Cheer

I know I’m several months behind the rest of the world, but this weekend I finally finished “Cheer” on Netflix. Since coming out, I’ve seen a lot of reviews of the show (almost unanimously positive), but most of the reviews tend to focus either on their coach, Monica, or on one of the team underdogs, Jerry. Now let me say, Monica is a great coach and I loved watching how she inspires her students. And Jerry is humble and hopeful with a magnetic energy, as well as just a ton of fun to root for.  But more than these two, what really stood out to me most were the other students. For a documentary about cheerleading, I thought it offered a small glimpse into the struggles that a lot of college students (regardless of university or Athletic status) face in 2020.

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When I watched CHEER, I saw a lot of our UT students in the students of Navarro. Here’s what I saw:

Adversity

anxiety

loneliness

trauma

pressure

expectations

Bad decisions

Good decisions

community

drive

persistence

resilience

hard work

hope

If you haven’t seen it yet, let me recommend the six-part series to you. Not only has it been thought provoking for me, it truly is an entertaining show. I found myself clapping along to the finale, and even found myself doing 8-counts as I was getting ready yesterday morning (1.2.3..5..7..) And then after you watch it, think about the college students in your life, and find a way to love on them today. Don’t know any? Start there.

*one final note, on the team of 20 cheerleaders, THREE of them publicly admitted to attempting suicide over the course of 6 Episodes. It is heart-breaking!  If you are hurting, there are resources to help (800-273-8255), and my phone is on.

 

(photo: property of Netflix) 

Advent – a season of waiting

Today, December 1, is the first day of the 2019 Advent season. Advent is celebrated in the Christian tradition on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas (in contrast to the chocolate advent calendars that always start on December 1 and countdown to Christmas). The Advent season is followed by Christmas, or Christmastide (on the liturgical calendar, Christmas is 12 days long – hence the carol), and Christmastide ends on January 6th, the day of Epiphany. 

I did not grow up in a tradition that recognized or celebrated the Advent season. In fact, I’ve only really been aware of it for less than a decade. We first celebrated the Advent season when Maddie was nine months old. Our church gifted each family in the children’s ministry with a “Jesse Tree” – a wooden tree with ornaments for each day of December with coordinating devotionals that teach us about the story of the birth of Jesus. That gift opened the door for my piqued curiosity about the liturgical calendar. Over the past couple years, I have read about the seasons, feast days, festivals, and “ordinary time” from women like Tsh Oxenreider, Sarah Bessey, and Erin Moon, who are more familiar with these traditions. Thanks to these women, as well as other very smart voices, this last year I found the gift of observing the Lenten Season for the first time as well. 

As we have learned more about the Advent season, we have tried to incorporate more of it into the life of our family. There are four weeks of Advent, with a theme each week: hope, peace, joy, and love. Each evening, we pull out our Jesse Tree devotional to read as a family. Those devotionals help point us back to the week’s core theme. After the reading, the girls take turns unwrapping the ornament for the day and hanging it on the tree. Then, because kids love chocolate and they sat patiently through a devotional reading, they each get to open their chocolate advent calendar for the day. Every other day, we place a new character in our nativity set, completing the Holy Family on Christmas Day with the addition of baby Jesus. The nativity scene and the Christmas decorations stay up through Christmastide. On January 6th, we add the wisemen to our nativity scene and talk about how the Gospel is for all people – how we want to be a family who welcomes all at our table. The weekend following, we will slowly pack up our Christmas decor for the year, thanking God for an intentional time of remembering and waiting. 

Today, we begin this process again as a family with the theme of HOPE. Especially in the last few weeks and months, I have been acutely aware of the recurring theme of the coexistence of hope and grief. You don’t have to look too hard at the world around us, in our very own communities and circles, to see that people around us our struggling, hurting, and frustrated. I’d say that I’ve been able to claim those things to some degree as well recently. So how do we hold HOPE in times like this? Sarah Bessey, an author we’ve been reading in our small group, wrote a bit about that this week, and I thought her words were too good not to share. She writes, We don’t get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with. Advent matters, because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open even in the midst of our grief and longing. The weary world is still waiting in so many ways, in so many hearts, in so many places, for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come.”

So as I gather with my daughters and my husband tonight, to open our Advent box and begin another season of waiting and remembering, we will not ignore the grief of those around us, or the grief we feel in our own hearts, but we will remember the truth that God has come, God is here, and God will come again to bring Shalom – peace, wholeness, and the making of all things right. 

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Does your family celebrate Advent? Leave a comment below and tell me about YOUR Advent traditions! 

