Thursday, March 29

Summer Cookbook Season

If you are a library addict   (i.e. all the librarians know you by name and automatically head to the shelf for your 'on hold' items when you walk in the door) then you probably already know what I'm about to tell you: right now is the best time to check out summer cookbooks! (Canning books, too, incidentally.)

Pre- season is always the best time to pick up popular books, especially cookbooks. Putting things on hold or picking up a couple titles each time you're at the library ensures you've already seen everything you need before everyone else realizes that it's time to fire up the grill and they have no idea what to make!

This habit can be an especially big help if you:
* don't shop (or get to the library) often
* prefer batch cooking
* menu plan more than a week in advance
* have picky eaters or dietary restrictions

Not sure where to start? Here are a few of my newest discoveries:

 This is pretty much a grilling Bible. Loved it!
If you are old hat at grilling and are looking for something more adventurous, try Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned.

This isn't specifically a summer cookbook, but its yummy recipes are easy, company-worthy and written with busy cooks in mind. If your summer days tend to be long and full, this could made meal time much easier!

Can you really go wrong with a cookbook devoted to cheese? The selection in here was excellent in every category from breakfast to dessert. Whether it's lazy summer mornings with time to cook a real breakfast or scrounging for something satisfying to bring to a family picnic, you'll find great options here.

Don't let the ho-hum cover of this one fool you - this is a must have! I have never seen this many yummy sounding vegetable dishes in one place. Ever. No crazy ingredients or expensive garnishes. Just great, simple ways to use and love summer produce!

This is the best cookie cookbook ever. Of all time. Find it - ASAP!

 Finally, for my fellow canners out there, check this out. Everyone needs a copy of the Ball Blue Book or Putting Food By, but if you're looking to expand your repertoire this has some delicious and different ideas.

What's your favorite source for summer recipes?

Tuesday, March 27

What's Your Collections Policy?

At home this month life is all about spring cleaning and packing. At the museum, one of my projects is revisiting and revising our collections policy. The combination has had me thinking about what my personal" collections policy" is for my home.

Established logic in the museum world is that collections should be built around items that are unique and/or inherently valuable. Anything you cannot properly preserve, care for or display is not a good addition; it only leads to neglect and unnecessary expense - for those items, or for something else of value.

The same is true for our homes. Clutter costs. It costs money, time, energy, and unnecessary stress! Here are a few guidelines that have shaped our "collections policy":

1. Stop the paper clutter before it comes in the door.  We currently subscribe to only two magazines; when we're done reading them, they get recycled or shared with someone else. Mail gets sorted immediately upon coming through the door - junk gets shredded, important stuff has a designated spot to await being addressed as promptly as possible. Receipts and other miscellanea are treated the same.

2. Prevent wardrobe sprawl. If we aren't careful, its easy to find huge amounts of space and money tied up in wardrobes bigger than we need or can really appreciate.  Look for pieces that fit well, will last and don't duplicate what you already own. Keep the best, weed out the rest.

3. Shop less. The absolute best thing we have done (though we didn't start doing it intentionally) has been to go shopping less often. Get picky on your purchases! Even cheap clutter adds up, often most heavily in things like time and peace of mind. As much as possible, say "no". Things you are going to buy, try to buy well and once.

Monday, March 26

Menu Idea Monday: Monster Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

This is another treasure from Chocolate Covered Katie's blog! (Picture hers, of course.)

If you've ever made the No Pudge brand organic chocolate brownies, these yummy cupcakes have exactly the same fudge-y consistency!


These were super easy and super delicious! I didn't even toss in the optional chocolate chips, and they were still rich and satisfying. The mint is pronounced, but not overwhelming.

My Modifications:

I made these as directed, and topped with my favorite buttercream frosting.

Dietary Mod Friendly?

You can swap the sugar out for a Splenda blend or or favorite all natural sugar (honey, etc). The dairy can be swapped, but no guarantees on how well gluten free flours will do.

