Friday, March 25, 2011

Amazing Split-Pea Soup

Split-Pea soup has gotten most of its publicity from its notorious role in the classic 1973 horror film, The Exorcist. However, I am here to say that there is so much more to this soup than its ability to resemble discolored projectile spew. And really... unless that girl ATE some split pea soup, it's a wonder as to why her spew would be that color in the first place. Anyway, the point I'm (not very successfully) trying to make is that split pea soup is AWESOME. Delicious and nutritious, as they say.

The recipe I'm about to share with you all... could probably win awards. Could probably break records. Could possibly even cure cancer. That's how fantastic it is. The first time I made it, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, Rocky and I literally ate the entire pot. Granted, we had skipped lunch that day, and we continued to eat the soup over the course of about 3 hours... but still. That pot was empty. I think I even caught Rocky licking the sides. Basically, it's scrumptious and addictive, and yea, maybe I'm bragging a little bit, but I'm only trying to convince the general public that pea soup needs another chance. If you haven't tried it in awhile, or ever, or are for some reason convinced that you don't like it... I'm here to plead on behalf of this delicious soup. Give Peas a Chance!!!

2 cups dried split peas, rinsed
1/2 dry barley (or brown rice)
7 1/2 cups water
1 ham hock or ham bone
3 carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 potatoes, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb ham (or bacon)
2 tbs olive oil/butter/bacon fat/etc.
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 bay leaf

     Many crock pot recipes tell you to just throw everything into the pot together, walk away, and eat 8 hours later. This recipe isn't AS simple (still very easy though!) but produces a MUCH better textured, and much more flavorful outcome.
     1. So. First off, ignore the directions on the back of the package of peas. Turn the crock pot onto the 'high' setting and put your peas in, followed by 7 1/2 cups cold water and your ham hock/bone. Put the lid on and let it cook for a minimum of four hours. Don't add anything else. For four hours. Seriously. We want the peas to break down beautifully and soak in the hammy flavor! I usually stir it once or twice during this time.
     2. Once the peas are nearing the end of their initial cook time, heat up your oil in a skillet and add your onions, carrots, potatoes, and garlic, along with the seasoned salt, basil, thyme, and ground pepper. Cook until the onions are transparent and the carrots have softened up. Take skillet off heat.
     3. Check your peas. If they are disintegrating nicely, turn the crock pot to 'low' and add your cooked veggie mixture, sea salt, bay leaf, and barley. Stir it all together, replace lid, and cook for about 2 hours.
     4. Finally, once that time has gone by, heat your skillet back up, and add your ham to it, with a dash of oil. If you are using ham (I am almost always using leftover ham from a baked ham I made a day or two earlier), dice it up before cooking. If you're using bacon, you'll crush it later. Either way, get the meat nice and toasty in the skillet. Once it's ready (crispy, and diced or crushed), add it to your pot, stir together, and cook on low for one last hour.
     5. Ladle into bowls, top with some crunchy homemade croutons*, and enjoy! 

I wish I were eating this RIGHT NOW.

Diced bread, toasted in a skillet with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. 
Super easy, super tasty.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Trust Walk

I was born with terrible vision. Terrible. We're talking arrested if found driving without corrective eyewear. We're talking can't even pick out the big E on the vision chart to save my life. My glasses were the ones in middle school, during the "let's all trade glasses and see how blind we are" game, that people would put on and go "DAAAAAAANG! You are BLIND!" Thank you. I never realized that before. However, they say that when one sense is lacking, the others overcompensate to make up for it. It is for this reason, I believe, that I have fantastic hearing. Not super-human enough to break any Guinness world records or anything, but pretty darn good. Like able to hear Gemma's blanket crinkle when she shifts during her nap and I'm two rooms away. In the shower.

The reason I tell you all this is because, I have recently been reflecting on the fact that I'm fairly certain my physical sense abilities (horrible vision, great hearing) mirror themselves in my spiritual life. Let me explain.

