Sunday, December 7, 2014

Gratitude (and a Recipe Sharing Friend)

This time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, breeds thankfulness. Unfortunately, I am easily overwhelmed in my life, and it sometimes feels paralyzing, and this time of year is so full that it is especially overwhelming.  I am engulfed with the messes in my house, the responsibilities that I carry, the individual and enormous needs of each of my children, things I need to do and things I want to do.  During this season, even the fun things (like holiday gift buying, baking, card sending, and decorating) can feel overwhelming. 

I have to stop and breathe and focus on GRATITUDE.

Gratitude is a powerful force.  It is more than a fluffy idea.  There is science behind it!
The research that has emerged recently on gratitude is incredible. 
Here are a couple of interesting pieces on the power of gratitude.
This short piece, by my hero Brene Brown, is about the link between Gratitude and Joy:

And this fun experiment measuring the link between Gratitude and Happiness, from SoulPancake.

So, I am stopping for a moment and making a list of 10 things for which I am grateful TODAY. 

Some things I am grateful for are:
1.     The health of our family
2.     Wonderful schools with great faculty and administration that are impacting my kids everyday
3.     Good coffee
4.     Meaningful work with incredible students
5.     Laughter
6.     Neighbors with whom we can loan ingredients and tools, and lend a hand and feel so not alone in this life.
7.     God’s faithfulness- His mercies that are new every morning!
8.     The seasons
9.     A good night’s sleep under a fluffy comforter
10. Friends- old and new, near and far

#10- friends old and new, is the inspiration for this post.  I have a new friend, Sandi.  She is a very talented, wise and generous woman that I have gotten to know this fall.  She and her husband are in our small group at church and one of the unexpected blessings of this new friendship are the food and recipes that have come from her kitchen.  Because we share a meal together each week at group, we have the chance to eat each other’s food weekly!  (That is not a typical opportunity in many friendships).

She is a great cook and has so many recipes that are NEW to me.  It has been a boon for me and my kitchen! Through the years of my food blogging, one of the things that has kept me at it (when I wonder why in the world am I doing this in the vast number of food blogs on the internet) is knowing that some friend or some unknown friend, is finding inspiration and help with what to make for dinner.

Sandi’s gift of new, delicious, do-able recipes has been so great.  I couldn’t decide which recipe to share with you that I have tried of Sandi’s lately, so I decided to share both!  At the rate I am posting lately, I might should double-up when I do sneak the time to create a blog post!  

Recipe #1 is her Apple Cole Slaw.
I love it!
It is sweet and tangy and healthy!  It is good as a side with just about anything!

I have made it twice and I approached it differently each time, and it produced different results.  I liked them both.  I made it once in my food processor and it yielded a much finer, juicer slaw (think Chick fil a slaw texture) and the second time I chopped with a knife and it yielded more of a loose, crunchy salad.

1 apple, chopped
4 slices pineapple, chopped
2 cups cabbage, chopped

2 Tbsp. mayo
2 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt

Mix together the dressing in a small bowl or measuring cup.
Toss together the apples, pineapple and cabbage.
Pour dressing over. Stir to completely coat.
Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes before eating.

Recipe #2 is Nani’s Cake
It's called Nani's cake because the lady who gave her the recipe got it from her Nani.   
My mom tasted it and said she thinks she has this recipe from somewhere in her past and called it Butter Pecan Cake.  I'd call it Sticky Coconut Bundt Cake.  It is a simple- throw it in a bowl, stir and bake cake.  It has a can of coconut pecan sticky frosting stirred into the batter- so it needs no frosting on top.  It gets even stickier and moister after a couple of days, so it is a great make-ahead dessert.  The coconut and nuts are not dominant, so even people who don’t love those ingredients would like it, I think.

1 box yellow butter cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup milk
1 can (Pillsbury)- coconut pecan frosting*
1 tsp almond extract

Beat all together (including frosting).
Spray bundt pan generously.
Bake 350 for 40 minutes.

It gets better with each day so try not to eat it all the first day.

 * we used Betty Crocker frosting because they didn't have Pillsbury

Another gift from Sandi was the book, Not By Sight by John Bloom (President of Desiring God ministries). Click the link to read more about it.  It has been a refreshing morning read this fall.  I highly recommend it. 

So, thank you, Sandi, for sharing your kindness, and generous gifts.  What a blessing.


I hope in the midst of these busy December days we can all purpose to spell our days with gratitude.

But be forewarned, it is sometimes vulnerable to do so!

PERSONAL CONFESSION: Surprisingly the act of writing the gratitude list in this post felt challenging- though in a good way.  I had to dig deep, and be still for a few moments to really think about the things for which I am grateful today
And the act of sharing the list feels/felt vulnerable and somehow risky, and I wonder if that may be part of what holds us back from practicing and expressing gratitude more! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Must Try Apple Pie

I love apples! I eat an apple every day. (After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.) 

