“Sons and Daughters”

God has been taking me on a journey of painful renewal over the past year and a half.  My spirit has been restless for a number of reasons, and my faithfulness has been put to the test.  I wish I could say that I have passed this test with flying colors, but I cannot.  For one thing, I’m still in the fire of refinement.  For another, I have been stubborn and even lazy when it comes to my relationship with Jesus.  I know what He’s asking me to do, but I just don’t want to do it.  Sometimes, it hurts to be obedient.  It hurts to be faithful.  It hurts to be humble.  It hurts to forgive.  These are the things I have been struggling against.

The aggravating thing is that I have gone through much of this before and have pushed through to experience victory in Christ.  The peace and joy that come on the heels of my choice to be faithful are a heady reward indeed–worth every heartache.  So, I guess this current season proves that I am a slow learner.  Again.

Sigh.

I want to share a portion of one of my recent journal entries with you.  My hope is that you will feel encouraged by it.  Perhaps you even know someone who might be blessed to know that they, too, are not alone.

The kids and I went to an Iron Bell concert at the church last night.  It was a beautiful time of worship.  I regret that I still sometimes feel self-conscious during corporate worship, and I wish I did not.  Why do so many of us care how other people respond to You in praise?  I don’t know, but I sometimes struggle against the voices in my head.  Please forgive me when I focus more on them than on You.

The Iron Bell song that most grabbed my heart last night was “Sons and Daughters”.  The guitarist shared a beautiful testimony of the first time he really understood You to claim him as Your son.  This song is an outpouring of that moment, and it just reinforces, over and over, the pure and joyful love that God has for us.  One of the phrases God speaks in the song is, 

I sought you,
You were lost.
You were worth the cost.

That got my attention.  The cost was the cross!  The cost was the betrayal, the torture, the humiliation, the abandonment and the brokenness that culminated in the brutal crucifixion of Your Son!  My heart screams, “Why, Lord?  Why was I worth it to You?  Why would You do that for me?”

And I know in my heart that it is because You love me as Your daughter.  No price was too great for You to pay for my salvation.  This is such a humbling realization  While I understand the sacrificial love of a parent, this kind of love–Your kind of love for me–is beyond my comprehension.

I don’t fully understand why some people don’t have parents who pursue relationships with their children.  I don’t understand why some parents check out or give up.  The abandonment/neglect/favoritism that some children experience from their parents leaves a hole that is not easily filled.  

If only each of us could truly grasp that we have been chosen by You.  I am treasured by You.  I am enough for You.

Wow.

When my kids were little, I sang over them and I danced with them.  If they weren’t so appalled by these demonstrations now, I would probably still outwardly do these things with them.  Instead, I do them inwardly.  Songs of thanksgiving in my heart.  Dances of praise and wonder and hope.  The Iron Bell song I mentioned talks about You singing and dancing when You think of me.  This is such a beautiful and humbling picture for my heart.  Thank You, Lord.

I know that there are some people who have never had a parent sing and dance over them.  To be honest, there are people who have never had a parent think of them with any tenderness at all.  This song reminds me, though, that You are more than enough of a Father for the fatherless.

And, since You are also the Giver of all good things, I pray that You will restore broken relationships.  That You will bring the lost to Yourself and restore him to his family.  Thank You for being able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.

Check out “Sons and Daughters” by Iron Bell Music.

 

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Zucchini Pinwheels

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Zucchini pinwheels may not be pretty, but they sure are yummy!

The yearly avalanche of zucchini is in the near future at our place.  Right now, we’re getting about one every other day, but we will soon be finding six or eight every time we walk by the garden!

So, to battle Zucchini Boredom, I am always on the lookout for new recipes.  Plus, variety is the spice of life…right?

4 zucchini (6-7 inches in length), sliced lengthwise as thinly as possible
salt & pepper to taste
1 bar cream cheese, softened
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
a smattering of your favorite herbs, fresh or dried
oil for brushing on zucchini
toothpicks (if desired)

Brush zucchini with oil, then sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Grill or roast until very soft (but not falling apart).

Put cooked zucchini slices on towel so that moisture is absorbed while zucchini cools completely.

