Monday, May 30, 2011

Here's What's Cooking...Frozen Strawberry Pie


If the stream of wet, gray days has got you longing for the heat of summer, this recipe is for you---this frozen strawberry pie is the embodiment of all that a delicious summer dessert should be: light, fluffy, and refreshingly cold. And since those sweet summer days with the sun shining through the kitchen windows make us a little less prone to spend long hours cooking, the best part of this recipe is that it's quick and painless--about 20 minutes of prep time and then the almost uncontrollable waiting while it's in the freezer. But hey, just look at the bright side: while you're waiting impatiently for this pie to give your mouth a cool breeze of strawberries and cream, take advantage of the warm afternoon and catch some rays. Or, if you're like me, curl up with a good book :)

Frozen Strawberry Pie

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups chopped fresh strawberries (take advantage of how cheap strawberries are now!)
1 carton (12 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted (I made it without, and it tasted wonderful still)
2 chocolate crumb crusts (9 inches)
Chocolate curls, optional (not as optional as, let's say, the pecans. Ha ha!)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in the strawberries. Fold in the whipped topping and pecans. Pour into crusts. Cover and freeze for 3-4 hours (I would recommend the full 4 myself) or until firm. Remove from the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving (not any longer, or it will turn back into its gooey self). Garnish with chocolate curls, if desired.

Yield: 2 pies (6-8 servings each)

Side Note: For anyone who hasn't done chocolate curls before (I hadn't), use the side of the grater that would cut cheese into slices, not the side that would shred or grate it. And for the best curls (better than mine), it would probably be best to put the bar (we used Hershey's) vertically through the grater, not horizontally.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chastening


Matt's picture of the rainbow right outside the condo in St. George

You know how sometimes you go to church and one of the talks just hits you like a spiritual clothesline in your face? Well, it's been quite awhile since that happened to me. But judging by what the topic was today, I needed it.

This is mine and Matt's second week in our new ward, and I didn't know the young couple who had been asked to speak. The topic was on Elder Christofferson's talk, "As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten," which I miraculously didn't really remember from the last General Conference (amazing how that happens). When the wife opened her talk with this definition of chastening--to inflict suffering upon for the purpose of moral development--I knew the talk was for me.

You see, as if everyone couldn't tell already, both Matt and I are unemployed. Each day brings with it the hope of finally securing a full-time job for one of us and each day seems to end up with me being cranky, short-tempered, and worried. I have even started to make pitiful little comments as we eat like, "Enjoy this strawberry, dear. We probably won't eat another one again for many a moon." Yeah, so I can be a bit dramatic. But honestly, this trial has proven very difficult for me already, most likely because for the rest of my previous life, I have always been very financially blessed (and always, fortunately, employed).

But just as the photo above depicts how a rainbow brightens a storm-beaten sky, this talk really illuminated some things for me. I loved this short summary of 3 of the points that E. Christofferson made in his talk about why the Lord sometimes needs to chasten us: 1) to persuade us to repent, 2) to refine or sanctify us, and 3) to direct us to a different path. I felt deeply humbled--wounded, almost--as I thought of how faithless my prayers have probably been of late as I have pleaded and begged for this trial to be taken from me and for us to be able to find employment immediately. And when my prayers weren't answered, I sulked in my circumstances and refused to be consoled.

Well, now I see things a little bit differently. Not that I'm suddenly an expert in hope after being reminded of just one talk, but today I had many flashbacks to my mission as I reflected on my blessings: I recalled an elderly woman who had no income whatsoever but who survived on what seemed to be daily miracles---a few pieces of fruit gathered here and there, a neighbor bringing by some rolls, a few pieces of found scrap metal that she could trade in for a few dollars. Her house was made of scraps of metal, wood, and concrete, and we found her every day sweeping the leaves from her dirt porch, her hair frizzy from the nearby fire she had burning. She always made time to listen to us, to give thanks to God for one more day of life. I thought of an older man and woman, both recent converts, who somehow found the faith to always pay their tithing on the few meager dollars her husband made by occasionally doing an odd job here and there. One day the husband joked that he had become an expert in fasting, but not by choice.