Monday, March 19

Menu Idea Monday: Rice Waffles

So, it's still technically Monday, which means I will only have missed one week with my Menu Idea Mondays... sneaking this one in under the wire!

Today's recipe: Rice Waffles. I got this recipe from a Southern cooking cookbook. Supposedly, in the antebellum South rice waffles were a delicacy and point of pride with chefs. The recipe is pretty simple.

Rice Waffles

2 tbsp butter
1 cup hot rice
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cup buttermilk

Stir butter into rice and let cool to room temp. Sift together dry.

Beat egg yolks with buttermilk and add to dry. Stir in rice.

Beat whites into soft peaks; fold into batter and cook on hot waffle iron. Serve for breakfast or with savory dinner items in place of biscuits.


These were light and crisp. I won't necessarily replace my favorite waffle recipe with them, but it's a great option for using up a little extra rice you have sitting around or if you're looking for a unique alternative to biscuits for a lunch or dinner menu.

My Modifications:

Made these just as directed.

Dietary Mod Friendly?

The dairy in this could be easily swapped out for almond milk or whatever you like to use. I'd imagine any standard gluten free flour could be swapped in as well, though you might have to play with it a bit.

Friday, March 16

Facebook Is Not A Diary

Diary: a private daily record of a writer's own experiences, observations, feelings, attitudes, etc.

Facebook: a social media platform

It seems as if it should go without saying that a social media platform (Facebook) by definition cannot be a diary (a private record).

And yet, somehow, the news anchors are all aflutter over the *cough* terrible invasion of privacy by employers and colleges who want to know what people are doing on Facebook before they hire/ enroll them.

So, as someone who appreciates that there are actually serious invasions of privacy going on in America right now, I'd like to make a few key points clear to those of you who are fussing about this nonsense.

1. Unless you are schizophrenic, you are only one person. What you do publicly on your own time does impact who you are during work time and your employer has a right to take it into account.

2. Your privacy settings are irrelevant. Facebook is by definition public; deal with it.

3. Yes, a person's character and conduct matter. No, just getting a degree or being qualified for a job or college does not make you a good fit for the position and you are not 'entitled' to be there.

4. Media: please stop embarrassing yourselves. There are plenty of real invasions of privacy going on with much more widespread and devastating effects. If you'd like something real to harp about, please avail yourself of one of those situations instead.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 15

Less What, More Why

The Pope recently called on American Bishops to emphasize the Christian teachings on sex before marriage and cohabitation (specifically: neither is allowed).
"It is... evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost, ... ignorance of or challenges to church teaching on marriage and sexuality [are] the "intellectual and ethical challenges" to evangelization in the United States today. "

The Pope makes a valid point when he highlights the ignorance of modern youth; Americans under the age of about 35 frequently lack even the most basic understanding of Christian principles and classic Bible stories. What little they think they do know is often incomplete, skewed or entirely out of context.

Unfortunately, by focusing on that ignorance, the Pope is falling into the same trap that has long bound the hands of the Protestant church in America: hammering away at the what at the expense of the why and how.

Let's face it: we Americans are many wonderful things, but docile and obedient never make the list. We're not particularly inclined to do something just because someone says so. Teaching what the Bible says about cohabitation isn't going to get you anything but resistance and resentment unless you couple it with relevant, hard-hitting information on the why and how.

I've walked beside many friends through relationships, both good and bad, and I can honestly say most of them are genuinely surprised or even shocked if you point out that there are legitimate reasons to avoid having sex or living together before marriage. People scoff at ad campaigns against gay marriage because they genuinely don't recognize the connections between gay marriage / civil unions and the collapsing of society.

Let's look at the facts for a minute, shall we?

1. Couples who cohabit before marriage are more likely to get a divorce than couples who did not.

2. Having sex with someone permanently fuses certain neural pathways in the brain, cementing deep attachment to that person. This is by design; within marriage, this neural fusing layers upon itself repeatedly over time. It literally wires you into a stronger, more durable relationship with your spouse that helps maintain the marriage during periods of stress or distance (physical or emotional). Obviously, sex outside of marriage sabotages this system.

