Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cooking Comparisons: Making a meal my own

My favorite way to cook is to read a recipe, get inspired, and then make it my own.

With the following recipes I did just that:

Oven-fried Chicken Sandwich 

John's sandwich, inspired from Bon Appetit and Cooking for Isaiah
My chicken tenders without the bun, served with slaw and a kale salad
John wanted the Fried Chicken Sandwich with Slaw and Spicy Mayo on the cover of April's Bon Appetit, but since the first piece of equipment that you need is a deep fry thermometer (which I obviously do not own), I altered it a bit. Plus, I wanted to make it somewhat healthy and gluten free. Instead of frying the chicken, I used Cooking for Isaiah's oven-fried chicken recipe and sauce, and I changed the coleslaw recipe for what I had on hand. Here's what I ended up making:

Serves 4
4 cups corn tortilla chips, crushed (I used Trader Joe's no salt added ones)
Salt and pepper
2 eggs
1 pound chicken tenders (I used Trader Joe's tenderloins which were thin. I recommend pounding your chicken first if it isn't thin, so then it stays moist.)
Sandwich rolls
1/4 cup canola mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups broccoli slaw
1 jalapeno sliced thin
1/2 red onion sliced thin
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray. Combine crushed tortilla chips with salt and pepper to taste. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Coat chicken with chips, then dip into eggs, and coat with chips again. Repeat this process with all of chicken and put on a baking sheet. Bake chicken for 15 minutes or until done. (If your chicken is not as thin it may need 20 minutes).
  2. While chicken cooks, prepare the slaw by tossing all of the slaw ingredients together and let marinate.
  3. Mix sauce ingredients together.
  4. Spread sauce on both sides of sandwich rolls and top with chicken and slaw. (Yes the slaw goes on the sandwich.) Or, serve the sauce on the side for dipping the chicken tenders in if not making a sandwich.

Black Bean Tacos with Bacon and Feta

My tacos as compared to Cooking Light
John's taco 
My tacos without the cheese and on corn tortillas

For this meal, I followed Cooking Light's recipe pretty closely. You can read the recipe here.

Here were the changes I made:

  • I didn't cook the onion, garlic, and jalapeno together in the bacon drippings. Instead, I let the onion caramelize in a separate pan while the beans cooked, and I added in the garlic and jalapeno towards the end.
  • I didn't have seasoned black beans, so instead I mixed in cumin, sea salt, and pepper and let them simmer with some chicken broth for about 10 minutes. I occasionally stirred them, mashing up some of the beans while they simmered.  
  • I also made my homemade guacamole to put on top of my tacos (since I didn't use feta) and as a nice side with chips.

Thai Basil Beef

My rice bowl as compared to Bon Appetit's

For this Bon Appetit recipe (which you can read here) I followed it almost exactly. Here are the few changes that I made:

  • I didn't have fish sauce, so for the sauce I used Tamari (gluten free soy sauce), lime juice, and about half of the amount of sugar that the recipe calls for.
  • We happened to have gone to the farmer's market and had red chiles, but when I make this again I would probably use jalapenos since I always have those in the fridge.
  • I used brown rice instead of white.

Here are some other cooking comparisons that I've made in past posts:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Spiritual

My favorite spiritual themed books of 2013 are not what you may typically think of when it comes to this category. Instead, all three authors weave in spiritual themes throughout engaging stories or powerful premises. So even if you don't normally read books in this genre, I highly recommend these:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller

All of my tabs show how great this book is!
If you read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz then you'll know he's not your typical "spiritual" writer. In fact this book is about the depression he faced after Blue Like Jazz's wild success. When movie producers approach him about turning that book into a movie, he has the chance to reexamine his life and learn what makes a story compelling. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is about him writing a new story for himself that is filled with risk and adventure.

To read my thoughts on how this book applies to John and I seeking to live adventurously in our marriage, read my post Living An Adventure. If you want to live an adventurous 2014, this book is a must read.

"People fear change, she said. Though their situations may be terrible, at least they have a sense of control; at least they know what to expect. Change presents a world of variables that are largely out of their control." 

"A good storyteller speaks something into nothing. Where there is an absence of a story, or perhaps a bad story, a good storyteller walks in and changes reality. He doesn't critique the existing story, or lament about his boredom, like a critic. He just tells something different and invites other people into the new story he is telling."

