Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to Eat a Muffin

This morning the Best Husband Ever and I headed to one of our favorite coffee shops-come-bakery, Break Espresso, for a treat-ish breakfast and a round of Scrabble. He munched on, in our shared opinions, an overly pecan-ed caramel roll and some Montana-produced tea. I enjoyed a blackberry bran muffin with black coffee. It's been a while since I partook of this particular muffin, and it was both a welcome comfort and slightly unsettling that it tasted exactly like the last one I remember eating, which must have occurred at least one year ago, if not longer.

We all know that I love the muffin. I also have a specific muffin-munching method to go with my madness. Here is more information about my muffin infatuation than you ever wanted to know. Be that as it may -- I think it enhances the enjoyment of the muffin, don't you?

How to Eat a Muffin, Muffin Love-Style
  1. Purchase/bake/thieve muffin of your choice.
  2. Place on plate.
  3. Flip.
  4. Remove any wrapper/baking cup so that said muffin is completely au naturel.
  5. Ruthlessly wrest the "butt" of the muffin from its top.
  6. Devour the sub-par botttom of muffin with a fork. Ignore the muffin top if it trembles in fear at its certain doom.
  7. Grin wickedly at the muffin top, then enjoy it in all of its perfectly-textured glory.
  8. Ingest any fallen crumbs from empty plate.
  9. Heave a sigh of contentment and smack your lips in the most expansive manner possible.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Cooking a Book

For the past week or so, I've been immersed in a memoir for this month's selection for the Cooking the Books online food-themed book club, The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber. Abu-Jaber writes about growing up as the daughter of a Jordanian immigrant who lives with his more-or-less American wife and daughters near Syracuse, NY, desperately trying to both hold tight to his heritage while achieving the elusive American Dream. Not being a person who typically enjoys memoirs, I began to read this with more than a little skepticism. However, I soon found myself engrossed in the vivid, sensory language of the book and caught up in Abu-Jaber's sensual descriptions of cooking and eating with her Jordanian family both in the United States and in their country of origin.

This is not just any memoir, though. It's also a pseudo-cookbook. Every chapter contains at least one or two recipes that relate to surrounding events. Not being able to resist a sneak-peek, I flipped forward through the book the first night I opened it to read and perused every recipe. Some sounded interesting, but none really caught my eye. None, that is, until I encountered the recipes for a second time while reading in the usual way. Somehow, as I learn and understand why Abu-Jaber included each recipe in her memoir, the story behind each one, and the emotional significance each dish has for her, the recipes become much more appealing. Now the "'Stolen Boyfriend' Baba Ghanouj" and titular "Poetic Baklava" not only mean something to me, but I also want to trying tackling these and the other recipes Abu-Jaber weaves into her story.

I did try out one recipe -- the "'Start the Party' Hummus." There was a lunchtime potluck at the school where I work this week, and I decided that I would try to "start the party" Jordanian style. Unfortunately, I wasn't too impressed with the recipe as it tasted a little too tahini-y for me, although using black olives to dip in this hummus as Abu-Jaber suggests did help quite a bit. I did get a more favorable review from a coworker, though, so I'll leave you with the recipe, your own palate's judgement, and my five-star review for this memoir.

Diana Abu-Jaber's "Start the Party" Hummus

1 15-oz. can chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 tsp paprika
2 T olive oil (I omitted this)
juice of 2 lemons
3 cloves garlic
salt to taste

Puree all the ingredients to a thick, creamy consistency. Adjust texture by adding small amounts of water.

Serve in a wide, flat bowl with a streak of olive oil on top, along with a basket of warm pita bread for dipping. Black olives, sliced tomatoes, or radishes make a nice dippable garnish.

From The Language of Baklava, p. 125.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mountain Top View

The view from the peak of a recent hike up the city's highest (I think) mountain. The hike was extraordinary . . . until my dogs ran off. No worries, they returned -- over 12 hours later.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Bevvy of Bars from the 'Buzz

I recently had the opportunity to receive free samples of Quaker's new True Delights granola bars through Foodbuzz. And yesterday, I got a package stuffed with two each of the following flavors: dark chocolate raspberry almond, honey roasted cashew mixed berry, and toasted coconut banana macadamia nut. Unwieldy names aside, these granola bars look quite promising. They also apparently have something to do with a mysterious Foodbuzz event that is taking place at the beginning of next month. So watch for reviews of these tasty-looking bars as well as the arrival of the coming attraction!