Combine cream cheese, garlic and herbs.  Spread along length of one side of each zucchini slice.  Roll into pinwheel and secure with a toothpick.  Or, if you’d like to skip the toothpicks, just pop them into your mouth as soon as they’re rolled (like my friend, Sarah, and I did last night).

 

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Several weeks ago, it came to my attention that my children had never had a tuna-noodle casserole.  I don’t know that I’d ever made one, and I don’t remember that my mom did, but I had certainly eaten them at friends’ houses when I was little.  It seems as though they were even part of school menus in my early years of public education.

I remember that tuna noodle casseroles definitely made it on the menu of my babysitter, Jana.  I don’t know how old I was when she kept me–maybe three or four years of age–but I remember that she would sometimes begin her supper preparation before my mom came to pick me up.  I would watch her make a tuna noodle casserole for her family, even volunteering to help crunch up the potato chips for the topping.  She would set the casserole on the table to await its turn in the oven…and I would watch for my opportunity.  Potato chips were a rare treat in my house, so as soon as Jana’s back was turned, I pinched some of those salty crumbs clean off the top of that unbaked casserole!  Can you imagine my nerve?!  I never gave a single thought to how disappointed her daughter, Nikki, would be to not have crunchy potato chips on the top of her portion of tuna noodle casserole!

I was a sneaky kid.  (And I loved junk food.)

Anywho, when my younger two children expressed an interest in trying out this Midwestern comfort food, I searched out a recipe.  While I made some changes to suit our family’s preferences (and my on-hand ingredients), this recipe is based on one that I found in one of my favorite freezer cooking cookbooks, “You’ve Got it Made” by Diane Phillips.  It’s a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to stock their freezer without stocking up on the usual high-sodium, preservative-laden canned soups and convenience foods.   

The recipe received 5 thumbs up at my table, even from the thumb that belongs to the daughter who does not like tuna.  Hope you enjoy it as well!

Oh, and Jana, if you ever read this, please accept my sincere apology.

6 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
a stalk or two of celery, chopped
1/4 c. flour
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
2 c. milk
4 dashes hot sauce (you will not taste the spiciness, but it does add flavor)
salt & pepper to taste
1 lb. egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
2 6-oz. cans tuna, well-drained and flaked
2 c. frozen peas
1 c. crushed potato chips (or more, if you have a sneaky chip thief in your house)
3 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Melt 4 T. of the butter in large skillet over medium heat; add onion and celery, sauteeing until they begin to soften.

Sprinkle flour over veggies and stir until flour disappears.  Cook veggies 2 minutes, then gradually add broth and milk, scraping up any bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.  Add the hot sauce, salt & pepper.

Coat a 9″ baking pan with butter or cooking spray.  Spread thin layer of sauce over bottom of dish.  Combine noodles with 1 1/2 c. of sauce in large bowl, stirring until well-mixed.  Stir in tuna and peas until evenly distributed.

Transfer noodle mixture to prepared pan; cover with remaining sauce.  Combine crushed potato chips and Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over casserole.  Drizzle remaining 2 T. melted butter over top of chips.

Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to a month.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and topping is golden brown.

NOTE:  If frozen, thaw completely before baking.

Italian Meat Loaves

My amazing friend, Betsy, brought these little meat loaves to us after the birth of our son.  We have made them often since then, and I always appreciate the yummy meal as well as the sweet memory of my thoughtful friend.

By the way, that son Betsy helped us celebrate is making this recipe for supper tonight.  He’s (gasp!) fourteen now and will eat more than his share of these tasty meatloaves with multiple helpings of the peas and mashed potatoes he’s making to accompany them.  I asked him if he wanted to make the loaves in heart shapes for Valentine’s Day; he declined.

2 eggs, beaten
3/4 c. cracker crumbs
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. finely-chopped onion
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic
1 t. salt
1 t. Italian seasoning
2 lbs. ground beef, pork or turkey (or a combination)
1/4 c. ketchup or barbecue sauce

In large bowl, combine eggs, crumbs, milk, cheese, onion, Worcestershire, garlic, salt and Italian seasoning.  Add ground meat and mix well.

