Category Archives: The Company I Keep

Bringing the Beach to Arizona and the Women of Mission

I know that this is a long post but we have some catching up to do. You may have noticed that there has been little more than the chirping of crickets happening here at Welcome Company lately.

If you did notice, thank you!

I appreciate you stopping by and visiting and I’m sorry the hospitality has been a bit lacking. I promise to make it up to you and that I do have a good reason, actually a couple of good reasons, that I am so excited to share with you.

I told you a while back that I was asked to step into the role of Event Coordinator for the Women’s Ministry of our church. I shared with you one of the first events I did for our Summer Spiritual Growth Speaking series; A Very Vintage Event – there were actually four evenings in the series but I didn’t bring my camera to the first two (I know, lesson learned) and had to leave town unexpectedly just before the last when my sweet Uncle passed away. A shout out to my friend Shally who covered for me and got everything set up beautifully; no one even knew I was gone.

But I did get to share one with you and I am thankful for that as it was such an incredible evening.

I have been very occupied with events this past month as Women’s Ministry just had one of our biggest this past Thursday evening. We call it the KNOW Event.  Our church is experiencing a phenomenal amount of growth and the KNOW event is geared toward welcoming new women into our ministry and getting them in the “KNOW” and plugged in where they can best serve and be served. We have a KNOW event twice a year and also love to welcome back women who have been with us previously and are interested in finding out what will be going on in Women’s Ministry, details about the Fall Retreat and what bible studies will be offered.

When I began thinking and praying about the KNOW event, I felt God leading me to consider in particular the new women we would be welcoming; whether brand new to our church or new to women’s ministry. We are a big church. And while we are a welcoming big church that truly feels like a small one, there are a lot of people and that can be intimidating for many.

And the honest truth is, women are often intimidating to other women.

Each of us comes with our own story, our own set of hurts, past experiences, uncertainties and hopes and it is hard to walk into a room full of other women for the very first time with all of that dragging behind us. Maybe even walking in knowing not another soul, setting aside our apprehension to find where we belong. Hoping we will be welcomed. Hoping we will fit in.

My job description as I see it is simple; make each woman feel welcomed and at home. That idea is paramount to menus, design and activities but I am thankful to have a God who can work through such things to create a welcoming atmosphere for all.

God is in the details. He cares about every detail and desires for us to seek Him even in what we might consider trivial.

I felt that, I felt Him very close to me, in the planning of this event; in the mindful desire to create a welcoming, relaxed and peaceful gathering for every woman who would walk through our doors; whether for the first time or the five-hundredth.

Welcoming. Relaxed. Peaceful.

The beach. He keeps bringing me back to the beach.

Of course. After all, what is more relaxing and peaceful than the beach?

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When I think of the beach, I go east coast. I don’t know why. Maybe it is the idyllic setting in my mind as I have never been east of Tennessee (and I have only been that far east once). But when I think of the beach, I think of cozy cottages on Cape Cod, the charm of Nantucket and strolling the quaint streets of East Hampton (well, that one I’m sure is because my girl Ina lives there).

These might be romanticized notions but regardless they are what come to mind when I think of the beach and I just want to dig my toes in the warm sand and listen to the gentle waves lapping the shore line with a big glass of iced tea, a flavorful picnic basket and a few girlfriends to share it all with.

Welcoming. Relaxed. Peaceful.

So last Thursday, the beach came to Arizona and to the 250  women who came to spend the evening with us. I would love to share with you how it all came together.

The Mission Women’s Ministry KNOW Event, Fall 2013

Mission-Women-KNOWYes, it is only August but here in Arizona, some of our kids have already started back to school and the rest begin in the next few days (Hallelujah Chorus) so we call it Fall. Part of the inspiration for the beach theme was to pay one last little homage to summer.

The first thing about pulling a big event together is to be mindful of the budget. Believe it or not, I love the challenge of this. Half the fun of pulling it all together is to see just how far God can take a shoestring. I also firmly believe that if He has given me the ability and the means to do something, I absolutely cannot pay someone else to do it – this gets me into trouble sometimes, in the form of sleep deprivation, but generally works out for me.

He has given me the ability to sew a pretty good straight line (just don’t ask me to make an item of clothing) so I made my own table cloths and runners, which add so much but are just not in the budget for each new event. The standard tablecloths provided by the church are black which is a good basic look but not very beachy.

I am now about to let you in on a little budget friendly decorating secret, perhaps one of my all-time favorite … painters canvas.

