November 2009

At the end of 2007, Jaron began to selectively apply for jobs as a full time worship director.  He had been filling part time positions, as a volunteer and on staff, for a couple of years and felt ready for more responsibility and investment.  In January he found what sounded like an awesome fit and applied for his current position at First Presbyterian in Champaign, IL.  I won’t lie.  We were pretty scared of the midwest.  The midwest was always my “Africa”.  The place that sounded like the scariest option and often where you end up feeling called to go.  Upsides were that we would be able to afford a home, that it was only a three hour drive from my sister, whom I hadn’t shared a state with in twelve years, and of course, that we believed so strongly in the work the church described.

So, after a few months of application process, we found ourselves with two weeks to move across the country.  It felt fast, like having a band-aid ripped off.  We said good-bye to an incredibly supportive church community and family in San Diego and took off with our dog to drive the 30 hours to Illinois.  “Lincoln Land.”  (He’s everywhere.)

Fast forward almost two years and here we are, in an entirely different situation than we expected, which I’m learning is the way things go with big decisions.  Some things are exactly as we hoped.  We have a beautiful home, dear friends, more time with my niece and nephew, and Jaron gets to do what he loves full time.  But the most unexpected things about living in Champaign may be the most permanently life-changing  for us.  This is where we learned what we love.  Personally I had one big career failure since arriving.  It was heart-breaking and 100% necessary for me to go through it.  I know much more about myself now and what I can and want to do than I ever did before.  Success after success would never have taught me that.  It was failure that made it painfully clear.  And brought me eventually to something that was never on my radar before: coaching.  It has meant more than I can say to be able to build relationships with young people in a team context.  I hope to continue coaching volleyball for a long time.

As is clear in this blog (I swear I never planned for it to have so many recipes) we have rediscovered food.  How miraculous, vital, basic, and dignifying good, nutritious food is.  What a wonder is God’s provision through the Earth.  What a scandal it is to deprive fellow humanity of this gift when we have the power to share.  And how much our generation and the one younger than us is being cheated of good health and gratitude for food in America, one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

We’ve also been amazed at the progress our little band has made.  Jaron and I wrote a handful of songs in California and since moving less than two years ago we’ve been able to form a band with extremely gifted musicians and have played almost 15 shows in 2009 in three states.  And met some really great people along the way.

So as the thankfulness holiday is upon us and I’m compelled to think thankful thoughts, I think of my best friend and husband, the provision we have of health and housing, of a supportive family.  But most of all I’m struck by the provision of successes and heartbreak and the surprises they bring.  The past two years have felt a bit of a refiner’s fire.  I’m confident it was the only way we would find the things we value most.  The things we want to take into our adulthood and establish as we someday raise a family.  I could not have guessed the life that was waiting for us in Champaign.  But I am so grateful for it.


Jaron and I returned late last night from our first trip across the Atlantic.  4 days and nights in Ireland.  We got a great deal (seriously, cheaper than flying home for Christmas…) and it was a destination we’d both been enamored with for quite some time.  What better way to welcome 30 years of living than fish and chips and a pint at a thousand year-old Irish pub?  If you ever need to feel young, just spend some time where there is real history, heartache, and triumph.  We LOVED Ireland.

Since our stay was so short we spent most of our time in Dublin, walking the stone-paved sidewalks, marveling at the Christmas decorations on Grafton Street, and feeling a little bit like we’d just been dropped into a Harry Potter movie.

We also took a train one morning to visit the coastal town of Howth with a priceless hike along the cliffs before fresh fish and chips at the docks.

Meals were meaty and huge.  The surroundings were almost always quaint and sturdy.  On our final day we visited the legendary cafe at Avoca village and had brown bread and with roasted tomato and red pepper soup for lunch.  Supper was a half liter of microbrew and fish pie back in Dublin at a gastro pub that was part of an old castle and I was spellbound by the detail of the architecture and the simplicty of the wonderful food.  Two meals I will never forget.

