31 December 2008

2008: the year in pictures.

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot

I saw some friends do this on their own blogs, and I thought it would be a neat way to capture 2008 - a photo for each month.

...a winter walk through the neighborhood with my niece.

...buds appearing on the Bradford Pear in preparation for spring.

...a perfect beach day in California with Jen.

...our back yard comes to life again.

...discovery of the Cedar Ridge Preserve, a mere 20 minutes from our house...who knew?

...a trip back home to New Jersey - enjoying the mild weather and tall, tall trees at my parents' house.

...celebrating 3 years with my wonderful husband.

...a visit from Victoria for Labor Day.

..."young and fabulous" ladies' night out with Suz in Nashville.

...a trip to New Jersey to enjoy the gorgeous fall foliage.

...one less item on the "life list" - we finally visited The Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center in NYC!

...a meaningful, handmade Christmas.

29 December 2008

Christmasy home.

I took these today. Only a few more days to enjoy the lovely light of Christmas in our home. Until next year....

by day.

by night.


Hope your Christmas was BEAUTIFUL.

15 December 2008

Winter breakfast.

I had the most delicious wintry breakfast this morning. I got the idea after visiting Full Quiver Farm on Saturday, where we get our eggs, cream, milk, and cheese. Debbie, the mother of the Mennonite family who runs the farm, was telling me that every morning before milking the cows, they have a big, hearty family breakfast of farm-fresh eggs and sausage and toast (from her homemade bread of course). But on special days, they have oatmeal with fried apples, honey, cinnamon, and fresh, raw cream. I begged her to tell me step-by-step how she did it.

I was salivating by the end of the conversation.

So this morning, I decided to try her oatmeal concoction, except with Pocono Cream of Buckwheat, which I love, and which is also gluten-free.

First, I boiled water in a saucepan and then added enough Cream of Buckwheat for 2 servings with a pinch of salt. I then sliced a Gala apple very thinly, leaving the skin on, and heated up about a tablespoon of butter in a cast-iron skillet. Once the butter was melted, I tossed in the apples and covered them generously with cinnamon. I placed a lid lightly over the pan and let them kinda fry/steam for about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, I retrieved some Medjool dates from the pantry that were left over from my Thanksgiving stuffing. I removed the pits and chopped them up. In the absence of honey or agave or maple syrup, these dates give just the right amount of sweetness, and I love their texture. [Sidenote: they're also a great non-sugar snack for kids!]

Back in the cast-iron skillet, my apples were happily frying/steaming away. You would not believe the aroma that swept through my kitchen when I removed the lid. It was pure heaven, I tell you.

When the buckwheat was done, I split it between two white rustic bowls, my husband peering over my shoulder like a four-year-old kid waiting for some candy. I sprinkled the chopped dates on top, slathered it with fried apples and all the buttery cinnamony sauce, and then poured some raw cream on top.


It kind of looked like this picture, but a million times better. I would have snapped a photo, but Steven and I were too busy eating it up in 3 seconds flat and then begging for more...

11 December 2008

Nutty coconut goodness.

This is the most satisfying cookie I've had in a really long time. It has everything a cookie should possess...rich chocolate, nuts, slightly chewy yet firm texture (not crispy) and great density. In fact, I might even start referring to it as the "PMS Cookie" - it's that good, ladies (and 'gents - who will be thanking me once their women get a hold of these).

The best part? Zero sugar. Zero grains. And you'd never even know it!

Nutty Coconut Cookies
Preheat oven to 350.

Combine in bowl:
1/2 cup nut butter [Choose your favorite - peanut...almond...I like to use raw cashew butter for these cookies.]
1/2 cup agave nectar or raw honey
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped raw nuts [You can use walnuts, pecans, or even a mix. Just don't use roasted nuts! You want them raw.]
Dash of sea salt
1/2 cup mashed 100% unsweetened cacao chips [Basically, these are like chocolate chips, but they're 100% cacao vs. regular baking chips which add sugar. Ghirardelli makes a great one, and you should be able to get it at a regular grocery store.]

Mix all of that together, and then mix in 1/2 cup coconut flour. [You can get this coconut flour at some Whole Foods locations, or you can get some here or here. If you can't find coconut flour, you could probably use another gluten-free flour like this brown rice flour, although I haven't tried that specifically.]

Wet your hands so the dough doesn't stick, and then form the dough into 1-inch balls. Place them on a baking sheet [I line mine with parchment paper]. Bake for 18 minutes at 350 until the tops are golden brown.

If you want them to be even more soft and moist, decrease the baking time to 15-16 minutes. MMMMMM!

You'll be the hit of the Christmas party if you bring these! And no one will fall into a sugar coma.

10 December 2008

True Christmas.

There so many things to love about Christmas. Even as I write this, the house is dark and peaceful except for white twinkle lights, it's a chilly morning outside with a small dusting of snow, and Ray Charles is serenading me with "This Time of the Year" in the background.