Painters canvas. You know the drop cloths you find at Home Depot? Well, they make GREAT tablecloths – especially for rectangular folding tables.

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I cut a “big” one into thirds, hemmed the unfinished edges and it covered three 6’x2′ rectangular tables perfectly. The “hallway runners” work GREAT as well.

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I found this gorgeous light blue and cream chevron fabric (I am all about the chevrons right now) at Hobby Lobby and made a 12 foot runner for the buffet table.

With budget ever in mind, I made my way up the steep ladder (I’m not exaggerating, I feel like GI Joe every time I climb up there) into the overhead storage room to see what Women’s Ministry already had in storage. Twenty-three hurricanes, six glass bowls and a whole lot of LED candles came in handy for the centerpieces.

I bought the sand, shells and seaside potpourri at Michaels and the blue table runners from Target. They are a heavy but soft paper that comes in a roll and can be cut to whatever size you need. Blue mason jars (be still my heart) and an assortment of pretty white flowers from the grocery store completed our beach themed centerpieces. The potpourri had a lovely light scent that added a nice touch.

Remember that budget I talked about? Well, I usually end up happily contributing a little on my own. It is a blessing to do so and what girl doesn’t need 36 fabulous blue mason jars? Oh, I will find something to do with them.

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The buffet table centerpieces came from Costco and I added in blue hydrangea that I just couldn’t pass up.

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I don’t always use flower bouquets as a centerpiece. This time I put two arrangements offset from my centerpiece which was an aged blue lantern, white vase with beach grasses, sea glass bottles, shells and white starfish.

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Flowers are a must but don’t always need to be used as a focal point. It is fun to create a scene or vignette that fits your theme.

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These flowers played a secondary role but were still show stoppers! I love mixed bouquets and I particularly love all white flowers with just a touch of green and in this case pale blue. You can’t go wrong with a monochromatic bouquet.

With the table centerpieces in place, a zillion LED candles turned on and the buffet table ready to go (thanks to LOTS of helping hands) all that was left was to welcome in the women we are so privileged to serve.

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Sweet Shally greeting women as they came through the doors. She is also a girl who can work wonders with a sewing machine. She doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to have to do a post one of these days on the incredible things she can do with a plain old t-shirt. Be watching for that one!

But wait, I nearly forgot to tell you about the food. That is so unlike me. Here’s the spread …

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Picnic sandwiches, fruit – green grapes, strawberries and blueberries, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese cubes, brownies, toffee hazelnut cookies, Pirouettes, chocolate wafer cookies, chocolate chip mini-cupcakes and lemonade.

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I love to serve berries in “picking” baskets with a simple white napkin (I line the inside with waxed or parchment paper). They are casual but still beautiful presented and it saves a little room on the table.

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My 11-year-old daughter frosted the cupcakes for me and meticulously placed every single chocolate chip by hand. No kidding. I could have corrected her and told her just to sprinkle them on but she was happy and didn’t seem to mind so I let her do it her way. I love how they turned out because I know that while they aren’t perfect they were made with a lot of love and care. You can’t ask for more. I’ll share the recipe with you later this week.

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Even for an event that is later in the evening, centered more around dessert, I think it is important to offer something savory. Many women came straight from work and I wanted there to be just a little something hearty. These Herbed Goat Cheese Tea Sandwiches did the trick. I’ll share these with you soon too – let me just tell you that I could eat the filling by the spoonful but try to be a lady and slather it all over a low carb pita instead.

So that was our day at the beach, or evening anyway. It was an absolute pleasure to pull this event together and to be blessed by a room filled with women who have a heart for Jesus and a desire for fellowship. It was a relaxed, peaceful and happy evening and I hope all felt welcome.

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Erin and Jodi; two incredibly special women I am so thankful to serve with and would gladly spend a day at the beach with. Maybe Ina will join us and bring cookies.

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Thanks to everyone who helped me so much (you know who you are) and especially to my friend and events team helper Linda and her daughter Kimberly (I need to get a picture of those girls) who I would be completely lost without.

Thanks for visiting. I pray you have a special group of gals (maybe even 250 of them) that you could spend a day at the beach with – remember the beach is where you find it, it’s the company that truly matters!

We who had sweet fellowship together, Walked in the house of God in the throng. Psalm 55:14

If you are nervous about reaching out or joining a women’s ministry group, pray and ask God for his guidance and peace and know that there are women who are genuinely waiting to welcome you.

