Thursday, October 31, 2013

stuffed peppers

My sister-in-law (and someone else but I can’t remember who) gave me a huge bag of peppers. I’m still not in the mood to put food up—for all I know, there’s a million bags of peppers in the bottom of my freezer—and there were too many to eat up fresh, so I decided to make a new-to-me recipe: stuffed peppers.


Stuffed peppers have always seemed like:

a) an elitist, stuffy (ha!) dish, and
b) a taboo,

because:

a) hello, who spends time hollowing out peppers and making them stand on end? and
b) soft, cooked peppers and kids don’t mix.

But I did a little research and figured that at least I’d like them. And because I’m not adverse to letting my taste preferences override those of my family, I took the stuff-the-pepper plunge.

 

 
The verdict?

a) No, stuffed peppers are not pompous. Especially when you cheat by cutting them in half and laying them out flat on their backs. A belly-up pepper is decidedly not as intimidating as a standing one.

b) Yes, the kids will probably turn up their noses, but they are so incredibly delicious that who gives a fig. I happily ate all the leftovers and then felt sad when they were gone.

Stuffed Peppers
With inspiration from: Epicurious (Bon Appetit, another Bon Appetit, and Gourmet) and Finding Harmony

This is a formula, not a recipe—I didn't measure a thing. Which proves, once and for all, that stuffed peppers are nothing to fear. 

I used sweet peppers and banana peppers. I loved the bite and texture (thinner and less mushy) of the banana ones, but both were excellent.

8-10 gnarly peppers, halved and cored
2-3 peppers, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 generous pound bulk sausage
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon dried parsley (fresh would be best!)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon chipotle pepper (or chile cobán)
salt
2-3 cups cooked brown rice
2½ cups tomato sauce, divided
1 egg, beaten
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Arrange the pepper halves in two 9x13 glass pans and set aside.

Put the chopped peppers, sausage onions, and garlic, along with the olive oil, in a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Add the paprika, parsley, black pepper, chipotle pepper, and salt, and cook another minute. Stir in the brown rice, ½ cup of tomato sauce, and the egg and stir well. Remove from heat.

Spoon the rice and sausage mixture into the pepper halves, pressing it firmly into the cavities—you want as much filling as possible per pepper. Spread/sprinkle the remaining two cups of sauce over the peppers.

Bake the peppers uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until the peppers get slightly brown around the edges and look weary. Remove from oven, sprinkle with the cheese, and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes to melt the cheese.

Leftovers make superb lunches.

Have you taken the stuff-the-pepper plunge? Any tips and/or fabulous recipes to share?
Also, do cooked stuffed peppers freeze well?

Monday, October 28, 2013

the quotidian (10.28.13)


Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

*
Far away we went,
and then we did return.
Now we are settlin' in
and again have quotidian!



Making homemade wines.



The welcome-home sign outside my older daughter's Sunday School class.


Endless hours of make-believe. 


In our welcome-home boxes: evaporated milk, canned pumpkin, and apple butter. 
So I made pie.


At the birthday boy's request: homemade potato chips.


Big skillet cornbread.


New: both the sister-in-law and the baby.


Pensive: my niece.


My son took this picture. He said, "It's a great picture, Mom! Look at the lighting!"


My love.

PS. Did you notice how many times I used the word home? I'm not apologizing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

random

On Monday, my husband went to work.

“This is my first day of work this year!” he giggled, hoisting his bags over his shoulder and heading for the door.

“Do you want to go stand by your truck with your lunch box and I can take a photo of your First Day of Work?” I asked.

And then he giggled some more.

***

The light is different here. The beginning and ending of each day is longer, the light gentler. Taking pictures indoors is, once again, a rewarding option. Probably because this house doesn’t have a green plastic lid on it:


a green, plastic lid and leaky walls: it was a bad storm 
(the lid leaked, too)

***

We’re halfway through our Reading Week. It’s fun.



It’s also time consuming. You can’t really get anything else done when you’re staring at a page.

It’s a good discipline for me to set aside my Get Something Done attitude and work at absorbing words.

But, like I said, it’s fun. So then I get sucked into absorbing and don’t do much doing. Which is the point!

