Friday, September 16, 2011

The Power of Influence...

I was reading through portions of the books of Galatians and Acts in my bible this morning.  A section in Acts talked about Paul and Barnabas preaching to the Jews and Gentiles about Christ.  It's no secret that Paul and Barnabas were often targets of violence and persecution because of their outspoken beliefs.  Yet that abuse never stopped them from continuing on and faithfully teaching and preaching.  After speaking to a large group, Paul and Barnabas' words were spreading like wildfire.  Some Jews, of course, did not like this and began to plot against them.  While reading, I was pointed through my study to a verse to think more intently upon and study the context around it.  Here's where it get's interesting to me...

"But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region." -Acts 13:50

Who did the Jews motivate first to act against Paul and Barnabas?  Women.  And not just any women.  They were "God-fearing women of high standing...", women of influence.  Interesting.  I then read this statement in my study book...

For reasons we may never know, God entrusted womankind a most wonderful and terrible gift; the power of influence.

I've never thought about my influence being a gift from God.  In fact, if I really meditate on that, I would say that in thinking about influence, I would relate to it in a negative way - the terrible gift.  I think of people, including myself, to often use their influence to be manipulative or for personal gain.  It's not really a fair thought and I am somewhat embarresed and disappointed with myself that I immediately went that direction in my head with it.  But what if I used my gift of influence for positive and unselfish gain?  What would that look like?  My thoughts immediately went to my children and husband, and then ventured outward to the rest of my family, friends, and those I don't even know.  Suddenly I feel a weight on my shoulders that I am not doing what I could to influence others in a positive way.

What does the gift of influence look like in my home?  At a family gathering?  Out shopping at the grocery store? At church?  Wow.  God is pressing upon my heart to really think about this and take action.  At best, my influence should teach, encourage, nurture, love, and allow others to grow.  This is powerful and I am equipped and capable of doing all those things.  What a wonderful and unexpected gift. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Farm Meals...

As we wrap up week twelve of our CSA season I thought I should do another update as to how we have been using up our produce from the farm.  We have received some amazing boxes the past three weeks and some amazing meals have resulted!  I can't even begin to express how grateful I am to have found our farmers.  I love them!!  Here's a look at what we have received...

Week 10 - Cilantro, Collard Greens Cucumbers, Garlic, Green Bell Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Mixed Bag o’ Tomatoes, Purple Carrots, Sungold Tomatoes, Sweet Corn, Red Onions, Tomatillos, Yellow Watermelon 
Week 11 - Broccoli, Cucumbers, Curly Parsley, Edamame, Garlic, Green Zucchini, Mini Watermelon, Mixed Bag o’ Tomatoes, Patty Pan Squash, Rainbow Chard, Sungold Tomatoes, Sweet Corn, Sweet Red Peppers, Yellow & Red Onions

Week 12 - Cucumber, Dragon Tongue Beans, Edamame, Garlic, Green Kale, Green Savoy Cabbage, Mixed Bag o’ Tomatoes, Purple, Rosemary, Sungold Tomatoes, Sweet Corn, Sweet White Onions, Yukon Gold Potatoes
The colors are amazing aren't they!!  Every week I get so excited because there is something new to discover.  And every week, there is something that also arrives that just plain overwhelms us...we've had many phases of this feeling this season.  First it was cabbage, then it was cucumbers, now...the tomatoes...SO. MANY. TOMATOES!!  But that's been OK, it has really challenged me to get thinking and not waste anything!  And I am proud to say that we have not thrown anything away!  Here's what we've done with the tomatoes so far...

Tomato and fresh Mozzarella Salad topped w/ fresh basil and drizzled with Sunflower Vinaigrette
This simple tomato salad was awesome with grilled organic grass fed beef light and flavorful.  We also put tomato slices on the burgers themselves!   This only used up 2 tomatoes, though.  I needed to find something that would use up a lot more in one recipe.  So we moved on to salsa!  I've never made homemade salsa before but my mom has and shared it with us.  I can remember how fresh it tasted and wanted to try recreating it myself.  I used a recipe from my favorite cookbook Simply in Season as a guide and here is what we came up with!

Colorful, isn't it? I used an entire pint of sun gold tomatoes and three others from our bag 'o tomatoes that we received.  We also used cilantro, red onion, banana peppers, and green peppers...all from the farm!  This salsa was amazing...even the kids loved it!!

My husband fell in love with the flavors as well and devoured the entire batch (about 4 cups!) in only a few days.  So we will be making more of this again this week with our fresh box of produce.  

I used the extra basil and parsley we received to make basil pesto.  I used some on a tomato mozzarella panini sandwich that I made for lunch one day and saved the rest in the freezer for a pasta dish later in the fall.  