If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Philippians 2:1-2

If you are in the Mesa/Gilbert area of Arizona, come and visit us at Mission Community Church or e-mail me at welcomecompany@cox.net for more information about our Women’s Ministry.

So, I told you there were two reasons for the crickets. Here’s the second …

MVMT-Dinner-3A staff/board dinner for 175. Two evenings before the KNOW event. Another beautiful evening I can’t wait to tell you all about. But for now, I’m going to find a beach somewhere and take a nap.

Blessings!

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Mother’s Day Blessings and Memories

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there who love everyday in big and small ways. In ways that are noticed and acknowledged and in so many ways that are not but will be felt, remembered and cherished. Generation after generation.

I know I am a little behind on sharing Mother’s Day sentiments but I had a busy Mother’s Day myself; enjoying church with my family, doing a little antiquing on my own, and then watching The Avengers and Captain America with my husband and kids.

Yes, those were my movie choices.

What? Well we couldn’t watch Thor, we’d just seen it a few days ago.

Then yesterday, my husband and youngest took me out for sushi and to browse the bookstore and enjoy a treat in the café. So today is the first chance I’ve had to share Mother’s Day with you.

While Mother’s Day is a day for watching action movies … what? … it is also a day for reflection and celebration of the women who have mothered us. The women who have nurtured us, stood by us, been both patient and frustrated with us, disciplined and molded us, mentored us but above all, loved us. Always.

Everyone’s story is different. But I hope with all my heart that you had or still have a mother or mother figure in your life to remember and be thankful for. Whether you are able to hold her hand or just her memory.

I am blessed to have some wonderful women to celebrate on Mother’s Day …

Mom-and-MeMy fabulous mom who was always in my corner.

I am so thankful for all she taught me (and all she put up with from me in the process). Self-sacrifice, the reward of  hard work, the ability to do a lot with a little, dinner at the table as a family, cooking, gardening, homemaking – homemade is best, anything after 1am is just going to get you into trouble and to pray, attend church, read and study my bible and look to God in all things.

I also got her sassiness, temper and eye rolling death stare. It’s true.

And if you ever wonder why I am a little “over-the-top”, this was my 4th grade Halloween costume …

Marie-Antoinette-for-HallowMarie Antoinette

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She made the whole thing.  The dress. The powdered wig.  I got “over-the-top” from her.

And I love her for it!

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I celebrate my Aunt Andi (my mom’s sister) too. She’s fun, independent and tenacious!

And I still look at her like that sometimes.

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And my grandma Ibby. I’ve told you a lot about Grandma Ibby and her incredible recipes have been the subject of many of my blog posts. I’ll be posting her delicious banana bread recipe on Friday. You won’t want to miss it! So much of what I learned from my mom came from the lessons and example of her mother, Grandma Ibby. She is deeply missed.

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I love this picture of me with my great-grandmother Rose, my great-grandmother Clara, my grandma Eileen (my first best friend) and my very own super-mom! It is a blessing to have known two of my great-grandmothers. I will share their stories one day. But I do hope you will click the link just above and read about my grandmother Eileen. She was such a huge part of my life and I have so many wonderful memories of her. A love of antiques and making all that is old new, beautiful and loved again comes from her. Plus she let me eat Fruit Loops (banned and forbidden by my health conscious mother) before bed. Which was awesome.

So now, I am a mom too. I have learned from the best. Not how to be June Clever perfect  but how to give everything I have, to keep trying when I fail, to say I’m sorry when I need to, to love the Lord with all my heart and to pray for my children in all things.

I received some pretty incredible gifts this Mother’s Day. Gifts that let me know my kids love and appreciate me, even if I don’t always think they show it.

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Ask any mom, that is what she wants most and the simple gifts made by her kids are the most precious!

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Nathan gave me a sweet card and poem and “mom’s helping hands” with the things we like to do together written on them.

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Purple was my favorite color as a child. Sara knows that and made a purple necklace for me. Her sense of humor came through with a piece of paper with the word “PEACE” written on it. Whenever they ask me what I want for my birthday or Mother’s Day, I always answer “peace” as in a peaceful relaxed day with no kids fighting or arguing. So, she gave me peace.

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David made a book for me at school which was filled with his creative writing and story art all the way from the beginning of the year.

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This is a picture of him in his Halloween costume. He was a Ninja and that is exactly what it looked like right down to the “spider” treat bag and the “fluf pads” muscles. So cute!!

