Cookies, Here We Come

Well, it’s that time of year when some of us are getting ready for the Christmas cookie exchanges. Now, this post may seem backward, but I’ll be talking about weeks-ahead preparation for baking your dozens of cookies. Next time, I’ll include some recipes for favorite Christmas (and any time of year) cookies.

Today Foodie has some tips on freezing cookie dough for baking in the future and freezing baked cookies so they’re handy any time. You may want to do a little research on which cookies/doughs aren’t good bets for freezing, but here’s some tips for those that freeze well.

What to have on hand

  • Plenty of gallon-sized zipper type freezer bags
  • Wax paper or parchment paper
  • Cookie sheets
  • Containers with covers (for bar-type cookies)

Place baked cookies on a silicone baking sheet or parchment-lined cookie sheet. (They can be placed close together since they’re already baked.) Freeze them for an hour (or until solid), then transfer to a freezer zip-top bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible before you put them in the freezer to prevent freezer burn.

For slice-and-bake cookies, shape the dough into one or two logs, use a layer of plastic wrap first to prevent freezer burn and odor absorption from your freezer. Then put into a zipper seal bag and freeze.

How Long To Freeze Them

With proper storage, most cookies can be kept in the freezer for up to three months. The best way to store cookies depends on the type of cookie you’re baking. For example, chewy bars should be stored in a single layer in a covered airtight container.

Thawing Tips

If you thaw baked cookies in the containers you stored them in while in the freezer, the condensation that forms while they thaw could linger on the cookies. Then they become soggy. Remove them from the freezer bag or airtight container when you defrost them so that condensation won’t form. It’s best to put baked cookies on a paper towel-lined plate to thaw them. Always thaw them at room temperature.

Baking Frozen Cookies

Balls of drop cookie dough can be baked directly from the freezer, while slice-and-bake and cut-out cookie dough needs to thaw out shortly on the counter so that they can be sliced or rolled out. Regardless, the doughs will be colder than they would be if they were baked fresh, so you should plan on adding a minute or two to the suggested baking time to make sure they get cooked through.

Have fun baking all those batches of cookies, sharing them with friends, and, most of all, eating them.

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Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

Thanksliving

Last year on each day of November, I tried to post something I’m grateful for. Didn’t want to mess with that this year. Basically, I’m grateful every day.

This jar sits on the windowsill by my desk. It’s getting filled with little slips of paper that have expressions of gratitude for, oh, just a lot of little and big stuff with which God blesses me. I take them out every once in a while and read them to remind myself of how faithful He’s been. When it gets full, I toss them.

This week I put in a piece of paper expressing gratitude for a thoughtful friend who invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. “What are you doing Thursday? Got any plans?” Well, no, as a matter of fact, I didn’t except maybe to go to a local spot that is serving a traditional meal for free. Figured I’d see lots of people there that I know.

When you’re single and your family lives far away, the holidays can be hard. I’ve spent many of them alone. Not complaining, but I surely am grateful for people who recognize a small need and respond.

I suppose this jar reminds me that we can practice thanksliving all year long.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Ode to a Winter Day

Where I live we recently got the first of what will be many snowy days. Sometimes snow is the last thing I want to see when I venture out to go gallivanting. But I do happen to love the way snow falls and lies like a blanket on open fields. I’ve seen snow fall so heavily it seems to be sugar-coating the rows and rows of pines in that open field.

Years ago when I was testing my hand at poetry, this one came out of me. It’s an attempt to describe what I saw one day.

Snow Man
By Paula Geister

Step by step, a monstrous form
All arms and legs and head,
Takes his silent walk to the woods
To rest a bit, to find a bed.

The hulk takes giant steps tonight
On creaking snow like Styrofoam.
His breath is frozen in his beard,
But he presses on toward home.

Winter’s king all alone, he takes
The gloom from shrouded nights.
Stepping into the woods, he makes
The trees absorb his light.

Fa-la-la-la! It’s Halloween

No matter what you do or feel about Halloween, here’s a little fun for you today.

I got to trick-or-treat as a kid. As I remember it best, I usually wore a mask which made me perspire and in which I couldn’t see (not safe!). It usually rained and my oldest sister resented having to take her young siblings out in the small town we lived in.

But I believe Halloween can be a great time to engage with your community. Be kind and generous to the kids who come to your door. Keep smiling and be a blessing to someone today.

“Fa-La-La, It’s Halloween”

Deck the porch with ghouls and mummies
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
‘Tis the season for our tummies
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
Don we now our gay apparel
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
As we sing our pumpkin carols
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!

See the children in their costumes
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
Trick or treat once more re-zoo-ooms
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
Follow us in merry measure
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la!
As we gather gobs of treasure
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!

Teachers hope it all soon passes
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
They’ll see hyper kids in classes
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
Will we ever learn our lesson?
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-NOPE!
Candy wins out, Imma guessin’
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-lah…lah…laaah!

HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN

14 Reasons Church Unity Breaks Down

Church Unity has been on my mind again. In fact, the topic came up again in a conversation I had with my mentor last week. We experienced a “split” at my church a few years back and I believe a lack of unity was a leading contributor to the problems at that time.

“I wish we could have a sermon preached once a year based on Jesus’s prayer in John 17,” I said to her. “We need to keep hearing how Jesus prayed for us and how important unity was to Him.”

The link I’ve provided below leads to blog post from Thom Rainer whose site is in my blogroll. I feel compelled to repeat the post from 2015 because unity in the Church universal and in our local congregations is never an out-of-date subject. I realize that I need to keep being reminded how Satan can tear at the fabric of our unity and rip a church family apart.

Unity in the church begins with love.

“By this they will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34

Here’s the intro to that 2015 blog on The Fruitful Life and the link to Thom’s blog.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thom Rainer blogs every day about leadership in the church. Many times his topic is meant for the whole body, not just leaders.

That’s the case with this post. I felt compelled to share it, because when we consider our membership in a local church, it should be apparent that in some way, we are all leaders. Jesus meant for us to be examples reflecting Him in the world.

Mr. Rainer has many years of experience in church leadership and assisting churches revitalize and deal with change, something the Church needs today. His posts are always thought-provoking for me. I hope you’ll find this is true for you and that his words will bring answers if needed and most certainly, hope.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Pumpkin Head Foodie

Well, it really is pumpkin season.

And that odd phenomenon called Pumpkin Spice in coffee, ice cream, pudding, bacon, and just about anything you can imagine pumpkin flavor showing up in made its appearance on the scene right around the first of September (at least in my neck of the woods). However you feel about putting that particular flavor in stuff, the idea is here to stay.

I’m sort of a purist. So today I’m giving out a recipe for a pumpkin bread I like to bake. I also happen to use dried cranberries a lot. This is the season for cranberries too so you could maybe use this one for a holiday coming up. They’re coming up in my neck of the woods anyway.

Normally, I’d tell you that you can exchange out ingredients, because you know I do that a lot when I cook. But in the case of baking, I like to be fairly exact. The only thing I can suggest is cutting down on the sugar. Sometimes I do that because I don’t like stuff as sweet as the average Joe/Jill. Naturally, if you’re gluten intolerant, you know what to do.

I like it with the orange juice because it helps the cranberry flavor along.

Mini Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

Makes 5 mini loaves

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1T. + 2 t. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1 ½ t. salt
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 c. vegetable oil
  • ½ c. orange juice or water
  • 1 c. dried cranberries

Combine flour, spice, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil and juice in small mixing bowl; beat until just blended. Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Fold in cranberries.

Spoon batter into 5 greased and floured 5 x 3 disposable foil loaf pans.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven  for 50-55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes then remove to wire racks to cool.

Eat Hardy!

 

Follow Your Heart?

Often, I hear the phrase “Follow your heart” as an encouragement to people to do whatever they think is best based on ‘gut feelings.’ They might also say “Follow your gut.” I believe we all have a conscience given by God and our conscience along with leadings from the Holy Spirit will help us to make decisions based on right and wrong.

And I admit the idea of following my heart used to be something I didn’t think too much about. I know I’ve let even major decisions be based on emotions. Then I became familiar with the Bible and what it had to say about just how poorly my heart acts as a leader in such cases.

Here’s some biblical wisdom I’ve picked up over the years

Jesus speaking in a short sermon: “For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:44,45

“The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick–who can understand it? I, the LORD, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9,10

“All a man’s ways seem right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the motives.” Proverbs 16:2

In addition to heeding what God says in his Word about our actions, words, thoughts and attitudes, I like this advice from Oswald Chambers.

“The only test as to whether we ought to allow an emotion to have its way is to see what the outcome of the emotion will be. Push it to its logical conclusion, and if the outcome is something God would condemn, allow it no more way.” From “My Utmost For His Highest”

Most of the time, I know exactly what God would like me to do. I know his heart. Since a person’s heart is the seat of emotions, following God’s heart is always the best decision.

Father, I know my selfish tendencies. I ask you to constantly remind me that when I give over to my emotions, I often fail to make right decisions. I want to please you. Guide me with your Truth. Test my heart and lead me in the way everlasting.

Foodie is Stewing

I promised this recipe to friend who was curious. I made it earlier this week because I was in the mood for something substantial, but heart healthy. This turns out to be more of a stew than a soup because lentils soak up so much liquid and because the large veggies aren’t reminiscent of a thinner dish. I usually use brown lentils, but if you aren’t sure what kind you should use in a particular recipe, this might help.

I’m a cook who uses what’s on hand if it works.  I also make substitutions all the time to go along with my own taste and health needs. This stew can easily translate if you want it to. This is the basic recipe; you’ll find some alternative additions/substitutions at the end of the post.

Use your imagination. It’s your kitchen!

