Thursday, February 28, 2008

La Pollo Loco Makes Pollo alla Cacciatora

Roughly translated from Spanish and Italian, that's: The Crazy Chicken Makes Chicken for the Hunter.

Better explain, huh?

So it seems that abandoning one's life to flit about the world hunting new adventures requires a bit of seeing-to before hopping a plane. So that's what I am (and have) been doing: seeing to. Of course, there's the usual: laundry, bills, stopping the mail, finding a Freeman House sitter. Then there's the unusual: putting a new fuse in one of the heaters so it doesn't burn the house down... cracking ice trays filled with homemade chicken stock so no one inadvertently uses them in iced tea... and calling the garden guy who delivers... (well, I call him "Manure Man" if that helps)... to ask him to please hold off dumping his spring delivery in the yard while I'm gone....

Yep. I'm running about like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Only I think I'm an even crazier chicken.

I made it home late last night. Late, late, late. But I was hungry and wasn't tired and still needed to clean out the fridge. I put on comfy pajamas and padded to the kitchen and stood leaning on the refrigerator door thinking: bacon... tomato sauce... shredded chicken... half a bottle of white wine... I hate to throw this stuff out. Then I remembered that Chicken Cacciatora recipe of Nigella Lawson's, and Clean Out the Fridge Night soon became Make the Best Midnight Meal Ever Night.

Of course, those Italians and die hard Chicken Cacciatora lovers among you might be appalled by my Tex-ified, fridge cleaning version of this beloved dish. My apologies in advance; I don't usually keep fresh pancetta on hand, and my little town is a long way from Rome.

Pollo Loco's Pollo alla Cacciatora

1 tablespoon olive oil
5 slices bacon, chopped into 1 inch pieces
¼ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 cup tomato sauce (I use V8, but don’t tell)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, or ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 can cannellini (or garbanzo) beans

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add bacon and onions and cook until bacon is no longer pink. Add garlic and stir the pot and think for a minute or so.

Slosh in white wine, tomatoes and tomato sauce, seasonings, and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Drop in chicken, cover, and continue cooking over medium heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and add can of beans, if desired. (Cannellini beans are an optional ingredient in this dish. I accidentally opened garbanzo beans last night and loved them here. Use them or don’t. Whatever.) Return to simmer and cook for 5 more minutes or until beans are heated through.

Eat straight from the pot or ladle up with hot rice or noodles. (I stir cooked brown rice directly into mine so it’s a one bowl dinner.) Leftovers, if you’re lucky enough to have any, are great reheated.

So I leave you with my re-discovered favorite winter dinner and hopes that we'll meet here after Istanbul with new stories and pictures and words. Until my return, be cozy. And happy. Be cozily happy. I'll see you soon. -Brin

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Looking For a New Monday Moment?

It's here. It's hidden. And it's heavy. Consider yourself warned!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Turkish Tote

Still here, quietly knitting in bed in preparation for my Turkey trip. And yes, for those of you who've emailed, I am still going. In lieu of answering all the emails in my inbox, I'll publicly state that I did become somewhat concerned when - the minute my travel arrangements were confirmed - the Turks decided to launch a major offensive in Iraq. I guess you saw that too? Wonderful. On behalf of myself and my bum luck I'd like to formally apologize to the fine people of Turkey, for had I decided to travel instead to... oh... say... Switzerland, I'm sure it would be the Swiss launching an offensive instead of the Turks. Never mind that Switzerland hasn't been at war since 1815.

I do, again, apologize.

But today Istanbul and offensives are a world away and everything's all Switzerland-like here at Freeman House. In fact, I spent the better part of the early afternoon piled up in my butter soft bed listening to the breeze and the birds and knitting up the Nest Tote as designed by Elisa, an Italian knitter with a strong sense of ecological responsibility. (Do go and read Elisa's post about the bag here.) This project is a quick knit, I'm finding, and a fantastic foray into the world of lace knitting.

Since it's so lightweight and stretchy, this tote has been tapped to accompany me to Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, one of the world's oldest markets and a place I can't wait to explore. (Nothing worse than a heavy purse weighing you down in an international marketplace, right?) I'll try to remember to take a few shots of the tote after I've completed it but before I spill stuff all over it... which will have to be immediately upon completion.

So there we are. Consider yourself somewhat up to date! (I must be off... four dinner guests and a hot bowl of Potato Marbles are due at the table around 6 PM.) I hope to check in again before the tote and I travel. -Brin

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sweeping Realizations

It's moments like these you realize you're blessed. Blessed beyond belief. It's those quiet moments... those hushed, still seconds you're sweeping your bedroom floor and stop to examine the pile the straw has gathered...

... And once you do, you realize you've swept more plum-colored tulip petals than dirt. You've called out, from the dark corners of the room in which you sleep, scattered flower remnants - delicate as tissue and thin as air.

