What I’m Into: August 2014

Lydia three years

harvesting honey

honey comb frames

harvesting honey 2

honey

canning tomatoes

August never fails to be a full month. It’s always the busiest time for harvesting and preserving.

Just in the last week, I was over at my parents’ house helping to harvest potatoes and onions, pick and can tomatoes, butcher meat chickens, and harvest honey. (We still have lots more canning to do.)

We also celebrated Lydia’s third birthday and our ninth anniversary this month. Oh, and I’ve reached the third trimester with this pregnancy! Entering the home stretch!

So much work! So much fun!

On to the Stuff I’ve Been Into!

Books

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story (Dan Harris).

I’ve been feeling for a while that meditation might be a key element that’s missing from many of our daily lives, which, if practiced, could vastly improve our physical and emotional health. (And, by the way, I believe it can be perfectly compatible with Christianity.)

So when my friend Rebecca practically begged me to read this book exploring meditation from a non-spiritual perspective, I thought I’d give it a try.

First thing to note about this book is that the writing is absolutely superb. So much so, that I couldn’t shake the suspicion it was ghost-written. I know professional writers who have had their work published for years who don’t write this well. Very absorbing and bitingly clever.

This book is more of a memoir than a self-help book. Harris traces his journey into meditation from cynic to awkward evangelist. I really valued the chapters exploring the science that is beginning to demonstrate meditation’s impressive power to transform the brain. The practice actually strengthens parts of the brain in ways that can be seen through brain scans, increasing an individual’s capacity for contentment and self-control. Cool stuff.

He gets a little into how-to’s, but I would really like to go deeper into how to practice meditation. Any recommendations? I’m also deeply interested in any books that might explore Christian meditation.

book

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (Mindy Kaling).

Ben and I kind of went on an obsessive spree watching The Mindy Project this month (more on that below), so I was eager to check out Kaling’s book and get to know the brain behind the show that had so captivated our attention.

This book is fun, quick, light reading. It’s terribly smart and funny, just like the author. I particularly enjoyed the early chapters about her childhood and how she got into comedy writing, eventually landing her job writing for The Office. Some of the essays later in the book are witty and illuminating, too, though a few of them kind of bored me.

I really wished that the book was more recent — at its writing, she hadn’t even begun The Mindy Project. I would have LOVED to learn more about the show and how it came to be. Regardless, it was very interesting to get a glimpse of the person behind the show. I think it really helped me to better understand what she’s trying to do with the story, too.

Television

As I mentioned, we got a little obsessed with The Mindy Project and binge-watched the second half of the first season and then the entire second season. It is so good, you guys. Absolutely hilarious. Especially the last episode of season two. It made me happy for a week.

And if you find yourself in the middle of season two thinking, “Man, there is a lot of sex in this show. Does anyone know how to have a relationship? Is this all this show is about? Why does everyone suck so much?” . . . I feel you. I felt the same way sometimes. But I really think Kaling is trying to do something that you’ll only really get once you’ve watched all the way through. Either way: the last episode makes it all worthwhile.

Movies

We scored some free movie tickets that expired this month, so we went out to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I love (almost) all the Marvel movies, and this one didn’t disappoint. The opening scene actually made me bawl like a baby, but I was quickly swept up by the humour, action, clever plot, and awesome special effects. And as usual, completely lovable characters. Even the green lady, the tree-man, and the raccoon. I loved them all.

And we’ve continued to occasionally watch classic romances I’ve never seen. This month it was When Harry Met Sally. It was all right. Funny and awkward and sweet. It really took me a while to warm up to both Harry and Sally, though.

With the Munchkin

Sandpaper letters

We’ve started to work with the sandpaper letters I made last month. As you can tell from the pictures, Lydia loves them! In stages, we’ve learned 8 different letters so far with their phonetic sounds, using the three-period lesson. Sometimes we practice writing them. Here, you can see her playing the little game I made up — I’ve drawn pictures of things that start with the letters on little sticky notes, and she matches them up with the right sound. She adores this game. Little nerd.

