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Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's a Wrap: "Greek" Fajitas

What do your meals look like when you eat alone?
Fast food?

My lunches are often not very interesting, but once in a while I get inspired!

Like the other day.

I had quite a few vegetables I'd bought on sale and I thought about how best to incorporate them into my lunch. I started cutting up multi-colored sweet peppers, scallions, and mushrooms. I decided to dry sauté them in a little olive oil. I looked in the fridge again and found a bag of fresh spinach, some pepperoni,  and black olives.

I added a large handful of spinach to the sauté pan, cut the olives in half, and three slices of pepperoni into quarters. I tossed the veggies until they were all cooked and the peppers and mushrooms were starting to brown. A little salt, a little pepper. Toss in the olives (which are what make it "Greek" but maybe I should call it an "Italian" Fajita because of the pepperoni) and pepperoni to warm them and then I folded it all into a small flour tortilla, added some dressing, and "pinned" it shut with a toothpick.


It might not be a family meal recipe (unless your whole family has highly refined taste!) but sometimes you just need a grown up, healthy dish.

"Greek" Fajitas (1 serving)

2 tsp. olive oil
1 each mini-peppers in red, yellow, and orange (or any combination), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1-2 scallions cut into 1 inch lengths, including the green tops
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cups fresh spinach leaves (I used 2)
3-4 black olives, cut in half
3 slices pepperoni, cut into quarters
1 fajita size flour tortilla
dressings of your choice (I used 2tsp Cucumber Ranch and 1 tsp Raspberry Walnut)

Heat the oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. When it runs thin add the peppers, mushrooms, and scallions. Stirring frequently, cook until they begin to become tender. Add spinach leaves and continue stirring until they wilt completely and the peppers and mushrooms begin to brown. Add the olives and pepperoni. Place the tortilla over the pan to warm it for about 30 seconds.

Carefully place the tortilla on a plate and line up the veggies in the middle of the tortilla. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a little of your favorite dressing. To make it even more "Greek" throw in a tablespoon of Feta cheese!

*Variation: I've used strips of zucchini instead of mushroom when that's what I have. You can make your own variation with whatever veggies are in your fridge.

Fold the bottom up and the sides in. "Pin" with a toothpick and enjoy!

For a printable version of the recipe click here.

I liked it so much I made it again the next day! 

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Dinner Guests We Forgot Were Coming

We had a veritable United Nations around our table.

Leon and I went to college together. We were both born in the states. His wife, Linda, is Bolivian and they have raised their three now-grown children (two were at our table) in Mexico. 

Roger's parents are Canadian and Spanish and he grew up in Spain. Rosana, his wife, whose parents are Chilean and Brazilian, grew up in Brazil where they live now. 

Photo Credit

My husband was born in South Africa and we lived most of our married life in Peru and Colombia.

It was a fun group to bring together. They hit it off right away and we were all switching back and forth from Spanish to English comparing traditions and lifestyles in the various countries we come from and have lived in while eating a very American summer supper of pasta salad, lettuce and grilled chicken salad, and fruit salad.

Then the phone rang.

I'm sure glad they called. And I'm glad we decided not to ignore the phone call during the meal, because two more people called to say they would be late to dinner...two people I had forgotten about! I blame it on inviting them just before we went away for our anniversary last week. ;-)

I stood up and said, "We need to put a leaf in!" Everyone cleared their dishes to one end or the other of the table. The table runner and centerpiece went to one side. People on the ends pulled the table apart while my husband brought the table leaf. A guest ran to the bedrooms to get two more chairs. Another guest set two places. I added the rest of my lettuce in the green salad. Thankfully I had made a large pasta salad! With everything set, we all breathed a sigh of relief, laughed, and carried on eating.

Photo Credit

When our new guests arrived, completing our tour of continents as he was born in Japan to American parents and that is where they currently live, we just said, "We went ahead and started."

The conversation switched to all English and we found out about the traditions and lifestyles in Japan, too!

