Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Beauty That Changes You (+ Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole)

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole :: coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

I am one of those people who keeps an absurd number of unread emails in my inbox. I scan the list of new messages, click open one or two that are actually personally relevant to me, and then just move on to something else. Mostly, the unread emails are promotions I'm not interested in, newsletters and notifications I don't remember signing up for, that kind of thing. But once in a while a message pops up from a voice that never fails to be uplifting and refreshing, and I find myself glad to see them, like having coffee with a good friend after a long time apart. The Blessed is She reflections. A notification from Sarah Mackenzie that a new episode of the Read Aloud Revival podcast is up! Anything, just anything from Tsh Oxenreider.

Lately, I've been working through Tsh's Upstream Field Guide: an online course "to help you discover who you are, find your life's purpose, and take daily action so that your life makes more sense." It is jam packed with great stuff - podcasts, downloads, Spotify playlists to get your journaling juices flowing. I have been enjoying every minute I spend with it, and loving the fact that I can do it at my own pace. One of the journal prompts asked me to list some things that I find beautiful, and it has really stuck in my brain. As I go about my days, I'll find myself thinking, There. There is something that is beautiful.

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole :: coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

In a homily last week, one of our parish priests reflected on the crucifixion. He knew an artist who tried to describe the balance of emotion that goes into a painting or other depiction of Christ's Passion. Pain, of course. Agony. But also ecstasy. Because He joyfully offered Himself on the cross, it was not only pain and suffering. He knew exactly what He was doing, and why. And for whom.


What tremendous beauty there is in such a sacrifice; a willing self-donation. Joy and love transform pain into beauty.

All through this week, I expect to find myself dissolving into tears as I witness - again - so many stunning displays of a love that transforms, that heals, that saves. In yesterday's Gospel reading, a woman pours out a liter of costly oil - a LITER! - on Jesus' feet, and dries them with her hair. How can you witness an act of such bold humility and striking sacrifice, and come away unchanged? Imagine the smell in that house - filled with that fragrance. Imagine the gasps of those watching, the tears on Mary's face as she loved Jesus with abandon. Let this beauty sit in your soul and change you.

Mary Anoints Jesus

This Holy Week, I decided to dedicate myself to decluttering, sprucing up, and using up the food that's in our house - preparing our home and our hearts for a big celebration. As I realize what a huge task I've embarked upon, I'm starting to think toward next Lent - maybe a big de-clutter in the kitchen during the first week of Lent, and then meal-planning to use up what's there, in an effort to simplify, save money, and be a good steward of the generous gifts God has given me. We are still using up things and eating up leftovers this week (gotta make room for a feast!), and this "unstuffed" cabbage was a great, easy way to do it. Hope you enjoy it!

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole :: coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole

1/2 head cabbage, shredded
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter a 9x13 (or equivalent) baking dish. Toss the cabbage with a teaspoon of salt, and let it sit while you prepare the filling.

Sauté bacon until crispy. Pour off excess fat, leaving about a tablespoon in the pan. Add the beef to the pan and brown it, breaking it up as you go. Add onion, garlic, and seasonings and cook 3-5 more minutes, until onions are beginning to soften. Stir in tomato paste and wine. Remove pan from heat, and stir in the yogurt.

Spread half the cabbage in the buttered dish, and top with beef. Repeat with remaining cabbage and beef. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Maple Tapping at Growing Legacy Farm

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Dwija and her family were tapping the maple trees at their new house. Never one to miss an opportunity to engage in a seasonal activity, I decided to do a little investigating into our options for seeing a maple-tapping, sap-boiling operation. By investigating, I mean that while we were in Traverse City last week, I asked my mom if her friends, who own a farm nearby, tapped maples. They do! They were doing it last week, and invited us to come by and check it out.

Fred and Barb Weber started Growing Legacy Farm seven years ago because they wanted to give their grandchildren the opportunity to see where their food came from, to live close to the land, and to be in community with family all the time. They started small, raising broiler chickens, and more recently purchased their current farm, where they have been expanding and improving every year, adding goats, more chickens, a no-till vegetable and herb garden, and grass-fed cattle. They converted their farmhouse so that they have semi-private residences (they live downstairs while their kids and grandkids live upstairs), and their passion for what their doing, not to mention the joy they are experiencing in living out this particular dream just radiates from them.


When we arrived on the farm, we were welcomed inside for a brief history, and then Fred took us on a little tour of the farm while Barb stayed inside to finish baking bread. First we visited the chicken coop, where the girls were chattering happily and staying warm. We saw the goats, then walked across a field to the main attraction: the maples! They have 40 or 50 trees tapped this year, each outfitted with plastic tube that diverts sap into buckets. The sap looks just like water, and we all dipped our fingers in for a taste, which was like barely maple-scented water. Not sticky at all!






After we collected a bit of sap, we brought it back to where they boil it down to make syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup! After a pass through a filter, we added our freshly-gathered sap to the boiler, took a peek at the blazing wood fire they use to heat it, and then headed inside for a little taste of last year's finished product.



