A Rant, Because We Weep

The shootings are incredibly tragic and everyone is seeking answers. I am weeping as I type this. We weep and we rant and we close our eyes to so much and put our faith in what we hear on the news. Seriously? (Warning: rant follows.)

As a society, we are interpersonally disconnected and profoundly media/internet influenced (dare I say brainwashed?) We all say, “Don’t believe everything you hear on the internet and TV” but many believe with no one in their sphere of influence to provide the voice of reason. It disturbs me no end that I do not see the mainstream media taking responsibility for their part in perpetuating the problem. Media sensationalism, media contagion theory, perpetuating racial/religious/political hostility, romanticizing/glorifying violence in films and shows — all of these have a huge impact on the emotionally and psychologically impaired and especially on our media-driven youth culture.

The media says, “Nothing to see here! Lookee over there, everybody! Focus on guns!” But it’s not the guns or the knives, or the molotov cocktails, or even the drugs. It’s the REASONS behind the misuse of those things. It’s people with mental and emotional health issues not being recognized, not getting help, not knowing where to turn (but thinking they do) because no one in their lives is willing to express opinions not embraced by popular culture, including the “You do you” attitude that unquestioningly says, “Whatever you believe is ok”. Equally disturbed people on the internet and in the media intentionally or inadvertently encourage the flawed belief structure that promotes violent behavior. How blessed are those of us with someone in our lives politically incorrect enough to say, “That’s crap, don’t listen to that” because a lot of people obviously don’t have that. Focusing entirely on gun control is like putting a bandage on metastasized cancer. Focus on what is being constantly streamed, uncontradicted, to the youth and troubled of society by the media and to some extent (tragically) our educational system that continues to compel teachers to alter their lesson planning to conform to media-driven culture.

And pray. Just pray. Pray for the victims and their families as well as the disturbed perpetrators and their families. But pray especially for violent perpetrators in the making – those who can actually be stopped right now from future violence. Pray that these future perpetrators will slip up in their hidden thoughts and hidden plans, and that someone in their lives, somewhere, will have the wisdom and insight to see what is happening and care enough to step in and do whatever it takes to help. If we really want to care, we need to get off our devices and pay attention.Be interpersonal. Be politically incorrect. I do believe that each of us actually can change the world, each from our corner of it, one person at a time.

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Mom’s Meatloaf with a Side of Kitchen Wisdom

Last night, I made five pounds of meatloaf. I’m hoping this will last for two dinners in our family of five, although if we have meatloaf sandwiches at lunch – probably not. This recipe is so popular around here that my husband claimed he married me for my ability to make it. Well, some marriages have been built on less . . .

In the 1960s through early 1980s, my talented mom won or placed in a multitude of local and national cooking contests including two stints as a Pillsbury Bake-off Finalist. One of her best and most enduring recipes is Dilly of a Meatloaf, fondly and everlastingly referred to by the family as Mom’s $500 Meatloaf (the amount she won for creating it). Mom’s kitchen abilities were legendary, and time spent cooking with her was pretty awesome. Since she usually lived nearby, we spent many hours over the years sharing laughter and life while preparing meals for loved ones. 

Mom’s recipe (below) tells just a small part of the story of actually making it. If you have a favorite recipe, I am sure you have some little tips learned from experience that never made it into print. The same is true here. I learned to make this and many other recipes at Mom’s side and my memory has mixed together the recipes with her thoughtful kitchen wisdom. So, just for the moment, pretend you are here making this ultimate comfort food and sharing these thoughts with us – 

1. There is grace. While it is important to come pretty close to the original requirements of this recipe, the measurements don’t have to be precise. Meatloaf is not soufflé! It’s simple, everyday food – glorified hamburger. There is a place for order and precision, but perhaps not right now. This is relaxing comfort food so it should be relaxing and comfortable to make. Enjoy the process.