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Why do I tell you this story? 
Because it should have been a comedy on a TV show.
Because we all make mistakes.
Because even forgetting that guests are coming can turn into a wonderful memory. 

Don't sweat the small things. Roll with life. Enjoy yourself. Whether it's burning the family's dinner or leaving a child at church (yup, we did that, too!) If you can laugh at your own mistakes everyone enjoys being with you, even your kids.

Laugh around your table tonight.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Just the Two of Us

After my husband and I moved to South America to be Bible teachers and my younger brother moved out, my parents often went away overnight for their anniversary. In the midst of the chaos of four small children and then life with teenagers, I wondered why two retired people in a beautiful quiet house needed to "get away". I thought being alone with my husband in a neat clean house sounded like luxury! (And it is wonderful!)

We aren't retired, and don't have a completely empty nest, though it's more often just the two of us at home, but now I know.

  • At home there's always something that needs to be done.
  • At home we can get into a rut.
  • At home we can be interrupted.
  • At home we don't take the leisure of hours and hours together.
  • At home we don't just relax into the time alone together.
  • At home we need to get up early.

So now that we don't have children keeping us from talking to each other, we find ourselves getting away for our anniversary regularly--maybe because it's easier now that we don't have to organize child care. That is definitely a factor.

Today we are away for our anniversary. 
We are celebrating thirty-two years of love, laughter, tears, 
and forgiveness. 

Usually we discuss what we want to do together and make plans, but this year I had a different idea. Almost every week at the grocery store when I paid with my debit card I asked for $5 "cash back." These I stored in a secret place for our anniversary. I ended up with $140 to spend celebrating our marriage.

My original plan had been to "kidnap" my husband, by picking him up from work. I would have the GPS set to various destination for coffee, appetizers, dinner, a hotel and he would just have to follow instructions.

But then he started asking me what I wanted to do for our anniversary and I realized this would be hard to keep a secret. So I moved to "Plan B." I still made some plans, printed out some things I'd found on line, wrapped them up in a box along with the money and presented this to him. Together we made the final decision and he tells me it's more fun this way to anticipate it than to be surprised. 

One thing I'm doing is giving him 100 reasons why I love him. Since it is our 32nd anniversary, I think he was expecting 32 reasons, but when I passed that number he seemed surprised. I started far enough ahead to give him one or two pages each day for two weeks before our anniversary.

Another thing I did was to write up and print out twenty discussion questions for us to talk about with each other as we ride in the car (we will probably get to have about 5 hours alone together in the car--one of our favorite ways to spend time together!) These involve recounting the memories of our early love so that we can remember the joys of early love when your stomach is all flip-floppy and you can't wait to be together again. 

To find these questions click on these links:
To download:
Fun Anniversary Questions for Married Couples 1
Fun Anniversary Questions for Married Couples 2

To print from online:
Fun Anniversary Questions for Married Couples 1
Fun Anniversary Questions for Married Couples 2

My parents celebrated 59 years of marriage this Spring. My dad no longer remembers when their anniversary is coming or how many years they've been married, but they still go out to eat together and Mom has Dad choose an anniversary card from a stack she has saved from him over the years to give to her. Sometimes, on his own, he'll even think of loving things to say to her. I'm sure Mom is not sorry at all that they took the time and spent the money to celebrate their anniversary every year back then. Now she has all the memories and knows he loves her and that she gave him all her love, too.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to Be The Perfect House Guest

"Do you think I could ask to do a load of laundry?"

"Should we sit in our room here, or do you think they want us to come visit with them in the living room. I'm having trouble reading them."

"They take their shoes off when they come in, we better, too."

"Do we offer to help again. She didn't seem to want us in the kitchen."

"It was so cold last night, but don't say anything. I don't know if they own extra blankets."

These are from actual conversations that Jim and I have had when we are guests in people's homes around the world. Although we love having people stay in our home, we often find it difficult to know how to be good houseguests. We have the added factors of usually not knowing our hosts until we meet them at the airport or get dropped at their house and we are crossing a cultural barrier to reach out to them. Sometimes we speak their language (English or Spanish) and sometimes our presence forces them to use their second language to communicate with us.

