Homemade Popcorn

Homemade Popcorn

Extra time at home means time to learn something new! Homemade 🍿 popcorn!! Straight from raw kernels.

I’ve MISSED $5 movie Tuesdays at our local theater these last months, and streaming at home feels even more real now with authentic popcorn.

I will never buy commercial popcorn again! This is sooo much better and we choose the salt, fats and how much of them.

The whole house smells so yummy. And it’s only $2 for an entire bag of kernels – which makes 96 cups of popped corn. Awesome!
Now we get a better movie theater experience at home while working through our Netflix list. 🎥 🍿 🤩

My sweet friend, Kacey, taught me how to make it from scratch – raw kernel scratch.

Below is the recipe with our tips…

~ One recipe makes approx. 24 cups of popcorn ~

Ingredients:

3/4 c      raw corn kernels

1/2c      oil*

2T          unsalted butter; melted

additional oil (see below)

salt

Directions:

1. Heat stovetop to medium-high heat.

2. In a large pot or stock pot with a lid, pour grapeseed oil to cover the bottom to 1/8” thick (this recipes takes 1/2c).

3. Place 3 kernels of corn in the oil and wait for them to pop.

4. Once popped, immediately add remaining kernels enough to fill the bottom of the pot, one layer thick (this recipe takes 3/4c).

5. Place the lid on the pot and continually shake the pot without removing it from the heat. Continue this until you no longer hear kernels popping. Do not walk away from it and do not overcook.

6. Immediately remove from heat and pour popcorn into a large bowl.

7. Melt butter in microwave-safe bowl, then immediately pour over popcorn. Mix thoroughly with hands.

8. Spray popcorn with oil to taste (or pour slowly if using oil from a bottle). Mix again with hands.

9. Salt popcorn lightly, then taste. Add salt a little at a time, tasting as you go until it’s just right for you.

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**About the oils – I only use grapeseed oil to cook the kernels (and most foods). It is a heart-healthy oil that withstands high heat without burning, changing its chemistry, or oxidizing onto the pot like other oils, which is impossible to remove.

Do not cook kernels in olive oil. It has a low burning temperature and will ruin your pot.

I steer clear of vegetable and Canola whenever possible.

For the oil to add after cooking, I use THIS PRODUCT. Using oil cuts the need for butter in half which means less solid fat. If you don’t have the pump oil like this above, drizzle olive, coconut, or grapeseed oil a little at a time, mixing as you go, to taste.  

**Butter – I recommend unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salty taste.

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Other popcorn versions:

1. Add 1-2 packets of Hidden Valley Ranch powdered dressing mix for ranch popcorn. Add dressing after oil, then add salt to taste as the dressing has some salt in it.

2. Add spices like rosemary & thyme for savory popcorn.

3. Add 1/3c white sugar to the oil and stir until blended for kettle corn taste. To do this, add the 3 kernels and continue with recipe. Or add 1/3c brown sugar for a caramel corn taste.

4. Melt chocolate and/or white chocolate and drizzle on popcorn, mixing with a large spoon so you don’t burn your hands, for a sweet treat. (Add seasonal sprinkles as well, then bag and tie it as a gift).

5. Mix with pretzels, peanuts (or any kind of nut), and mini chocolate chips for a fun movie snack.

Summer Citrus Salad

It’s July. It’s hot. It’s humid. Looking for a refreshing entree salad that is light, healthy and cools you down from the inside out? This is it. Fresh blueberries and oranges’ sweet flavors contrast tangy goat cheese, salty bacon and hearty walnuts.

And the dressing? Mmmm… fresh orange juice (not store-bought) blended with herbs and garlic, go with me here,  adds the perfect amount of zesty, juicy, savory goodness drizzled over this beautiful meal rich in colors, tastes and textures.

I’m super excited about this salad and hope you enjoy it as much as we do! Stay cool out there!