2. Consider what you are putting into it. Many years ago a lady I know tried this recipe and, rather disgruntled, called to say she did not understand how it won a contest when it didn’t taste good. When I gently asked about her cooking prep, she admitted making it with turkey burger instead of beef, leaving out the eggs and stuffing mix, substituting for the chili sauce, and changing the quantity of onion. We definitely understand the need for food substitutions in our family, so I get it! Recipes, like life, will frequently need to deviate from the original plan and change can often be quite beneficial. But if you decide to change things up, brace yourself for an unexpected outcome and just own it, whether good or bad. If you made the decision, then the blame or credit is yours. And this topic leads us to . . .

3. Balance. In case you were wondering, the changes listed above can actually work, but further adjustments for taste and texture must be made to achieve a tasty, balanced outcome. Mom and I used to laugh about how very seldom either of us actually followed a recipe as written, and we both think the need or desire to sub out ingredients probably made us better, more creative cooks – but we were careful to balance dry and wet ingredients and tried to be thoughtful about seasonings. Maintaining balance can be a delicate task, but leads to a much more satisfactory result.

4. A little fat in your life is a good thing. If  the meat is too lean, the result will be dry; if it is too fatty, the result will be mushy. To make things come out just right, consider how much fat vs. lean is best for you.

5. Go all in – measure and dump all the ingredients in the bowl before mixing. There are times you have to throw all you’ve got in the pot and hope for the best.

6. Be willing to get those fingers gooey! When my mom made meatloaf, she cheerfully mixed up that mushy pile of raw ingredients with her bare hands and I do, too. She said some things don’t come out quite right unless you are willing to get your hands dirty. So scrub up and dive in!

7. In the recipe, you will see that you need to stop in the middle of cooking to add the sauce on top. Before you sauce it up, take a moment to tilt the pan gently and drain off the excess fat that has already cooked out. You will need to drain it again at the end, but it helps if you get rid of what is unnecessary along the way.

8. If you are using deep loaf pans like I do, check the center of the meatloaf before you shut off the oven, just in case the meat isn’t done. Bear in mind that some things take longer than anticipated! I learned from my mom to stick a large spoon or metal spatula right in the middle and draw out a little meat to verify doneness. You might end up with a funky-looking hole in the middle, but you don’t want to bring an unfinished product to the table just because you neglected to check. Finishing well is much more important than looking pretty.

9. Serve your meatloaf with whatever side dishes you prefer, and enjoy without guilt! There are enough things in life to cause discomfort – meatloaf shouldn’t be one of them.

My awesome mom went home to the Lord in 2018 and the many times we shared laughter and lives while cooking side-by-side are some of my sweetest memories. This is the first time I have made the meatloaf since she passed and I wanted to share the moment. I think she would be pleased.

LaVerne’s $500 Meatloaf


Prep Time: Approx. 15-20 minutes

Cook Time: Approx. 60-75 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together:
2    lbs ground beef (we like an 85/15 meat/fat ratio – add a little water if you use leaner meat or turkey burger)
1    6-8 oz pkg of cornbread stuffing, including spices (we use gluten-free)
2    eggs
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce (sweet chili sauce, NOT hot – usually stocked near the ketchup)
1/3 cup finely diced dill pickle
1/4 cup dill pickle brine/juice from the pickle jar
1    cup finely chopped onion
1    tsp salt
1 tsp garlic salt

Place in a 2-quart loaf pan or casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, mix the following sauce:
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp dill pickle brine/juice
(You may wish to double this amount if using a wide, flat casserole dish.)

Remove meatloaf from oven after the first 30 minutes, drain any excess fat, and spread the sauce over the top. Return to oven and bake for 30 more minutes or until done. Depending on your oven and the size of your pan (especially if you use a loaf pan rather than a shallow casserole dish), cooking time may extend another 10 to 15 minutes. If you double or triple the recipe and are using loaf pans, count on additional time. Remember to check for doneness before serving.

Enjoy!

When Good Leftovers Go Bad: A Study in Mold and Sanity

Assessing the condition of my refrigerator is a good way for me to determine exactly how busy/blue/tired/energetic/perky/efficient/sane/whatever I have been recently. Like many moms, I get busy and ignore the need for self-assessment so the ability to discern my own emotional state merely by opening the refrigerator is rather convenient. (And I don’t think I’m alone in this – can I hear an “AMEN”?)  If the interior is reasonably clean and the food is relatively fresh, I’m pretty optimistic about the day and can cheerfully and efficiently set aside those pesky concerns about progeny or spouses inadvertently poisoning themselves due to the tendency to grab and snorf edibles before actually observing or smelling said edibles.