I love the crunch and juiciness, the heartiness and ease of apple-eating! This season is apple's prime time and there are so many great varieties on the market.  I don’t know if you have had a Honey Crisp Apple but they are all the rage!  We have been marveling at our house at all the new varieties that are popping up lately. 

There are a couple of interesting NPR segments about the Apple industry.  Click HERE  or HERE if you want to listen/read the recent segments about the Apple industry. 

These next few weeks, pies will be made by many people – as Thanksgiving is such pie-holiday! So, I thought this recipe would be a good one to share.  My mom has been making this apple pie for events lately and I’ve been the lucky recipient of a leftover slice here and there!  This one is a winner.  I asked her to teach me how to make it and in the translating of the recipe I realized that she has combined a couple of different recipes - Southern Living and Trisha Yearwood.  The result is this incredible deep dish, made in a skillet, two-crust pie with a gooey caramel bottom. 

Mom has tried it with apple pie filling instead of fresh apples, and a combination of the two.  Using canned is far simpler, as the peeling of the apples is the biggest chore of the pie, but we like the fresh apples better.  It’s less mushy.  We didn’t make our own crust, but rather used purchased pie crust dough.  (I really like the flavor of the Trader Joe’s or if you don’t have that, you can use the Pillsbury crusts found in the refrigerated section in the red box).

2 refrigerated pie crusts- ready to be used
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 pounds tart apples (peeled and sliced)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp flour
1 egg white
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Peel and slice apples.
In a mixing bowl place apples, cinnamon, sugar and flour and toss well to coat.

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Place butter and brown sugar in skillet on top of stove on medium heat, let melt, swirling with wooden spoon until fully melted.  Remove from heat. 

Carefully drape one of the pie crusts into the skillet filled with brown sugar/butter sauce. (I know this seems counterintuitive to place this over the goo, but it is correct).

Immediately spoon all of the apples on top of the crust.  Cover with the 2nd pie crust and crimp the edges with your fingers to seal along the edge. 

Whisk egg white in a small bowl until foamy.  Brush egg white over the entire top of the pie.  
Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. sugar.  Cut a few small slits into the top of the crust dough.  

Bake for 1 hour. 

Let sit for a few minutes to set.

Serve slices with vanilla ice cream.  

I wanted to snap some photos in the daylight but this was the last
slice of pie remaining when I got a chance to photograph it.
You can see the goo in the pan from the brown sugar butter sauce.
I made this for Bible study this week in honor of my friend Kristin's birthday because I knew
she likes apple pie.  I offered her the various candles from my bin and she chose
the 1 and 7, representing 17.  She thought this would be a good year to do again. :)
(We had to hold up the candles since they wouldn't stand alone in the pie.)

Happy apple eating and pie baking! 

P.S.  WARNING: I'm not sure that the adage "an apple a day" applies to apples doused with butter and sugar and hidden between 2 pie crusts.  You'll have to eat a raw apple for that promise to be valid. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Frozen Fruit Salad and Pumpkin Seed Roasting: Childhood Memories

Aside from a few seasonal fruits, including apples (which I adore and eat daily) the upcoming months of fresh fruit options do not compare with the BOUNTIFUL VARIETY of summer fruits!  That's when it's time to get creative.
this Jell-O ad is reminiscent of our
grandmother's creations

Growing up,  my grandmother made the most creative and interesting frozen and congealed salads. Some were delicious.  Others were frightening.  My sister and I were often a tad fearful of some of her frozen and gelatin creations.

However, my mom made this Frozen Fruit Salad as a staple in our house and we loved it.  She froze it in various sized and shaped molds and kept it on-hand in the freezer.  It is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is made from all canned ingredients (aside from the bananas) so, it's a good fruit salad to keep in mind for the months when there are not many good fresh fruits to choose from.

We called it "F.F" for short and requested it frequently.  I even had a friend in High School who would ask my mom, when he came over with youth group pals, if we had any F.F.  It was famous.

Frozen Fruit Salad
1 large can frozen orange juice concentrate (12 oz) 
1 (orange juice) can of water
1 large can apricots
1 large can crushed pineapple
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 ripe (but not overly ripe) bananas

Mash bananas and put lemon juice over them. 
Mash apricots and add all over ingredients. 
Pour into muffin tins or individual molds. Freeze until solid.
Pop them out of the pans and place in large ziploc bags or plastic containers.
(If they don't easily come out, run a table knife around the edge and/or pour room temperature water over the back side of the pans. I flip muffin pans over on top of a baking sheet and pour water over, so that if one falls, it falls on the pan.) You can also use paper cupcake liners. 

