reach 190 degrees.

Remove the pan from the oven. Run a knife along the edges and take the bread out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Dreaded Parenthood Question


"What do you do?"

"What's your job?"

These questions have left me in a state of perplexity recently. The other day, while filling out my personal information on a form in a doctor's office, I was stumped by the box labeled, "Occupation."

For years I have had a clear answer to the job question: "I'm a campus minister." And while that term always needed a bit of background explanation, it was still a clear title. Now that I've stopped working for pay, and care for our children full-time, my status has suddenly changed. I don't have a job in the workforce.

I'm happy and satisfied with that decision, but how do I respond to questions that assume being a part of working society is important to one's identity? I know the obvious terms that I can use, but they all sound lame and inadequate to me.

Stay-at-home mom (or the acronym SAHM) - This is probably the most frequently used term, but it really bugs me. Most "stay-at-home" parents I know of rarely stay at home. I'm frequently on-the-go, driving kids to and from school, taking my toddler on trips to the park, running errands to meet the demands of our family. One time someone in all seriousness said this to me, "You're a mom...you must have so much time on your hands." I didn't know whether to laugh or slap that person.

Full-time Mom - I've used this one on occasion, but don't like what it implies. Is a working parent like my husband a "part-time parent"? Are there "no-time parents"? Parenting is not merely a task you can take or leave at the punch of a timecard. At best this term is silly, and at worst it's offensive.

Housewife - Excuse me, but my identity is not solely dependent on being someone's wife. And housewife? That sounds like a woman who is locked up in the home all day by her domineering husband. Or an upper-middle class society woman who plays tennis at the country club. Again, a poor term. I have never heard someone call a stay-at-home dad a "Househusband."

Homemaker - A slight step up from the term housewife, homemaker is still a dissatisfying label. I'm pretty sure it was made popular in the 70's. While I love cooking, I am not choosing to pause on being in the professional workforce for the sake of micromanaging my family's domestic life. Couponing and keeping a spotless home are not my main priorities. Now if "homemaker" can mean prioritizing the family and home (and not simply the house), then maybe I can get on board.

I suppose I could simply say, "I'm unemployed." But even that requires more explanation.

In my opinion, we need a better term for the multitude of men and women who care for their children full-time, and aren't working for pay outside the home. A term that is accurate and honoring.

To get your imagination going, here are some of the duties in my current role:
  • Multi-tasker Extraordinaire
  • Counselor
  • Full-time Human Developer
  • Educator
  • Day-care Provider
  • Referee
  • Housekeeper
  • Toddler Chaser
  • Personal Chef
  • Childhood Development Specialist Researcher
  • Lego Builder
  • Hairdresser
  • Chauffer
  • Band-Aid Dispenser
  • Life Coach
  • 24-Hour Milk and Diaper Maid
  • Storyteller
So tell me, how should I refer to myself in those instances when asked what I do? What term fits best?

How about Queen of the Family and Household? I think I'll use that next time.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Salted Chocolate Chunk & Almond Blondies


Do you hear these blondies whispering in your ear? "Bake me. I promise to be everything you'd ever want in a dessert."

Wait, am I the only person who hears dessert audibly? Um...okay then.

Blondies are the lovechild of brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Bars of subtle butterscotch dotted with chocolate and toasted almonds are taken up a notch with a sprinkling of sea salt. They are infinitely customizable - go ahead and exchange the chocolate and almonds with other chopped nuts or dried fruit. But I am loyal to chocolate and almonds. Even better, dark chocolate.

These are mixed in one bowl, so you have less dishes to clean, and more time to enjoy a blondie or two. I recommend cutting them into small cubes. That way, you can eat a few and still retain some self-respect.

But be warned, the blondies may start calling out to you. Just give in.

Salted Chocolate Chunk & Almond Blondies
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

print this recipe

8 tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt
Coarse sea salt for topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8x8 pan. 

Mix melted butter with brown sugar - beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla. Add salt. Stir in flour. Mix in almonds and chocolate. Sprinkle the top with coarse sea salt. 

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just set in the middle (be careful not to over-bake). Cool completely, then cut into squares. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

We're Expecting Baby #3!


Our family will be growing by one more! A baby boy should be arriving in March 2015.

We're all excited. Aaron is the most thrilled, especially after praying every single night for at least 6 months for a baby brother.

I just passed the first trimester, and for anyone keeping record, this third pregnancy is rough times. I've been constantly nauseous and tired, way more than I ever experienced with the first two pregnancies. The baby's due date feels like a marathon finish line that's 20 miles away. Hopefully I'll reach that pleasant second trimester upswing soon.

We're in a new home, new city, and now with a new baby on the way. Why not, right? Can't wait to meet our baby boy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

10 Things I Learned In August

At the end of each month, I write about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in August:

1. Online clothes shopping is a saving grace. Taking my kids shopping in a store is like herding disobedient goats, so online shopping is super helpful. At first I was hesitant to buy clothes that I can't try on, but realized that the key is finding sites with free and easy return policies. Currently I like Asos and Modcloth. Any other online clothing retailer suggestions?

2. Pineapple is my favorite fruit. As you might imagine, pineapple is available everywhere in Hawaii. I've been eating so much of it, I think I should dedicate a portion of my stomach to it. 

3. My son can teach me about being brave. For a while Aaron has been asking to take martial arts lessons, or "Ninja School" as he calls it. We enrolled him in a trial class, but right before the class was about to start, he said he was afraid and didn't want to go. We talked about what it means to be courageous, and choosing to do something even if it feels scary. He agreed to give it a try, and loved it. I am proud of my son, and inspired by his courage.


4. Grief and death remind me that my real hope is in the eternal life. Our pastor talked about this recently, and it's been something on my mind because there have been profound losses around me. We live a life that is full of pain, injustice, and decay. But there is a world of endless glory and freedom to come. Thank God for that. 

5. When I can't be motivated to run or do a full workout, yoga is a good option.

6. Asking for help is hard, but if I don't ask, I won't get it. Obvious, I know. I hate asking for help...mostly because I hate revealing my limitations and weakness. But the times I am courageous enough to ask for help are so good - I experience the joy of friendship and shatter the false perception that I'm Super Woman.

7. August is a good month to get into cheesy, dorky reality shows like The Quest. I'll probably regret publicly admitting this, but there you go. I'm balancing it out by also watching quality TV (like the West Wing...best show ever). 

8. The human race is an anomaly in that the female gender typically focuses on appearances while the males seem to care less. But with other species in the animal kingdom, the males are more colorful and elaborate in looks than their female counterparts. Mallard ducks, male lions with their fancy mane, and peacocks are a few examples. Why is that? 

9. I'm really not a patient person in the morning. Our morning routine of getting the kids breakfast, piling into the car, and taking Aaron to school is not my favorite time of the day, and it shows in how testy I get with the kids. 

10. When you live in a tropical place where it's always 80-90 degrees, you forget that other people are welcoming Fall. No boots and scarves happening here. But maybe I'll have a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte to commemorate the season.

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.