I am one of those people who has always been able to hear God's voice - so clearly. Truly hear him speaking in my heart, and know, without a doubt, that is is him. And know, without a doubt, what he is telling me to do. It's kind of crazy-sounding, I know. But I firmly believe that God blesses each of us with certain spiritual gifts and graces. And the ability to discern his voice in my life is mine. It is something I have always been able to do, as long as I can remember. It is a gift that I am so very grateful for. I cherish it, and wouldn't change it for the world.

However. Coupled with this blessing, I am really, really, really lacking in spiritual vision. I never know what the path God has lain before me looks like. I cannot see his plan for me anymore clearly than I can see the big E on the eye chart. Which is not at all, if you remember. Every now and then, if I squint reallllllly hard, I am able to make out vague shapes that I can only guess at what they are. Like, hm, that kind of looks like a house. And that, maybe that's a double stroller. And that - oo! That looks like me, as the host of my very own cooking show on the Food Network! ... no? Not so much? Where are my glasses?!

My whole life is like one big trust walk. I can hear God's voice, clear as day, saying "Come this way. Now stop. Move over to the left a bit. Now take as gigantic of a leap as you are physically capable of. Okay, now sit and relax for awhile. Okay now run really fast! Now just walk slowly towards the right until I say stop..." But can you imagine how terrifying those instructions are when you are BLIND? Terrifying, I tell you.

But you know what? I do what he says. I do it anyway, despite my sheer terror at times. I do it because, so far, he has never led me to harm, only to happiness. So was it scary when God told me to attend a university I didn't really want to instead of going to the one I had dreamt of attending all through high school? Yea, it was. But I learned a lot at that school, and I made some amazing friends. Irreplaceable friends. Was it scary when God said "I want you to travel by yourself to Africa... and stay there for awhile." when I had never even flown in my life? Ummmm, yes! But it was the most eye-opening, spiritually fulfilling, life-changing time of my life. Was it scary when God told me to marry a man I had known for only a short while? Of course it was. But I have loved every single second of my marriage and the life we are building together.

So as I look back a little on my life, and think forward to future that lies ahead, still hidden, I am both scared and excited. Scared because it's hard to be blind. It's hard to obey a voice that's leading you down a road... a road that could be rough, or muddy, or smooth, or winding, or hilly, or boring, or.... anything! But I'm excited because that voice is God's. And I trust that his will for me is perfect, and more beautiful than I could ever imagine. The life he creates for me is far better than any life I could ever hope to create for myself. So even when it's scary, even when the world disapproves, even when I'm completely and utterly blind... I will follow that voice.

I have faith that God will always lead me exactly where he wants me to go... which I'm pretty sure is my own cooking show on the Food Network. No? Still no? Hmm... well, we'll see if he changes his mind on that at some point. ;)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blogs I've Been Loving Lately

I just love blogs. I really do. I love blogging and reading other blogs, particularly mommy blogs, but I also love food blogs, faith blogs, and any other blogs that are just plain fun. Lately, these have been my faves and I've titled each link with the reason I love that particular blog:

Go check 'em out! Hope you find some that you enjoy as much as I do :)

Favorite of the Day: Smiles and Giggles

Words can't describe the joy a baby's smile bring the world. Words can't describe how much more you fall in love with your baby every time her face transforms into that huge heart-melting grin. Words can't describe the happiness that fills you when the room is filled with the sound of your baby's laughter. So, I won't even try to describe it! I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

She loves that little cardboard book :)
She loves her humungo teddy too!
Side smirk ;)

And here is a video of Gemma giggling away with Daddy. Sorry it's so dark!! I don't really know how to fix that.. I'm not the best at video recording haha. Oh well, the sound is all that really matters anyway!

Anyway, I hope my little one's smile brought a smile to your face! Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gemma's 6 Month Update... A Month Late

I truly cannot believe I am sitting here writing this 6 month update on Gemma... and it's a month late! That's right, Gemma will be 7 months old THIS Sunday!! Can you believe it? Ah, I am just so amazed at how quickly it's all going.

