Verses to Remember

From birth I have relied on you; You brought me forth from my mother's womb. I will ever praise you.

Psalm 71:6

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pasta-Making Adventure

A couple of weeks ago my MIL and I decided that we would take on the challenge of making homemade pasta, something neither of us had done before. She had found a delicious-sounding recipe, and being inspired by it she researched and found a great deal for a pasta-roller. Once it arrived, we gathered the ingredients and went to work on (attempting) to create
a delicious dinner of homemade
cheese ravioli with mushroom sauce.

I wasn't able to take pictures while we were working (It was just too difficult to try to document at the same time! My brain was already stretched to capacity!), but I found some images that do a great job of depicting the
pasta-making process we endured.

We started with some of this:

which is flour, eggs, salt and evoo (extra-virgin olive oil for those of you who aren't aware of Rachael Ray's now infamous abbreviations!). You mound the flour into a big circle with a hole (or well) in the center. You crack the eggs into the well, add the salt and oil, and then attempt to beat the eggs without incorporating the flour. Yet

After the eggs are beaten, you slowly add the flour in,

trying to create a mixture that gets progressively thicker, with the goal of incorporating the flour in such a way that once the rim is broken, the mixture is thick enough that it will not slip through the now-breached border and run down the counter and onto the floor.
It took us a while, but we were able to accomplish this:
It took us a while but we were just happy
not to end up with egg on the floor (or on our face...hee hee).
After working and kneading the dough ball for, oh, about 20 minutes, or until our arms felt like rubber, we wrapped it in saran wrap and let it rest for an hour.

We thought it might also be good if we took that opportunity to rest ourselves :)
It was at this point in the process that we decided it would go more smoothly with a whole bunch of this:
Mmmm, coffee!! And not just any coffee, but delicious homemade illy brand espresso added to perfectly frothed milk (all made possible by Bonnie's Christmas present of a delightful new Breville espresso maker...seriously, the thing coffee dreams are made of!), creating a
completely delightful and perfect cappuccino. Yum!

If you are wondering what had exhausted us to the point that we needed to rest right along with the dough, that would be the large amount of kneading needed. It was not a pretty thing to watch, nor was it our favorite step. We had to switch back and forth for the kneading a few times-- pasta dough is t.o.u.g.h. at this stage, and kneading it for more than 5 minutes at a time would require much stronger arms than we apparently had...whew!

We did rationalize, however, that the work we were putting into this dough completely justified the delicious high-calorie, cheesy, carb-loaded meal we would (hopefully) be consuming in just a few hours!

After we had sufficiently rested our arms and the pasta, we cut the dough into 4 pieces, took one and rolled it slightly so that it would fit more easily into the pasta roller.
We were surprised and very pleased to find that the dough had softened up significantly during its rest, because neither of us were looking forward to working with, or, frankly, eating, dough that was as tough as quick-drying cement.
We then fed it into the newly-acquired pasta roller,

for it's virgin voyage.
And while I'd love to tell you it looked like this right from the beginning:

(Doesn't that baby look happy?! I would, too, with yards of pasta dangling over me!)
In truth, it actually looked more like this. . .
This process took us a while to master, and our first few attempts left us with lumpy pasta with uneven, curly edges, and a large rounded crescent shape

instead of the long, smooth rectangle they showed (flaunted) in the recipe.
However after the first 2 or 3 runs, we finally created something that looked a bit more like this:
We did learn a few things about the art of pasta rolling, however, that I will pass on to you. First is that you have to be skilled/experienced/have 3 hands if you are going to attempt to do it by yourself. We thought it worked very well to have one person feeding the thicker dough in from the top, and catching the thinned out dough from the bottom, while the other person turned the crank, while trying to keep the crank itself from falling out and smashing unsuspecting feet.

Our recipe said to continue passing the dough through the increasingly thinner settings of the pasta roller, until you reach the second-thinnest setting. For our machine, that meant starting at setting #1 and continuing to setting #8. Which is not only a lot of passes through the machine, but also results in a v-e-r-y thin ribbon of dough, hard to handle, quick to dry out and easy to tear.