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Summer Citrus Salad

Salad

5oz                        Baby kale mix

1 bunch                  Green onions (a.k.a. scallions); chopped

4oz                         Fresh mushrooms; quartered

4oz                         Walnuts; chopped or halved

2                             Avocados; diced

1c                           Bacon; cooked & crumbled

2                             Fresh oranges; peeled & sliced or quartered

4oz                         Crumbled goat cheese

1c                           Fresh blueberries

 

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Fresh Citrus Dressing

Fresh Citrus Dressing

1/3c                       Plain rice vinegar

1/3c                       Canola or vegetable oil

1/4c                       Granular sugar

1/2c                       Fresh-squeezed orange juice

2 cloves                 Garlic; minced

1t                           Herbs de Provence

1/2t                        Salt

 

 

Directions:

Dressing – Add all dressing ingredients into a bottle or bowl with tight-fitting lid. Shake well to blend. Or, add ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until thoroughly combined.

Salad – Layer salad in order of ingredient list beginning with kale and ending with blueberries on top. Drizzle dressing over salad upon serving.

Cuban Sandwich Salad

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Growing up in Florida, I’ve savored Cuban sandwiches ever since I can remember. Cubans can be enjoyed hot or cold, and whether served in school cafeterias, packed for lunches on the beach, or grab & go from the deli, Cubans have been a part of every season of my life. Mmmm….

So I thought I’d try my hand at transforming this delicious sandwich into a decadent salad!

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Keeping this salad true to the original Cuban sandwich, the ingredients are especially important. A “real” Cuban does not have mayo, fancy mustards, tomatoes, or any type of cheese other than Swiss; nor is it served on a hoagie. If a Cuban sandwich comes your way with any of these, it’s a fraud. 😉

An authentic Cuban simply has butter, yellow mustard, roasted or barbequed pork, ham, Italian salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and Cuban bread. That’s it!

I used these ingredients (and their proportions to the sandwich) to keep this salad true to form. The dressing has real butter and yellow mustard. Italian seasoning compliments the salami’s spices. Rice vinegar and shallots are the mildest flavors of vinegars and onions so as to give this dressing personality but not dominate the salad or change the Cuban’s original flavor. And the vinegar also compliments the vinegar-soaked pickles; an awesome combination.

The point of the dressing is to get mustard and butter into this dish (like on the sandwich) and lightly coat the lettuce so it is still a proper salad yet with all of the authentic flavors of a Cuban sandwich.

IMG_E2337[1]Don’t skimp on the pickles! A true Cuban has bity dill pickles that deliver a crunch. Please skip the shelved, limp pickles and get the fresh, refrigerated pickles. Their crisp crunch and fresh taste is light years beyond any non-refrigerated pickle. Trust me on this! Good pickles are the ingredient that pulls this entire dish together. They are the crowning jewel of this salad; use at least 2 cups but add more if you’d like.

The mixed soft greens of spring, kale and watercress are given texture with crunchy cabbage and Brussel sprouts which do not add flavor, but do add texture and nutrition with the Brussels.

We prefer hard salami to Genoa, but either works. The roast pork is a cheat that I buy precooked from the deli. It’s definitely a time-saver, and since it’s part of the entree and not the main course I’m totally fine buying a pre-cooked portion of pork versus roasting an entire tenderloin – though leftovers are never a bad thing.

Lastly, serve with Cuban bread on the side or skip it for a gluten-free option.

My family kept saying that they couldn’t believe how much this salad tasted like a Cuban sandwich, woohoo!!

Enjoy Cuban sandwich flavors on top of a zesty, high-protein salad that, when paired together, you have a new, uncompromised version of the Cuban we all know and love.

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(Serves 4 to 6)

Salad:

4oz                         Spring mix lettuce

4oz                         Baby Kale

4oz                         Watercress

4oz                        Angel hair plain Coleslaw cabbage

4c                           Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced & ends cut off

3/4#                       Ham; diced (you can buy it pre-diced)

3/4#                       Roast pork; diced (pre-cooked from the deli)

1/2#                       Italian hard salami; diced (buy one thick piece from the deli then dice it)

3/4#                       Swiss cheese; diced

2c                           Dill pickles; chopped (use the refrigerated kind like Claussen dill)

1                             Cuban bread; optional- leave soft or toast and cut into cubes as croutons

Dressing:

4T                          Butter; unsalted & melted

1/4c                       Grapeseed or vegetable oil

2                            Shallots; peeled, ends cut off and then cut shallots in half

2t                           Italian herb seasoning

3/4c                       Plain/natural rice vinegar

4T                          Yellow mustard

2t                           Fresh minced garlic

4t                           Sugar

1/2t                        Salt

1/8t                        Black pepper

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Directions:

  1. Make the dressing by melting butter in the microwave or on the stovetop, then blend all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor.

