Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's Cooking: Sweet Stuff

Last week was our two-year anniversary, and it was wonderful. As I puttered around the house in the wee hours of the morning I found the sweetest love notes tucked in cupboards, between the pages of my Bible and among my clothes. That evening we dressed up and enjoyed a 4-course extravaganza at The Melting Pot: cheese fondue, salad, a variety of meats and (of course) chocolate. We were served complimentary bubbly and took home six gigantic chocolate-covered strawberries. Nate gave me a beautiful card and played a slideshow he'd put together, from our first date six years ago till the present. I am blessed beyond belief!

The celebration continues next week - we will be in Hawaii sightseeing, surfing, hiking, snorkeling, sunning and NOT blogging! So in the meantime, please enjoy a collection of my favorite Pinterest treats. I recommend making these for some kind of party or gathering...otherwise you'll end up like me, standing at the kitchen counter and eating an entire batch of cake batter rice krispie treats out of the pan. True story.

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Strawberry Napoleons: After a miserable Knock You Naked brownie fail (in which the brownies weren't sufficiently cooked when I poured the melted caramel over them, resulting in a rock-hard crust and gooey uncooked-ness underneath...) I attempted these Napoleons in a last-ditch effort for a dinner party. Good heavens, am I glad I did. Don't leave out the toasted almonds - they complement fresh strawberries and custard for an out-of-this-world flavor. Dust some powdered sugar over the top, and everyone will think you're a pastry extraordinaire. Gorgeous and delish!

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Oatmeal Cookie Dough Bites: I have an insatiable craving for raw cookie dough. These are made without eggs, butter or sugar, and full of protein! I keep them in the freezer for a quick, filling snack when I'm dying for something sweet.

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies: In keeping with the raw cookie dough theme, these are of a much less healthy but to die for variety. Everyone that I've made them for - including myself - can't stop eating them! I didn't have enough chocolate chips to do glaze on the top, but they are incredible without it.

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Cranberry Oat Scones: Any Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice or Little Women marathon is incomplete without scones and tea. Over the years I've made many varieties of scones, and these are hands-down my favorite. My friend Leslie introduced me to lemon curd, and these + lemon is simply indescribable. Make these today, even if you don't have curd. They are healthy(ish), filling and so, so good.

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And finally, my demise: Cake Batter Rice Krispie Treats. I'm one of those strange people who would rather eat cake batter straight from the bowl than a slice of baked cake. And rice krispie treats - need I say more? When I recovered from my pan-eating binge I promptly took the rest to work, where they disappeared by the end of the day. I guess you can never outgrow sprinkles and rice krispies! (I also tried a popcorn version for youth group - the kids loved it but leftovers tasted soggy by the next day.)

Cook up a batch o'sweetness this weekend - and keep an eye out for Hawaii pictures!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Year Two of an Awfully Big Adventure

I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. 
I hold myself supremely blest - blest beyond what language can express; 
because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine...
To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. 
- Jane Eyre

I hope I never forget a single detail of June 20, 2010. The sun shone brightly, and the normally sultry summer air was as clear and radiant as I felt. I woke up early and finally tore the last link of the looong paper chain we had made together. After three years of dating, our 359-day engagement should've been a breeze. Instead it was one of the most agonizing things I'd ever gone through. And on that day, June 20, it was finally over - the endless waiting, the "already but not yet" tension to define boundaries on a relationship that was so much more than dating, but not marriage. In just a few hours we would finally - finally! - belong to one another.

I squirmed and butterflied my way through that never-ending day. Bridesmaids and beauticians drifted into my living room; someone showed up with a lunch tray but eating was the last thing on my mind. Nathan and I had decided not to communicate for the two days between the rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony, and all I could think about was what he was doing and how he must be feeling. The words that had been swimming in my head for days finally took form, fueled by the butterflies, and I scrambled to my bedroom to finish writing my vows to him in a tiny notebook. 

Finally it was time to go. Sisters, bridesmaids, parents, suits and dresses piled into our trusty family van, and we careened down rustic back roads accompanied by many bumps and a near-death experience when Dad, caught up in the moment, failed to notice a red light. We pulled up to the stately white mansion nestled among acres of forested mountains, and amid cries of "The boys are almost here! Hurry!!" raced past throngs of volunteers hooking up sound equipment, placing tables and chairs and making lemonade.