No, I did not make it.

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He answered questions about me. He knows me. I love that!

He also said my favorite TV show was “Beerfoot” which is Barefoot Contessa. My favorite hobby is cooking. My favorite book is a cook book. My favorite restaurant is “all” restaurants. I enjoy cooking. And that if there were four extra hours in a day, he would spend them cooking with me.

I’m sensing a theme, maybe I need to expand my horizons a little.

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He also listed three reasons why “you are special to me.”

You love me.

You say prers (prayers) with me.

You love me more than I can love you.

And then he wrote this. And I cried.

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I’ll never forget the time you “never gave up to adopt me.”

And that is what being a mom is. We never give up. Not ever, no matter what. We are always there for our kids. Fighting for them. We sometimes fail and we often regret but we never give up.

Mother's-Day-2013Because our mom, or someone who loved us like a mom, was always there for us.

Fighting for us.

And just when you think your children don’t realize or appreciate it, they come out of left field with just what you needed to hear.

“You never gave up …”

Of course I didn’t, I’m your mom.

Easter, Friendship and Orange Sour Cream Cake!

So sorry I didn’t have a chance to wish everyone a Happy Easter yesterday but as you were hopefully enjoying a wonderful day with family and friends and not reading blogs, I’m thinking that even a day late it is still okay to say Happy Easter!

So, HaPpY EaSteR!

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We had a wonderful day, celebrating the Savior and enjoying friends old and new. A beautiful Spring day. Hunting eggs. Laughing. Breaking bread. Sharing life.

We do not have a lot of family close by but we are incredibly blessed to have friends who have become family.

Old friends. Friends who’s children have grow with ours. Friends we have cried with through the tough stuff (and there has been some tough stuff) and rejoiced with at the victories, the healing and the hope. Because there has been a lot of that too. They are moving to Texas this summer and I am reminded that life is filled with change. But they are family, that will never change, and distance doesn’t matter.

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Old friends we once lived next door to, shared a fence with. They are family too. I miss seeing them everyday; knowing they are right there, just over the fence. I promise, I do love them, I just didn’t get a picture of them yesterday. I’m still working on my “capturing the moment skills”.

New friends.  Isn’t it the best when your kid’s best friend has awesome parents?!  Not only are they good people but brave people, undeterred by the giant snake at the end of our driveway. At least it wasn’t poisonous.

Oh, how I wish I were kidding.

Easter-12One tiny tangent because I must forget about the snake and tell you what is in Eileen’s glass. Trust me, you want to know! It is simple but, wow; half lemonade, half Prosecco and a whole lotta delicious! Cold, bubbly, refreshing. Sooooo delicious! I see a few more of those in her an my future this summer.

One more guest and friend to tell you about. The Colonel. My husband’s former commander whom we love to visit with. His last name is Patton – if only he hadn’t retired and had become a general. I’d love to be able to say General Patton’s coming for dinner. Well, except that he’s Air Force. And nice.

So much and so many to be thankful for.

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We missed the family and friends we couldn’t be with and hope for many Easters to come where we can all be together.

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Oh, right, cake. I promised you cake. I’ll tell you about the cupcakes above some other time. The cake I promised is my Grandma Elizabeth’s Orange Sour Cream Cake. It was a big hit yesterday. I had to hide away one last little piece so that I could photograph it this morning.

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My plan was to photograph that last little morsel of cake with orange wedges but unaware of said plan, my husband ate my garnish. I plated one little slice of orange and stepped away for just  a moment; but around here, that’s all it takes. So instead, plan B, I threw in a few of the kid’s colored Easter eggs and I think it turned out pretty good. I’m not sure which is more fun, making the food or photographing it.

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Orange Sour Cream Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar, extra fine *see note
  • 1 Tbsp. orange zest
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sour cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Separate the eggs and set the yolks aside to be used later. Beat the whites until you just have stiff peaks. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly (3-5 minutes). *Note: the recipe calls for super fine (also known as caster sugar). If you don’t have any, you can make your own by pulsing granular sugar in the food processor a few times.

Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, making sure to thoroughly incorporate each. To the creamed mixture, stir in the orange zest and chopped walnuts (I leave the nuts out).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture, alternately with the sour cream; starting and ending with the flour. Beat well and then gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour the batter into a  well buttered and floured bundt pan and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack that has been placed on top of a sheet tray.