We had friends over for dinner last week and I put together these amazing veggie plates...using up the purple beans, more sun gold tomatoes, cucumbers and purple carrots.  I love the colors...very fall looking...

Inspired by a friend, I made a veggie stir fry one night and served it over organic jasmine rice.  I used up the broccoli, sweet onion, purple carrots, green cabbage, sweet corn, and edamame in this dish...

Using up the kale, we had sausage with sauteed kale served with potato cheddar pierogi's...this is a dish my mom made for us all the time as kids...minus the's a quick easy meal...and much more flavorful with my personal touch of added dark leafy greens!

I spoiled myself one morning after the kids went to school and made myself a rainbow chard quiche with sweet onion and garlic for breakfast...oh the goodness...and I served it to myself on our china just for fun...I'm worth it!

We don't always make meals with our farm box food...the past couple weeks we've gotten creative with some of it and tried making a few drinks.  A simple one I love is water infused with cucumber...

We couldn't eat our yellow watermelon fast enough so we blended this into a lemon watermelon smoothie!  We mixed 4 cups of chopped watermelon, 1 pint of good lemon sorbet, about 16 ice cubes, and a splash of water to get it all moving in the blender...this was a heavenly summer treat we sereved to the kids one warm evening we had a cookout! 

Clearly we have been incredibly blessed with amazing healthy food to create amazing healthy meals and treats!  We are so thankful for our farmers and their hard work...we only wish we lived closer to them so we could thank them in person, help work on the farm, or bring them some of our creations to try for themselves!

I would love to hear what everyone else is preparing with their summer produce!  What's been your favorite meal or treat you have made? 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer of Service...Simple Acts of Kindness

When teaching my children this summer about honoring God and serving others in need, I also wanted them to know that serving doesn't always have to be for a social cause or big organization.  I want to train them to look for needs right under their noses.  To be aware of those close to us and to actively seek out opportunities every day to love and serve others and be a reflection of Christ.  One way I try to do this myself  is to also look for those who do not have a relationship with God and try and find ways that I can show them His love without pushing my idea of faith on them with words.  The greatest way to teach someone about God and His love is through our actions and how we live out His truth, and I really want my children to learn this.

Our last few projects have not been large enough to write an entire story about them.  And I like that.  I like that looking back, I can create one larger story about several small ones.  I kind of feel like that is part of the point of this summer serving project as teach the kids that serving doesn't always end in a production, a reward, or a story about how great they did.  Some of the greatest acts of service often go unnoticed.  We can never know how any one action we choose to make will impact another person.  I hope that I have begun to teach my children this concept.

Our neighbors went out of town for a few days.  She asked the kids to gather her mail and newspapers each day they were gone and she would pay them.  All the kids took turns checking the mail, picking up the papers, and keeping an eye on their house while they were gone.  They all did it as an act of kindness and did not accept any payment for their effort.  This was an important job, in my perspective, and an important lesson for the kids.  I never want my children to expect anything in return for helping a neighbor with anything.  We also talked about how we should always let our neighbors know before there is a need that we are available to them.  We accomplish this by interacting with them, developing a relationship, and communicate with actions, behavior, and words that we can be trusted.  Developing relationships and investing in others is an act of service in and of itself.

I caught wind at a party that one of my husband's employees was going to be having a root canal.  Not a huge deal.  Except when you put together the facts that he and his wife have 3 very young children and his appointment was scheduled for early afternoon, you can figure that this young mother will have her hands very full caring for a husband just home from the dentist and trying to get dinner on the table for her little ones.  That time of day is a challenge for any family with young kids, and take away the help of the other parent and it can be stressful!  We have been there many times!  So the kids and I spent the day of his appointment chopping vegetables, baking bread, and preparing a comforting, wholesome, and easy to serve meal for his family and delivered it right at dinner time for them to enjoy.  This was a lesson in learning to listen to the people you are talking with and identifying needs they may not even be thinking of at the time.  I also showed them how to think about those they would be feeding and what their taste preferences might be.  We made them vegetable soup, chicken pot pie, zucchini bread and a salad with homemade salad dressing.  Lots of young kids can be picky eaters and not like blended flavors, so to be safe, and to ensure that everyone would be happy and their mom would not have to still create a separate meal, we came up with a "kids meal" for the little ones.  I asked our kids what they thought we should do and we came up with the "deconstructed chicken pot pie" for the toddlers...Emma was the creative one who came up with using saltine crackers to represent the pie crust!

We were so busy working on the preparation that I forgot to take pictures of the kids in action helping prepare the meal.  Here's a picture of the end result, though, before we took it over to them to eat, with everything labeled with what it was and how to heat it up...

My husband stopped home between meetings and took the girls with him to deliver the meal.  They visited for a few minutes and the girls played with the kids after showing them what they made for them...

