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Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Week of REAL Menus (and the Recipes)

Even though I'm the "Around the Table Lady" one of the things I struggle with is thinking of what to have for dinner. I try to come up with a week's menu before I go grocery shopping and then include all the ingredients for those meals on my shopping list. But some weeks nothing sounds good. Or I just made that. Or it's all chicken (my favorite meat). Or so-and-so will be here and they can't have sugar or don't eat meat or are gluten free or...

One of the reasons it's hard is because I want to include lots of vegetables in the side dishes, but I don't come up with many creative alternatives so we have lots of salads or broccoli/pepper stir fries (two of my favorite ways to eat veggies because I like to eat real vegetables, not sauces and fats with a few veggies thrown in to make one feel like they are eating vegetables). 

So I thought I'd tell you what our menus for the past week of dinners were, side dishes and all. My hope is that you'll get some ideas from these meals. It would be great if you thought everything I fixed this past week sounded delicious and you wanted to make it all--then your week's menu is ready! But I seldom find a full week menu like that, not even my own old menus. But I hope these meals (and recipe links) will give you a head start on your meal planning this week.

I had to leave at 1:30 to drive 90 miles to pick up my husband returning from two and half weeks in Africa. Usually we have a big family lunch at our house after church on Sunday, so this was unusual, but quick.
Grilled Cheese

Welcome home dinner for my husband!
Pork Roast -- place defrosted 3 pound pork roast in slow cooker; sprinkle beef and onion soup mix over the top; pour in 1/2 cup white wine, a little on top and the rest on the sides. Slow cook on low for 5-6 hours. While slicing meat, add 2 Tbsp cornstarch to liquid, turn to high and whisk till smooth. Cover and cook till thickened.
Roasted Potatoes
Roasted Carrots
Green beans with almonds

Strawberry/Walnut Chicken Salad -- I didn't use blueberries because they are too expensive this time of year and I had walnuts, not pecans on hand, but it was still delicious

Pork Quesadillas -- I chopped the leftover pork from Monday and put it on half of a tortilla, added salsa and cheese, folded them in half and toasted them in frying pans on medium until the cheese was melted.

Antipasto Pasta Salad -- large portions on one dish nights! 
P.S. I like my olives only cut in half, not chopped.

This was the day before my parents were moving out of our house after four months and into theirs, so there were lots of last minute things to do. How great to have dinner in the slow cooker!
Slow-Cooker Asian Meatballs 
Stir fried green beans with almond slices

This was moving day so we spent most of the day at my parents' new house unpacking, but came back to mine to have dinner. The raisin bread was because that's what we had in the house.
Chicken sausage -- they look like brats, and we grilled them
Stir fried broccoli, peppers, and onions
Toasted raisin bread

Happy Dinners!

For another week of REAL menus click here.

Photo Credit: Antipasto Salad
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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Don't Waste the Pain

Whenever I study the Bible I begin to think of ways I can communicate to others the things I am learning. It wasn't always this way!

When we lived in Peru, I was happy to teach the women at church. Many of them had very low education levels and pretty much anything I taught them was new to them. Besides, they were patient with my Spanish. 

But then we moved to Bogota, Colombia and the women in the Ladies' Bible Study were all professionals. I was asked to teach there and I was terrified! 

There were some Thursdays when my husband had to almost literally push me out the door. He would tell me he was praying for me and promise that our little ones would be fine with him. He couldn't understand, he was unfazed by preaching to any audience. 

But as I taught each week and saw the women begin to grasp what the Bible has to say, I grew to love it. Pretty soon, I was always thinking of ways to explain and illustrate everything I was learning. 

They started asking me to speak at ladies' conferences and retreats as well as the Bible class at our local church. I became a part of a committee of ladies that planned conferences for women in Bogota and was often one of the speakers at these conferences. One conference that we called "Passion, Purity, and Love" had over 600 women attending. 