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist

I flagged about every recipe!
I couldn't put this book down. Shauna Niequist tells honest, vulnerable stories while being hilarious and thoughtful. Plus at the end of every chapter is a recipe, and as you can see from the all of the corners that I tabbed, I want to make almost all of them.

This book is about the connection with others when we gather around the table and enjoy "bread and wine" together. It is not overly religious; instead she discusses the profound meaning, restoration, and connection that results from a life spent around the table with others.

"Some of my most sacred meals have been eaten out of travel mugs on camping trips or on benches on the street in Europe. Many of them have been at our own table or around our coffee table, leaning back against the couch. They've been high food and low food, fresh and frozen, extravagant and right out of the pizza box. It's about the table, and about all the other places we find ourselves eating. It's about a spirit or quality of living that rises up when we offer one another life itself, in the form of dinner or soup or breakfast, or bread and wine."

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Timothy Keller 

Tim Keller wrote two of my favorite spiritual books from last year, and he's back with another home run. Every Good Endeavor explores the design and dignity of work and how we can begin to write a new story for work in our lives. Keller shows how the Christian view of work is used to serve others and is an act of worship when done with excellence, integrity, passion, discipline, and creativity. Many churches neglect talking about work even though we spend the majority of week there, and it's often seen as a necessary function to support those doing "God's work." Instead, Keller shows that your job is and of itself God's work and an opportunity to bring God glory.

If you struggle with finding passion in your work, not knowing how to find meaning in your job, or how to reconcile advancing in your career with your faith or values, then this book is for you.

"The book of Genesis leaves us with a striking truth - work was a part of paradise. One biblical scholar summed it up: 'It is perfectly clear that God's good plan always included human beings working, or, more specifically, living in the constant cycle of work and rest.'"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Nonfiction

In addition to my favorite book of the year being included in the top nonfiction reads of 2013, here are other nonfiction books worth picking up:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip & Dan Heath

The title basically sums up the book, which discusses all of the flaws in our decision-making processes. While this topic may sound dry, if you've read any other Heath brothers' books you'll know it's not. The Heath brothers weave engaging stories and very interesting studies on decision-making into their 4 step process to make better decisions in your own life.

This book was especially appropriate for my work with helping students make decisions about their futures. For my thoughts on this, read my posts How to Choose a College, Major, or Career Part I and Part II.

"Sometimes the hardest part of making a good decision is knowing there's one to be made. In life, we spend most of our days on autopilot, going through our usual routines."

The Defining Decade: Why your Twenties matter - and how to make the most of them now by Meg Jay

I came across this book after watching Meg Jay's Ted Talk, Why 30 is not the New 20. I highly recommend watching this 15 minute video for Jay's reasons about why the 20s shouldn't be considered a throwaway decade. This book dives deeper in this topic, explaining how waiting until your 30s to take life decisions seriously is holding many back from living the life that they want. Work, relationships, personality, and identity have the potential to be shaped more during your 20s than any other point in life.

Again, this book was a great read for my line of work. Although I don't necessarily agree with everything that Jay proposes, it's a very interesting look into what our culture says about twenty-somethings. It's a short read and one that I recommend if you're in your twenties or have a family member in their twenties.

"The one thing I have learned is that you can't think your way through life. The only way to figure out what to do is to do - something." 

"We know that, of any time in life, our twenties are our best chance for change."

It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change your Life in Unexpected Ways by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig 

I read this quick book at the beach this year, when we were resting from John's illness. At this same time, I was feeling sick from extreme anemia (though I didn't know it at the time). This book was enlightening on how the food we put in our bodies affects us. Although I know this in principle, it was helpful to understand exactly how and why this happens. It was also encouraging that I wasn't crazy for having so many symptoms that I've had most of my life go away once I went gluten free.

Although I haven't followed the strict Whole30 eating plan that they recommend, I found the knowledge of how we digest food and why we need certain nutrients to be very interesting. There are also some recipes at the end. It'd be a perfect read for the new year if you want to start eating healthier.

"The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options."

"Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger."