We received a very kind thank you note from the family a short time later which was nice for the kids to see, and it reinforced to them that small steps and efforts can reap huge rewards for someone else.  That made them feel good about how hard and long we worked on this meal.

As for other small service projects, the kids have done a lot individually as the summer progressed.  Cameron spent an entire day at school helping teachers prepare for the beginning of the school year.  He pulled out and prepared laptops for the classrooms and helped teachers get their technology needs up and running and in order.  We had close family friends move to the area recently and we have put a lot of focus on them as a family helping them get settled and oriented.  My husband has spent a lot of time helping them get their housing situated, coaching them through moving logistics, and giving up his time to listen and help his friend through some of the more stressful times of coordinating the move.  We have invited the kids swimming with us, given up one of our cars for a day when theirs wouldn't start so they could get their errands finished, and will be having them over for dinner and s'mores around the campfire tonight.  We are so happy to have them here and want them to know they are loved, welcomed, and cared for during this stressful and chaotic time!!  We know all to well how hard it is to move to a new city and not know anything and have very little help.  We hope this helps them transition a little bit easier!

I could go on with a few more things but it feels like gloating and that defeats the purpose of serving for me.  If I could choose one thing I want the kids to take away from this summer, it's to serve silently, with a willing and kind heart, and a with smile.  I think I have accomplished that for the most part.  I know there will be times when I call them to act and they will grumble...but I think we have learned enough that it will only take a gentle reminder for them to remember how much our serving is welcomed and loved by our Lord...which is why we do bless others and shine His love on the world while we are here.

Summer ends for us here in two days as school begins on Wednesday.  We beat our goal of serving at least once a week.  There were several weeks where we served many times in large and small ways.  It was refreshing to put others first. To plan around projects instead of trying to fit things in and plan around our schedule.  The kids had great experiences in everything they did and there is a unanamous excitement for one particular project which we will do over again many times as a family...including again in a couple weeks...the Kids Against Hunger pack-a-thon .  We also talked about doing things again next summer, like the Special Olympics, and how we can get more friends and families involved with us.  Now that school is starting I don't want to forget this focus.  We will continue to serve as often as we can and whenever we see a need and can take action.  I am excited to see my children put this into practice throughout the year and see how much they notice on their own and decide to do something about it, no matter how big or small.

"Remember that you are not called to be well-served, but to serve Him well."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Farm Meals...

We've flown through week eight and nine of our CSA season.  Our house has been filled with guests, which has given me plenty of opportunities to show off our farm box produce in the meals that I have made for them.  Here's a peak at what we received in our boxes...

Week 8 - Corn, sweet onion, yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, garlic, banana peppers, cucumbers, thyme, broccoli, nappa cabbage, sungold tomatoes, eggplant, and kale.

Week 9 - sungold tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, patty pan squash, zucchini, yellow squash, green pepper, beets, eggplant, heirloom tomato, garlic, cucumbers, carrots, sweet onion, and sage

One of the things I was looking forward to making was zucchini bread.  I was hoping for a big huge pile of them as was character of our farm boxes back in MI this time of the season.  But when we only received one more in last week's box, I was bummed.  I had enough zucchini to make one loaf but I wanted to make two.  So I got creative and made one of the loaves with one zucchini and the one lonely patty pan squash we received.  It turned out fantastic and the kids gobbled it up...we gave the first loaf to a family we were making dinner for.  Here's a picture of the loaf made with zucchini and patty pan squash...we ate it with strawberries and a dollop of homemade almond whipped cream...

The abundance of cabbage and cucumbers has been awesome!  My kids love cucumbers so we mostly just sliced them up to eat as snacks with the carrots, peppers, and cauliflower we also received.  But, I also made a wonderful cucumber salad w/ fresh dill to eat for lunch one reminded me of a salad my mother used to make when I was younger...

Cucumber Salad
I was struggling with the amount of cabbage we've been getting.  I wanted to make a coleslaw with some but my husband has a negative attitude towards coleslaw based on childhood experiences of it always being loaded with mayonnaise, which he hates.  With that in mind, I tried a Carrot and Cabbage Slaw recipe I found online that had a dressing made out of white wine vinegar to pair with pulled pork sandwiches.  I served it up and put some on my sandwich, and he followed suit.  Turns out he LOVED it and used the leftovers in a sandwich wrap with the leftover pork the next day!  Hooray for adding new veggies into his diet!

Cabbage and Carrot Slaw

In keeping with my motto of "cook once, eat twice," the pulled pork sandwiches were made from a leftover pork tenderloin we grilled a couple nights before.  In the preparation, I used the banana peppers, scallions, garlic, and cilantro from the farm to flavor the pork while simmering.  I then made a homemade BBQ sauce, pulled the pork and continued simmering for a little while longer in the BBQ sauce...they were so good!

