Pretty Chicken

Yummy dinner last night! Chicken with Bell Peppers and Hominy. Got it from Eating Well Magazine, which I’d never tried before. This was simple and easy. You can find the recipe at that link, but here’s a quick rundown with my substitutions. The one on the site is for four, this is halved for two.

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil—really might not even need that much
  • little less than a pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
  • ½ teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped—I did four small sweet yellow, red, and orange peppers
  • 1 cups sliced carrots —I did just a little more than a cup of multi-colored carrots
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoons water
  • 1 can 15 oz hominy, rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced—-didn’t halve this because garlic is awesome
  • 1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles
  • juice of 1/2 of a lime
  • a few pieces of diced avocado—didn’t use this on my portion, it’s an extra that I didn’t think it needed

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Cook chicken in a skillet over medium-high heat in the canola oil with half the cumin and salt. 5-7 minutes, just till it’s done. Put the chicken in a bowl, toss it with the cilantro, cover to keep it warm. In the same skillet (no additional oil) add the peppers, carrots, onions, water, rest of salt and cook about 5 minutes or so till the veggies are tender but not mushy. Add hominy, garlic, rest of cumin and cook about a minute. Add chiles and lime and cook one last minute.

Fill the plate with the veggies then top with chicken. It’s fairly hearty but not at all heavy and lots of flavor. It’s pretty as a picture, too.

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Like I said, I didn’t add the avocado to mine. Not a fan really. Here’s the nutrition info as prepared from the original recipe:

  • Serving size: ¾ cup chicken & 1½ cups stir-fry each
  • Per serving: 415 calories; 15 g fat(2 g sat); 10 g fiber; 34 g carbohydrates; 37 g protein; 123 mcg folate; 103 mg cholesterol; 10 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 12,846 IU vitamin A; 102 mg vitamin C; 86 mg calcium; 3 mg iron; 485 mg sodium; 1,200 mg potassium
  • Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (257% daily value), Vitamin C (170% dv), Folate (31% dv)
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Wasp Paper

Writing from the Writers Group this week. We’ve been doing this, but I can’t find the piece I used as inspiration.

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What would a wasp say if it could write its little heart out on that huge scroll?polistes_may_2013-2

I’ve never liked bees. Honey bees are ok—almost cute—but the rest of the beekingdom have always terrified me. Maybe not bumble bees. They are miniature winged golden retrievers, following too close and bumping accidentally; curious and furry. Hornets, wasps, yellow jackets; they are all evil.

The girl scouts had a giant hornet’s nest in the corner of the room where we met. It was something to do with North Carolina or Mecklenburg County. I never paid attention to that part. I had nightmares about it; swarms of these evil creatures would pour out of the bottom of their paper castle and come for me, vengefully pricking me to death for daring to cast my eyes in their direction, their fury unstoppable, their wings like a machine of war propelling them towards my vulnerable face.

But they…make paper! They have probably been making paper since well before humans ever did. What if a little wasp took her stinger, dipped in my fresh blood, and wrote on her paper. What would she say?

“Keep out! No trespassing,” big jagged letters around the belly of the nest. “Private Property!”

“You wouldn’t believe what I saw this morning! The sun made tiny round jewels on the ivy leaves round the old tree stump,” careful, precise holes poked, needle stitches for each letter. “You should pay more attention to the great world.”

“Yay for circles!” Big, punched out letters. “Circles are best!”

“My life is so brief and fast,” tiny bloody cursive, her ink from the well of my arm. “I must be fierce and powerful before I die, for it flies to meet me quickly. Then, I am no more.”

To read the nest book, one layer at a time, peeling pages from an enemy’s soul.

 

Note: that is NOT my photograph. I would never, ever get that close. The photographer is excellent and can be found here. 

Flatten That Chicken!

Dinner last night was another from the Cooking Light magazine. This one was Flattened Chicken with Almond and Paprika Vinaigrette.

So, the weird thing was that I always thought a vinaigrette needed to have vinegar. But this doesn’t and apparently a vinaigrette doesn’t require it anyway. There are vinegary olives in the topping though, so maybe that counts? Anyhow, it was good. I used too much olive oil in the pan and you can see it in the plate, but who ever said that was a bad thing was a liar!

Pictured here is a single serving.

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The recipe called for flattened chicken breast halves but I had chicken tenderloins and used that instead. They flatten out really easily; only had to put them between two sheets of parchment and beat on them with the heel of my hand. Chicken breasts are a lot harder to flatten! But flattened chicken cooks super duper fast! 3 minutes per side! Whole thing was done in less than the 28 minutes the recipe says it would take. It could have been really easily over cooked though.

