Broccoli Casseroles and Church Suppers

Ok, I skipped the ‘A’ section of the recipe tin. It was mostly apples and I just can’t bring myself to do weeks of apple dishes in February/March. So, I’ll come back to ‘A’ when the time is right! On to ‘B’… “Broccoli Cheese Casserole”. Confession: I was an extremely picky eater as a child and still have some quirky food issues I deal with. Growing up, I would only eat broccoli raw. I almost never ate cooked vegetables. I grew into them but not until I became an adult. I didn’t consistently eat them until we started the Tuesday Night Dinner Club, in fact! I never tried broccoli casserole until Thanksgiving… Like 2 months ago… My sweet neighbor friend, Tia brought hers over. It’s basically famous and completely delicious! Oliver couldn’t get enough of it! So, when I saw this folded up piece of paper in Mamaw’s sweet handwriting next in line in this challenge, I was so excited! However, do you know what I didn’t know was in Broccoli casserole?? Fake cheese. On the recipe it calls for an “8 oz jar of processed cheese”. What does that mean? So I called on my friend Tia… Just as feared, it means Velveeta “cheese”. Hmm… Just as my mind began to reel with how I could change it, how I could health it up, how I could improvise considering the fact that we know more now about processed foods than our grandmothers knew… Tia said just what I needed to hear: “Yep. This recipe is one part healthy and three parts delicious.” Here’s the thing, usually we should do the best we can. Sometimes, we should go ahead and enjoy 1 part healthy and three parts delicious. So, I decided to go for it and use real cheese later… if this becomes a regular dish in my kitchen.

Broccoli’s purpose in this casserole is not to fulfill the government’s recommendations of getting our fruits and vegetables. No. In this gooey, crunchy, bubbly side dish, the broccoli’s lone purpose is to serve as a vehicle for cheese, butter, and cracker crumbles. I wish all vegetables had such a purpose…

So, off to the grocery store we went. Oliver and I tried out the new Winn Dixie near our house for our ingredients. It is marvelous in there!!! New carts with cup holders, a coffee bar to fill said cup holder, beautiful flowers, and samples galore. We sampled our way from the flowers to the frozen foods. The recipe called for 2 10 oz packages of broccoli cuts…I prefer florets though. Would you believe that I was so distracted by the fact that the broccoli was BOGO, that I didn’t pay attention to the fact that they were bags of “broccoli cuts” instead of “broccoli florets”. There’s a really, really big difference! There are A LOT of stalks in broccoli cuts. Eew. I used it but I have to tell you, my mistake ruined this dish for me. So sad!! The good news is, this is one of two recipes she had for this casserole. So, I’m having a broccoli casserole bake off. And I’ll buy the right thing next time!! I’ll look beyond the BOGO sign and really read the package… Anyway… Here’s the recipe:

1/2 c chopped onion
6 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 c water
8 oz processed cheese (Velveeta block)
2 10 oz bags of broccoli (she said cuts, I say florets) thawed and drained
2 eggs beaten
1/2 tsp mustard
2 c cracker crumbs 

Brown onions in 4 tbsp of butter
Stir in flour, add water, and stir until it thickens (this part is fun)
Add cheese and mustard
Combine sauce, broccoli, and beaten eggs
Turn into a greased, 2 qt casserole dish
Cover with cracker crumbs
Dot with remaining butter
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes

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Side note, in effort to get our money’s worth for the standing mixer I begged my husband to buy, I use it for everything I can think of. I used it to combine these ingredients and may or may not have flung cheesy broccoli all over my counters… It is my pleasure to make these messy mistakes so that you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

It tasted great but needed less stalks! Billy ate it and seemed happy… I think it’s a great side to a chicken dinner or a nice addition to a church or work potluck dinner, which actually brings me to what I want to tell you about this week…

I asked my daddy if this recipe brought up any memories for him. He doesn’t remember eating it at Mamaw’s house. I don’t remember it either but what she did use it for was for church suppers. imageMy Mamaw and Pa were ministers in the Church of God for more than fifty years. In fact, they began their ministry right after this sweet wedding picture was taken. After their “retirement” Pa continued to travel and preach at different churches in the state. Together, they served and ministered to thousands of precious souls. As any of you church goers would know, a big part of attending a church, is eating at church… Especially in the South… Especially in small towns, which is normally where they were. We love our church suppers and often, one of the jobs of a pastor’s wife is to coordinate said suppers. My dad told me that once, while they were pastoring a church in Winchester, KY when he was a teenager, the unthinkable happened. At a Homecoming Dinner on the Grounds, the church actually ran out of food!! Gasp! She was so embarrassed that from then on she made tons of food for every church event. This meant she made a lot of casseroles. And this is one he remembers her taking to church. This must have impacted her greatly because it was also a lesson she taught to her daughter in law, my mom. My mom would often say that one thing she learned from my Mamaw was that it’s always better to have too much than not enough! Mamaw wasn’t a flashy woman. She didn’t need or seek much recognition. She did however, always make sure that people’s needs were met. Church members and church visitors left with full hearts and full bellies. That’s how we all left her house too. She had this quiet and pure way of loving on people. She wasn’t overly gushy or overflowing in false flattery, but you never, ever left her presence without knowing you were loved. You never doubted that you mattered to her. I miss her so very much!

Muffins and Jam with Auntie Jo Jo

So… The second item in the recipe tin was a classic for bran muffins. It was clipped straight from the Quaker Oat Bran box, probably some time in the 90’s. I remember these muffins showing up sometime in my teen years. There seemed to be a container of them kept handily on Mamaw’s counter for a significant amount of time. They are simple and quick and an excellent on the go treat because they are sweetened to perfection. Not too sweet, so that you’re basically downing a naked cupcake but the honey and brown sugar make the bran taste pretty darn…tasty!

I know what you’re thinking… If anyone is actually reading this… ‘Oat Bran Muffins’ should not be next in the box, whatever happened to ‘A’? Well, I remember this little cardboard clipping in her kitchen. When I received this box, I noticed it tucked right there in the front (before the ritz cracker recipe was tucked in the front by me). She must have put it there to keep it handy. When I saw it there I thought about skipping it because, I don’t know… Bran muffins. But I remember eating them at her house and I remember them being good. A wonderful friend, Mama Wo, (also known as Mrs. Karen Wolfson) brought by a batch of her own delicious version after Oliver was born. It meant so much that she took the time to bake them for me and it was so nice to have something easy to eat while keeping my tiny, new human alive. So, I’m sharing the love with you. Fiber is good for us, after all.

I went on an oat bran hunt and had to go to two stores. FYI, Publix has it and I will have you know, this exact same recipe is still on the back of the box. Something about that made me so happy. It’s comforting to know that some things don’t change over time.

Friday night, I was honored to get to bake these little lovelies while chatting with one of my favorite people in the world. My sweet sister in law stayed with us and we connected over the things we normally do, like… The crazy ways our husbands (who are twins) are exactly alike. It’s insane how similar they are. We always get in a good laugh. I love having Joanna as a sister in love. She and I share similarities as well like, our fathers are ministers, we grew up in Florida, we love talking about our grandmothers… We love each other. She is so special in that, she brings peace and acceptance everywhere she goes. She’s a nurturer. She’s an AWESOME baker. Her laugh and her cry and her unwavering faith are all contagious. She is long suffering and easygoing. She’s an encourager. She loves unconditionally. She has an appreciation for simple things like homemade jams and long chats over coffee. Which in fact, is where we found ourselves Saturday morning. Cups in hand with warm bran muffins slathered in butter and Joanna’s homemade strawberry jam that she gave me for Christmas. We sat perched in my window seat while the baby slept. We sat and talked about life loving a Ullah man and what an adventure that it is. It was a brief visit but it brought a breath of fresh air and a reminder to love and linger with those who are dear. I’ve lost a lot of loved ones in my life… My Mamaw was taken when I was 19 and needed her most. My mom was taken about a year before I was pregnant with Oliver. I’ve shed many tears over wondering how I will do this wife and mother thing without them. But God truly sets the lonely in families. He’s given me such wonderful women to walk beside in this journey. What a treasure this one is. Oli’s Auntie Jo Jo. We just adore her.

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The recipe, you can find on the back of any box of Quaker Oat Bran. I won’t take the time to type it out for you… But I did try it out for you. It was good. It was quick (made quicker by my standing mixer). It’s healthy… Ok, there is some sugar added but I just don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t let me add brown sugar to my bran! The muffins it yields toss nicely into the diaper bag and go down easily with strawberry jam. Go get you a box, and enjoy… Preferably with someone who amazes you.

I love you, Joanna. I’m amazed at your strength and the love that you so freely give to those of us blessed to share life with you.

There is a fountain …

I love Valentine’s Day. I love cutesy and gushy and pink. I love hearts and candy and flowers. I haven’t been very romantic lately though. Oh I swoon plenty over this child of mine but I find myself impatient with life in general. There are these pictures I painted in my head. Some of them long ago and some of them just yesterday. They are filtered with a lovely shade of rose. The brush strokes are carefully hidden. The perfection is remarkable. But then there’s reality and reality looks a lot like monotony. It looks like another trail of dirt. Another bill in the mail. Another promise postponed. Another familiar twinge of pain.

I’m a worshiper. I always have been. I remember streams of tears as a small child as I worshipped at the altar. He was there, in children’s church. In my high school bedroom. In my college dorm. In my car on my commute to work. That’s where all the romance started. That’s where all the gushing began. Long before Oliver and long before Billy there was another love. A tremendous love. A love that grounded my thoughts and took root in my soul. Oh it’s still there. Oliver and I worship together in the kitchen and I try to please the Lord but am I fanning the flame of desire for my first love? Not really. My days look more and more like work and less and less like passion. I purposely model Godly ways for my son but I’ve neglected the passionate pursuit of His embrace.

I’m so blessed. I have so much. But there’s this piece of the picture I’ve been waiting for and recently I have found myself in a bit of a stand off with the Lord. Have you ever been in a place where the frustration of waiting gave way to deepest despair? And a hope deferred and deferred and deferred finally made your heart truly sick? That’s where I am.

I’ve been impatient with my husband. His little quirks aren’t very cute lately. I’d like to say my quick to temper tendencies of late are his fault… But no one is perfect and the fact that he adores me and forgives me in spite of so much should be enough to cover a multitude of sins… The fault is mine. Please don’t read this and think I am unhappily married. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But lately it’s been evident that my normally loving nature isn’t so much my own nature as it is a mere extension of the love of my Savior. This love that once gushed forth never came from my own reserve but flowed from a fountain from deep within. It’s a fountain I once tended to closely and guarded from contamination. It’s a wellspring of life that I have intentionally put a stop in. It’s been on hold if you will waiting for this picture to be completed… Oh but how I long to gush again! A brilliant display of streams dancing and leaping through the air and landing in sweet, refreshing pools of His mercy. It’s me who has given in to resentment. Sown seeds of discontentment. It’s me who has plugged the fountain.

Yesterday, I woke up with a song on my heart. 13 songs to be exact. The new Joey+Rory album came available at Cracker Barrels yesterday, the day before Valentine’s Day and some of the first words I said to Billy after opening my eyes were “Pancakes at Cracker Barrel?”. “Let’s do it.” He was so kind and so quick to respond. He knew I wasn’t interested in pancakes. He called my bluff immediately. “You want that hymn album don’t you?” But he wasn’t grumpy with me. He just chuckled and got up and got dressed. I didn’t even wait until he came in from the parking lot after dropping me off at the door. I had hunted it down and headed to the register with the album clenched in my hands. I was starving. Not for pancakes, although good grief CB pancakes are good! I was longing though for a reminder of that love that met me in the altar all those years ago. The love that has captivated me, strengthened me, and engulfed me time and time again. I love the hymns. I was raised on them. They are testimonies of His faithfulness. They boast of miracles and wonders and glimpses of glory. And I need a glimpse of glory.

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I listened to Joey’s beautiful voice sing those sweet familiar songs and my heart was flooded with remembrance of the love we’ve shared. The love He pours in so that I can pour out. Songs like “He Touched Me” and “It is Well” guided me down the path to desire. Desire to hold on to Jesus and be held back in return. Not desire for a completed picture but a completed embrace, in the midst of perfection or in the middle of pain. No matter. I long to be near Him again. It all started with Him. And so on this Valentine’s Day I don’t wish for flowers or candy or rom coms. My desire is in Him. I am my beloveds and he is mine. I won’t settle for wine that pours from a bottle but give me the water that fills my cup to overflowing. Today, I will cling to a cross. An old rugged cross, I indeed lay down my trophies… The ones that boast of first place and perfection. I trade them in for last place so that He may again be first. I don’t long for hidden brushstrokes but for His blood to stain this masterpiece and wash away resentment and pain. Today, I seek love by seeking the One in whom all love was made. Today, I surrender all…

Chicken and Ritz Crackers and Grandmama’s House

I almost didn’t make my goal this week of cooking from the green box! We have been so sick in our house, passing around a cold and a stomach bug!! But Friday rolled around and I finally felt a tinge of an appetite and the Bear (Oliver) seemed to be hungry again for the stuff he usually likes but has refused to touch this past week. I can actually taste and smell again which is more than I can say for a few days ago. We’ve been surviving on crackers (quackas, as Oliver would say), eggs, toast, and chicken nuggets. Realizing that the week was about to slip away, I pulled out the green tin box and dug through it a little. I can’t decide if I should start at the beginning and go in order or pick and choose randomly. There in the front though, is a trusted slip of paper in my own handwriting. It isn’t Mamaw’s recipe but one she got from my step mama, Amy. Mamaw loved it and used it often. It’s a favorite, the contents of which I jotted down myself after calling Mama Amy as a newlywed desperate to cook something decent for my hungry husband. My husband Billy, who has about as much appreciation for a casserole as I do for… I don’t know, a football game, doesn’t care for them… although I didn’t know it when we were first married. I would pull one from the oven feeling proud and accomplished. He would sit down, look at his plate, and sigh. Oh well. It is what it is. From time to time, a casserole is bound to appear on my table. Why? Because it tastes like home. Because I don’t have all day to cook. Because they’re good! This one is no exception but let me warn you… This is NOT a health food site. Do not stone me with your words of shame and condemnation. Sometimes, I will alter recipes to be healthier. Sometimes, I won’t. If you want to eat fish and broccoli after your nice long run, go right ahead. I’m not chaining you to my kitchen window seat and force feeding you cream of chicken… I’m about to put it in my oven though whether you like it or not!
Also, be advised, this is not a fancy cooking blog. This is me, digging out some classics and taking a stroll down memory lane. I know what’s good for me and I know how to control myself when eating what isn’t good for me. This recipe isn’t good for me… Not my waistline anyway, but it is good for my soul. And after a long 10 days of sickness, I think it’s just what we need. Billy has come to enjoy some of my casserole favorites… At least he says he does… This is one of them! So, here goes:

Amy’s Chicken and Ritz Casserole.

3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
8 oz sour cream
1 stick melted butter
1 can cream of chicken soup
2-3 sleeves Ritz crackers

How I’ve healthed it up a notch:
-I buy my chicken on Tuesdays (sale day) at Fresh market. No antibiotics and better for the Bear!
-I’ve replaced the sour cream with plain Greek yogurt
-sometimes I use wheat Ritz… Not today!
-low sodium or organic cream of chicken (I just had the regular kind today)

I throw 4 frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot and cook over night or during the day. Combine all but the crackers together. I do it all in my pretty blue upright mixer Billy got me for Christmas this year. I plop in the cooked chicken, Greek yogurt, butter, cream of chicken and mix with the paddle on the lowest setting for maybe 30 seconds. Perfection! Easy breezy! I love this thing! I pour that mixture into my yellow casserole dish and top with Ritz crackers. Oliver loves this recipe because he gets to stand at the bottom of my apron enjoying a steady handout of “quackas”. Throw it in the oven bracing myself on one leg while the other leg is outstretched to keep my little butter biscuit of a baby from jumping in. Make sure to yell “Hot! Hot” 100 times, further ensuring he does not jump in. Bake till bubbly. Yum! Comfort food at its easiest! Thank you Mama Amy!! There is a reason it’s in the very front of the box… Forget alphabetical order. Ain’t nobody got time for A… B… C… When you’re in recovery mode.

Pair this dreamy concoction with something green so that you’ll feel better about yourself. I prefer roasted green beans. Here’s the “recipe” if you can really call it that:

Combine:

3 big handfuls of fresh green beans
1-2 tbsp of butter or olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Bake, stirring occasionally at 350… till it looks right… Delicious!!