When we moved back to the states in 2008, my ministry changed radically. My husband basically continued his international ministry with the Emmaus Bible Courses, just from a different location. But I was ministry-less. I soon took on the Meals-on-Wheels program at our local church, served on one of the ladies' service teams, did lots of hospitality, and attended the women's Bible study, but I no longer was a sought after Bible teacher. 

That's pretty much the way it has been these last seven years. I have had some opportunities to teach, but not on a regular basis. I've been on the Ladies' Planning Committee for three years and head of it for two. I also serve on the Missionary Awareness Committee and head up a ladies' service team. So I've been doing things, but not something that became a passion for me.

A few years ago my husband and I went through a very difficult experience. Actually, it's still on-going. As a result of this I started praying, "Lord, this hurts so much. Please don't let us waste the pain. Use it in our lives and through our lives." Then the Lord led me to do a study on the life of John the Baptist, a man who was no stranger to trials and pain.

Recently I believe God began to answer that prayer. I was invited to speak on the topic of Suffering at a small local church in Minnesota. I had a great time with the women. We cried together and we laughed together. Several told me that my ministry was just what they needed to hear. I hate it that they are going through the difficulties they are facing, but I'm thankful that God isn't wasting our pain and is making it useful to others. Someday, they will see the same results.

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For ideas on how to connect with your family at mealtimes see my book Around the Table.

It's full of ideas and suggestions for bringing your family together for meals and how to make those times fun. Click on the book and you can read the introduction and first chapter for free!

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Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Today in My House

  • My parents had coffee in the living room this morning before 7a.m. They've been with us for four months after making a huge life change. They lived in California for 42 years--starting with my last 8 years at home, so I say I'm from California (at least that's the short story). But Dad's memory is disappearing and Mom decided it was time she lived near one of her kids. They'll soon be moving into their own townhouse about a mile away. It's a new stage of life for them and for us.

  • We are REJOICING that a new granddaughter is on the way! We just found out that it's a girl, the first child of our second son and his wife. Our daughter-in-law had a miscarriage at this time last year, so we are doubly excited for them...and for us!

  • My daughter's room is quiet, neat, and empty. She moved back into the dorm for her senior year of college. This semester she's at college, next semester she does her internship for her intercultural studies in France. And then? We don't know what the Lord has for her. Will my husband and I become true empty nesters next May? How could that be?

  • My bed is half empty.  My husband is in Africa for his ministry with the Emmaus Bible Courses. At the end of last month we traveled together to a conference in France where we ministered to 80 missionaries who work all over Europe. Then we had a visit with our daughter in Germany. He left for Africa and few days later I came home for Labor Day weekend. I'm looking forward to picking him up this Sunday afternoon!

  • My notes are ready. I leave tomorrow morning to go to a small town in Minnesota along the Mississippi River to give the talks at a ladies' retreat entitled "Don't Waste the Pain" on how God uses the difficulties, trials, and pain in our lives to teach us and help others.

  • I'm still finding toys in the corners. My oldest son and his family came last weekend. We had a great time and I played with their three children a lot. My collection of toys was well used as well, and I keep finding little people and other things as I clean. Fun reminders!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Home Depot (DIY) Meal: The Raclette Episode

Most of the sixteen years we lived in Colombia, terrorists made it impossible (or at least very dangerous) to drive through much of the country. In the mid 2000s the government got tough with the terrorists and opened up large portions of the country again. Our family took advantage of the new safety and took road trips to visit areas of that beautiful land we hadn't seen, even after 14 years in the country. (Colombia: "The only risk is wanting to stay.")

On one of those trips we visited some friends from Europe who live in another Colombian city. She is Austrian and he is German. They served us a meal they called "raclette." They had a little electric cooking machine they set right on the table. On top it was a sort of grill or griddle, underneath, a broiler. She had all kinds of foods set out--bits of meats, eggs, pickles, cheese, peppers, onions, on and on. 

Fast forward about 10 years. I asked my new, German son-in-law what his favorite meal was, what he asked for on his birthday. He immediately said, "Raclette!"