 

  1. If saving for later, pour dressing into a bottle, bowl or measuring cup that can be microwaved to keep butter melted if it cools and thickens. Otherwise simply set it aside. Dressing should be room temperature when served.

 

  1. In a large bowl, toss spring lettuce, baby kale, watercress, cabbage and Brussels with the dressing until evenly coated. Divide evenly among 4-6 serving plates.

 

  1. Plate salads by dividing remaining ingredients evenly and layering them on top of the dressed greens in the order listed above beginning with ham and ending with pickles.

 

5. Garnish with Cuban bread, optional. Serve immediately.

Peachy Keen Chicken Salad

Peachy Keen Chicken Salad

This salad!!! Oh my! New family favorite. I love to cook using ingredients in their peak season and right now peaches are perfection. Mmmm! This salad is our only meal of the day…it’s that hearty and satisfying!

The base flavors of this salad are peaches, goat cheese, blueberries and basil. These flavors compliment each other with sweet, savory and tangy tastes.

Salad notes – I always try to add a hidden vegetable to bump the nutritional value and the hidden jem here are green beans. They don’t change the taste but add nutrition and pack a crunch.

Bacon and peaches play off of each other with salty & sweet flavors and give this extra layers of YUM!

Compote note – Leeks add a savory tang to the sweet peaches and sugar in the compote. Balance is key to a yummy dish.

Marinade note – I always use grapeseed oil when I can. It’s better for our hearts than other oils and can handle heat up to 500 degrees which makes it perfect for the grill to help keep proteins from sticking when flipping.

Peach Compote:

6              fresh peaches; peeled and sliced

1/4c         sugar

1              leek; white part only finely sliced

Chicken marinade:

4 -6         chicken breasts (# of pieces depends on # of servings)

4T           balsamic vinegar

3T           garlic powder (not garlic salt)

1T           Herbs de Provence

4T           grapeseed oil

Salt & pepper to taste (be a little generous with the salt)

Dressing:

1/2c         balsamic vinegar

1/2c         extra virgin olive oil

2              fresh peaches; peeled and Sliced

2T            good white wine (preferably not “cooking wine”)

1/4c         sugar

1/2t          salt

1T            Herbs de Provence

Salad:

10oz       spring lettuce

5oz         baby kale

1/2c       fresh basil; finely chopped

2c            fresh green beans; ends cut off and beans cut in thirds

1c            green onions; chopped

4oz         goat cheese; crumbled

1c bacon; cooked and crumbled

1c            cranberries (50% less sugar)

1pint      blueberries

1c            pecan pieces

3              fresh peaches; peeled and sliced

1c            red pepper; diced

1              avocado; sliced

Peach compote topping

Directions:

1. Begin the peach compote. Place 6 sliced peaches and sugar in small saucepot and cooking on medium heat, stirring often so it doesn’t burn.

2. Once bubbling, turn down the heat to low and add sliced leeks. Simmer on low until sauce becomes translucent and compote is loose-jam consistency. It will take a good 20 minutes so start this step first.

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3. While compote is reducing, prep chicken by rinsing the chicken then the trimming fat and cutting breasts in half lengthwise.

4. Add chicken halves to a gallon plastic bag and then add the marinade ingredients.

5. Massage the bag gently and thoroughly to coat the chicken pieces evenly.  Set aside.

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6. Now make the dressing by blending all dressing ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pour into a serving bottle and chill until ready to use.

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7. Place cut green beans in a small pot with enough water to cover and boil for 5 minutes (set a timer!).

8. Immediately remove beans from heat and dunk them in an ice bath (a bowl with enough ice and cold water to cover the beans). This is called blanching. Boiling will slightly cook the beans, and the ice water bath shocks them so they stop cooking and keep their crunch and color. Keep them in the ice bath until ready to use.

