Latest Posts

Summer Passport for Kids

A little off my normal topics and I have been woefully absent on this site in quite some time, but here is a little something this busy mama has been working on.

Here it is! My kids Summer Passport! Summer is always a tricky time for routines, chores, and overall family happiness. I am trying this out this year to see if maybe it will help us all stay on track and survive the summer as a mostly happy family!

Feel free to print and adapt. No need to credit. Just a project for my own kids I thought might be helpful. Instructions are on the last page of the document. I apologize that I could not get the PDF to format to a 4×6 size. If anyone would like me to make a send a version

Summer Passport PDF

Summer Passport Word Document

Summer blessings to all my fellow crazy mamas and daddies out there!

Restaurant Redux: Cheesecake Factory Southern Fried Chicken Salad

Years ago, I lived in Southern California when a restaurant called “The Cheesecake Factory” was on the rise. Don’t get me wrong, I have a love of all things cheesecake, but the meal that kept bringing me back was their Southern Fried Chicken Salad. They have long removed it from their menu (I won’t tell you how long so as to protect my delicate ego), but I’ve recreated the recipe for use in my own home. While I love all things decadent about this salad, it is easily adapted to a healthier version. This is a great recipe for the middle of summer when fresh market produce abounds.

The last time I ate this salad in the restaurant was on a trip back when I was in college. At that time, a very holy woman gave me some great advice. She said, “When you are in school, I pay. When you start working, we split the bill. When I retire, you pick up the tab.” It was a beautiful and graceful statement of community and generosity.

Southern Fried Chicken Salad

  • 4-5 chicken fingers (frozen and cooked or cooked from the deli – grilled is also an option), sliced
  • 2-3 ears of corn, stripped (or a can of corn)
  • 1/4 red onion, minced
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1  bag shredded romaine or chopped romaine hearts
  • Candied pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • Ranch dressing

Mix all ingredients but chicken, romaine, nuts and dressing. Pour mixture over top of shredded lettuce. Top with chicken and pecans, then dressing.

Homemade Spicy Ranch Dressing

  • 1 tbsp. dried Ranch mix
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk (I’ve also used thinned out plain yogurt)
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for 1 hour before serving.

Heritage Road, Installment Two: My Love Affair with Peaches

This is a nostalgia post. This time of year always brings me back to my days in Southern California because fresh fruit is ALWAYS in season there and it’s ONLY in season here in Wisconsin during the luscious summer months. Peaches – glorious, beautiful, fresh peaches that fall away from their pits. Is there anything like them?

Peaches are my romantic food. I’m not sure where it started, but there is something so simple and sweet about a sliced peach. I can eat them halved, grilled, pureed, baked, doesn’t matter. However, my favorite way to eat fresh peaches is in my mother’s fresh peach pie. Sweet, nectar-y peaches drenched in a peach gelatin balanced by a silky, slightly tart sour cream topping.

The sour cream topping is the stuff of my dreams. If I had a last meal, it would include this topping, possibly straight from the bowl. I love this stuff so much the following conversation actually occurred between my sister and I (don’t worry, my sister is a hospice nurse)…

sour-cream

At some point in my youthful, fancy-free days of high school, I started eating scrambled eggs and cheese with a slice of peach pie for breakfast. I would sit out on the back patio in the sunshine, surrounded by the intoxicating smell of my mom’s rose bushes and eat my breakfast. There was something so complementary and so simple about this combination. It became the breakfast I hoped my future spouse would eat with me and I dreamed of adding a mimosa! It seemed like an easy breakfast in bed. I only had one serious relationship before my husband, but I was sure to share this “dream” with any potential love interests.

The funny thing is, my husband has never eaten this meal with me! He would, I suppose, but he hasn’t. I’ve never served scrambled eggs and peach pie to him. I’m not even sure I’ve ever shared the specifics of that dream with him. I didn’t have to.

That is what happens when we are given real love. That is what happens when you marry the person God intends for you, at whatever stage of life you find yourself. Real life becomes your fairy tale and God gives you dreams that are so much bigger than your childhood romanticism.

