Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Food for Conversation

"What's for dinner tonight?"

Does that question strike fear into your heart? There are times when it does mine. As much as I'm "into" dinner and family mealtimes, there are those days when I just don't know what to make. Maybe it's because I'm feeling lazy. Maybe I took just a little too much time for myself. Maybe an appointment ran late, a friend needed help, or I forgot to defrost food. 

Whatever the reason, there's a solutions! 

Not only that, you can make it a topic of discussion for dinner tonight, a conversation that might enlighten you, and lighten your "load" when it comes to meals.

The goal is to have list of 12 meal ideas that your family loves so you don't have to do a brain scan to come up with an idea. Then, when "What's for dinner?" catches you off guard, you can go to this list to figure out what's for dinner.

To get started, at dinner tonight, ask: what are some of your favorite meals that I make?

Have a piece of paper and pen at hand to write down the suggestions. Perhaps you could have some ideas in mind to get them to keep listing meals they really like until you have at least 15 (hopefully more). This list might surprise you. 

When my children were little it probably would have started with:

  • macaroni and cheese from a box
  • hamburgers
  • grilled cheese (withOUT tomato soup!)
  • burritos

Thankfully, I kept pushing veggies and a wider variety of meals, so today the list is more like:
  1. honey curried baked chicken
  2. parmesean crusted tilapia
  3. chef salad
  4. omelette
  5. vegetable and cheese foccacia
  6. pork roast
  7. pancakes or waffles
  8. sub sandwiches
  9. walnut chicken
  10. South African curried meat and vegetables
  11. baked potatoes with chili
  12. hamburgers
After you have your list, choose 12 that you enjoy making, you usually have most of the ingredients on hand, and are makable in an hour or less. The time limit would definitely remove numbers 6 and 10 from this list. Write out this list and tape it inside one of your kitchen cupboards.

Now you have an "emergency meal list" for those days when--for whatever reason--you don't know what to make for dinner. Just open the cupboard and scan the list to get a great idea for dinner!

(If you are interested in any of the recipes for foods I mentioned above, write the name in a comment below and I'll make it the subject of a future blog post.)

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Check out my Facebook page frequently. I'm going to start posting suggested conversation questions frequently. If you "like" the page, you'll see the questions in your newsfeed. They'll give you ideas to start meaningful conversations with others and help you connect with your family!
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Exciting things are happening in our family! Saturday night, our younger son, Samuel, took his girlfriend, Laurie, to a candlelit gazebo, sang a song to her while playing the guitar, and then got down on one knee to ask her to marry him. She said, "Yes!"

I am currently in Chicago with my other son and his wife awaiting the arrival of their son any day now. In the meantime, I'm having a ball playing with their 17 month old daughter!

Linking with: My Turn (for us)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eating Spaghetti with Your Hands

I spoke recently with a young woman who finished her undergrad degree in Inter Cultural Studies by doing an internship among the Saharawi people living in refugee camps in the Sahara desert in Algeria about the mealtime practices there. Some members of this people group live in a part of their own nation, Western Sahara, that was occupied by Morocco in 1975. Those who fled the occupation and persecution have lived in the refugee camps since then, surviving with the help of international aid. 

Why did you choose to go to the Saharawi people?
I wanted to experience a Muslim/Arabic people group. I liked the idea that here I would be teaching English, living and interacting with the people. Our goal was to live everyday life with them as true followers of Christ.

Tell me a little about your living arrangements there.
Six of us Americans lived with a Saharawi family as part of the family. We were in a house built around a courtyard. People slept in about every room in the house. We would just lay out blankets on the floor and blankets on top of us. It was really cold at first so we appreciated having a big group of girls on the floor of our room.

What were mealtimes like? 
All the girls worked in the kitchen, even though we Americans didn’t make the food. We helped bring things out and it had to be in the right order: juice, then the wash basin, before the rest of the food. We carried the wash basin to the guests first in order of importance and poured water over their hands so they could wash. 

The food was served on large trays, one for women, one for men, with the rice or couscous on the whole tray and meat and vegetables in the middle. First came the men’s tray. There was always a big scramble in the kitchen, but it was brought out calmly and the tray set down carefully. Sitting cross legged on the floor around a low table, we all ate out of the communal trays, eating only out of the section in front of us. If the meat was on the bone and we wanted some, we had to divide it up, placing a portion in each person’s section.

We ate only with our right hands, rolling the food into a ball with and popping it into our mouths. Macaroni and spaghetti is the hardest to eat this way! 

What else is considered good manners?
When rice stuck to our hand we couldn’t flick rice off, but had to use our fingers to rub it off. Then we licked our hand before putting it into the wash basin so there wouldn’t be any bits of food left in the basin. All the crumbs we’d dropped were gathered into little cups and saved for the goats—nothing was wasted.

Was it hard to get used to eating with your hands?
It was hard  not to make a mess. Spaghetti was especially hard to not have all over my face with a trail of spaghetti leading to it, but I thought it was kind of fun. Some days we had guests. If they were European guests we’d get forks for the salad. Inevitably we kids wouldn’t realize and would dig in and get scolded. But they liked it that we were willing to eat like them.