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks, & Build an Incredible Career by Jocelyn K. Glei  

This less than $5 Kindle book is written by contributors to 99U, an excellent blog that I daily read articles about "insights on making ideas happen." Maximize Your Potential is about how to live into your full potential. It is written in a series of short essays on topics such as creating opportunities, building expertise, cultivating relationships, and taking risks. Although I haven't finished reading it yet, it's a great book (again) for my line of work with coaching. Yet I recommend it to anyone wanting to reawaken their sense of purpose in their work or life. With short essays, it's an easy book to pick up and read throughout the day or week.

Also, Cal Newport, an author of a nonfiction book from last year's BeEmbraced book guide, writes one of the first essays in Maximize Your Potential.

"Your ability to realize your potential will depend upon your willingness to hone your skills, to take bold risks, and to put your ego on the line in pursuit of something greater."

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

This memoir recounts Cheryl Strayed's broken life and her bold decision to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail... despite no training or backpacking experience. The organized and prepared side of me was on edge most the book as she hiked in the wilderness alone and without adequate food, water, or supplies. Her journey will keep you wanting to read more, though parts of her life and decisions are gut-wrenching. 

The Pacific Crest Trail goes from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon, and Washington State, and Strayed's depictions of the scenery make you almost want to hike it too... aside from the whole living in the wilderness for months part. What captivated me about her story was the healing power of an adventurous journey.

"It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. IT seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way."

Although I started reading this book awhile ago, I am not quite finished. However, that is not because it isn't a good read. Instead it's about 900 pages long, and I've been reading other books at the same time. 

This book makes my top nonfiction reads of the year because it's a very well-written biography on Lincoln's life. What amazes me the most is Lincoln's patience. Time and again there is a crisis or he's being misrepresented by others, and yet he doesn't act rashly. His calm demeanor in decision-making (see a theme here in the nonfiction picks?) makes him a "political genius." It's also fascinating to read about the politics of the time as well as the politicians' - and their wives' - personalities. Team of Rivals is as much about Lincoln as it is about his political rivals, which later became a part of his cabinet. It's worth the time investment, especially if you enjoy history.

"...The Chicago Tribune asked Lincoln why he has chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents... Lincoln's answer was simple, straightforward, and shrewd, 'We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.' ...But in the end it was the prairie lawyer from Springfield who would emerge as the strongest of them all."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Fiction

In case you missed it on Friday, this book was my favorite that I read in 2013.

This year I seemed to read more nonfiction than fiction books perhaps because I abandoned a couple novels halfway through that were either too boring or depressing to waste my time reading. Life is too short to waste time with a bad book, right?

So here are the fiction books that I read this year that did make it to the top of the list. (Check back to 2012's best fiction books for more great novels.)

This series was a childhood favorite of mine, and since John had never read all seven books we read them together this year. Although it's a children series, Lewis weaves in deep themes, metaphors, and allegories that led to rich conversations. Whether you read them aloud to your kids, discuss them with a spouse, or enjoy the books by yourself, the story will take you in and captivate your imagination.

Read this post, Wisdom from Narnia on Difficult Decisions, for a peek at my takeaways from one of the books.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

This book is the perfect beach read and a page-turner, yet it has surprisingly deeper themes that you're still thinking about once you've finished reading it. 

The last that Alice remembers is being 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child. Yet after hitting her head and coming to, she is suddenly 39, getting divorced, and has three children.

As she puts the pieces of her life together, you see the pain and struggle of daily decisions that add up to a lifetime. It leaves you considering your own life and what trajectory you're heading down. 

"She said that sometimes you have to be brave enough to 'point your life in a new direction.'"

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

This beautifully written historical fiction novel will draw you into a story of family, immigration, war, and love. To quote the Amazon summary, it's "a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again." The novel spans from the 1910s to the end of World War II, centering around the lives of Ciro and Enza, who immigrate from the Italian Alps to New York. 

" must dig constantly for meaning in the sorrow of this life, and this sorrow must galvanize you, not define you."

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

We read this book for Book Club, and the novel's complexity and interwoven characters led to an engaging discussion about the meaning of our connections with others. 

Hosseini is the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but unlike those books, this novel is not as graphic or shocking. Instead, it spans generations and shows the ripples from the choices that we make in life. It is set in Kabul, Paris, San Francisco, and the Greek island of Tinos, including loosely intertwined stories but related themes.  