Was it tasty?  Yes, I give it a 8*
Was it easy? Pretty much, could have been harder with actual chicken breasts though. 7
Was it quick? Less than 30 minutes start to finish sounds quick to me.
Would I cook it again? Yes
Overall I’d rate it a 8

*scale of 1-10 with one the worst and 10 the best

New Cooking Plan

Starting some new cooking habits. I like to cook and I love to bake! Ovens are like magic to me. You put something in it, wait a while, and it comes out entirely different. My mother was a Home Eco teacher and a great cook, but my father’s tastes were simple and he preferred the same five or six things over and over and over.

And over.

I learned to cook from my mother (obviously) who approached cooking more as a science than an art. It was all about the chemical reactions between the foods. Precise measuring was critical as was timing. I suppose I am ok in the kitchen. Most of all, I know how to follow a recipe and I think that’s a fine skill to have.

Recently I’ve been inspired by a friend of mine who cooks for her family all the time and has been using a lot of Cooking Light magazine recipes. Typically, I’m cooking only for myself, so this is often an impediment to cooking altogether. However, looking at the things she had prepared, they were almost all 4 servings. Perfect for her three person family and perfect for cutting right in half for little ole me tonight and lunch tomorrow.

I’ve been trying Blue Apron. I say trying because the food is fantastic and fresh and almost always organic and easy to make and just right portions. But the food just kept coming and I kept forgetting to cancel the week before I wasn’t going to be home and consequently I also kept throwing away really great food that had spoiled before I even got to it.

So, I put the Blue Apron on hold, got a Cooking Light subscription and…. Here We Go!

First meal: Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Penne
Follow the link for the recipe itself*

Remember how I just said that I am usually cooking for me, myself and I? Well, every once in a while I’m cooking for a whole bunch of campus ministry college students. We have a smallish group, but it’s a whole lot more than the “single serving” I typically search for.  But those Cooking Light meals are servings for 4, which is easily doubled to 8, which was just what we needed Monday night. And pleasing college students with a “light” meal was a big test. They loved it!

There was no Broccoli Rabe in my local grocery store, so it was regular broccoli. Looks like the nutrition is similar. Although there are more calories, it isn’t significant and IT’S A GREEN VEGETABLE so I think it’s ok. A good place to look for nutritional values I’ve found is here, especially if you like pretty charts and lots of data!  It was easy to make, not quite as quick as the recipe implies, but still not a lot of effort. I will definitely make it again.

Pictured here is the platter with four servings.

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*the Cooking Light website has all of their recipes stored on the My Recipes database. This does not mean, however, that all the recipes at My Recipes are light. They really, to my great disappointment, are not. Even so, My Recipes has a save feature that is admittedly pretty cool. But, my advice is to either buy the magazine or search on Cooking Light for what you want.

 

Freezing Fresh Basil

Last week I joined several ladies at the church for a “Canning Bee” as we sliced, cooked, squished, and bagged countless apples into over 20 gallons of applesauce. It was all spooned into plastic bags and frozen and it made quite a windfall for the Community Table! While I think it is really great to give food to community organizations that provide meals to those who need some assistance, I also think it’s pretty awesome to give them really GOOD food–good tasting and good for you, too!

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That same day, the woman with the proliferation of apples brought an equally abundant harvest of basil. In fact, it was so much basil that the whole church smelled deliciously of basil even the next day long after the apples were gone.

Ultimately, I was the recipient of the lion’s share of this harvest (two gallon sized bags crammed full!) and was delighted but clueless as to what to do with it all. My hope was to make pesto at some point but that point was not any time soon, so the only option I could come across was freezing.

However, I’ve never frozen basil before. One suggestion I had been given was to place them flat in a ziplock and freeze them that way. Then they could be crushed when frozen and wouldn’t have to be chopped. I was pretty worried that they would turn brown or black if I did that. I did a small sample of leaves in this way and while it was super easy to “chop” them by simply squishing the bag, they did indeed turn quite dark.

Even though I was willing to use a small portion of the enormous bounty of basil for that test, I wasn’t willing to risk it all, so I found a solution on Pinterest. (see my Pinterest page for my boards.) Here’s what I found and it really does a super job and it’s part way towards the pesto I want to make, too, because it involves olive oil.

You will need: fresh basil, olive oil of your choice, some kind of container to freeze it in that is (my suggestion) no larger than a 1 cup size.