So you stand on the worn wooden floor that generations of women before you have swept and you examine your own pile and you realize... you realize you're blessed. Blessed beyond belief.

[Monday Update and Edit] ...and you also realize that with blessing comes opportunity. Responsibility. You have things to do. You have a life that's begging to take off. Knocks on doors that need answering. And so you sit on that wooden floor and realize that a blogging break would be... a relief? Yeah. A quiet relief. It would afford you time to realize new dreams and tackle new projects and see new places....

I'm saying goodbye for a little while. I guess that's what I'm trying to say. I'm taking some time off to poke around the house and garden and then I'm boarding a plane. I'm going to spend some time in Istanbul and London. I plan to stay up late and drink really strong coffee and go barefoot. I intend to get lost in new places and read up on new faces. I aim to take naps on trains and eat fruit from outdoor markets and say prayers from the steps of Constantinople. I long to take my friend up on an offer and sing Puccini with an international choir. I want to dance on an ancient cobblestone street and buy a foreign hat and squint as my sun sets on someone else's world.

In a word, I want to live.

Yes, I'm so blessed. My life's blessed beyond belief. And I don't want to waste a minute of it. But I'll be back in a few weeks. I'll be back with new stories and new pictures and new words. Besides, you're probably getting a bit bored with me anyhow, considering this has all come down to me showing you what I sweep off my floor. (Laugh) This will be a welcome break.

See you soon.

Warmly and always,


Thursday, February 14, 2008

An Invitation... and Chocolate Sauce

And the Valentine's dinner invitation sweetly came. "What time?" I asked.

"How about 6 o'clock and we'll see the remains of the sunset," was the answer.

I know I'm not cooking tonight, but I feel foolish showing up with only bread. Cheesecake was mentioned, and I see no point wasting a good dessert with some ridiculous fruit topping. (My aversion to fruit precedes me.) So I'm making Fudge Sauce. May I? I'll bring a chipped white pitcher of it and we can pour and pool it over slices of cold cake and then lick our forks and fingers until the silky sauce is just a memory....


2/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup espresso
6 oz. good quality semisweet chocolate

Gently warm cream and espresso over double boiler or low heat. Melt in chocolate, swirling until smooth and velvety. Add a teeny splash of vanilla if you wish. Wonderful with fruit, cake, ice cream or a lonely spoon. Serves two.

Hoping a love, however simple and in whatever form, finds and holds you this Valentine's Day. -Brin

(Friday Note to G.: The veal meatballs were superb, but the sunset champagne tasting will be lodged in my memory forever. Thank you for such a sweet evening.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Old Little Valentines

Britt-Arnhild made a passing comment on my blog months ago that changed the way I look at Valentine's Day. It profoundly changed the way I approach the day.

I was writing about my Grandfather, about his illness and our relationship and memories I have of us together when I was a child. And Britt-Arnhild wrote these five words: Such a beautiful love story. Simple enough observation, I suppose. But the thought of a girl and her grandfather... the thought of their story as a love story... pressed into my heart and made me gasp. This is a love story, I thought. I gave love. I accepted love. How many other similar "love" stories have woven themselves into my life? How many of them am I missing? How many love stories am I neglecting to celebrate just because they don't look as I think they ought?

And so I began to think. And I realized that I do have Valentines to write this year after all. Many of them. Just as a child writes dozens of cards and sends them to everyone she knows, so too will I. So here they are, in no particular order. Although this is, by no means, a comprehensive list:

To Junior – For making me laugh every day between 1 and 2 PM. And for bringing the mail despite the rain, sleet, snow and hail.

To Gilmore Girls – For seeing me through many a Tuesday night. Wish you’d come back.

To Grace, Shelley, Amber, JoAnne, Traci and Lisa – For standing by my side. Rushing to my aid. For showing me that true friends are among the best God hands out. (JoAnne told me last night about the chicken coop!) My love for y’all runs deep.

To My Family… all of you – For everything. We might not have it all together but together we have it all.

To the memory of Maebelline – Darling kitty. First Valentine’s Day without you. I miss you terribly. Wish with all of me you were still here.

To my Kelvinator oven – For the perfect cornbread. And for only catching on fire that once. I'm glad you've hung in as I’ve written my book.

To You – For defining “deliriously”, and teaching me to know the difference. You were my sweetest downfall. I loved you first.

To Regina Spektor and Tristan Prettyman – For making the album(s) I would want to, and providing the soundtrack to dance around in my underwear.

To my books and piano and garden - For the delight and escape.

To Terilli's, my favorite restaurant - For the al fresco memories. (And the cute guys who park my Jeep.) I still crave you.

To Victoria Magazine – For the grace, beauty, and words you’ve brought. Congratulations on your rebirth.