But still, something feels strange. Something feels different.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my husband peeped his head out of the attic and started sliding boxes full of Christmas decorations down the retractable attic stairs while I stood at the bottom and caught them. We then watched a new classic, Love Actually, as we filled our Dallas home with gold ribbon, garland and two trees (a big one and a mini) decked with ornaments like my Mikasa Volkswagen Beetle and another of two mice sitting in a stocking that says "Christine & Steven: A Perfect Pair" (a gift from my mom, of course). But about halfway through the evening, something didn't feel right. Suddenly, I blurted out to Steven, "I feel sad."

I almost didn't realize I had said it aloud until he asked me why. At first I couldn't quite pinpoint it. But it was definitely an unwavering sadness that had been lingering all night, more and more with each new ornament removed from its tissue paper wrapping.

One of the things I really appreciate about my husband is that he lets me live my own story, and he knows when I need to figure things out on my own. So there I was, left to process this strange thought in my own silence. I kept rearranging the mantle - shifting around the garland, picture frames, and stocking hooks until I had reached my own personal "perfection." As I placed the little porcelain nativity in the very middle of the mantle, front and center, I realized what was happening.

This year, everything is different. This year, my dad had cancer. That alone would be enough to change everything...but also this year, my husband and I helped start a new business and have less money than we've had in a long time. This year, my brother lost his job and has been unemployed for 4 months. This year, we had more dreams taken from us. This year, I learned that my problems are nothing compared to the abandoned children roaming the dirty streets of Darfur or the precious people fearing for their lives in Congo. With all of that, somehow decorating a house to make it feel whimsical or Christmasy just feels a little bit empty.

And that makes me sad, because I love that part of Christmas - the warm, cozy "it's a wonderful life" feeling. I still want that. I just want to curl up on the couch with my husband and closest friends and my dog Greta at my feet and watch Elf and All I Want For Christmas without a care in the world, totally oblivious to the struggle.

It's kind of like when I first returned from India, and then again a year-and-a-half later, when I returned from Africa. With all the joy and goodness I had experienced on both of those trips, I had also seen some shocking things, and there was this feeling of displacement when I returned to my American life. The only way I can describe it is that I knew, "Things are different now." I had seen the things I had seen. I had experienced the things I had experienced. I could no longer go back to the way things were, to that ignorant, innocent place of not knowing.

So, I guess that's the source of the sadness this year. Things have happened in life - difficult things. My family was exposed to cancer. We can no longer rely on the security of money. People all over the place are losing their jobs. To think of going crazy in a shopping mall buying a bunch of gifts or filling our lives (and the lives of our friends and family) with more stuff that we don't need just seems so pointless.

Because with all honesty, I can say that I have never truly experienced what Christmas is all about...even growing up in a church with the yearly Christmas Eve candlelight service and the children's Christmas musical and all the gifts on Christmas morning. Why do we even decorate a tree? Why do we fill our homes with white lights? What really is "advent?" all about?

In talking to my dear friend Jenni who celebrates advent every year with her husband, I'm learning more about the meaning, the glorious expectation. The celebration. It's not that Christ was born on December 25th. It's that at least once a year, we stop our ever-growing, ever-more-complicated lives and listen. We stop to remember the beauty of what's behind it all, the foundation of it all: Jesus Christ knew we needed help and that we couldn't do this thing on our own. So He did the most radical act of love possible...He came down to us. He said, "I'm going to make myself a human so I can go and live among them, to show them real love."

John 1: 14 says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Stop and think about that for a second. To me, that is the most beautiful single line in the entire Bible. Encapsulated in that one sentence is all the sacrificial love imaginable.

I realize I'm getting started a little late for "advent" this year, but I'm going to do my best to refocus. The Advent Conspiracy website is helping me learn more about how to practically live out "the something different" that's stirring in my heart. I also love this website, a resource from Jenni's hubby.

In processing all this, I've learned that I can no longer enjoy the decorations and the music and the parties and the Christmas feasts without deeply knowing a greater purpose. I still think my livingroom looks beautiful and cozy. I still can't wait for our Christmas party. But more than that, God saved my dad. I don't need money to have joy. I don't need more stuff in order to be fulfilled. My home can reflect the peace and joy in our lives, but it's only a shell. This year, if for the first time, I want to see through all the distraction and experience true Christmas. I want to experience Christ.

01 December 2008

I NEED AFRICA - launched today!

Remember the "I need Africa more than Africa needs me" campaign that I blogged about last week? It LAUNCHED today! If you want to get an amazingly comfortable American Apparel Tshirt that also benefits Africa (and even some for Christmas gifts...), then check this out...

When I think of Africa, the following images immediately come to mind: Starvation. AIDS. Child soldiers. Genocide. Sex slaves. Orphans. From there, my thoughts naturally turn to how I can help, how I can make a difference. “I am needed here,” I think. “They have so little, and I have so much.” It’s true, there are great tragedies playing out in Africa everyday. There is often a level of suffering here that is unimaginable until you have seen it, and even then it is difficult to believe. But what is even harder is reconciling the challenges that many Africans face with the joy I see in the people. It’s a joy that comes from somewhere I cannot fathom, not within the framework that has been my life to this day. [read more]

Also, look at this beautiful video...