The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Friday, April 15, 2016

Pucker-Up Lemon Crumb Bars

I scrolled through my dessert board on Pinterest, reading the names of desserts aloud to Jake, who was the chooser of the dessert for Easter Sunday.  No was his continuous response until this one.

Pucker-Up Lemon Crumb Bars.

I love lemony things--lemonade, lemon cheesecake, lemon in water, lemon drop martinis; then there's lemon body wash, lemon shampoo...  The smell is amazing and makes me feel clean and spring-y, and the taste of lemons--whoa.  These lemon bars fit my palate to a tee!

I modified the original recipe, adapting it to the way I like it. I cut the amount of flour and oats because I found the topping to be dry--much of it fell all over our plates when I cut and served the bars.  I also used a combination of freshly ground whole wheat pastry flour and high quality white flour, as I usually do when baking (using all whole wheat tends to result in a more dense product).

Since I didn't take any other pictures (we were all too eager to dig in!), here's the recipe.  I will be adding more pictures soon, since I'll be making this dessert tomorrow for Danny's and Dad's birthday party in a few days!

Pucker-Up Lemon Crumb Bars

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup freshly ground whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup high quality white flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cane juice crystals (or regular sugar)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 sticks cold butter, sliced up

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 cans sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk!)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (I did this!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter/grease a 9x13 pan. Line with parchment paper, and butter the paper. This is for easier removal, but isn't necessary.

In a stand mixer, add oats, flours, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Mix briefly until combined. Add butter and mix until crumbly. Press half of this crumb mixture into the bottom of prepared pan. Set the other half aside.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or with a hand-held mixer in a medium/large bowl), beat cream cheese on medium/high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla and lemon zest, mix until combined.

While mixing on medium speed, slowly pour in sweetened condensed milk. Beat for three minutes. Turn mixer to low and add lemon juice. Mix until well combined, scraping sides of bowl as needed.

Pour filling into crust and top with remaining crumb mixture. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until topping is a light golden color.

Remove from oven and let pan cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until cold. Cut into bars and serve with strawberries and freshly whipped cream (my favorites!) or serve plain, since they are amazing.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Irish Soda Bread

A young lady friend introduced me to this simple and delicious bread, a great accompaniment to any meal, or even toasted by itself and slathered with honey-cinnamon butter for a yummy and quick breakfast.

I began with a recipe I found through Pinterest, and then I made some modifications.  For the white flour called for, I substituted some freshly ground whole wheat flour, which is what I typically use in my recipes.  The bread turned out darker, more golden, than the all-white variety, but it's just as delicious.

Also, I decided right off the bat that instead of baking it in a 9" round baking pan (with another inverted 9" round pan on top), I'd try baking it in my 12" cast iron skillet.  I tented a piece of aluminum foil over the top, then removed the foil during the last 10 minutes or so to brown the top of my bread.

I also reduced the baking temperature to 400 degrees F, which helped keep the bottom crust from getting burned, or too hard and crusty.  I then shortened the baking time a bit to keep the bread moist.  Everything turned out dee-lish, which is why I'm sharing the recipe with you today!

Irish Soda Bread
Makes one round loaf in a 12" cast iron skillet.

two cups freshly ground whole wheat flour (I used pastry flour--from soft wheat berries)
two cups high quality white flour
two teaspoons baking soda
one teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (I love the Kalona brand!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-inch cast iron skillet, then sprinkle a slight dusting of flour over the bottom.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking soda and salt. Gradually stir in the buttermilk until the dough comes together in a slightly sticky ball. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead gently a few times. Form the dough into a flat ball, gradually shaping it into a flat disk.  Press into the skillet so that the dough reaches the edges of the skillet (it may spring back slightly).

Cut an X into the dough with a sharp knife, about 1/4 of an inch deep. Cover the pan of dough with a round cake pan turned upside down, or a piece of aluminum foil tented a bit. Bake for 25 minutes, covered, then remove the top pan and bake uncovered for about 10 minutes more or until the crust is dark golden brown.