To Grandma – For doll dresses and fried okra and flowers and the Cowboys. I think parts of me are yours. My cookbook is for you.

To Howard Payne University – My dear alma mater. For the exams, the challenges and the people you brought into my life. They taught me how to learn and how to love. Thanks for the law degree. Sting ‘em, Jackets.

To Alicia Paulson – For writing the blog I want to read everyday.

To Big D – For capturing my heart. Thanks for seeing me off.

To Little D – For welcoming me here. Thanks for becoming my home.

To my Savior – This is how I know what love is. How could I ever repay the debt of love I owe?

To my blog readers - Thanks for showing up. Not sure why you do, but thanks. Happy Valentine's Day. My love, Brin

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Tea Service

Love and kindness are never wasted.
They always make a difference.
-Barbara De Angelis

Junior, the mail lady, really hates that Freeman House is on her route. A tremendous amount of mail gets delivered here throughout the week, not to mention the many book and fabric deliveries that somehow end up on my doorstep. (Ahem.)

Yesterday Junior looked particularly vexed. She was balancing a large USPS Priority box on her knee and banging on the door with her elbow. I opened the door, embarrassed, before realizing: "I didn't order this one, Junior! Promise!". Don't think she bought it.

But I really hadn't bought it. I manuevered the large box through the door and into the dining room and sat at the table with my rotary cutter and sliced the box to death. Inside were two smaller boxes and enough packing peanuts to fill one of those bouncy ball arenas at McDonald's. And a card. There was a card inside, too. It read:

Sorry he's broken your heart again. Happy Singles' Awareness Day. -T

Oh how I laughed. And then cried. I'm sure I looked like a raving loon, alternately cackling and bawling while tightly clutching this white teapot... packing peanuts in my hair and everywhere.

Thanks, T, for the tea set. How could you have known I'm planning to do the cottage kitchen in white ironstone? I didn't have a complete white ironstone tea service. Thank you. But beyond the tea set, thank you a hundred times more for your friendship. For all of your friendships. Your love and kindness aren't wasted here.

Thanks for making a difference to me. -Brin

This One's For the Boys... (Or, Trash Talk)

(The rest of y'all should kindly look away while the Texas in me comes out. Thanks.)

Okay fellas, here's the deal: I'm tired of all of you.

Perhaps you need a gentle reminder of just who you're bugging to death with your blog comments and emails and cards and texts and showing up with your hair fixed better than mine. Listen up: while I may be a Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookie-baking, pantyhose-wearing sweetie by day, I'm a Turkish-speaking, shotgun-loading meanie by night.

Yup. That's right. Don't mess with Texas... er... um... girls. Yeah. Don't mess with Texas girls. If we like you boys, we may make you fat. And if we don't, we just might make you dead.

Y'all run along now and leave me and my shotgun alone, you hear?

(And by the way, the pictures aren't blurry because I'm a shaky shot. No, they're blurry because I was laughing so hard I could hardly hold a shotgun and take a picture of my great new shoes without falling over.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Monday Moment: All You Have To Do

All you have to do
is decide what to do
with the time that is given you.
-J. R. R. Tolkien

While planting a few shallots and herbs this weekend, I got to looking closely at what exactly I was planting. Have you ever tucked a seed or bulb into the ground after carefully examining it? The act of gardening is an act of faith in itself, because seeds and cloves and bulbs look like a waste of time. They look dead. Expired. How could something wonderful or edible possibly come from something so dried up and small?

Most seed stays viable between one and three years. Amazing, when you think of it. But this stuff looked iffy. I knew the quickest way to determine whether seed will germinate is to take two damp paper towels, tuck the seeds between them, seal it inside a plastic baggie, and wait until 7 or more sprout. If they do, plant away; it's viable seed.

The Bible talks a lot about seed. I looked it up this morning in my battered Bible. Skipping over the poetry in Isaiah 55, the Parable of the Sower in the Matthew 13, and the "faith the size of the mustard seed" bit in Matthew 17, I ended up in I Peter 1: 13-25. The topic of the section in my Bible was: BE HOLY. Oh geez. Not today. I prepared to skip over that, too.

But I didn't. I read. Hey listen, the passage said to me, as long as you're depending on a God who deals with everyone's deeds impartially, live your life like you're only here temporarily. Because you are, after all. Your home is in heaven. And now that you've set yourself apart by trying to obey God, love each other deeply. From the heart. Because you've been given a new life - not from perishable seed, but from imperishable; you've been given a new life through the living and enduring word of God.

Wow. This pulled at my ears and banged on my heart. It really dealt with me. Because I am, right now, having a hard time living like I'm here temporarily. I'm treating fleeting hurts like eternal suffering. I'm labeling a tough break a "ruined life". And I'm having a hard time loving. Forgiving. Especially from my torn-to-shreds heart. Shame on me. I don't have much time. And I've been given an amazing life - viable seeds, not dead ones - through the promises of a watching and knowing God.

