Monday, May 31, 2010

Good Luck?

Well, Jon Acuff has done it again. He cracked me up this time with his blog about Chrisitans that say "Good Luck" and then feel guilty about it. Here is what Jon said:

“Good luck with the 10K this weekend!” Well, I mean, I don’t personally believe in luck, but you might. I believe that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. But how am I supposed to say that to you, my colleague from work, in the break room?

“I hope God works all things for the good of those who love him this weekend at your 10K race!” That’s a mouthful, but seriously, I probably shouldn’t be saying “good luck.” Some Christians don’t even say “Pot Lucks.” They call them “Pot Blessings” which kind of sounds like the headline from an issue of the marijuana magazine “High Times” but I’m only digging myself into a deeper hole of awkwardness at this point.

Would it be weird if I told you “Have a blessed 10K?” Does that make me sound like I’m the kind of person that would throw holy water on you during the race or hand you communion wine at one of those drink stands along the course instead of Gatorade? And do I have to over pronounce the “ed” at the end of that word like some people do? Do I say “blessed” like I would say “messed” or do I need to pronounce it “bless-ed.” I always feel like some random guy named Ed is getting hooked up when people do that.

This is getting so complicated. From here on out, I’m dropping luck, I’m dropping
bless-ed and am just going to say “Yay running!” and throw both hands into the air with spirit fingers. Wait, are spirit fingers related to the Holy Spirit or are those bad too? Ohhh, slippery slope, slippery slope indeed. I’ll go with jazz hands then, definitely jazz hands.

While funny in itself some of his commenters were equally hilarious. One guy suggested "Godspeed" as an appropriate encouragement for a race and several others agreed with him. I happen to like the suggestions that this guy made:

a simple "have a good race tomorrow!" might work well too.

other options could be:"ill pray that the lactic acid production is supernaturally
suspended... speaking of suspension, did youknow that jesus was suspended on
a cross for your sins.."

or."i'll pray that your loins are girded and that you are endowed with the
endurance of Elijah... who outran a team of horses... by the way have you read
that story in the Bible?? you know God's love letter to humanity?.... ... "

or. "May you run your race like it is to be won.. and not disqualified along
the way. You know, like Paul (Jesus's super duper post-mordem-assention marketer of ancient days)...."

so many options... all of which i'm sure would be recieved with thanks and no

As entertaining as that is, it does make me think. I had dozens of people (church people) wish me good luck before my half-marathon. I say "good luck" to people and never give it a second thought. I don't believe in luck so I guess for me it's just an expression, but I guess the same argument could be made for taking God's name in vain.

I don't believe in luck but I also don't necessarily believe in praying for every little hangnail extraction and close parking space. It's not that I don't think God cares I just think that I can be a happy, positive witness for Christ whether I have to walk 100 yards to the mall entrance or 10 so what difference does it make.

What do you think? Should Christians ever utter the word 'luck'? Have you ever eaten a "Pot Blessing"? Do Christians get too hung up on semantics and miss opportunities for authentic relationships?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The May Daring Baker's Challenge

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

I was very intimidated when I first read what the challenge would be. I mean these things are huge and complicated. Besides that they just made one in a challenge on TopChef Masters. I mean if an award winning chef is making Croquembouche for a nationally televised cooking competition then it is not the PB&J of french desserts.

However, I will say that this was probalby the EASIEST challenge I have done to date. I did it all on one evening using only ingredients I already had in my house. And to top it all off it was sooooo delicious! Now granted, my piece montee wasn't extremely high, or symmetrical or even visually pleasing, but it was indeed a series of filled creme puffs stacked up and drizzled with caramel, which is exactly what a Croquembouche is.

So without further ado.........
There are three main components to this dessert. First I make the pastry cream to fill the cream puffs. I chose to make a coffee flavored filling. (And boy was it good!)

Crème Patissiere du Cafe
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla
1 T. instant coffee granules
3 T. boiling water

Dissolve coffee in water. Set aside. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.

Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

While the creme is chilling go ahead and make the cream puff dough.

