Lenten - Preparing the Way of the Lord

The season of Lent, whatever your doctrinal or denominational persuasion, has a valuable basis. Think of Advent, leading up to Christmas, how the anticipation builds. Lent, leading up to Easter, can be utilized to build appreciation. We have seven weeks, between Ash Wednesday and Easter, to prepare our hearts to fully appreciate the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Seven weeks to contemplate the unspeakable gift of grace.

Lent, or Lenten - from an Old English word meaning "to lengthen". And along with the lengthening days, and burgeoning flowers, our hearts can also be enlarged to love the Risen Lord with greater understanding and budding affection and increasing appreciation. Lent is meant to be a contemplative season, even a sober season for some, but it should not be introspective. After all, the whole reason for the Easter celebration is the resurrection miracle that once and for all time freed us from the penalty of sin. All the introspection you can muster, in a lifetime of self-knowledge and self discipline, carries no hope of making you one whit holier. God is pleased with Christ Alone. He is the Better Hope.

Take seven weeks to consider the merits of Christ. Take seven weeks to lengthen your cords by adding to your knowledge of Scripture; take seven weeks to strengthen your stakes by driving them deeper into the doctrines of grace. So shall the tent of your innermost being be enlarged. So shall you be prepared for Personal Pentecost.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which in the liturgical church is a time of fasting and introspection.

For me, as well as my liturgical friends, this marks the beginning of the Easter season. Easter is the most important celebration in all Christendom. Easter is far more important than Christmas. Without the resurrection, there is no salvation.

"... if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! "
(I Cor. 15:17)

For me, Ash Wednesday and Lent is the start of about 40 days of inward celebration, not introspection. God, in Christ Jesus, has forgiven me all my sins at the cross. Christ took my sin, became sin for me, that I might be made the righteousness of God. That was an absolutely extravagant, unbalanced, unequal exchange. Where it concerns the grace of God, if you even say the word "balance", you do not understand the depth of your sin nor the greatness of grace.

In recent years, I have begun keeping the Easter Season with the same sweetness and focus as the Christmas season. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, and ending in Pentecost, these are weeks bursting with joy and new life - flowers, sunshine, green grass, deep thoughts, stunning Scripture passages, new plantings, seed sown....and yes, bunnies. Our bunnies made their spring appearance three days ago. I simply must figure out how to protect the lettuce sprouts, when they come up.

Won't you join me? Beginning today, will you consider how to decorate your home to reflect the sweetness of spring and resurrection? Join me in forging family traditions that honor Easter in simple but meaningful ways? Will you take some time each morning and evening to consider the sacrifice of Christ and the grace of God?

Today, I deeply ponder the fact that He gives beauty for ashes. Oh, how my life, just this past one year alone, has been a living testimony to this truth!

This year, for Lent, I am going to fast from unbelief. I am actually going to live like all my sins were forgiven more than two thousand years ago.

Join me?

Delicious, Easy, Feeds a Crowd...East Tennessee Asian Beef

Here is another recipe that is a "go to" here at the cottage. It is simple to make, easy on the food budget, and can feed six or more. Like soup or chili, if more people than you expect show up for dinner, this recipe can accomodate. Just add more veggies.

This happens to me often. Two nights ago, we ended up with seven around the table, when we invited our friends, the Cummins, over for dinner. Last night, we had seven again, because Jonathan and Sarah dropped by, and brought sweet Emily Prince with them. Shouldn't there always be room for one (or four) more at the table?

To illustrate how you can add to the recipe, when we invited the Cummins, it was very impromptu. Unexpected. But we really, really wanted them to stay. I had already started this recipe for supper. To be sure we had enough, I added another half-cup of rice and a bit more water to the skillet, and threw in a can of sliced carrots at the end. But I get ahead of myself.

Gather your ingredients:

Ground beef, two or so heaping cups of Asian vegetables (I buy the huge bags from the freezer section at Sam's or Wal-Mart, with the zip top, and keep a measuring cup in the bag, in the freezer), two cups of long grain brown rice, a can of coconut milk, some soy sauce, and red pepper flakes. (Post-edit: you'll want a pinch of ginger, a cube of beef stock, and some coarse salt too.)

Start your brown rice, in your handy dandy cast iron skillet:

Put your two cups of rice in, along with about three cups of water (whatever ratios the package directions call for), a cube of beef stock, and about a quarter cup of soy sauce. All these flavors will simmer together, as your rice absorbs the liquid. Bring all to a boil, reduce the heat, put a lid on it, and simmer it.

After a half hour or so, when your brown rice is halfway done, add the coconut milk, re-cover your skillet, and finish off your rice, stirring occasionally. This will already start smelling heavenly.

As your rice is simmering, brown your beef, with...oh, about a teaspoon of ground ginger, and a pinch of coarse salt:

When your rice with the coconut milk mixture is ready, combine your browned ground beef with that. Then, at the end, add your Asian vegetables, and heat them through. Finish off with as much or as little red pepper flakes as you'd like.

Then, have some friends over.