I thought having a little electric raclette cooker would be great--something unique for guests to get involved with, something hands-on for a stay-in date night, a fun family meal, so I thought of asking my daughter and son-in-law for one for my birthday. But they beat me to it! They gave me one for Christmas.

We've had lots of fun meals with the raclette since then. They gave them to our two sons and their wives, too, so when we want to have a group of more than four (that's how many little cooking pans ours has) we borrow our in-town son's--and usually invite them along for the meal!

When I first got it, I wrote to my Austrian friend to ask what you serve for people too cook for themselves. She basically said, "Anything you want!" But she gave me some ideas of things to have on the table for people to experiment with. 

It's so easy and we cook at the table so the meal lasts longer and the ice is broken as we talk to each other about what combinations sound good and what others are trying.

Here's an idea of what food is needed to get you started:

To cook with:
oil (we prefer olive)

Foods: (all thinly sliced where applicable)
onions (green, red, white...whatever you have)
red bell peppers
green bell peppers
yellow and orange sweet peppers
tomatoes (sliced or chopped)
jalapeño peppers
potatoes (yes, thin slices; I prefer to cook them first)
canned sweet corn, drained
green beans
bits of broccoli
small flowers of cauliflower
carrot coins
olives (black and/or green)
strips of marinated beef, chicken, and/or fish
sausage (any kind) slices
raw eggs 
roasted peppers
tortilla chips
pickle chips (dill or bread and butter)
sliced baguette

Condiments: (but not limited to these!)
mustard (all kinds)
basil (fresh or dried)
chili powder
any spice or herb you think sounds good
ketchup (if you must!)
bbq sauce
steak sauce
sour cream (for topping cooked tidbits)

And most importantly:
(You can buy a rather expensive "Raclette" cheese, but we have found that any kind of cheese that melts is good. We like swiss and muenster especially. I've heard of people using camembert, brie, and feta.  You can use sliced cheese or shredded.)

Honestly, this is the greatest way to use up veggies, bits of meat that you don't know what to do with, jars of condiments you bought for some forgotten recipe, and almost anything you can think of.

Here's what you do:

  1. Set all the ingredients you want to use out and plug in the raclette maker.
  2. Set the table so that everyone can reach the raclette maker.
  3. Call everyone to the table.
  4. Explain what that they will be cooking their own dinner tonight.
  5. Drip a little oil on the griddle top and spread it around with the spatula.
  6. On the griddle, each one can cook anything he or she thinks needs cooking (meats for sure, maybe mushrooms, peppers, onions, etc.)
  7. In the little pan, place a drop of oil and then any ingredients desired including a raw egg, perhaps some of the sautéed ingredients. Add whatever condiments sound good. Top with a bit of cheese and place under the broiler.
  8. Cook till it reaches the desired doneness and tip it onto the plate and eat it.
  9. Each person may want to keep cooking while they eat so they have their next bit ready more quickly, but rushing is not necessary.
  10. You might want to have several already done if you think people are too hungry to wait, or need some ideas.
  11. Enjoy!
I hope you get excited about raclette, and look into buying a raclette maker to make your family meals and dinner parties that much more fun!

Update: A friend wrote to tell me they do this basic idea with an electric pancake griddle on the table. So if you don't want to invest in the raclette cooker, you can still have fun with this idea!

For more "DIY: Home Depot" meals see these posts:
The Taco Episode
The Stuffed Potato Episode
The Panini Episode
The Mongolian Grill Episode
The Pizza Episode

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For more ideas on how to 
 with your family at mealtimes see my book Around the Table.

It's full of ideas and suggestions for bringing your family together for meals and how to make those times fun. Click on the book and you can read the introduction and first chapter for free!

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Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Year of Bible Study

I did my education from kindergarten through my second year of college in public schools. (Altogether there were seven schools during those years...but that's another story.)

In high school I started to desire to go to a Christian school. My parents felt it would be best for me to stay in the public school and be a light there. Besides, there was the cost to consider.