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9. Heat grill and place chicken halves on the grill. Cook thoroughly. (You can also bake the chicken in the oven or air bake for approx. 20 minutes @ 350 turning halfway through- in lieu of grilling.)

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Time to assemble the salad…

10. Compote should be finished. Once it is thick, pour into a bowl and let cool on the counter while making the salad.

11. Keep checking on and turning the chicken, then remove from heat.

12. Assembling the salad – plate the ingredients per their list order beginning with lettuce and ending with avocado. (I always put the green items on the bottom so the colorful items pop on top.)

13. Drizzle dressing over top. (Leftover dressing makes a great marinade for chicken or pork – or more salads!)

14. Place two grilled chicken halves on top of each salad. Evenly spoon compote over all chicken pieces. Serve immediately.

Summer Garden Salad with Crabcakes

Summer Garden Salad with Crab Cakes

I’m a firm believer in working smart, not harder, in the kitchen. This salad requires minimum prep and I buy our favorite crab cakes from the market. We prefer Charleston-style crab cakes versus Maryland crab cakes, but both work with this entree salad. If you’re feeling it, make your own crab cakes. More power to ya! Bought or made, they are a perfect compliment to this dish.

There are several different tastes and textures layered in this meal. Sweet, savory and salty work cohesively to give this salad a big, flavorful personality. There is also plenty of crunch in the carrots, Brussels, pepper, sugar snap peas, walnuts and pepitas which contrast this salad’s softer side of tomatoes, pickled onion, cucumbers and blue cheese.

Added proteins of nuts, pepitas and blue cheese elevate this meal from filling to downright hearty.

The dressing is my bruschetta dressing. Super light and summery but full of flavor. Works great as a dip for veggies, or don’t blend it and voila! You have bruschetta ready for a sliced baguette.

Enjoy the fresh flavors of the season with this summer dish!

Ingredients:

Crab cakes –

8                             store bought or homemade crab cakes

2T                           grapeseed oil

1                              lemon; juiced

Salad –

5oz                         baby kale

5oz                         spring mix lettuce

½#                          Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced

1                             cucumber; quartered and chopped

8oz                        fresh sugar snap peas; chopped

1c                           pickled red onion; thinly sliced

1                             yellow female* pepper; diced

1pint                      grape or cherry tomatoes; halved

1c                           carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                           walnuts; pieces

1c                            pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

4oz                         blue cheese crumbles

1c                           cranberries (50% less sugar)

Dressing –

4 cloves garlic; minced

6 Roma tomatoes; diced

1 large bunch fresh basil; chopped

1/4c balsamic vinegar

1/4c extra virgin olive oil

1/2t salt

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Directions:

1. Prepare dressing by adding all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until thoroughly combined. Chill until ready to use.

2. In a skillet on medium heat, heat grapeseed oil. Add crab cakes and pour lemon juice on top. Flip halfway through cooking (according to package directions or recipe). Or air fry at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

3. While the crab cakes are cooking, plate salads by dividing prepped ingredients into fourths and layering them in order listed above.  

4. Drizzle dressing over salad. Top with crab cakes. Serve immediately.

*Note – use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! 😊

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

As temperatures climb, we crave the light, fresh flavors of summer. Lemon and basil are two of those addictive tastes and are key ingredients to making this dish pop!

Packing this salad with extra proteins, like pepitas and nutritional yeast, makes this meal satisfying, even as its taste leaves us wanting more. Mmmmm!

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

Ingredients: serves 4

Chicken –                                                                    

4                             chicken breasts; halved longwise

1 1/4c                    Panko plain breadcrumbs

3T                            nutritional yeast (for parmesan flavor and additional protein & vitamin Bs)

3                              lemons’ zest (zest 3 lemons, then juice them for the dressing)

1                              lemon; juiced (zest first, then save zest for dressing)

2t                            Herbs de Provence

2T                           oil (olive or avocado)

                               salt/pepper to taste (use black pepper generously)

                               pump, not aerosol, spray oil (Pam cooking spray with coconut oil)

