I *heart* mac and cheese

When I was an elementary school student, we lived in London, Ontario.  My mum and dad both worked and so on days when we didn’t have school – like a snow day or some other sort of holiday – my sister and I would go to my Uncle Harvey and Aunt Sharon’s house.

It is true that we loved going to their home.  My Uncle was loads of laughs and my Aunt a really good cook.  Plus she was my first piano teacher and possibly my hero.   I remember that their house on McKay Street always smelled yummy.  It was a gentle, sweet aroma that made promises of the good things to come.

One of my favorite things that Aunt Sharon made for lunch was Kraft dinner.  That’s right Macaroni and Cheese was my food-love back then and it is to this day.  Back then we had our Kraft dinner with slices of hot dog mixed in it and sometimes some salad on the side.  Once in a while she followed it with a two layer yellow cake frosted with chocolate icing.  But, nothing satisfied my comfort-food-craving-heart like that mac and cheese.

Since then my tastes have matured a bit – and with the knowledge that maybe bright orange cheese powder in a packet might not be the healthiest, freshest way to make the dish – I’ve been trying a new recipe now and again.

I’ve been down many mac-n-cheese roads involving exotic cheeses, bacon, hidden veggies, eggs, whipping cream and well, probably more bacon, not to mention all of the assorted shapes and sizes of pasta.

Which brings me to the glorious event of tonight.  Tonight I made the simplest version of homemade macaroni and cheese – I actually had all of the ingredients on hand.  And guess what?  It was heaven in a 9×13 pan!  I know all you southern cooks have your mama’s recipe to use, and it is the best and all – but, I do not.  My mum doesn’t believe in eating carbs.  Just kidding!  (sort of.)

I feel it is only right to share the recipe with you here, in case you’re one of my Canadian relatives who also needs the blessing of a good homemade macaroni and cheese recipe- or maybe you want it because you’re a serious comfort food – carb lover like me.  (This is my version of baked macaroni and cheese, taken from the Rachelcooks blog.

MACARONI AND CHEESE (believe me, it IS the cheesiest!) 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 pound (4 cups) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese (I used some yellow, and some white.
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of 2% milk, 1 cup of whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray or grease a casserole dish or a 9×13 pan.
  2. Cook macaroni as directed on the package in salted water until tender.
  3. While macaroni is cooking, combine 2 and 1/2 cups of cheese with dry ingredients (flour, ground mustard, salt and pepper).
  4. Combine cheese and dry ingredient mixture with hot macaroni and pour into the greased pan. Pour milk over macaroni. Top with remaining cheese and dot with butter.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes or so.  Try not to eat it right away out of the pan!

 

You should definitely make this soon!

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love notes

Late last year my youngest baby girl began writing me love notes.  In the sweetest little printing she wrote on tiny little post-it notes.  I found them stuck in my bedroom, in the kitchen, in our school area.    Some like this…

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some like this…

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and others like this – She says it is a picture of the two of us holding hands, eating ice cream cones.

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These small acts of love have meant the world to me.  Probably more than she will ever know.

So, today when she brought home a beautiful piece of valentine’s art she had made in her art class, I naturally assumed it was for me.

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But it wasn’t.

She said she was planning to hang it in her bedroom and keep it for herself.

Well, I was heart-broken.  and a teensy bit annoyed.  What nerve! I mean, after all I do for that girl…   ahem…

And then I realized…  I do exactly what she did! – I give little pieces of my heart to my Heavenly Father.  I compose little love notes to Him in my prayer journal.  I offer Him small morsels of my life.  Whole heartedly I give Him a few of the things that are semi-important to me.

But, far too often I hold back.  When it comes to the things I love- in the secret places of my heart – I keep those for myself. Those are mine to use, for my own control, my own personal gain, my own glory.  I love Him right up to the point where I might have to surrender something that would hurt to let go.

Even after His enormous sacrifice – I’m unable to fully give in return.