3. Married men and women are statistically healthier and more successful than their cohabiting or serial-relationship peers. They live longer, and are safer and more financially sound as well.

4. Children of stable married couples are statistically healthier, safer, and more successful as well. 

5. Baggage from previous relationships seriously complicates individual and marital happiness, making it in one's best interest to avoid it as much as possible. (The enormous and painful messes that result from such baggage would be self-explanatory, except that so many people have never seen a healthy, functional marriage without such baggage that they have no frame of reference by which to judge.)

6. Widespread social problems including rising poverty and crime rates, lack of access to good education and health care, and domestic violence have been clearly linked to the loss of traditional marriage and family structures.

That's just a quick overview!

Now what do you think is going to make a stronger, more positive impression on people?

A) Hammering on the sinfulness of their actions, or
B) Approaching them in love with genuine concerns for the demonstrable consequences of their actions (as cited above)

This generation loves their "tribes" and everyone wants to know they belong somewhere and make a difference. Make them aware that their acts of self-discipline and self-restraint enroll them in a simple, direct, grass-roots  movement that will deeply impact society for the better for generations to come and they'll be tripping over themselves to participate. 

Okay, maybe not, but you get the idea. The evidence to prove the benefits of traditional marriage is there; it's long past time for advocates to start arguing smart. In the end, it isn't about who is right or who is wrong, it's about Truth and the heartache and destruction we can prevent by spreading it in love.

Wednesday, March 14

Slightly Morbid Spring Cleaning

At the risk of sounding a bit morbid or completely mundane, I'd like to talk about paperwork. Specifically, the kinds of legal and official paperwork most of us try to avoid: wills, titles, certificates, insurance policies - all the stuff that should come with complimentary bottles of Excedrin. 

Why am I talking about such a bleak subject? Because right about now you're  likely in Spring Cleaning mode. You have your sleeves rolled up and your spirits high (be it from the sunshine or all the cleaning solution fumes). You're also handling all your latest financial information, compliments of tax day in April. That combination lays the perfect foundation for a little much-needed housekeeping in your filing cabinet.

Please don't exempt yourself from this just because you're young, in good health, or assume you don't have any assets worth worrying about! 

As I try to explain to people when discussing succession planning, any one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow - physically or metaphorically. Serious illness, injury, death or the dawn of the zombie apocalypse can happen to any of us at any time. Preparing to handle these potential crises as smoothly as possible is one of the best ways a person can love on and protect their family. 

It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that laws are written to benefit the government rather than to reflect common sense. For your sake and your family's, you need to have your ducks in a row and not leave yourselves in the greedy, incapable hands of government!

Most of us drastically underestimate the legal complexity of what should be basic documents, as well as the amount of time and documentation required to update or replace crucial items like Social Security cards and certificates of marriage or birth. Take it from someone who knows: the whole system is a mess! It will take longer than you think, and God help you if you have to do it during a crisis or after someone has been incapacitated.

So where do you start?

1. Get Your Documents in Order. The graphic above is from the Wall Street Journal. If you click on the picture, it will take you to the larger, more readable graphic. You can also read the accompanying article here. Both are great starting points for figuring out what you need. Depending on your situation, you may be able to do most of it yourself with the help of free templates online. If your situation is more complex, consider investing in the services of an attorney or other professional who can help you navigate the system effectively.

2. Simplify Your Life. When is the best time to divest yourself of stuff and commitments you don't need/ use/ benefit from? Right now! Whether you're 26 or 86, use this process as a positive occasion to evaluate your life. If you find dead wood or messy, untied strings get rid of them! Focus on what's important and living well, and lose the rest. You're putting in the elbow grease to clean, sort and plan right now anyway so make the most of it!