But because I’m a Producer and an Analyzer, I start worrying that I need to find balance and then I get all stressed that I won’t. Which is not the point.

***

Queenie and Glennon

1. Queenie did a blog up-do and I’m tickled pink. Just look at that header! She’s a great writer: honest and wry with a hearty dash of wit. Love her. (She’s also my sister-in-law once removed. Or something. We don’t talk—we just read each other.) Some of my favorite posts:

*The first week of homeschooling
*Birds and Bees
*Not a poem

2. Glennon got her teeth cleaned.

***

It’s my boy’s birthday. The book I picked out for him at the library couldn’t be more fitting, title-wise.


He’s taller than me, you know. He might be mouthier, too.


I love him. Some days I even like him.

***

I went shopping last night. When I got home, this is what I wrote on Facebook:  

I went to Sharp Shopper tonight. I feel like I need to debrief. Or go to confession.

The cheap prices, the choices, the ginormous quantities...they blew me away. I was left with a full cart, a fuzzy brain, and blurry vision. So I went to a little restaurant and refueled with this salad. And then I hit the library, BAM.

Today I’m doing a lot of sitting.

And a lot of eating.

***

Speaking of books: what newly-released books should I be made aware of? I’d love a good read-aloud. (I aim for a middle school level.)

Also, do you know of any good books for teen boys? (Especially ones—books, not boys—that can be downloaded for free through Amazon Prime.)

***

Because...WE HAVE AMAZON PRIME. We did away with Netflix (whimper) and took the jump into full-blown North American high-speed consumerism and I love it.

Except I’m not really into spending money yet because we have no budget since we can’t find the folder with all our budget papers. Kinda inconvenient, really. Makes me panicky, if I think about it. We had a good system going and now the system is gone and we are going to crash and burn. Especially now that we have Amazon Prime.

We’re figuring out the Kindle downloading thing, and we’re learning how Amazon Instant Streaming works (mainly by getting as much practice as possible via DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON THREE, BABY), and yesterday I realized my plastic wrap wasn’t tough enough, I sat down and ordered my fancy favorite wrap and it will be here tomorrow which is positively amazing!

Except I can’t shake the worry that I’m damaging the environment with all the shipping this and shipping that. But then I think, the UPS truck is making his rounds anyway—is an order here or there going to really make a difference?

***

My older daughter is now the same shoe size that I am. She is begging for my flip-flops, my sandals, and my boots. Does this mean that if I have a willing and eager recipient for my old (but not completely worn-out) black boots, that I am justified in getting a new pair?


Hm....

***

Spanish is (relatively) easy to learn, but it once you start moving between countries, it gets complicated, like so.

***

When scrolling through this month’s photos in Picasa, I’m always caught off-guard by the pictures at the first of the month...



sick and miserable

I never told you about the ant flash mob. 

...and the pictures now.

my new, oh-so-sweet niece


monitoring our three (THREE!) waffle irons


real (REAL!) whipped cream 

What different worlds!

Seeing our Guatemala house brings back a wave of memories, rough and jagged and bulky, and my throat constricts. Not because I’m sad or homesick, but because of the intensity of the change. The vast difference. The sharp abruptness.

Here, I have a quart of whipping cream (and a quart of half-and-half!) in my fridge (O, white giantess that stands in the corner, purr-ur-urring), and there I had none. I like (scratch that—adore) my dairy-filled fridge so much better than the little dinky Guatemalan one!

I don’t feel guilty for liking this one better, either. It’s just that there are two worlds and they are so different and I lived in them both and thinking about that makes my throat hurt and my eyes smart.

That’s all.

Monday, October 21, 2013

the reading week

I’ve dubbed this week The Reading Week. Because that’s what we’re going to do.

We are going to read.

There is so much wonderful, fun stuff to do here that I find myself paralyzed.

All the people!
All the food!
All the events!
All the books!
All the projects!
All the work!
All the choices!
All the things!

So I picked just one thing for this week: books. We’ll read what we have on our shelves, and then I’ll expand my re-entry experiences to include An Expedition To The Library.

Going to the library feels like a momentous occasion. Like a feat. Like A Major Undertaking. My sensitive nerve endings will have to retract for the event. I will have to tamp down the awe and dizzy delight and overwhelmedness and hone in on titles and make selections.