Let's be real: sometimes, when you hold your Bible in your hands... when you examine this whole Christian life thing closely... it does look improbable. A waste of time, even. Just like those seeds and cloves and bulbs. Yet as any good gardener will tell you, it's not. One shriveled seed can bring about decades of blooms. One bulb can produce seasons of flowers. God - through His Word - is the same way. His promises to us aren't small. They're not perishable. They don't expire in one to three years. We don't have to wonder if He's going to come around after all. We don't have to worry about whether we're wasting our time plodding around down here on earth.

I adore the Tolkien quote. We've been given time, now all we have to do is decide what in the world we'll do with it. The Bible says: Don't waste it. You've been given good seed... seed that won't die. Run with that. Use that. And love each other deeply. From the heart.

And so I'll try. I'll try my best. Even as I plant my seed and water my cloves and bulbs, I'll try. I won't be perfect, but it's a start.

All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given you....

Monday Moment is a modest little devotional
to help kick-start your week. See you again next time!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Peach Pocket Pies

For the past few days I've been craving... and I mean craving... a pocket pie. A peach pocket pie. It's strange; usually anything that doesn't involve chocolate is, in my humble opinion, a waste of precious dessert-allotted calories.

But I was thinking last night of peach pocket pies and suddenly I sat up straight(ish) in bed and gasped, My gosh, I don't have my Peach Pocket Pie recipe in the write-up of my cookbook. And just as suddenly I realized that I'd left out Potato Marbles and Carrot Ribbons and Corn Cakes. Where have I been? I thought I was finished with the recipes? What?

I'd always heard that pocket pies got their grand and glorious start in European mining communities. Using leftover meat and vegetables, wives would send their dutiful coal mining husbands off to work each morning with dinner scraps sealed inside baked-up crusts. Once lunch came around so would the miners and their pies, and together they'd heat their homemade hot pockets on shovels placed over burning coals.

I took that to be the history of the pocket pie until I read, just this week, that the baked beauties are also rumored to have begun in the pre-Victorian era, when cooks would tuck meat or fruit into pastry scraps and bake up several for the children of the house. They were, of course, easier for the little ones to handle and finish off than a proper meal. For those reasons, they soon became popular with servants and slaves as well.

But sure. The Greeks have their kolokotes. The Polish their pierogi. The Italians their calzone. The Spanish their empanada. But in the deep south, where I come from, it's all hail the fried pie.

Only I don't fry mine. Shoot me now, but I bake them up in the most flaky and delicate of sour cream crusts. Plus, in saving all the greasy calories, you can eat an extra one or get yours with a scoop of Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean ice cream.

So, hmmm. Guess it's my peach pocket pies at the firepit tonight. (Oh, hello footing. Is that you I'm finding again?) Because I could cry over him forever but I just can't. Not as long as I still have the perfect peach pocket pie recipe to share....

Friday, February 8, 2008

Exit Tears, Enter Terra Cotta

I don't want to be inside today. I've been inside for two days, in the same pajama pants, listening to this song . Always this song. For two days. For crying out loud, someone get this girl out to the garden and give her a shovel.

Or maybe get her to the potting table and give her a spade. Yeah. We could work on the container garden. We could stretch out under the sun and get our fingers dirty and breathe in all the green and sigh very loudly.

Sounds nice. Let's do that.

I went to Dallas Wednesday. While I was there I stopped at Calloway's. If your journey ever takes you to Dallas, stop at the Calloway's on Greenville Avenue. It's my favorite green place in Big D, next to the Farmer's Market and the Arboretum. The orchid aisle will take your breath away.

While at Calloway's, I found some unusual herbs. Coconut Thyme? I have English Thyme and Lemon Thyme and Creeping Thyme, but who knew there was Coconut Thyme? Not me. It tastes very... Caribbean. I think it would be nice with chicken. Or maybe risotto... a coconut milk risotto. Or something like this, although I would never, ever make it, scared to death as I am of seafood ever since I threw up on a U. S. Senator after eating shrimp that one time.


Oh, and there were new (to me) varities of mint. A Candy Mint. (That's it... in the bottom right of the picture above.) Member of the spearmint family. It's sweet and yummy. I'm tucking one into a pot and hoping the other goes crazy in a partially sun/slightly damp area of my garden. Then, when I'm working in the garden, I could leave a note on the front door that says: In the Candy Mint patch. Come on back. And that would be a charming sign to come across, wouldn't it?