The good news?  He knows my heart.  As He gently coaxes me, and draws me to Himself, I learn to love Him more, and give Him more of myself.  I’m reminded of the truth of this love note:

“We love Him because He first loved us.”  1 John 4:19

The more I sink into the goodness of His love, that’s when I’m able to give those things to Him I’ve reserved for myself.

Thank you Heavenly Father for loving me, when I’m unlovable, even when I’m unloving.  I’m grateful for your unfathomable, unending love.  amen.

enough

I have this sweet tooth.  It is pretty demanding of me. “Must have treat now!” (hear that quote in the voice of cookie monster)  But, you probably already knew that, based on how often I post recipes involving sugar and chocolate.

At any rate, I’ve recently been listening to the new Sara Groves album, “Floodplain” and on it there is a song that has grown to be my favorite.  In the song, “Enough” Sara refers to “honey in the rock.” Yesterday I realized I wanted to know what she was talking about.  The lyrics she’s written are so necessary for me right now.

First, here are the words to the song that I have come to love:

Late nights, long hours
Questions are drawn like a thin red line
No comfort left over
No safe harbor in sight

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see
In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow

I decided to look in Scripture, because I felt like she was probably referring to something there, in God’s Word.  Initially I found a lot of honey references to the Promised Land  flowing with milk and honey.  And, the Psalms reference to the law of the Lord being sweet as honey.  But, then I found something else.

In Deuteronomy 31, when Moses’ leadership of Israel was coming to an end, he was passing on this BIG job for Joshua to do:

23 And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

Following that, in chapter 32, Moses sang this song as a reminder to the people of Israel.  A song of hope and salvation and God’s faithful provision.  (This is just a part of Moses’ song, from v 10-13)  And in the middle of this prayer-song, I found it:

“He found him in a desert land,
    and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
    that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
    bearing them on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him,
    no foreign god was with him.
13 He made him ride on the high places of the land,
    and he ate the produce of the field,
and he suckled him with honey out of the rock,
    and oil out of the flinty rock.

The Israelites were so forgetful and doubtful.  Often I’m just as doubt-filled and needy as them.  They knew they were the apple of His eye.  They knew He had sustained them in the dessert with manna each day.  “He suckled them with honey out of the rock,”  And still they needed a song to remind them of His love and care and His unchanging faithfulness.

I find myself standing on the edge of a journey.  It isn’t new territory.  I’ve been here before.  And yet, I’m staring out at this stretch of road ahead it looks awfully dark and shadowy- gloomy and sad, maybe even treacherous.  I don’t feel a bit entitled or demanding, as I sometimes imagine the Israelites to have been.  I’m not terribly courageous or strong like Joshua when I whisper, “Are you out there Lord?  Because today’s the day. I need to know you’re going to be there…”

As I tiptoe out into the valley today, the words from the Scripture above, and from the song are encouraging my heart.  He has cared for me from the very beginning as the apple of His eye.  His provision has been more than sufficient in the past and it will be again.  Daily, I can look forward to the sweet comfort of His presence and the fellowship of His suffering.

His promises are firm.  His Word is sure. He is enough.

the best laid plans…

I wasn’t going to say anything.  Really, I thought I’d keep it to myself.  It is easier if I don’t have to talk about it with people, because then I don’t have to believe it.  Seriously.   I’d rather pretend it away into oblivion.

After all, I’m a planner.  And this was not a part of the 2016 blueprints.

Two weeks from tonight my yearly appointment at Vanderbilt with my specialist, Dr. Zic will be over.  Some of you probably know that I have an unusual form of lymphoma which manifests in my skin, and results in strange lesions that I have to treat with a fancy high-powered (yucky) steroid.

I did not have any of those “spots” in 2015.  I was able to ignore my condition and pretend like I’m completely healthy.  So, on Christmas Eve, when I realized I had not just one but two spots that had popped up, I was a bit shocked.  This was not a part of the plan for 2016, let alone my Christmas.  I guess it was a good thing my appointment was already on the calendar.