Shape into 10 mini loaves; place on rack in a shallow pan.  (A broiler pan works great!)

Drizzle ketchup or barbecue sauce over mini loaves.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-55 minutes, or until no pink remains.

These little guys freeze beautifully both before and after baking.

Blue Cheese Dressing

Years ago, when Dave and I were in college, we occasionally took advantage of some of our long weekends to head over to see his aunt, Mary, who lives in a log home in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  There is always lots of beautiful sunlight streaming in through the windows, and her front porch offers a perfect place to chat while inhaling the pungent fragrance of the dozens of evergreens that fill the property.  Although I don’t have the opportunity as often as I’d like, Aunt Mary’s house is one of my favorite places to visit.  It’s a little piece of heaven with its beauty and tranquility.  Even more amazing than the mountain setting is Aunt Mary herself.

From the moment I met this tiny, independent woman, I knew she loved me.  Her acceptance of me was made immediately apparent by the warmth in her eyes and the smile on her face.  She was genuine and comfortable, and I count her among the great benefits of marrying my husband.

Along with Aunt Mary being an all-around delightful person, she is a gracious hostess.  Her homemade crescent rolls and hot cross buns were such a treat for Dave and me.  She was the first person I ever knew to serve fresh, minced garlic in her tossed salads–which was quite a surprise to me the first time I tried it!  Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I agreed to also try her homemade blue cheese dressing during our first visit.  I was pretty sure that I did not like blue cheese dressing, but she seemed so sincere in her offer that I didn’t have the heart to refuse.  Let’s just say that I was an immediate convert.  I have been enjoying blue cheese ever since.

I was recently gifted with a 5-lb. bag of blue cheese crumbles.  My first thought was, “Yum!  I’m going to treat myself to some of Aunt Mary’s blue cheese dressing!”.  I’ve made it three times since then, because I keep sharing it with other people who find they like it as much as Dave and I do.  Just in case you want to give it a try, I’m passing Aunt Mary’s recipe along to you.  It’s not as amazing as she is, but I think you’ll like it just the same.

1/2 c. blue cheese crumbles
1 c. mayo
1/2 c. sour cream (or plain yogurt)
1-2 cloves minced garlic
2 T. finely-diced green onion (or regular onion)
1 T. wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1 T. lemon juice
1 t. sugar
I also often add a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce.

Mix well, cover and chill.

Use it as a vegetable dip, a salad dressing, a topping for your burgers or whatever else suits your fancy. This recipe is very forgiving, so don’t worry about getting all of the measurements exact.

French Dip Sandwiches

 

One of my absolute FAVORITE sandwiches EVER!!

1 3-lb. (ish) pound beef roast
½ c. soy sauce
1 c. beef broth
1 bay leaf
3-4 peppercorns
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried thyme
1 t. garlic powder
1 c. water
6-8 hoagie rolls

Combine all ingredients except the roast and the rolls. Pour over trimmed roast in slow cooker.

Cook on low 10-12 hours.

Serve on rolls with sauce for dipping.

NOTE: This dish can be prepared with a frozen OR fresh roast. The roast can be thawed when it goes into the slow cooker OR placed in the slow cooker while still frozen. The leftover meat also freezer beautifully if you ever want to make a double batch to have some prepared meat in the freezer.

ANOTHER NOTE: My FAVORITE way to eat this is to have some cooked onions and Swiss cheese to put on top. I usually toast this sandwich, open-faced, under the broiler until the cheese is brown and bubbly, and then commence eating with a knife and fork. YUM!!

Italian Beef Sandwiches

 

This is definitely a special-occasion recipe for our family, and it’s also one of my favorite ways to prepare a beef roast!  I just put one of these in the freezer to pull out during the holidays.  Woo hoo!

1 3-4 lb. beef roast
1 jar pepperoncini or banana peppers
1 T. dried, minced onion
2 t. Italian seasoning
2 t. garlic salt
½ t. pepper
¼ c. water
1 ½ c. mozzarella cheese, grated
sturdy sandwich buns

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low 8-9 hours until meat is tender. Shred with two forks. Spoon meat onto toasted buns; top with mozzarella cheese, if desired.