Sunday, September 18, 2011

Amazing Broccoli and Cheddar Soup Lightened

With the discovery of Pinterest, I've devoted some well-spent time to recipe hunting and pinning and seem to have rediscovered my love of cooking new dishes. As a busy, working mom, I am always on the lookout for quick and healthy meals that can either be prepared ahead and reheated, frozen and baked the night of, or slow cooked. I've stumbled upon some real goodies lately and thought I'd share them here.

This recipe for Broccoli and Cheddar Soup came via Mangio Da Sola but I believe it was originally from Sugarcrafter. When you think broccoli and cheddar soup, you probably don't think healthy, but I've lightened it up in two ways, and since making it this afternoon, I've discovered that I could reduce the fat and calories even further but decreasing the amount of cheese without diminishing the flavor.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup Lightened

  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 c. fat free evaporated milk (subbed for half and half)
  • 1 c. fat free milk
  • 2 c. fat free chicken broth
  • 1/2 lb. broccoli, chopped (don't chop too small - it will disintegrate as it cooks)
  • 1 c. grated cheddar cheese (reduced from a total of 3 cups)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onion and garlic in the butter over medium heat until soft. Add the flour, stirring constantly. Add the evaporated milk, milk, and chicken broth. Bring to just below a boil. Add the broccoli and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cheese and then season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. By now the soup should be thick and creamy.

Serves 6

One serving contains 228 calories, 14 grams of fat and 6 Weight Watchers Points Plus points.

It was deliciously filling without being too rich. Perfect for this lovely fall weather!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cutting for Stone

When I finished Cutting for Stone I knew immediately I had to write about it here on the blog. But I've put it off because, like any amazing piece of literature, my re-digestion of its contents seems inadequate. What really can be said that hasn't been said itself in the book or the sonnet or the play? Any words of mine feel simple and incomplete.

And yet still I feel compelled to spread the word so that maybe one of you will experience the pleasure and the pain that is this quiet tour de force. As one dear friend put it, this books lives with you after you finish it. I could think of no better way to describe it.

Cutting for Stone is epic on a small scale. How's that for a contradiction? This tome, and tome it is at well over 500 pages, spans more than 50 years and 2 generations, crossing continents and borders, breaking language barriers, bridging religious and cultural divides without ever losing its beautiful thread or clear voice.

The book begins in medias res narrated by older twin, Marion Stone. He quickly establishes one of the many conflicts that define this book. Marion's mother was a nun and father was a surgeon at the hospital where she worked. His mother is now dead and his father is gone. He takes the reader on a journey back in time to discover what happened leading up to his unlikely birth, establishing along the way the character of his deeply religious mother and somewhat distant but incredibly driven father. The story of his and his brother Shiva's birth is truly dramatic and kept me riveted for chapter after chapter while every medical detail was described not with the clinical detachment of a medical textbook but the poetic beauty of the literary heart.

After the twins's birth and their biological father's hasty departure, the story arc shifts and redirects focus on the twins and their relationships with one another, their adopted parents, and their childhood friend Genet. From here, the real journey begins and conflicts established -- broken relationships, political upheaval, visceral betrayal, guarded secrets, and serious illness, culminating in the ultimate sacrifice.

Although Cutting for Stone is full of raw emotion and unfathomable choices, it is a book full of hope because it is preeminently a love story. Love in all forms, adoptive, biological, marital, fraternal, collegial, theological  and romantic. It is a story about love across the ages, love that endures even when its source has been extinguished, love that is not limited by geography or time or relationship, love that heals and restores that which is divided and broken and lost. At its heart Cutting for Stone is a story of redemptive love.

It reminds me of the end of one of my favorite children's books, which all three of mine love to this day, called No Matter What. The little fox in the story, Small, asks his dad, "'But what about when we're dead and gone, would you love me then, does love go on?' Large held Small snug as they looked out at the night, at the moon in the dark and the stars shining bright. 'Small, look at the stars - how they shine and glow, but some of those stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies. Love, like starlight, never dies.'"

Love, like starlight, never dies.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Latest Feathered Friend

This guy visited us last Friday. Trey spotted him perched on the railing of our back deck while we were eating breakfast at the kitchen table.

He was smaller in both stature and girth than a typical red-tailed hawk, making me think that he was possibly a juvenile. These pictures aren't great since they were taken through a screened window at a distance of our kitchen table. We seem to be a veritable magnet for wildlife.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Watermelon Is Cucumber

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I've spent a lot of time enjoying my garden. Some of it, like the herbs and the cherry tomatoes, have been a smashing success. Other parts, like the peppers and zucchini have been abysmal failures.

The watermelon went in really late this year and I didn't have high hopes to begin with, and then when it began to grow and grow and grow, they did rise. The watermelon literally took over one major section of my flower bed with its trailing tendrils. When I spotted the first fruit, I was ecstatic.

This little beauty you see before you on my kitchen counter seemed ready to be picked. It hadn't grown any in about a week and although a bit on the small side, I figured it was just a petite variety. I picked the watermelon, chilled it for perfect consumption, and then made that first juicy cut.