"They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind."

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is a suspenseful mystery story that grabs you from the first page. It's strange and twisted yet you can't put it down. It's a tad bit creepy with a lot of plot twists, which made it another great Book Club discussion. I won't give any of the plot away except to say that a wife goes missing on her 5th wedding anniversary. 

"We are all working from the same dog-eared script."

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

I remember first reading this book in high school and being drawn in by Fitzgerald's writing and descriptions of the Jazz Age. As I re-read the book this year, in preparation of seeing the new movie with my Book Club, I again soaked up the way Fitzgerald moved the plot along with engaging dialogue and captivating descriptions. 

It's worth a re-read if you haven't read it in a few years mainly because of the beautiful writing. Yet the themes, however hopeless, are also worth reflecting on, and read my post, A Not So Hopeless Hope, for my thoughts on the book.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Best Books of 2013 Series

Last year, I wrote a series on the best books that I read in 2012... and this year it's time for more! I love to read so it's only fitting that I sum up my favorite books that I read this past year. 

This series won't necessarily be books that were written this year. Instead, they'll be books that I have read in 2013 and that shaped my perspective in one way or another. Similar to last year, I'll write a series of posts based on books in the categories that I typically read, such as fiction, nonfiction, spiritual, and the best for gift-giving.

To kick off the series, here is the #1 book that has become one of my all-time favorite books. 

The best book that I read in 2013 was... drumroll... Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Our friends are probably tired of hearing John and me talk about this book, but it made a huge impact on us and the way that we think about being vulnerable. It challenged us to confront the way that we were (or were not) vulnerable with each other and how we could start showing up and being seen. 

In Brown's words: "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."

You may be familiar with author Brene Brown's extremely popular Ted talk, The Power of Vulnerability. If not, go watch this 20 minute video now and then go order the book.

Daring Greatly is such a powerful read because Brown confronts societal and cultural stereotypes head-on and discusses how instead of living into shame, you can embrace vulnerability. She argues that only through taking the risk of being vulnerable can you live wholeheartedly. Otherwise, you'll be the one standing on the outside of the arena looking in and missing the true adventure of living fully. 

To hear more of my thoughts on why Daring Greatly made such an impact on me, you can read my post Are We There Yet?.

Reading this book would be a perfect way to kick off your 2014 and dare to live greatly...

Monday, November 25, 2013

People are more important than change

During one of my runs last week, I passed by one my favorite views of downtown Atlanta, and I stopped to snap a quick picture.

Atlanta skyline through the haze and Fall leaves
As I approach this view on each run, I look forward to seeing the beauty in every season.

Seeing the city skyline and fall trees brought to mind a training that John and I attended last weekend. The training was called Dignity Serves, and it teaches you how to give and receive with dignity, especially in the context of the inner-city.

Throughout the remainder of my run, I meditated on one of the key principles of Dignity Serves: People are more important than change.

We often long for change: "When are the leaves going to change color?" or "When is she ever going to change?" or "When will changes start happening in our city?"

Yet at the same time, we are so resistant to it. We like the comfortable. We live in the status quo. We often don't change until it's too uncomfortable not to.

What do these opposing views mean for my life? What do they mean for yours?

As a resident of Atlanta, it's tempting to give up on change with so many systemic problems that cloud progress. But usually when we give up on change, we give up on people too.

This can also be true for family members. Is loving them more important to you than seeing them change? This doesn't mean that love doesn't call people to change. But you must remember that you are not the one responsible for their change.

And what about for yourself? Just as it's tempting to give up on others changing or on the inner-city being renewed, we can lean toward self-contempt when personal change is slow. Instead, we must remember what our identity is in and who brings the change.

David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand... I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you." 1 Chronicles 29

When our primary focus is on the One Who Blesses, we are free to give and receive love. He is the one who will bring the change - in ourselves, in others, and in the city.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Where's Waldo? And adventures in getting lost


For Halloween this year, John dressed up as Waldo (as in the character from the Where's Waldo? books). He originally needed the costume for a "fun bunch" committee that he's a part of at work, so we repurposed it for a Halloween celebration that we attended. When we arrived, our friends Anna and Brant were also dressed as Waldo!

