An Oldie But Still Such A Goodie

We are normally such homebodies, but the last few nights have been more activity-driven than usual. Maybe that’s why I woke up this morning and immediately thought about how we had nothing going on tonight and could quite possibly be in our pajamas by 4:30 or 5 this afternoon.

Listen. Late afternoon pajama time? BEST THING EVER.

So I went to work this morning and then ran some errands before Alex got out of school, and off and on I’d wonder what in the world I was going to cook for supper. This is that time of year when I am so tired of everything in my regular rotation, so I was trying to think of something new or different or fun that would not involve spaghetti sauce (of all the dishes in all the land, spaghetti with meat sauce is perhaps my least favorite, though ironically it is one of my fellas’ most beloved). The catch, though, was that I really wanted to use ground chuck since ground chuck is only $2.99 a pound at Fresh Market on (most) Tuesdays.

(If there is a Fresh Market in your area, you need to know that $2.99 Tuesdays will change your whole life.)

(Because ground chuck and boneless skinless chicken breasts are only $2.99 a pound. And there’s no limit. And the kind Fresh Market butchers will wrap each pound individually if you so desire – that way freezing is a breeze.)

(You would not believe the people who get 20 or 25 chicken breasts wrapped individually on $2.99 Tuesdays.)

(I am in awe of the butchers’ stamina and patience.)

Anyway, before I went to Fresh Market I had an appointment with my ankle doctor. I realize that he’s not technically called an ankle doctor, but calling him my “orthopedist” seems a little pretentious considering that the only reason I’m having to go to an ankle doctor is because I slipped in my dog’s tee-tee and it just seems to me that you go to an orthopedist if you tear your ACL on an alley-oop pass or you fall and separate your shoulder during a penalty kick.

But if you slip in your dog’s tee-tee?

ANKLE DOCTOR.

This is all very subjective reasoning, of course.

Anyway, I went to the doctor to see if I’d made enough progress to start to live outside of my big ole comfortable orthopedic boot. The doctor said that my X-rays didn’t really look much different than my last visit a few weeks ago – but since the pain is almost completely gone and it doesn’t hurt to stand on the ankle any more, then yes, I can start to walk around without the boot when I’m in a flat, confined environment like our house or my office.

Needless to say, I was delighted by this news.

And then the doctor said the most interesting thing. He said, “You know, sometimes after a break you start to feel better – and everything starts to look better on the outside – but it’s still healing on the inside. And what we’ll usually see is that as you feel better and the pain fades and you start to use and trust whatever was broken, the gaps in that broken area will fill over time.”

He was talking about my ankle, of course. But I looked at him and said, “Well, that pretty much sounds like a sermon to me.”

He laughed and nodded his head. And then I spent a big chunk of the afternoon thinking about all the times and places in my life when I tried to stand (and walk) on something that was broken and painful. And while I certainly could chase this metaphor for the next four hours because ENGLISH MAJORS LOVE SYMBOLISM, I’ll just say that this broken ankle has taught me the value of resting and waiting. It’s so much easier to move after there’s been some healing.

And thus concludes tonight’s Ankle Doctor Sermonette.

After I picked up Alex we went to Fresh Market to secure the $2.99 ground chuck, and I decided on the way that I was going to make a hamburger and potato casserole like Mama used to make ALL THE TIME. I haven’t eaten it in years – and I don’t think I’ve ever made it before – but it sounded so good and comforting and winter-y that I decided to give it a try. I’m sure that lots of y’all make it or had grandmothers who made it, and what I realized tonight is that there’s a reason why this recipe has been around for a few generations. David loved it more than anything I’ve made in a long time; it’s so simple and easy and hearty and good.

So. Just in case you’ve never tried this recipe, here you have it. Some of y’all have probably made this 30 times in the last year, and if that’s the case, let me just say that I’m tickled to pieces┬áto be in your hamburger casserole club.

Hamburger & Potato Casserole

2 lbs. ground chuck, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire – then browned and drained
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
5 or 6 Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thin
1 can cream of mushroom (if you’re not in a hurry, you could make your own white sauce, but I was in a hurry)
1 cup milk
1 cup sharp white cheddar cheese, grated (any cheese will do)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brown and drain meat. Once the skillet that you used to cook the meat is back on the stove and hot again, add 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (or butter) and saute’ the onion until tender. Once the onion is done, remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix soup with milk and set aside. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish.