Friends, the good news is – I know the routine. I know the meds my physician will assign, I know how the treatment works and all that it entails.  The bad news:  I don’t like it.  It works well, but I don’t feel the greatest.  Worse: I’m grumpy (read: especially with my loved ones at home while doing school) sometimes.  UGH.  And even worser than worse: I’m reminded once again that there are so many unknowns with this diagnosis.

You know that Scripture in Jeremiah?  The one that says,  “For I know the plans I have for you… ”   I know that’s a popular Scripture to repeat during a difficult trial, but I’ve realized I’ve been thinking of it all wrong!   While I do understand what it actually says, I personally have been wanting it to mean this: “For I know the plans you’ve been making Melody, and I’m totally on board with you…” I wish it weren’t true- but it is the way I’ve been interpreting it.  It let’s me have some control that way.

But here’s the reality: I’m not in charge.  All the manipulating in the world isn’t going to make my future turn out the way I want.  I mean, it could turn out that way, but not because I earned it or managed to make it.  My little, teensy- tiny piece in God’s story is HIS design.  Who I become, as a result of this small trial, is what fits best into that great big story He is narrating.

Who would I be if not for the faith it requires to walk this road with Him? Who would I be if I had only a life without this disease, this disease which allows me the joy of drawing closer to Him and knowing Him more intimately?   And who will the people around me become, if in all of these things I radiate His joy?

One thing is for sure : His plan is greater than the one I had written down in my planner for 2016, especially if it means He is drawing me closer to Himself or if my life will bring Him glory.

Heavenly Father, I’m laying aside my plans. (And You most of all know how hard that is for me to say.)  Keep me on board with your will in 2016, even when it is hard and I don’t like it.  Hold me close, and help me to trust You. Thank you for the grace and the joy I know you have prepared for me on this journey – they are gifts only You can give!  Amen.

 

 

a joyful 2016

We were standing in the bathroom, a few days ago, New Year’s Eve to be exact – it was Mackenzie and me.  Her fluffy white towel wrapped snuggly around her waiting for me to help her get dressed.  I had just brought in her clothes and she was frowning.

What had I brought her to wear?

From my perspective: it was a brand new outfit from Gymboree (purchased on sale of course) and it was super cute – sparkling pink corduroys and the matching lavender and pink striped shirt.  I thought for sure she’d love it – girly, but simple.

From her perspective: It was plain.  Her favorite shirt was in her dresser drawer, and this wasn’t it.  The stripes were boring and even though it was brand new, it wasn’t enough.  frown. frown. frown.

After long conversation, she put it on because she had to, (because I’m the mama) but not with a happy contented heart. Truthfully, it made me sad because I shopped and purchased those clothes for her, because I love her and had her “likes” (or dislikes as the case may be) in mind.

The new year came into view later that day, but I kept thinking about that little exchange with my baby girl.  She and I are so alike.

You know, I wore 2015 around like my daughter in her least favorite shirt.  It wasn’t my favorite year- I’ve seen better (or so I’ve thought without realizing it, till just now).  I wore it because I had to. And although I tried to be grateful for the blessings from my Father’s hand, I can say I was not extraordinarily content or happy about them.  I’m always looking for the next better or exciting gift, even though He gave so much – and it was exactly what He planned for me, knowing my needs.

I didn’t realize how insulting my behavior in 2015 was, until my daughter didn’t like the new shirt I provided…  Thankfully, my Heavenly Father is gracious and gentle with me ; His mercies are fresh and new, here at the beginning of 2016!

Long lists of resolutions are not really my thing, but as the New Year rolled in, I asked the Lord to help me be grateful and content in Him.  That may mean any manner of blessings and trials alike, I realize that.   It is my prayer that living a thankful, satisfied life will bring a deeper, abiding joy in Him this 2016.