As the end of high school approached I started talking about going to Bible School. My parents wisely took me through steps to discern God's will, including giving me their advice. Many of these talks took place around our dinner table. Together we decided that I should go to the local community college for two years first.

Finally the day came when I prayed with my parents at San Francisco airport and flew with a friend to Chicago to attend Emmaus Bible School. One of the best decisions of my life.

At the freshman reception I was introduced to the missions professor who had been a missionary in South Africa for 25 years and whose brother had been martyred along with Jim Elliot in Ecuador. I asked him if he had any other family that were missionaries and he said, "No, but I have a son..." (That's another whole story too, but yes, I did marry that son!)

That is not the only reason it was one of my best decisions. Even if God hadn't had a husband for me, it still would have been a great decision because after one year of Bible school I felt I knew how to study the Bible for the rest of my life. I certainly didn't have all the answers (and I still don't), but I felt prepared to search out those answers in the Word of God.

Today there are awful statistics about how many Christian young people will go off to college and leave the faith. I think that is the saddest thing that can happen. Worse than not finishing college, worse than working a dead end job all your life, worse than having to pinch every penny and (gasp!) worse than never owning a house, a new computer, or a nice car.

Attending Bible school is no guarantee they will keep the faith. I have former classmates who did not. Sadly, I have a child who has not (yet). But I think a year learning about the Bible and how to study it could be the most important year in anyone's life.

Emmaus is now a Bible College with several professional bachelor's degrees as well as Bible and ministry degrees, including a counseling degree that was named Number One in small colleges. But they still have the one year Bible certificate that I got there, too. 

Even if Emmaus doesn't offer the career studies your son or daughter wants, a year studying the Bible will never be a wasted year.

To learn more about Emmaus Bible College go to www.emmaus.edu.

I am a proponent of the Bible and Bible colleges, especially Emmaus, but I received no remuneration or gifts for writing this post.

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To never miss an Around the Table blog post, simply sign up in the space on the right side of the blog, below the picture of the book. Each week you will receive one email that looks like this:

It's as easy as that. No searching for the blog, waiting for your browser, or missing a post. Sign up today!

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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.

Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *liking* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ten Habits of Families that Eat Together

"How do you do it?"

How do families that eat together often, maybe every night, manage it? In our society it seems like that's an impossibility. Everyone has a busy schedule, including the kids, so what makes family mealtimes happen?

Here are 10 habits of families that eat together often:

1. Start Right Away -- From day one of becoming a family they sit down together to eat. This means before the first child comes along, the couple eats meals together. As soon as possible baby is included at the table, even if he's not eating. My grandchildren have learned to hold hands and pray just by being included from long before they had any idea of what was being done.

2. Expect It -- Develop an attitude of this is the way it will be. Not eating together should be the exception. Expectations go a long way in developing habits, so be on the same page about them!

3. Everyone Helps -- Teaching our kids to shop, cook, and clean up are life skills entrusted to us. But getting them to help isn't just about them knowing how or me getting the table set; it's a great way to get to know each other. You know, it's easier to talk to someone about sensitive topics if you don't have to look them in the eye!

4. Keep Meals Simple -- My mother-in-law thinks every meal needs a meat, potato, vegetable, salad, bread, dessert, and coffee. Of course, those are great meals, but sometimes we have stir-fry and rice. Oh, and I let them drink water.

5. Block Interruptions -- There are BIG interruptions, like everyone having a different sport, practice, lesson, or appointment to get to. And there are little interruptions like television, phones, doorbells, and texts. The family that eats together blocks out as many of these as possible. Schedule things early enough to eat together. Power down, put away, don't answer. And, gasp, say "no" to some activities so you can say "yes!" to family dinner. 

6. A Few Simple Rules -- Dinner time is not time for Mom or Dad to turn into The Enforcer, but you need some basic rules to make a meal enjoyable. How about: Don't do things that make other people uncomfortable or upset.

