Around the Table

>> Thursday, April 17, 2014

Once upon a time, I was given a book called Bittersweet. This book, read in a dark season of life four years ago became to me, a lifeline. I read each short story, one at a time, savoring and craving the words on each page and tucking them into my heart. I knew I was reading the book for a purpose, I just wasn't quite sure what it was. 
Fast forward 3 years, when busyness had taken over. Life was more about getting things done, moving  through the ebbs and flows of working full-time, being a wife, being a part of a church plant. But I kept going back to the book, it was a stirring, and eventually an idea was born. I struggled to explain the idea first to my husband, then over lots of late coffee nights with my friend Laura. They were extremely supportive, as they both knew for one of the first times, I felt truly passionate about something. So we tested it out a bit. First there was trials, then there were errors (lots and lots of errors), and then there were tweaks to the idea, until finally the end result is something that makes my heart amazingly happy. 

                                  

On the first Wednesday night of every month, my house, my heart and most importantly, my table, is devoted to "my cooking group people". I love these girls, I love this night, and I LOVE being around the table. 

The idea is simple really, "Do Life Together". There are eight of us, each coming from such different phases and walks in life, it would seem impossible for an outsider to look into the group and think it would actually work out and that we'd all find common ground, but it's amazing. We truly do just that. There are some of us married with kids, some married without kids,  single, newly married, full-time out of the home workers, full-time in the home workers, 20's, 30's and 40's, and lots of cultures... all represented around my little dining room table. 

                             

You wouldn't think you'd find a single girl in her 20's drawn to lingering conversations with a stay at home mom.... but they are listening for every nugget of wisdom to draw on, tucking it away for when the time is right. There are so many laughs shared, so many matters of the heart poured out and wiped away with the swipe of a tissue, all of us thankful that there was someone to lean on and reach out to. Each girl brings something so unique to the gathering, that when they are missing, the group doesn't quite feel complete, because what makes it that way is the whole of us. 

Hours easily slip by like minutes, making all of us linger around the table for just one more story, one more glass of wine, one more bite of that warm cookie, until finally we reluctantly get up, knowing it will be a whole month before we're together again. The difference in this group, however, is that we're not just getting together to eat! We're getting together with the intentionality of doing life together. We know that some of the most intimate moments of life happen around the table

                           

The table has a way of bringing people together. You can show how much you love someone by calling them in, cooking a good meal, and posing one simple question. When you're sitting around a meal, tasting the flavors together, moments of silence don't matter, and it easily and quickly breaks down the walls and barriers that get put up with those we love the most. That's why I love my group. Because I always know, whatever's going on, I can count on those girls! They can make me laugh till I'm crying, let me cry because I'm sad and don't just tell me "it's going to be okay", they lift me up and encourage me, and most importantly they see glimpses of my heart! All because we take the time to just sit around the table! 





I know that seasons come and go... and life ultimately always creates change. My dear friend Laura, my partner in crime and encourager, and the one who helped me support this from the beginning, just moved away, leaving a gaping hole. Her presence will always be felt around the table. Maybe she'll get the opportunity to start her own new "cooking group". I know inevitably, there will be other changes to our group - someone will have a child, we'll lose family members, someone may move away or have a change in life where it makes it impossible to attend. I know that. But, for this season, for this part of my life.... I know that God has me right where He intended. It was no accident that this book was given to me four years ago, and it was no accident that it took me that long to figure out what the idea in my head really meant. Because Wednesday night is coming.... and I know who will be around my table! 

                               

A Note on the Burgers:
I have to say that I'm not usually a fan of fruit and celery in my burgers. In fact, I'm never a fan! But we made this at our last get together, and the burger was amazing. The mixture of fruit, onions and celery all sautéed made the burgers so moist, where as turkey can often times feel very dried out. 

We used an electric indoor countertop grill to cook them, and they turned out perfectly. The special sauce, although it sounds weird, is a must with the burgers. And no, it doesn't taste like McDonald's special sauce! Even if you don't like mayo - give it a try! We had ours with a warm whole wheat bun, and they were a big hit! 