I cut this into slices right in the skillet, but you could turn it out onto a cutting board for slicing.  It's great with honey-cinnamon butter.  For leftovers, slice and toast.  And serve with honey-cinnamon butter, because it's amazing.  Really, the bread is great with anything--plain butter, jam...

Simple and delicious accompaniment to any meal; wonderful on its own!

Oh, why not, let's have one more photo!!

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Our Journey -- Goodbye, Purple

Purple wasn't just a color.  It wasn't just a scripted word on the side of a truck. It was much more than that.  And now it's gone.

Let me back up a few days to last weekend, when Fernando drove Arctek Purple out west to South Dakota and NCAA women's basketball, and I drove my sweet old BMW south to a little town in southern Illinois to present two workshops at a homeschool convention.  I so badly wanted to spend the time with Fernando, knowing it may be his last trip with Purple.  But, he was working with his bosses and there was no room for me, and I was speaking at the convention, and plans were plans so we drove our separate ways.

My view from the road (I was stopped due to an accident).

The Lord had plans for me in Salem, and He gave me the words and the wisdom to share with moms and dads homeschooling struggling learners.  I was blessed to be there, and when the day ended I left with a full heart knowing I was useful--my ever-longing desire.

Opening session of the southern Illinois homeschool convention.

I arrived home late Saturday night, Fernando arrived home even later that night, and we slept in, missing church but catching up on sleep and each other.

Comfort means peeking out and seeing Purple parked in our driveway awaiting the next job.

My hopes to accompany Fernando that afternoon on his last scheduled job with Purple were squashed when he received a request for his picture in order to create IDed credentials for the job.  Security was tighter; I wouldn't get credentials.  There was no last trip for me.

So, Fernando drove off on Sunday, east this time to Indianapolis, and I stayed behind and waited.  His "probationary period" had ended, and permanent employment looked promising, but you know me--I'm the Show me girl, the skeptic who doesn't believe until she sees, and Fernando has become that way as well these past few years.  We would both have to wait this time.

Fernando came back late, late Monday night, then on Tuesday, proceeded to work on one of the wings of the satellite dish which had an issue.  Talk went back and forth about driving Purple to North Carolina to the dish manufacturer for diagnosis and repair; Purple didn't have any jobs scheduled until later in May so there would be enough time to do this.

Fernando also sent an FYI text to his bosses that he was scheduled for jury duty next week, just in case a repair trip might be considered.  Then, Fernando ran an errand and came home in what I thought was enough time to have completed it.  But not.

He had gotten a call from S., who wanted him to drive Purple this week to NC--best to get it taken care of before the schedule became busy.  Within an hour, Fernando had cleared out his stuff, gotten Purple ready to fly, so to speak, and was ready to get on the road.

Being who I am, I took a few last pictures of the truck; I asked Fernando to take one of me with her--she was, after all, the vehicle through which I had my first paying job (besides my photography) in a long time.  Yeah, pardon that pun!

Fernando climbed up into the driver's seat, I snapped a picture, and he looked down and said, "Don't cry."

He never says that to me.  But he knew what Purple meant to me--secure and steady--and as long as she was in our driveway, we had income, and I was secure and steady.

I laughed and responded, "Yeah, I'll cry after I'm inside.  It's okay."

And he drove away.

Once more, I stood on the edge of the abyss, that dark unknown.  Where trust had run ahead to dream of plans and adventures in future months, trust now backed my heart way down, to today.  Just today.  Trust Him for today.

We've had quite the journey, and I would never have believed you if you had come to me three years ago and told me this is where we'd be today.

Just when I was breathing fully again, I now stand here at the dark edge, neither ready nor willing to stand here.  Yet stand I must, because forward is the only way.  Because there is not a place I'll go where He hasn't already stood.