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)
¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly. Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Piping:Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.
Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Baking:Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

Filling:When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Use one of these to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.

Hard Caramel Glaze:

1 cup (225 g.) sugar

½ teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

Assembly of your Piece Montée:

You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be still hot!), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place – see video #4 below).

When you have finished the design of your piece montée, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate. Have fun and enjoy! Bon appétit!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Skiing and Sledding

I just can't help but share two more of Cainan's writing assignments. They crack me up.

This one was obviously about skiing:

"Once I was afraid to skie. I holdid on too my dads puls. He let go. I lookd at hem an then I had a wipoute. I like to skie. I learnd a lesen. Woch were I am going."

Not sure exactly what the theme of this one is. It appears to be very stream of conciousness:

"Once I was sleding and my brother was in frunt of me but I steard the sled but then I hit a tree. I was born in Elanoy greenvill. Then I was a baby I liked to choo on stuf. I loved to colr. When I grow up I want to be a artist."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Manic Monday

Friday, May 14, 2010

Illinois Half

The other big thing that recently occurred in my life that I haven't taken the time to write about is...

I completed a half marathon (13.1 miles)!!

A friend and I ran the Illinois Marathon in Champaign on May 1st. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but not too hot and the course ran through a lot of nice neighborhoods around Champaign and Urbana. We actually finished on the 50 yard line of the Illini Football Stadium!

I started training right around the middle of January for the race. I trained alone, in the snow, sleet, rain and mud for the first 10 weeks but as the weather improved my friends Linda and Chrisy started training with me. We spent our Saturday mornings running 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 mile routes around Greenville. It was such a relief to share the drudgery with others. It really made it enjoyable.

Chrisy was training for the half in Indy on May 8th so Linda and I were the only ones headed to Champaign....well, us and 14,000 other people!! Yeah, it was incredible. Once they said "Go!" it took us 9 minutes just to walk to the start line and begin our race!! (Times are determined by a GPS chip attached to each runner's shoe. The chips aren't activated until the runner crosses the start line. This makes the staggered starts fair.) It was wall to wall runners for the first mile or two and then it spaced itself out a little bit. We ran 11 minute miles for the first 3 miles and then decided we wouldn't be able to maintain that pace for 10 more miles and slowed down.

At the 3.5 mile mark Linda's knee really started bothering her. (She had been fighting an IT band problem for several weeks prior to the race.) So I stopped and stretched with her every mile through miles 4, 5, and 6. Eventually at mile 7 she had to give up running because of the pain. She decided to try to walk the rest of the race. At that point we parted ways and I took off.

My goal all along was to finish the race in under 3 hours. I was worried that I wouldn't make it, so I really kicked it in for miles 7, 8 and 9. Then at mile 10 my ankle really started to hurt. I had strained it the week prior during my 10 mile training run (well, actually during a slide down a muddy hill while trying to find the trail for my 10 mile run....long story). The last 3 miles were pretty painful. It was hard to stay motivated being all alone in a sea of runners.

I took water and Gatorade every time it was offered and I tried to stay in a good rhythm. I also grabbed a pack of GU Carbohydrate Gel at one aid station but I chickened out of actually eating it. It was espresso flavor and just didn't sound that appetizing at that point. The one thing that probably helped me the most was the little Dixie cup of M & Ms that a church was handing out along the way. It really gave me a little boost that I needed.

It also helped to see all of the people standing in their yards or driveways cheering for us and providing entertainment. There were elderly men sitting and playing the guitar, little boys playing the violin, a group of PeeWee cheerleaders doing cheers, a Jr. High aged girl playing her keyboard. There were plenty of kids handing out homemade lemonade and even one house offering fresh strawberries. At one point we had to run through a park. In one of the picnic shelters there was a rock band playing the theme from Chariots of Fire! I almost couldn't run for laughing so hard.