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Crumbly Predicament

The Best Husband Ever and I have a quasi-tradition of enjoying sweet treats from a local bakery together on Saturday mornings. This habit began over the summer as part of our weekly forays to the farmer's market. Once the market closed for the season, though, I didn't want to leave our treat day behind. So we continued, now sharing our pastries over a game of Scrabble or the morning paper, or both.

The same rang true this past Saturday. We visited Break Espresso, a coffee shop/bakery (where I used to work, incidentally) that makes some of the best baked goods in town. The Best Husband Ever got his usual, a cinnamon roll, while I branched out and tried a piece of their berry coffee cake.

The coffee cake was delicious. Moist and flavorful without being overwhelmingly sweet or sugary, as many of their pastries are, I thought this cake struck just the right balance between indulgence and nutrition. My favorite aspect of it was the cake's texture. The bulk of the cake was light and not at all dry, contrasting with a thin crowning crust of cinnamon streusel.

I love struesel and crumble toppings. My favorite apple pie, also made by the bakers at Break Espresso, has one. The extra burst of sweetness paired with its subtle and unique crunch is so satisfying to me. There's just one problem -- I wish it would stay on the cake! With every dive of my fork into the coffee cake, it seemed the the streusel topping would rain down to the plate, wasted. Not truly wasted, of course, because I made sure to clean up the fallen crumbles quite thoroughly. But, as tasty as streusel is, I also find it maddening to eat because of how it drops right off whatever its been cooked onto. Am I being overly perfectionist? Probably. But the fact remains -- crumbly toppings drive me wild with taste bud pleasure as well as with OCD frustration.

Do you have any silly food or eating predilections like this? For example, do you not like certain foods to mingle on your plate, or do you eat certain types of dishes in a specific order or method. Please tell me that I'm not alone in my compulsive streusel-ingesting irritations! I can't be alone in my ludicrosity, right? Er, right . . . ?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I Pledge Allegiance to Peanut Butter

Did you know that yesterday was National Peanut Butter Day? I didn't until I read the Peanut Butter Boy's post, discussing the recent peanut butter recalls. He even includes a recipe with which to safely enjoy your favorite peanut butters. Thanks, Nick!

Speaking of favorites, I thought I'd belatedly join in the celebration by sharing one of my own preferred methods of peanut butter consumption. Behold the Mess o' Potassium. It brings together the healthful deliciousness of a ripe banana, cereal, maple syrup, and, of course, the peanut butter of your choice. I created this particular bowl with Banana Nut Cheerios, a random and delightful discovery at Costco, which made it extra banana-y.

Other ways I enjoy peanut butter are:
  • Stirred over a sliced microwave-baked apple (I think a cinnamon & raisin or chocolate flavored butter is best)
  • Spread into a whole wheat tortilla and lightly toasted, possibly combined with some pumpkin butter
  • Mixed into ice cream
  • Stirred into plain Greek yogurt (Fage is my favorite!)
  • Used as the base in a stir fry sauce
What's your favorite way to eat peanut butter? Do tell!

Mess o' Potassium

1 banana, sliced
1 cup of not-too-sweet cereal (Cheerios and Chex are great for this)
1 T peanut butter (I used Naturally Nutty's butter toffee flavor)
drizzle of honey or maple syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Stir, stir, stir, then enjoy with a spoon for a lovely breakfast or nutritious dessert.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Happy Yoga Day! Today I celebrated my body, its abilities, and, of course, yoga by getting on my mat. I had planned to participate in one of the sponsored free yoga classes here in town, but woke up this morning not feeling so great. As the temperatures outside plummet back to more standard western Montana lows, I couldn't bear to don skimpier yoga gear and travel out into the cold. Brrr.

Although I was sad to miss out on the free community class, I did take advantage of the 70 minute power yoga donation class at Yoga Download. I've enjoyed some of their 20 minute freebie classes in the past (the core yoga kicked my . . . well, core!), so I decided to try this one out. Not bad, I must say, although my favorite free yoga audio classes on the net continue to come from the lovely Elsie, who teaches from the Anusara school.