After processing all our dough to this level of thickness (or thin-ness), we decided that next time we'd stop at level 6 or 7 in order to have dough that is easier to work with. Nevertheless, we covered all but two sheets of our pasta with damp towels, and began to squeeze the chilled filling (a delightful mixture of ricotta, eggs, parsley and 2 kinds of cheeses) onto the sheets:

This was by far the most time-consuming of the stages , and we would have given anything to have one of these:
or even one of these:
If we had one of these tools, it would have made our lives easier, the filling step much quicker, and our finished ravioli might have looked like this:
instead of this:

The important thing, however, is not how it looks, but how it tastes, and we were certain that our lumpy, torn, misshapen raviolis would taste just as good as the pretty, uniform type. One upside to the good, old-fashioned way we filled our ravioli was that we ended up with lots of scraps of dough... which may or may not have been eaten by the cooks as a (we felt) well-deserved appetizer! :)

To complete our process, we whipped up a delightful sauce of pancetta (a cured ham like
bacon but not smoked), three types of mushrooms:

chicken stock, cream and green onions.
We boiled our ravioli, piled them into a serving dish, poured the wonderfully rich sauce over top, called our men to the table,

and devoured it!
(*Happy sigh just remembering the deliciousness...*)

Not only was the ravioli perfectly cooked, and the sauce to-die-for, we felt very proud to be eating such a luxurious dish that we made entirely from scratch!
It's true it was a lot of work, and it's also true that we decided that next time we might just add all of the ingredients to a layered lasagna-type dish to avoid the most time-consuming part of stuffing the raviolis, BUT the end result was most satisfying!

I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures in pasta-land, and that it didn't scare you off but rather encouraged you to try some culinary adventure of your own! I'd love to hear what you are dying to make, and how it turns out!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The power in praise!

*Okay so this post is kinda long, but I kept finding more things to add/share with you! I hope you guys enjoy it in spite of the length!*

Lately I've been reading a new devotional, called One Minute of Praise. It has a scripture for each day, a short story from the author's life, tied into her own journey of learning to praise God throughout life's circumstances, and then ends with a prayer and journaling section to help you praise God "for one minute a day."

When I first started reading it, I thought it was a one-minute devotional, and that that might be a good thing for me :) I've been trying to find something I can do consistently to get my thoughts centered and start my day with the right priorities and perspective. So far I've found that when I do this shortly after I get up my entire day seems to go so much more smoothly, I'm able to better handle normal ups and downs, and the entire day turns into one big conversation with the Lord, rather than just a few short prayers here and there.

Turns out this book is not only a really good way to get myself in the right frame of mind, it also has been teaching me a lot about the power that exists in praising God.

You are probably familiar with the scripture that "God inhabits the praises of His people," but if you were like me, you didn't really know what that meant. How can God inhabit, or dwell in, our praises?

As the author Darlene McCarty explains, "Praise is something He can work with. Praise gives Him something to inhabit in order to change a situation... Praise releases the very presence of God Himself. When the presence of God comes to dwell with me, my enemies have to retreat. Every weak area in my life had to flee when it was faced with my joy-lifted praise."

Psalm 8:2 says "You have taught children and nursing infants to give you praise. They silence your enemies..." Darlene quotes a translation that translates the same verse as, "When the saints of God praise God, the devil has no voice." I love that!

She then begins talking about how praise is the key to victory in our lives. She says, "The most powerful tool that I have, though, is praise. My Heavenly Father walks with me, talks to me, encourages me, tells me I can make it, and promises me He will never leave me--and He has kept His word."

Since I have started reading this book and applying the principles it talks about (praising God everyday, no matter how I'm feeling or what my circumstances are; praising God for even just one minute straight, without any requests or complaints, only praising and giving glory to Him), I have noticed a definite change in my attitude and my outlook. It is much easier to see the positive in things, and even to see the silver lining around what previously only looked like storm clouds. I began with only a minute of praise at a time, and now I find myself spontaneously praising God many times throughout the day. It is a great way to put an end to a bad mood!

One of the biggest changes I've noticed that has really affected how I pray is that instead of telling God what I see as problems in my life and asking God for things, I find myself praising and thanking God for bringing about a positive outcome, in ways I have not yet seen. This helps me to believe that God does do what he said he will do, that he will work all things together for good, and it helps me to believe that through him I will have victory.

Praying in this way has increased my faith and helped me to stay positive rather than dwelling on the what-if's. I hope that you will try some of the ideas from this book. Praising God is a powerful way to invite God into your circumstances, to gain a more positive outlook and be able to see past the obstacles to the victory that is waiting.