Tugboat Lentil Stew

  • 1 lb. dried lentils
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 c. chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 c. sliced carrots
  • 1 c. sliced celery
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 14 oz. can vegetable broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lb. sliced chicken sausage (or 1/2 c. shredded chicken)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • 1/2 t. hot sauce (if desired)
  • Lemon slices for garnish
  • Red wine vinegar

Rinse and pick over lentils for stones. In a Dutch oven, heat oil till hot. Toss in onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Sauté for 10 minutes or till onion is translucent and vegetables are tender crisp. Add tomato sauce, water, vegetable broth, bay leaves and lentils. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover; reduce heat and let simmer for about 25 minutes or till vegetables are slightly soft. Add chicken sausage and pepper. Cover and let cook another 10 minutes or until chicken is heated through. Add salt. Ladle into bowls and garnish with lemon slices and a dash of red wine vinegar. Serves 8-10.

Meat: I have never used chicken sausage because I can’t find it. I have used ground turkey because I like cooking with it and it’s less fatty. When I use ground turkey in this recipe, I cook it until done in a frying pan with the olive oil first and add some ground fennel. Fennel will give a sausage-like flavor. Experiment with it for your own taste.

Veggies: I’m not a fan of celery so I’ve never used it in Tugboat Lentil Stew. Sometimes, if I have them, I’ll throw in 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetable instead. Or one cup each of frozen carrots and green beans (or peas). I always use onion because what’s a stew without it?

Liquid: I like the flavor we get using tomatoes. But if I don’t have tomato sauce, I almost always have a can of petite diced tomatoes around. A large can is okay because I’ve found that those lentils really soak up the liquid. In fact, I use more broth too. I add it as needed as the stew cooks. Unsalted chicken broth is my favorite because there’s so much sodium in the other types.

Spices/Herbs and Garnish: Bay leaves are a must. It’s a stew, after all. If you don’t like garlic, leave it out. No sea salt? Use whatever kind you have. Remember that with sea salt, you don’t need as much for flavor. I don’t garnish mine. I usually want my stew right away and I’m not so fancy I need that. Although the vinegar sounds good for a little kick. Speaking of “kick,” I’m all for just a pinch of red pepper too. You can add that to the pan when you pour in the liquids.

Enjoy your stew. Would love to hear your comments and if you’re one of those “by guess and by golly” cooks like me.

 

 

 

 

Six Steps for Studying the Epistles

Reading the Bible through in a year as I had done before, I came once again to the epistles. Though I’d read them previously, this time it occurred to me: These are letters from an actual person to actual people. There’s more than just information here; there’s emotion.

I realize that sounds pretty obvious to some people, but now I knew that, in the future, I’d read them differently. The emotion couldn’t have been only on the writer’s part, I thought, because those receiving them must have felt excited to get them.

We’re blessed to have Bibles we can pick up daily and read affirming, convicting and truth-filled messages. The original letters to the churches were often circulated and an individual may have heard the letter only once before it was on its way to be shared with another church. How precious they were. How empowered the readers must have been on receiving those letters.

Letter writing is becoming a lost art. What a joy to savor words on paper from someone who loves us and hopes the best for us. My realizations led me to read the epistles like I’d never read before, as if they’d been sent directly to me. Identifying with the people for whom they were intended, it was exciting. I received fresh insight, higher understanding, and a new appreciation for the first century Church.

These are some practices I discovered for knowing the power of the God’s word.

  1. Pray before reading. Thank God for the person who wrote the letter and that it made it safely to you. Pray that the Spirit will provide power to guide you and encourage you.
  2. Read from a different translation than you normally use. The wording may be just different enough that you get a better understanding of the scripture.
  3. If you underline or write notes in the margins of your Bible, read from one that has no margin notes or underlining so these don’t distract you. If you have none, perhaps you can borrow for this part of your study. If you must write, take notes in a separate journal.
  4. Read slowly and deliberately. Because many of us have read the epistles several times, we can be tempted to read through them quickly. However, familiarity with the text can get in the way. If you were reading a letter received in the mail, it wouldn’t be familiar. You couldn’t anticipate the next phrase and you would have to listen with your heart and mind all the way through. Also, since these letters were originally read to groups, try reading aloud.
  5. Pay attention to the greetings at the beginnings and ends of the letters. The early believers would have been overjoyed to hear these heartfelt words. Some of those mentioned are people the writer traveled with. The inclusion of their names offers hints into co-workers in ministry. Paul quite often did this. Sometimes the writer also included blessings and prayers. These have power to bless and encourage you as they did the original readers.
  6. Pray again when you’ve finished. If God has spoken to you through the writer’s words, thank Him and ask Him to keep revealing truth to you. Confess any sin the Holy Spirit has revealed in your life as a result of reading. Claim God’s promise of abundant life in Christ and share what you’ve learned with someone else.

After reading through the epistles this way, try using some of these ideas for reading other passages of scripture.

Be a blessing to someone today.