Monday, March 2, 2015

10 Things I Learned in February

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 February:

1. Our church Bluewater Mission is bringing transformation in Honolulu through its justice restaurant, and I feel inspired by what's happening in our faith community.

2. Giving instructions to my kids is easy. The hard, long work is coaching and empowering them in their development. 

3. Curry udon. It's a thing. And it's delicious. This meal was enjoyed at Marukame Udon in Waikiki.

4. I have no guilt if I need to put aside a book that isn't compelling. There have been multiple highly-recommended books that I just couldn't connect with. So back to the library they go. Who has the time to waste on lukewarm reading experiences? Not me.

5. If you try basting your hot waffle iron with butter, your basting brush may melt. 

6. There is really no predicting the timing of our babies' births. Aaron was born the day after his due date. Alex arrived 3 weeks early. And this baby girl...well, we'll see. She is due in three days, but who knows.

7. This handbag organizer is awesome. For anyone who uses totes or other large bags, this is a truly helpful item to keep stuff organized. No more digging for lost keys in the abyss of your purse!

8. I've been storing cheese all wrong. According to this Lifehacker article, you're supposed to wrap cheese in wax paper and then a layer of plastic wrap. Apparently putting it in a plastic zip-top bag, as I've always done, is the worst. Whoops.

9. I like television dramas way more than sitcoms. After watching shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Scandal, sitcoms are really difficult for me to get into.

10. I'd rather live a life that messes with the status quo than maintain social acceptability. 

What about you? What have you been learning?

Friday, February 27, 2015

My Life in Verbs

Trying... to embrace the present moment of waiting for our little baby girl to show up. The due date is in one week, and we're pretty much good to go. We had a baby shower, have all the necessary infant gear ready, and are ready to welcome her. I waiver between fully enjoying our last moments as a family of 4, and getting antsy for the baby to arrive. 

Finding... some brief moments of writing inspiration. It's been a while since I sat down with my book manuscripts, but I've recently come back to a few of them to do some tinkering. 

Feeling... so tired all the time. I'm carrying 35 pounds of extra weight, and feel like a mama bear ready to hibernate. 

Wondering... if I want to participate in the 100-Day Project. I'm intrigued by the idea of creating something in bite-sized pieces and documenting it for 100 days. Crazy? Maybe. I need to think about what my actual project will be. It starts on April 6th - anyone else want to join me?

Loving... that we are surrounded by family and friends who offer so much love and support. People keep volunteering to babysit, offer help when the baby arrives, and generally remind us that we are not made to do life alone. 

Reading... Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a compelling look at the isolation, social maneuverings, and trauma of a high school girl. I'm also reading a devotional guide Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker, which is perfect for this season of engaging with God in the midst of parenting.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Slow Cooker Carnitas

Of the many things I miss about living in Los Angeles, my home of 15 years, Mexican food is near the top of the list. In a 1-mile radius from our LA house, there were probably at least 30 Mexican eateries, food trucks, and street vendors. Here in Honolulu, despite what some people may claim, there is frankly no good, authentic Mexican food. So I've been seeking out recipes of our favorites, like carnitas.

Pork carnitas is a tender, flavorful pork that is traditionally braised or simmered for a long period. This super simple version is cooked in a slow cooker, resulting in a juicy, flavorful pork that is then shredded. The meat can then be used in tacos, burritos, or tamales. We served ours taco-truck-style, over warm corn tortillas and topped with cilantro, diced onion, lime wedges, and a side of refried beans. They were delicious, and satisfied my Mexican food craving (at least for the moment).

Slow Cooker Carnitas

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4 pounds pork shoulder
Salt and pepper
4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime, cut in half

Place pork in slow cooker, and salt and pepper the meat liberally. In a small bowl, mix the oregano, cumin, and olive oil, and rub mixture all over pork. Squeeze juice from the lime halves. Add the onion, garlic, and lime halves. Cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4 hours. 

Once the meat is tender, remove from the slow cooker and let cool slightly before pulling apart with a fork. Preheat oven to broil. Place carnitas on a foil-lined pan, and broil until crisp and crusted, about 4-5 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 8-10 people. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love Is...

While sipping my lukewarm coffee and hoping my daughter takes a long nap today, I think for a moment about Valentine's Day. My first thought: Thank heavens my kid's kindergarden class doesn't require cupcakes or homemade Valentine's. My second thought: I wonder how to celebrate, reflect, and expand love today. 

I'm not that interested in receiving chocolates or a teddy bear holding a heart from my husband. I'm celebrating Valentine's Day by pouring love into people around me. And embracing the ways I am experiencing love. 

Love is taking a deep, long breath while my two kids fight over a toy for the twentieth time, and embracing another moment to teach them about kindness.

Love is connecting with a friend who is struggling through depression and fatigue, and hoping and persevering with her. 

Love is cooking dinner for our family, and keeping our nightly ritual of eating together. Even if it's a brief moment that is shared over a meal of chicken nuggets, it's still something good. 

Love is my unborn baby squirming in my stomach, and feeling such gratitude and awe for this little person. She's being welcomed into a very love-abundant family. 

Love is my sister-in-law texting me to recommend a book to me, and asking how I'm doing. We're an ocean and timezone apart, but our friendship still thrives and I'm thankful for her. 

Love is my toddler snuggling up to me, requesting to read Elephant and Piggie again. As I read it to her, I make sure to deliver the dialogue with gusto that would make my drama teacher proud. After I finish, I breathe in my daughter's scent and mentally capture this passing moment. 

Love is rounding up another load of laundry into the washing machine so our family has clean clothes to wear. 