Salad –                                                                     

5oz                          baby kale                                                              

5oz                          arugula lettuce                                                                 

1 ½ c                       fresh basil; finely chopped                               

½#                           fresh Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced                 

1c                            green onion; diced                                             

1                              female red pepper; diced                                               

1 pint                      cherry or grape tomatoes; halved                   

1c                            carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                            pepitas (a.k.a. pumpkin seeds)

Lemon Dressing –

1/3c                        plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar

1/2c                        fresh lemon juice (about 3)

1/3c                        canola or vegetable oil

1/4c                        sugar

1/2t                        salt

1                             garlic clove; minced

1                             lemon zest

Directions:

1. Trim chicken and place halves in a gallon Ziploc bag with all chicken ingredients. Massage until well coated. Place on greased cooking tray and spray pump oil top to top help crisp the breadcrumbs.

2. Bake at 350 for 20 min or until cooked through. Or air fry at 400 for 20min (flipping halfway through). Or pan fry in extra oil on medium heat until cooked through.

3. Prepare dressing – combine all ingredients in a bottle/bowl with lid & shake well until sugar dissolves or blend in food processor/blender.

4. Divide salad ingredients in fourths. Plate the salad in order from bottom up: lettuce, basil, Brussels, onion, pepper, tomatoes, carrots, pepitas. Drizzle dressing over salad. Place chicken on top and drizzle dressing over chicken. Serve immediately.

Cooking note – use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! 😊

Non-fried, fried ice cream

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Just in time for Cinco de Mayo!! I first had fried ice cream at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Tampa, FL decades ago and have never forgotten it. Seriously, I still crave it. It was heaven! Soft vanilla ice cream tucked inside a fried shell, topped with cinnamon and drizzled honey – yum!

I’m not going to fry ice cream at home because, well, what a mess. And I don’t own a deep fryer, nor will I in the name of healthier cooking. 😉

With simple ingredients it takes only a couple of minutes to assemble, yet boasts all the flavors of fried ice cream (and less fat since it’s not fried) whose taste has lingered in my mind ever since.

A few cooking notes…

Honey – Honey is the star of this show. As it drizzles over frozen ice cream, the cold turns liquid honey into a slightly chewy topping which resembles caramel, but a natural, healthy option. Its sweetness compliments the warm bite of cinnamon. Mmmm. I use local honey for the benefits of combating seasonal allergies. During covid quarantine I cannot get my regular, local honey so I found Local Hive Honey and it’s awesome! Whatever brand you use, make sure it’s raw, unfiltered, 100% honey. Otherwise, generic honey can have sugar in it although not listed in the ingredients because it’s considered a processing ingredient. What a sham! So don’t chince on the quality of your honey. You CAN taste the difference and your seasonal allergies will thank you.

Whipped cream – Use spray whipped cream (with real cream, not whipped oil), tub whipped cream (again, real cream, not whipped oil) or what I use, tub Tru-Whip (no oil, made with tapioca, a healthier, tasty substitute).

Ginger Snaps – The fried shell is replaced with ginger snap cookies. That’s the secret weapon. Leave them whole or crush on top, there’s no wrong way to enjoy this treat. And the cookie matters! Our favorite brand is Murray Ginger Snaps which is affordable and has that great *snap* we all want in a gingersnap. We don’t even use a spoon for this dessert. Use the cookies to scoop the ice cream…even better!! 😉

Ingredients:

Vanilla ice cream

Ginger snap cookies

Cinnamon

Honey

Whipped cream

Directions:

Scoop ice cream into bowls

Sprinkle cinnamon generously over ice cream

Drizzle honey over ice cream

Add ginger snaps

Top with whipped cream

This is the perfect dessert to top your favorite Mexican meal or enjoy it by itself. Have fun with it!

 

 

 

Our Love Song

If Jesus wrote a love song to me, this would be it.
It is not a Christian song, per se, but it is *our song.*
~ Psalm 61; Hebrews 4:13-16~

John 13:25 is one of my absolute, very favorite Scriptures ever ever ever. I confess I’ve always been jealous of John in this moment; not in what he asks, but in his actions.

There is no other place in all of creation that I’d rather be than right there. I hold this place in my heart for now, but oh one day.