I also made another fun yogic discovery today. Hulu offers some really wonderful free yoga and pilates practices from Exercise TV, all of which run between 10 and 20 minutes. Exercise TV also provides a Hulu collection dedicated purely to six pack abs. I tried out their Rock Hard Abs this morning, and was fairly impressed. Not only was the workout short yet effective, but the instructor hit me with some new moves that I'd never seen before. I love trying new fitness workouts and exercises, so I left the mat feeling quite pleased.

So that was my Yoga Day 2009. How was yours? Do you practice yoga, and if so did you get a chance to get on the mat today? I hope so. I know that, even while I sometimes have to drag myself to my mat, I never regret having practiced. Even when the practice is hard and uncomfortable and even unpleasant, I never feel like I've wasted time spent doing yoga.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome, Mr. President

"For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.

"It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

"It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also
a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

"Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.

"These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history."

~ Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

Read Obama's full inaugural address.

Photo credit.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Food Rodeo and a Cooking Joust

I had the very best intentions to update Muffin Love's layout today, but I suppose I just got too busy. Between taking the dogs on a long hike, baking spaghetti squash for lunches and dinners later in the week, running errands, reading blogs, uploading photos, and cleaning, the day flew by. It was a nice one, though! Anyway, I had planned to kick off the new blog layout with a little food stalking, taking you through what I ate today. Even though the layout hasn't changed, neither will my plan. I'll even reveal my new slow cooker recipe and Royal Foodie Joust entry. Let the stalking begin!

After trying out a new workout DVD (The Biggest Loser's boot camp video), I kicked off the day with one of my new favorite breakfasts: a 2% Fage yogurt, 1 sliced banana, 1 cup cinnamon Puffins, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and a dismembered ginger baby from The Ginger People's gift basket, all stirred together. Delicious! Teamed with a cup of vanilla coffee with a little skim, my supplements (a multi-vitamin, vitamin D, iron, and cranberry tablets, as well as ibuprofen for my recently removed teeth) and some time with my Bible, it was meal that nourished me in many satisfying ways. Because I ate breakfast later than usual since I had off from work for MLK Day, I didn't have my usual mid-morning yogurt snack.

Meet lunch: 1 cup fat-free egg replacers with soy jalapeno cheddar and lots o' ketchup (I adore condiments), broccoli soup sprinkled with basil and a pinch of nutmeg, sea salt pita chips, baby carrots, a caramel calcium chew, one ginger baby, and watermelon-flavored seltzer. I read Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collions, which is the third book in her fun YA series. I randomly discovered Collins' books in the library of the school where I work, and really enjoy these easy but entertaining reads. I'm not sure if I'll keep pressing on through the series, though, because I have other books I want to conquer.

For dinner I made a slow cooker cauliflower chickpea curry with mushrooms (recipe below), served over soy noodles and topped with a dollop of plain yogurt to cool my palate. Some other non-photographed dinner items that served to soothe the curry's spice included cottage cheese mixed with a spoonful of pumpkin puree, sea salt pita chips (I found them in the clearance section at Target and can't imagine why -- they're delicious!), a salad with balsamic and Dijon mustard, and a caramel calcium chew.

I also had some of this for dessert. Yum! A sweet ending to a pretty sweet day. But it's not quite the right note to finish out this post on, because I still owe you a recipe!

So let's get to it. Not only is this easy-peasy curry extremely flavorful and spicy, but it's crammed with veggies and healthy protein. Also, it's easily transferable to a stovetop for cooking if you don't own a Crock-Pot -- just combine all the ingredients in your favorite skillet or pan and cook until the veggies are nice and tender (about 30 minutes). Enjoy the curry, and my entry for the February 2009 round of the Royal Foodie Joust (whose ingredients, if you were wondering, are cauliflower, mushrooms, and noodles).

