Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Don’t throw away that ham bone until you’ve made some soup!

Here in Minnesota, it’s not just cold in the winter—it’s BITTERLY COLD! That’s what one of my co-workers said last month as he was experiencing his first exposure to Minnesota winter. In response, I gently reminded him that it was only December. Historically, January is even colder.

All that to say, it’s a great time of the year to think about making soup, especially a crockpot recipe that not only warms you as you eat it, but also warms your kitchen a bit while it’s cooking all day long.

That’s what I did yesterday while I was working from home. I put together a big crockpot of Lentil-Ham Soup in the morning. When my husband came home last night, we both enjoyed this hot, hearty meal. And because it makes a big batch, we’ll enjoy it again as planned-overs in the days ahead.

I choose to title this post “Don’t throw away the ham bone…” because I used a ham bone that my mother-in-law saved for me after baking a ham for Christmas Eve this year. She wrapped it in foil and packed it in a zippered freezer bag along with some of the leftover meat from the meal. She gave it to me because she knows that I’m probably the only woman in our family who regularly makes soup…I’m very thankful to have such a thoughtful and generous mother-in-law.

So that’s one good way to get a hold of a ham bone so that you can make this wonderful recipe. Or, you can do like we also do and watch for sales on bone-in ham before holidays. Our local grocery chain often has a buy-one-get-one-free sale before Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. So we always try to have a ham or two in our chest freezer. Then, because it’s usually just two of us for dinner, I slice each ham into dinner-sized portions, saving the bone for a future soup meal. You can also make this soup without the bone if you just have the meat to use. But I have found that the bone imparts a much richer flavor to the recipe.

Lentil –Ham Soup

1 lb. (2-1/3 cups) dry lentils
1-1/2 cups chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
¼ cup snipped parsley
1 tsp. garlic salt
½ tsp. dried marjoram, crushed
½-tsp. ground black pepper
2 large bay leaves
1 meaty ham bone (about 1-1/2 lbs.)

Add all ingredients to your crockpot, ending with the ham bone on the top. Add 7 cups water. Cover and cook on medium setting for 9-11 hours. Lift ham bone from soup. Remove meat from bone, and chop and return meat to soup. Serves 10.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More photos of Laura's Quilt

A new quilt rack for a newly finished quilt!

My sweet, generous, and thoughtful husband has just finished making a quilt rack for me. He built it out of oak, stained it, and added a large doll rod to hand the quilt. It also has a 5-1/2-wide shelf on top so that I can also use it to display other things, like tea cups, glass figurines, etc...stuff that is now crowding other shelves or is taking up storage room in our closets...What a gift my husband is to me!

The first quilt to hang on this lovely new rack in our spare bedroom is one that I finished binding between Christmas and New Year's. It's called a "Laura's Quilt," and it features redwork embroidery that I finished back in 2002. I finished the quilting last summer, made the bias binding in early November, and finally found time the last weekend of December to bind it.

This quilt has so many precious memories for me. For one, it features embroidery with a Laura Ingall's Wilder theme, including Pa's fiddle, a water bucket, a jar of plum preserves, a bonnet, a butter churn, and even a little girl dressed like Laura and her sisters would have dressed in their time.

My mother each made a quilt like this, though Mom's was finished and hung in my parent's great room years ago. We started them together and worked on them when I went up north to visit her and Dad. It was hard to work on projects like this during the first couple of years after she died, but two years ago I started again, and it's been a blessing to see projects like this finally done...I couldn't help but think how happy Mom would be now if she could see this pretty quilt displayed on my lovely new quilt rack...I am very thankful.

Pork (or Chicken) Fried Rice

We grilled pork steaks recently and ended up grilling more than we needed that night. So I immediately thought of this fried rice recipe that my husband and I both really enjoy.

It originated with a recipe that came from the
Splendid Table program on Public Radio, but I've adapted it quite a bit from the original. I always add more types of vegetables, and I also add oyster sauce just before serving for additional flavor. This makes a big batch, so we generally enjoy it three times before it's all gone.

Oh, and I should mention that the sesame oil, if you haven't tried it before, is a key ingredient in this recipe. You don't use much, but it has a big and important impact on the dish. It adds a lovely warm, nutty flavor that can't be beat! (Store the bottle of oil in the refrigerator after opening.)

4 eggs, beaten
salt and black pepper, to taste
vegetable oil for frying
1 lb. thin-sliced meat (pork or chicken)
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 (generous) cup diced carrots (cooked to tender)
other vegetables as available (I sliced up leftover green and yellow zucchini squash)
6 green onions, sliced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 cups cooked white rice
2 Tbsp. (or more) oyster sauce

In a wok or large non-stick fry pan or pot with a small amount of oil, cook the eggs as if making an omelet without any filling. Season with salt and pepper, and flip once to cook both sides. Then remove to a plate and slice in thin strips to add to the fried rice before serving.

In the same pot, stir fry the meat, using more oil if necessary. (I skipped this step since my meat was already grilled, and then added it after stir frying to reheat it.) Then add the onions and garlic and stir-fry until the onions start to become translucent. Add the mushrooms, carrots, and any other vegetables that you want to use. As I mentioned earlier, I also sliced up some leftover green and yellow zucchini squash.