What I’m listening to this week: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus 

What I’m reading this week: Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting by Kris Camealy

30 minute Cinnamon Rolls

If you asked my three year old what her favorite food was, she would have a clear and quick answer for you: CINNAMON ROLLS (thanks to Uncle Adam for that introduction). While she loves to help me out in the kitchen, I’ve yet to be brave enough to try real two-day prep, overnight rise, yeast cinnamon rolls. we have, however, been experimenting with”semi-homemade” cinnamon rolls. I’m here to tell you about our favorite recipe hack to date – 30 minute cinnamon rolls!

My inspiration came from a combination of two things. First, this recipe video I saw on Facebook last week. Second, this jar. 

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Trader Joe’s released a large portion of their fall products this week, and among all the delicious seasonal classics we’ve come to love, a new product this year was their cinnamon bun spread. I saw a lot of discussion online about different ways that folks were using it, but as soon as I saw the jar, I knew I had to try it with this recipe.

So on this Saturday morning, I grabbed my sous chef, all my ingredients, and we got to work on breakfast! The beauty of the recipe is that nothing is measured – these cinnamon rolls are all about eyeballing. They came together in less than 10 minutes, and baked in twenty. By the time coffee was made, we were ready to sit down and devour. Mom, Dad, and little sister gave the cinnamon rolls two thumbs up, but big sister said they weren’t as good as her favorite (little Debbie honey buns). We’ll definitely make them again!

30 minute cinnamon rolls 

Ingredients
1 pkg. TJ Aloha Rolls (or Kings Hawaiian)
Softened butter
Jar of TJ cinnamon bun spread
Cinnamon Sugar mix (optional)
Powdered sugar
Milk

 

Directions

  1. IMG_8171 Preheat oven to 350*
  2. Spray your muffin pan, or butter 8 of the wells.
  3. Slice entire package of rolls, so that it opens like a book. On one side, spread thin layer of softened butter. On the opposite side, spread a thin layer of cinnamon bun spread.
  4. Place layers back together like a sandwich, and grab your rolling pin. (This was Maddie’s FAVORITE part). Now, rolls the package of rolls THIN. Really smoosh them down.
  5. On the top, add another thin layer of cinnamon bun spread.
  6. Roll entire rectangle length wise to form a long roll. Slice into 8 slices, about 1″ thick.
  7. Place each slice, swirl up, in a muffin tin. Top with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes.
While they baked, I put on a pot of coffee, and mixed up the icing. In a small bowl, place 2-3 tablespoons of powdered sugar. Add a teaspoon or two of milk, literally drop by drop, until your desired consistency is reached. When the rolls are done, place on a plate and drizzle with icing. All that’s left is to enjoy!

If you like the recipe, leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite fall Trader Joe’s product is this year!

World’s Most Okay-est Cookie: A tale of Sugar, Butter, Flour

Sunday, August 4th is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

I had grand dreams of celebrating this momentous day by creating and publishing the world’s greatest cookie recipe. I channeled my inner Monica Gellar, gathered my ingredients, and set out to create mouth-watering cookies from scratch. The recipe would be my legacy…

But do you remember that episode of Friends? Monica tried to recreate Phoebe’s grandma’s famous “family-secret” chocolate chip cookie recipe. She spends two days and makes over twenty batches, changing each ingredient little-by-little. Finally, she throws in the towel and begs Phoebe for any information that would help her recreate the recipe. It’s then that Phoebe mentions that her family in France may know the secret, since the creator was a French woman named “Nest-ley Toulouse”. The perfect recipe had been in front of Monica the whole time…

Well, I don’t have quite the endurance for a 48 hour baking session (plus running the oven that long in August? no thank you), but I did make several batches of different cookie recipes over the last several months in an effort to educate myself on ingredients and ratios. Last night, I penned my recipe, and this morning, I got to baking. And I ended up baking…. the world’s most okay-est cookie.

World’s Most Okay-est Cookie
Yield: 4.5 dozen
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2 sticks salted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup AP Flour
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I prefer MINI chips, but used standard size today)

Cream butter and sugars for at least 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Once well combined, slowly mix in the dry ingredients, stopping to scrape bowl after each addition. Finally fold in chocolate chips. Chill dough in fridge for 30 minutes. Scoop into 1 Tbsp. balls on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes at 350*.

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If any culinary experts out there want to tell me where I went wrong, I’m still open to tweaking and perfecting. These cookies, while tasting perfectly fine, were a bit dry and a bit light for my tastes. I was hoping the addition of the cake flour would help achieve the right texture, but I think it actually worked against me. For my next batch, I’ll switch it back to only using all-purpose flour. I prefer a cookie that’s golden in color, thick, and CHEWY. How do you like YOUR chocolate chip cookie? Thin and crispy, soft and fluffy, dark brown, light brown, completely unbaked and straight off the log from the fridge?(don’t act like you haven’t done it)

For now, I’m sticking with the original – Nestle Toll House: The recipe has been on the back of the bag since the 1930’s, but can also be found here.