I also made a Chinese Nappa Cabbage Salad with peanuts, chow mien noodles, and black sesame seeds topped with a homemade vinaigrette dressing.  This was a great summer salad too that lasted us a couple days because the cabbage was so huge!

Chinese Nappa Cabbage Salad

I also made a huge pot of Autumn Vegetable favorite soup recipe ever from my favorite cookbook Simply in Season!  It was made almost exclusively from ingredients from our farm box...we used the corn, cabbage, kale, green pepper, onion, tomatoes, garlic and parsley.  This is a great recipe for using up those veggies!!

Autumn Vegetable Soup

Another staple meal I ususally make when visitors are in the house is my "famous" burritos.  It's a great dish that serves a lot of people and I have never had anyone who has not liked them!  This time I was able to use the rest of the banana peppers from the farm in this recipe.  I chopped them up small, sauteed them, and then added to the meat and bean mixture and also simmered them into the tomato sauce that I pour over the top before adding cheese and baking.  We topped them with the shredded lettuce and the rest of the sungold tomatoes from the farm, which were a perfect sweet compliment to the light spice of the peppers throughout!

Burrito prep - sungold tomatoes and banana peppers from the farm, plus lettuce

Burrito Dinner w/ Spanish rice
After all the meals I was able to use cabbage in, I now only have two small heads left which will likely go in another batch of Autumn Vegetable Soup soon to freeze for later in the fall.  The last of the visitors are gone for the summer and school starts next week.  I am looking forward to getting into an even healthier meal and eating routine, minus the sweets, and including things like purple carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers in the kids school lunches.  What a great example they can be to their friends eating fresh veggies from the farm instead of chips, crackers, or empty calorie foods. 

Thanks for all the great feedback, emails, and comments.  As always, if there is a recipe I didn't include that you would like to try, just let me know!  I would be more than happy to share it. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer of Sevice - 363 days...

As summer rolls on we continue to learn and grow from serving the Lord and those around us.  In keeping with our previous theme of helping to fight hunger, we chose a project that would directly affect our own community.  While researching ideas for our Summer of Service, I stumbled upon an organization called 363 Days

Each year, various organizations put together programs for Thanksgiving and Christmas to help feed, clothe and take care of those less fortunate. There is a remarkable amount of time, energy and money that goes into these programs. An honest question, pondered by those who participate is, "What happens the other 363 days of the year?"  363 Days was established with the other days in mind. Their starting goal was to help feed 150 homeless people in Minneapolis as many times a year as possible, with the ultimate goal of doing it every day of the year. Today, they are feeding about 2,000 people per day!

Volunteering for this organization is pretty simple, and perfect for children.  All you need is a commitment to purchase the supplies and find the time and place to make many as you want to assemble.  I loved the idea of being able to do something so easy that could impact someone we might just see regularly near our home in the city.  The whole family was once again able to serve in some capacity for this project...and we even timed this one around a visit we would be having with my 4 yr old niece so we (especially the kids) could begin teaching and sharing with someone else the value of serving others.

We as a family had committed to supply 300 sandwiches to this organization.  I wanted a challenging number so it wasn't so short the kids didn't have time to process what they were doing.  Since my husband would be working the next day, he and I went shopping for the supplies (so he could participate in some capacity).  We bought 15 loaves of bread,  4 big packages of cheese, 12 packages of turkey slices and 2 boxes of ziploc baggies.  In the morning, I moved all the chairs away from the dining room table and set the kids up in an assembly line.  I let them come up with their own rhythm of working together and just helped ease some of the hiccups along the way.

As you can see, they managed just fine!

The three younger kids mostly assembled the sandwiches and the older two mostly packed them up and prepared them for delivery.

The kids also had fun trying to keep their little cousin on task.  They learned quickly that she needed to rotate her job often to stay interested, but she did a great job!!  We think her favorite thing to do was to line the sandwiches up in rows and count them!

Once every sandwich was sealed, packed and stacked we bagged them up and took a ride to a delivery location, which for us happened to be a small business that put a chest freezer in their office to store the sandwiches that come in.

363 Days then sends a truck around once a week to all the drop off locations throughout the city to pick up sandwich donations and stores them in their main freezer, which has the capacity to hold 50,000 sandwiches on any given day until they are ready to be taken out into the community to feed those in need.
It took us a little over an hour to make 312 sandwiches!!  That's 312 times someone will get a light meal because of our family.  A sandwich doesn't seem like much to most of us but I know many people are incredibly grateful to receive one if they are hungry and have trouble affording a meal.  Not only does the sandwich nourish their body, but I'd also like to believe that some of those people are touched by more than just getting food...maybe they learn about the love of God through others?  Or they receive a boost of self esteem and worth if they notice people take the time to make sure they are fed?  That's my hope.  It's pretty incredible the impact you can make in such a short amount of time...