How selfish I feel I have been, when I personally know of many of my most beloved friends who are far away and often do not get enough to eat. I also think of a particularly hard chastisement in my family's life when my nephew very unexpectedly passed away. Through the grief-stricken weeks that followed, one message seemed to ring loudly in my heart of hearts--the message to cherish our loved ones, and cherish the time we have been given to spend with them. I have had the pleasure of spending every hour of every day with my new husband these past few weeks and I feel like I have wasted nearly half of it in worry and complaints. But not anymore---regardless of what this next week or this next month holds, I will appreciate this time I have been given to grow closer to Matt, to develop my talents, and to get around to those projects that I have been putting off until the day when I "had more time." Well, that time has come. And I'm not going to waste any more of it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Honeymoon Pics

Seeing as though we still have no jobs and seeing as though I can't look at cleaning supplies or moving boxes for another second, I'm going to post some more pics of the honeymoon.

Can I just first say that our honeymoon was amazing? After a very long engagement and an even more stressful semester, it was great to just get away from it all.

We spent our first night at The Blue Boar in Midway, an adorable B&B that came highly recommended to us by my family. Although a little pricey, the cost of staying includes a 5-course brunch the next morning (so rich and delicious I wanted to die of tastebud satisfaction), cheese, crackers, and grapes awaiting you in your room as you check in, and lots of yummy little touches like the Congrats! balloons (below), bubble bath, a huge tub with turbo jets, fancy-schmancy water...and did I mention cheese? Mmm...
Here we are in front of the Blue Boar, excited to have the stress of the wedding over with

The Congrats! balloons in our room (we stayed in the Rudyard Kipling room)

The next day (Sunday), we took the drive down to St. George, enjoying the stretching green pastures, the sailboats on the lakes, and the fields and fields of cows. Who doesn't love a good cow now and then? We arrived in the late afternoon at one of my favorite places on earth--my mom's bosses' condo in St. George. This place is amazing--not only do we get full guest access to the hot tub, swimming pool, gym, and tennis courts, but the condo is lavishly decorated with plush couches, the biggest beds I've ever slept in, and a balcony that overlooks the red cliffs of Southern Utah (check out the cool pics Matt took of the rainbow we saw from our balcony in a later "Photo Walk" post).

The rest of the week was spent using the condo as our "home base" and day trips being taken out from there. We saw two movies, went on two significant day trips requiring drives longer than an hour), bought 5 DVDs, and went to the hot tub nearly every night. Oh, and we witnessed a pretty insane windstorm that almost swept me right off the balcony.

Early on in the week we went to Las Vegas, where we went and did sealings at the temple and then went and caught The Phantom of the Opera show at The Venetian on the strip. Funny story---when we told the people in the sealing room that we were on our honeymoon and had just been married 3 days, they all looked shocked that we were there. I mean, isn't that what people normally do on their honeymoon---go back to the place that made it all possible? ;)



Here we are in the main lobby of The Venetian, right before we went to our 3-course meal that was included with our tickets to the show. Can I say that I'll probably never eat as good ever again as I did on this honeymoon?


Here was the one picture we sneaked in the Phantom theater before we got told very sternly that there were no photos allowed in the theater (except, of course, if you wanted to pay a couple 20s for one of their "professional" photographers to take your picture). The show was incredible, by the way. It was my second time seeing it actually, and Matt's first. Gotta love a good musical with stellar special effects.

Later in the week, we went to Zion's National Park, where I'd never been before. I won't say too much about it here, because I plan to talk more about our hike to Angel's Landing in a later Change It Up post, but our day in Zion's was one of my favorites of the whole trip.