Other recipes I used for inspiration are:

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From Euna Mae’s Love Welcome Serve Cookbook, by Amy Hannon: These are very good, and I love how specific Amy is with her instructions, but they had a lot of different ingredients, and a lot of steps. The rest of the cookbook, however? Totally worth every step and every ingredient. It’s my favorite cookbook right now!

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Levain CopyCat:  These are AMAZING, but they are HUGE (and I even made them smaller than the recipe said too). They were a hit with Maddie, the college students, and my coworkers. This will be the recipe I use when I have somewhere extra special to take cookies, but for an everyday cookie, they’re just simply too big.

My Favorite Cookie Dough for the Freezer – Celebration Cookies: I bake these straight from the freezer, and I love to have at least a couple dozen in the freezer at all times. The dough balls are also great to take to new moms, because they can pull out just one or two at a time to bake when the craving hits. Plus, they abide by my life mantra “sprinkles make everything better”, and they are just so fun to look at, as well as eat! A great party cookie!

What’s your favorite cookie recipe?

On pulling out the fine china

In honor of mother’s day, I thought I’d publish some words I wrote for our church’s recent Tea party, on pulling out the fine china:

When I found out I was pregnant with Maddie, I knew almost instantly what I wanted to do for the nursery. Growing up, my grandma had the old Fisher Price farm (the red one with the separate silo), and I have always been drawn to those vintage toys. So I spent the next nine months collecting vintage toys from family, friends, and lots of antique shops. But at the center of them all – my grandma’s toy farm.

A few weeks ago, Maddie asked to play with a few of those toys that I had displayed on a shelf, far out of reach. My first inclination was a quick NO! What if she broke them or messed them up? She wouldn’t appreciate them like I do. But then I began to think about that toy – it was a TOY! It was meant to be played with!! And I think if my grandma were still alive, nothing would delight her more than to watch Maddie play with a toy that she saved for and bought for the enjoyment of her kids. So we pulled the toys down, sat on the floor, and played. And as we played, I got to tell Maddie all about her great-grandma. Through the playing, we honored and remembered her.

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Today, we have pulled our church’s fine china for a tea party. The tea cups and plates we are using this morning were given to our church by two faithful women, Allene Pope and Margie Barker. For those that may not recognize the name, Margie Barker was Ann Hailey’s aunt, more like a mom than an aunt. While I did not have the privilege of knowing these women, some of you did. Let me encourage you, if you did, to share a story about these women with the ladies at your table during one of our breaks today. But while I did not know them, I’m sure that they would also be DELIGHTED that we have pulled these pieces out to be used today. Because toys are meant for shelves, and tea cups aren’t either. And so this morning, we remember these women, we honor them in the use of the treasures they have passed on to us.

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So I’d like everyone to raise a cup, and raise a pinky, and let’s begin our morning with a toast to Allene and Margie. TO ALLENE AND MARGIE!

And to Grandma G – whose apron and pearls I donned for the day. img_2800

My friend, Dan

For more than two years, during “life in Austin, act 1”, I spent two hours every Wednesday morning standing next to my favorite gravy guy, ninety year old Dan Watson. Between greeting almost every homeless friend by name and remembering whether they liked their gravy on top of the biscuits or on the side, Dan would tell me stories of his two daughters (who were often close enough to hear him telling stories), his son who lived down in New Braunfels, and his sweet wife who he lost after more than 50 years of marriage. He told me tales of running his flower shop, about playing baseball at UT, and about reffing at basketball games around the state. We would talk about our church and he would tell me of the good work going on in the other area churches (because he served at their Tuesday and Thursday breakfasts- although there, he was the juice man). He always said that folks liked their breakfasts a bit better, because while our biscuits were good, they had eggs. He introduced me to a whole generation of folks in our church family, and I am forever grateful for that.

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When Cary and I moved back for “life in Austin, act two”, Wednesday mornings with Dan were a must. I loved being able to introduce my husband to Dan, and later, watch as our college students got the privilege of serving next to him. I always loved hearing him lead the whole room in the Lord’s prayer, and seeing him standing out in front of the church on Sunday mornings always filled me with delight.

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And while Dan may be known best for his breakfast ministries, he also had a lunch ministry. He liked to take small groups of folks out to lunch after church – never the same group, never all the same demographic. He was an includer to the core. I still remember the first time he invited me to lunch – Gabriel’s across the street, and while I didn’t know anyone else going (yet!), you don’t say no to a lunch invitation from Dan. I loved running into him at the old Schlotzkys on the corner just so I could see what kind of group he has assembled that week. I could never figure out if he was working his way through the church directory, had prophetic revelations, or just invited the first 5 people he saw that day (or maybe a combination). But one thing was clear, he was truly interested in getting to know each person better.