Cut off ends of potatoes and then slice about 1/8″ thick (give or take – and I left the skin on our potatoes because WHY NOT). Place potato slices on the bottom of the casserole dish, lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper, then pour 1/2 of soup mixture over potatoes. Add 1/2 of ground beef, then all the onion, then potatoes, salt and pepper, remainder of soup mixture, remainder of ground beef, and grated cheese (however, if you don’t want your cheese to get a little crispy in places, wait and add it towards the end of the baking time).

By the time you layer everything, it’ll almost look like a lovely little potato lasagna.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. Make sure potatoes are fork tender before serving (if they’re sliced thin, they should be fine). Serve with your favorite vegetable and prepare to receive all manner of praise and adoration from your people. It’s not a fancy dish, but it’s a good ‘un.

Hope y’all are having a great week!

Love,
Mamaw

It’s Beginning To Look A Little Like Christmas-ish

Well, we have a Christmas tree.

THIS IS PROGRESS.

We actually have a live tree this year – our first one in about 12 years – and I am a little fascinated by it. The trunk is very straight, but one section of it is just flat-out unwieldly: branches going in all directions, one wayward branch that’s about a foot and a half longer than anything else on the tree – and I love it. It’s a quirky little tree, full of personality, and I hope that I find it half as charming in about ten days when it will no doubt be dry as a bone.

David put lights on the tree last night, so tonight we focused on the ornaments. Alex helped me get all the boxes out of the closet and unpack everything, and he even jumped in and helped me put the ornaments on the tree because I’m not super confident on my tiptoes and/or step ladders right now. I felt good about what I was able to do on the bottom two-thirds of the tree, though, and our productivity tempered a little of the resentment I’m feeling right now about this big ole boot. I really am grateful for the boot because NO CAST, but I am so sick of the shoe that I’ve been wearing on my healthy foot that it’s almost comical.

All I know is that whenever my ankle is completely healed, I don’t ever want to see the healthy foot shoe again. I may have to set it on fire. Or maybe I’ll run over it. Or maybe I’ll just go drop it in the center of the intersection about 1/2 mile from our house because last year there was a gray tennis shoe that stayed in the middle of that intersection for AT LEAST four months, and every morning Alex and I would look to see if it was still there. I don’t even know why I just told you that, but the bottom line is that healthy foot shoe may have to find another purpose outside of our home after I’m out of the boot. I am grateful for its service, but I don’t ever need to see it again.

My, my, my. I am FULL of Christmas cheer, aren’t I?

Anyway.

Other than the tree and my resentment towards healthy foot shoe, we’re good. I had a phone call this afternoon with Tyndale because the new book comes out in less than two months (the official date is February 2nd, I think), and I can’t even believe it’s almost time. I thought maybe I wouldn’t be as nervous the second time around but NOPE. JUST AS NERVOUS. Maybe even more nervous since this book is more personal. But I keep reminding myself of a couple of months ago when a friend of mine pretty much stuck her finger in my face and said, “You trust Him with it. YOU TRUST HIM WITH IT.” So I am trying to trust Him with it and not get a weird and introspective about the whole thing.

See? LOOK HOW BREEZY I AM.

Finally comma I am starting to think about my menu for Christmas day. We don’t normally have turkey or ham on Christmas because, I don’t know, we just don’t, so I usually like to do a pork tenderloin or steaks or some similar form of identifiable meat, as David calls it. Today, however, I had a salad for lunch that made me re-think all of my typical salad goals for a holiday meal, so now I’m thinking about changing my salad and my sides. Just for kicks and fun, you understand. Do any of you have some new (or new-to-me) salad or side ideas that you’d be willing to share? I’m trying to think of things that are a little different from my usual sweet potato casserole / squash casserole / seven layer salad / baby lima beans (well, I have to have baby lima beans or my people will revolt – but I’m all ears for other suggestions).

Hope y’all are having a great week!