As I entered the stadium after 13 long miles I could hear the man on the loudspeaker say, "72 seconds left to make it under 3 hours!" At that point I just started sprinting as hard as I could across the AstroTurf (which I must say felt SO good under my feet after 13 miles of pavement). I ran under the clock just as it said 2:59. Phew! I made my goal by 1 minute. The thing I failed to remember was that the was the time from the moment the word "Go!" was shouted at the start line. My time wasn't based on that. It was based on the time I actually crossed the start line. So.....I actually made it in 2 hours and 50 minutes!!

It was a great feeling. I was frantically scanning the crowd to find Brian and the kids. I thought it would take me forever to spot them in that huge stadium. But I saw them almost immediately. They were jumping up and down and cheering. I just started crying. I couldn't believe I made it. I also couldn't believe I would have to walk up 10 flights of stairs to reach my family in the stands! My ankle was killing me and my legs were so weak I didn't think I could make it, but I did. Once I had caught my breath and hugged my family I set off to find the post race food (I was starving) and wait for Linda.

We both had a good cry when Linda made it into the stadium half and hour later. Our 15 week journey was over! The race hadn't gone exactly the way either one of us wanted it to but we made it and we are planning to redeem ourselves next year. Overall it was an awesome experience that I really enjoyed. There were times when it was painful and boring and long and tiring but mostly it was so gratifying to run further than I ever imagined I could. I don't think I'll ever run a Full Marathon but I can see myself walking one (or walking and running one) and another Half Marathon is definitely in my future.

Prior to training for this race I had never run further than 2 miles in my entire life. I started slow and finished slow but I ran the whole way. It is possible. When you get right down to it it really is mostly mental. The body is amazingly able to do much more than the mind imagines. I'm so glad I didn't let the thought of 13 miles stop me from running those first 3 or 4.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Swap

Ever since Ryker started school *gasp* 5 years ago I have participated in a swap with someone. A kid swap. I watch their child/children and they watch mine. For free.

Over the years it has taken on different forms. Sometimes it has been set up where I have the other child one day a week and the other mom takes my child on a different day that week. Sometimes it was just two hours once a week. Sometimes it was two kids but only every other week. It just depended on who I was swapping with and what my needs were at the time.

I initially did it so that I could go in to Ryker's class and help out (code for: find out what really goes on in the classroom since his response to every question about what he did at school was "I don't know"). It has sometimes also been a chance for me to get grocery shopping done or go to doctor's appointments as well.

This year I swap Kinley out with one of her little friends, Melia. They are 6 months apart in age(and 6 inches in height) and our families have been friends for over 10 years. They love playing together and I get the chance to volunteer in Ryker's 4th grade class and Cainan's 1st grade class almost every week. If you have kids in school and kids at home I highly recommend finding a swapping partner. After all, if you don't you'll miss out on experiences like this:

Today Melia was with us but I just couldn't put off my trip to Aldi, so we all loaded up and went together. Not the best grocery shopping experience I've ever had, but definitely not the worst. On the car ride on the way home I overheard this conversation:

Kinley: Grandma gave me these sandals.
Melia: Your grandma or my grandma?
Kinley: My grandma.
Melia: What shape is she?
Kinley: (without missing a beat) She's a rectangle with arms and legs and a hectagon for a head.
Melia: Oh.

And then they were on to the next topic. On the one hand, I was desperately hoping that I would get to hear what shape Melia's grandma was, but on the other hand I was a little scared they would start talking about what shape their mother's were, so overall I think it was a good place for the conversation to end.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pasta and Pie

I know I was completely MIA from the blog world last week. I'll try to make up for it this week. I've had so much going on recently that I need to catch you all up on.

The first big event was a visit from my sister and her girls. They drove up from Florida for a 3 week tour of Illinois and Missouri. They stopped at my Mom's house first and then came up here on Sunday afternoon. We had a nice visit, except for the fact that the two big girls were suffering from the stomach flu the entire time they were here! Both of them took turns rushing to the bathroom with diarrhea and vomiting.