Orange Simple Syrup:

Bring to a boil 2/3 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup of sugar. Boil for 2-3 minutes. It will not reduce much and is not supposed to as it is a syrup to flavor and moisten the cake and not a glaze. Slowly spoon the syrup over the cake to let as much as possible absorb in.

Let it sit for at least 30 minutes and then gently move to the serving dish. Garnish with orange slices and a dusting of powdered sugar if you like.

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This would be a great brunch cake. Enjoy!

And finally, just a few more Easter Highlights from the Brew Crew …

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We always color eggs the night before Easter. My family did it that way growing up and I now have some of the best memories of the crazy eggs my dad would color and the fun we had together.

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I want my kids to have that too.

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Every year, I have taken a picture of my kid’s egg dye stained fingers. I love their hands.

 Every year, the hands are bigger and not quite as stained.

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They are getting so big. Older and more careful.

Pretty soon there will be no more messy little hands to photograph.

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This year, only Nathans.

Actually, I’m pretty sure this boy will be makin’ a mess for a long while to come.

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But wild messes or not, his still sleepy Easter morning face is what mommy will remember. Snuggles with his new friends left by the “Easter Bunny” and the calm before the “wild”…

Easter egg hunting. Big yard. Lots of eggs. TONS of fun!

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And thankfully, Easter egg hunting still seems to be cool; or at least not totally lame.

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A well deserved break. After all, those eggs don’t hide themselves.

I don’t know if you noticed it or not, but there is a silver bowl that sits as the centerpiece on my dining room table (in the very first picture of this post). It was a precious gift from my aunt; something she knew I really wanted but would never buy for myself. It is precious not because it is silver but because of what is engraved around it …

“Together with friends and family is always the happiest place to be.”

A St. Patrick’s Day Menu of Irish Pub Food

Top o’ the mornin’ to you!

I hope you had a fun, safe and festive St. Patrick’s Day filled with good times and great Irish food. I am always up for a little festive fun and of course a dinner guest or two, so for us St. Patrick’s Day is all about the food.

Normally, I make shepherd’s pie for dinner. Technically, an English dish, but my husband (who is of Irish descent) doesn’t like the traditional corned beef and cabbage. Weird, I know, but he doesn’t. He does like Guiness though, so he gets to keep his “Irish Card”.

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My three “Irishmen”.

This year, however, I decided to put to use the “Irish Pub Cooking” cook book that I picked up a while back. The plan, every dish on the menu would come from this book. Appetizer, entrée, bread, sides and dessert. Fun!

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So many of the recipes looked and sounded tasty but ultimately I decided on Smoked Salmon, Dill & Horseradish Tartlets for the appetizer, Beef in Stout with Herb Dumplings for the entrée, Colcannon and Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage for the sides, a bread called Barm Brack and Apple Cake for dessert.

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The pictures. Perfectly styled food pictures. They are why I have about a thousand cookbooks. They get me every time!

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And inspire me to play with my food.

So, how did the Irish Pub Cooking project turn out?

Delicious. Mostly.

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The Smoked Salmon, Dill & Horseradish Tartlets were incredible. My favorite recipe of the day.

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The Beef in Stout and Colcannon were great but the star of the dinner plate for me was the Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage (my second favorite dish of the day). It was absolutely wonderful and will be a side dish I make again, and again and again.

Well, the kids didn’t like it.

But I’m still going to make it again, and again and again.

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The apple cake was good. Not change your life epic but not disappointing. And it looks pretty.

The Barm Brack

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This is different from Irish Soda Bread. It is a yeast bread. Yeast bread is my kryptonite. In fact, this bread was like trying to eat kryptonite. The flavor was good. The texture? Kryptonite.

Moving on. Did I mention we had company?

My Uncle George and Aunt Marilyn are “snow birds” and live only a few miles from us during the winter months when it is just too darn cold in the Pacific Northwest. It had been a long time since we’d seen them, too long – which is so silly since they are so close by. We were happy to welcome them to dinner. I am kicking myself now though for not taking their picture, I’ll have to get one next time.

Uncle George brough his specialty, “Pistachio Jello Salad“. It was a much bigger hit with the kids than the cabbage.

In fact, Nathan was only too happy to start his day with a little left over jello salad for breakfast (I promise, he had an egg and an apple too).