That’s what I’ve been up to! How about you?

As usual, linking up with Leigh Kramer.

*This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!*

Three (Simple) Ways We Care for Our Marriage

anniversary

This month Ben and I celebrated nine years of marriage. Nine years! Holy smokes . . . when did we get so old?

My husband and I are both super-not-romantic. We don’t buy each other gifts (for any occasion) or write love notes. He never gets me flowers and I really couldn’t care less.

I still don’t consider it a lot of “work” to be married. We’re friends. I enjoy his company. We like watching the same TV shows and have a lot of the same life goals. He likes my cooking, and I appreciate all the work he does around the house and yard. Sometimes we argue about housework, but overall, I feel we contribute equally so there’s not too much to get upset about.

Since having a kid, though, I do find we need to make a bit more of a conscious effort to stay connected, since our daughter is ALWAYS awake and ALWAYS around us. Sometimes we need to set special time aside to care for one another and just enjoy each other.

In honour of our anniversary, I thought I’d share a few of the simple ways we care for each other and our marriage.

Monthly Date Nights

I know, I know, I know. SO cliche.

We were never really into date nights before we had a kid because, well, we were already always doing things together. Having dinner, going for walks, watching movies. It seemed kind of pointless to label one of these nights “date night.”

But these days, we spend SO much of our shared energy on parenting. Our conversations are always being interrupted. We’re constantly answering questions, taking her to the potty mid-meal, telling her not to climb on the furniture, taking her off of furniture, etc. Weekdays, weekends. Morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime. ALL. THE. TIME.

So we make an effort to get a babysitter once a month (usually the first weekend) and just hang out together for an evening.

For special occasions (like birthdays) we’ll get dinner and/or a movie, but other times we’ll just get ice cream or go shopping together. Not even for sexy or fun things — I’m talking a new mop or underwear. (And by “underwear” I don’t mean lingerie. I mean a three-pack of cotton Hanes hipsters. Those are the best.)

Our goal is just to be together and have uninterrupted conversations. On the drive to the city we might talk about stuff we did before we met each other or chat about bigger purchases we want to make. Occasionally at our destination we sit across from each other and set formal goals together. Just something where we can relax and be ourselves, just the two of us. To remember that we’re a team and that we’re friends.

Stratford

Expressing Gratitude

This one we do a lot less consciously, and I have to credit Ben for starting it: we regularly take a moment to thank each other for the things we do.

Thanks for taking care of that.” That’s probably one of the most common sentences we say to each other, and it has enormous positive consequences for our marriage. I’ll say it when he takes out the recycling, when he plays a game with Lydia so I can write, or when he cleans up the kitchen after dinner by himself while I dash out to quilting. It’s become kind of automatic, though no less sincere. I just want him to know that what he’s doing is making my life better.

Likewise, he thanks me for making dinner or baking muffins, for organizing a social event or mopping the floor. He actually notices when I do that stuff and appreciates it. I love it. It makes all my work worthwhile.

As a woman who does mostly traditionally-female work (which has been historically undervalued), I appreciate that he constantly validates the work I do as important, challenging, meaningful, and life-enhancing.

He doesn’t have to get me flowers to tell me I’m special; he just has to let me know that he sees my work and it matters to him. That’s all I want, really.

And to occasionally hear that I look good, too.

Mutual Submission/Service

Neither of us is “boss” or “head of the household.” Neither of us “wears the pants” (although I really do love dresses and skirts.)

Instead, we both take seriously Paul’s injunction to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21) and to “use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13). We try to take Jesus as our example and use our power and freedom to serve one another. I try to put my husband’s needs before my own, and vice versa. (In fact, the same goes for Lydia. We are her servants. I know that sounds zany but it’s true. Sometimes we have to tell her she can’t have a snack because it’s almost supper or that she has to brush her teeth, but our job is to serve her. We pray that she will grow up following our example and serve those around her, too.)