Gabbi Grace is in the white onesie, and our grandson Timothy is in the green onesie. They were having such fun, hanging out in Timothy's crib. They're BFGF. (Boy friend/girl friend)

The Cummins family, Michael, Megan, and their new baby girl Gabbi Grace.

The "East Tennessee Asian Beef" recipe is, I am sure, a tweak of something I saw somewhere, some years ago. It is a cottage favorite. I'm pretty confident you'll love it too. Couldn't be easier, it is so inexpensive, and feeds a lot.

New Blog

There's a new blog I'd like to recommend to you...my daughter Hannah has begun a blog entitled "Daughter of Design".

Hannah is a talented decorator, with a flair for design, both in fashion and home interiors. She has a background in retail visual merchandising, shows great promise as a photographer, knows her way around Photoshop, and has just embarked on the challenging career of the stay-at-home mom.

If you get a chance, stop by and leave her an encouraging comment!

Bifocal Readers - Where Have You Been All My Life?

I'm excited. Soon, the UPS man (I heart him, have I told you that before?) will be delivering these to my address:

A cute pair of rimless bifocal readers.

I never knew bifocal readers existed! I have near perfect eyesight, except for that "slightly-over-forty" issue with reading print up close. I've had an eye exam, and don't need prescription glasses...just readers. But life is such a hassle, having to take my readers off and put them back on, over and over. So I just wear 'em jacked up on my head, mostly. It is either that, or search for them constantly, or wear them around my neck like an eighty year old.

I am hoping these will solve my dilemma. A dilemma that gets especially acute when I am going back and forth between looking at, say, my checkbook registry, and my calculator that sits on the right hand corner of my desk. I get so confused. I've been known to rip off my readers, and mess up my own hair, with my own two hands, in sheer frustration.

Please agree with me that these glasses will look extremely cute on my face, and allow me to read my books and Kindle, and look off meditatively (and attractively) into the distance, and read the pharmacy phone number off my bottle of thyroid medicine, and also drive safely. Maybe even all at the same time.

I want it all. And I want it now.

Steak, Cooked in Cast Iron - A Tutorial

Last evening, I did a side-by-side taste test between a grilled steak, and a steak cooked in a cast iron skillet. The steak cooked in cast iron was 99% as good as the grilled steak...and when it is the middle of winter, that makes the cast iron technique a very good option. Besides, this method is the way many restaurants do it. Ready? Are you in?

First, gather your ingredients. In this case, there are very few~

a cast iron skillet, your steaks (I prefer ribeye, but in this case NY strip is what I decided to pan sear) coarse salt, cracked pepper, grapeseed oil, and a glass of whatever you like to drink when you are cooking. You will not - I repeat - will not be using dish soap in this recipe. Please disregard the dish soap.

The grapeseed oil is really important here, because grapeseed oil has a very high smoking point, whereas olive oil has a low smoking point. You are going to be getting your cast iron skillet screaming hot. Do not use olive oil. You could use plain vegetable oil.

Set your oven to "broil". When it is ready, put your empty cast iron skillet in your oven....for fifteen minutes. That is not a typographical error. Fifteen.

While your skillet is under the broiler, rub a little grapeseed oil into your steaks, both sides, and season both sides of your steaks with more coarse salt and cracked pepper than seems necessary. About 1/3 of it will come off on the plate and in the skillet.

Turn your stove eye onto its highest setting...

Then, I recommend that you double up on your oven mitt protection...

Grab that hot skillet out of the oven, and immediately set it on that hothothot stove eye. Then, you sear each side of your steak(s) for 30 seconds...

Then put the whole skillet back under the broiler. Broil steaks for 2 minutes on each side. For a one inch steak, this will hopefully give you a medium to medium rare steak. Test it for doneness, but no less than two minutes per side, unless you like your steaks to moo.

When you pull them out, they will look something like this:

I promise, your husband will murmur, "Come to daddy..."

At this point, do not eat. It is imperative that any steak, grilled or pan seared, be allowed to rest. Wrap these in foil. Besides, you have a few more minutes of work to do...

...asparagus. Drizzled in olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and cracked pepper, under the broiler for 8 minutes...

Someone else will have prepared your mashed potatoes, or you will have prepared them ahead of time, for a quick reheat. Then, voila ! A supper fit for the gods!

This is the strip steak, removed from its foil tent...then you have your asparagus...potatoes...and by the way - those Red Wine Mushrooms? They take eight hours to simmer. That was not a typographical error. Eight hours. Make sure you are feeling extravagant on the day you make them with me, because they will require about four glasses of your best red wine. And a whole stick of butter. Because they will absorb every drop of your red wine, they go from white to nearly black. I will show you how to make them in a future blog post. These red wine mushrooms are absolutely decadent, and will spoil you forever and ever and ever.

Just for comparison, here is the grilled steak. (Justin and Hannah had the cast iron, pan seared strip, and gave it two thumbs up. I tasted it too. Realllly good.) Tim and I had ribeye off the grill. Here is my plate.

(With those sinful, decadent, eight hour red wine mushrooms, which I will show you how to make later.)

I've had fun making pan seared steak with you. Let's do it again soon!