My Real-life Fairy Tale includes:

  • Homemade corned beef hash and runny eggs for breakfast
  • Take-out Chinese/Thai food and Food Network dates on Sunday nights
  • Perfectly grilled steaks following my tired, anemic, feminine days of the month. (Grilled by the hubby as I have refused to ever learn to grill as advised by my grandmother when she said, “Never learn to do something you don’t want to find yourself doing)always.”)

I’ll never lose my dream of peach pie and scrambled eggs. It will always be pleasing to my stomach and delighting to my heart. But I will live my real-life fairy tale to the fullest, grateful for every second I get to spend co-creating my marriage and my life with my wonderful husband and my God.

Bearing Our Brokenness into the World

I have been praying hard lately. I mean, prayer is always a part of my life, but I feel like my prayer time the last week has really distracted me from my daily work. I’m not sure I’m very comfortable with that, but considering I’m always feeling guilty that daily life is distracting me from God, I’ve decided to give into the “temptation” to pray too much.

I’ll tell you, it’s been powerful.

I haven’t slept in three nights. Well, maybe about three hours a night, but compared to my normal eight, that’s worth considering. In those dark hours, I have felt God calling me into prayer – a gentle but compelling ache for peace.

My prayers have been about brokenness – mine, others’, and the brokenness we witness on the cross. God, in his yet to be understood wisdom, gave me the gift of empathy. As such, my heart aches and bursts with those around me. Not just for them, but with them, all the time. It’s exhausting!

Lord, I so desperately want to heal all the brokenness I witness around me!

But I can’t. Damn it all, I can’t! I can’t fix the world. I can only love the world and try to lead it to the One who can fix all the brokenness.

God loved us into creation, perfect in His image.

Then Jesus, our Savior, takes all the brokenness our free-will creates, past, present and future – the sin, the hurt, the blame, the guilt, the regrets – and holds them to the Cross. He bears them on his shoulders in his own sinLESSness!

Like Jesus’ side or the shroud in the temple, this is the moment in our brokenness when we mere humans feel torn open. It’s painful. We learn that sin and heartbreak can make our hearts physically ache, sometimes all the way down to our fingertips and toes.

Yet, even as Jesus breathes his last, his loving, battered arms are outstretched to embrace us: to gather our broken hearts to him, to draw together the ragged edges of our wounds, to comfort us in our sorrow, our loss, our fear, and our confusion. Not only that, but his arms are open for those we’ve wounded and those have wounded us that we might all gather at his feet and cry for our broken world.

But the story does not end there. The grieving, the tears and the darkness of our brokenness has to be endured, walked through, and embraced. There is no going around it. It’s going to hurt. And as we wait, weary and teary, Jesus descends to hell, to face the cavernous blackness our sin creates. He pays our ransom to Satan. But then…

Easter Sunday.

Jesus exits the tomb, brought back to life through the only Love that can heal brokenness. In the tomb where there was only darkness behind the stone, there is now light. Where there was death, there is now life. And for each of us, where there was brokenness, our wounds now bear the healing love of God.

And yet, even resurrected from death, Jesus is changed. He still bears the wounds, ragged and visceral, there for Thomas to touch and believe. We can point at the cross and say,

“That is how much we are loved.”

We too, still bear our wounds. But now, forgiven, our wounds are a place for healing to happen and a place through which God’s merciful healing can flow. Our brokenness is now a place where we can authentically meet and understand others. Our wounds now give us something to point to and say,

“These are how I know how deeply I am loved!”

And if we have any doubts left that God isn’t finished yet, the disciples gather in the upper room 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. They have talked with him, touched his wounds, broken bread with him and still they are anxious, self-conscious, fearful. Sound familiar? We go to Mass, receive Jesus’ very body and blood, and hear his promises every Sunday and still, we are stressed, worried, and self-conscious.

And that is when God sends the Spirit. The Spirit literally descends on them, and us, to give gifts of wisdom, counsel, courage, fortitude, temperance, perseverance, love – all the things we so desperately need to keep trying! The Spirit gives us the tools to claim our brokenness through Christ and tell the rest of the world,

“God loves you this much too!”