One day I will be in this place, this moment, for real. Tangible. Seen. Able to feel his warmth. Feel his muscles move as he shifts in his seat. Feel his chest expand and contract with every breath. To be so close to hear him inhale, exhale. Feel his hair tickle my cheek. My ear pressed against his chest, I feel the reverberation and hear the echo of his voice as he quietly hums our song. Feel the touch of his skin. Stroke the softness of his royal robe.

I reach for his hand and hold it in mine. I run my finger over the scar from the nail. I stare at his scar and remember what he did for me. I remember what I did to put that scar there. He senses my muscles tense and my palms begin to sweat. The weight of guilt and shame steals my breath and sorrow overwhelms my heart. He gently pulls me closer and strokes my hair. Without a word, his patient love and tender kindness tells me he would’ve done it all if only for me.

He regrets nothing.

I breathe a comforted sigh and close my eyes, my hand covering his scar.

And I rest in the feeling when you know you are completely safe, and you fold yourself into the one holding you. Guards down. Walls down. No words necessary. When you feel so safe you close your eyes and your soul exhales in a sigh of sweet contentment; drifting in and out of sleep.
Knowing fully that he has me and I am safe. I rest because he holds me. He who holds the whole world in his hands. He who carried the weight of sin for all time, holds me. His strength is safe. There is fullness of heart; not lacking anything.

To look into his eyes. His eyes of love and mercy bring hot tears to mine. We sit and look deeply into each other. He sees me. He knows. The real, raw, unfiltered, un-fronted me. And he loves me. The sweet smile in his eyes says, knowing everything about me, he loves me. The soft smile of his lips tells me that knowing everything about me makes him, in fact, love me…more.
I don’t have to explain anything to him. I don’t have to do anything but rest and receive. Receive his love. His friendship. His mercy. His brotherhood. His saving grace. To know I am fully known yet still… Accepted. Wanted. Cared for. Seen.
Loved.
Loved deeply.
Loved fully.
And time stands still. Nothing else matters. All grows dim. The only sound I hear is the beat of his heart. The heart that loved me enough to beat death and beat again. I lean into him and simply listen to the rhythmic melody of his heartbeat that will never stop playing our love song. I live this moment in my heart today and wait for it to be fulfilled in spirit, face-to-face. It will be the best moment in my entire, eternal life.

Not sure I wanted to share something so personal, but my hope is this song draws you closer to Jesus, too. 

Tuscan Tapas

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Tuscan Tapas with Field Greens

Is it possible to have authentic Italian goodness, with robust flavors of balsamic, basil & garlic, in one small bite? Absolutely! These little guys pack a punch of flavor. Tapas are typically known for Spanish cuisine, but in this recipe the name captures a bold Italian taste.

This easy, make-ahead recipe combines two recipes with a twist. Seriously, you can make the Tuscan spread days ahead (flavor gets better with time) *and even freeze it.*

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Tuscan Bean Spread with Baguette; cutting board from Crate & Barrel

The pickled red onion recipe can be made up to a month ahead and gets better with time.

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Replace field greens with avocado for richer texture and flavor. The crunch of the baguette and pickled onion contrasts the creamy bean spread and avocado for a perfect blend of YUM.

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Tuscan Tapas with Avocado

Final assembly takes only a few minutes. I love recipes that offer a lot of presentation for little amount of work. This one is great for planning ahead or spontaneous cravings. It stands alone as a tasty appetizer as well as compliments a healthy meal.

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Tuscan Tapas with grilled Mahi-Mahi, rice, grilled pineapple, snap peas, and corn on the cob.

Tuscan Tapas

Ingredients:

1                baguette; sliced

1 recipe     Tuscan bean salad

1/2 bag     mixed field greens; chopped small

1 recipe     pickled red onion; diced

1-2            avocados; sliced * optional

Directions:

  1. Make the pickled red onion recipe. Let it sit several hours to overnight for full flavor. (Can be make up to a month ahead.) Refrigerate leftovers.
  2. Slice baguette and lightly toast.
  3. Make the Tuscan bean salad. Once made, blend it in a food processor until smooth with the consistency of hummus. (Can be made ahead, frozen & thawed.) Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
  4. Plate baguette slices on serving plate.
  5. Spoon the bean spread onto baguette slices.
  6. Place chopped field greens on the spread. *Alternate Option: Replace field greens with slice of avocado.
  7. Top with diced, drained pickled red onion.