It will be easy once I’m there, I know. Second nature, like driving and putting detergent in the washing machine. But there is anxiety beforehand. (Yes, I had anxiety over the detergent.)

Part of me wants to savor this tenderness. Newness, or RE-newness, is a precious commodity. Something tells me that I must sit up, pay attention, and slow the heck down. (The other part of me hates transition and wants to get on with it already.)

This week, the slow-the-heck-down part of me is reigning supreme. We will read, to ourselves and to each other. The togetherness, the papery, inky pages, the stories, the glow from the woodstove—all these things will conspire together to shore us up and ready us for the next step. When we are ready.

PS. I thought about doing a quotidian post for today, but then scrapped the idea. When in transition, there is no quotidian.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

the adjustment

In Sunday school this past weekend, we were asked to think of a time in the last few days when we had dual conflicting emotions. The class was about Playback Theatre, and the three leaders, after listening to someone share, acted out what they heard.

Right away, I knew what my conflicting emotions were—gratefulness and wanting to hide—but I didn’t dare share. I was too raw. Speaking involved the very high risk of full-on blubbering, so I kept my lips sealed and just watched.

See, I was filled up and overflowing with gratefulness for our friends and family, their hugs, their practical gifts, their warm welcomes, their caring questions, their understanding and compassion. And I wanted to hide from it all. My face hurt from smiling. I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. People looked different. The wave of love and hugs was crushingly overwhelming.

I wouldn’t want it not to be that way, of course. If people didn’t overwhelm us, I would feel abandoned and neglected. They were doing everything right and nothing wrong. So was I. There was no other way but to weather the storm.

(That day, I was half sick, too. On Saturday I developed a sore throat, maybe even a fever. As much as I couldn’t wait to go to church, I dreaded it. Deeply. Which was a really conflicting emotion for this people-loving girl.)

So that was Sunday.

***

Settling back in is harder than I expected it to be.



When we returned from Nicaragua thirteen years ago, we knew it’d be really hard and we were not disappointed. We had a new baby, no house, no job, my husband got a little thing called Cancer, and I got a little thing called Prego with a Side of Morning Sickness. Fun times, y'all.

In comparison, this time around is super easy. We weren’t gone long enough to lose friends and routines. We have our house, our put-up food from 2012, our pets, our things, our budget (if only I could find those dang papers!), and our job. Slipping back into our old patterns is fairly effortless.


And yet it’s not. We’ve been home for a week and we’re still doing nothing more than the day-to-day existence stuff.

When my husband said that he wanted a couple weeks off from work when we got back, I thought he was crazy. He’d be bored! We’d be sitting around doing nothing! But now I am so glad he has off. We’re not doing anything and yet it feels like we’re doing everything. It confuses me.



Grieving is hard physical work, I've been told. The emotional work sucks up energy and brain power and leaves the griever exhausted. We’re not grieving, mind you—we’re not even feeling down, really—but that’s the best way I can describe this blurry, plodding zone we’re in. We get dressed in the morning and feed the animals and ourselves. We send emails and unpack a couple boxes. We do laundry. And then the day is over. There is no mental energy for thinking beyond the present.

Which is another way to look at this disorientation/reorientation stage: we are fully, helplessly, through no choice of our own, In The Moment. I am a huge multi-tasker, thriving on a whirl of activity and stimulation, but right now, no thank you. I don’t have the wherewithal to think of what we’ll do tomorrow, let alone plan our homeschooling year or even make a weekend menu. It’s just one foot in front of the other. Find the kids’ shoes, call the insurance agency, renew the medications, unpack the clothes, scrounge a secondhand bed, scrub the toilet, buy dog food, fill the car’s gas tank, set the mouse traps, make soup, etc.

It’s all good (really! we’re so happy!), but it’s All I Can Handle.

***

The children are doing fine, adjusting to a more relaxed schedule, independent play, and rural living—i.e. no friends to run around with for hours on end.


At first, my younger son wanted to visit other people’s houses so badly that he was borderline panicked. My friend reported that when he arrived at their house, he explored the whole thing, top to bottom. Maybe this is how he is reorienting?