——————

I don’t have a unique food connection for this post. I suppose I could give you some recipe with a graham cracker crust or a lesson on the nourishing power of a seed, broken open, but this is so much more. This is the Spirit’s culmination of a week’s worth of prayer and sacrifice, which I couldn’t have planned if I tried.

I’ve included below a few links to resources on brokenness and healing that I have found helpful.

  • A keynote from the 2015 World meeting of families given by Cardinal Tagle of the Philipines titled’ “Family: A Home for the Wounded Heart”
  • A letter written by a young woman to herself when she was experiencing the most painful broken heart of her life. It reminds us that even when we can’t speak, eat, sleep or pray, we can simply cling to Jesus. You have to sign up for her emails, but it’s well worth it and she doesn’t send many.
  • This song, sung by Chelsea Moon, is a reflective reminder that Jesus’ wounds already paid our ransom and healed our brokenness. ALL of it.
  • Last but not least, go forth with confidence that God will make you brave!

Remember, you are loved.

 

Earl Grey Tea and the London Fog

Age brings perspective. Sounds simple, doesn't it? The more time you have to look at, the more insight there is to glean.

And yet, we find ourselves discounting our age. We find ourselves discounting our appearances. We find ourselves looking for youth. I'll admit it – even though I've earned my tiger stripes and my laugh lines, I still try to find ways to disguise them. I was just telling a friend about how much I love sunny days because sunglasses are the best accessory for a busy mom – hides a myriad of sins and sleepless nights as well as making even the messiest hair look simply “beach-tousled! While I'm not ready to give up my favorite shades yet, it made me stop to think, who am I hiding from?

Certainly not my husband – he has seen it all and if I'm trying to attract his eyes and heart I'll actually put on makeup and a pretty smile.

Certainly not God – if we believe we can hide from God, we need only turn back to scripture. God knows all of the good, the bad and the ugly without us even having to admit it.

“Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I go down to the depths, you are there too. If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand holds me fast.” Psalm 139

Certainly not other women – I mean, yes, I like to run the race and feel put together amongst my fellow moms and wives, but if I'm fair I know we've all been there. The temptation to act like we haven't been there or we have it all under control is there, but we aren't actually hiding it from anyone who has been in the trenches before.

Perhaps I'm hiding from myself.

How does tea fit into this little life lesson? Well, it's like this. A cup of tea is a place to find myself.

I was an avid coffee drinker. I adore coffee. I spent the last 15 years of my life surviving by its magical bean powers. The only way I don't drink coffee is black. Just the smell of coffee would boost my mood – still does.

I started weaning off of coffee during my pregnancies and while I was nursing. Weaning as in one cup a day. After my third was born I faced some serious issues with post-partum depression. As I though it was mostly life-circumstances and fatigue, we started by making life changes including cutting back on caffeine. Then I started getting migraines. Two in the span of as many weeks. The only change we could pinpoint was a new brand of organic coffee. Suffice it to say, that stopped my habit fast. I had a choice to make: go out and buy a new variety of coffee to get my fix or pull myself away from the crutch. I chose the latter.

By now, if you've read my posts, you know that I don't write them to challenge anyone's way of life. I do so to share a witness of how God has challenged me in hopes that it inspires others to seek the Spirit more fully in their own lives. The process of giving up coffee has moved my spirit in so many ways and I want to share them.

1. I share and teach on the importance of being free. God gave us free-will, but we are only free when we make choices that truly free us. Any choice can enslave us if we don't direct it towards God. For me, coffee kept me from having to face my morning demons and allowed me to ignore the messages my body was sending me to make changes that made me less exhausted. Giving coffee up made me more myself. It let me hear God more clearly.

2. In beating back my coffee addiction, I learned that I'm a lot stronger than I think I am. And when I'm not feeling strong, I need to fill myself with more God, not more caffeine.

3. I developed a tea habit. Now, some may say that I just replaced one habit with another, but for me, tea is a much healthier habit. First, not all my tea is caffeinated. And tea, by it's nature, is a much slower, more reflective process. I have to take time to brew and prepare my tea and in that time I have chosen to take time to reflect on myself. Who am I in that moment? Where is God present to me in that moment? Where have I forgotten God's immense providence? My cup of tea is where I find myself and center Jesus more fully in my heart.

