Saturday, March 28, 2009

Creamy Potato and Spinach Soup

It's a snowy day and shows no signs of letting up. With a busy week, I didn't prepare, and while I would get outside for ingredients, I decided to make do with my pantry and last night's leftovers. This recipe is loosely based on this one from, you guessed it, Giada DiLaurentiis.

Creamy Potato and Spinach Soup

Ingredients: one shallot, 2 celery ribs, 2 potatoes, 4 cups of chicken broth, about 2 or 2.5 cups of spinach (or whatever greens you like), and 1/4th cup of cream (or 3 Laughing Cow cheese wedges).

Oil the bottom of a fairly deep saucepan and cook 1 finely chopped shallot and 2 finely chopped ribs of celery. Season with garlic salt and black pepper.

Cook shallot and celery until transparent and fragrant. Add 2 peeled and diced potatoes to the pot (I used Yukon Gold) and 4 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil on high heat and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

I prepared this whole wheat cornbread in the meantime.

Add about 2 cups of finely chopped spinach leaves and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Place potatoes and vegetables in the blender and add stock, just until veggies are covered. I separated these using a strainer and a bowl in my sink because I just realized I don't have a slotted spoon.

Giada's recipe called for 1/4th cup of cream, which I didn't have on hand, so I combined three Laughing Cow creamy cheese wedges with about 1/2 tablespoon of milk, mashed the cheese, and added it to the blender. Puree until smooth.

Return puree to the pot with the remaining stock and stir until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I melted a little parmesan cheese into my pot at this time.

We ate this soup up, served with warm honey cornbread. I am going to try variations on this soup, possibly adding half of a minced yellow onion to the pot at the beginning and some carrots.

Friday, March 27, 2009

one of those weeks

I am determined to get back into regular blogging sooner or later. But for now, I will tell you all about my terrible, no-good, horrible week.

Friday: JT and I leave for a long weekend in Dallas. We miss an exit and get lost about an hour and a half out of our way. iPhone GPS confusion ensues on my part for another 40 miles or so.
Saturday & Sunday: We get lost even more.
Tuesday: I wake up with some kind of stomach bug, but go to work anyway to have a debriefing meeting. Once again, I receive deserved frustration, but somehow do not get fired.
Wednesday: Stomach is still out of sorts, but I can't really complain about much else. Oh yeah. We come home from my parents' house late at night to find kitchen ants.
Thursday: Still ailing from unknown sickness. Client comes from out of town to discuss a totally unrelated issue. Their version of "training" us means picking three press releases I have written, re-writing them and then reading both versions aloud and asking my boss, their boss, and all of the people who report to me which one they like better. Yes, everyone knows I have written the offending copy. Yes, if I only had to write three press releases, I might have time to enhance them accordingly. I don't mind and, in fact, welcome constructive criticism. Still not sure, however, if I'm a big fan of the way it was executed.
Friday: is going to be a better day.

Now for the good parts of this week:

Dallas - Even though we spent an entire tank of gas and over 100 miles of gas just being lost getting to and around the city, we had a lot of fun in Dallas when I wasn't thinking about work. We got to see and stay with my amazing friend Candace in her cute apartment. She showed us around Southlake, finally helped me pick out some haute clothing, and was a wonderful hostess who made us an amazing frittata our first morning. We also attended a book expo and JT got to see his man crush, Donald Miller. (I said hi to him.) Our famous author friends and premarital counselors, who are pretty much a big deal, took us for Cheesecake Factory (Yes, we fudged on Lent. Again. That's a different blog post!) and for a tour of Turtle Creek, a really nice part of Dallas. I also got to see my cousin for the first time in nine years, and he cooked us an amazing dinner at his super sweet house! Then we got to have brunch with my grandparents at their posh country club on our way out of town. Special bonus: we didn't get lost on our way home.

Body - I have lost five pounds not eating sugar and flour (99% of the time!) and being sick.

JT has been totally amazing and supportive this week. He has been understanding when I haven't cooked dinner at all this week. He is such a sweet husband and I'm so blessed to have him! Wednesday night, we went to my parents' house, watched LOST and American Idol, and RELAXED. Yeah, baby!