Sequestered on the third floor of that grand mansion I zipped blue dresses, admired vibrant coral flowers, spied on guests, choked down two strawberries and paced. After what seemed an eternity I was finally squeezed and sewn into my own dress, bejeweled, perfumed and rushed down the stairs for bridal portraits on the lawn. Too late! Guests clustered around the stairs and everywhere I turned. Panicked at being spotted before I walked down the aisle, I raced back up the stairs and we clicked off some portraits in record time and in all kinds of unique places like the bathroom and an old armchair. Props to my all-time favorite photographer, Kristen Leigh, who is a master of genius in unexpected, time-crunched scenarios! (Check out her own love story - a romance that only God could have written.) Second-shooters Abby Leigh and Ellie Berry were equally phenomenal. I'm so impressed by teenage proteges.

While waiting to walk down the aisle I read a darling letter penned by my groom as he sweated anxiously in the room below me, and caught a few glimpses of him in the garden while the guys had their portraits done. My heart threatened to fly right out of my chest. I was really and truly marrying the handsomest man this side of heaven.

Finally it was time. I lined up behind my ten best girls and descended three sets of stairs. At the bottom I made eye contact with my dad, and the look on his face was priceless. I spent my last moments as a single gal giggling with my sisters and whispering with Dad. Pachelbel's Canon echoed over the loudspeakers and my beautiful, beautiful bridesmaids floated down the aisle. My hand tightened on Dad's arm. A moment of silence...and the words of Jon McLaughlin's "So Close" reverberated into the stillness. "Now you're beside me/ And look how far we've come/ So far, we are so close." The instrumental interlude soared, we rounded the corner and suddenly I was taking the walk I'd always dreamed of towards the man I loved more than anything in the world.

The song was one of Nathan's favorites, and I'd stalwartly kept my choice a secret from him. My goal was to make this strong and steady young man weep as I appeared in all my bridal beauty and waltzed down the aisle to become his. Nate beamed uncontrollably and did not shed a tear, but four years of pent-up emotions and longings overwhelmed me. He hugged my dad and took my hand with that special smile reserved just for me. My welling tears overflowed and I ruined my makeup sobbing all the way through "How Great Thou Art." I managed to compose myself long enough to say my vows, ring his finger and share the world's longest kiss - then after we'd marched triumphantly up the aisle I collapsed again in a sea of relieved tears.

I remember thinking, "We're officially man and wife and that's all that matters - let's get out of here!" But there were still guests to be greeted, pictures to be taken and dances to be danced. The next few hours were a blur of portraits, wedding party antics, summer evening newlywed bliss as the shutters clicked unnoticed, a humming smoothie bar, scrumptious dinner buffet, greeting dear friends from near and far, hugging and laughing and countless kisses to the din of ringing dinner glasses. I have never had so much fun. All too soon it was time to dance: with my dad, with my beloved and he with his mom. Our men and maids of honor gave toasts, and we presented our dads with a surprise cake in honor of Father's Day.

Speaking of cake - my aunt concocted a literal confectionary wonder, the likes of which I've never seen. I'd warned Nathan about not getting me dirty, but when we cut the cake he saw the evil glint in my eye and automatically defended himself by shoving a fistful of cake up my nose. Some things never change.

I threw my flowers, he flung my garter and we danced briefly and ferociously with our guests before rushing upstairs to change. I had a short bout of hysteria when I realized that I was now a married woman and would never again cuddle up alone in my bright green bedroom or stay up too late whispering with my sister. She consoled me, fastened my going-away dress, grabbed my luggage and we took one last picture together. I met Nathan at the bottom of the stairs and we grinned at each other, giddy with excitement about the future that we would finally face together. We ran through a sea of bubbles blown by raucous guests, hopped into his Camry and drove away into the night.

The next few weeks were a flurry of honeymooning in Cancun, opening wedding gifts, packing up all our earthly belongings, saying goodbye to everyone I'd grown up with and road tripping to a new life in Texas where we had no one but each other. We laughed a lot, loved more and fought seldom. After years apart, spending every minute with my beloved was paradise. We never have to say goodbye again - and that is the profoundest relief I've ever known.