A Collection Of Terribly Important Information

- One day last month the lovely and oh-so-talented Christy Nockels mentioned on Twitter that she was getting ready for a live CD recording, and I sorta kinda invited myself to attend. I mean, I invited myself by making a joke, but then Christy totally went above and beyond and sent me the info. I initially hoped that State would be in the SEC Championship game this past Saturday and wouldn’t that just be perfect to go hear Christy Nockels the night before, but even without the SEC Championship game, it turned out to be well worth the drive. David, Alex, and I felt so welcome at Passion City Church (thanks, Donna!), and Christy Nockels? OH, MY. The songs, the worship, EVERYTHING was just phenomenal. We were so grateful to get to go, and I plan to invite myself again the next time she records a live CD.

I’m only sort of kidding.

- The other big part of our time in Atlanta was a trip to IKEA. We have been talking forever about turning our 4th bedroom into an office, and a few months ago I decided that I wanted to get the desks – along with some shelving – from IKEA. We finally made the pilgrimage Saturday morning, and y’all, we walked through every single bit of that store. Thirty-six hours later I’m still a little overwhelmed by the MAZE of it all, but we got what we needed and then some. The store was a little warm and I was wearing that dadgum boot, so I may have been a little prideful when we finally got back to our car.

- There’s still no Christmas tree in this house. I just feel like I need to admit it. We’re gonna try to get ‘er done this week, though.

- A few weeks ago a friend sent me some Biscoff Spread, and I would just like to say SWEET HEAVENLY DAYS.

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I understand that it’s very similar to Trader Joe’s cookie butter, and that means it could be very dangerous for me when Trader Joe’s opens here in Birmingham. This stuff is addictive. Only it’s not really addictive in our house anymore because it’s ALL GONE.

- Hummingbird Farms makes a lavender lotion that I’ve mentioned here on the blog approximately 58 times. And I still love that lavender lotion a lot. But they have a new body butter that’s some of the best stuff I have ever used on my VERY dry skin.

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The scent is light and lemon-y and herb-y, and the body butter is exactly what my skin needs this time of year. I just wanted to pass along the info in case you’re looking for Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers!

- Last night Beth Moore posted a recipe on Twitter, and I thought it looked so delicious that I decided I’d make it today. It is OUT OF THIS WORLD. I’ve made a couple of white chili recipes that I thought were sort of bland, but this one is flavorful and filling, not to mention that it makes your whole house smell divine.

I used two rotisserie chickens because I have to work hard to convince my people that soup is a meal, and I loaded up with the garnishes: Monterey Jack cheese, Fritos, sour cream, and diced avocado. I’ve already decided that this will be our Christmas Eve meal. SO GOOD.

Happy Monday, y’all!

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

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I’m terrible at doing Supermom-type things like creating traditions. Maybe I enjoy variety way too much, but there just aren’t a whole lot of Christmas things that we make sure to do year after year after year. Our primary points of consistency are a Christmas card tree in our kitchen and non-stop Christmas music starting December 1st. Other than those two things, we tend to change our Christmastime routine a lot.

Over the last few years, though, I’ve tried to be consistent and intentional about celebrating Advent. We have a beautiful wooden Advent wreath that I absolutely treasure, and this year we’re using Ann Voskamp’s new book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas for devotions every night.

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Y’all. This book is beautiful, tender, captivating, and absolutely saturated with Truth. Tonight I was all teary-eyed by the second paragraph, and I am telling you that there was an 11 year-old boy sitting around our table who was LOCKED IN to the words we were reading. The readings are simple enough for kids to understand and deeply meaningful for adults as well. One of the things I like the most is that there are two or three discussion questions at the end of each story, and that gives us a chance to dig a little deeper.

All that to say: this book is going to be a treasure in our family just like my beloved wooden Advent wreath. It’s such a simple way to pull the family together for ten or fifteen minutes every night (or morning, or afternoon, or whenever) and focus on why we celebrate this season. If you do a Jesse tree, the book works perfectly with that (there are ornaments that go with each day’s devotion, and the book will tell you how to download them), but you don’t even have to do anything extra. Just read the words. Speak them out loud over your family. Or let one of your kids read to you. The “how” isn’t the issue. This is all about the Who.

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So, just because I love it and think you will, too, I’m giving away three copies of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. I’m only going to leave the giveaway open until 10:00 central tomorrow (Wednesday) night, and then I’ll draw for winners. I’ll order the books ASAP so that hopefully the winners will have their copies by this weekend. At that point you can play catch-up or just jump right in to that day’s devotion. OR you could give a copy to a friend or family member as a Christmas gift. YOU HAVE OPTIONS.