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Yes, courtesy of daddy, my boy has a mohawk. A crazy, crooked mohawk. Mommy agreed for spring break only. But now, he loves it. He loves it so much that he didn’t want me to wash his hair because he thought the mohawk wouldn’t stick up anymore. I am actually not sure he is going to let me shave it off  before he has to go to school tomorrow. So, he maybe going to school with a crazy crooked – freshly washed – mohawk. I have learned to pick my battles.

I will share all of these Irish Pub recipes (even the Barm Brack) with you all week so be sure to come back tomorrow for the Smoked Salmon, Dill & Horseradish Tartlets recipe. For now, I’ll leave you with a big cheesy smile and an old Irish Blessing …

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May the blessing of God’s soft rain be on you,
Falling gently on your head, refreshing your soul
With the sweetness of little flowers newly blooming.
May the strength of the winds of Heaven bless you,
Carrying the rain to wash your spirit clean
Sparkling after in the sunlight.
May the blessing of God’s earth be on you,
And as you walk the roads,
May you always have a kind word
for those you meet.

Blazing a Trail Along the Salt River

A few weekends ago, my husband, oldest son and his Cub Scout Wolf Den were part of a “clean-up” along the banks of the Salt River. My husband told me about the gorgeous spot they found and suggested I take my family hiking there while they were visiting. He was working and couldn’t join us but the suggestion turned out to be a great one.

The Salt River is one of the most popular outdoor recreation destinations in our area and is well-known for tubing – not “tubing” at 40 mph behind a boat, think “lazy river float” with your bum in an inner tube that is tied to the inner tube of one or more people you want to spend several hours floating down a river with. Choose carefully. The Salt River is also a great place for camping, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and of course, hiking.

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We started our hike welcomed by Red Mountain, a well-known and well-loved landmark around here. This isn’t the most famous profile of the mountain but it is still beautiful.

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Of course my overly imaginative Cub Scout had to begin our hike by marking our trail. Side note: he also has ADHD so while the trail marking started out impressive, let’s just say it’s a good thing our ultimate survival did not depend on a consistently marked trail.

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Brothers ready for adventure. I don’t know if I’ve told you, Nathan’s favorite color is green and in his book, three different shades of this much beloved color makes the perfect outfit.

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And they’re off; my 100 mph in every direction at once child in the lead as always!

Our first discovery, the coolest picnic tables ever …

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Okay not overly scenic, but I LOVE these old Forest Service concrete picnic tables. Complete nostalgia.

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These tables have been around for a long time; just think of all of the people, the friends and families, who have come over the years to enjoy this incredible place.

I sure wish I could have one, I have the perfect spot for it. Someone really should make replicas (hmmmm, maybe someone does). I’d like to have the real thing (nostalgia), but I’d take a replica, delivered and placed of course – can you even imagine how heavy those must be? My husband complains when I ask him to move landscape boulders (what? he’s big and tough). Can you even imagine what he’d say to “I’m not sure honey, I think the massive concrete table needs to be just a little more to the left”?

Sorry, tangent – back to the adventure.

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Funny, no one was willing to take a peek and see who might be at home.

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A man, alone with his thoughts. Lots and lots and lots of thoughts. Sweet boy.

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When you are a boy under the age of ten, even a little bit of water pooled in the pit of a rock after a recent rain is interesting. I love that. I love nostalgic picnic tables too.

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A budding photographer and her little brother taking in one gorgeous view.

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The Salt River

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and still snow-capped mountains in the distance. Gorgeous.

I can’t imagine who would want to be inside on a day like this!

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The home of a Cactus Wren nestled in the protective spines of a Staghorn Cholla. Those tufts of purple and gold will soon be the most incredible blossoms.

I promise, my camera is ready and waiting! As are my hiking buddies.

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I don’t know, Nathan may have been onto something with that outfit – he sure “goes with” the budding spring landscape. I’m not sure what will be more interesting (or colorful) the blooming cacti or the outfit Nathan pulls together. We shall see.

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Making our way down after blazing our own trail. Even the bravest adventurer sometimes needs a hand from his big sister. After all, he can’t let his great-aunt, grandma or aunt beat him down.

One last stop …

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 at Saguaro Lake to feed the ducks.

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And one fat squirrel.

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Saguaro Lake is one of my favorite places. It is so incredibly beautiful and deserves a post of its own. I’ll get to work on that. I’m sure our sweet neighbors will take us out on their boat so I can get some great photos to share. I’ll bake something for them.

Oh, and if anyone knows how I can get my hands on one of those picnic tables (legally) – I’ll bake something for you too!