3 C's in a Crock-Pot: Cauliflower Chickpea Curry

1 medium head cauliflower, leaves removed and chopped
1 cup yellow onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
7 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 15-oz. can fire roasted tomatoes with garlic
1/4 cup light coconut milk

1 heaping T garlic, minced
1 T cayenne pepper
2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1.5 tsp garam masala
1 inch crystallized ginger, diced

Noodles, rice, or flatbread to serve

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker. Mix thoroughly. Cook on high for about 4 hours. Serve over noodles, rice, or a flatbread of your choice (naan is my favorite!). Top with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Serves 4.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Revved Up Recovery

I must say that this whole wisdom teeth removal adventure has been very anti-climactic. Judging from past experiences from friends and family and according to information from the, dentist, oral surgeon, and associates, I fully expected my face to swell up Godfather-style, to be either entrenched in pain or benumbed by painkillers, and to generally be laid up.

None of that has happened. I stopped taking the painkiller after the first day because it made me nauseous and absolutely exhausted. I've had little to no pain since, and no noticeable swelling (I've continued to take the ibuprofen to help prevent that). I ate non-chew foods the first few days, like protein smoothies, yogurt, pudding, and (my favorite!) slow-churned birthday cake-flavored ice cream. Today, a mere three days after surgery, I ate salad. Crispy, crunchy, and delightfully chew-worthy salad!

The surgery didn't even stop my activity. I've continued to take the pups out for much-needed hikes, and have done some workout videos (yay for Zumba!) and yoga. Soon I'll even be able to brush my teeth normally again, but I'll try not to get too crazy.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rolling In . . . Ginger?

This past Thursday afternoon, I came home to find a most welcome surprise waiting for me on my doorstep -- a package from The Ginger People! It was the prize for winning their holiday cookie contest hosted by the Leftover Queen. If you remember, I made some ginger biscotti, which snagged me this sweet reward.

I knew in advance that I would be receiving their full line of crystallized ginger products, and they were definitely not kidding! Opening up the shipping box, I found a beautiful gift basket full of crystallized ginger goodness. Here's the run-down starting from the top left corner of the basket and traveling clockwise:
  • baker's cut crystallized ginger chips (I think I'll be using these for an upcoming Tuesdays with Dorie recipe)
  • premium cut crystallized ginger (presumably the same as the baker's cut chips, only larger)
  • organic crystallized ginger
  • crystallized ginger in medallion shapes
  • ginger sweeties (shaped like hearts!)
  • ginger candy canes (can these shapes get any cuter?)
  • ginger babies (shaped like little people -- apparently the shapes can get even more adorable!)
Of course I had to dig into one of the jars right away, so a few ginger babies quickly took up new residence in my belly. Not only are they as cute as can be, but also perfectly moist and spiced. Delicious!

So I'll be rolling in crystallized ginger for quite some time. I'm not sure what I'll be doing with my spiced booty, aside from baking more biscotti as well as muffins, breads, or even a cobbler. The can of premium cut crystallized ginger recommended using the ginger as a straight-up snack, a palate cleanser, in a cup of tea, or as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, cereal/granola, and salad. How intriguing!

I'm especially excited by the idea of using some ginger with ice cream. A part of the Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park that stuck out to me when I read the book as a kid was when, in the midst of despair and facing a whole freezerful of melting ice cream due to lost power, one of the characters digs into some ginger ice cream for a little comfort. I might have to follow suit (sans the dino-related depression, of course!). And as a huge fan of yogurt and granola, the idea of that combination plus some top-of-the-line ginger sounds amazing.

If you could pick any use of ginger, either fresh or crystallized, what would it be? Post your recommendations in the comments section! And, once again, a huge thank you to Jenn, the wonderful Leftover Queen, for hosting this in conjunction with The Ginger People.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not a Happy Camper

This morning I had my four wisdom teeth removed. Right now, I am not a happy camper. I feel generally queasy, probably from a combination of the anesthesia and the fact that I couldn't eat for 6 hours prior to the surgery. Since then, I'm only allowed to eat cold foods that require no chewing (this help create a good blood clot over the open wound), so my nutrition for the day is low. I've had 2 Jello sugar-free puddings, a sugar-free lime Jello, an applesauce (from Granny Smith apples, my favorite!) and right now I'm drinking a smoothie of banana, chocolate protein powder, skim milk, and stevia.

On top of the that, my face and tongue and inside of my mouth are still mostly numb. And yet my wisdom teeth wounds hurt when I swallow. I feel groggy and dizzy when I stand. I need to ice my face just about all the time, which is something I intensely dislike. As a result, I'm really chilly.