Imagine my dismay to discover that what I had cut into more closely resembled a swollen cucumber than a bright, red watermelon. Who knew? Unripe watermelon smells, looks, and tastes like cucumber.

So I did a little digging online and found these tips for determining when your watermelon is truly ripe. Apparently, it's not an exact science and harder than you think. I have one more that's a decent size and I'm bound and determined not to pick it too early. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

First Day of School...Sort of

Yesterday was the first day of preschool for Genevie and Davis. Here they are ready to embark on the one block journey to school.

See how ready Evie is with her little Winnie the Pooh backpack stuffed with one of her favorite books and her latest stuffed doggy obsession? You know, just the school necessities.

The brick building just beyond that cherry tree is the church where the children go to preschool. Sadly, however, it turned out that Genevie's play group doesn't start for a couple of weeks. Thankfully she is young enough that the trek to the school wearing a backpack constituted the fulfillment of her school attending dream and she was perfectly content to return home with Trey none the wiser. Ah, the blissful ignorance of being two.

Davis had a great day!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What I Learned in Kindergarten

Tuesday was Addison's first day of first grade, and perhaps as a testament to how quickly the summer passed, it's been surprising how easily we have slipped back into the old morning routine. Through our experiences last year, we've learned a few things along the way.What works and what doesn't. Our mornings have become far more streamlined, but they will change again slightly next week when the other two start preschool 3 mornings a week. Davis will be in Pre-K with a more academically focused program. Genevie will attend play group, a much more informal setting.

You may remember last April I did a post entitled Why We Aren't Homeschooling. Since then I've come across a helpful and challenging series of articles entitled The Weaker, The Stronger, The Homeschooler by Tim Challies, a Toronto pastor, as well as a review he did of the book Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School. These have been encouraging resources for me as sometimes our choice to send Addison to public school has felt, in an ironic twist, like a counter-cultural one in my circle of friends. Quite the reverse from when I was homeschooled.

I thought it would be appropriate as a kick-off to this school year to discuss some of the lessons Trey and I learned from Addison's first year in school.

You must advocate for your child
One of the disadvantages of being involved in an entity which, for all intents and purposes, is actually a fairly meandering bureaucracy is that you are sometimes the only advocate for your child. This means you have to make your voice heard above the din. We were confronted with this reality the very first week of school when there was tremendous confusion about how Addison would be going home after school since he had been automatically issued a bus pass given our address. Even when he would explain that his Daddy was coming to pick him up, because he was a Kindergartener, his word wasn't taken seriously, and this did produce a few tears and phone calls from the office. We got it sorted but only when I made a lot of noise and went to the principal. I realize that my child wasn't the only one in the school of several hundred so to get the attention I needed I, unfortunately, had to become a squeaky wheel. Lesson-learned.

Good teachers do exist
Addison had a wonderful Kindergarten teacher who really took the time to help him through some of his adjustment pains. When he was showing signs of not being ready to move up to first grade due to immaturity, lack of focus, and difficulty following routines, she put in extra time to help him get to where he needed to be. She didn't have to do it, but she did it anyway, willingly. And that I will never forget. I think public school teachers can get a bad rep. So far I have only been delighted.

You still know your child best
As we worked with Addison's teacher on some of his struggles, it became apparent that some of the ways the teacher wanted to handle situations were actually counter-productive. Trey and I know Addison well, what makes him tick and how to get through to him. His teacher knew some aspects of him, and it was necessary for us to help her understand what we already knew about him so that she could be more effective at her job. Here again we learned not to be shy about advocating for our child.

The home/school connection is key
What ties all of the preceding points together is the home/school connection. An open line of communication between teacher and parents is critical. You are not there all the time to see what is going on in school and it's important if changes need to occur that you are kept abreast of both the current situation as well as the ongoing progress. You can't effectively do your job as a parent without that open dialogue.

Areas of disagreement provide some of the best teaching moments
Trey and I both knew in making the decision to send Addison to public school that he would encounter situations that would butt up against our beliefs and values. This is one of the reasons we actually chose this option. We know that these scenarios provide some of the richest opportunities for Christian education. Nothing drives home lessons of faith than actual experience. Trey and I have worked hard to be in regular conversation with Addison about his friendships, his academics, and teacher interactions and use those as a springboard for instilling in him the truths of God's word. I am so delighted at how I have seen his faith continue to blossom over this past year even as he negotiates the fact that not everyone in his life believes the same things that he does.

When I wrote about sending Addison to public school last year, two of the reasons I listed centered around his need to respect authority figures other than Mom and Dad and his need to learn teamwork. Little did I know how hard these lessons would for him. Last year was an incredibly stretching year for all of us. I am pleased to report that through a lot of hard work and the dedication of his teacher, Addison was able to overcome many of the issues that centered around his social immaturity as a boy who just wanted to run around and play. Academics were never a problem. He excels in his subjects, and although  hard to go through, it was necessary for Trey and I to face Addison's weaknesses through the eyes of an outsider. It grew us as parents as well as him as an individual. We were so pleased with the outcome and are very excited by who his first grade teacher is this year, Mrs. G, someone he really grew fond of last year and was hoping for. I know this will be another year of personal and academic growth and I am eager to see God's work in his and our lives.