However, I think it’s safe to say we can throw any little false efficiency scenarios right into our handy dandy 50 gallon trash today, because I just checked my fridge and discovered that certain no-longer-edibles have taken on entirely new states of being and are now capable of sentience. I paused with the fridge door open when I heard frightening conversational noises, and soon realized that we really need to move the TV out of the kitchen area because my leftovers seem to have become laden with B western dialogue as well as bacteria –

“Howdy, Broc.”

“How’s it goin’, Squashed?”

“Not bad. Gotta move a herd of pasta over to the south 40. Wanna lend a hand? Might have a few stray meatballs to round up, too – they’ve rolled out and gotten fuzzier than a cowpie in spring.”

“Happy to help, Broc, but how ‘bout that popped Tupperware lid over by old man Casserole’s place? We oughta burp that before them bad apples break through and infect the herd.”

“Time to get on it, Squashed! Saddle up that there rotten potato and let’s ride out.”

And then I heard – Star Trek? Seriously?

“Captain!  There’s a mold cluster here that I’ve never seen before!”           

“On screen, Mr. Chickenhov.”

“Great scott! Look at this, Mr. Spritzer! It appears to be . . .”

“Yes, Captain. It’s the infamous Unidentifiable Leftovers Cloud of Death. Life forms in the Cloud are generated spontaneously, behave unpredictably, and are usually deadly. Sliming their enemies is the only known form of communication. It would be illogical for us to survive any contact.”

“Bones!  Do we have a bacteria killer that will purge this thing?”

“Dang it, man! I’m a Doctor, not a garbage man! Get a scrubber and do it yourself!”

“Spritzer and Chickenhov, there appears to be no way around. We’ll have to burn through. Warp speed ahead!”  (Over the com.) “Spitty! We need more power!”

“This is all the juice she’s got, Captain! I’m doin’ all I can!”

“Incoming sludge! Set spatulas on stun! All decks brace for impact!”

*SPLORK*

But you get my point, which is . . . Sheesh – what is my point?  Oh, yes. That a mom’s emotional condition and level of functioning can be gauged and/or assessed by the condition of her refrigerator. As you see here, simply attempting to purge the fridge affected my delicate maternal equilibrium. So, faithful and loving husbands, do your wife a favor:  Check that fridge, check it often, check it thoroughly, and throw out anything evil-looking and anything that speaks (this does not include teenagers foraging in the interior). Don’t forget to wear your protective mask. And do NOT even THINK of eating the dark chocolate hidden in the crisper. EVER.

Just Drive

I hate those days when I feel like I’ve lost my drive. Not just the drive, actually – I seem to have lost the whole dang car.  And there God is, patiently holding the keys and GPS that will get me back there. All I have to do is ask for help and mean it.

I have to mean it.

It sounds so simple, really. I just have to drop my earthbound baggage so my hands will be empty to take what He’s got – but I can’t seem to do it.

Why is that? Maybe because I am so tired in my head. Some days, the world just wears me down until I want to curl up in bed and turn my face to the wall. No drive, no momentum at all. I do know that God will lovingly pick me up every time I fail, so why am I hesitant to take what He is so willing to give? And still He remains – standing right by me, loving me so much, patiently prompting me to ask Him for help, and promising to stay near no matter what happens, no matter what I do, no matter where the road takes me.

But I still have to ask for my drive – my spirit – to be restored. A simple request. I can’t let the fear and fatigue stop me from doing that one little thing.

Everything else is on Him, but the first step is on me.

I can do this. I will do this. Here I go –

Buckle up.

You, too, can be Peter – Just. Show. Up.