The worst part is, though, that I can't get out and do anything. I hate just sitting, waiting for my body to heal. Today was beautiful, sunny and clear. A perfect day to hike with the pups. And I had to stay inside, icing my face. I refused to stay in bed, at least, because that made me feel like even more of an invalid. I (obviously) blogged, Flickr-ed, Facebook-ed, and played some Little Big Planet.

Okay. Breathe. End rant.

My situation could be far worse, I know. I'm a healthy, able-bodied young woman with a lot of good stuff going for me. And in a day or so, I'll be getting back to normal, eating more of what I like, getting outside and hitting the mountains for some short day hikes.

Hiking is something I've always enjoyed, especially since moving to western Montana about 4-ish years ago, where good hiking is so readily available. That's one thing I love about the city I live in -- in just a few minutes' drive, I can be scaling the side of a mountain. Where else in the United States can you find such a blessing? And it's not just a single hike -- there are many trails of various intensities and elevation climbs within 20 minutes, as well as opportunities for long-distance running, cross country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and the like, depending on conditions.

(On an ironic note -- I decided, since we were having an awesome snow season this year, to invest in a set of cross country skis. The day I picked up my skis, the weather turned warm and all the snow turned to ice and slush. Bah! Soon, though, I will break in my brand new skis. I'm excitied!)

Back to hiking. Since we brought a second dog into our home, Jackson, the Best Husband Ever and I have found ourselves out of doors more frequently than usual to get him (and Cody, of course!) exercise. Jackson has vast reserves of energy and ideally needs to be taken on a big run/hike/jaunt daily. We've been doing pretty well, and I've managed at least every other day for a hike since the hubby has been laid up from hernia surgery. When it's cold and gross out, it's hard to get myself out in the inclement weather to get the pups some exercise. But when I do, I never regret it. It's almost always wonderful, and more than worth the discomfort. Besides, it's great exercise for me as well as the dogs!

Do you ever have experiences like that? When you want nothing to do with a certain high-energy-expending activity, but love it once you motivate yourself and just do it? Please share your stories in the comments. And, of course, dont' forget to vote in the Muffin Love makeover poll!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TWD: Corn Muffin Love

It's Tuesday, and you know what that means -- Tuesdays with Dorie! This week's challenge was to make Dorie's Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins, stuffed with red bell peppers, jalapenos, and corn kernels. The addition of black pepper was the final touch that gave these muffins a truly unique zing. They are a step above your average corn muffin, to be sure.

Corn muffins are great, and these corn muffins are fantastic. But there's something even more wonderful than Dorie's corn muffins. What's that? Dorie's corn muffins served with black bean soup, of course! I put together a flavorful, hearty, and simple slow cooker soup that complemented the corn muffins perfectly. Inspired by this recipe, my soup and the muffins were a match made in southwestern heaven. And using a heart-shaped silicone muffin tray and a heart-shaped bowl for the soup were just the icing on this corn muffin-y cake.

Beth's Black Bean Soup

1.5 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup frozen corn kernels
1 (4 oz.) can diced green chillies

2 T chili powder
several hefty shakes of cumin, to taste
1 T garlic, minced
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T lime juice
1 dash crushed red pepper flakes
5 good shakes of dried cilantro

Combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or until cooked to your desired heat and consistency. Top with tortilla chips, shredded cheddar, quark/sour cream, fresh cilantro, salsa, or your favorite garnish.

Serves 4.

Don't forget to vote in order to have a say in Muffin Love's upcoming makeover!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tucking In, Tucked Away

My job can be stressful and draining. I work with students who have behavior issues that prevent them from being in a mainstream elementary classroom. These behaviors are often simply inappropriate, but can also become dangerous to the students and/or those around them. The behavior can arise from poor or absent parenting, pre- and post-birth abuse (such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), trauma, Asperger's/Autism, ADD/ADHD, developmental disorders, attachment disorders, and so forth. It's quite a wonderful program that addresses these kids' problems, and I have already seen so much progress in our students since this September. It's amazing! What's more, the children are awesome. Whatever situations or issues they are grappling with at the moment, however inappropriate their behaviors and reactions may become at times, they are all great kids. I really enjoy them, and love working with them.