Mar-A-Lago Turkey Burgers (Shauna Niequist) Makes 12 Burgers
Print Recipe
Ingredients:
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
Olive oil
4 Pounds ground turkey breast
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon black pepper
2 teaspoons tobasco
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup mango chutney

Special Sauce
1/2 cup mango chutney
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup ketchup
2 dashes tobasco - to taste

Instructions:
1) In a large saute pan, sauté the green onions, celery, and apples in olive oil until tender. Allow to cool. 

2) While the mixture is cooling to room temperature, make the sauce. Combine the chutney, mayo, ketchup and Tobasco sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

3) Place the ground turkey in a large bowl. Add the onion, celery, and apple mixture and the remaining burger ingredients and mix together. Shape the mixture into 12 burgers. 

4) Place on a preheated, lightly oiled grill on medium-high. Grill on each side for 7 minutes or until meat is thoroughly cooked. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. 


















Read more...

Real Life

>> Sunday, March 23, 2014


It's been almost a year since I've graced the pages of this blog. And even before that post, it had been close to 6 months. Why do I keep neglecting one of the outlets that keep me sane, something I love?  

Let's be honest, Life Is Hard! I  know that's not the pretty answer that you were probably hoping to read. I'm sure you'd probably love to just see pictures of my cute kid and the yummy food and move on, but that's not life for me right now, and putting it out there makes me admit it! 

My husband kept asking why I haven't been blogging, and I just kept giving him the same answer, "I don't know". But deep down, I did know. It just took me a year and a half to admit it. 


I don't think I have one neat answer all wrapped up in a box, and I don't think that by writing this one blog that everything will go back to normal. I think the blog is just a matter of saying it out loud, telling a little piece of my story, and just being honest. 

So, in order to be honest, I want to give a few things that have been going on with me. Like I said, I don't have all the answers figured out, but I think, even writing this blog is proof that I am getting to the other side, out of the sinking darkness that felt like I was drowning in. 

1) I had a baby - In case you didn't know (maybe you've never read this blog before, but I doubt it, because only my husband, my mom and my friends read this! Ha), I had a baby in December 2012. That in and of itself, was quite the adjustment. I mean, everyone knows that having a baby is an adjustment, and I feel like I mentally prepared for it before hand, but it still always takes you by surprise at how much will change, how little sleep you will get, and how much of your world will now revolve around this little being. 

2) This baby had an unexpected stay in the NICU - After Luke was born, he had several different health scares, including difficulty breathing and a low oxygen level which resulted in a stay in the NICU. I work with children with special needs, I did a fieldwork experience in the NICU, I frequently give support to families who are exactly going through what we did.... but nothing can prepare you for seeing your newborn child hooked up to machines just to breathe. For 2 straight days, I wasn't even allowed to talk to him - much less touch him or hold him. They were worried that the sound of my voice or the smell of me would make him work hard to try to be near me, and all of that resulting in increased heart rate and breathing. This isn't exactly the experience you anticipate. You are worried beyond belief, but you also miss out on the initial bonding that is supposed to happen between mother and child. Both for me and for him. 

3) He was one of the most difficult babies... EVER! - I might be exaggerating, but man, he was sure difficult. From the 2 week mark (only a few days after bringing him home from the hospital) to 10 1/2 months, he screamed at almost every feeding. It would take me upwards of at least an hour to nurse him or feed him a bottle. It didn't matter how many positions I tried, which bottle I tried, what specialist I went to, what the pediatrician said... he screamed no matter what! Feeling the weight of knowing you needed to sustain your child, coupled with a screaming/flailing baby on you every 3 hours was emotionally exhausting! There were days when I just cried because it was time to nurse again. I remember several times calling my mom and just crying, and I know she couldn't hear a word I was saying because Luke was crying so hard in the background. 