After I wrote a dozen suggestions for being a good host, I began to wonder if we were good guests. So I decided to ask some of the women I know who have had the frequent house guests what they liked in house guests. These "professional hostesses" are mostly Americans from coast to coast and in the midwest, and also two English women living out of their context (one in the States and one in the Middle East). Together they have almost 300 years of hostessing house guests!

1. Take the Sheets Off -- To my surprise, six of the ten who answered, said they appreciate it when the guests strip the bed, put the bedspread back on, and maybe even carry the sheets to the laundry room! This includes my Aunt Mur who, "housed many preachers, family,  friends and over 49 foster kids." She should know!

Although I appreciate it when guests do this, that's probably not the first thing I'd say. But now I know...at least in American homes!

2. Keep the Towels Off -- Another common theme was what happens to wet towels--off the beds, off the furniture, out of the hamper. In other words: 
Hang Up Your Towel
If no place is provided fold it over a hanger hung on the doorknob. And while you are at it, "Wipe down the shower with the squeegee provided," requests Sue, who has been hosting people for 40 years.

3. Kick Your Shoes Off -- Well, not necessarily literally...Like my Aunt Bernice says, "I want my guests to feel free to rob the refrigerator if they want something to eat between meals." Gina, a single friend who has lots of longer term guests, says, "You can eat anything in the house except my diet pepsi." "I would like them to feel at ease and able to help themselves to water etc." says Ros, who has been having overnight guests for 35 years.

4. Turn the Honesty On -- My daughter-in-law, Abby, who's been hosting guests for eight years, says, "I wish every guest would let me know when they need something.  I love to be organized and get you everything you need, but I have two very young children and I forget a lot.  There's not much worse than realizing a guest was awkwardly "making do" when I could easily have gotten them what they needed.  Just ask... It makes things so much easier."

And my friend, Vicky, says, "When your hostess asks about your food preferences, be honest!  As a hostess, I do not want to serve meals people hate or can't eat due to food allergies.  Please let me know what you really don't like or what you need to fit into your dietary needs.  If it is something I don't know how to fix, offer to teach me, I'm always willing to learn!"

Gina concurs, "As the hostess, you wonder what is wrong with a lot of murmurings and whispers, wondering if  some failure in hospitality has occurred."

5. Put On Your Helper Hat -- My Mom who still has overnight guests after 59 years, says, "I love it when my house guest offers to help in the kitchen.  If I don't need help it is nice if they stay in the kitchen and visit.  Often I do need help and appreciate it so much." Vicky adds, "Even if I don't need your help when you offer at mealtime, hang around and talk with me.  I love the company and it's valuable time during your visit."

6. Turn Your Calendar On -- Again my mom has a good suggestion: "Let me know if they will be here or not for a meal." I might add, make a commitment and stick with it! Vicky's been hosting guests for almost 30 years and she adds, "If there are places or other people you would like to visit, let me know before you arrive or upon arrival so I can help plan it conveniently." Basically just be considerate of your hosts.

7. Get On the Floor -- to play with kids! Abby, the mother of my two (soon to be three!) adorable grandchildren says, "I love it when guests take the time to get to know my kids too.   Extra bonus: when they play with my kids while I finish dinner!" (I find that particular request no hardship!)

8. Turn the Charm On -- Carolyn has been housing guests for over 35 years, and she says, "The one thing I wish every houseguest would do is: tell something humorous about themselves to put everyone at ease and freely enter into conversation."

9. Show Off Your Appreciation -- Ros says, "I love it when a guest asks for the recipe of a dish that I have made for them. It is the greatest compliment for the cook!"

10. Put On Your John Hancock Hat -- Another Carolyn, who had her first guest with her husband on her honeymoon 51 years ago (a wedding guest was traveling 225 miles in the same direction, so rode along!) says, "Sign our guest book!  Brings back memories years later of the people and of the places from which they came.  (We're filling our 8th book now!)"

