Wednesday, November 23, 2011

For Thanksgiving: Not a food post

Based on my previous track record and well, the title of my blog, one might think I live, eat (no pun intended), and breathe for food.   While food is the primary way I feel drawn to express creativity, writing is another big part of my personal creativity. For me, food is social and fun; and implies community. It’s most pleasurable aspect is sharing it with others.  It brings people together. Writing, on the other hand, has always been more of a private endeavor.  I’ve kept a diary since 2nd grade (although now I prefer the more sophisticated term “journal”). Blogging kind of joins the two!  Sometimes, I think it would be nice to share more of my private world- if only for entertainment, encouragement, or in attempt to bridge the big ocean that divides me from many of the ones I love!

This week I was thinking about Thanksgiving- a day dedicated to celebrating the many reasons we have to be grateful. The nature of the holiday has led to a focus on the gifts or blessings we have in our lives.  And don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is going around the dinner table and everyone stating something they are thankful for. But for every gift there is a giver, right? As a Christian, I try to make a regular practice of thanking God for his many blessings, because I believe He is the Giver of all good things. And if there are things I want or ask for which I don’t have, then it must be because God, in his perfect and all-knowing character has deemed them not good for me; or at least not good right now. And I'm thankful for that too!

I was reflecting on my own tendency to forget about the Giver and decided I want that to be my focus this Thanksgiving: being thankful to the Lord for who He is, and not only for what He has given me (and He has given me much). I am thankful that some of the greatest gifts He gives are the intangible things; bound up in His promises to give us joy and peace through Christ. This poem is a product of these thoughts and reflections; and a personal call to myself and others to seek the Giver and not the gifts.  

No Good Thing Withheld
Psalm 84:11
“No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”

The Lord eagerly bestows good things
Upon the children of His vine
For all that He has given Christ
Is also now forever mine
We search too often His giving hand
Yet so seldom seek His face
If we rather sought our Father’s heart
We’d find unending stores of grace

His blessings not bound in fingers clenched
In hands reluctant to release,
But his riches rest in open palms
Offering gifts of joy and peace

James 1:17
"Every good and perfect gift is from above."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Slow Cooker Barley Risotto

Temporary borrowed picture from
Friends, I have possibly discovered the most wonderfully delicious healthy-meets-gourmet dish yet. (Have I reeled you in?) AND I cooked it in my slow cooker! For those of you who think crock-pots don't count as cooking (you know who you are) then think again! This meal involved a small amount of prep work, but really all the slow cooker did was take the dirty work out of risotto. Instead of constantly stirring, as traditional risotto requires, the grains slowly soak up the broth over a few hours. A few finishing touches and you're done. And the best part of this meal (in my dietitian opinion): FIBER! Although my less health-inclined husband would say it was the butter. And cheese. Regardless of which end of the spectrum calls your name, I promise you, this gets just as creamy and heavenly as regular risotto.

In my excitement and haste I forgot to take a picture. Maybe during lunchtime leftovers tomorrow. Again, lack of necessary ingredients caused me to alter this quite a bit and combine various recipes..but now I can claim this as my own, right?

Slow Cooker Barley Risotto
Serves 4-6 (Makes about 8 cups)

2 Tablespoons butter, divided
2 finely sliced shallots (about 3 Tbs)
1 1/2 cups barley
5 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 fresh thyme sprig (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c parmesan cheese
pepper to taste

1. In a large skillet, cook sliced shallots in 1 Tbs melted butter over medium heat (about 1-2 mins).
2. Add thyme sprig and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add barley to skillet and cook an additional 2 minutes, or until all the grains are coated in butter.
3. Lightly spray slow cooker with non-stick spray. Add broth, salt, and barley mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until liquid is absorbed.
4. Add remaining 1 Tbs butter and parmesan cheese and stir gently until butter and cheese are melted. Salt & pepper to taste.

You will not regret this! :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When life hands you apples..make applesauce!

The change of seasons is welcome for many reasons: the weather cools down, the leaves change colors, I can bring out the winter wardrobe (scarves, boots, gloves and peacoats..what could be more fun?) and of course, fall food! In the States, seasonal changes didn't seem so drastic for a few reasons. First, I lived in Florida where it's summer for 11 months and fall/winter for 1 month; which hardly merits a dramatic change in wardrobe (sadly). Secondly, we have a variety of foods available to us most of the year. Sure there are some seasonal fluctuations, but if I want it badly enough I can find a winter squash in the spring or an avocado in December.

Here in Italy, it's a little different. While we don't have the luxury of incredible variety all year round, we do get the "cream of the crop" of the seasonal foods. You may recall me raving about the tomatoes this summer..and then a few posts later I complained about eating zucchini every other day- because that's what the summer has to offer: tomatoes and zucchini. And they were delicious!- But by August we were not sad to see them go. This fall I was disappointed that even some of the typical "in-season" fall foods are not widely available. Each week at the base we get a total of about 8 butternut squashes and you can own one for the small sacrifice of your child's college education (do you sense my sarcasm?) But I digress...

My positive point of all that is that because we don't have the variety all year round, the Harvest Season (September-November) is really celebrated. Every weekend in October you can find a harvest festival. Our local ones included: apples, truffles, chestnuts, chocolate, and beer & wine. We had the chance to go to the Apple Festival with some friends. It doesn't get much more fun than that! We sampled apple cider, apple wine, apple cakes and breads, and apple syrups.
There were about 30 tents like this one..all with their individual products
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.."

My first chestnut- yum!
Everyone participated in Apple Festival!
And because I can buy a ridiculous amount of apples for ridiculously cheap- I did! And I came home and made some apple pear sauce via slow cooker. It was way too easy and I'll definitely be doing it again :)

I made my own variation (which I'll post soon), but it was inspired by this one: