Sunday, December 30, 2012

Smelling Sourdough in the Morning

Last week Monday Mark and I ate delicious sourdough English muffins for breakfast. Mmmmmm. I started a sourdough starter last Sunday afternoon. I had wanted to for a while, but I’d been afraid that I’d mix up the flour and water and nothing would happen. But, happily, after a day or two of mixing and adding flour and water, I began to see bubbles, and now within twelve hours the little yeasty creepy-crawlies have had time to gorge themselves on the simple sugars found in the wheat and the starter has nearly doubled in size.

I’m really very excited. ‘Victorious’ is a good word to describe how I feel about the fermentation I’ve created.

From what I’ve read, a sourdough starter should be allowed to mature for a week before you use it in a recipe. Sunday was my starter’s one week birthday, so I decided to celebrate by trying this sourdough English muffin recipe.

The funny thing about using a sourdough starter that I’m not really used to is that when you want to make, say, English muffins, you have to think about it at least a day ahead of time. You need to allow time to build up your starter, by adding a little more flour and water, because you don’t want to entirely use up your starter in the baked good you make, or you’ll have to grow your starter all over again. And when you have properly built up your starter and then pulled out what you need for your muffins, you mix up your dough and then let it set, usually overnight, to allow the dough to ‘sour’ all the way through. Then, in the morning, you can form your dough into muffins and fry on the griddle.

Sourdough English muffins on the griddle.
Again, sourdough English muffins on the griddle.

Then, this is the tricky part for me, if that baked good will satisfy your family for a few days, what do you do with your starter in the meantime? If you leave it out on your counter, the yeast will continue to multiply and you’ll need to keep feeding it and making it bigger. But you don’t necessarily want a bigger starter unless you’re doing lots of baking. So, the obvious way to slow the yeasties down is to put the starter in the fridge. But I just don’t trust my starter yet. Probably an unfounded worry, but I’m afraid that if I stick my starter in the fridge it will just die. And then I will be sad, wistfully thinking about all of the delicious sourdough baked goods I could have made if I had just kept my starter alive on the counter.

Thankfully, I don’t have to address this irrational fear yet because I am planning to do some extensive baking in the next week. So instead of putting my starter away in the fridge, I’m letting it grow on the counter. See? It already needs two containers:

Starter has just been stirred.
See the bubbles! Starter is happily feeding!
See the bubbles CLOSER.

Sourdough bread, here we come!

Update: Since beginning this post, we have made sourdough bread. And I have worked up the courage to put my starter in the fridge. What I've noticed is that leaving my starter in the fridge for a week without feeding it makes it give whatever baked good I put it into a more sour flavor. (There's a scientific reason behind this, but I don't want to go into it now.) If I fed my starter and then used it immediately upon seeing bubbles throughout, the baked good would rise but it wouldn't taste much like sourdough, just like regular ol' bread. The bread pictured below had a delightfully sourdough flavor.

Happy happy loaf of sourdough bread.

Mark being artsy with the camera and making you all crave sourdough.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve at Home

I don't want anyone to think that Mark and I sat around all Christmas Eve crying because of my sad and depressing post a few days ago about how we don't have a baby of our own yet. I did have a few sad wistful moments yesterday, but mostly we were able to celebrate being with each other.

We also were able to celebrate having a camera that doesn't die after five pictures. We got this camera for our trip to Mozambique. For about a year prior we had pretty much stopped taking pictures because just a few pictures would zap our camera's battery. We're only just now trying to get back into the habit of picture-taking.

Please enjoy a photo recap of Christmas with Mark and Hillary:

Christmas 'present' from Hill.

Christmas 'present' from Mark.
Christmas movie on Christmas Eve-Eve with nuts and wine.

Mark staring dubiously into the Pumpkin Coconut porridge made with amaranth. No sugar!
Hoisting dough out of the sourdough bucket to do some Christmas Eve baking.
Sugarless crockpot mocha heating up.
And tasting delicious!
A rousing game of Dominion.
I'm smiling because this is a really good hand.
Mark loves the new photo editing features on our new camera.
I do not.
A game of Settlers next...
Sugarless lemon shortbread cookies made with stevia.

Double yum.
Merry Christmas friends and family!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Season of Waiting

At first I was going to somehow tie the season of Advent into the title of this post, but then when I looked up the definition of 'advent,' I realized 'advent' refers to the arrival of something incredibly important, not really to the waiting for the arrival. Not having any kind of arrival in sight, I didn't think the comparison would be appropriate. That was a little bit depressing.

Mark and I are still waiting. I wasn't going to post on our baby decisions, either related to infertility or adoption, until we had something more definite to share. But I changed my mind, I guess. The past week and a half have been hard for me, in relation to waiting to be able to grow our family, and I just wanted somewhere to spill the words. Or maybe my reason is more cowardly: maybe I just can't bring myself to talk to many people about this in a serious way, and maybe this is my less confrontational way of letting friends know how I'm handling infertility right now. Either way, cowardly or not, spilling my frustration over infertility on this blog has been helpful, healing even, at times.

Although we feel ready in theory to start an adoption process, we are waiting on a few big decisions in our lives that we expect to be resolved within the next six months. I don't want to write about what those decisions are yet, not here, but that is why we are waiting. As to growing our family biologically, we're still praying about that too. Really, I would accept a child that was handed to me either via adoption or biological  methods. I'm open to whichever God has planned for us first. But, obviously, we have little control over growing our family biologically right now, so we're waiting on that too.

Ugh. Waiting. As I mentioned above, this has been a hard week and a half of waiting. A very dear friend wrote me a letter to let me know that she and her husband are expecting a little blessing. I truly am rejoicing with them. They've dealt with some of the same pain of infertility. Knowing that pain, I can imagine just how thrilled they are, and I'm so happy that God has blessed them. But right there next to the rejoicing part of me is the mourning, tantrum-throwing part of me, the part of me that asks, "Why not me? I've been waiting longer! God, why are you so silent to me?"

So the past week has been a ping pong match of me trying to trust God and then questioning God, and then believing His timing is best, and then crying and wondering if God just doesn't think I'm cut out to be a mom. I mean, I know that's not God's reason for withholding children right now, but sometimes it just feels like it. And so then I think that God must have something else He wants us to do before He gives us children, and then I think that maybe there's no constructive purpose to this waiting. Ping pong, ping pong...

With Christmas approaching I am reminded of all that I have to be thankful for: an amazing husband, two sets of wonderful parents, siblings, nephews, a niece, snow, and almonds come to mind right now. But it's hard too. I'm mostly super excited to see my niece and nephews, but part of me dreads the strong reminder of what being new parents with a new baby would be like. But at the same time, I wouldn't miss seeing those three little faces for the world. So the ping pong match continues.

I'm sorry for making this blog post my dumping ground for this past week's worth of emotions. It's maybe a bit too depressing with Christmas this close upon us. And I know that many people, both in the U.S. and around the world are suffering much more than me. I'm still thinking of and praying for the families affected by the horrible, unthinkable school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last week. Those families are grieving much more than I am right now, so much so that I can't even imagine what they must be feeling.

So, in light of all that grief-- grief for children lost too early, grief for children not appearing-- maybe let this post serve as a reminder this Christmas. When you're celebrating Christmas in a few days, say a little prayer for a couple you know that is grieving because their family is too small this Christmas. Suddenly too small or still too small. It certainly doesn't have to be me and Mark you pray for. Just remember some couple's grief.

I will be praying for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary this Christmas, and I'll also be praying for other families like mine. My Christmas prayer, both for me and Mark, and for other couples struggling with infertility is this verse that has been echoing in my heart this week from Isaiah:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For our God is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Anybody want a peanut?

Have you seen the movie The Princess Bride? If you haven’t, come now. It’s an American classic. Go see it.

If you have seen it, remember the part where Inigo Montoya and Fezzik have just captured Buttercup? They have all just climbed aboard the boat and Inigo and Fezzik start their rhyming game. See the clip below to jog your memory:

Inigo and Fezzik are not the most admirable characters ever created, so I’m not sure I’m happy to be comparing me and Mark to the two of them. It can’t be helped, however. I don’t know how Mark and I got started with this little game in our marriage, but sometime in the last few years we started playing a similar rhyming game. Here is an example, from last Sunday at lunch:

Mark: I think the rice is nice… It will quite suffice.

Hill: … If it’s on ice!

Mark: That doesn’t make sense! If you add some spice.

Hill: And stir it twice.

Mark: But keep out the lice.

Hill: And the mice.

Much laughter and snickering ensue, picturing lice and mice in our rice and beans.

Hill: Or we’ll pay the price!

At this point we started really laughing and never got back to the rhyming game. That’s usually how it ends. Don’t you wish you could join us for lunch? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Some Financial Peace

Financially, this is an exciting time in Mark’s and my life together. And in our marriage, really. Have you ever heard of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University? If not, you should check it out.

If you have heard of it, you probably fall into one of three categories:
A) You haven’t gone through it yet, but it sounds really exciting. You’re not sure how or when you’ll go through it, but you know you want to. You may or may not have debt and problems with money to work through, but you’re excited to learn more about  how to manage your money.
B) You haven’t gone through it, and you know you never will. It sounds like a load of cockatoo poo. You probably have some problems with money or problems with self-discipline that you’re not ready to work through.
C) You’ve gone through it, and you know it’s the cat’s meow. Your life is changed for the better because you had a heart-to-heart with yourself and your spouse about money and feel free for the first time in your life. Your relationship with your money might not be perfect, but you’re paying off your debt and know you’re on the right track.

These categories are probably be too simplified. Obviously I haven’t taken into account every possible situation and circumstance. But on the whole, from my experiences of talking to people about money and Dave Ramsey, these are the three reactions I hear.

As I said, it’s an exciting time for Mark and me in terms of our money.

WARNING: I am about to talk about personal finances. I am aware that this subject is taboo in the U.S. and may make some of you uncomfortable.

We have a lot of debt. As debt goes, it’s ‘good debt.’ But Dave Ramsey would be quick to tell me that there’s no such thing as good debt; it’s all bad. Debt is bad. Debt means somehow, at some time, you’ve spent beyond your means and you’re now paying for it, literally. Debt means that you’re throwing a large chunk of your money away every year on icky interest.

All of our debt right now is school loans. We haven’t bought a house yet (specifically because we know that as soon as we buy a house, the amount of money we spend on our house each month will skyrocket), so we don’t have house debt yet.

Here are the numbers, so specific that they will make the average American uncomfortable and feel like they’re trespassing into our personal lives:

$60,000 – roughly, the amount of money in school loans that Mark and I graduated from college with, combined.
$20,000 – roughly, the amount of one of Mark’s loans that we just finished paying off. Yaaaay! Honestly, I still don’t feel like the numbers add up right. Together we’ve been making less than $40,000 per year since graduation three years ago. I think God must have been making secret payments into this school loan when our backs were turned to get this baby paid off so fast.
$39,000 – roughly, the amount that remains to be paid off. This is still a lot of money.

Remember yesterday, when I was talking about yeast? About trusting God to be who he says he is and do what he says he will do? Well, this is one area where my ability to trust is tested. Yes, God has helped us pay off one large school loan in a short period of time, but then I start to roll things like wanting to buy a house, wanting to start an adoption process, and a bunch of other things around in my head, and the debt seems insurmountable again. But God truly is faithful. He has given and will give us what we need just when we need it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Beware the Yeast

I didn’t start this post with sourdough in mind, but I just got done fretting over the sourdough starter I put together yesterday. It’s not acting very lively, and I’m afraid the cold snap and our drafty windows have something to do with it.

Anyway, what I did have in mind this morning was a story fro Mark 8. I was struck by this story in a new way this morning. Allow me the liberty of retelling this ridiculous, and yet telling, story for you:

Setting: Jesus has been teaching 4,000 men and their families for three long days. Thinking about how hungry they must all be and how they still have a long journey home ahead of them, Jesus produces enough food for the people plus an additional seven basketfuls of food out of seven loaves of bread and a few fish. He sends the people on their way and he and his disciples travel by boat to the region of Dalmanutha.

Upon arriving in Dalmanutha, a group of Pharisees swarm around Jesus.
“I don’t think you’re really the Messiah who was to come,” one of them sneers at Jesus. “If you really are what you say you are, send a sign from heaven.”
The other Pharisees nod in agreement, snickering to each other.
Jesus sighs wearily and says, more to himself than to the Pharisees, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? Well, I tell you what, they are just going to be disappointed. Let’s go,” he says, turning to his disciples.
They climb back into the boat and cross again.
“Shoot.” James looks at Peter. “We forgot bread. There’s one loaf here…” he pulls a stale loaf out of a cloth bag in a corner of the boat.
The disciples all stare at the loaf longingly. Andrew’s stomach begins to growl.
“Be careful.” Jesus interrupts their contemplation of the bread. He’s watching them carefully, and he glances once at the loaf James is holding. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees. And that of Herod.”
James looks at the hard loaf of bread in his hands.
“What’s he mean?” John asks.
Peter takes the loaf of bread from James and turns it over, thoughtfully. “Did we get this from the same place that the Pharisees buy their bread? Or did someone make it for us?”
A few disciples shrug. No one says anything.
“Well, if no one knows whether this came from the same shop that the Pharisees buy bread at, how can we eat it?” Peter growls angrily. He darts glances at each of the disciples in turn. Suddenly, he pulls his arm back and hurls the loaf of bread into the sea. It makes a small splash and then bobbles on the top of the water, a small lump in the distance.
James sighs and rubs his stomach. “Well, I guess we don’t have to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees now, with that loaf gone. Now we have no bread.”
Jesus had been staring off toward land, not participating in the conversation. Now he turned to the disciples. “Why are you still talking about having no bread? Did anything I just said have to do with bread? Moreover, are you really afraid of starving to death? With me? Have you seen nothing I’ve done?” Jesus is obviously exasperated, his expression almost pained.
Philip raises his eyebrows and mutters to Thaddaeus, “What’s eating him? I didn’t think he got so crabby when he was hungry.”
“Don’t you remember? Just a few weeks ago, when I broke up the five loaves for the five thousand men and their families, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve!” John says, confidently.
“Yes…” Jesus says slowly, coaxingly. “And yesterday. When I broke up the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Oh! Seven!” Peter shouts with a smile.
“Exactly.” Jesus stares hard at Peter, like the matter is decided. He meets the eyes of each disciple, and then he turns his eyes out of the boat and toward the shore.
A few minutes pass, and the disciples wait, watching Jesus.
“I’m still hungry,” James whispers to Philip.
“Me too. But we need to be careful when we land not to buy the same bread that the Pharisees buy,” Philip whispers back, urgently.
A few disciples nod their agreement.
Jesus sighs and shakes his head, still looking toward shore. As the disciples look at him and then at each other, Jesus murmurs, “Do you still not understand?”

Thanks for indulging my reflection on Mark 8. Maybe that was helpful to you too, but I have a sneaking suspicion that re-write was more for me than for anyone. How often does God show his faithfulness to me, show me what he can and will do on my behalf, and I still don’t understand?

To be honest, very often. Every time I’m confronted with a new challenge (really, any change to the tried and true security of my routine and way of life) I balk and question how it will work, how we’ll make ends meet. And I ask, how, how, how? But God is faithful. Jesus Christ is who he says he is. He can do what he says he can do. And he loves us the way he says he does. God is trustworthy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Recent Life in Pictures (and a few words)

Recent life has been busy. Very busy. Amid all the busyness, though, life moves along. Here are some pictures and commentary from recent life:

This is our third Christmas together. Instead of taking time to decorate the three together as we have done for the past two years, I worked on some sort of organizational project while Mark set up the tree and put lights and tinsel on it. Then while he worked on something (maybe food-related?), I put ornaments on the tree. So, instead of a nicely planned picture in front of the tree this year, we have the picture below, which is more in the spirit of, “Oh, we should probably document this with a photo or something.”

We’ve been trying new recipes as a result of our sugar detox, or sugar fast, or whatever you might want to call it. One of the new recipes we tried is a Spaghetti Squash Lasagna, recipe found here. This was my first time using spaghetti squash, and it secured my affection. The lasagna was quite good too. This picture, of it in a left-over container, about a week after we made it, doesn’t do it justice:

Here’s another spaghetti squash that we’re going to cook and freeze for future spaghetti squash lasagna:

This is a delicious sugar-free granola recipe that I found from this blogger. It does use Stevia to sweeten it, which tastes sweet but doesn’t cause an insulin reaction like real sugar does in a body. It’s got a lot of almond slivers and a lot of coconut. Mmmmm.

Today has also been quite productive, though not exciting. Mark is at work, which for some reason usually makes me more productive at home. I’m boiling the beans, pictured below, and I also spent time working on this Home Management accordion folder. I tried to have a Home Management binder like so many excessively organized bloggers seem to have, but that just didn’t work for me:

Here are beans cooking, for some Lime Cilantro White Bean Hummus that I will make later this week:

Here’s the menu for the party, at which I will serve the Lime Cilantro White Bean Hummus. I know there are cookies and blondies on the list of food. Don’t be alarmed. I plan to exercise incredible willpower while mixing up the batter for these. I won’t touch them at all. In all honesty, cutting out sugar cold turkey is a lot easier for me than trying to limit my sugar consumption. If it’s completely out of the question, then I can’t try to reason myself into thinking that one cookie is okay. So, don’t worry.

And this is my tea cupboard, organized. Really, it doesn’t look that different, except that I took all loose leaf teas out of their bags with twistie-ties and put them into jars, with labels on the lids. Please ignore the embarrassing amount of tea I have on hand.