Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Throughout the United States this week, houses have been cleaned and tidied up, decorated festively and made ready for company.

Hours of labor-intensive and love-filled home cooking will result in a feast rarely seen throughout the year.

Relatives who tend to be strange characters will put on their best outfits, and their best behavior. Love will fill the air!

But, throughout it all, may this special holiday be first and foremost a glorious occasion to be reminded of the many blessings that we enjoy. May we all look to the Lord our Provider with a grateful heart and a prayer of thanks, for He is the One whose hands continually bless us, protect us and unite us.

Wishing you and yours a plentiful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Zebra cake

When I was a child, I used to love to make this cake because I could make it all on my own. I think my mom called it a log cake but ever since I started making it with my son, it's been renamed the "zebra cake" and you'll see why once it's sliced.

It's one of the easiest and least expensive desserts anyone can make, and it only requires a couple of ingredients. It's perfect for those times when you're not looking for something pretty and fancy, but still want a little something sweet to bring to the table. The picture below shows all you'll need to get started.

Start by whipping 2 cups of heavy whipping cream. Then, add a teaspoon of vanilla extract. As a child, I used a tub of Cool Whip which was fine, but I prefer the taste of freshly whipped cream sweetened with vanilla or a bit of powdered sugar.

Spoon some of the whipped cream on top of one chocolate wafer, top it with another wafer, top that one also with cream and put them on a plate once you've stacked up a few in your hand.

Then, simply repeat the process until the box of wafers is empty. And, by the way, it's perfectly fine to eat one or two right out of the box. In fact, I would say it's mandatory. :)

Once the cake is assembled, spread the remaining whipped cream all over the top and sides of the cake and refrigerate it for at least 4 to 5 hours. Don't do as I once did in a moment of impatience and assume it will be just fine after only a couple of hours in the fridge. The wafers will still be hard and the cake just won't be a good thing, so give it the 4 or 5 hours it needs.

You can certainly add some chocolate curls on top of the cake to give it a more finished look but I like to keep it quite simple. When you're ready to serve the cake, slice it on an angle.

And that's why at our house we call it a zebra cake!

It's important to note that this cake tastes and looks better if it's eaten within 24 to 48 hours. I make it in the early afternoon, serve it to my family for dessert that night and again the next day but longer than that and the cream starts to turn a bit brownish due to the wafers' color. Keep in mind that you can cut the ingredient amounts in half and make a smaller cake or you can freeze part of the cake (according to Nabisco).

Wishing you a wonderful day and as always, many sweet blessings!

Monday, November 17, 2008

A lizard and a Lizzy

Yesterday, an uninvited guest showed up at my house. He didn't bother to ring the doorbell or even knock. He just sneaked in when I opened the door to let my dog out. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know he was in the house until I walked in the dining room and noticed him by the window...

Did you see him there?

Yes, apparently this lizard decided to come in and make himself comfortable in my blinds. Maybe he was running away from home and thought mine would be a good place for a fresh start. That could only be because he didn't know that my boy is highly skilled at relocating lost, confused, and adventurous lizards back to their natural habitat - anywhere but inside my house! So, back home he went and I'm pretty sure he's living happily every after.

But, as it turns out, this is only one of the four-legged creatures that have made their way inside my home. Here's another, although I must admit that this one was actually brought here on purpose, as a birthday gift from hubby to me many years ago. Her name is Lizzy.

Many people think she's a puppy but she'll be 15 in a couple of months. She still acts like a puppy though, as she follows me through the house with every step I take. And I do mean EVERY step I take!

Now, if she could just stop any more uninvited creatures from sneaking in, that would be great. Unfortunately, this kind of thing just isn't a big priority for her. Naps come first.

Wishing you and your furry ones a wonderful day! :)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Peace is looking at a sunset and knowing Who to thank.
-Author unknown

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chicken and fruit salad

Whenever I have a tea party, I like to set a pretty table with flowers and a variety of teacups and plates. While I'm at it, I also try to serve the food in ways that play up the "girliness" of it all. Here's an example in the photo below.