A few years back a friend introduced me to Harrod's No. 42 Earl Grey from the famous department store in London. It has since become my tea staple as I haven't found an Earl Grey that compares. I have put my own spin on it with the following recipe. It is known to many as a London Fog Latte.

London Fog Latte

1 mug of freshly brewed Earl Grey tea

A spoonful or two of your favorite sweetener – I prefer honey or agave

A few drops of vanilla extract

A generous splash of your favorite milk (dairy and I don't get along on account of my asthma so I stick with coconut milk!) If you have the ability to steam your milk for a bit of froth, it's even more decadent.

Combine, stir, and enjoy.

You can always pour this over ice or consider this recipe for a blended version!

And a bonus image: my sweet girl all dolled up for her first tea party! Pearls and curls…can't possibly love her more.

 

The Power of Poutine

So long since I've posted here…what a shame! I've been busy in the kitchen, busy on the event circuit and oh so busy with family life! Stay tuned though because I have a whole line-up of wonderful posts coming!

Today I want to share with you a story about the power of poutine. Poutine is a Quebecquoise peasant food. Essentially it is potatoes and fresh cheese curds smothered with gravy. It is the perfect food for a hungry farmer (or a late night drinker) and it's been adopted by many pubs and restaurants around the world. Kevin and I first had poutine on our honeymoon in Quebec province. We were tucked away in the Laurentide mountains and stumbled upon a sports bar after a visit to the relics of St. Anne de Beaupre – what a treat that our first experience was an authentic one!

Today's poutine story however, started with one of many business trips Kevin took to Madison, WIsconsin. We learned very early in our marriage that if we were committed to being open to married and family life, we would have to get creative with our travel plans. I often accompany Kevin on his business trips in order to make best use of our time and resources and Madison is a common place for him to travel as a staff member in the University of Wisconsin system. On this particular trip, I did not accompany him because our kids were in school and I had other commitments to attend.

When we travel I am a bit of a rut-runner. I find something I like and I stick to it. So, when Kevin travels without me he like to “spelunk” as he calls it, or wander a bit more – he is much more adventurous than this introvert. On this particular trip he was gone for more than four days and had a great deal of time to explore. On one of his stops he discovered the Vladimir Poutine. Who can't resist such an awesome name? Immediately, he decided that he had to plan a trip when I could try it. Amazing, no?

That brings us to this weekend. My hubby coordinated a whirlwind overnight trip for him and me while he presented at a conference. We spent Sunday night in an old-fashioned walking date that ended, drum roll please…at HopCat for Vladimir Poutine!

Beer battered and broiled fries, topped with stout-braised onions, applewood-smoked bacon, scallions, cheese curds, potato and cheese pierogies, and smothered with sour cream stroganoff gravy. It will be a plate I will dream of. Complement that dish with a lovely blood orange kombucha ale with Citra hops from Ipsilanti, Mivhigan and my life was complete.

Friends, it doesn't take much. This simple dish drew me back to younger years, simpler years, when my hubby and I only had eyes and thoughts for each other. It wasn't fancy or expensive. It wasn't extra work. It was the thought and appreciation of the other. It was a pure willing of the good of another – it was agapic – love like only God can love.

That was the power of a simple plate of peasant poutine.

 

Arroz con Leche – Rice Pudding, Slow Cooker Style

I promised the lovely women at my most recent event that would post the recipe for my rice pudding. I triple this recipe to make a large batch of rice pudding, but a single batch can be made in a small crockpot. No eggs, no condensed milk, just good, creamy loveliness for all members of the family any time of day.