Tell me about their hospitality practices.
Their homes are always open. Visiting isn’t planned, they just show up. They always serve guests three glasses of tea and that takes about two hours. If someone arrives near meal time, they make extra food and expect them to stay. 

At one home a brother-in-law brought his friends and a chicken for lunch. Even though lunch was already made they had to start over and make chicken for them.

Even though the outward expression is very gracious, and sometimes that’s not what’s expressed in the kitchen, they consider the guest to be honoring them by visiting. If the guest stays overnight, they just throw another blanket on the floor.

Overall, what can Americans learn from the Saharawi mealtime practices?
They always ate together, always waited for everyone who was there. Often most of the family is home, so you would see everyone at mealtimes.

I think we can learn hospitality—without missing a beat they serve anyone who comes by. A guest never feels like he is imposing. 

How were you changed by your time there?
I got a different perspective of how to treat people. They were always hospitable and welcoming. Their value is: whoever is in front of me is most important; <tweet this! my plans aren’t as important. We lived life together and valued friends and neighbors and spending time together. I learned to be happy about surprise visits and make the meal expand. 

(For the sake of security no names or faces were used.)

Photo credits: Saharawi refugee camptray of food

Linking with:


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Manners Mimic

I've learned so much from my friend, Adriana--about God, loving our husbands, loving our children, studying, and life.

Recently I was able to visit her at her home in Colombia for 9 days.  We sensed a kindred spirit when I was still living in Colombia, but both of us were busy with our four children (each) and working in our local churches, so time together was short and seldom, so this visit to speak at a conference with her was a real treat and a gift from God.

The country of Colombia isn't too hard to take, either!

Of course, I learned many things from her on this visit, but one was another fun way to teach manners. 

While I was there her niece and nephew were visiting to play with her youngest son for a couple of days.

At the table one day one of them put their elbows on the table. Suddenly Adriana put her elbows on the table in a rather exaggerated gesture. The culprit, unaware that someone was playing copy cat with him, shifted to resting his head on one hand, elbow still on the table. Adriana, sitting across from him did the same. The movement caught his attention and he looked at his aunt, changing to the other hand and elbow. When she did the same, a light bulb went on. Suddenly he sat up straight, lowered his hands, and smiled at his aunt. 

What a fun way to be gently reminded of good manners! (<--tweet this) Far better than being scolded or nagged. 

Variation: If you have a good humored adult who sometimes forgets his manners, you could team up with one of your little ones to play copy cat with the adult when his manners are momentarily forgotten. The children would have a great time being the manners police, and would be reminded to watch their own p's and q's.

For more ideas on manner click here.

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Remember I'd like to get pictures from you of a table centerpiece you make out of things from around your house. Perhaps they are items that are a bit different than one would normally think to use for a centerpiece, but grouped together they make a fun and interesting conversation piece. Send your photo here.

If you like a certain post in my blog, would you take a second to *like* or repost a link on facebook so others could see it too? Thanks!

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Makable" Menus

When I wrote the book Around the Table I always made weekly menus the night before I went grocery shopping so I could make lists of what I would need for the week’s meals and go shopping just once. (Shopping once was the goal, anyway.)

At some point over the years, I did the menus less and less. It took me so long to come up with 7 main meals I wanted to cook and eat. Some nights when I was planning the menu nothing sounded good so I would search out new recipes, seeking the illusive taste I was looking for. Plus, it had to be things my family would appreciate, within our budget, and doable in South America. (There were many, many substitution possibilities, but how much time did I want to invest in one meal?)

I got to the point where I planned menus for special meals (guests, birthdays, etc.) but just bought basic staples and “came up with something” each night. From time to time I would make out a week’s menu, but not often.

Photo credit: Terren in Virginia

Not too long ago I was motivated to do it again. The motivation was visiting my friend, Karen. We were there for 3 ½ days and she sent me the menu a month ahead to make sure it was things everyone could eat and so I could choose things to bring. A month ahead! I was seriously impressed.

Not only that, but I saw how things worked out so easily for her during the days we were there. She had everything on hand and a plan set so she could enjoy our visit as well.

As soon as I got home I sat down to make out our menu for us. It was so wonderful to have the menu on hand. I felt released from the concern of what was for dinner! Every day I would look at my list and take out of the freezer or pantry what I needed to have on hand for dinner. 
The ingredients were all there;
 no energy was spent worrying about 
what I could make for dinner.

I also made liberal use of my slow-cooker and of freezable recipes to have some meals partially prepared for an upcoming visit from our married son, his wife, and our granddaughter. Anything that lets me have more time with the family is a good thing!

I don’t have these recipes posted, but just to give you an idea of our main meal menu for one week, I’ll write it out for you, along with my notes from the changes I made.