Now get out there and blaze a trail!

A Perfect Day in the Desert

Yesterday was just about perfect. Another welcome reminder of how blessed and fortunate I am to live in such a unique and inspiring place. I have come to love the Sonoran Desert and am always excited to share it with the friends and family who visit. Usery-1One of the best ways to enjoy all the desert has to offer is to get out there and experience it. Yesterday, I took my aunt and my sister on one of my very favorite hikes; camera in hand, hoping to capture the beauty of the desert in the Spring, just beginning to bloom, teeming with life.

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The Usery Mountains and Tonto National Forest are pretty much our backyard and no matter how many times I hike the same trails, there is always something new to discover.

Always something that takes my breath away.

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Always something interesting and unique.

The <PHOENIX sign on the mountain (our version of the HOLLYWOOD sign) was done by the Boy Scouts in the 1950s as a directional marker to the airport. Some people don’t like it but I think it is a little bit of interesting history and for us, always a  “welcome home”.

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Hike after hike, I am still in awe of the harsh and beautiful landscape that is home to us. The surprises I always discover when I slow down and take the time to take it all in.

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What is harsh and threatening to some is safety and home to another.

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Each Saguaro is unique and incredible. They amaze me.

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It really was a perfect day.

If you live here too, I hope you’ll get your camera and get outside. If you don’t, I hope you have the chance to visit and experience it for yourself sometime.

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee; How great Thou art!”

A Trip to the Market

My mom and my aunt are visiting right now and a visit with my mom and my aunt will always include a trip to the market. Always. Not only do we love to cook and eat together but we love to shop together. Grocery shop. Call us crazy but we “window” shop at the grocery store like other women window shop at the mall.

My littlest guy is only in pre-school a few days a week so he is my grocery shopping buddy. He pushes the cart for me, crosses items off of the list for me and helps me find what I am looking for. We had so much fun taking grandma and Aunt Andi to our favorite store yesterday.

First stop, the pastry case. Nathan was given the very important task of picking out a dessert treat for himself and his brother and sister. A big responsibility. But a challenge he was most happy to accept.

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So many choices.

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In the end, it had to be the chocolate cupcakes.

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Of course I had to get a picture of the chocolate croissants.

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And the fruit tart. I love fruit tart but today, I’m just looking.

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Next, cheese. We were shopping for the Greek salad we’d planned for dinner so I only needed Feta but it is always fun to look and imagine the possibilities contained within that deli case. On my aunt’s recommendation I also picked up some Myzithra. Delicious!

By this point, I had heard “lobsters mommy, lobsters” at least 10 times so, it was off to the lobster case.

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Nathan loves to visit the lobsters. What five-year-old boy isn’t fascinated by the lobster tank?

As for me, the lilys in the floral department caught my eye.

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No matter how busy I am, I always walk through the floral department. It makes me happy.

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Question: Why is Nathan blurry? A) Because his mom is still working on her photography skills. B) Because his mom feels a little weird taking pictures in the grocery store and is trying to be quick and discrete. C) Because Nathan never stops moving. D) All of the above. Answer … oh, I think you know the answer.

Next, produce. By far my favorite. Truly. The colors alone captivate me. Grocery store poetry.

Next time you are in the produce aisle, try not to just race through and grab the bananas and bag of salad scribbled hastily on your list. For a moment, forget the list and take a little time to take it all in. Be inspired and realize how blessed you are. We have at our fingertips, health and wellness, variety, beauty and a reminder not only of God’s blessing and provision but of His wonderous creativity.

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See what I mean? Color. Variety. Bounty. We are blessed.

When I’m ready to “check-out”, I always look for Debbie. She’s our favorite checker, Nathan usually spots her first and makes a beeline for her. She is always happy to see us, always remembers us and always has a smile for us. And on this trip, she let me take her picture.

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Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a chore or an errand or just one more thing to do. The grocery store can be a place where we spend time together as a family, laugh and imagine the possibilities, see really cool creatures up close, work on our big-boy skills, make connections and slow down just enough to see all that we have and remember just how fortunate we are.

Joy is where you find it.

By the way, we girls don’t just like to grocery shop. My sister gets into town this afternoon and we’ll be hitting the thrift and antique stores too. We may have to do that while Mr. Nathan is in school though; think “bull in a china shop”.

Oh, I almost forgot, I have an amazing Greek salad to tell you about. I promise I’ll do that soon!