On the night before Jesus died on the cross, He was hauled off for a sham of a trial and hours of abuse. Peter and John – two of His closest friends – managed to follow him secretly and witnessed the unjust trial and subsequent persecution. Peter was clearly afraid and famously betrayed Christ by convincingly denying three times that he knew Him. When Christ later rose from the dead, He reaffirmed His love for Peter and gave him an awesome commission that changed Peter’s life and, in many ways, wrote the future of Christianity. This is an amazing encouragement for those of us who need to know that an incredible legacy is still possible for each of us, even if we have done some pretty bad things.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that Peter showed up. Just that. John, too. They knew they would be facing a tough crowd, but these guys buckled on their spurs and came to the party. Not much is said about John that night, simply that he knew the high priest and was able to get himself and Peter into the so-called trial. But for Peter – it’s all about his personal Armageddon.

I confess that I seriously admire Peter and John just for showing up; their beloved and controversial leader is hauled off under circumstances that would surely end in some kind of an unjust conviction, probably a whipping, maybe a beating, possibly death, and they follow along knowing there is a reasonable chance they might share in the accusations against Him. We kind of expect John to be cool under pressure, but Peter had a bit of a problem with falling prey to his emotions. That night, showing up was a massively courageous thing for him to do.

It’s a pretty safe bet that most of you have days when the very thought of showing up is an overwhelming concept. I am absolutely with you – some days, I can only function if I sluggishly remind myself of my blessings, barely haul my fanny out of bed, paste a smile on my face, and reluctantly force myself to be present. Nothing fancy, nothing momentous, nothing bold. I’m just showing up. But know this – even just showing up is an act of faith and courage when your heart is burdened and fearful and your greatest desire is to roll over, bury your face in the pillow, and stay put for the rest of the day, or possibly the rest of your life. If you just give what little you’ve got to give to the Lord in those moments, He will do more with it than you can imagine. Really.

It is true that God wants so much more from us than just showing up (I’m not gonna lie about that!), but I know from experience that His wonderful grace shines on days we simply fail to pull it all together. Sometimes just having the courage to show up can lead to blessings and opportunities that would have been otherwise unavailable. God knows your heart. Jesus, above all people, understands what a scary, crazy, painful, messy world this can be. Peter showed up that night lacking the courage to shine in any way and even betrayed his friend and Savior at the worst possible moment, yet a few days later Christ extended Peter the powerful grace and salvation that turned his life into a wellspring of passionate ministry. Scripture tells us that those who are forgiven much, love much. Showing up on the night of the trial gave Peter the chance to fail so that Christ could offer the grace that would change Peter into a rock of faith – an example that still shines for us 2000 years later.

So today and tomorrow and the next day, try this – even if you haven’t got a shiny atom in your body, even if your heart is burdened and every other minute you want to break down in fears and tears, even if you absolutely know you can do absolutely nothing on your own, I still challenge you to show up and give all the moments to God – the worst as well as the best. You may not see the results right away, but just by showing up you are giving Him the opportunity do something through you today. Maybe something that will change a life. It might even be yours.

Small House, Warm Thoughts

“We cleaned the house yesterday. Sorry, you missed it.” Have I said this on a number of occasions? Yes. Yes, I have.

And also this:
“If you want to see us, come by anytime. If you want to see the house, call for an appointment.”

And (with apologies to quite a few of my fascinating friends who – beyond the scope of my comprehension – have discouragingly perfect homes), the patently untrue yet popular saying:
“Boring women have immaculate homes.”

Ever heard comments like this? I’ll bet they came from a family living in a small house. Cramming a busy family of five, two dogs, two cats, and a home business into our 1645 square foot house with one shared common area – a combined living/dining/office/project/kitchen space – definitely creates clutter! But, y’know, as long as it’s creative clutter . . . (cue eye roll).

On the upside, love does grow best in small houses, right? And I must admit that togetherness is probably some kind of blessing for us since we are mostly introverts who might otherwise be inclined to go the isolation route. Hah. No chance. Compromise and cooperation are not options here – they are mandatory life skills. We love each other and – aside from the occasional water, pillow, or tickle fight – we are not particularly fond of conflict, so we do our best to figure it out.