On the way, my sister took Anne to the chicken coop to collect some eggs! Anne was absolutely delighted, and proudly brought her little bucket of eggs to show us all.


It was a fantastic outing, and we're looking forward to coming back when the farming season is in full swing. If you're in Northern Michigan and you're looking for sustainably-raised meat and eggs, please check out Growing Legacy Farm!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Guinness Chocolate Cake

Guinness Chocolate Cake :: coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Laetare! With three weeks left until Easter, we get a little taste of rejoicing, like a runner eating one of those sugary gel packs during a race, to give them a boost toward the finish. We also, handily, got a little taste of spring weather to get us through whatever the late-winter lion is going to throw at us. All the snow has melted in Chicago (miracle!), and GREEN THINGS ARE GROWING OUT OF THE GROUND. Toddlers are getting reacquainted with things like fresh air and dirt. The world is a nice place to be in again.

This weekend we were privileged to be part of the baptism of our friends' brand-new baby son, and I thought how right the timing felt - another little taste of joy this weekend, along with a renewal of the promises we made at our own baptism. Do you reject Satan? YES! Do you believe in God? YES!


We also brought some dinner over to other friends who just had a baby. I gave them really overcooked corned beef and cabbage! Aren't I nice? I felt bad until I realized I also brought cake. See? That's why you bring cake! Even better if it's dark, dense, beer-infused chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. I like how the frosting looks (like the frothy head of a pint), but I think I prefer the cake without. It's just so moist and perfect on its own!

Guinness Chocolate Cake :: coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Guinness Chocolate Cake

(12 servings)

For the cake:

1 cup Guinness
1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small slices
3/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

In a wide, shallow saucepan over medium heat, heat up the beer and butter until the butter melts. Remove from heat and stir in the cocoa powder and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together sour cream, eggs, and vanilla until smooth; add to beer mixture and whisk to combine. Add the flour and baking soda and whisk until incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 45-60 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly touched, and the sides are beginning to come away from the pan.

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. While the cake cools, make the frosting. Whip the cream cheese until smooth, then add the sugar. Whip to combine, and then add the cream and whip again until fluffy and spreadable. When the cake is completely cool, remove it to a cake plate, and top with the frosting. The white topping resembles the frothy head on a pint of Guinness. Sláinte!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lovely Links {3.13.15}

2013 spring annuals

Seven lovely links to take you into the weekend! Enjoy!
  • I tend to fill up my life with noise, intentionally or not, and this post made me a leeeetle squirmy: On avoiding self-reflection, at The Art of Simple.

For more 7 Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain't The Lyceum.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Apple Cinnamon Multigrain Pancakes

I have a friend I met when Anne was just about 2 weeks old - the first time I went to our parish's playgroup. Her younger daughter was 5 weeks old at the time, so those girls have been friends almost from birth, which I think is kind of amazing.

buddies (almost) from birth

We spend a lot of time together. Like, a lot. And when we're not together, we talk almost every day, at least once. She only lives 6 blocks away, and because her husband also has a very demanding job, we have established a wonderful tradition of coming together for "family dinners" on most of the nights when both husbands have to be away for dinner for whatever reason.

Cinnamon Apples aspiring food blogger
{After she helped me make the apples and batter and then saw me run over to the good light to take a photo, she ran over to her play kitchen, grabbed a pan and said, "Can you take a smile of my dinner?" Aspiring food blogger right here.}

These dinners are complete sanity-savers for me. The girls play, and we usually sip a glass of wine and talk while we cook.

Paradise Island

The reason this kind of community is so important to me is that food was not meant to be enjoyed alone. And during those weeks when my husband's work keeps him away during most of my waking hours, elevating my dinner conversation beyond what a 2-year-old is capable of is nothing short of miraculous.

Pancakes Pancakes!

Like the loaves and the fishes, sharing multiplies. It multiplies our gratefulness for the food we have, our ability to see what's right in front of us, our awareness of the presence of the Spirit in our lives.

Apple Cinnamon Multigrain Pancakes :: coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Community like this is rare in the world we live in. So tonight, after a rough week of surviving, I rolled up my sleeves and made pancakes and said a prayer of thanks from my heart.


Apple Cinnamon Multigrain Pancakes

For the apples:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the pancakes:
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup amaranth flour
1/3 cup rye flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add apples, lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon, and toss together. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5-6 minutes, until the apples are soft but not falling apart, and the sugar and butter are sticky and caramelized. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and whisk together. Combine wet ingredients in another bowl, then pour wet into dry and whisk together. Set aside for 10-15 minutes if possible, just to allow the batter to bubble and develop a bit. I think this makes for puffier pancakes.