 

Belated Christmas Cookies

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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to taste a delightful frosted sugar cookie at a baby shower.  My dear friends, the Zeglen girls, had made them – and they were better than a cookie you could buy at a bakery!  Their mom, Dianne, generously gave me the recipe and I’ve attempted several times to make them.  But, I’ve never felt like mine were as yummy as theirs!

Well, this Christmas I tried again.  And do you know? They finally turned out just right! I made cookies shaped like Christmas trees, hearts, mittens, candy canes – and of course doggies, in honor of our sweet Lily!

This Christmas season has been so busy, I haven’t had the opportunity to post much to my blog, but – I didn’t want the season to pass without sharing this recipe.  If you don’t attempt them now, there’s always Valentine’s Day, or Easter – or any occasion that needs cookies!    It is definitely worth the effort – I think they may be a new favorite for me!

Cookie Ingredients
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon almond extract (you could use butter flavored extract also)
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt

Makes 30-40 rollout cookies, depending on cutter size.

Instructions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in electric mixer.  Beat in egg and extracts and milk.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl and add gradually to butter mixture one cup at a time.  Do NOT chill dough.  Divide into two large balls.  Roll and cut using floured cutters.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 6-7 minutes.

Icing Ingredients
5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 tbsp meringue powder
extra water if necessary
extract of choice

Instructions
Place all ingredients in the mixer and beat adding water as you go for the consistency you desire.  For fluffy icing, used in cakes, beat water and egg whites or meringue powder first, then add rest of ingredients. You can pipe on and spread the icing, or you can dip the cookie-top in the icing.

(This icing freezes easily and keeps several weeks in the fridge)

Enjoy!  And a belated Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!

Merry Christmas! (my version of a Christmas letter.)

Well, Its December 23.

Every year, right about now (that’s the day before Christmas Eve) I begin to feel terribly guilty because I didn’t mail Christmas cards.  I do not create a fancy Christmas letter to send with yuletide greetings or a lovely photo of my family wearing matching christmas sweaters.

This year, in the midst of my guilt-laden disappointment, I realized I could blog instead. (what a novel idea, right?)  And so, I give you the cheater’s version of a Christmas card!

You know, 2015 has been a fairly eventful year for us around here.

Let’s see:  the kids are growing up far more quickly than I’d like.  Emily began playing drums about a year ago, and she is becoming quite the musician.  Her love for drumming may only be equaled to her love for science.  She is loving the high school biology course she is taking this year!  I couldn’t be more proud of the young woman she is.

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Isaac is nine and a half – and loves all things wii, nintendo 3ds and other technology related stuff – which he understands more than I do, and with half the effort!  He has an amazing mind for math and I love watching him grow and learn every day.  His name was no mistake – he keeps us all laughing daily!DSC_0710

Mackenzie is my feisty little girl – she’s 6 and most of the time she’s in charge, or at least believes she is.  We began piano lessons this fall and she seems to be a natural. She is becoming all things artsy and creative! She loves to surprise me with little notes and hand drawn pictures around the house that say things like, “I love mom.” melts. my. heart.

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As for Michael and I – we both turned 40 this fall. So far we don’t mind it too much.  We’ve changed up a few habits so we can be healthier and enjoy the life we’ve been given.  I ran my first 10K race in June, and I’m hoping to run another in 2016! Who knows?  Michael may join me!

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Of course, we continue all kinds of musical endeavors: I enjoy teaching lessons,  accompanying and directing the children’s choir at our church.  Michael has had opportunities to travel and play different gigs which he always finds rejuvinating.  You may be wondering about Michael’s shop… he is close to the finish line!  A little drywall mudding and sanding, maybe some paint,  a little flooring and he’ll be on the way to making his first guitar!

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One of the high points of the year was my folks relocating from Grand Rapids to Chattanooga. They now live just  5 miles from us!  What a wonderful time it has been including them in our life here and sharing with them important Chattanooga experiences (like Champy’s – fried chicken is very important)!

It is my prayer that you will experience the presence of Immanuel, God with us this Christmas and in the coming year.

Merry Christmas!

Melody