Because Luke didn't want to eat much (although you couldn't tell by the looks of him - he has always been quite large! ha), he also did not sleep well. Until he was a year, Luke never took a nap that was a minute over 45 minutes. Most days it was 35 minutes. And then he would scream! Once again, I tried EVERYTHING- we swaddled, we didn't swaddle, we slept upright because if was probably reflux, we paci'd, we unpaci'd, we "woke to sleep", we went to sleep earlier, we went to sleep later, we went to sleep in the swing, the stroller, and in the baby wrap. I can count on one hand how many times he slept longer than that. Even to this day, my child takes one nap which lasts approximately an hour to an hour and a half. EXHAUSTING! So much for "sleep when your baby sleeps". 

4) I felt like God had abandoned me - I have never ever felt more alone than in the last year and a half. Of course I have had my husband, my friends, my parents, even my baby. But my relationship with God has been so different. When I've prayed, I've felt nothing. When I read Scripture, the lines blur. It felt like the harder I tried, the farther away God felt. This one is probably the hardest to admit. Even writing this is a bit scary. Telling your husband that you're not really sure you trust God right now (and he's the music pastor at a church) is a little scary. I have had to FIGHT for this! Protecting my heart has been crucial, and it can often be a daily struggle. 

5) Relationships became hard work - It has felt like every ounce of energy i've had has been needed for just taking care of my son, my husband, keeping up with work, and then maybe keeping my head on straight. I'm naturally an introvert, so it is often easier for me to isolate myself and become a hermit! When it was just me, I avoided people. I took forever to respond to emails and texts, skirted out of get togethers other than the mandatory ones, and only kept things surface level. I told myself that nobody wants to hear how miserable my life is. It's easier to bury it down and not let anyone know. 

A few months ago, I finally shared a little bit about what was going on with a few ladies. Did any of them have the answer that was the "cure" for the state of my life? No! But did it help to just get it out and share it? Yes! It made it real! They were able to empathize with me, ask me meaningful questions about why and when I started feeling this way, and help move me on the path of feeling real again. 

Like I mentioned above, I don't have it all figured out. Life is still hard, but I'm sure you know that. I know that I'm not the first to feel this way, and I know it won't be the last time in my life that I feel this way. But admitting it and seeking wisdom and support was absolutely necessary to move on.

I've also learned that my husband is amazing and supportive, and my son is, although a challenge, one of the ways I see God in the everyday. He surely did not abandon me when this beautiful boy is smiling back at me or sleeping in my arms! 

So, here's to new beginnings. To more frequent blog posts in the future. And most importantly, permission to be real, honest, and accepting that real life is not always pretty! 

Now on to yummy looking pictures of delicious food! 


Chocolate Mint Patties (adapted from momontimeout.com)

Ingredients: 
1/3 cup light corn syrup
5 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. mint extract
1/2 tsp salt
green food coloring
4 cups powdered sugar
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate

Preparation: 
1. Combine the corn syrup, softened butter, mint extract, salt and a few drops of green food coloring in a small bowl. Stir until well combined. 

2. Stir in the powdered sugar one cup at a time until mixture becomes stiff and difficult to stir. 

3. Add a bit more of the powdered sugar, and mix, using your hands (or the bread dough attachment on a stand mixer), adding additional powdered sugar as necessary until the dough is a consistency that no longer sticks to your hands. 

4. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten the balls with the bottom of a cup to make small discs. 

5. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30-second intervals until fully melted. 

6. Dip the candies into the melted chocolate using two forks and tap on the edge to release any extra chocolate. 

7. Place back on the parchment paper and place in refrigerator until the chocolate is set. 




Read more...

I'm Back

>> Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Introducing: 

 

Luke Levi Jackson
12.28.12
10lbs 4oz   22in

If you know/follow me on Facebook, than you've long seen this introduction, and know that we've been pretty busy over here. 


And, I know... I know... It's been a very long time since I've blogged. Were you starting to think I'd given up on the blog altogether? 