Being sick always reminds me of my Mamaw and I long for her to take care of me again. She was great at it and would stroke my hair and tickle my arms until I would drift off to sleep… And then there’s this funny story about me and Mamaw and Walmart on Black Friday and too much pecan pie for breakfast… But since we’re talking about cooking and since I want to enjoy this meal… I’m not going to go there. But it is a great story… I’ll spare you. Moving on to the next memory…

Every time I pull out of a box of Ritz crackers, whether I’m tossing a few on a plate with cheese slices, or making this recipe, I think about my Grandmama’s house. My great grandmama lived with my Great Grandfather (Papa) across the street from Mamaw and Pa in the sweet little country house Papa built for her way back in 1925. Actually, he rolled the the one room feed house from the pasture up to where it now sits, on logs pulled by a mule. They started out life together in that one room, cooking their meals on a wood burning stove. They raised their family there as well as some cows and some sugar cane. As their family grew, (they had 3 children) Papa added onto that one room until it became what it is now: a cute, 3 bedroom house with yellow siding, a living room and a front porch. Beside that house still stands the old country house which belonged to his mama, my great great grandmama. He grew up in that house and I along with my brother and cousins played on the same land that our fathers did and our grandmother and our great grandfather. The picture in my mind of those 3 houses situated so sweetly together holds some of the dearest memories I have. Hopscotch drawn with a gravel rock on the road, playing while the grown ups had long chats on the porch, the dinner bell that rang out to bring us all to the table, the Gaithers that would play on the tiny little TV, the old truck that carried hay to the pasture, a red dog, a grape vine… I can still smell the air and taste the muscadines. HOME. I miss it so…

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Almost every visit to Grandmama’s house I made my way to her white 1940’s Frigidaire, pulled the handle, and took out the pretty glass jar with the painted red roses filled with literally the best tasting water in the world. I don’t know how she made even water taste good… But she did. It was her magic to make all things delicious. I’d grab a little paper Dixie cup from the plastic dispenser that hung on the wall and pour a cold cup full. And if it wasn’t supper time… She’d walk over to the pantry and pull out the red box with crinkly brown sleeves of buttery goodness. Ritz crackers! I loved them then. I love them now… But I rarely buy them, because I know better.

Today though, I’ll have myself a comforting heap of creamy chicken topped with crunchy goodness. I feel better already!!!

To Marvel

I’m holding my son as he sleeps. I’m “supposed” to put him down in his crib. This is the hour I should be folding laundry and scrubbing the bathroom floors. I could spend this time painting my nails or doing Pilates. There are a hundred things I could be doing or maybe even should be doing… But I’m staring at my baby. I’m using this time to marvel (as I often do). I marvel at the intricacies of this creation. The perfection of his eyebrows. The angle of his jawline. The curl that hides behind his ear. I wonder how God decided to give him Billy’s hands and feet but my ears. I marvel, and tears streak my face… and from time to time they splash onto his smooth pudgy arms. I weep. They aren’t happy tears. They aren’t hormone induced either… They are mournful and filled with anguish. They beg to be heard but know that they will be swept into silence. But they continue to fall. They fall for the other perfect creations who won’t live to be seen. Sweet, tiny, hidden humans who were created by the same God who breathed life into us all… They will never be marveled in their mother’s embrace. They are unplanned and therefore considered unworthy of life itself. Before you label me as judgmental or a biggot, I don’t feel hatred while writing these words. I feel sadness and even desperation. I don’t overlook how pregnancy and delivery can affect a mother’s body. I understand that part pretty well. I know babies can be inconvenient and even frustrating. But someone thought I was worth it. Someone thought you were too. It troubles me to think that somewhere along the way, we decided that it was within our human right, for the sake of our best interest, to violently snuff out life hidden in the safety of a mother’s womb… It proves that we live blindfolded by deceit. To think my baby is a baby because he made it out but “her” baby isn’t a baby because she/he is still inside, I don’t understand the difference. My head knows the numbers that will be destroyed today, but my heart hopes that a mother is standing up and walking out of a clinic somewhere, right now. I hope for the unborn. I hope for adoption to be explained as a real option to some sweet, scared young woman right now. I hope something that seemed like an inconvenience, will be instead viewed as a miracle. I hope for them. I cry for them. I mourn for them. And I marvel at the one who made it into my arms.