Of course, this only works if both members are committed to putting the other person first. It falls apart if it’s only one person doing all the serving. I feel so blessed to have a partner who feels the same way I do.

Obviously, we suck at this most of the time. I hate giving him back rubs and he absolutely loathes putting Lydia to bed, even though I usually spend the whole day with her. We get grumpy when one person wants to use the computer at the same time as the other.

But we both see our roles to one another as that of a servant, and pray for the patience and positive attitude to actually fulfill that role. Overall, I think it works out quite nicely.

Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing

Chickpea chocolate cake

So . . . I’m pretty sure “chickpea” and “beet” are not two words you typically see in a birthday cake recipe. But what makes this recipe so interesting is that it looks and tastes like a totally normal chocolate birthday cake!

I baked this cake for Lydia’s third birthday this last weekend, and no one could tell there was anything unusual going on. In fact, our guests raved about how moist and chocolatey it was, and asked for the recipe. It’s dense but springy and rich. It’s a little less sweet than conventional or store-bought cakes, but that was intentional — I usually find birthday cake WAY too sweet, and I didn’t want to serve a really sugary dessert to our tiny guests.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking for a cake recipe that was somewhat nutritious, not too sugary, and didn’t contain artificial food dyes, which can make children (and adults) cray-cray. This one fit the bill perfectly.

birthday cake

A Note About the Cake:

The recipe originates from Nigella.com and is full of odd ingredients. I’ve made it many times over the years and have always been happy with it. I’ve doubled it here to make it a double-layer cake.

This cake happens to be grain-free and gluten-free (if you use the right ingredients), even though we don’t generally eat gluten-free. I just think we typically eat too many grains in general, so it’s always advantageous to cut back when we can. Thanks to the chick peas and eggs, it’s quite high in protein.

It works out really well for a double-layer cake because it has a flat top — they stack on top of one another beautifully.

If you just want a single-layer cake for a casual gathering, halve the recipe, add a handful of chocolate chips, and serve with homemade maple-sweetened whipped cream. Decadence without damaging your body.

A Note About the Icing:

I got this recipe from Joy the Baker, but I cut the sugar in half. It was still PLENTY sweet — I could have done even less, if it was just for our own family. And I boiled the beet rather than roasting it, since I only needed one (I wasn’t using beets in the rest of the recipe and didn’t want to heat up a whole oven for one beet.) The beet flavour doesn’t come through at all — just the lovely magenta colour. Who needs FD&C Red No. 40, anyway?

On the the recipe!

birthday cake slice

Chickpea Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cans chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), or 4 cups home-cooked
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (or pineapple)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar (or other granulated sugar)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with cut circles of parchment paper to make sure your cakes come out nice and easy. Preheat oven to 350.

Blend the chick peas and 4 of the eggs in a large blender or food processor until smooth. Then mix in all the rest of the ingredients until well blended. (They may not all fit in your blender at once. You may need to transfer to your mixer bowl and beat it with your mixer, after the beans are blended smooth.) Batter will be very runny, but don’t fret — it’ll fluff up like magic when you bake it.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Beet Cream Cheese Icing

  • 1 small beet
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (preferably corn-free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds of one vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Wash and trim the beet, and boil in a small pot of water until you can easily pierce it with a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, peel it and grate it with a microplaner or the finest grating plane on a box grater. Measure out 2-3 Tbsp for the icing; eat or discard the rest.

In a small food processor, blend together the grated beet, milk, and a small amount of the butter and cream cheese. This is just to get the beet ground up really fine. I didn’t want any of Joy’s “beet sprinkles” in my frosting.

Put the remaining butter and cream cheese to the bowl of your mixer, and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy and smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the beet mixture, powdered sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth.  Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

Assembling the Cake:

Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting and spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with more frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake until evenly covered.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, to make the cake easier to slice.

finished birthday cake(I am not a pro at frosting a cake but I got the job done!)