Nathan, the past two years with you have far surpassed my loftiest expectations. I see you day in and day out, and I more than anyone can say that your character is genuine to the core. Your love and honor for me never fluctuates with my moods and sinfulness. Every day you treat me as your bride, your treasure, in ways that I do not deserve. You sacrifice for me without complaint. You cheerfully put up with the messes I make in the kitchen, my temperamental cat and my everlasting showers. You, more than anyone I know, define love to me: patient, kind, not jealous or rude, nor irritable or resentful, not arrogant or self-seeking. Bearing, believing and enduring all things. Never ending. In spite of your many talents and a demanding work schedule, you esteem me and never cause me to question where I fall in your priorities. You are a man who lays down his life for his wife as Christ did for the church. Having lived and learned with you these past two years, I can honestly say that I have fallen increasingly deeper in love with you every day since our wedding. You have stolen my heart, forever and always. I love you -- the most!

This is my beloved, and this is my friend. 
- Song of Songs 5:16

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Dad

My dad is one of the most diligent, dedicated, God-fearing and humble men I've ever met. I have learned so much from his example of hard work and single-minded pursuit of God. He embraces challenges head-on and never stops until a job is done.

Some of my earliest memories of Dad include his impeccable brown suit and the many cases of equipment he would load up for a night of square dance calling (at one time Dad was a real, live celebrity). But after becoming one of the youngest professional callers in the industry, Dad stepped away from a successful career to take over his father's painting and drywall business so he could spend more time with his family.

Running his own business and overseeing the homeschooling of six kids never stopped my dad from making a myriad of memories with us. Staying up late shelling peanuts and watching Orioles games, laughing ourselves sick over Looney Tunes, the Three Stooges and the Muppets; family worship with Dad strumming the guitar, spontaneous, drive-all-night trips to Florida and Williamsburg, beach vacations, Bible classes and devotions, impossibly corny jokes and dress-up, shaving with toothbrushes, skits and story times and wrestling matches, chasing the ice cream man, sliding around in the back of his pickup truck, logging countless driving hours and, my all-time favorite, "going to work with Dad."

I loved climbing into the creaky white paint van, lunch box in hand, and driving to work sites in Pennsylvania, D.C. and Virginia. Together we taped, papered, sanded, painted and explored old houses. I drank in the scent of fresh paint and talked Dad's ear off. No matter what childish stage I was going through, he listened hard and asked all the right questions. Dad is the best conversationalist. When I was at school in Philadelphia he would drive three hours each way to catch up with me over Friendly's sundaes. When I came home to visit, Dad and I - always the early risers - would make coffee and talk away the hours before everyone else woke up. Our talks are more rare nowadays but we pick up right where we left off, and he somehow always remembers and asks the details of my busy life.

My love language is gifts, and Dad is officially the Gift King. He would often come home from work with a surprise behind his back that was the perfect find for someone or other in the family. Dad supplied my Safari Eeyore and Punxsutawney Phil which travel with me to this day, much to Nathan's chagrin. He also supplied most of my DVD collection - he would stock up on DVDs all year and let us start opening them on Thanksgiving all the way up to Christmas. Now that I've moved away, Dad still sends me cards and texts of things that remind him of me. Apparently there is a surprise en route to me right now :)

My dad and I had a somewhat strained relationship throughout my growing-up years (what I lacked in gentleness and self-control I more than compensated for in hard-headedness). Dad's training and counsel over the years has stuck with me to this day. He walked me through studies on humility and Proverbs and taught me to spend time in silence listening for God's voice. When I struggled through doubts and fears about a future with Nathan, Dad opened the Bible and showed me verse after verse about God's sovereignty and His plan for our lives. I sometimes joke that at first, Dad liked Nathan more than I did. Dad knew the best and the worst of me even better than I knew myself, and saw in Nathan from very early on an anchor and guardian of my headstrong self. I must say, he made a pretty good match :)

Two years ago, I did the unthinkable to my dad and got married on Fathers' Day. In hindsight, I'm so glad I did. My favorite memories of my dad were made on my wedding day. We got up early and listened to Billy Joel classics. I surprised him with a Fathers' Day cookie cake. Neither of us are at all mushy, but when I walked down the stairs in my dress, Dad lit up. He couldn't stop looking at me. As the music soared and we began the walk down the aisle, he held the hand resting on his arm and whispered to me the entire way: that I was lovely and his pride and his princess. When we reached a furiously smiling Nathan, Dad put my hand in his and said, "I present to you our trophy." He chose Gary Puckett's "This Girl Is a Woman Now" for our father-daughter dance, and shushed my chattering to listen to the words and soak in the moment. I will never forget the day when Dad's pride and delight in me shone through every word and moment.