The costume was a hit among the adults but a lot of the younger children had never heard of Waldo!

The celebration that we attended was at four of our friends houses who all live in a row in our neighborhood. Every year they go all out for Halloween, and this year they made a haunted house in an empty lot between two of the houses. One neighbor counted that over 700 people came! It was a big hit complete with scary music, a fog machine, zombies jumping out, and someone with a chain saw. This short video clip doesn't really do it justice but you can get the idea:

I was outside of the haunted house passing out candy to the kids who were too small or scared to go through... since I think I would have been scared myself!

Corn Maze

In other fall festivities news, John and I attended another Fall Festival/corn maze this year. Although nothing can compare to the pig race that we saw at last year's festival, we had a great time.

This year's corn maze was huge and we were in a time crunch to finish before it got dark. At one point we thought we'd found out way out only to realize that we'd somehow made our way back to the entrance. Towards the end, we found a sign with a map so we cheated a little bit and made it out in time. It's always fun getting lost in a corn maze and has become an annual tradition for us!

Another tradition is shooting something out of a cannon. Last year's was corn, and this year we shot apples. John was much better than I was!

Fall Leaves

Lastly, we enjoyed a weekend in North Carolina at the height of the leaves changing colors. Throughout our three days, the leaves got more and more vibrant. We went on a chilly hike, which rewarded us with amazing views of the fall foliage!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gathering Hope: A poem

I wrote this poem as a response to our church's call for poets/musicians/artists to create a piece that reflects our four themes for this ministry year: Deepening, Gathering, Sending, and Resting. On Sunday, I was invited to read my poem at both of our services. I haven't read many of my poems aloud and so I was a little nervous, but I appreciated the opportunity to speak these words from my heart and hopefully encourage others in their journey.

I wrote this piece as a reflection of how oftentimes we put our hope in temporal things, whether work, relationships, or in other ways that we define our identity. Yet when we step back, what we put our hope in seems as meaningless as wishing on birthday candles or blowing a fallen eyelash from your fingertip. Though these temporal things are often good, they shouldn't be our ultimate. Gathering in community instead points to a greater hope, one that will not disappoint.

Me as a little girl

Gathering Hope
Stephanie Shackelford

How do you capture the smoke
from a blown out candle,

or grasp an eyelash floating to the ground -

wishes rising up and drifting down?

With one puff, a sigh of hope, 

we breathe dreams into dead air,

whether dripping wax or fallen hair.

Because empty hopes cannot satisfy empty souls, 

You require no smoke offering and already know 

when one hair falls and another one grows.

There is hope unending;

just look around,

where people gather it is found.

The hollow sound of our brokenness, 

the laughter or the sorrow,

rings with Your redemption,
freely given, not bartered or borrowed.

And we share in the glory 

of Your perfect story;
our hope in an ending already written,
and our joy in a plot to be revealed.

We gather together on this journey 

to grow into characters unworthy,

but desiring to live out Your story.

That is a hope we cannot capture

and a joy we cannot grasp

except through faith 

in a love that will last.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Maybe you've uttered those words yourself on a road trip, or maybe it's an internal mantra beating as you move along day-by-day.

As someone who likes to set goals and dream big, I want a map and to know when I can expect to "arrive." I want a response to, "Am I almost there?" Perhaps this tendency lies behind BeEmbraced and my chosen coaching profession. We oftentimes impart the strongest support for others in the areas that resonate deepest within us.

Because I want to learn how to be embraced by the journey as I help others along this path too.
"And, like the child who stops asking questions because suddenly the journey itself has become so interesting, we find there's so much to see that we won't worry so much about the 'when.'" -N.T. Wright
Yet, how do we live into this description?

Part of not worrying about the "when" hinges on not worrying about the winning or losing. It's about showing up and appreciating that what is in front of us today is meaningful in the present and is enough for us to be a positive influence.

I just finished Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly (which I highly recommend!), and she sums this up about our culture of never enough:

"...For many of us, our first waking thought of the day is 'I didn't get enough sleep.' The next one is 'I don't have enough time.' ...Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we're already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something... The opposite of 'never enough' isn't abundance or 'more than enough.' The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness."