A lot of interested folks ask where I get my plants. Truth is, I buy very few actual plants, preferring to start many things from seed. Seed Savers is a favorite of mine. So is Pinetree Garden Seeds. If it's berries you're wanting, you won't beat Nourse Farms. And of course, digging around your local feed store or garden center is always productive. Yes, if you have the time and patience, gardening from seed is ideal. It's cheaper, for one, and when you buy seed you have access to a whole new world of heirloom and hard-to-find varities. And if it doesn't work... if the tomatoes are sour or the flowers are sickly or the herbs fry in the heat... you've lost... what? A dollar and a quarter?

Besides, when you start things from seed you get to buy all the Italian terra cotta pots. Even discount stores have them. For another dollar or two, you can hold a piece of Italy in your hands. For those of us who won't be getting to Tuscany any time soon, that'll have to do.

Most of the pots I have are very new... with the exception of the three big ones I found underneath Freeman House. But you'd never know it by looking at them. Here's the trick: whenever you bring pots home from the store, remove their stickers and rub them down with moist dirt. I mean, scrub them with damp potting soil. Then fill them with soil for a week or two. Water them. Kick them around. Slather others with expired yogurt or buttermilk and let them sit in the shade for a few weeks. Water those and kick them around, too. Then let time and moisture do the rest. It all sounds violent and cruel, I know, but it works. Take that one in the upper right corner of the picture below. I just got it last March and it was shiny terra cotta new. I gave it a buttermilk bath and it already has that aged look I love.

What is it about being in the garden... about soft, green plants and heat-baked pots and dark, loamy soil and sunshine... that can quiet even the most battered and raging of hearts?

I'm not sure what it is, but I'm grateful for it. So thanks, Lord, for our pots and our gardens - however and wherever they may be. And today, please...

Grant me, O Lord, a sunny mind -
Thy windy will to bear.
-Emily Dickinson

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lemonade Quilts, Cottages, and Whys

I sometimes get a comment or two - usually by someone who knows me very well - about posts such as yesterday's. I don't know how you can put such personal things on a blog, they say. Don't you worry about who will read? I know. I truly do. But the answer is no. I don't worry. I used to but I don't anymore. Here's why:

1. Writing, for me, is cathartic. Unlike anything I've found, writing feelings and failures and moments and memories frees me to acknowledge them. Examine them. Then forget them. Once my pleasure or pain is noted down in neat, lettered rows, I pass on the burden of carrying it all around in my head or heart. It's there. If I need to go back and relive it, I can. I don't need to store it and stew.

2. I grew up in a world of facades. In a place where Christian women were expected to be Bible- praying, pot roast-making Stepford wives. Raw emotion was discouraged. So, too, was acknowledging personal struggles. People with problems were rumored to have too little faith... or maybe too much. Christians who struggled were believed to have secret sin or, perhaps, were going through a time of "wilderness" punishment. It never jived with me. Either God forgives and forgets our sin or He doesn't. Either God loves us or He doesn't. And while painful lessons and corrections and maybe even tests are a part of our spiritual growth, they arrive from heaven carefully monitored and planned and always out of love. Always out of a desire by a holy God to help or teach or equip His child. They're not to settle a score or prove some unseen point. (And don't you Bible-thumpers start crying "Job!". Check carefully; he was the exception to the rule, and God rewarded him big time for all that.)

So why not acknowledge, I've reasoned, our struggles? They are, after all, proof that God is patient. That He loves us. Why not be open during times when our convictions would otherwise crumble? Because, you see, the thing with Christians isn't that we don't face hard times. The thing with Christians is that we never face hard times alone.

Besides, it's not that we don't have fears. It's just that our fears are overcome with faith. (Peter, for example.) And it's not that we don't have dark moments. It's just that darkness usually gives way to deliverance. (Moses, Joshua) And sometimes even our rebellion is proof that God's redemption is close at hand. (Jonah)

The point. I suppose my point is that life isn't easy for any of us. But for some of us - for me, anyway - life is beautiful. Even in the midst of its messes. For even in the saddest, most painful of times (yesterday being at the top of my list), I still recognize God's compassion and love. Even then. Even yesterday.

So let's move on to happier subjects. Because there are some big ones coming down the pike. Remember my mention of a Freeman House Cottage? What part of Saturday I didn't spend working in the garden or swinging in a hammock, I spent on horseback riding the land I'm seriously considering buying. Words can't ... they just can't convey... how magical this bit of land is. There are woods and clearings. There are moss-covered creek beds and perfect picnic trees. There are old fences and clumps of growing things. The view is amazing and the air is tranquil. This place has me written all over it. It's my magic place that's not yet mine. Everyday I drive out there and think. I can't stop thinking about it. Could I buy it? Should I? Will I?

All the preliminary checking is completed. I asked the bank if it would be possible for me to move Freeman House. This house has already been relocated once - between 1912 and 1914, I told them. It is perfect for guests but its location is not. I want to move it again and add a cottage and some gardens. Can I do this? I asked.