 

 

2020 Seniors, You Can Do This

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I’ve enjoyed looking at everyone’s senior photos from back in the day trending on social media. I also understand that although the intent is to encourage the Class of 2020 amidst the coronavirus quarantine, with a laugh at our expense, it could end up hurting as well as helping. In an effort to help, I’m adding my senior photo to the worldwide yearbook to offer hope for today’s graduating seniors.

Seniors, you can do this. You can graduate (however that looks) and go on to live a full and productive life reaching your goals and realizing your dreams.

Looking at myself in the photo, I don’t even remember my senior year — or 10th or 11th grade. I never attended one high school dance, including prom, due to crippling social anxiety. Pep rallies, extra-curricular activities, field trips, and basically anything outside of structured class time sent my anxiety into a tailspin.

Bucking tradition, I did not attend my high school graduation. Rather, I walked into the school office that summer and picked it up from the secretary who found it tucked away in a file cabinet.

Why did I skip it? I could not emotionally handle hearing classmates’ family and friends clap for them as they walked the stage; or seeing everyone take photos afterwards and enjoy parties for themselves and their friends knowing I didn’t have an audience for me. I was merely trying to find the strength to get out of bed and take a shower every day.

My mom was dying of breast cancer my entire junior year. I spent as much time at the hospital as I did in class. She passed away the summer before senior year, and twice divorced, there was no father in my life.

My grandparents and sister were grieving the loss of my mom as much as I was in their own ways. Frankly, I spent any extra energy apart from daily survival on trying not to fail math.

Years later, I found a letter from the principal congratulating me on my academic success of my senior year. I have zero memory of those days, so seeing I made honor roll was a shock. The letter was addressed and written to “The parents of…”

I was one of those students who fell through the cracks. The school evidently did not realize I had no parents and that my grandparents signed on as legal guardians to keep me out of foster care my senior year since I didn’t turn 18 until August after graduation.

My boyfriend broke up with me to date my best friend during my mom’s illness. Within a week of her death, life began to free fall and all I could do was watch frozen in horror.

As a minor, I had to legally vacate my childhood home and our belongings had to be sold in an estate sale to pay off family debt. I was forced to put down my 13 year-old dog (my 4th birthday present and BFF) because the stress of everything caused her to starve herself. She was emaciated beyond help and having to end her suffering was one of the worst moments of my life. My cat ran away, and the only mentor I had in the whole world announced they were moving out-of-state for a new job. Friends told me my life was a trainwreck and they didn’t know what to do with me.

I totaled my ’74 car (which had been my grandmother’s, then my mom’s, then mine), which meant losing my driver’s license and gaining a probation officer with community service hours to work off — the night before my mom’s funeral.

All of this happened the summer before senior year. I had nothing and no one except Christ, my sister’s hand-me-downs, and ironically, an empty hope chest.

I was devastatingly lonely, had no college fund to rely on, and began to struggle with an eating disorder as a result my mom’s death — with which I still wrestle.

There is always a story behind the smile.


I read a Facebook post regarding ancient senior photos floating around the world wide web which said today’s seniors don’t want to see others’ senior years in tact. *In tact* is a huge assumption.

No life is perfect. Every life has a story. It’s what we do with our story that paves our journey forward.


2020 Seniors, your grief is real. Your feelings are valid. Do not deny yourself working through the loss of your senior year. In your grieving, I encourage you to stay there only as long as necessary to heal.

Use grieving to help you take the next step forward. 

From someone who spent more time wanting to die than live because of trauma upon trauma, with no coping skills or outside help, I can tell you that you get to choose what you do with this senior season.

You can let it destroy you, or you can tap into strength you did not know you have and lean on God in ways you did not think possible.
Not only can you make it through this, but you can emerge stronger, more determined and more focused than you ever imagined on what you want for your next chapter.