Leave a comment if you’d like to win – and I’ll notify winners by email tomorrow night.

Happy Advent-ing, y’all!

This giveaway is now closed. Winners will be notified ASAP via email.

That Appetizer Heather Made For Thanksgiving

I met my friend Heather about seven-ish years ago when her husband was Alex’s very first soccer coach. The kids on that team were so small that most of them just found a spot on the field and pointed at airplanes, and if they happened to kick the ball, they’d usually spend a minute or two jumping up and down afterwards. A couple of those young’uns brought some real focus and skill to the mix, but by and large the kids were playing soccer for two very important reasons: 1) an opportunity to run through the parent tunnel after everyone high-fived the opposing team, and 2) the post-game snacks.

You really can’t underestimate the motivational power of a bag of Cheez-Its and a Capri Sun.

After that first soccer season I’d run into Heather from time to time; we’d see each other at the soccer fields or at basketball camp or in the parking lot at school. And somewhere along the way – a couple of years ago, maybe – we discovered that not only do we both love music, we love the same music. Plus, we share a nearly identical level of obsession over really good lyrics, so every time we’re around each other we usually have a moment that can best be described as ENGLISH MAJOR NERD POWERS: ACTIVATE. It’s a delightful thing.

Heather and I also share a love for dips and appetizers in all their wondrous forms, and before she and her sweet family came over to our house for Thanksgiving last week, she told me that she had a few appetizers in mind for Thanksgiving Day. She absolutely did – along with a turkey, a ham, two salads and four packs of rolls.

So I guess what I’m saying is that if you ever find yourself with a broken ankle, Heather is the kind of friend who will show up with an array of serving pieces and platters and groceries and basically take care of the bulk of the Thanksgiving meal.

One of the appetizers that Heather brought over last week was a spinach dip unlike any I’ve ever had, and when I tell you that it was the hit of Thanksgiving 2014, I mean it. People RAVED. David actually fixed me a little plate of it in case it was all gone before I got a chance to taste it, and y’all, it is a home run. It’s light and flavorful and different and absolutely delicious. It’s one of those things that I will make for the rest of my life, and IT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE CREAM CHEESE.

So. Without further delay – here’s the appetizer that changed Thanksgiving forever.

I MEAN IT.

(And by the way, I’m leaving all of Heather’s parenthetical notes in the recipe because y’all know I’ve never met a parenthetical note that I didn’t like.)

(They just help to clarify some things, you know?)

(See what I did there?)

*****
Mediterranean Spinach Appetizer

INGREDIENTS:

1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and chopped
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 roma tomato, deseeded and chopped
1 flame roasted red pepper (I buy them in jars near pickles)
1/4 cup nuts of your choice, chopped (I use pecans or walnuts, can do almonds or pine nuts)

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
juice of 1/2 lemon
dash salt
dash black pepper
container of crumbled feta (usually 4-6 oz)
honey or sugar, up to 1 teaspoon (optional)

Pita chips or fresh pita, cut into wedges and baked or fried

INSTRUCTIONS:

Squeeze thawed spinach in a colander it until it is as dry as you can get it. (I use paper towels to press it.) Chop it until it’s fine and then chop some more. Saute briefly (3-5 minutes) in olive oil over medium heat, just to warm it and evaporate most of the water.

Remove from heat and add to mixing bowl with chopped onion, tomato, pepper, and nuts. Combine Greek yogurt (plain), juice of half lemon, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Fold into spinach mixture and add feta cheese. Sometimes, depending on the spinach, it tastes a bit bitter or sour. Add honey or sugar to sweeten if desired.

Refrigerate for at least an hour. Use your hands or a bowl to form into a ball and serve with pita wedges (you can bake or fry your own!).

(This is Sophie. I can also wholeheartedly recommend Stacy’s Pita Chips, because EASY.)

(I also noticed that Heather chopped everything pretty fine – and all the chopped stuff was roughly the same size.)

(Just FYI for all of you appetizer overachievers.)

I know that we’ve talked about lots of dip-type situations over the years, but this one is special, y’all. I can’t recommend it enough.

Hope y’all enjoy it!