Goodness Too…

Written December 4, 2015

Today, I sat in my car and listened for a while. I get my news from the radio and the Internet. We cancelled cable because they were robbing us of money… And time. That’s a different topic though. I listen to the worlds’ happenings while driving to and from my part time teaching job or running errands or while sitting in the car letting the baby nap in his car seat or while I’m nursing him in a parking lot between stops. I know you busy mamas know what I’m talking about. Today, I listened and I was overwhelmed as I often am. My heart raced. My thoughts headed down a frightening road. Fear gripped me as I fed Oliver and then let him play with the steering wheel for a moment. I held his sweet, squishy, cuddly self in my lap. I brushed his hair out of his eyes for the 28th time. I responded to his “scrunchy face” and smiled when he giggled. I tried to ignore the dread. I tried to tell myself it will all be ok. Oliver will be ok. His daddy will be ok. But 2 days ago, someone’s loved one was not ok. “ISIS is here among us.” the radio blares. Another shooting. 14 dead, 20+ wounded. The words roll over and over in my mind. I run into Target and Publix and wonder if I should have him out. It’s windy and he’s prone to ear infections… But let’s be real. I’m scared. I’m afraid there will be a shooter inside. I wonder if there is an explosive in the entryway. Whether it’s a real terrorist or an angry teenager or a fanatic… This probably sounds like mama bear paranoia. Maybe it is. But this is a reality in our lives right now. Terror is real. I could frolic along and push back the fear fairly easily before I became a mama. It’s harder now. I know we have peace that passes all understanding. I have felt it in the wake of personal tragedy. I know we have a friend at all times. I know we are to abide under the shadow of His wing. I know where my eternity lies. I know all these things, but I’m still afraid for my country and for my family right now. I sat there in the car listening to it all. I let the statistics and the information wash over me. It was deafening. It felt and sounded like I was being overtaken by actual waves. I shook it off. I turned off the engine and the voices and I opened the car door. Over the waves still crashing in my head another sound rang out. It was happy and high, bright and continuous… The Salvation Army bell. It rang above the wind and the waves and the fear and the dread. I smiled before I realized it. I hugged my baby tighter. A quote (from “Where the Heart is”) ran through my mind:

Novalee Nation: You tell them that our lives can change with every breath we take… and tell ’em to hold on like h*** to what they’ve got: each other, and a mother who would die for them and almost did… You tell them we’ve all got meanness in us, but we’ve got goodness too. And the only thing worth living for is the good. And that’s why we’ve got to make sure we pass it on.

“We’ve got goodness too…” I know that’s silly but that’s what happened.
And so I listened. I listened to the goodness. There was a baby laughing (my baby) and a cashier smiling and chocolate ganache cake and free coffee and a man telling me to cover my son’s ears in the wind (oops) and birds squawking overhead much to the delight of Oliver. There was a red bucket for those in need. There was a friendly wave from a stranger. There was my husband smiling at me as I turned into the driveway excited to get the baby from the car. “There is goodness too. And the only thing worth living for is the good.” So… I’ll go put Oliver down for his nap. I’ll rock him tight safely inside. I’ll gather candles and wrap a gift and fix my hair so I can go and celebrate one of my besties tonight. I’ll snuggle up with the sweetest husband. And I’ll listen really closely… for the goodness. And I’ll try to make a little joyful noise myself. Hopefully, it will be loud enough to ring out above the waves in someone else’s heart and mind.

What do peaches and pickles have to do with anything??

I owe you an explanation. What’s up with my title: “Peaches, Pickles, and Pearls”? Well… I’ve explained the pearls. I truly believe that we should wear each season we are given like a lovely string of pearls by allowing Gods grace to shine through us… by allowing Him to adorn us, illuminating us, no matter what place in which we find ourselves. It’s the whole “bloom where you are planted” concept.

Peaches and pickles… Bear with me now. I’ve recently, joyfully, reluctantly become a stay at home mama. Joyfully, because it is such a dream come true. I didn’t think it would ever be possible. Reluctantly, because it was scary. Scary in what it would mean both financially as well as what it would mean to my career as an educator of the Deaf. That being said, I’m loving it!!!! I love that I am blessed to witness it all first hand and I do not take for granted that each moment of this journey is a lovely, lovely treasure. I am still working part time teaching American Sign Language as a foreign language to high schoolers. They let me bring my son with me to class!!! What a perk, huh?! An exhaustingly wonderful perk!

Even though this has been a beautiful time, there have been some intense challenges. Like, though writing is the way I am able to best express myself, I’ve suffered writers block since Oliver’s birth. Maybe it’s because I’m too distracted by breathing it all in to actually stop breathing it all in and write it all down. Even his baby book is an embarrassment. It sits near me all the time mocking me with its adorableness…and it’s lack of detail… Maybe it’s because I lost a lot of my vocabulary during my pregnancy. I’m not even kidding. I often can’t find my words. Therefore, I often find myself all jumbled up inside with no outlet to make sense of it and no work girlfriends to talk it out with at lunchtime… That’s the downside of being a stay at home mama. I miss my work friends!