At the core of Wholeheartedness is vulnerability and worthiness: "facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough."

If we truly showed up everyday believing that we are enough, would we worry so much about the "when?" If we were excited about our daily opportunity to dare greatly, wouldn't the journey be a daily destination in and of itself?

Since Brene Brown spells this idea out in such a compelling way, let me share her words:

"Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It's about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It's even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there's a far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I am standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen."

Let's have the courage to show up, even when we don't know the "when." Maybe nothing grandly significant will come of daring greatly today but maybe one moment of courageous risk will put you on a journey you couldn't have imagined. A journey where you forget to ask, "Am I there yet?"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Five Fall Flavored Recipes: Soups and Muffins

John laughs every Fall because as soon as Trader Joe's starts selling acorn squash, butternut squash, sweet potatoes by the bushel, baking pumpkins, and brussels sprouts on a stock I cannot contain my excitement. I love Fall cooking and flavors!

In honor of these delicious ingredients, here's some Fall recipes that I've made lately and that I highly suggest you should try out:

Apple Pie - Filled Muffins

John and I devoured these in about 2 days, so I suggest you double the recipe. They are THAT good. When you bite into them you get cinnamon apples in the middle. I followed FitSugar's recipe but used gluten free flour and almond milk instead. 

Pumpkin Muffins with Crumble Topping

As if the apple pie muffins weren't tasty enough, John thought these were even better... probably because they taste like dessert! I used the recipe from Cooking For Isaiah, a cookbook that I highly recommend even if you aren't dairy or gluten free.

Sweet Potato Soup with Bacon Crumbles

The day after I got my Cooking Light issue this month, I made this sweet potato soup. It was so easy but so good. I used my immersion blender which helped it come together quickly. 

Pictured Above: Roasted Broccoli & GF Corn Muffins
Roasting our broccoli was revolutionary. John wasn't a huge fan of broccoli before, but now he loves it roasted. Bon Appetit's recipe is my favorite. The corn muffins are from Cooking For Isaiah.

Chickpea, Butternut Squash, and Lentil Stew

Pictured with Pumpkin Muffins, recipe above.
1 white onion, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cardamon
Pinch of black pepper
1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup red lentils
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tsp sea salt
Fresh cilantro for topping

  1. Toss butternut squash with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, or until it's softened and done.
  2. While squash cooks, heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and saute until it starts to brown. 
  3. Add jalapeno, garlic, and spices (through black pepper) and stir to combine for about 1 minute.
  4. Add chickpeas, diced tomatoes, red lentils, and broth to onion mixture. Stir and turn heat to high until it starts to simmer. Reduce heat and cover until lentils are done, about 25 minutes. 
  5. Once lentils are done, add in butternut squash to pot and stir everything together. Season with sea salt and cilantro before serving.

Pumpkin & Potato Soup

In case you missed it on BeEmbraced a couple of weeks ago, this soup is another win for a Fall night.

I promise it tastes so much better than it looks in this picture!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2 years and 1 week, aka anniversary recap

I last left off mentioning our 2 year anniversary celebration plans, so here's the recap from a fabulous weekend:

On Friday, we headed to The Optimist for a 9:45pm dinner reservation, which was so worth the wait. The menu is centered around seafood (my favorite!) and is absolutely delicious. Fun fact: The Optimist was featured on the cover of September's Bon Appetit magazine as one of America's best new restaurants, and I can say that I agree!

On Saturday, we headed to our favorite donut shop, Revolution Doughnuts. They have the most scrumptious gluten free donuts on the weekends, and I love their coffee. John always gets a least 3 different donuts (non gluten free), such as the nutella-filled one, caramel and bacon, or raspberry.

We clearly love donuts, since I just made some gluten free ones for us recently. (FYI they are so good you'd never guess they were g.f.) AND I got John this cookbook as part of his gift. (The gift includes that I'll be doing the baking too! First up to try is the Raspberry White Chocolate Doughnuts recipe.)

The donuts I made a couple of weekends ago:
Double chocolate espresso (with Christmas sprinkles since that's all I had!)