That all said and done, the majority of our time was spent lounging around in our condo in St. George, going to the hot tub, watching movies, playing tennis, and, of course:

Me writing in my journal. Sadly, after filling about 7 pages, I was still only at the wedding luncheon and decided to just finish it later. That "later" still has magically not come. Go figure.

Happy Luna de Miel to us! It was so much fun, I could go on one every other month...if we had jobs...sigh.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

All Moved In...Now Where To Put It All?

Less than a week ago, we returned from a week of bliss, relaxation, and no responsibilities...to this:

The only saving grace from the massive chaotic disturbance known as our apartment was the fact that Matt's awesome sisters-in-law had broken in while we were gone and left us lots of surprises--balloons, streamers, rose petals, chocolates, candles...and half a kitchen floor full of groceries. I told Matt that if I had been in a crying mood then, I would have cried cuz I was so happy for all those groceries...and chocolates...

But still, the mess persisted, and at times the clean-up seemed overwhelming. It seemed we did nothing but unpack and move everything from one end of the apartment to the other, run upstairs and downstairs with arms laden full of gifts and papers, and take the occasional break to eat cereal in front of the t.v. and watch The Big Bang Theory (those breaks magically appeared to happen more frequently about halfway through the week and onward).

Below is a picture of our second bedroom (which we'll eventually be using as a study...when it no longer looks like this. In the next century).

Happily, the only organized spot amidst all that chaos was the bookshelf we had so lovingly stocked with about a fifth of all my books. It was literally the only sane spot in the whole house.

Every night around 11:30, we tended to just give up to go and read in bed.

But...after six days of nonstop shuffling and organizing and going crazy, we finally have a livable basement. And now, for a short list of some of the things I love about the new apartment:

*Having all of that cupboard space just for ME (well, and Matt)--not having to worry about fitting all of these cans, mixes, and spices into one-half of a tiny shared kitchen cabinet. Isn't the sight of all that beautiful, organized nourishment just music to your eyes???

*Also, note in the picture below the gleaming knife set we bought using some of our Target gift cards. The blades are so sharp, Matt cut through the pie tin while serving up our Frozen Strawberry Pie last night (recipe to follow)

*Oh, and I must mention that I love having a dishwasher...even if I do have some bones to pick with it (see my forthcoming post mentioned at the end of this list)

*I love all the bookshelves we have (we're now up to 3.5, if you count the one on the side of our t.v. stand as a half)

*Oh, and can I say, I'm a little partial to seeing all the pictures of us up on the walls, too. I never thought I'd be so vain as to say that I love looking at pictures of us all day long on the fresh white walls we painted ourselves :)

*I love finally being able to sit down without having to move a billion boxes/frames/appliances first.

*I love how Matt has helped with everything--last night, we hung all the pictures together, with me shaking my head saying, "That's not right--it's crooked" about a million times, and Matt was so very patient.

*Cute thoughtfulness from my new hubby: Matt, being awfully quiet upstairs for a long period of time, finally convinced me to come up to the bedroom under some pretense of getting something or other. To my delight, he'd not only set up the new shoe rack we bought (also using Target gift cards), but he'd organized all of my 30+ pairs of shoes, going so far as to group all the similar shoes together (note the heels on one shelf, the flip-flops on top, etc.)

*Having a HUGE closet that's finally big enough to fit all of my clothes! And I don't even have to take up any of Matt's space...well, not really...

Someday soon (probably within 24 hours or so), I'll do a lovely post where I rant and whine and moan about all the things I DON'T love about the place. But for now, I'll just drink in the fact that it's summery outside, the dishes are done, and I've been lounging on the couch for an hour without a care in the world reading the O magazine while Matt rubs my feet. Home sweet home.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book #8: The Memory Keeper's Daughter


Title: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Author: Kim Edwards
No. of Pages: 401

After taking an uncomfortably long break from reading (due to reasons that should be rather apparent, if not blatantly obvious), I picked up this thrilling bestseller that left me emotionally hooked after about 8 pages. The Memory Keeper's Daughter tells the story of the young Dr. Henry who delivers his own twins one snowy night in the 1960's. The first twin, a son, comes out perfect in every way. His second child, a daughter, is born with Down Syndrome, and, in a moment of decision, Dr. Henry hands his own daughter to the nurse and tells her to place her into a home for handicapped people. The nurse, who has always been secretly in love with him, finds herself unable to follow through with the request and ends up fleeing the state and raising the daughter as her own.