I have to admit - the thought did cross my mind about just giving it up. As much as I love this blog, I've said so many times before that it's only for the enjoyment of doing it, and if it's too much or too stressful to post, than I will never post just to post. So, that is the reason I have not done anything for the blog in almost 5 months. 

      

As you can imagine, I've kind of had my hands full! :) This little guy has been keeping me busy and giving me a run for my money! Don't get me wrong, I LOVE this little munch, but motherhood has been a totally different journey than anything I've ever expected. 

I'm not sure that really anyone can know what to expect. As much as you think you do, as much as you absolutely plan for the lack of sleep, crying, and overwhelming feeling of being worried 100% of the time, there really is nothing that can prepare you for what it's like. It probably doesn't help that our little baby has given us a challenge from the beginning! :) 

He was 11 days overdue, so from the start, he has wanted to do things in his own timing. About 12 hours after birth, we realized that he was having difficulty breathing, so we spent an incredibly scary 5 days in the NICU. 

  

We are so enjoying having Luke into our lives. He has such personality (as you can see in these pictures). He loves to laugh (and hates to sleep! :)), enjoys discovering new things... has already figured out how to roll over and get his feet into his mouth, and just enjoys life! We are so blessed by him, and cannot believe he's already four months old! 

 

Once we came home, about 2 weeks after his birth, we started to have major issues with eating. This is really still quite an issue for us. Luke does not like to eat. We've tried the gamut of solutions to try to figure out what is going on - I've tried no dairy, thought it was reflux, tried adjusting his schedule, tried bottle feeding only, tried nursing only, tried every position imaginable for nursing, saw a lactation consultant, tried probiotics... unfortunately, nothing seems to be working. Hopefully, one day soon we'll figure out what is going on. He certainly did not inherit his lack of desire to eat gene from me! :) 

During this time, I eliminated dairy from my diet for a little over 2 months to see if that was causing the issue and rule out a lactose intolerance. Of course, my sweet tooth was having a hay day with that one. So I had to find something I could eat that satisfied my sweet tooth while not adding any lactose. (P.S. FYI oreo cookies are dairy free!!!)

 

This recipe calls for coconut oil instead of butter and you can hardly tell there is butter missing. Coconut oil is great for hair/skin as well, and you can find it at Target. It's really creamy and great. My favorite thing to do with it by far is to mix in a little bit of sugar with a spoonful of it and use it as an all natural lip scrub! 

You'll have to give these cookies a try - they are really packed full of flavor and the consistency is great! 

 

Toasted Coconut Oatmeal Cookies (Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod)

Ingredients:
2 3/4 cups Gold Medal all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup coconut oil (measured solid), melted and slightly cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut, lightly toasted for approximately 3-4 min in oven
1 cup quick oats


Preparation: 
1. Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare a cookie sheet with a silpat or parchment paper. 

2. In a large bowl, prepare dry ingredients by mixing together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 

 

3. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer mix together the sugar, coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla until creamed together and fluffy. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until fully incorporated. Stir in oatmeal and toasted coconut flakes. 

 
 

4. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet and press cookie down slightly with the back of the spoon in the center. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are very lightly browned and set. Allow them to cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack and cooling completely. 












Read more...

Peppermint Bark

>> Thursday, December 13, 2012


I love to make Christmas treats. I look at recipes all year long in anticipation of which ones I'll make each year. Part of the joy of making all these treats is to give it away! One of my favorite things to do is to make gift baskets of homemade treats to give to friends, neighbors, and maybe keep a bit for myself too! 