Another tremendous challenge for me… has been cooking!!! I don’t hate cooking. In fact, we are part of a Tuesday Night Dinner Club that has been going strong since 2008!!! It’s been amazing and has helped my cooking evolve from pizza rolls and spaghetti to using (and enjoying) fresh ingredients and new recipes and a gorgeous new mixer I got for Christmas!! I also LOVE to entertain and our Tuesday night friends have become family to us. We’ve made memories and walked through joys and sorrows together… Over good food of course. We laugh, we cry, we chop, we pour, we eat, we love! We really love. But I’ve always been a snacker and on any given weeknight, when its just us, I would still rather eat a bowl of cereal and carry on with my evening than spend 2 hours preparing, 20 minutes eating, and an hour cleaning up… But… I married a carnivore AND I gave birth to one. Cooking is a must and I need to get my act together in that department.

Something else you may or may not know about me is the intensely deep impact my grandparents had and still have on my life. My grandparents were a very significant part of my upbringing. I have longed to write their story for years. I do not know where or how to begin in this endeavor. Their love story is breath taking. They lived simply but did mighty things for God. They were faithful and steady. Their love poured out in affection and quality time and really good food. I have so many beautiful memories. In fact, out of all my memories before the age of 19, my favorites include them. However, one of my deepest regrets is not prioritizing time with my grandmother (my Mamaw) in that sweet country kitchen. I wish I had learned more. I wish I had given more. Before they passed, I had decided to spend time learning from her in the kitchen. Life had different plans… So… That’s where telling their story will begin. It begins where we left off. It begins in the kitchen. It begins with a little green box.

I don’t know how it happened but I ended up with such a lovely treasure. It doesn’t hold all of her recipes. I’m sure the best ones were in her head. But it’s something. It’s a place to begin. This week, I’m going back to the kitchen with Mamaw. I’m armed with a little green recipe box, a sweet little porcelain duck that once sat proudly in her windowsill, and half of her precious China on which to enjoy these concoctions. And I have my memories. The ones that forever roll through my mind and the ones that I hope (oh how I hope!) this project will bring to the surface.

So, at Thanksgiving, I brought out my trusted friend the green box to find her recipe for sweet potato soufflé, written so perfectly in her cursive handwriting. I make it every year and don’t really need the little slip of paper. But the paper is my favorite part. My fingers worked passed ‘A’ and ‘B’ and ‘C’ and so on. They found their way all the way to ‘S’ and I was struck with deep regret. I randomly pulled out recipe cards and scraps of paper some written by her, some by friends, some that looked delicious and some that looked questionable. Some I recognized and others I did not. Why have I spent so much time pinning new dishes to try when there is a box full of classics right here??

And so, a challenge. And before you go accusing me of copying that very delightful movie, “Julie and Julia”… Maybe I am a little… But my goal is different. I need a “have to”. If I don’t get my words swirling again, I feel like I’ll continue deeper and deeper into the forest of jumbled up emotions and my memories of the most precious people I’ve ever known will forever be lost. So here goes, the challenge: to cook one recipe from the box per week, or at least a recipe I know happened in her kitchen and write about the experience and/or the story it brings to the surface. Sometimes, I will share the recipe and sometimes I will not. I do not wish to be disowned by my beloved family members who treasure her recipes also.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot to tell you! Peaches and pickles!!! Well… There is one recipe of hers that I have mastered and use a great deal! Her peach cobbler! It’s something a kin to the ‘cuppa cuppa cuppa’ cobbler discussed at Trudy’s hair salon in Steel Magnolia’s. It’s a Ullah family favorite! And there is one recipe that is not in the box but forever in my mind. Her pickles!!! They sat on her counter in a giant jar with a country blue quilted lid topper. They were thinly sliced, sweet, and delicious! There was typically a bowl of them served with supper and oh my goodness I wish I had some right now. My mouth is officially watering. One day… I will figure them out and serve them at my own supper table. Until then… They live on in the title of my long procrastinated blog.

So here goes nothing… And everything… And here’s a sweet tea toast to happy bellies, a contented heart, memory lane, and a little green box!