What do you love when your guests do it?
What do you wish they would do?

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Confession Time

"How are you today?" asked the clerk at Aldi's. Yes, she put the emphasis on "today."

Photo Credit

This was the fourth time last week that I was in the store buying groceries. I often go in twice: once on Tuesday to get any fruit that was on sale till that day and then Wednesday or Thursday to pick up the regular groceries and the new sale fruit.

But four times?

Worst part was, that wasn't the last time I was in the store that week!

You say: Wait, Sharon. Aren't you Miss-plan-the-menu-ahead-and-go-to-the-store-once?

Yes...most of the time...well, some of the time...as a matter of fact...that's the ideal.

I could tell you all my excuses (and there were some), but the point is, it happens to all of us. (Unless you are my mother-in-law, who has never made an emergency trip to the grocery store in her life, but we won't talk about that.)

So I want you to know that if you feel like you couldn't always be as organized as I describe, neither can I!

Just because you didn't manage to get dinner on the table several nights this week is no reason to give up on family meals. 
* Sandwiches eaten together are family meals. 
* So are fast food burgers brought to your back patio.
* Pancakes, and even cereal, are a family meal. 
The important thing is to spend the time together.

With practice, you learn to get it together more and more and putting a meal idea together gets easier. And you can do it!  

(At least most of the time!)

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For more of my thoughts on this see: 

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For More Ideas and Inspiration:
Check out the book Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes. You can read the first chapter at this site and order a copy of the book.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

18 Sides to a Meal

You would have thought I was studying for a cooking final.

I had cookbooks spread out on the kitchen table. My recipe file was open. Pinterest was up on the computer screen. And the recipes I've torn out of magazines over the years "to try" had been well perused. 

All I was doing was trying to come up with 10 days worth of meals, side dishes and all, so I could prepare for the visit of my son and his family. The idea was to have a healthy variety and lots of color at every meal.

Two hours later I was finally done. Whew!

If you are like me and frozen peas and corn steamed in the microwave just won't cut it, you might be searching for healthy side dishes, too. To help you, I have put together a collection of 18 veggie sides with links to recipes so you don't have to pull out every cookbook you own to find something to serve with your meatballs!

The nice thing about salads is if you don't have the exact ingredients, you can probably substitute for a similar, or totally new, taste!

Carrot Salad - always a winner with young and old. I used to serve this in Colombia and people who never ate vegetables would go for seconds!

Waldorf Salad - when I was dating my husband I was supposed to go to his parents house to get a dinner for guests ready. The note said, "There are fixings for a Waldorf salad in the fridge." I looked in the fridge but I had no idea what I was looking for! (Thank goodness for cookbooks!)

Broccoli Salad - what's not to love, there's bacon involved!

Coleslaw - I just shred the cabbage (or buy it shredded when it's on sale) and toss in some bite-sized apple pieces, raisins, peanuts and use a small container of vanilla or lemon yogurt mixed with 1 tablespoon of oil and 2 of vinegar and stir it all together. So easy.

Harvest Salad - kind of a variation on the Waldorf. 

Tomatoes and Cucumbers - slice thinly and arrange on a plate alternating red and green. Drizzle with lemon juice, italian dressing, or a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.

Green Salad Add-Ins
Start with some artisan or romano lettuce, the dark leaves have more iron and are so much prettier!
  • Tomatoes, cucumbers, and sunflower seeds
  • Peaches and blueberries and sweet pepper slices
  • Mangos and strawberries with spinach leaves
  • Dried cranberries, walnuts, and crumbled feta cheese
Roasted Veggies
I have made many lunches of a large serving of roasted vegetables. I love, love, love them!