We then drove to Calloway Gardens for a day of biking in the beautiful weather. Neither of us had been to Calloway, and it was a perfect afternoon of exploring the gardens, biking, and stopping for a picnic. They also had topiaries of college mascots in honor of football season, but sadly no Vandy Commodore!

View from our lunch spot
Tackling the Georgia bulldog 

That evening we had a bonfire with friends in our neighborhood and roasted s'mores.

On Sunday, John had planned for us to explore the Atlanta Botanical Gardens but we ended up wanting to rest since we were tired from all of the biking the day before. So we're going to postpone that gift for another weekend. Instead we went for a walk around Grant Park and threw the football and frisbee.

Tuesday was our 2 year anniversary! Many of you probably saw this picture on Facebook, but it's too good not to include here too. I couldn't have imagined that'd I'd be marrying John if you asked me at 9th grade homecoming. And yet now he's my best friend and love of my life; so very thankful for these past two years of marriage...

John and I exchanged letters (our tradition for holidays), and I made him a crossword puzzle to solve as part of my gift to him. The clues were inside jokes or memories from our years of friendship, dating, and marriage. It was really fun watching him solve it and remembering so many good times!

And yet this past year of marriage has been memorable perhaps more for what we've learned during trials. I think it's often our nature to forget the depth of our pain and despair during afflictions. It's easier to feel in control when we gloss over the hardships. Either I trick myself into thinking that I am to applaud for emerging from trials or I don't want to remember that adversity can overwhelm me.

So though our anniversary certainly was an exciting time of celebration, I also don't want to fall into the common social media trap of only presenting the glamourous parts of life.

What this past year has shown me, however, is the growth that happens during difficult times. Through John's health issues (which he's fully healed but still undiagnosed), my anemia, making difficult decisions to postpone trips, and trying to be patient while growing my business, God is shaping us for His purposes.

And I am so grateful for a best friend-husband that journeys through the ups and downs with me. Together we have learned the importance of rest and what it means to abide. It is through experiencing these seasons together that we rejoice in triumphs and are beginning to learn what it means to dig in and welcome growth during unexpected difficulties.

John proposed after we'd been canoeing in the Florida summer, midday heat. One thing he said to me was that he wanted us to enter into our engagement real - sweat and all - because we'd be doing all of life together, not just the dolled up and glamorous parts. How thankful I am for a husband who desires to "be in the arena" of life with me because it makes our victories in Christ so much sweeter.

Friday, October 11, 2013

76 Years of Marriage, a 2 Year Anniversary & other stories

A couple of weekends ago, John and I headed out to St. Louis for my friend Alex's wedding. The ceremony and reception were both so intentionally planned, including washing each other's feet and having an open prayer time during the ceremony, and fostering authentic conversations over delicious food at the reception.

Alex and Will's commitment to God, each other, and their community was evident throughout the weekend.

Yet one moment in particular stood out to me.

When it was time for the homily, Will's 98 year old grandfather stood up and said, "Well, you can all breathe easy now because I made it!" He then proceeded with an incredible homily, and with his wife present in the crowd, he spoke of his experience from 76 years of marriage. In a concise yet comprehensive and compelling sermon, he expressed how God rejoices over marriage because it reminds us of our covenant with Him and the ultimate wedding feast to come.

I can't do his words justice, but just the image of him proclaiming - and living out - the powerful impact that marriage can have made a huge impression on John and me.

The newly married couple! (Barefoot from washing each other's feet.)
Will's grandfather is clapping on the left.

With the bride! Fun fact: Alex wore her mom's wedding dress.
"My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." -Colossians 2:2-3, 6

The grandfather's words were a wonderful reminder to us as John and I celebrate our two year anniversary next Tuesday.

John has been sending me clues throughout the last couple of days of what he has planned for us tonight and this weekend:

Harriet is in reference to Harriet The Spy, a book and movie that I loved growing up; so much so that I even had a spy-themed birthday party one year. My best friend and I also used to walk around the neighborhood with our composition notebooks and magnifying glasses, recording clues and working on solving neighborhood crimes, like: Why are there footprints in this abandoned lot? or Who opened the neighbor's front gate? Very serious business.

John and I love donuts (gluten free ones for me, of course!), and tonight we're heading to The Optimist for a very special dinner celebration. I'm excited to see what other plans are in store for us this weekend!