Happy Fathers' Day to the perfect Dad for me. I love you and am so grateful for your faithful care and guidance.

Train up a child in the way he should go; 
even when he is old he will not depart from it. 
- Proverbs 22:6

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What's Cooking: Mexican

The time has come for me to write a post devoted entirely to food, inspired for the most part by Pinterest. I'm happy to say that I've actually made many of the recipes that I've pinned on my Good Eats board. If you don't have a Pinterest account, get one. And follow me!

Here are summaries of recent recipes with a Mexican twist, all of which I'd recommend:

Chipotle's Cilantro Lime Rice: I'm obsessed with Chipotle's rice. When my Chipotle-addicted husband gets his regular fix I'll usually order a bowl of rice for a snack ($0.90, holla!), and this version tasted almost exactly like the real thing. Experiment with the quantities of lime juice and cilantro to find your perfect flavor.

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Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad: In keeping with the Chipotle theme, I attempted this recipe to satisfy Nathan's constant cravings. It was so. good. I sauteed some chicken with salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin and it went perfectly with the adobe dressing.

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Watermelon Lime Frosty: This is my new all-time favorite summer beverage: fruity, all-natural and faintly sweet. I eliminated the banana since it overpowered the watermelon flavor, and added just a dash of agave instead of the recommended 2T. Nathan wasn't a huge fan of the lime, so experiment with how much you like added.

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Black Beans and Coconut Lime Rice: Coconut is one of my favorite things on this earth, and this recipe was to die for. I followed the instructions pretty exactly and will definitely make it again. Top with chilled mango cubes to complement the spice.

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Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas: My sister-in-law Catherine is a vegetarian, so when she visited we attempted a meatless version of enchiladas, my all-time favorite food. Nathan and I are both pretty peevish when it comes to veggies, and the only ones considered "safe" (lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers) can be found in our nightly salads. We are also unashamed carnivores. Creating a dish with NO meat and unmentionable ingredients like cauliflower took guts, but the result was astonishing. An unbelievably creamy, savory sauce with just the right amount of spice enveloped the ingredients until we couldn't even tell you what we were eating, but it didn't matter - it was that good. Even Nathan dug in with gusto. Make these soon - they are delicious.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Grace Upon Grace

From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16

I have the most generous God. I have the most generous husband. A couple of weeks ago he forked up the cash for the prettiest little car I've ever owned:

Anyone who's ever ridden in my 1997 bumperless, chronically-trumpeting clunker is probably breathing an exaggerated sigh of relief, but this beauty is so much more than I ever asked or imagined. We got a heck of a deal and my new favorite thing is cruising the town at night, silently jetting down the highway in automatic or manual (somehow, I can choose either) while the dashboard blazes blue and neon orange. I hope I never wake up.

Aside from a gorgeous new ride, last month was filled to bursting with goodness. I had the privilege of baptizing the graduating senior in our youth group, Gabby, and it was definitely the highlight of my ministry so far. We had company every weekend: my wonderful sister-in-law, a dear friend from high school and my sister/partner-in-nonsense/best friend on earth.

Christene and I had the time of our lives, to put it lightly. Almost the second her plane touched down I whisked her away on a surprise birthday trip. We hit up the Riverwalk in San Antonio, ate delicious fajitas and then - surprise of surprises - we found ourselves front and center of a Jon McLaughlin concert. He sang directly to us the whole evening and even played the song I walked down the aisle to (So Close), per our special request. I'm pretty sure Jon will be the featured entertainment every evening in Heaven.

My friend Leslie treated us to an overnight at her parents' beautiful mountain home, and a waffle bar the next morning. We shopped the day away in Gruene and San Marcos, and re-lived the best and worst moments of our childhoods at Cracker Barrel. The rest of the week was a whirlwind of librarying, good friends, discovering tea rooms, homemade pastry and laughing ourselves sick at choice moments of the American Idol finale. Putting her back on a plane felt a little like sending my right arm to Africa.


Crab Casserole a la Mitford. Heaven in a dish.

Tea room delicacies

I miss home. Lately I've been especially treasuring phone calls from old friends and growing-up-too-fast sisters, one of which remarked yesterday, "In re-thinking my childhood, I've realized that I was a much worse kid than I'd thought." This same sister once scared me out of my wits by sneaking around on the roof at 3 am. Apparently my incorrigible influence will go down in infamy...