Wash the leaves, trimming off any flowers and long stems. Let them air dry on a paper towel or clean dishtowels. This took about 20 min for me and I wasn’t super patient about the drying part! It was really late at night and I’d been chopping and squishing apples all day!

There seem to be several options at this point.

Chopping: fine or coarse. I chose coarse because, as I said, I was tired. Plus, my little tiny food processor would have taken FOREVER to do this much basil–if, of course, I could find the blades!

Containers: some people choose to freeze the basil in ice cube trays. I thought that was a brilliant idea! I didn’t have any, though, and I did have a few of those ziplock type small plastic containers. I think you could use anything you wanted but I’d guess it shouldn’t be more than about a cup size since you’ll have to thaw the whole container when you’re ready to use it.

Pour a layer of olive oil in the bottom of the container and swish it to cover the sides. The OO is what keeps the leaves from turning dark, so you want as much of everything covered as possible. Pack in the leaves, covering with the oil, and stick in the freezer. I did mine in layers since it was a rough chop: put in a bunch of basil, pour in some OO, squish, repeat.

Yummmy! I’m looking forward to making pesto soon!

Creative Impulse

Often, we seem to think that creativity is an uncontrollable impulse. It seems that all kinds of creative endeavors, from photography to painting or fabric arts to sculpture or writing to metalwork, are dependent upon the fickle and capricious appearance of this impulse. It comes and goes as it will and we are at this muse’s whim.

However, this may not be exactly as full an understanding of creativity as we might think. I’m not convinced that we are utterly at the mercy of creativity’s impulsive nature. Ray Bradbury’s book, Zen In the Art of Writing,  gives many good ideas on how to tame the muse or, put another way, find ways to stimulate creativity and not be continually at the mercy of its appearance (or absence).

A recent post on a chainmailing blog I follow has some fantastic ideas as well. Actually, they are ideas that come from some seasoned artists. The post summarizes the various suggestions and recommends some good books to read. It’s an excellent post and well worth the read! And these are good ideas and suggestions whether your vocation includes a creative component or if you need creative sparks in any area of your life.

For me, the very best things that have helped me remain creative personally and professional are simple: write every day even if it is a seemingly uninspiring journal entry, read both fiction and non fiction as much as I can, put intentional focus on the details, patterns, colors, people, animals and natural elements of the world around me, and when I realize I am stuck with a project(which usually occurs about 3 hours into stuck-ness) I get up and do something completely different for a while.

Of course, sometimes creativity simply won’t flow. There’s a reason why people sometimes equate a time when they cannot get moving creatively as dry and desert like. It seems that these times are a little like the times when people come to see me for pastoral care. In a crisis, even a mild one, our vision becomes narrowed. We see fewer options, see less support, help, and connections to our world around us. It is as if we are seeing, thinking and feeling with blinders on.  We remove those, or at least shift them out a bit, when we move out of ourselves and broaden our vision. The same is true for creativity.

Got ways you spark your creativity? I’d love to hear about it!

Oh Savannah

Oh Sa Vannah! Oh don’t you cry for me!

Wait, I think that’s wrong.

Anyhow, photos of the loveliness that is Savanna, GA.  It was very good to go earlier in the spring because it was not so hot you melted into the ground and it wasn’t so humid either. Yet still full of all the pretty!

If you go to Savannah  you cannot avoid all the ghost stories and the fact that everyone insists that where they live or work is the most haunted place in America. So, of course a visit to one of the many historic cemeteries is in order. This bird was on a branch of a tree at the cemetery. The tree itself was nearly dead and covered in Spanish Moss that was a soft, powdery greywhite cloud around the tree. Like a ghost of what was once the green moss virtually dripping with life. What would have been a rather ordinary looking bird in some other context was just so beautiful sitting there. It is, perhaps, my favorite shot of the whole trip.

One of the things Savannah is well known for is all of the beautiful ironwork. You find it everywhere and I must have taken dozens and dozens of photos of ironwork doors, fences, railings and other details.

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Hidden gardens are pretty much everywhere all over the city. Peering over a wall, you can see all kinds of things, even a petrified lion!

And sometimes, gardens escape over the wall and into the alley!

No trip to the city is complete without a visit to the big fountain in Forsythe Park. I am amazed that I was able to get this shot without people in the background because this is a major congregating place for people, both locals and tourists.

I love trees and Savannah is full of them!

This was a particularly unusual tree. I have no idea what kind it is but it looked like one of those statues that has been carved with drapey fabric. It was very strange!

And the big bridge! With a storm right behind it. So it was time to go home. Farewell Savannah! Until we meet again.