3. Amplify Your Spring Cleaning. Two of the biggest challenges people often face in a crisis are clutter and disorganization! Shred or burn the boxes of old checks or receipts you'll never need. Properly file and clearly label important information like recent tax returns, mortgage papers and insurance policies. 
Compile critical information into central, easy to reference files or lists. (Need help? You find comprehensive and thought-provoking lists online or end-of-life planning books at your library. Whether you're planning for death or an apocalypse, you'll find much of the basic documentation similar.)

4. Talk to Your Family. Clearly, crises are not anyone's favorite topic of conversation. Depending on your family dynamics, the discussion can get heated and bring up old wounds, fresh resentment and buckets of guilt. But better to deal with all that mess now than in the middle of a crisis! Start slowly if you have to, but keep at it until everyone else gets on board (or at least knows what you're doing, whether they like it or not). Remember, even if they'd rather avoid thinking about the potential for a crisis altogether, this is something you're doing out of love and because it's your responsibility. The peace of mind on the other side of this messy, headache-inducing process is priceless.

Is your filing cabinet ready for the zombie apocalypse?

Tuesday, March 13

Gadget Proliferation

I was amused to read in the paper recently a missive from a design consultant about the process of renovating her kitchen. She joked about bargaining with her husband for an expensive fridge and coaxing the secrets of high society kitchens out of her contractor. (The whole article is here if you have a minute.)

What struck me the most, however, was the end:
Civilian kitchens changed forever in the early '90s... every four-star kitchen renovation (and house that expects to sell for asking price) has required restaurant-grade equipment from Viking, Wolf, Gaggenau, Sub-Zero, Bosch and Miele... But really, aside from shiny stainless veneers and digital displays, we haven't come that far in the kitchen over the last 60 years. You still have to know how to cook
The sad irony, of course, is that most people don't actually have to know how to cook at all. Between pre-packaged meals and an endless supply of takeout options 24/7, not being able to cook for oneself has long been considered perfectly acceptable. The wave of single-use mini appliances flooding the market over the last five years has only exacerbated this trend.

America's kitchens are cluttered beyond functionality with gadgets, gizmos, accessories and pre-packaged imitation food-like product.

It's Spring Cleaning season - is there something in your kitchen that needs to be spring cleaned straight into the garbage or the 'donate' box?
 Take a good look at your kitchen. Does it provide an environment that fosters your best goals or is it enabling your worst habits?

Here are a few easy ways you can remodel your this spring to help it help you (no contractors or fancy appliance dealers necessary)!

1. Hide the snacks/ junk. Researchers have proven that making something more or less accessible by as little as 20 seconds radically changes how often we use/ do it. So put the stuff you want to eat more of (fruits and veggies) in a pretty bowl on the counter and put the stuff you want to eat less of (those expensive, calorie-heavy snacks) on the top shelf of the pantry. This works for gadgets too - try putting your microwave somewhere less easily accessible (on top of the fridge maybe) or making space on a counter for the bread maker you wished you used more often.

2. Toss the crazy gizmos. A good bottle of Finger Lakes wine is a highly appreciated treasure around here, and toys for wine lovers abound. But simple really is best. One good carafe, a couple basic (but sturdy) wine openers and a handful of pretty glasses are all we need. No clutter, no fuss, no extra space and expense.

3. Clear the clutter. It's easy to feel guilty when getting rid of things, especially items that were gifts or expensive to buy. But holding on to items you just don't use can be wasteful and stressful. Life is fluid. What worked for you before may not be right for this season and that's okay.

4. Get stuff you really like. We all take better care of things we love than things we view apathetically, dislike, or resent. So only buy (and only keep) things you love or absolutely need. You, your space and your budget will all be happier!

Sunday, March 11

You're Already Amazing

Have you ever had a friend who was unfailingly encouraging? Someone who sees the best in you, all the time, and doesn't let you beat yourself up? Holley Gerth, encourager extraordinaire and founder of (in)Courage, is exactly that kind of person. Her warmth and heart for women overflows in her book You're Already Amazing.