Ingredients
1 cup rice (about 7 ounces or 210 grams), short to medium grain
6 cups whole milk (1 or 2% work fine too)
3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
Pinch of salt
1 cinnamon stick and 1 whole star anise (or your favorite spices!)
Zest of one orange and or lemon
1/3 cup brown sugar, sucanat, or honey
½ teaspoon vanilla
Optional garnishes:
Ground cinnamon, chocolate shavings, dulce de leche, fresh berries
Instructions
Put the milk and cream in a small slow cooker with the sweetener, orange peel, cinnamon stick, and pinch of salt. Cook on low for 2-4 hours. Stir occasionally, increase frequency of stirring as the cooking time increases. Turn off the heat before the mixture gets thick as it will thicken as it cools.
Remove the cinnamon sticks and star anise from the rice and stir in the butter.
The rice pudding or arroz con leche can be served warm or cold. Garnish with ground cinnamon, berries, dulce de leche, chocolate shavings, etc.

Upcoming Meals, Mass and Mystics Events

Wondering about the next “Meals, Mass and Mystics” event and when you can purchase a signed copy of the cookbook? Excited to learn more about the Spanish mystics and have some lovely tapas? Here are the upcoming dates!

“Combine a love of cooking with insights from the lives of the saints and the mystics, who see God present and working in the world, even in the preparing and eating of food! This program for women will encourage you to reflect on how Jesus provides everlasting sustenance for the world and to look at the Mass in a renewed way. Be filled bodily and spiritually.”

October 3, 2015 – Sacred Heart Parish, Appleton, 9a-12p
October 31, 2015 – St. John Nepomucene, Little Chute, 9a-12p
November 7, 2015 – St. Anne Parish, Francis Creek, 9a-12p
February 20, 2016 – St. Francis Parish, De Pere, 9a-12p
April 9, 2016 – St. Bernard, Green Bay, 9a-12p

And don’t forget the 5th Annual Girlfriends in God event on December 12, 2015 “Joy in the Journey”!

For any of these great events, contact Maria Garcia (920) 272-8276 or mgarcia@gbdioc.org to register!

Inviting Our Children Into the Kitchen

I dedicate this post to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, wife, mother, and doctor. St. Gianna is a modern-day saint, familiar with the challenges of modern life and she was a champion of the unborn to the point of sacrificing her own life. She once said, “Look at the mothers who truly love their children: how many sacrifices they make for them. They are ready for everything, even to give their own blood so that their babies grow up good, healthy and strong”.

St. Gianna was a mother of 4. There is no doubt in my mind that this woman knew the challenges of raising children and providing a happy, healthy home. That being said, she loved her children and honored their lives. She died one week after her fourth child was born because she refused to abort her child in order to be fully treated for uterine tumors. She agreed to surgery, but surgery wasn’t going to be enough to save her life. However, it was enough to protect the life of her unborn child.

How do we honor our children in daily life? Do we look at our beautiful gifts and see them as an opportunity to grow God’s kingdom? Do we see in them the potential for greater love, greater wisdom, and greater joy than what we ourselves experience?

I know that I miss this ever-present potential on a regular basis. It tends to get overlooked amidst the daily grind. However, one of the wonderful things about cooking and eating are their unifying power. Cooking and eating together bring us face to face with one another and gives us a common language to speak – flavors, colors, textures, likes, dislikes. These are keys to seeing the beauty and depth of our children’s souls.

There are a few easy ways to include your children in your everyday cooking endeavors safely and with minimal extra work or mess.

  • If you prepare a weekly menu, ask them to suggest a meal or dish.
  • Invite them to smell ingredients and dishes as they are being prepared.
  • Invite them to mix bowls of ingredients after you’ve already gotten the mixture going.
  • Invite them to taste individual ingredients – perhaps even consider letting them taste and make choices between two good options for ingredients like vegetables or herbs.
  • Ask for their help with finishing touches like herbs, cheese, and other garnishes.
  • Invite your child to pray the Our Father with you while washing your hands.
  • My daughter’s favorite thing to do in the kitchen is when I give her small ball of dough – cookie, bread, or pasta – that she can play with. I lose one serving and gain a very happy kid!

Jesus left us a meal because we remember the sights, smells, and tastes of food and we associate lessons and memories with them. As St. Gianna said, “Our body is a cenacle, a monstrance: through its crystal the world should see God”.

Even in the busy moments, let your children in. Keep your temple, your mind and your body, healthy so that they may see God through you.