Makes 30-32 cup cake sized cups. 

It's so simple and easy and is tangy and delicious.  I love that it has apricots in it- a fruit that is so delicious. (You can certainly alter the recipe anyway you would like.)
Here is the original recipe:

And speaking of foods from my childhood, we roasted pumpkin seeds this weekend. It's a childhood tradition that I have continued. When we carved a pumpkin at a neighborhood party last weekend, we scooped out the seeds and brought them home.  My kids were anxious to roast them and snack on them immediately. We decided to do 1/2 salty and 1/2 sweet.  (We all voted that we liked the salty best.)
I love that my kids know that if it's pumpkin carving time, then seed roasting is part of the fun.

1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons melted butter (or olive oil)
2 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Scoop out the inside of your pumpkin, and separate seeds from pulp. Don't worry if there's a little pulp left on the seeds when you roast them—it only adds flavor. Just remove the biggest pieces so that the seeds are easy to toss.

In a bowl, toss the seeds with the melted butter, coating thoroughly.  Add salt and seasonings.

Spread seeds in one even layer across a greased baking sheet (or you can use a cookie sheet covered in aluminum foil).

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the seeds are golden brown. Stir the seeds every so often while
they're baking, so that they toast evenly.

(For the sweet ones, we substituted cinnamon/sugar mixture for the salt.  It might have been better to put a little salt with the sweet ingredients). 

These next few months are a great chance to carry on a family tradition or try a new recipe!  It adds zest to life and gives us fun things to break up the sometimes mundane grind of life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

We just had our fall Social Work department dinner last weekend. As we were signing up for what we would bring, I pleased to see that Debbie signed up for her Pumpkin Cake.  It wouldn't be the fall supper without it.  It is a tradition.  It is so delicious.  It's the most moist, perfectly pumpkin, slightly cinnamon-y cake with lick-your-fork cream cheese frosting.  I anticipate it every time.  I had never tried to make it myself…until this week. What was I thinking?

When I asked her for the recipe to the cake she recited the ingredients and proportions.  I was impressed.  When I asked her for specific directions for making the cake she replied, "You make it like you make a cake! You know: cream the first few ingredients, add the dry, just make a cake."   Debbie is a no-nonsense woman.  She is practical, intentional, and wise.

She always brings the unfrosted cake, along with a container of cream cheese frosting already prepared and frosts it on location.  How smart is that? No worrying about the frosting getting messed up, or the cake getting smashed in transit. (This cake doesn't require the "melding" time of having the frosting on for a day or so because this cake is so moist.)

After frosting the cake she handed the bowl to my husband for licking clean,  knowing his intense love for cream cheese frosting.  She just knows.  I'm telling you, the woman is wise. (This post was another day she spoke wisdom in my life that I wrote about.)

After eating a slice on Friday night, and wishing for another slice, I decided to make it as soon as I could buy a can of pumpkin at the store this week.  Lucy and I made it together and I told her my plan was to send a slice to each of the kids' teachers.  That way I could bless the teachers and restrict my eating of it to a couple of slices!  I knew I would whittle away with a slice here, and a bite there, and a fork-full here all week if I didn't ship it off.  

Lucy and I made the cake.  It is really fast to put together.  Yesterday I sliced pieces and put a "Happy Fall! We are thankful for you! love, The Hunts" post it notes on the containers.  My kids took them to their teachers.  Hopefully they felt the love and gratitude we tried to channel into the cake!

This recipe is so simple, it's hard to believe.  It is so good.  

from Debbie Simpler

1 cup canola oil
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 can pureed pumpkin
2 cups flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350˚.
Place oil, eggs, and sugar in mixing bowl.  Blend well.  Add pumpkin.  Blend well.  Add dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly. 
Grease and flour Bundt pan (or use my favorite- Baker’s Joy)
Pour batter into pan.
Bake for 50-60 minutes depending on your oven.
Test for doneness with toothpick.  It should come out clean.
Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.
Using a table knife shimmy around the edges.
Turn cake out onto cooling rack. 
Cool well.
In the meantime make the frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
4 cups of powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix together the cream cheese and butter until thoroughly blended. 
Add powdered sugar.  Mix until smooth.  Add vanilla. 
When cake is cooled frost cake.


 If you are excited about Pumpkin season, check out these Pumpkin Muffins, or this Pumpkin Syrup for Coffee, or these Pumpkin Whoopie Pies that I wrote about in years past.  And if you have a Trader Joe's in your city, just walk in the door and you will be inspired- pumpkin butter, and breakfast  bars, pumpkin bread mix, herbal tea, and pumpkin cranberry scone mix. Of course I couldn't resist buying several of these items.  

I hope you can find a reason to make a Pumpkin Cake (or two) this season!