Monday – leftover stuffing, sweet potatoes, and gravy (frozen from a church potluck); roasted chicken breasts, salad greens with red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing

Tuesday – Spanish tortilla (p. 226-227, Time for Dinner), Fruit and Broccoli salad (Slow Cooker Meals, p. 248; no, it’s not slow cooked, just under the “sides” section.)

Photo Credit: Iriskh

Wednesday – Easy Italian Chicken, (p. 74, Slow Cooker Meals), green salad, store bought breadsticks

Thursday – Hot and Spicy Sloppy Joes (p. 42, Slow Cooker Meals), coleslaw, (freeze half for lunch with "kids")

Friday – Pasta with Pesto, green salad (this was changed to a roasted vegetable soup I made up and put in the crockpot)

Saturday – lunch: grilled cheese, carrot sticks, apple slices (some foods kids never tire of!)
Supper: hamburgers, baked sweet potato wedges, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles

Sunday – Pork stew with Teriyaki Sauce (p. 59, Slow Cooker Meals), rice, frozen mini egg rolls, apple dumplings for dessert

Monday – Bean and Corn Burritos (p. 130, Slow Cooker Meals), green salad

Quite a few of these recipes are from the Family Circle Slow Cooker Meals, (I tend to go in cycles like that) so I just want to insert a caveat that I have found quite a few I like in this book since my sister-in-law gave it to me about 5 months ago, but our family likes things more “tasteable*” so I would double almost all the seasonings, unless it is called “Hot and Spicy”, and I think they generally put in too much liquid so I plan to try lowering the amount and testing it.

*The first time I served something a bit spicy to then 3 year old Daniel, he took a bite and said, “This is very tasteable!”

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Linking with     Photobucket
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Get Creative! Can you make a centerpiece from things already in your house? Knick-knacks, teapots, silk or dried flowers, a collection of something, photos, souvenirs, flags, toys, games...are all possible ideas.

Maribeth used these teacups, teapots, candles and a jug with silk flowers to create a summer centerpiece. I'd like to see what you come up with. Look around your house and collect some things to make a centerpiece for your table. Arrange it how you like and send me a photo to this email. I'll publish it in a future post!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Real Food:" Walnut Chicken

The Giveaway!The winners of the two table runners from Turkey are:
Pamela Nelson
Karen Hemphill
Thanks to all who participated. I am currently in Colombia. Should I bring something else back for a giveaway? Will you tell a friend about my blog to get a chance to win?
P.S. to Pam and Karen, please contact me with your mailing addresses so I can get your table runners in the mail when I return. 

For a long time I made Walnut Chicken about every other week, but one child—who’s privacy I will protect!—wasn’t real happy about that and let me know, so I backed off to once a month and even less. When we went to pick her (oops! Just gave a hint about the culprit) up after working at a camp for 6 weeks, one of the first things she said to me was, “Mom, can you make Walnut Chicken?” I was thrilled! Then she explained, “I just want some real food.” 

I’d like to share with you this, one of my favorite recipes. I like it just because I think it’s delicious and easy enough that I can get it together and cooked relatively quickly--about 10 minutes for marinating (once the chicken is cut up) and 25 minutes for cooking, just long enough to cook the rice to go along with it. Plus, I usually have all the ingredients on hand. Even my vegetarian daughter will eat it all but the chicken—thank goodness she’s not a vegan!

I'm not sure where I got the recipe--it may have been from an ad for walnuts, but I just know I love the combination of spice, veggies, chicken and nuts. I hope you will too.

Here are some of the ingredients:

(Pillsbury, the dough boy, doesn't go in, he's just supervising.)

2 Tbsp. cornstarch, divided
4 tsp. oil, divided
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional if you like your food hotter)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 3/4 - 1 inch cubes
4 cups fresh broccoli florets (can use frozen if you don't mind frozen)
1 large onion cut into 8 wedges
1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned (I didn't have a red bell pepper the day I photographed, but any sweet peppers will do and more colors are even prettier)
1 cup water
1/4 cup walnut halves or pieces
hot cooked rice, optional

Combine 1 Tbsp. cornstarch, 1 tsp. oil, soy sauce, bouillon, ginger, chili powder and crushed red pepper (optional) in bowl. Add chicken. Stir to coat. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes or up to 8 hours.

In a large nonstick skillet or wok, stir-fry chicken and marinade in remaining oil until chicken is no longer pink.

Remove chicken with slotted spoon and keep warm. In same skillet, stir-fry broccoli for 8 minutes. Add onion and red pepper; stir fry 6-8 minutes longer or until vegetables are crisp tender.

Return chicken to skillet. Combine remaining cornstarch and water until smooth. Add to skillet. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Sprinkle with nuts. Serve over rice if desired. 

This is enough to serve four people.

You can get a printable version of the recipe here.

The day I made this for the photos we had Rosana and her boyfriend over for our usual Thursday night dinner. He asked if the recipe was in my book. I told him the book doesn't have recipes, but it would be up on my blog this week and he was excited to have recipe. I hope you enjoy it too.


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