Sure, they said.

So I came home... and... well... I began piecing this quilt. White and butter yellow diamonds. It's the color of sweet lemonade. I can already see it on the cottage's iron bed, surrounded by buckets of sunflowers under a window with a view of creeping daisies...

...And on the bed, a tray with glasses of lemonade and thick, crumbly sugar cookies and bowls of strawberries and cream. And hand-embroidered linens dried over lavender-patch clotheslines...


It's amazing to me how, even in the messiest, most personal of days, we can find evidence of God's unfailing love. We can hold onto promises of peace and happiness. I like to think that even as I make my way through the mud, God's sloshing alongside with seeds in His pockets. The same seeds that will become a garden that will become my dinner and my delight. And the torn, cut-away pieces and fragments of my hopes? My selfish dreams? Those are the same scraps we'll use to beget a quilt that will beget rest. Sweet rest.

I'm so far from perfect. I'm such a mess. And my life is far from perfect. But it's as blessed as a life can be. From the "flesh and the fury" to the lemonade quilts, my Redeemer has proven Himself faithful and true. Even when others are not. May every word I write here and every word you read here be a testament to that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Letter Number Two... (Flesh and Fury)

Hello, you. Guess it’s me again.

I was thinking, and I can’t remember the last time I was that angry. As the words flew last night… words, words, words… I remember thinking that if I were to die and they were to cut me open, they’d find nothing but flesh and fury. I can’t remember the last time I was that angry.

Late… long after we were over… I slid off the bed and stared at the dark wall and screamed. I screamed and screamed. The whole house echoed. When I was done– when the wood gave up the noise and the cries faded - I stood, pale and ghostly, and haunted the very same rooms you were just in. Doors you’d just passed through. Chairs you’d just left. It was muggy last night and there were thunderstorms. The air was charged. Electric. My nightgown clung to my legs and sparked as I moved and haunted.

What was it you said? I don’t remember now. I don’t care now. I laugh at how puerile I've been. I always thought they’d find our story – a hundred years from now – and think Bronte or Austen. They’d read about you… about me… about you and me… and then stamp us with the label 'Greatest Love Story Ever Told'. Why have I always thought that? For ten years now, I have. It’s a hard label to dismiss.

And you're a hard one to dismiss, too. You're not hard to like. In the middle of the night I found myself in my nightgown, leaning over the porch railing and dripping tears onto the roses below. (Ridiculous roses. I swear I’ll dig up and burn the ones we just planted.) The occasionally bright moon made my rolling tears glisten, and I was thankful, truly thankful, for the promise of a Heavenly Father who will wipe every tear from my eyes. What a reassurance. I can't help but think He had to have known, when He made you and made me, that tear-wiping would be part of it. And I can't help but hope that He's a little aggravated with you for creating so much work for Him.

No. I can't remember the last time I was that angry. So I stood, me in my electric nightgown and you so very far, far away, and stared at the moon. The watching moon. And after awhile, I came in and scribbled this down:

Shadows –
Raw dreams –
Scream at you to
-------------- Stop.
The moon watches as I think
Of you.

I would say goodbye but I already did.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mmm... Meat (Or Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Tenderloins with Avocado Ranch Sauce)

So I casually mentioned my Super Bowl menu and you guys murdered me with the meat requests. (Laugh) Seriously. Since Sunday afternoon I've gotten 124 emails regarding the Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Tenderloins. We all really need to get lives. Or maybe just a really great meat recipe, huh?

I can't help us with the life, but I can hook us up with the recipe. So here it is, without further delay: the perfect party food/finger food. The perfect offering for barbeques, family reunions, picnics, snack time, and church potlucks. The ideal munchie to freeze and reheat. The low carb dieter's dream. This, my friends, is my Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Tenderloins with Avocado Ranch Sauce. Enjoy.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Tenderloins

1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins
1 lb. sliced, maple cured bacon
1 c. shredded Parmesan cheese

Slice chicken tenderloins in half... nugget size. (Or don’t. Leave them chicken-strip size. Whichever you prefer.) Cover with cheese. Cut bacon slices in half and wrap each chicken piece with bacon, taking care to cover most of the chicken and all of the cheese. If necessary, secure with wooden picks. Place on an oven-safe rack set over a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until bacon is crisp and chicken is no longer pink. Makes approximately 3 dozen nugget-sized snacks.