But, between emotional blowups and a seemingly unending barrage of testing and defiance, my job can become very stressful. So when my lunchtime rolls around, I am often more than ready for a break in a quiet place where I can recharge physically, emotionally, and mentally. Sometimes I eat in the main teachers' lounge, but that tends to remain fairly busy as it is a high traffic area. When I'm craving true peace and quiet, I eat in a smaller, less-traveled lounge. It is situated in the wing of the building that was part of the original, tiny version of my school, dating from 1930, and so it is much more homey feeling. From the many-paned windows to the overzealous radiator to the red-checkered tablecloth, it has become a true retreat for me.

If I were staying true to form, part of my midday recharge ritual would include a bento lunch. Lately, though, I have been bored by the items that I usually pack in Mr. Bento. Instead, I've been longing for the spices and flavors of Malaysia. Fortunately, I've found some products that help satisfy my cravings. The Good Food Store, our local equivalent of Whole Foods, carries frozen Indian meals from Tandoor Chef (they produce a decent frozen naan) and Ethnic Gourmet (my favorite is their palak paneer, or cheese in a spinach base with long grain brown rice on the side). While these microwavable entrees don't even come close to the real thing, the meals are fairly tasty, flavorful, and healthy. If your mouth is watering for some Indian food fast (and you live in a city like mine without it's own Indian restaurant, sadly), these will do in a pinch. Plus, they're convenient and portable. Perfect for a nostalgic lunch!

I've also been experimenting with some new yogurt to shake things up a bit. The yogurt you see in the photo here is goat's milk yogurt. I like goat cheese, although I can't have much of it because it's so rich. I wasn't sure what to expect from goat's milk yogurt, especially apricot mango, as this container was flavored. The yogurt is packaged fruit-on-the-bottom-style. The fruit part tasted fine, although I wouldn't have minded its absence. The yogurt itself, though, was amazing. So creamy, with just the right amount of tartness to it. Yum!

This meal, between the tandoori chicken and delicious yogurt, with some veggies on the side, was extremely satisfying and a nice change from Mr. Bento. It complemented my lunch retreat with the comics section of the newspaper perfectly. Do you have a lunchtime get-away that helps you recharge for the second half of your workday? Any rituals or favorite comfort lunches? Do tell! (And, while you're commenting, why not vote in our makeover poll?)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Whole New Look

For the blog, that is. I've been thinking for some time about changing up Muffin Love's template. But then that, in turn, made me wonder about this blog's content and focus, name, and my commitment to it.

I've [mostly] decided that it's time to revise Muffin Love. This has evolved into a blog mostly about food, healthy cooking and living, and wholeness, and I'd like the name of the blog reflect that more adequately than its current title. I'd also like a more user-friendly layout, complete with a recipe cache. In addition, I want a style change. Who doesn't love a makeover?

That's where you come in. I'm unsure of what template I'd like to use. I've narrowed my selection down to a number of free templates created by either Templatize or Suck My Lolly. I like them all so much! The sandwich template is a front runner, but the others are quite tempting as well. I'd like to know what you think. Vote for your favorite, or leave me a comment with either a suggestion or recommending a different template. Check out the images of my top template contenders, then vote in the poll that follows!

  • Give me the sandwich!
  • Black 'n' classy, thank you very much.
  • Jazz it up with the java.
  • One word: waffles.
  • Strawberries, please!
  • The heart-alicious tree is adorable.
  • Something completely different (describe below).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Malaysia: Thanksgiving is for Expats, Too!

When planning our missions trip to Malaysia over a year ago, we knew that we wanted to be in-country for the start of the Christmas season. This would give us plenty of opportunities to talk about the holiday and Jesus, especially as the locals are very curious about Americans and Christmas. There was also a more practical benefit to traveling at this time, though; being in Malaysia for Thanksgiving meant that we had to take less time off from work to go on the trip in the first place.

Knowing that we would be spending this uniquely American holiday outside of the United States, we decided to bring Thanksgiving with us. Our missionary friends requested that we make a Thanksgiving meal for their staff and acquaintances, and specifically asked that we bring some turkey with us. That's right -- turkey. We brought two turkeys from Montana to Malaysia, checked onto our plane across the Pacific in a sealed cooler filled with dry ice. What's even more surprising is that the turkeys made it! Apparently, Malaysian turkeys are both expensive and low-quality, and so it would be quite the extravagance to have turkey even once a year. It was far cheaper, in terms of price and effort, to bring two on our trans-Pacific flight.