A chicken salad with fresh fruit which I served in a pretty teacup. Why put it on a simple plate as if a tea party was any old occasion? It's not! :)

I serve it along with several other items such as a quiche or mini frittatas, two or three kinds of finger sandwiches, sometimes a green salad or fruit platter, and of course, scones are always on the menu. That's all before I bring out desserts, but let's get back to the chicken salad for now...

This is probably one of my favorite chicken salads, and if you'd like to make it, well I'm happy to share the recipe. It's a simple recipe at heart but with a few little additions that make it quite special. Feel free to vary the ingredients a bit if you wish (as I often do).

In a large bowl, place about 2 cups of cooked and cubed chicken breasts, cooled. Add 1 to 2 stalks of celery (chopped), and 1 chopped apple. I use the packaged fresh apple slices from the grocery store for added convenience and chop several slices. However, if you're slicing your own apple, be sure to first mix the chopped slices in a small bowl with at least 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown (that's another reason why I like the pre-sliced ones, they don't turn brown). Then add to the bowl with the cubed chicken.

Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of mayo. I've never measured the mayo so this is an approximate amount. You should start with less and increase the amount until you're happy :) with how it all looks. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

While it's in the fridge, take out 2 crunchy granola bars. I use Nature Valley roasted almond or simply honey roasted. Use whatever brand you like, as long as it's crunchy. Then, crush them inside a ziplock bag using a rolling pin.

When you're ready to serve the chicken salad, gently mix half of the crushed granola bars in the salad and 1 cup of drained mandarins. Then, serve the salad in either a bowl or individual teacups (it should make about 5 or 6), sprinkle the remaining crushed granola bars on top and serve immediately.

You could add all kinds of fruit such as seedless grapes (green or red), pineapple, kiwis, strawberries, as well as skip the granola bars and throw in some sliced almonds instead. The variations are just about endless.

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The real Giver

Just recently, as I waited in the check-out line at my local Super-Target with a cart full of groceries, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

Behind me was a woman I had never met. She didn't have a cart, or a shopping basket, or any items in her hands. She wasn't in line behind me but just seemed to have come out of nowhere.

With a smile on her face, all she said to me was "Can you use this? It expires in a few days", and she handed me a Target gift card. Although the card value wasn't enormous, I couldn't have been more shocked! I thanked her sincerely and as soon as I turned around she was gone.

I couldn't help but wonder why she had picked me out of all the shoppers in the store. What made her come to me rather than the person in the next lane, or ahead of me, or better yet, why didn't she just use the card herself? After all, she was already in the store!

Then I asked myself this: could it be that God used her to bless me? Had He noticed that I have tried my best to be a good steward with the money that I'm given? I think so, yes. As Christian writer C.S. Lewis spoke of back in the early '40s in his book Mere Christianity, behind this lady's kindness was in fact the real Giver. Here's an excerpt from the book:

"You may say "I've never had the sense of being helped by an invisible Christ, but I often have been helped by other human beings". That is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage, it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread, there is no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings.

But do not forget this. At first, it is natural for a baby to take his mother's milk without knowing his mother. It is equally natural for us to see the man who helps us without seeing Christ behind him. But we must not remain babies. We must go on to recognize the real Giver. It is madness not to. Because, if we do not, we shall be relying on human beings. And that is going to let us down."

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights. James 1:17

Friday, November 7, 2008

Homemade chocolate truffles

I had a taste for chocolate yesterday afternoon so I decided to get all fancy and make truffles.

Actually, the name is the only thing that's fancy about them. They're very simple to make and require only a few ingredients.

I took the recipe from this children's tea party book that I own:

These would be wonderful served at any tea party but they certainly don't need a special occasion.

If you'd like to make them, all you need to do is mix the following three ingredients in a small (microwave-safe) bowl: 1 cup of milk chocolate chips, 1/2 a stick of butter cut into small pieces, and 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Microwave for one minute on high, stir, and microwave another minute. Stir until the mixture is smooth and refrigerate it for at least one hour.