A licensed counselor, life coach, speaker and author of the Heart to Heartwith Holley blog, she has more than a little experience tackling the things that scare women the most: guilt, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and outright exhaustion! Pulling examples from her own life and the experiences of the other great women at (in)Courage, Holley invites readers to open their eyes to everything amazing already inside of them and to embrace who they are – and are becoming – as they mature in life and faith.

You're Already Amazing reads like a survey course in self-improvement and Christian women's books, delivered in a friendly, easy-to-read format. You could easily work through this book in small chunks around a busy schedule, or drop straight into a given chapter on a day when you need a little pick-me-up or help for a specific struggle.

Addressing everything from Who Am I Really to How Do I Connect and What Does God Want Me to Do With My Life, the book doesn't shy away from sensitive questions of the heart. Full of quick, engaging assessments, simple exercises and easy-to-grasp graphics, the book is designed to be immediately accessible and applicable. Complete with a Go Deeper Guide at the back, it's equally suited for use individually, with friends or in a small group setting. Plus, at less than $15 for a hard copy, everyone is likely to find it budget- and gift- friendly!

Thursday, March 8

Arrogance and Entitlement

Having been a renter for 10 years, I've seen my share of apartments that could have used a little love. It's no secret that rental properties get the short end of the stick all the way around: sinking money into extras and niceties is a typically unrewarded effort on the landlord's part, and any money renters throw into a place is pretty much cash down the drain.

Not my apartment fortunately,
but a fair example of the craziness
many renters encounter.
I appreciate the challenge of working around particularly hideous or incomprehensible fixtures and finishes. (It took me weeks to find a bathroom set in chocolate brown, sky blue and cream that could pull the almond colored toilet & tub together with the randomly dark vanity cabinet and the shockingly bright blue tile floor in our current bathroom.)

While we all might periodically sigh in dismay at the mutilated drywall beneath the primer-posing-as-paint on our walls, I was taken aback by the chatter I ran across on Manhattan Nest blog.

Showing off a recent bathroom renovation they'd done in their rented apartment, the author was profanely in-your-face about not asking the landlord before he started and not caring what the man thought about the end result. The comments section overflowed with similar vitriol from other renters with the same condescending, devil-may-care attitude. For example:
This is absolutely great, I too am a renter who had a nasty/tiny bathroom. Upon deciding to re-do it, I simply wrote an email to my landlord stating, whatever I am doing to this bathroom will certainly up the value of your property, you should be paying ME to live here. Hahah. SO, I love where you’re coming from.

Granted most of the population represented there are not my type of people; they appear to be largely big-city types, much more brazen about everything than I would be. Still, it is worrisome that such an attitude is so easily accepted and widespread.

Did none of these people ever have a mother who taught them basic respect for authority? Did we not learn in elementary school to respect other people's property? Have we completely forgotten (or think we're above) common courtesy?

This is only a minor example, but the attitude is familiar. It's starting to show up a lot of places: the job market, the Welfare debate and public schools just to name a few. The saddest part is that by the time people reach adulthood, it's very difficult to unlearn arrogant bad manners and replace them with humility of spirit and basic courtesy.

While it's tempting to admonish teachers, parents and employers to push for better behavior and crack down on these attitudes, I know it isn't that simple. Instead, I would like to offer a suggestion each of us can follow every day: before you speak, think. Other people hear what we say and notice more than we think. If you need to rant, do it privately with people you trust who love you. In public, let's agree to take the high road. Be respectful, polite and self-controlled. If we don't provide an example of what the alternative to arrogance and vitriol looks like, how will things change?

What do you think? Do adults have a responsibility to model respect for authority across the board or does making it to adulthood exempt you from being polite?

Wednesday, March 7

Kitchen Ingenuity

I clearly remember telling my mother at some point in my obnoxious adolescent omniscience that when I grew up I would make a lot of money so that I never had to reuse stupid ziploc bags. I hated washing them, hated waiting for them to dry and resented the extra work all around. (Sorry, Mom...)