It’s pretty clear in God’s word that we show the love of Christ in us by loving others. We are to pursue maturity not separately, but together. Loving God = loving people. It’s not that we all get along beautifully all the time – not at all! We definitely have our high blood pressure moments. But I think living in a smaller space keeps us working on the issues, fighting for each other, loving each other, forgiving one another, and laughing together. I like to think that we would do all these things even living in a ginormous house, but the smaller home definitely provides motivation.

Now, I’m seriously off to clean. Really. I’m sincerely hoping to have the house reasonably in hand by noon Friday (so, basically, maybe by Saturday evening . . .) and the orderliness should last several whole minutes. If you plan to drop by, better not be late or you’ll miss it.

Why Should You Read This? Because – Chocolate!

My son requested chocolate cake for his birthday so I trotted to one of my two favorite markets for the awesomely delicious gluten-free store brand cake mix we usually use (because one member of our family can’t have gluten, and three others probably shouldn’t) only to discover – gasp! – that it had apparently been discontinued. (So disappointed in you, HEB!)

I could have made it from scratch but – oops! – out of cocoa, so decided that I was officially in the mood to experiment. Yay! (Sarcasm.) I grabbed a box of Aldi’s Live G Free Chocolate baking mix (from my other favorite grocery store) which inconveniently had NO recipe for chocolate cake using the mix on either the box or the website. Seriously, Aldi?

Soooooo – I went to Aldi’s Facebook page where several ladies had posted recipes that sounded great but were still not quite what I was seeking. So I whipped out the baking corner of my brain and forced it into creative submission with the promise of chocolate. Because, like most estrogen-based life forms, I can force my brain into almost any (mostly) non-violent behavior with the promise of chocolate.

I threw together a variety of mystery ingredients and confidently slid my first attempt into the oven and sat down to type out the recipe so I would have it for the future. But as the Good Book does say, pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Speaking of falls . . .

Time for Intermission

Let’s a take a minute to ponder famous falls. The dictionary defines “fall” as “moving from a higher to a lower level, typically rapidly and without control” – such as The Fall of the Roman Empire, Niagara Falls, Custer’s Fall, The Fall of the Third Reich, and some of the more dramatic falls of Evil Knievel. Anything, really, that could be considered an Ultimate Fall. Getting my drift here? Have you pondered enough? I certainly have.

Intermission Ends

The fallen cake tasted delicious, though, so I am freezing the remains for a future chocolate trifle (another family favorite) since fluffy oomph is not really a requirement for trifle – just cut up cake bits.

I tried again with the following combination of ingredients and titled the result:

Karen’s Chocolate Cake To Remedy Aldi’s and HEB’s Fails
(Am I calling out Aldi and HEB? Yes. Yes, I am.)

1 Aldi’s Live G Free Chocolate Baking Mix
3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten Free Flour (or any 1-to-1 GF flour)
1/2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 to 2 tsp almond extract (Optional, but adds a light fruity flavor.)
½ cup softened butter (Or, in my case, melted butter – because I hadn’t softened any ahead of time.)

3/4 mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (Because, hello? Have you met me? More chocolate is a GOOD thing!)

Preheat oven to 350. Using electric mixer on medium speed:

  1. Mix liquid ingredients until just slightly foamy.
  2. Add in dry ingredients.
  3. Add chips.
  4. Mix until everything is combined and batter tastes yummy.
  5. Pour into two 8″ round cake pans to make a low-profile layer cake, and bake for give-or-take 30 minutes (you could probably also make a 9×13).
  6. Against the advice of every nutritionist on the planet, give bowl and beaters to children to enjoy. Keep the spatula for yourself because you certainly don’t want to miss out on the batter.

I frosted the cake with gluten-free frosting and added a nice, thick coating of berry preserves on top of the frosting in between the layers, then decorated it as you see in the photo. The cake was low profile but quite good, if slightly dense (as some of us just are, so don’t judge . . .).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that the first cake, presently known as The Ultimate Fall, actually tasted richer, moister, and more chocolate-y. When I figure out how to make it taste that way and remain among the unfallen, I’ll post the recipe here 🙂