I think weeks like these are good wake up calls. I was telling a friend of mine today that being broken by God can be the best feeling in the whole world because it reminds you that feeling in itself is good. Anyway, I have been totally sustained and comforted this week by this song and it's my prayer right now:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

one long-winded epiphany

Do you ever have one of those epiphany moments? Where an idea pops into your head and suddenly everything makes sense?

Just to give you some back story, I earned a degree I am barely using. My English classes were stimulating and challenging. I started tutoring and absolutely loved it. I wanted to be an Advanced Placement English teacher like my two favorites in high school. No offense, but my education classes made me feel like I was back in elementary school again. The professors spoke to us like we were three years old. So I dropped the education part of my degree after discovering that I could get a master’s degree and take tests for alternative certification. (And it meant I didn’t have to take Shakespeare class!)

Then, my last semester of college, the English department hired a new professor straight from grad school. She’d come from Rice, one of the most prestigious programs in the region, and had very different methods than the professors who’d earned their doctorates twenty years ago. I didn’t like this side of grad school, this emphasis on literary theory and criticism. While I loved the who, what, where, when, and especially the how aspect of literature, I loathed asking why when these dead authors weren’t around to answer the hidden social, psychological, and contextual implications that motivated their works.

As na├»ve as it sounds, I felt like I was betraying literature, that I appreciated art for art’s sake and didn’t like the direction literary study was heading one bit. And if that made me less intellectual, I didn’t care. It didn’t help matters that the semester before, I experienced what I believed to be a shift in learning style: where I’d always believed myself to be right-brained, I was now exhibiting left-brained tendencies.

And thus, I graduated from college pledged to three academic honor societies and even delivered the commencement address to my classmates and professors: I did everything right, but had no clue what I was going to do with my life or what my degree would amount to.

I went back to school to study science, but only learned one thing. As I sat in the hallway outside the science classrooms, drinking a smoothie I’d exchanged for tutoring a pre-med student on chemistry formulas, I realized I had a gift for teaching, but still felt that somehow I wasn’t called to it full-time. Equations, body parts, formulas, and scientific concepts were only comprehended as I was teaching them to others.

One thing led to another, and I landed a job I loved once I got the hang of it. My degree is beneficial in this line of work because it sharpened my attention to detail and equipped me with discernment and interpretation skills that translate to people, news slants, and story pitches. I love being a book publicist, making clients happy, and knowing this business inside and out.

A few weeks ago, my epiphany happened. In January, one of our close family friends, an 18-year-old boy, collided with a tree after hitting an ice patch skiing, and was comatose for three weeks. After brain swelling, increased brain pressure, and bleeding, he has experienced a miraculous recovery with little neurological implications, yet his promising college football hopes are probably over because he has lost most of the sight in one eye. (We are still praying for this one!)

I had lunch with his mom when she and her son got back from Colorado, where he was staying at one of the top head trauma units in the country. She expressed that one of the first things Colton said when he awakened from his coma was how worried he was about his English grade. He has missed about two months of school, just weeks before his projected high school graduation. Since he goes to a small school, the faculty are working together to develop a program for him as soon as he is ready for school.

No sooner were the words out of her mouth that I immediately volunteered to supplement their help and felt so strongly about it. I’ve been helping my brother a little with his English assignments, and his grade has improved, so why couldn’t I help Colton? His mom expressed her appreciation to me, and I felt so blessed and excited by this prospect.

I am having delusions of grandeur: maybe God intended my college education for this specific reason. But realistically, I know it’s going to be tough, and only God’s intervention will give him the understanding we both need to make this information click. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers over the next few weeks because the second Colton is ready, we will start working on English: writing smooth papers, interpreting literature, improving vocabulary and spelling – whatever he needs the most, I am praying that I can approach him in such a way that not only helps him graduate, but equips him with the knowledge and skill set he needs to achieve at the college level in a few months.

Currently Listening to: Brooke Fraser Pandora station, recommended by Andrea
Currently Watching: Anne Burrell’s “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef” (LOVE HER!)
Currently Reading: (re-reading) Harry Potter 6
Currently Cooking: tomato basil garlic shrimp with white wine orzo and steamed asparagus

Thursday, March 5, 2009

blessing? or curse?