Want to know what I chose to do instead of attending my graduation? I got on an airplane with my (then) boyfriend and flew from Florida to New York to meet his family. Four years my senior, he served in the Air Force and his mandated leave time overlapped with my graduation.

I had a choice. I could either attend graduation, which highlighted what I didn’t have while unresolved grief & social anxiety swallowed me alive walking across a silent stage, or forego tradition and take a leap into my future to meet a family who I already knew would be my future family.

He and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last month. My decision then was absolutely the right call and I would make the same decision a million times again. They welcomed me into their family when I was 17 and I married at 19.

We worked hard. He worked day, swing, and midshifts full-time with full class loads and I worked two jobs and took day and night classes. We put ourselves through college debt-free with every cent we had plus scholarships and grants we earned. I completed my B.A. four years later. He completed his B.S. the year after.

We bought our first home when I was 21. A tiny foreclosure on a cul-de-sac, our nicotine-drenched, ripped wallpaper, nasty bathrooms, abandoned house needed a lot of love. It was our little nest, and we slowly remodeled it room-by-room while working and going to school.

If someone had told me only four years earlier at 17, when I didn’t know what home address to put on my high school contact card, that I would own my own home — I wouldn’t have believed it.

If someone had told me when I skipped my high school graduation that I would go on to earn my bachelor’s degree and graduate on time — I couldn’t have believed it.

What I knew that night, donning a black silky robe and balancing a mortar board on my head, as I waited to take my turn to walk the university stage with my husband, grandparents, sister and her then boyfriend (now husband) and our best friends cheering for me in the stands, is that God can most certainly redeem what was lost.

The loss may be irreplaceable — as nothing could bring back my mom or replace everyone and everything ripped from my life — but if we stay in a posture of being willing to receive the gifts God has planned for us, and we continue to take a new step forward each day, then our hearts and lives can be genuinely full to overflowing with good things. Soul-filling, goal-accomplishing, dream-realizing things. Things beyond what we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

An awesome, fulfilling and rewarding life is possible after traumatic loss. 

During my junior year of college, someone I highly respected flat out told me that I would never graduate. They genuinely did not believe in me and it broke my heart in ways that silently hemorrhaged for years. I chose to extend forgiveness toward that person, and felt a personal cathartic release proving them wrong, as I shook hands with faculty on the stage that night.

Moving my tassel from right to left was a symbol that I did it. God gave me the strength and work ethic and I used all of it to run through that finish line.

I skipped my high school graduation because I was embarrassed and overwhelmed that I didn’t have a traditional posse cheering for me. One thing I’ve since learned is me cheering for me was enough. Accomplishing a goal is personal. And when I walked the stage to receive my college diploma, I was eternally grateful for those who came to cheer me on, but most of all I looked to heaven and gave thanks to God that he completed a work in me and we did it together. (Phil. 1:6)

Everyone’s journeys looks different. My husband and I were blessed to rear three kids who have grown into amazing adult children whom I highly admire. They have my heart.

One out-of-state move, three houses, multiple jobs, and being blessed to live out our heartbeat for international missions and relief work, I never could have dreamed that God would raise up beauty from ashes in the brokenness of my life. All glory goes to him.

He is absolutely the God of the impossible and only asks we trust him and take the next step that he puts in front of us.


2020 Seniors, I know inconsolable grief. Overwhelming loss. Desperate disappointment. Uncertain futures. Gripping fear. Unquenchable loneliness. Paralyzing hopelessness. Catastrophic helplessness.

I also know that you have the choice to allow how much this surreal season affects your present and future. I know there is purpose for you. I know there is an entire world waiting for you. A world who needs you to do what you were born to do. And I know that you have the power to choose whether this season breaks or benefits you.

If you’re quarantining in your home with those you call family; food in your pantry; an education to continue online or otherwise; and you have one friend who misses you; and a sport, club, volunteering or work that you miss, then you already have everything you need to graduate abundantly blessed.

Embrace what you have. Trust God that he can work for your good if you give it all to him, including your grief. Choose to let this season make you better, not bitter.

Keep looking ahead. Keep stepping forward. Take Bruce Lee’s advice and “Be water, my friend.” You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. (Phil. 4:13) And keep smiling, knowing the best is yet to come.