Thursday, January 20, 2011

Food for Thought

After I dropped my girls off this morning at my mom's house, I drove to school in silence with just my thoughts to keep me company.  I thought about how I measure my worth and it amazes me at all the things that came to mind.  I do it without thinking, really, but at the end of the day I have my worth wrapped up in so many areas.  For better or worse the way I see myself is so dependent on the type of house I have, the car I drive, the clothes I wear, what the scale says, the way others view me, how "nice" I am to other people or how many good things I do, how many times I yelled at my kids that day, whether we eat a homemade meal or have Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner, whether or not I'm too tired to clean the kitchen that night or fold the mountain of laundry that never seems to go away.  The list goes on and on and more often than not I don't meet my expectations, or I compare myself to those that seem to have it all together.

This morning as I was driving I was reminded that my worth to God isn't in any of those things.  He loves ME and I don't have to do a thing to earn it!  The expectations I have for myself will always fail because the focus is on me when it should be on God.  If you are like me and tend to get so wrapped up in your value as it pertains to others, then I pray that you will feel some relief in knowing that we are valued and treasured just as we are by God.  So consider this post as more of 'food for thought' rather than an actual recipe, because we have to feed more than just our stomachs ;).

Psalm 139:1-18 is a beautiful reminder of God's love for us:

 1 You have searched me, LORD,
   and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
   you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
   and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
   too lofty for me to attain.
 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
 13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand—
   when I awake, I am still with you.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Recovering (Diet) Coke Addict

I am a recovering coke addict...Diet Coke that is!  I used to be a HUGE Diet Coke junkie.  I would buy a 24-pack and it would be gone in 4 or 5 days.  It all started back in jr. high when I started to become aware of calories, weight gain, cellulite....all of that good stuff.  I thought diet drinks were an answer to prayer; you get your pop (as us northerners say, soda for the rest of you) and don't have to deposit anything into the 'calorie bank' that day.  So after 13 years or so of this blissful relationship with my thigh-friendly beverage, why stop?  (Well, I haven't completely stopped as of yet, but I reserve my Diet Coke splurge for eating out only.)  It started a little over a year ago when I had terrible pain and swelling in my right knee.  I ignored it for a while thinking it would go away, but after a couple months my knee was so swollen and some days I could hardly walk on it.  I saw my family doctor, joint specialist, rheumatologist, physical therapist, and an ortho doctor.  No one could figure out what was wrong.  I was finally given a cortisone injection after 8 months of a swollen/painful knee and haven't had a problem since.  This frustrating time led me to do my own research.  I knew I drank a LOT of Diet Coke and used sugar substitutes in just about everything I could, so I started researching and was amazed at what I found!  You can research all day about how terrible artificial sweeteners are for you.  Here are a few pages if you feel like reading them: Sweet Poison, Aspartame Dangers, and Natural News.

I am obviously not a doctor or health professional in any way, and I'm not saying artificial sweetener caused my knee to swell for so long.  But really, what good can man made chemicals be doing to our bodies?  I decided that for the sake of my health I was going to stop buying sugar-free products, including my Diet Coke.  I haven't purchased diet drinks at the store in about a year now.  I do still get Diet Coke when we go out to eat, but that's not something we do more than a couple times per month, and moderation is key, right?  So if you're like I was and downing diet drinks morning, noon, and night, then I encourage you to do some research of your own and maybe temporarily give it up to see if you notice any differences.  Maybe you'll find a new addiction, like coffee; that's for another post, though :).

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Boeuf Bourguignon

I have seen the movie Julie & Julia twice.  After the second time I knew I had to find the recipe for Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon (or here in America, Beef Burgundy).  I bought everything to make this a few days ago, but a violent attack of the stomach flu hit our house and the thought of cooking led me straight to la toilette.  Finally able to keep everything in, but my stomach still a little uneasy, I decided to use the meat that expired today because if it went in the freezer it wasn't coming out again.  So after half a day of cooking in my kitchen I completed the recipe!  The real test will be if my husband likes it when he gets home from work tonight, but queasy stomach and all I ate 3/4 of my bowl and it was dee-lish!  So in my sharing fashion I will post the recipe I found here and the pictures I took along the way.

Boeuf Bourguignon
Julia Child

Serves 6

One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon with rind (gross, I know!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic (you may add more)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
Braised Onions:
18 to 24 small white onions, peeled (you can use thawed pearl onions from the freezer)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long).
Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water.
Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a flameproof dutch oven or casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat left in the dutch oven from the bacon until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons on the plate.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the dutch oven with carrots and onions and toss with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set dutch oven uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.

Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).  Remove dutch oven and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.

 Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

Cover dutch oven and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours (I ended up turning my oven down to 250 degrees over the course of an hour, you just have to watch to see how fast it's simmering). The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

 (To remove the skins easily, boil them for 30 seconds and then drain.  The skins will peel right off.)

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.

Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.

Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.

 Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat 1 tablespoon oil and 2 tablespoons butter over high
heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.

Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the dutch oven into a sieve (or colander) set over a saucepan.

Wash out the dutch oven and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

 Serve in dutch oven, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

Bon Appetit!