So, logistically speaking, she is now 16lbs, 2oz. 26 in. long. I don't remember what they said her head circumference is, but does anybody really get excited about that? And now for her list of favorite activities:

Sitting (and playing with anything within her reach)
Learning to crawl (more on this later, including her favorite baby yoga poses!)
Experimenting with big people food (also more on this later)
Teething (well, she doesn't actually enjoy this particular activity, but it's happening - we should see her two bottom teeth soon!)
Skyping with friends and family (though she freezes up a little and just kind of stares at the screen)
Nursing (as usual. she is in that lovely easily-distracted phase though - not so fun for Mom)
Babbling like crazy (including the ever-popular 'mama' and 'dada')
Trying to play exclusively with things that are not toys (ie, shoelaces, Mom's cell phone, the computer, anything plastic, paper bags, Mom's hair, etc. although she still has a deep love for mr. duckie)
Bathtime (mostly because of her deep love for mr. duckie)
Jumping in her jumperoo (video to come)
Reading (well, being read to - if we're going to be technical)
And in her spare time, she's picked up the piano:

Getting ready to compose her first masterpiece
It was beautiful. You should have heard it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fresh Pizza Crust

In our house, Friday night is pizza night. They just... go together, ya know? Like peanut butter and jelly. Or milk and cookies. Or mustard and pickles. Oh wait, that's just when I'm pregnant.
Anyway, for me, the key to a good pizza is the crust. And the key to a happy bank account is saving money. And the key to saving money is making things from scratch. And the key to making things from scratch is... okay, I'll stop now.
All tangents aside, I really love making homemade pizza crust because it is cheap and delicious. And really, once you get the hang of it, a lot easier than you might think! So. Here goes:

2 or more cups flour (unbleached all-purpose or unbleached whole wheat or a combo of the both!)
1 package (1/4 oz) pizza yeast
1 cup very warm tap water
3 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
seasonings of your choice

1. In a small bowl, combine yeast and sugar. Add warm water and stir thoroughly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. In a large bowl (if you're using a stand mixer, use that bowl here), combine 2 cups flour, salt, and a few dashes of your favorite dried seasonings. I usually add garlic powder, parsley, and basil for a standard crust. Add yeast mixture and oil.

2. Mix together until well blended. I use a stand mixer with a dough hook which makes life verrrrry easy, but if you don't have all that, I'd suggest using a wet wooden spoon. It will probably still be a bit too sticky at this point, so gradually add more flour until you have a nice, soft dough ball that is smooth and elastic. With the stand mixer, you'll know you're done when all the dough comes away from the walls and stays together in a ball. If you're not using the stand mixer, you will need to switch to kneading with your hands for a bit until you reach the right constancy. You're aiming for a dough ball that is just slightly sticky to the touch, but not so much that your fingers get stuck to it. If at any point, you added too much flour, just dash some water in to make up the difference.

3. Put the dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl, roll it around to cover it all with a bit of oil, then cover the bowl with a damp towel, and let it sit for 20-30 mins. This is a great time to preheat your oven to 400°F and start the prep on your toppings.

4. I've never in my life had much luck rolling out dough, or doing that cool toss into the air and catch with fists flippy thing... so I just use floured hands, and press the dough out to fill in a lightly greased pizza pan or stone. But if you're cooler than I am, and possess such rolling or flipping skills, then have a blast! Either way, once the dough is evenly lain onto the pizza pan/stone, let it rest for about 5 minutes. (Take this time to finish prepping whatever ingredients you'll be using).

5. Now, place the pan/stone into the oven on the bottom rack (no topping or sauce of any sort on it) for aboooout 8 minutes - keep an eye on it. I do this to give it just a bit of firmness and to start the baking process. It helps to not have such a well, doughy crust in the end. Take it out once it has firmed up just a bit, but is still pliable enough to make an indent into it with your finger.

And voila! You have an awesomely scrumptious pizza crust.

Firm, but pliable.
Ready for TOPPINGS!

Final steps:
Turn oven heat up to 425. Add sauce, cheese, and toppings. Cook on middle or bottom rack for 12-15 minutes, until crust is golden brown, and cheese is all melty and bubbly and mouth-wateringly awesome looking.

Finished product!
Maple mustard sauce, mushrooms, sausage, and red peppers :)

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