(Funny note: he couldn't figure out how to turn on our shower. Nine months is a long time in the life of a seven-year-old.)


Also, it’s weird hearing my children yelling at each other in Spanish. It’s a bit disorienting because:

 my kids + Spanish + my home = NEW.
 
The Spanish words peppering our conversations and the fact that my husband and I truly do not have a secret language anymore (oh dear), serve as reminders that even though we are home again, there has been a shift.

Friday, October 11, 2013

home

When we returned to the States after living in Nicaragua for three years, my mom was uncertain as to whether or not I would want to sleep in a soft bed. When she told me this, I was appalled. “Why ever would I not want to sleep in a bed?”

“Um, because you’re used to hard floors and cold showers and hauling your own water and dirt floors. An actual bed would just be, I don’t know, not something you’d enjoy anymore, maybe.”

I don’t remember my actual response, but I’m pretty sure that it involved a giant eye roll and a You’re nuts, Mom.

I love being cozy and comfortable. I love my morning coffee. I love my bed. I love soft lighting and good food. It is for these reasons that I do not do camping or travel. (Except for the random leave-the-country and live-in-a-converted-storage-shed thing.)

This time around, my mother didn’t ask me if I wanted a pallet on the floor. Instead, she fixed up the beds, ground the coffee, and made three birthday apple pies, yessssssss.

***

We left Guatemala on a 1 pm flight on Tuesday afternoon. Everything went smoothly except for when my older daughter tested positive for explosives. This was the child who was already quite nervous about immigration. She kept asking:

What if we do something wrong?
What if there is something in our bags that we don’t know about?
What if we get in trouble?

And then she went and set off the alarm. Because they couldn’t test a minor, they tested my husband with some hand-swipe-strip thing.

“Probably all those firecrackers the kids were playing with,” he said to the official.

(I didn’t even know it had happened until it was over. Because I was in the middle of getting scolded for sending my laptop through the scanner with the camera bag on top, oops.)



s

We arrived in DC at 11 pm, found our friend’s parked van in the lot, stopped by a gas station for non-stale hard pretzels, and drove straight home. Or it would’ve been straight home if my husband hadn’t decided to take a detour and drive into Washington to check on the monument. Because 66 East looks an awful lot like 66 West when you have Stupified Travel Brain.

We got home at 3 am. The kids tore around the house looking in all the corners, drinking directly out of the faucet, discovering the candy bars left on their pillows by our renters, and digging into the plateful of fresh chocolate chip cookies that my sister-in-law had waiting on the table.

My older daughter had missed her puppy something fierce. She was beside herself with excitement to see Charlotte again. About ten minutes after arriving home, I discovered my daughter sitting in the hallway with her dog on her lap, tears of happiness streaming down her cheeks.

***

In my preliminary house run-through, I peeked in my spice cupboard and then promptly shut the door and walked away. After nine months of boasting a spice collection that didn’t even reach the double digits, I couldn’t handle the abundance. Same with the fridge, freezer, pantry shelves, liquor selection, and boxes of pantry staples donated to us by the generous folks in our church. I paced back and forth between pantry and kitchen, shaking my head and saying, “Wow,” and, “I don’t know what to do with this.”

Guys, I have three whisks. THREE. In Guatemala, I splurged on one and when we left, we boxed up that one, very special (but kind of falling-apart whisk) for one of our teammates who lives on the West Coast of Guatemala and specifically requested it. Because whisks are a luxury.

But get this: not only do I have whisks, but I have handheld beaters, a food processor, a blender, and a Kitchen Aid. My options for food mixology are slightly staggering. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

***

Wednesday morning, we finally wound down enough to go to sleep around four o’clock, but I was back up at eight. Mom and Dad came over. I didn’t know where the coffee was. I figured Mom forgot to stock it, but when I told her, she looked at me like I was insane and said, “No, honey. There’s freshly ground coffee in the drawer.”

“The drawer? What drawer?”

“The coffee drawer. You know, where you keep your coffee-making supplies?”

Oh right! I had a coffee drawer! I was so overwhelmed by my enormous kitchen that I had totally forgotten the coffee drawer!