7. Parents Set the Example -- Mom and Dad have to obey the rules too: no answering the phone, say please and thank you, be all there. 

8. Keep it Light -- Humor defuses. I can remember one of my teen's mood temperature rapidly rising as they searched frantically for their shoes. For once I didn't spike a temp, too, and philosophized, "One of the great questions of life is, 'Where do our things wander off to when we aren't looking?'" Temper successfully disabled.

9. Be Flexible -- Some days the family meal won't be on time. Some days there will  be interruptions. Some days the food will burn, or still be raw. Some days you'll have to take the phone call. Some days the appointment is unavoidable. Some days you won't all be there. The family that often eats together knows this and keeps expecting family mealtimes on most days. 

10. Know Every Day Won't be Like the Cleavers -- Do you even know the Cleavers? I was stunned to find out many of my kids' friends don't. I guess that dates me. The Cleavers are the family on the 50's TV program, Leave it to Beaver. They always sat down to dinner in the dining room, with a tablecloth, dad in a tie, a delicious meal, and kind conversation where the kids respected and learned from their parents. Yup, won't happen every day in any home. Might not even happen most days. But you keep trying.

Tell me, what habit helps your family sit down together for a meal?

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tell Us Your Story!

After reading a post on my blog, I want the readers to long for the kind of family connection they read about. They should think, "Let's have dinner as a family as soon and often as we can. I want that kind of connection in our family."

To do that I want to tell stories in my posts. My problem is I don't have any kids living at home full time. One daughter is in her senior year of college and I get to have her home some of her school vacation. 

So I need help.

If you have children--of any age--living at home, and you have regular family meals. I would LOVE to hear your mealtime stories.

If you have a story about a time your family (children, parents and siblings, grandchildren) was together around the table (or at a meal) that includes

Then it could be a great addition to the blog.

Photo Credit: Kelly Wilson

I want to emphasize that it is a story we want to hear. The teaching comes along naturally. If it’s a story of how something really clicked we’ll all be encouraged to keep working at getting our family together for meals. But even if it’s a hilarious disaster (at least now it’s hilarious), it helps us all know that others have calamities and not only survive, but can make them a part of their family’s oral history.

Humor is a wonderful teacher, so if that’s part of your story, work it in!

I am also open to slightly off-topic posts that have to do with families connecting. If you have an idea along these lines, please query me before going to the work of writing.

If you are interested in helping me (and I hope you are!) please take a moment to read the rest of this post with some specific guidelines.

Also, if you have a story, but aren't a writer, send me an email telling me the topic and giving me your phone number. You can tell me the story, and I will write it up.

Writer's Guidelines

Please take time to familiarize yourself with the blog (including clicking on the links above) and its purpose, to inspire families to gather around the table more often where they can learn, talk, and enjoy each other.

Submission of your guest post does not guarantee publication. Your submission will be reviewed and if it will benefit Around the Table Blog readers, it is likely to be published.

A guest blog should be a story not an instruction manual.

Musings on family mealtimes are also good, but keep them real and include true illustrations from your life.

Posts must be original content (i.e. not published under a copyright you do not own).

Please read and reread your entry to tighten up your story and make it readable and flowing. Read it out loud to yourself to see if it sounds good.

Read it to the people in the story to make sure they agree on its accuracy and that you have their permission to have it published on the web.

If it has to do with a holiday or season, please get it to me at least 3 months before that time so that we can work on it together before it is time to post it.

If you have any digital photographs that you could include with it, that would be very helpful, and actually necessary!  These would need to be sent to me in an attachment to be able to post them. If your family or others are in the pictures please get their permission to have them published on the web. I will assume that your submission means that there is permission. Include the suggested caption for the picture.

The entries can be 200-600 words long.

Include a short, fun bio (50 words or less) at the end of your post. I don't want your curriculum vitae, tell a fun or interesting fact about yourself. Feel free to include a link to your website, blog, and/or Facebook page.

Please send your well-edited blog entry to me in body of the email with any images attached

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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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