Easy. And honestly, there are a thousand different ways to make these. If you can’t find chicken tenderloins, slice up chicken breasts. Use any bacon you prefer; I think the slight sweetness of the maple cured bacon really sets off the saltiness of the cheese and meat. (Sunday I even added Jamaican Jerk Rub to the mix.) Be daring and try different cheeses [Cheddar? Gouda? Provolone?] or skip the cheese altogether. Roll the chicken in ½ cup brown sugar and some chipotle powder and garlic powder, cover in applewood smoked bacon and then bake. Go crazy and invent your own variety. Just always, always serve them with the sauce

Avocado Ranch Sauce

1 medium avocado
1/4 cup sour cream

1 T. lime juice
1 ½ T. Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix
1 T. chili powder (chipotle powder… whatever)
½ t. garlic powder
1 t. black pepper
2 T. chopped dill, if desired

In a food processor, blend ingredients on high until combined and creamy… about 30 seconds. Or, if you don’t want to bother with a food processor, smash the avocado with a fork and whisk together with remaining ingredients until it reaches desired consistency. Taste, adjusting seasonings as desired. (I sometimes add a little mayonnaise to this in addition to the sour cream. Play around with what you like.) Refrigerate two hours to chill and combine flavors. I usually serve my sauce in the clean, hallowed-out avocado shell. But definitely serve it cold. The colder the better.

Just so you know, the chicken can be frozen for future snacking. Just thaw and then warm for 10 minutes at 350 F before serving. The sauce, however, is best made fresh. If you have any leftovers, spoon it down over a baked potato or eat with carrot sticks. Or your finger. It's addictive....

Mmmm... meat. There you have it. Hope you and yours love it. -Brin

Monday, February 4, 2008

Monday Moment: Shifting Shadows

Whatever is good and perfect comes
down to us from God our Father,
who created all the lights in the heavens.
He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.
-James 1:17

It's hard, sometimes, to believe that God holds a plan for us. A plan. A good plan. For our lives. Especially when we're living in shifting shadows.

I spent several minutes Saturday on my back underneath this tree. I was in a hammock suspended from its trunk. As the sun sparkled, then hid, I watched shadows shift and slide. The sun didn't move, but the scene around me did. No two moments were the same.

Our lives seem like that at times. At least mine does. Just as we grow accustomed to coping with one problem, another smacks us in the face. Just as we mend from one heartbreak, another does damage. Just as we grow accustomed to life as we know it, it all changes again. It's unsettling, hiding in shadows such as these. They're always moving. Always disappearing and reappearing. It's hard.

I suppose that's why, of all the qualities God holds in His hands, His immutability is the one I gravitate to the most. It's the one thing that draws me close and keeps me near. He doesn't change. He doesn't shift. He doesn't disappear when things get hard only to reappear when we're okay. He's held a plan for my life - for your life, too - since the beginning of time. And it hasn't changed. We haven't messed it up. Life hasn't rewritten the ending. He knew it all, and still made His plan anyway. The same God who created all the stars in the heavens purposefully created all those small, sparkly moments that tend to our hearts and birth our smiles. And He's always there. Right there. So as we squish our eyes shut and pray our promises... hope for help... ask for answers... we can be confident that He has it all under control. Somehow He does.

Even as I closed my eyes, lying in that hammock Saturday, I felt the shadows creep and slink over me. I wanted to shake my fist at the sky, or bail out and run to where the dark shapes wouldn't touch me anymore. But just as I did, the wind calmed and the scenery stilled. And I remembered.

So let the shadows play and dance. They're temporary, anyway; we needn't be afraid or worried. He still holds our lives in His hands. His plan is still on. Even now. Even today. Even as you take this breath. Even as we live among these shifting shadows....

Sunday, February 3, 2008

For the Love of the Game

Maybe it's because I grew up a Daddy's girl. With three brothers. In Texas. Or maybe it's because I was around it all the time, me being the granddaughter and niece of coaches. Or maybe I got it from my Great Grandmother Elizabeth, who was known throughout Hunt County for her chicken and dumplings, her coconut pie, and her loyal support of the "'boys".

Regardless of the reason, here's the fact: I love football. I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan to the bone. And even though our defense broke my heart and we're all watching the Super Bowl from home this year, I'll still be watching. Because it's all about the game, baby. All for the love of the game.

And the cheese dip. Let's not forget the Texas Cheese Dip:

1 lb. Breakfast Sausage
J. C. Potter is king around here. Even Troy's on the website.)
1 small onion, diced
1 can Rotel tomatoes (Hot)
1 lb. Kraft Velveeta, cut into 1 inch cubes

This couldn’t be easier. Brown sausage and onions together in skillet over medium-high heat. (I use reduced-fat sausage so there's no need to spoon off fat. But if you need to, certainly do that here.) Drain can of Rotel tomatoes and stir into sausage and onion mixture. Reduce heat to low and add Velveeta, stirring every 5 minutes or until melted. Garnish with cilantro, pico de gallo, or chopped jalapeno. Serve with tortilla chips.