So I made coffee and fixed it up with some real cream and it was marvelous.

***
Last fall when we decided to go to Guatemala, people acted like we were sacrificing something. Like, Oh, you guys are so brave!

All the praise (but not actual praise praise because that’s not what Mennonites do to each other, at least not flagrantly) made me nervous and uncomfortable and slightly irritated. Because sure, we’d be living a simpler life, but this was what we wanted to do. It was an adventure. It was an opportunity. It was a dream come true.

If anything, it was the exact opposite of a sacrifice. To be esteemed for snagging something I wanted so dang bad felt screwball weird.

But now that I’m home and I see how comfortable our house is, and I feel the love of all the many people who care about us, and I have five containers of peanut butter on my shelf in comparison to the little one-cup jar of pb that I hoarded for weeks on end, I am bowled over by how much we did give up.

“Look at all we have!” I marveled to my husband, over and over in the first 24 hours we were home. “Why in the world did we ever want to leave! What was wrong with us!”

But then a few hours later, in a snatched moment of calm, I had the distinct feeling that, No, we weren’t crazy for picking up and moving to Guatemala. If an opportunity to do this sort of thing arose again, I might be willing to say yes. Or at least I would certainly consider it.

And then I realized: childbirth! Ask a woman right after giving birth if she wants more children and she'll bite your head off because ABSOLUTELY NOT. But then, eventually, she signs up for the whole ordeal all over again. To a nonparent, the nausea, pain, sleepless nights, and questionable reward (a snot-nosed poopypants) is rather incomprehensible. But to the initiated, the baby and the personal transformation are so worth it.

In retrospect, yes, we gave something up. A lot, actually. More than we realized at the time. It's funny how it's not till the homecoming that I realized the extent of our decision to leave. 

And about the whole sacrifice thing: if we didn’t feel like we were sacrificing anything, was it a sacrifice? Don’t we have to be fully aware of how much we're suffering in order for it to count as a sacrifice? I think yes, we do. What we made was a choice, not a sacrifice. There wasn't much nobleness involved. (But if we now feel like we did indeed sacrifice something because hello soft bed, are there some bonus points that we can redeem retroactively?) (KIDDING.)

***

The children are still throwing their toilet paper in the trash can.

***

Remember how I wrote about the lack of buffer in Guatemala? How life there was so raw? I guess I kind of got used to it. I got used to getting rained on in my house and the coarse white sugar with bits of dirt in it and the trash on the ground and the taxis tied together with twine.

And then I come back to my world in Virginia and it is the exact opposite of “lack of buffer.” Here when it rains, you don’t feel like the skies are attacking you. Instead of machine-gun-fire-on-tin-roof, the falling rain is faint and whispery. It has an inside-the-womb feel to it.

The toilet seats are sturdy, the fridge is mammoth, the house is cozy. And the people, oh the people! Even though we haven’t actually seen hardly anyone yet (and I’m a little—scratch that—a whole lot anxious about going to church because I don’t know if my raw nerves can stand so much glorious familiarity and belongingness), we feel completely surrounded by kindred spirits and people who know and love us so deeply.

sister cousins, reunited



Walking into our house in the dead of night, we were greeted with colorful signs, balloons, bowls of fruit, baskets of vegetables, boxes of non perishables, garden tomatoes on the window sill, a stocked fridge, birthday cards, candy on the kids’ pillows, gift cards, and on and on and on. No one but us was there, but the air was thick with human warmth. So much caring, so much love. My daughter wasn’t the only one with tears.


You know that suspended-in-clouds feeling that you get when surfacing from a long afternoon nap, completely relaxed and all wonky disoriented? That’s what coming home feels like. Walking into our beloved house, hugging all the dear people who know us, driving for the first time, drinking coffee with cream—it’s all like sinking into a well-loved easy chair. Bit by bit, the stress of living with the unfamiliar is slipping off our shoulders. Our days feel like one giant, extended exhale: we're hooooome.



Now, the excited tickle in the pit of my stomach—that giddy feeling that makes me pop wide awake even when I’m still exhausted—is fading. It’s being replaced by a new feeling. I’m not sure what, exactly, but “Deer In Headlights” comes to mind...