This morning, I woke up, MADE BREAKFAST, and got in my car on time for work and then remembered: my car's running on fumes. Whoops. I am the type of girl who gets the most out of every tank of gas before filling up. Luckily, there's a QuikTrip just on the other side of our neighborhood and I could pick up one of their yummy sandwiches for lunch.

A few weeks ago, my bank sent me a new check card, saying my account may have been compromised. I put it off because my old card still worked until yesterday at lunch. So I activated my new card over the phone. "Your card has been activated," it said. No big deal. Well this morning, it wouldn't work. Twice.

So I didn't have enough gas to get to work and I didn't have money to get gas because my check card won't activate. I called the lady at the bank and she said she couldn't do anything unless she sent me a new card. Problem is: I already have a new card on the way to me under my married name. (Yes, almost a year later.) But she told me that that wouldn't work since it had my old card number on it, which confuses me because the new card they sent me has the exact same number?

So I am stuck working from home today, writing press releases with Ellie Krieger and the Food Network playing in the background, and I am about to use my lunch break for a nice long run in the beautiful sunshine!

A blessing in disguise? I think so!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

adventures in lent

For the past few months, I debated observing Lent for the first time in my life. Since I wasn’t raised in a catholic church, I didn’t even know people gave things up until I went to college. People gave up all kinds of things, like chocolate, 7th Heaven, posting to Xanga (the cool blog at the time), and swearing.

Other people vowed to do things every day of Lent, like go to Sunday evening services, have quiet times, etc. Regardless, everyone was making some sort of sacrifice either out of guilty Christian habit, or because they possessed a sincere desire to be intimate with God – to abandon something that was lord of their life and shouldn’t have been.

Inside my mind, a nonverbal tug-of-war played out. Good LB would encourage me to give up sugar and white flour; Bad LB told me I was just setting myself up for failure. Well, I am happy to say that it’s been nearly a week and I have maintained my pact to God to give up sugar and white flour.

My first morning, I discovered that all of my quick work morning breakfast fixes contained sugar, so I scrambled some eggs and added a little Laughing Cow cheese at the end. Wow. I definitely recommend taking the extra time to consume protein at the beginning of the day. It will change your life.

The white flour part is pretty easy overall. On the whole (no pun intended), I choose wheat breads, brown rice, and whole wheat tortillas. Checking packages has been a challenge because it’s a real eye-opener. Does enriched wheat flour count? I googled it and it says that enriched flour—even wheat—could have possibly been white flour originally, but either way, they strip it of its nutrients and then add some extra ingredients to make it “enriched.” This stuff is found in pretty much everything processed – even whole wheat saltines, whole wheat goldfish, and other things you buy to convince yourself you’re making a healthy choice for your body.

Sugar has been an entirely different ordeal. It sneaks up on me in the most unusual places. Ketchup, chicken stock, Lean Cuisines, tomato soup, wheat bread from the store, and the absolute worst secret sugar source in my life: PEANUT BUTTER. I’ve made cornbread, ketchup, and spaghetti sauce from scratch so far. Sugar-free chocolate pudding has been my lifeline when I have a craving for sweets, but I am trying to avoid aspartame and high-fructose corn syrup when I can.

JT gave up chocolate for Lent, but he did have a nice, creamy serving of bread pudding at a fundraiser dinner we went to, and that’s pretty much been the only time I’ve suffered. I found that one of my favorite cereals is sweetened with evaporated cane juice instead of sugar – and it didn’t leave my milk sugary and yellow from the artificial flavorings in other cereals. Also, Kashi waffles are sweetened with the same, so we had a nice breakfast for dinner last night.

On the whole, I have noticed significant changes in my life. For one, I feel better. There are no mid-morning and mid-afternoon carb crashes. My hunger has reduced considerably: my stomach tells me I am hungry instead of my brain and mouth controlling my urges. My pants fit better because I think my water weight has gone down. I am more conscious about checking labels. I think I really want to maintain this lifestyle even after Lent is over. As far as spiritually, I haven’t really felt a sense of sacrifice throughout this experience, but there’s still plenty of time and plenty of lessons God wants to teach me, I’m sure!

I will keep you updated.
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