A few months ago, I took Maddie out to his bench that now sits in front of the church and we prayed for Mr Dan. (Her very first and best stuffed animal friend was named after him!) His health has been declining for several years now, and I’m so glad I got the chance to express all these thoughts to him when he was still well enough to hear them and understand them. I just wish both the girls could’ve spent time with him. He was truly a treasure. There is no doubt in my mind that as Dan entered Heaven on Tuesday, he heard those sweet words “well done, good and faithful servant.” Well done, indeed, Dan. You will be so missed. It was such an honor to be your “biscuit girl”.

Dan’s funeral will be on Monday, April 9th, at 10am at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, 3125 N. Lamar.

Brisket Stew

For the last four years, Cary’s birthday present has been the same – tickets to the TX Monthly BBQ festival (why mess with a good thing, right?). The BBQ festival is a one day meat extravaganza, where the 30 best BBQ joints from around the state sample their finest meat, all on the lawn of the Long Center in downtown Austin. It’s been such a fun way to try many restaurants that we would never get to otherwise. It’s an event we look forward to each year, and have even roped friends into going with us for the last two years, which makes it even more fun! Our 2017 favorite was Tejas Chocolate Craftory.

One of my favorite BBQ fest memories happened our first year – that year, we didn’t quite know what to expect, but I did “sneak” some Ziploc bags in, knowing that I could never eat our ticket price worth of meat. Come to find out, Ziploc bags are allowed in the fest, but the first year was full of learning lessons. Cary and I circled the whole festival, getting our fill of brisket, sausage, pork, and chicken. Once we couldn’t stuff anything else in our stomachs, we decided to brave the long line for the Franklin tent and give our bodies time to digest. By the time we reached the front of their line, the festival was winding down to a close, and we could tell the Franklin had overestimated the amount of meat they would need to feed everyone… by a lot! So I casually mentioned that we were there celebrating Cary’s birthday to the pit master, Benji, and he promptly handed over a giant six pound pork shoulder! It was awesome! Thanks to our food saver and garage freezer, we were able to save it and ended up feeding our whole family at Christmas with it, with meat to spare!

Ever since that moment, we knew not to come to the festival without baggies and Tupperware galore! Now our game plan is always to both get samples then split Cary’s and dump mine for later. With a toddler who missed naptime this year, we had to cut our festival adventures short, but we still managed to go home with close to six pounds of leftover meat – two of which were brisket (we took home more ribs than anything). Now the only downside about this whole event is that by the time it is over, I usually don’t want to even look at BBQ for a good month. Most of the meat went in bags for the freezer, but we already had a lot of brisket in there, so I was curious if I could come up with a recipe to use up the brisket we got at the festival, without it having too much of a BBQ vibe (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Thankfully, midway through the week, we got a bit of a cold snap here in Austin, which meant Thursday was a really good night to cook up a giant pot of soup! I googled brisket stew, but didn’t have very much luck finding a stew recipe that used precooked meat…. So I made my own! It turned out pretty well, so I wanted to share it here.

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(Not the best picture – I snapped it in the break room at work before diving in!)

I love this recipe because it’s flexible – just throw in whatever veggies you have/like. This recipe made a full six quart stock pot, which was the perfect amount for us because we ate half over that weekend, and froze the other half for later this winter.

Ingredients:
Butter – 1 Tablespoon
Flour – 1 Tablespoon
Onion – 3/4 cup, chopped
Garlic – 2 cloves, minced
Carrots – 4 large, chopped
Celery – 5 stalks, chopped
Splash of red wine (optional)
Beef broth – 32 oz.
Diced tomatoes – 14.5 oz can, undrained
Water – 14.5 oz
Sweet potato – 1 potato, chopped
White potato – 2 potatoes, chopped
Smoked BBQ Brisket – 1.5 lbs, cut into 1/2″ cubes
Salt and pepper, as needed

Directions

Melt Butter in dutch oven over medium – medium high heat.
Add onions and garlic, stirring until veggies are translucent.
Add flour to thicken. Add splash of red wine to loosen flour chunks from bottom of pan.
Add chopped carrots and celery. Cook until slightly tender.
Pour beef broth, diced tomatoes, and water into pot and stir.
Season with salt and pepper, as needed.
Add potatoes, and cook on high for 20 minutes.
Add brisket chunks and simmer on low for one hour, or until potatoes are tender.
Enjoy!

After sitting overnight, the potatoes really thickened the rest of the broth up, so it turned into a hearty thick stew, which is my favorite kind! Let me know if you try it!