If you do challenge yourself to praise God everyday, to thank him for what he is doing and will do in your life, you will notice a change! And I would love to hear about it!! I'll leave you with this final encouragement:

"The next time the devil tries to brainwash you with failure, turn him back with your powerful weapon of praise. Lift your voice, your hands, and your heart to God and shout your praise until it lifts the roof. Your willpower will strengthen, your decision-making will improve, and your self-worth will return. You will be so proud of yourself because you have become an overcomer!"

Take care!

Friday, February 19, 2010

TGI Friday!

And what a Friday it is--not only do we have beautiful sunshine and blue skies, but the entire weekend ahead of us is supposed to be just as nice. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do- such a nice and welcome break from the typical rainy Oregon February!

Today I am going to take a page from my friend Patti's book and give you TGIFriday.

Trusting-that God has a plan for our family and that it will begin in His timing! It's hard not to get excited and rush now that we're ready to get started, but I know that it will happen at the right time, and that it will be so much better than if I tried to rush ahead of God.

Grateful-for the beatiful weather and sunshine!! Also grateful for the time I got to spend with my new little buddy Emersyn this week--she is such a sweetie. I'm in love :)

Inspired-to get my house in order! I've been meaning to paint and reinstall our trim for a while now, and I'm also going to update the paint in a few rooms that have been neglected since we moved in. Don't know if it's spring cleaning or what, but I'm excited to get going on it! Before and after pics to come!

Favorite-dish is still cottage cheese & canned pineapple. Much to my husbands chagrin (he does NOT mix sweet & savory!) I'm still completely addicted to this treat. It's so refreshing, creamy, and really not such a bad vice to have!

Random- I'm learning how to use my new-to-me breadmaker and the results of late have not been spectacular. I'm blaming the failures on bad yeast (didn't rise, rose too quickly & then fell...) but the pressure I'm putting on myself to make a successful loaf is definitely rising! If I can't pull this off soon, I may have to turn in my title as a good baker. Let's hope it doesn't get that serious. Any & all suggestions are welcome!

Interested- in the Olympics. I love the skiing, skating & snowboarding, but I really love hearing all the come-from-behind stories from the different competitors. I was thrilled when injured Lindsay Vonn won gold in downhill skiing, as well as for speed skater J.R. Celski who took bronze after suffering a horrible crash when he sliced his thigh open at qualifiers in September. I just love happy endings!

Dreaming-of catching skunks! Unusual, I know, but right now I'd do pretty much anything to get them to move out of our crawlspace. So far the only thing we've caught in our live traps is... a big black cat. Boy was he mad! Better luck next time?!

Admiring-the roses my sweet hub bought me for Valentine's Day! They are GORGEOUS, yellow with red tips, and they are still going strong. I re-arranged them into 3 separate vases (well actually 2 vases full of the roses, and the third with the filler flowers--bright lime green & bright purple--fun, but not so much with the yellow/orange roses!) and they look -and smell- so wonderful. I love having fresh flowers in every room!

Yay-My little nephews are coming to spend almost a week with my parents, and I can't wait to see them!! They live in CA so I don't get to spend nearly as much time with them as I'd like. 2 year old Caden (from Tickle Tuesday!) and his little (by age only!) brother Lincoln are SO much fun to hang around, and we get to play with them while their parents are taking a much deserved trip to Hawaii.

Happy FRIDAY to you, too!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tickle Tuesday!

This is my nephew Caden. He's two.
He really likes to be tickled.
Especially on his feeties :)
Hope this makes you smile.

Happy Tuesday from Julia & Caden!
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Saturday, February 6, 2010

So now I know.

**As a favor to my male readers, since there's so many of you :) I'd like to warn you that this might be one post you'd like to skip, or just scan for the highlights. That is because I am going to be talking about "girl-things"- most of which you probably won't appreciate since you are, of course, not girls. (Yes, Sweetie, you can skip it too! :) Of course if you do choose to read it, that's wonderful and I'm happy to have you. Just don't say I didn't warn ya!**

Alrighty then.

Now that I feel I've been fair to the two or three men who might actually read my blog (and that's including my wonderful hubs and my dear old dad), I can get down to business. The reason I have not written anything for over a week now is that I have been prepping for, and then hosting, a visit from a long-awaited friend.

Well, maybe friend isn't the right word... and while long-awaited (which in case you are wondering, means to "wait with expectation") is technically accurate, the word dread (meaning to "anticipate with horror") might be a more accurate description. Yes, if you haven't guessed it by now, I'm talking about Flo. The once-monthly "friend" that all us humans blessed with ovaries "await." Or "dread."