Although I'm not one for Thanksgiving, I really enjoyed my Malaysian version of it. Clad in an incredibly comfortable new dress from Little India, I started off the day by walking with my teammates through the kampong (a clutter of houses off the main streets where you can find intriguing things like sewage rivers, sheds housing goats and chickens, personal shrines, and cows believed to be Hindu believers reincarnated) to the wet market. There are two places that locals buy their groceries in Malaysia. The wet market, as the name implies, sells non-dry items like meats (chicken and seafood, mostly), fruit, and vegetables. The dry market sells canned goods and the like. At the wet market, we haggled for eggs to bake with as well as vegetables for a veggie tray. The wet market ended up being one of my favorite places to go in Malaysia. I bought some delicious fruit, including bananas, plums, and starfruit, and I also fed my dim sum cravings there.

After stocking up on the ingredients that we had not transported from the United States, we trooped back to the base and spent the rest of the day cooking up a storm. We served, in addition to two turkeys, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy, fresh veggies, cranberry sauce, brownies, and pumpkin pie. Another missions team was also visiting, this one hailing from Mexico, so they added some south-of-the-border dishes to our spread, including some tasty burritos.

Finally, it was time to eat, and the friends and staff of our missionary friends arrived in droves. We thought there might not be enough food to go around, but thankfully there was just enough. We all enjoyed our Thanksgiving meal -- for some non-Americans, it was their first Thanksgiving celebration ever! The Americans particularly felt fed by the meal, though, in both body and spirit. One woman even wept at the way it ministered to her heart. Isn't it crazy what a simple act of service like cooking can do?

After the meal, we closed our day in the perfect way -- a time of worship. I love the freeform, spontaneous worship sessions we experienced in Malaysia. It feels like something straight out of the book of Acts. Amazing and powerful!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Off to a Good Start

So. 2009. We're already just over one week into the year. A bunch of changes will be taking place soon. New president. Fewer teeth for me (I'm getting my wisdom teeth pulled, at long last). More homemade bread.

Wait a sec. Bread?

That's right! Remember my not-so-resolute resolutions? One of the first items on my list of goals for the future is to become more proficient at baking bread. I adore the smell of bread rising in my oven, and of course it tastes marvelous. Plus, homemade bread is probably healthier than store-bought bread since I have more control over what preservatives and chemicals go into the recipe. (And I hope that my bread would have none of those!)

I'm very excited to report that my year of bountiful bread baking is off to a good start. Using my beloved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I made two small loaves of their rustic peasant bread over the holiday vacation. I made half of each loaf into two separate lunches' sandwiches for me. The first sandwich, which comprised my rather sad Christmas lunch but was a delicious splurge at the time due to my dicey recovery from a stomach flu, was filled with soy turkey, apple butter, canned pumpkin, whole berry cranberry sauce, and romaine. I made the other sandwich with more soy turkey, fresh mushrooms, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, and The Ginger People's ginger peanut sauce (which is who I will be receiving a gift basket from as a prize for their ginger holiday cookie contest!). The Best Husband Ever simply gnawed his portions of straight up, which I thought was an incredible compliment. He usually slathers my baked creations with butter or jam in order to make them more palatable to him, so the fact that he ate this bread plain truly gave me some warm fuzzies.

On top of my loaf-making, I also used the Williams-Sonoma cookbook, simply entitled Baking, which I inherited from my grandmother when she cleared out her shelves a couple of years ago for the first time. I made a couple of batches of their gluten-free Spiced Fruit Loaf. Gluten-free thought it was, the bread ended up being enjoyed by all, regardless of allergies or a lack thereof. Light and sweet without being overbearing, it tasted like a perfected panettone, which I usually dislike due to its incorporation of citrus flavors (I stuffed my gluten-free loaves with dried cranberries and golden raisins). The Best Husband Ever surprised me again by eating most of our loaf of this bread plain. In fact, this bread was so good that it was nearly gone before I managed to snap a photo of it.

All around I've already experienced some true bread baking successes this year. It excites my inner chef, my taste buds, and my belly all at the same time. Huzzah for homemade bread!