Then, using a teaspoon, make about 12 little balls. Note that you may need to put the bowl or the truffles in the freezer for a few minutes if you find the chocolate getting too soft.

For the coating, mix 5 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa and 5 tablespoons of powdered sugar on a plate. As you'll see below, I'm sure I used more than the few tablespoons called for but that's because I didn't bother to measure. It's just for the coating after all.

Then, gently roll each truffle one by one on the plate until it's coated all around.

Oh, who has time to do this one by one?! Go ahead and throw in a few at a time and let them roll around to get a good coating...

When you're finished, put the truffles in a plastic container and store them in the refrigerator until you're ready to have them. Or, you can forget the storing part altogether and eat them right out of the Tupperware or,

... or put them on a pretty plate and behave! Start with one and stop at two, or three. Four tops.

Hope you enjoy them, and many sweet blessings! :)

P.S. How do YOU satisfy your chocolate cravings?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Are we there yet?

Does this sound like something that comes out of your children's mouth every two minutes as soon as you pull out of your driveway?

We all know that most children don't have much patience. They want everything now. Not in hours or days or weeks.

Funny enough, we when take a closer look, we find that many of us adults are very much like our children in that sense. Regardless of what turns (including U-turns) we've decided to make in our lives, we want to make sure we're going to get where we're headed, and we want to get there as soon as possible. We need assurance that our plan is going to work, that we're on the right track, and we want to see definite results immediately.

Well, God's timing and ours is often two very different things. But if we're busy doing God's will, then we can have peace simply by knowing that He's with us directing our path.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

All of us can stop worrying, looking for immediate results, wanting to get there now. All we need is to seek our Lord Jesus Christ, trust in Him, believe in His infinite wisdom and power, and know that He will take us where we need to be.

He has the controls, after all. We just like to think we do. :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A reflection

"God loves America. When you realize what He accomplished in bringing forth a new nation on this continent - a government founded on Christian principles and dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - you have to realize that He had a dramatic vision and purpose for this nation."

Dr. James Kennedy (1930-2007)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The taste of autumn

When temperatures start dropping and leaves start turning a bright red, orange and yellow, it not only feels like autumn, it looks like it too. But here, the temperatures are still above 80 and it always looks like summer.

Didn't the trees get the memo? Leaves are supposed to change colors! The landscape is supposed to look like this picture...

Above is a picture I took in North Carolina at this time of year two years ago. Instead, out of my backyard, this is what I see today...

Don't get me wrong, I think palm trees are beautiful and I enjoy very much having them in our landscaping. But, they certainly don't announce any change of season. So, what's a girl to do? Well, I decided that since I don't have the feel of autumn around me (with temperatures in the 80's!), and I don't get to see autumn make its arrival with leaves changing colors, I would taste it instead.

To some people, autumn may taste like a pumpkin pie, or an apple pie, or a sweet potato pie. To me, it's not so much a pie but more like a pumpkin brownie. But, I wouldn't want to offend Martha by calling it a brownie: officially, it's her pumpkin chocolate chip square. Just to set the record straight.

And I made a batch today. Yes I did, I tasted autumn!

I've been making these for a couple of years now and I have to admit that, even though I didn't used to be a big pumpkin fan, these have won me over. They're delicious and bring out the "it's finally autumn!" feeling in me. I hope you'll enjoy them too, so here's the recipe:

Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 12-oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line the bottom and sides of a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving the foil extending over the short sides of the pan. (She doesn't say to do this, but at this point, I spray some Pam on the bottom and sides of the pan. It's a habit I can't shake!) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, pie spice, baking soda and salt. Then set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth; beat in the egg and the vanilla until combined. Beat in the pumpkin puree (the mixture may appear curdled, don't be alarmed if it does.) Reduce the speed to low, and get your bowl of dry ingredients. Add them to the wet ingredients until just combined, so be careful not to overdo it. Lastly, fold in the chocolate chips using a spatula.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake for 35 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely in the pan, for about 2 hours.

Lift the cake from the pan using the foil handles, peel off the foil and cut into 24 squares. Enjoy autumn! :)