It doesn't really matter how we feel about her, she's going to come whenever she darn well pleases. And not only is her timing often, shall we say, inconvenient, she of course brings along all of her baggage; including shortened fuses, water-retention, muscle-spasms, hyper-sensitivity and the most fun of all, hormonally-charged mood swings. I do believe that most, if not all of the fairer sex's bad press has been due to this little visitor. If it wasn't for her and her "gifts," women would not get the bad rap that we do!

And even though she makes us uncomfortable, irritable, weepy and irrational, there are still times when we're happy to see that's she's finally arrived... in town. This is what has happened in my house this week.

Now let me give some background. I am currently 29 years old. When I was 17 I began having horrible headaches. They started becoming more and more frequent, made me miss a lot of school, and eventually I had a headache all the time. I started seeing lots of doctors who tried lots of treatments, and lots of medications. One of the treatments was to put me on birth control pills to try to regulate my hormones. This seemed to help a small amount, so I stayed on them.

Off I went to college, still fighting the headaches and still on the birth control pills. At the end of my sophomore year I started having stomach cramps, which quickly progressed to severe abdominal cramping and spasms. Off I went to the ER where they suspected appendicitis but soon found a grapefruit-sized cyst (mass) in one of my ovaries. Off to surgery, where they discovered that the cyst was a borderline ovarian cancer growth in my right ovary.

Not what I was hoping for. However, the doctor on call in the ER that night for gynecology turned out to be an amazing woman and an amazing surgeon and she was able to remove the cyst from the ovary, whole, as well as leave the ovary itself in tact.

This was remarkable because 1. most surgeons would simply remove the ovary as well as the cyst in order to be safe and be sure of getting all the cancer, and 2. removing the cyst in tact prevented the cancer cells from being able to spread, which saved me from having to do further treatment such as radiation or chemo. All in favor, say aye!

So I did not have to have any further cancer treatment, but to prevent me from forming another cyst, they immediately recommended I be put on birth control pills. Since I was already on them, they played around with dosing and options and told me to not stop taking them for any reason other than actively trying to start our family (after which they told me I'd need to have a total hysterectomy). There is much more to this story, including another cyst removal 5 years later, but suffice it to say I have been on birth control pills ever since.

However birth control pills have this funny way of also preventing... birth. Or, more specifically, pregnancy. And since my husband and I have decided we want to try to get pregnant, being on the pill would definitely need to change! So I met with my Ob-Gyn and stopped taking it at the first of this year. Because I'd been on it for so long, I really did not know how stopping it was going to affect me. When you have been on birth control pills for more than a few years, it can take quite a while for your body to regulate itself into having a normal cycle again once you stop taking them.

Suffice it to say, Flo's vacation plans can get pretty messed up!

And of course when you are on the pill for reasons other than preventing pregnancy, you have those factors to deal with as well when you do stop taking it. In my case that meant that I had no idea what effect stopping it would have on my headaches, the formation of cysts, or having a regular cycle. Because of all these unknowns, I have been carefully watching to see how my body will react to the new hormone-free me. And I certainly learned a few things!

My headaches were pretty normal for the first 2-3 weeks after quitting the pill, but after that I started noticing that I was having more painful and more consistent headaches... day after day. They continued to worsen until I started to wonder if this was how my life was going to be now that I was off the pill. Needless to say I was not really thrilled with that idea.

Then, one day last week I woke up and realized that my headache was not nearly as intense as it was when I went to bed. And, as my husband and mother had been predicting (hmmm wonder how they knew?!), I began to wonder if the change might mean I was about to receive a visit. Sure enough, by lunchtime, my visitor had arrived; and this was one time I was actually happy to host her.

Not only was this good news because it meant my worsening headaches were a temporary thing, it was also good because a regular cycle is one of the first steps to accurately predicting and recognizing ovulation, which makes things a lot easier when you are trying to conceive!

So now I know what I can expect, and how my body is reacting to the new system. It may not be the most fun of changes, but at least I know. And now you, my faithful readers, also know what to expect; in that if you don't hear from me for a few days, or my musings seem particularly cynical or cryptic... I am probably experiencing my new tell-tale warning system, letting me know that a particular friend is going to come calling.

It's really too bad she couldn't just call.