Preheat an electric griddle to 350 degrees, or set up a skillet over a medium flame. Not too hot, or the outsides will burn before the insides get done! When the pan is hot, rub butter all over, and then scoop the batter in 1/4- to 1/3-cup servings. (I made some little silver-dollars for the kids, some of whom sometimes scream when I cut their food.) In about a minute, spoon some of the cinnamon-apples onto the top, and then when the underside is golden (2-3 minutes total), flip! Cook another minute or two and repeat until batter is gone. Serve topped with butter and extra apples or maple syrup.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Baptizing My Imagination {#CWBNIndiana}

This weekend, I drove to Notre Dame for the Catholic Women Blogging Network conference. When I first signed up, I felt slightly apprehensive - my blog has been seeing some neglect lately as I've been spending more time focused on trying to get a handle on my homebound vocation. But as the weekend approached, I just started thinking of it as an opportunity - to meet some wonderful women whose blogs I've followed for years, to spend a day focusing on myself and my own ideas and goals, and to focus on what I want from my blog, and what I want to put into it. It turned out to be exactly what I needed.

A beautiful sunny (40-degree, so... WARM) day on a gorgeous campus, a bunch of new friends, great food, and inspiring and engaging talks. At one point we sat in a circle and shared a little about ourselves, and I was struck by the unique voice of each woman there. They each have something special to share, something to say that nobody else can say. Listening to them inspired me to continue honing my own viewpoint, my own voice.

Sometimes I get caught up in the everyday tasks of my life, the all-consuming, never-ending stream of chores and obligations and things that need to be done. It's easy to do, and it's all too easy to sit down after a full day and just want to turn off my brain and watch TV. This weekend reinvigorated me, reminded me how important it is to focus outward, to read, learn, get my hands dirty and exercise my intellect. These things bring light into my life and home, brightening my relationships and polishing the lens through which I see.

Highlight of the trip: face time with my BFF Sarah of Fumbling Toward Grace

I'm ready to reintroduce the joy of this kind of work into my life. To dive into real relationships, to read more so that I have more to offer. I'm so excited to tap into my creativity and hone my voice. Stay tuned for some fun stuff ahead!

Of the wonderful speakers who presented their thoughts on Saturday, I was the most challenged and inspired by Kathryn of Through A Glass Brightly and Love Among The Ruins. The lens through which she sees the world is so focused on truth, goodness, and beauty that she cannot help but see God in everything. She has such an incredible heart for others, not to mention an amazing intellect. I'm looking forward to working my way through her archives and letting her teach me to "baptize my imagination" as she so aptly put it.

Thank you to Bonnie and Katrina for putting on such a wonderful event, Rhonda, Nell, and Kathryn for sharing your hearts and ideas with us, and for all the rest of you who I am blessed to call my friends!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Simply Stunning Stuffed Shells

I think this is it, people. I think this is the end of the (really) cold weather. The ten-day forecast is hopeful, with highs mostly in the 40s, and one day with a predicted high of 50!! After a historically cold and snowy February, this forecast fills me with an embarrassing amount of joy.


Sometimes the idea of blogging about my faith, especially my Lenten practices feels strange to me - it feels against the spirit of Matthew 6:17 fasting, like if I bring this part of my life into a public arena, it will have less impact, make less of a difference in my life. But then as I read others' blogs, I remember why this kind of sharing is important. Bonnie wrote about her struggles through Lent, her struggle to challenge herself while also remaining realistic in the face of the everyday sacrifice of motherhood, and I felt encouraged, emboldened, and refreshed. I felt like I had a companion on the journey. Then Jenny shared a post challenging us to take a closer look at the media we consume, to really test whether it is strengthening or weakening our character, our conscience. I admire these women who are sharing their hearts, because they encourage me in my life, help me to be better, challenge me to look closer and dig deeper. I am grateful.


I guess the key is, as in all things, purity of motive. Why do I feel compelled to share? Do I want applause and accolades? To gain the admiration (and maybe even envy) of my peers? Or am I looking to pay it forward, in the hopes that something I share will encourage someone, help them to live their faith in the way so many bloggers have inspired me to live mine? The key is humility, which is so very hard to nail down, so difficult to live in reality.


I originally shared this recipe in 2011, and I've only made it a handful of times between then and now. I can't for the life of me figure out why, since it's so simple to make, and results in such a lovely, sparklingly special finished dish. Perfect for a Lenten Friday evening, or any other time when you'd rather avoid meat.


Simply Stunning Stuffed Shells
adapted from 101cookbooks

1 box jumbo dried pasta shells (you will end up with a few extra shells)
zest of 1 lemon

For the sauce:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

For the filling:
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 bunch chives, minced

Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Preheat oven to 350.  Coat bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil, and sprinkle half of lemon zest over it.

For the sauce, combine olive oil, salt, pepper flakes and garlic in a saucepan, stirring over medium heat just until fragrant, being careful not to burn.  Add tomatoes and stir until hot.  Remove from heat, stir in basil, and taste for seasonings.

For the filling, combine ricotta, egg and salt in a bowl and mix well.  Stir in mozzarella, parmesan, remaining half of lemon zest, and 3/4 of chives.  Set aside.

Cook shells in boiling, salted water until just barely done - if you overcook them, they'll fall apart when you try to stuff them.  Drain and cool slightly.

Spread 1/3 of sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Fill each shell with ricotta filling, and nestle them closely together on top of the sauce.  Spoon remaining sauce over, and then sprinkle with chives and a little bit of extra mozzarella and parmesan.  Cover with foil and bake 15 minutes, uncover and bake another 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling.  Serve with garlic bread. Or garlic knots!