Asparagus - I took full advantage of this when it was on sale in the spring
Peppers and Onions - I love it when they begin to turn brown; something magic happens to the taste
Carrots - another winner; they seem to shrink in the oven and everyone loves them, so make a lot!
Sweet Potatoes - can you believe I have family members who don't like sweet potatoes? I love them!
Gingered Honey Carrots - it's so great to have a pop of color on your plate
Tomato Halves - I cut them in half, sprinkle with bread crumbs, shake a bit of garlic salt and pepper on (and maybe oregano or basil), a tiny bit of shredded cheese, and bake them till tender and the cheese is melted. The time depends on your oven temperature where you are cooking other things, probably 7-20 minutes.

Stir-fried Sides
Ever since I started making Walnut Chicken in the 80's, I've been a fan of stir fried vegetables. If you aren't used to them, perhaps the last minute character of them isn't good for having company, but they are quick and delicious.

All these recipes are basically: heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet or wok; add vegetables cut into wedges, chunks, or strips; season with salt and pepper and any other herb that sounds good; stir frequently until they begin to brown. Serve immediately.

Broccoli and Peppers - so colorful, so delicious
Mushrooms and Onions - I pretty much add onions to anything, but I like this one with the onions coarsely chopped instead of big.
Green beans and Almonds - I use frozen most of the time and this works great. Add the almonds when you are almost done to just heat them a bit. I love nuts in my food.

I hope these side dish ideas have given you some help when you are planning menus. Maybe they just trigger your memory of other sides you have used in the past. Tell me about them. I'm always looking for more!

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Did you know that Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

10 {Scriptural} Encouragers for Our Kids

At the grade school my kids attended, they all received an "award" each year in recognition of a positive character quality their teacher saw in them. One of my daughters consistently got either "cheerfulness" or "friendliness". One night at the table, when she was about eight, we were talking about the rewards we would receive in heaven. She let out a big sigh and said in a deep God-like voice, "For you, the reward for friendliness!"

We all burst out laughing!

I thought about those awards recently  when I was reading in 2 Timothy 4:2. Paul tells his spiritual son, Timothy
"Publicly proclaim the Word of God! Be ready all the time. Have it on the tip of your tongue. Use the Word when you need to correct and encourage others." 
(my paraphrase)

I was happy the teachers were pointing out to the children their virtues and strengths, and all the times we and others have encouraged our children with a, "Good job, buddy," but as I read these verses, I thought how much better it would be to actually use scripture to encourage them! Far more effective would be to let them know they are not only exhibiting a positive trait, but obeying God.

Here are some of the ideas I came up with:

  • To your son when he says he will wipe the counters and sweep the floor while you are out and does: "Thank you for letting your yes, mean yes." (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • To the same child who also empties the dishwasher and takes out the trash, "Thank you for going the second mile for me!" (Matthew 5:10)
  • To a child who helps the neighbor rake the leaves and won't take money for it, but tells them they do it because Jesus told them to love their neighbor: "That is the way to let your light shine!" (Matthew 5:16)
  • To your daughter when she invites the least popular person to a special event: "I was so pleased to see you not showing favoritism."  (James 2:1)
  • To the child who plays his little brother's game choice instead of what he would like to do: "I appreciate you treating your brother the way you would like to be treated." (Matthew 7:12)
  • To your daughter when she says, "No" to what everyone else is saying, "Yes" to: "You aren't copying the world, but letting God transform you." (Romans 12:2)
  • To the boy who praises his dad when all the other kids are bashing theirs: "I appreciated how you honored your father in front of your friends." (Ephesians 6:2)
  • To the child who kindly thanks an old lady for the gift of a pair of socks, "I'm sure God was pleased by your thankfulness." (Colossians 3:15)
  • To the teenager who turns the channel during the lewd halftime show saying, "We don't need to watch that!" : "You were such an example of being pure as God is pure." (1 John 3:3)
  • To your son who uses part of his Christmas money to buy a present for a less privileged child. "You have learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)

Wouldn't it be great to have Scripture "on the tip of our tongue" like that? We would be teaching our children "when you sit in your house [around the table] and when you walk by the way [carpool] and when you lie down and when you rise up." (Deuteronomy 6:7)

What other ways can you think of to use scripture to encourage our kids?

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