This year, I'm going a little more low key since Baby Jackson is due any day now, and I want to make a few things in advance that will store for a bit, especially since some of these gift baskets this year will be going to the nurses at the hospital who will be helping me out - God Bless em! :) 


I made the traditional peppermint bark as one of the treats this year. It's so easy, there's no excuse to buy the store bought kind. And considering, with the cost being about $7.00 for an entire batch that can split into multiple servings - it's super affordable - way cheaper than the store bought stuff. And I can guarantee what kind of chocolate is in it - I went for the good stuff since the chocolate is the main ingredient. My favorite is Guittard chocolate. I know I've mentioned it on here before, and I think it's only available in California, but it's AMAZING, and totally worth it - even if you have to order it! :) 


Homemade Peppermint Bark - by Me


Ingredients: 
12 oz Guittard (or other high quality) semi sweet chocolate chips
12 oz Guittard or Ghiradelli white chocolate chips
1 Tbs. vegetable oil (only if needed)
approximately 12 mini candy canes or 6 regular ones

Preparation: 
Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper or silpat. 

In a microwave safe bowl, place semisweet chocolate chips and microwave in 35-45 second increments, stirring after each heating until chocolate is completely melted. Pour and spread chocolate into prepared 9x13" pan. Place in freezer for approximately 20 minutes. 

While the chocolate is chilling, place candy canes in a ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin or glass. 

When there is a few minutes left for the semisweet chocolate, melt the white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second increments until smooth. If chocolate is not completely smooth, add 1 TBS vegetable oil until all smooth. Add about 1/4 of the candy cane mixture into the white chocolate and spread quickly onto chilled semisweet chocolate layer. Sprinkle the rest of the candy canes onto the top of the white chocolate and chill in freezer for an additional 20 minutes. 


Take out of freezer and turn over on cutting board. Use a knife or rolling pin and pound gently to break into pieces. Enjoy. 









Read more...

2nd Annual Blogger Cookie Swap - Nutmeg Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

>> Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I love cookies! and I love Christmas cookies! 

Because I love to be in a sugar coma from cookies starting December 1st through December 31st, I decided to once again participate in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap. This is my second year (and the cookie swaps second year), and it as always is so much fun. The anticipation of cookies coming in the mail is almost more than I can bear! :) 

Thank you to my awesome cookie swap matches! It's always so fun to learn about new bloggers. 
I got some yummy Ginger Molasses Cookies from Allix @ The NonPareil Baker
Sweet and delicious Oatmeal Cranberry white chocolate chip cookies from Kristen @ The Slender Kitchen
And perfectly chewy and unique deep dish chocolate chip cookies from Sarah @ Sensibly Sara


This year I decided to do a twist on my browned butter molasses chocolate chip cookies. These just went up a whole notch! I found a similar recipe to mine that got all crazy delicious in the Ruche holiday recipe guide

These cookies have a hint of coffee, a hint of nutmeg, sweetened condensed milk, and if all that weren't enough, you brown the butter for the most amazing flavor combination. They are intense, but wonderful... and I guarantee you won't be able to eat just one. 

So, I made them all, surprisingly got them all packaged up instead of eating them, and sent them to my matches. Even made a few for friends since they were so yummy. Packaging is half the fun in this cookie swap. Here's how I decided to package mine up this year - hope they made it ok! :)

 

Happy Cookie Swap! 


Nutmeg Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Adapted from She Runs, She Eats - Ruche Holiday Recipes)


Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, browned and cooled to room temperature
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp ground coffee
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Preparation:
1. In a skillet, place butter and allow to melt. Keep cooking for a few minutes until most of the large foam bubbles disappear and butter is golden brown and nutty smelling. I know, very official. :) Remove from heat and allow to cool. 



2. In a large bowl, mix together coffee, flour, nutmeg, salt, and baking soda. Set aside. 


3. In a separate bowl, combine cooled browned butter and brown sugar until combined. Follow this with the sweetened condensed milk, egg, and vanilla. Continue to whisk until smooth. 





4. Stir flour mixture into butter/sugar mixture and continue stirring until all flour is completely mixed in. 


5. Mix in chocolate chips and stir until combined. Mixture will be thick. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.


6. Preheat oven to 350. Roll about 1 1/2" balls of dough. Place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper approximately 1" apart, and press dough down until flattened. Bake cookies for ~13-15 minutes (depending on if you use a metal pan or not), until tops of cookies are crisp and slightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes on baking tray and transfer to cooling rack to complete cooling. 














Read more...