As if that premise alone isn't sufficient to make you want to pick up the book, the novel weaves a complex cat's cradle between the doctor and his wife and son (who both think that the daughter died at birth) as well as the long-distance correspondence the doctor has with the nurse as she sends him photos and excerpts of his missing daughter's life. Much of the novel is spent stretching the tension between all of the characters until the ending, when a semblance of a resolution must be made after the unspoken secrets have finally brought them all to their breaking point.

My take? Well, breathtaking plot aside, I must say that the ending truly stunned me...and not necessarily in the best way. I was hoping for a much different resolution, but by the last page, the novel had tied up enough loose ends to leave me fairly satisfied. Other than the last 50 pages or so (when I was beating my fists on the dashboard of the car while Matt drove us home from the honeymoon), I was deliciously satisfied with the book--it was emotional, yet had enough plot substance in it to move it along. It took some surprising twists and turns (esp. the last third or so), but most of those were welcome changes to the general terrain of torn-apart lives and failed dreams. Even though a part of me wishes that the book would have been a little bit more "redemptive," I would recommend it based on the plot and intricate emotional detailing alone.

My Rating: 4.5 stars. I would have given it the full five, but I really did not see that ending coming at all...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Here's What's Cooking...Chicken & Dumplings


Well, after a too-long pause in blogging, I think I am officially back...but, since I have so much to catch up on blogging-wise, I figured I'd just start in the now and eventually build my way back. Today, after our third consecutive day of unpacking/organizing/tossing/going crazy, I decided it was time to take a break and cook up a little something hot, easy, and very very buttery. I found this recipe in my tried-and-true Taste of Home's Prize-Winning Recipes (2007), and, as always, we were not disappointed.

Can I just say briefly before posting the recipe for this easy, 30-minute dish how much I adore cooking with all the fancy-pants new dishes that we got for our wedding? I feel like it's Christmas every day, because I just have so much fun reveling in the joy of new cooking contraptions.

Anyway, the only note I'd make on this recipe is to make sure and time it so that the biscuits come out right as the sauce is done (or just after). Happy cooking!


Creamed Chicken and Biscuits

Biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Creamed Chicken
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 cups milk or chicken broth (I used milk)
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
Minced fresh parsley (I just used dried parsley flakes)

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add milk and oil. Stir until the dough forms a ball. Knead in the bowl 10 times or until smooth.

Roll or pat dough into a 6-in. square about 1-in. thick. Cut into six rectangles. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute onion in butter until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in chicken and parsley; heat through. Split biscuits; top with the creamed chicken.

Yield: 6 servings (only a true yield if you're planning on just eating one per person. They're pretty filling, but Matt and I still both put down two apiece)
This recipe is delicious and, best of all, really quick. We especially enjoyed eating it while sitting on a cleared-off loveseat amidst piles of moving boxes while watching The Big Bang Theory on Matt's laptop. Life is good!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Greetings From Sunny St George!


Hey everyone! Quick greetings from sunny St George, where Matt and I are enjoying the last few days of our honeymoon reading in the breezy shade of the balcony, eating oreos and milk while catching up on our favorite t.v. shows, and taking long dips in the resort's hot tub. After all the stress of the wedding, finals, and moving, this week has been much needed. Stay posted for when we get back, because I've got a lot of posting to do: two Change It Ups, a honeymoon photo walk or two, and lots of wedding pictures. Have a good one, everybody!!
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