For right now, though, tears.  Just a few, choked up, then swallowed, knowing He is in control, He holds my future, He knows the way, and He holds me.  Though I won't wallow in fear, or panic, and though I will trust, knowing that He'll plant me again in another place and He'll let my roots run deep and my tree grow tall, for right now, this moment, I just need to be.

I stumbled across this song a few weeks ago; it touched me then, and it's my heart-cry today.

Second snow of today, this cold April day.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Last Days of March in Photos

As March marched toward its last day (couldn't resist that), I waved goodbye to Fernando, who headed west to South Dakota, and I began a week full of activity.  It was good to be home for a solid length of time, to stay in one place, to be there, all there, as my guys came in and out and lived their lives and shared them with me.

Fernando left for South Dakota.

Right off the bat, in a raid on my freezer to figure out what to cook, I found the carcass from our Thanksgiving turkey--my mom had given it to me to throw in the freezer since we were leaving the next day for California to be with Fernando's family at his aunt's death.  The carcass came out, along with fixings for that day's meal.

Thanksgiving turkey carcass, simmering on the stove overnight.

I cut up the turkey and strained the broth, to be turned into turkey and gravy for Hawaiian haystacks (I think I'll post that recipe soon).

It has been invigorating to be in the kitchen cooking again, and I made another family favorite last week--Tortellini and Spinach Soup.

I spent a chilly, hand-numbing afternoon at the Morton Arboretum with a sweet young lady friend, walking, spotting signs of spring, stopping, taking pictures, talking.  I love that Miss S loves "going deep" in our conversations; we fall into it naturally, and even though we talk about lighthearted subjects too, we have some intense conversations--discussing, sharing opinions, being open and honest, affirming.

Soon this field will be covered with daffodils!

It snowed one afternoon.  I guess March is going out like a lion.

I tried taking a selfie to show off my new glasses.  I love my guys.

More baking ensued, with two new recipes to be blogged soon--Irish soda bread, and honey-cinnamon butter.  Comfort food, indeed!

Ice cream--eaten from the carton--was also on the end-of-March agenda; a Friday night, missing Fernando but still comfortable and at peace at home.  The carton called my name, and I answered.  There wasn't much left, anyway.

Danny made an "appointment" to get his hair cut; I hope he pays me!

Yet another new recipe, thanks to Miss S and her family--beef stroganoff.  Hoo-boy, those mushrooms!  I loved it.  Half the guys picked them out, so this will be a meal for Fernando and me; they'll have to fend for themselves the next time I make it.

Thomas took my picture on Easter Sunday, and I texted it to Fernando, who was still covering NCAA women's basketball in South Dakota.  We shared a casual Easter afternoon with Dad and Mom, minus Fernando and Jake, who had to work, plus my brother Jeff.

The end of March turned into New Recipe Month, with the addition of these lemon cheesecake crumb bars for Easter dessert.  If you love lemon half as much as I do, you'll love these.  Yeah, the recipe will come soon!

Random picture of a trip to Trader Joe's for fruit, veggies, and a few other items...

Another random picture, this time of my parents' family room as I waited for them to return so I could act as Computer Tech Girl for them.  I love knowing just enough to be able to solve computer problems for them.  It makes me feel smart.

Finally, Danny and I brought the Suburban in to the shop to see if they could fix the driver's seat.  I hadn't driven it in months, because the seat got stuck in the far back position and wouldn't move forward.  Thus, I couldn't reach the pedals, and couldn't drive it.  #shortpeopleproblems

I had to drive the BMW exclusively.  Woo-hoo!

Lo and behold, the technician removed "items" from the track of the seat, and it miraculously works again.  We elected not to have the passenger airbag serviced, since the car is so old.  We like to call that warning light in the photo the Don't drive with beachballs warning light.  It's still lit, and I think of sun, sand, and waves crashing on the shore whenever I turn on the ignition.

That's our end of March, and we now wait for warmer weather (still not happening yet--how about 50s even?) and look ahead to what God has in store for us for April.  But that's a post for tomorrow.

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