Love is listening intently to my son as he talks about his favorite part of his day (getting a cookie) and his least favorite part of his day (when Kyle bothered him in the lunch line). 

Love is enjoying a tear-inducing, belly-aching laugh with my husband before we drift off to sleep. 

I may not be "celebraing Valentine's Day" this weekend, but I am celebrating the abundance of love that is coursing through my life. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Creme Brulee

This past Christmas Steve gifted me with a kitchen torch, to my great delight. If you think this is a strange present to receive from a spouse, well yeah, you have a point there. But I've been wanting one for a while now, so it really was a perfect gift. And now we can set food and drinks to flames!

Creme brulee was top priority on the list of things to try, since it calls for crisping the top (and because I can't resist a good custard dessert). Creme brulee is a rich egg custard, topped with a thin layer of caramelized sugar. In this version, hints of vanilla and orange liqueur give the smooth custard subtle layers of flavor. It is a beautiful dessert that can be made ahead of time. And have you ever cracked open a creme brulee top with a light tap of your spoon? It's one of life's little pleasures, I promise.

Creme Brulee (adapted from Alton Brown and Ina Garten)

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1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for each serving
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
2 quarts hot water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the cream, vanilla bean, and vanilla seeds into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean, and reserve for another use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Add the orange liqueur, and blend together. Pour into 6 8-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large roasting pan, and pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the creme brulee is just set, but still trembling at the center when you gently tap the side, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator and allow to sit for 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly on the top of each creme brulee. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar to form a crisp, browned top. Allow the brulee to sit for 5 minutes before serving, to allow the top to harden.

Monday, February 2, 2015

10 Things I Learned in January

At the end of each month, I write about things I learned. This practice has helped me reflect, share, and celebrate. In no particular order, here are things I learned in January:

1. I get lots of things done with the help of the Bullet Journal note taking system. For anyone who wants a simple way to stay organized and productive, I recommend checking out the website and watching the video.

2. The Serial podcast might cause me to neglect my kids for a few days. Did you get sucked into it like I did?

3. Having a five-year-old means lots of fun family game nights. We (by "we" I mean Steve) taught Aaron how to play some of our favorite board games, including Settlers of CatanCarcasonne, King of Tokyo, and Alhambra. Goodbye, dumb games like Candy Land and War.

4. It feels good to finished a long-term project. I've been taking classes to be certified as a spiritual director, and just completed my last class a few days ago...yay!

5. How to stand up paddle board. 

6. A few organization changes makes a kid bedroom so much more enjoyable. With some clothes pins, twine, and clear plastic containers, I feel like the chaos of kids' stuff is way more manageable.

7. Saying goodbye is part of life. There are so many moments where a goodbye is needed - moving, transitioning from one thing to the next, leaving a dream behind, death. I've been learning a little about the art of how to journey through some goodbyes lately.

8. Our kids love going to the dentist. This is a strange phenomenon because I'm pretty sure I was born hating visits to the dentist. But for some reason, our kids were delighted to take x-rays, get their teeth cleaned, and receive a new toothbrush. A win for dental hygiene!

9. I tried to love the much-heralded Boyhood, but alas, I did not. 

10. A few wise, timely words from a trusted friend can bring healing, relief, and wisdom. I'm grateful for my husband, Cathy, and Sandy, who each spoke life-giving words to me recently. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo

A strange ritual of sorts has emerged for me during late pregnancy.

It's not the ritual of freaking out about how messy our house is, and we urgently need to clean and unclutter (though that happens). It's not the ritual of cramming our infant car seat into the car, and cursing because "why are these things so damn difficult to install?" (thankfully Steve is our resident car seat installation expert).

I'm talking about the weird ritual of cooking gumbo. Every time I'm in the last month of pregnancy, I have the urge and instinct to make a huge pot of gumbo. A week before I had my firstborn Aaron, I made gumbo that served as our final meals before going into labor. I also had the foresight to freeze batches for later, when we were in the throes of caring for a newborn. Later, when Alex's arrival was imminent, I did the same thing. Here I am with our third child on the way, with a newly made stock pot of gumbo sitting in the fridge.

Gumbo takes a lot of time and love. Maybe that's a metaphor for us preparing to welcome a new baby into the family. I dunno, my brain is fried these days. Anyway, gumbo. It's a long, slow process of chopping, searing, roux-stirring, and simmering. You can't rush it, so it becomes a practice in slowing and meditating. But oh how the result is worth the work.

This gumbo is rich in flavor, owing its deliciousness to the dark roux and perfect Creole spice blend. I've made this with various meat combinations, including shrimp or other seafood. But I think I like the simplicity of chicken and sausage best.

Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

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1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 pound smoked sausage (such as andouille or kielbasa), cut crosswise in 1/2-inch pieces
4 pounds chicken boneless and skinless thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
1 28-ounce can stewed tomatoes, drained
2 cups frozen sliced okra
1/2 cup green onions
1 tablespoon file powder (optional)
White rice
Hot sauce

In a large cast iron Dutch oven or stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage, and cook until well browned, about 8 minutes. Remove sausage and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Season chicken with Creole seasoning and add in batches in the oil remaining in the pot. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken, let cool in a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup of oil and the flour in the pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring slowly and constantly for 20-25 minutes to make a dark brown roux (the color of chocolate).

Add onions, celery, bell peppers, and garlic, and cook, stirring until wilted, about 4-5 minutes. Add the sausage, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves. Stir and cook for 2 minutes. Stirring slowly add the chicken stock, and cook until well combined. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally for 1 hour.

Add chicken, tomatoes, and okra to the pot, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.

Stir in file powder and green onions. Serve over rice, with hot sauce as needed. Makes 6-8 servings.