When the meat and vegetables done, add the cooked rice and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce, then the green onions and eggs. Serve hot, and enjoy!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Resolutions/Goals/Plans for 2008

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about New Year’s Resolutions for 2008, and I’m thinking that posting at least a quick outline of what I’m hoping to accomplish (as the Lord wills) on the blog could help me with accountability and tracking.

I’ve been inspired by what two other women have done on their blogs. If you want to check them out for inspiration, too. See this blog and this one. These two women live very different lives, and they have different approaches to resolution lists, but they both inspired me to get going with my annual list this time.

One thing I’ve found helpful in the past when I’ve made lists like this is to keep my goals quantifiable. Vague goals are easier to make, and sometimes also easier to keep, but for me they’ve also seemed easier to ignore. So the following list is just a start of my Quantifiable Plans for 2008

1) Read through the Bible in a year again. This is something my church encourages, using the Navigator’s Discipleship Reading Plan. Instead of going through the Bible one page and chapter and book at a time, we use four bookmarks to read four different parts each day. One part is from the beginning of the Old Testament. Another part starts with the Psalms, another works through the Gospels, and the fourth starts with the Pauline letters and works through to the end of Revelation. This keeps me motivated, and it gives me a variety of passages to consider during my prayer and devotion time. Also, since others in my church are doing this, it is encouraging to hear the same Bible passages that I’ve just finished reading mentioned in conversation and prayer.

2) Spend more time thinking and praying about what I’m reading in my Bible, and check cross references when possible.

3) Be more intentional with my prayer life. Set up and use a schedule so that I remember to pray more regularly not just for those in my immediate circle, but also those who send me prayer requests from the mission field.

4) Do something fun with my husband at least once a week, beyond our usual nightly reading and prayer time together. Brainstorm with him about things we could do that would be easy and refreshing.

5) Exercise 5-6 times per week for an hour or more per time when possible, but at least do something when I don’t have a full hour available.

6) Play the piano during my “spare moments”, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Ideally, I’d like to do this several times a week.

7) Complete one smaller sewing project for myself or our house per month, or at least make significant progress on a larger project each month.

8) Make a workable plan for birthday gifts I need to make this year.

9) Make a workable plan for Christmas gifts I need to make this year.

There are definitely areas of this list that need to be fleshed out in more detail, and I'm feeling like it should include intentionality with regard to friends and family, too. Like, for example, we've been making a point of visiting my father up north at least one weekend every month, but I don't have any real plan for incorporating others on a regular basis in our lives. That either seems to happen, or it doesn't. And while I don't want to schedule too much, because I know that we need margin for flexibility (and even spontaneity?), I do know that there are people we will never spend time with in 2008 if we don't make an intentional choice to do so.

How about you? Have you made any resolutions for the new year? Or, if you don't like resolutions, are there goals or plans you've been dreaming about for a while?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Year...and a Tennessee Orange Cake

Happy New Year! We had a lovely Christmas with my father here from up north and then also spending time with my husband's family here in the Twin Cities. And then last night we had two of my husband's old friends here for a little New Year's Eve party. Both of them are bachelors, and both of them are older men who have some level of disability. They have jobs, and one of them lives on his own in an apartment, but neither of them can drive.

We had a great time with them last night playing Monopoly, singing around the piano, and then praying the new year in together. It was so sweet to hear them talk with our Heavenly Father. What a privilege to share New Year's with these two brothers in Christ!

I made a big brunch meal (waffles, scrambled eggs, sausages, and fruit) late this morning for the four of us (our two overnight guests and my husband and I), and then my husband drove them home while I started on my baking projects. I made a double batch of my Grandma's banana bread recipe, a batch of refrigerator raisin bran muffins, and a Tennessee Orange cake, which is pictured above. The bread I plan to share with some friends this weekend at an Epiphany Party (to celebrate the 12th day of Christmas), the bran muffins will make easy breakfasts for us, and the cake is for my husband's nephew, who recently declared that it's one of his favorites. His birthday is tomorrow, so we're getting together with my husband's side of the family after work for dinner, and this cake will be our dessert.

The recipe came from my dear mother-in-law, who gave it to me shortly after we were married. She told me that it was my husband's favorite cake, and though he does really enjoy it, he didn't remember it being his absolute favorite...But anyway, it's a great recipe, and I was glad for an excuse to make it again. Not that we needed something sweet again so soon after Christmas, but our nephew is a wonderful young man and we enjoy gathering as a family for our birthdays.

Tennessee Orange Cake

2 eggs
2 (11-oz.) cans mandarin orange slices, well drained
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda

Beat the eggs. Add the oranges, and then the dry ingredients. Beat four minutes on low speed. Pour into a prepared (oiled and floured) 9x13 baking pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes ina 350-degree oven.

3/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. milk
3 Tbsp. butter

Bring topping ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan, and then pour over the baked hot cake. Sprinkle 1 cup chopped walnuts over the top of the cake. Serve with whipped cream.