Of course, this can also be done in the crockpot. Brown sausage and onions as directed and dump all ingredients into a crockpot set on low. Stir occasionally. Serve when melted.

Love this dip. It's truly what we Texans dig into. I'm serving this up tonight at Freeman House alongside Bacon Wrapped Chicken Tenderloins with Avocado Ranch Sauce, oven-grilled pizzas, and brownies. Should be a great night.

Wish you were here. Although you're probably glad you're not considering we'll actually be watching the game and I'll be as responsive as those sports-loving husbands on the Home Depot commercials.

And just when you thought you knew me. *wink*

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ghost Hunters

Well, what do you know? It's been a week since we talked and I've ended up with a free Friday night. So how about we spend it together and I tell you about the little adventure I had a week ago?

Cool. Hope you like a good ghost story...

It was a dark and stormy night. No seriously. It really was. A friend called and said her husband was out of town on a business trip and would I like to stay in a historical, haunted hotel with her Friday night? Um, sure I would. I was due for a little excitement. After all, we all know what a boring life I lead. (Cough)
So we met last Friday in Jefferson, Texas. It's one of my favorite towns; the shopping is great, the food is great, the houses are great, the people are great, and the history is... really great. Amber and I dumped our stuff in Room 18 of the old Jefferson Hotel and decided to hit the town.

But of course, it was February. Not a lot going on. We walked a bit and talked non-stop and had dinner and then Amber mentioned the town lantern tour at 8 PM. Was I game even though it was cold and raining? Sure. We walked to the steps of the old museum and that's when I saw the sign: Historic Ghost Walk.

I'd heard about the Ghost Walk before. Jodi Breckenridge, the tour guide, is a smart - if not skeptical - guide and her walks are heavy on the history of the town's people and places. I liked her immediately and decided I would enjoy Jodi's telling of the history and legends of all the old homes and buildings.

So off we went. First to the old McGarity's Saloon. Then to the old hotels, including the one that Steven Spielberg himself got so creeped out in that he checked out at 2 AM and said he would never be back. Yeah. Then on to the Big Cypress Coffee Shop (old funeral home and brothel) and up the street to the Schluter House... the biggest, most scariest house in the country:

Or, whatever. I held my white-rimmed umbrella and stood in the rain looking at the old house. It's beautiful. Creepy, considering the context in which I was viewing it, but beautiful. (And for the record, I have no idea what that bright, squiggly line is.)

The tour wrapped up and we headed back to the hotel, eager to dry off and get warm. Along the tour, Amber and I struck up a conversation with some guys from Fort Worth. They were ghost hunters, they told us, and had all that EVP recorders and KII meters and everything. Furthermore, they were going back out at 3 o'clock that morning and would like for us to join them. They'd come by our room at 2:45 AM to get us.
Back in the room, Amber and I cautiously considered their invitation:

Me: Hey, do you think we should go romping around at 3 AM with a couple of strangers?

Amber: (Looking hard at me.) I don't know. Larry will kill me.

Me: You think they're killers and will use those meter things to electrocute us before dumping our bodies in the bayou?

Amber: Could be. But they look pretty harmless.

Me: I could get my pepper spray out of the car. And here, let's hide a note in the room for the police to find if we go missing. (Scribbling on a coaster: Gone out with the people in Room 24. If we don't come back, they killed us. Think they're from Fort Worth. My will is in my safe.)

Yep. We so went. And it was even creepier at 3 in the morning:

I have to say - I was brave, wasn't I, Amber? I mean, it takes a lot more than an old house to scare me. I walked to the door of this one... the one that used to be a general store back around the turn of the century... and my umbrella and I stood there looking in. I didn't even run when the three of them started shrieking that they saw "orbs" in the picture. "The orbs are moving toward you! BRRIIIINNNNNNN! The ORBS!" Amber yelled.

I think she forgot she doesn't really believe in ghosts. Only, while Amber was holding my camera she did manage to catch a shadowy image on film. It looked like a young woman with dark hair. "Look at this!" I said, holding it out for Amber to see. It was almost morning and the sun was almost up.

"Is that a PERSON?" Amber gasped.

"Yes," I said, astonished. "I think this was when I gave you my camera so I could take yours down into that place by the trees where they used to hang escaped slaves. I'm going to take it home and see if I can't lighten the image to see what it is...".

It was me. Me standing under a street light on the lookout for ghosts. Only I was the ghost. (Amber, next time I'm not taking off with your camera and its cool "twilight" setting. Only it was a lot of fun, wasn't it? And the ghost in Room 18 didn't throw anything out of the closet at us. And the Fort Worth ghost hunters didn't kill us at all!)

Hey, I told you it was a ghost story. I didn't tell you it would be a scary ghost story. (Laugh)

Enjoy your weekend. I hope to check in again with y'all before I fly.... -Brin