Kinley (center) sharing a hug with her cousins, Gracie (left) and Claire (right)

Luckily between bouts of sickness they felt completely fine and enjoyed playing with the boys. It wasn't one of those illnesses where you just want to lay on the couch all day, thankfully. So even though we were dealing with two sick girls and a busy, busy one year old we managed to do what we always do when we are together....cook.

Yep, we tried two new recipes that I've been saving for a while and both were a great success. First we made Italian Pasta Bake (from Memoirs of a Munchkin Mommy). This is a great layered pasta dish chocked full of vegetables that only Cainan spotted and removed; healthier than lasagna but with a very similar taste. Then we tried Strawberry Banana Cream Pie (from Joy the Baker). This is a great dish to make to use those fresh strawberries. It has a crispy almost sugar cookie tasting crust, a creamy vanilla custard and slices of bananas and strawberries layered in a pie. Both recipes were easy to make and really delicious. I hope you enjoy them.

Italian Pasta Bake

-PAM Original No-stick Cooking Spray
- 2 cups dry rotini pasta, uncooked (I used whole grain)
- 8 oz Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed (If you don't want as much heat just use regular turkey sausage instead)
- 1 med yellow onion, chopped
- 1 med zucchini, quartered lengthwise, sliced
- 1 pkg (8oz each) sliced mushrooms
- ½ cup shredded carrot
- 1 can (28 oz each) Hunt's Crushed Tomatoes
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 8x8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Prepare pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, cook sausage in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking apart with spoon to crumble.

Add onion, zucchini, mushrooms, and carrot. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until sausage is no longer pink and vegetables are crisp-tender. Add tomatoes and pepper flakes; heat 2 minutes or until bubbling. Add pasta to tomato mixture; stir until pasta is well coated.

Spoon half of a mixture into baking dish. Top with half of the cheese. Repeat layers once more.

Bake 15 minutes or until hot.

Strawberry Banana Cream Pie

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 ripe bananas, sliced10 fresh strawberries, sliced


1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Tart crust:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoons (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold or frozen, cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk

To make the tart crust:Put the flour, powdered sugar and salt in a food processor fit the the blade attachment. Pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of cold butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. There will be pieces of butter that are the size of oatmeal flakes and butter the size of peas. Beat the egg yolk with a fork and add a little of the egg yolk at a time to the flour mixture. Pulse for 10 seconds at a time. When the egg is in, process in longer pulses until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that may have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and the sides of the pan. Press the crust so that the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of foil and fit the foil, butter side down, tightly against the frozen crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust is puffed, gently press it down with your fingers.Bake the uncovered crust for 8 to 10 more minutes on the baking sheet. Keep an eye on the crust. It will brown quickly.Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling.
To make the filling:Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt until well blended and thick. Whisking without stopping, drizzle about 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, warming the eggs so they don’t cook and curdle. Still whisking, slowly add the rest of the hot milk in a steady steam.

Place the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly (make sure to get the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Boil, still whisking for one minute before removing from the pan from the heat. Mixture will be thick and silky. Be warned, once the mixture starts to boil, it will thicken very quickly. Don’t be afraid to remove the pan from the flame to whisk it smooth.
Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let stand for 5 minutes then whisk in the butter, stirring until fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. Transfer custard to a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic touches the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cold throughout. Custard can be refrigerated up to three days.

When ready to assemble the pie, slice bananas and strawberries into thin, round slices.Whisk the cold custard to loosen. Add a handful of banana slices. Stir.Arrange a thin layer of banana slices on the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange a thin layer of strawberries atop the bananas. Reserve some strawberries for topping the pie. Top with banana custard. Smooth out a refrigerate while you make the whipped cream.

For the topping:With a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat heave cream until it just starts to thicken. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks. With a rubber spatula, spoon whipped cream onto banana cream pie filling. Top with sliced strawberries.

Serve pie immediately or refrigerate for several hours before serving. This pie is best served the day it is made, but also isn’t too shabby the next day for a breakfast treat.

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table.

P.S. Despite all the germs floating around my house for 3 days none of us has gotten sick. I've always known we had good immune systems but I didn't think we'd survive this one. :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Manic Monday