So on returning home to Thanksgiving I’ve got Irish food on my mind and ideas brewing for ways to incorporate it into upcoming meals based on Thanksgiving leftovers.  I wondered about combining the two and settled on adapting Avoca’s recipe for shepherd’s pie to use leftover turkey and sweet potatoes.  The result was exactly what we were hoping for.

First, the prep.  Peel and chop 1 yellow onion.  In a large pan or stock pot, saute the onion in about 4 tbsp olive oil until translucent, but not brown.  Shred 4 cups of leftover turkey with a fork and add to onions.  (You can also use 2 lb ground turkey.  If so, add it raw to the cooked onions and brown before adding other ingredients.)

Also add:

3 tbsp worcestersire

2 whole sprigs thyme

1 teaspoon tomato paste

3 carrots, peeled and diced

2 chicken bouillon cubes and 2 c water

salt and pepper to taste

Cover and cook this combination on low heat for 25 minutes.  Remove cover and continue to cook on low for 25 minutes more.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

If using leftover mashed sweet potatoes make sure you have at least 4 cups.  If starting fresh, peel and cube 3 lb of sweet potatoes.  Place in stock pot, cover in water, add salt, and bring to boil.  Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until tender.  Drain the potatoes and put back over low heat.  Add 1 c half and half, 4 tbsp butter, 1 egg yolk, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mash the potatoes well and taste, adjust seasoning as desired.  Set aside.

Once the meat mixture is done, remove the thyme sprigs and spread it into the bottom of a deep pie dish, along with juices from the pan.  Cover with the mashed sweet potato and spread evenly, creating texture as desired.  Heat at 350F for 20 minutes and broil for 5 more, or until the sweet potato mash has browned at its tips.  If you want to make this ahead of meal time, let it cool in the refridgerator and leave time to warm it at 350F for 40 minutes.

This turned out to be a great dish and adapted with very little adjustment.  Hearty, sweet, savory, and fresh-tasting.  Approximately 8 servings.

Wow, I can hardly believe Fall is already on it’s way out.  I’m running out of time on sharing my favorite fall recipes, so, in between packing for Dublin and working volleyball try-outs (not a bad day, right?) here is our favorite weeknight entree for fall.  Even though I tend to make this a couple of times per week in the Fall, Jaron still gets excited when he hears it’s on the docket.  It’s a perfect sweet-savory dish and very low on the calorie count for how rich the flavor is.  Serves 4.  (The leftovers heat up well, too.)

Liberian Pumpkin

So you can use pumpkin, but it really is a pain to cut up and deseed, and I prefer the taste of butternut squash.  Still sounds better to call it Liberian Pumpkin, though. 🙂

Ingredient prep:

*See bottom of post for help with the rice or orzo pasta which accompanies this dish.

Brown about 1 c Italian bulk sausage and set aside, chop 1 medium butternut squash into bite-size cubes, chop 1 yellow onion, and deseed and chop 1 green chile.  (We tend to use jalapenos, but they can be unpredictable in heat sometimes, so if you like the heat you may want a serrano and if not, go with anaheim or half a poblano.)

In a large saute pan with a lid, saute the chili pepper, butternut squash, and onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until onion is translucent.  Then cover and cook on medium heat about 10 minutes, until squash is cooked.

Add 1 c water and 1 bouillon cube.  Cook 10 more minutes, covered.

Add browned sausage and cook uncovered until the liquid has mostly been absorbed or evaporated.  Serve over brown rice or orzo pasta.

*This dish is served with brown rice (if you have the hour to cook it) or orzo pasta.  If using brown rice, bring your preferred amount along with twice as much water and a small slice of butter to boil and simmer, covered, for 50 min.  Then let stand for ten before serving.  If orzo, you’ll need to boil it for 8-10 minutes and drain.  It usually works to set your water to boil while you saute the vegetables, then add the pasta to the boiling water before you put the sausage in with the vegetables.