My very patient mother took that in stride and is now probably thoroughly amused and certainly justified, because I do in fact save and reuse ziploc bags. And parchment paper. And everything else I can - do you know how expensive that stuff is?!

As if the expense wasn't bad enough, there's plenty to worry about on the safety end if you're a health food nut like me. Plastics inevitably leach, and that's never good.

For a while now, I've had these cute, food safe, reusable and Eco-friendly snack pouches on my "to make" list. (Aren't they adorable?) 

I've also had these nifty bowl covers on my "must try" list - aren't they a great idea? The only thought that remained nagging in the back of my mind was what to do about all those randomly shaped things you want to wrap up - partial loaves of bread, a couple spare pancakes, or the tops of water goblets you're chilling parfaits in. While I assumed I'd have to keep at least a little cling wrap on hand, Survival Mom was way ahead of me - she figured out how to make homemade (reusable) Saran wrap out of linen and canning wax!!

So while all these projects remain on my to-do list a while longer (soon - I really will get to them soon!), I am delighted to have found healthy Eco- and budget- friendly solutions for my kitchen.

What kitchen innovations are on your "to do" or "I wish I had" lists?

Monday, March 5

Our Favorite Sins

Pastor Todd Hunter opens his provocatively titled book with a cringe-worthy statistic fresh from the Barna Group's latest research: half of Americans have no idea what to do when faced with temptation. Of the remaining half, a vast majority admit that their standard responses to temptation are haphazard and often ineffective. It is into this gaping void that Hunter speaks, exposing why so many of us find ourselves helpless against temptation and how to exchange our frustrated despair for practical tools and long-term success.

I was significantly more impressed with this book than I expected. Hunter is compassionate but clear, staying on course and moving in an easy-to-follow progression. Chapters are relatively short, making for easy consumption in small bites and allowing opportunity for reflection and digestion of new ideas.

Demonstrating that struggles with temptation always boil down to disordered desires, Hunter shows that they can only be surmounted by reordering our priorities and freeing ourselves from the “tyranny of our wants”. Basing his insights on the hows of that reordering and the tools available to us entirely on the Bible and long-standing Christian practices, Hunter has produced a work that will resonate with and be accessible to Christians of any denomination. Whatever temptation you struggle with – from anxiety to lust – you'll find good ideas to combat it here!

Menu Idea Monday

It is my delight to introduce you to Chocolate Covered Katie and her (No Sugar) Cookie Dough Dip! If you have never been to Katie's website, it is a must see. Seriously.

And if you are watching what you eat or a lover of cookie dough - this is going to be your new favorite recipe.

(For those of you who haven't looked at the recipe yet, the secret ingredient is chickpeas!)


I'm not usually one of those people who eats cookie dough, but I am sold on this stuff! It was fast to throw together and terrifically good for you (my husband says I can't call things "horrifically good for you" any more because it doesn't make sense - lol). One batch for four very filling servings and as an added bonus it was cheap to make. Definitely a keeper!

My Modifications:

I added a smidge extra peanut butter to mine and subbed honey for the dates because I didn't have enough on hand. I also skipped the oats. Tip: Rinse the chickpeas really well when you take them out of the can.

You should be able to use a blender instead of a food processor without a problem; you might just have to go a little longer or add a splash of milk to even out the consistency.

Dietary Mod Friendly?

This recipe was specifically written to use only natural fruit sugar, so it's already ahead of the game. If you skip the optional oats, there's no gluten. Judging by the comments on the original page, you can also sub any nut butter or an alternative form of fat (think coconut oil) if the peanut butter is a problem. So high marks for mod friendliness - go try it!

Thursday, March 1

Thoughts on Dying, From A Doctor

Featured in the Wall Street Journal, I thought this was eloquent and poignant.

Why Doctors Die Differently

Although most of us expect to have many years ahead of us, the points made are well worth thinking about. If nearly three quarters of physicians think it's important to have end of life directives, maybe the rest of us should consider it too...