Month: March 2013

Strawberry Jam

For a long time I have wanted to learn how to can and preserve food.  I can’t really explain but it just looks like fun to me.  Oddly enough the only thing I have ever canned is strawberry jam.  This was years ago before my mission when I made jam using the sweet berries that are sold in California by the Vietnamese and Loation refuges.  They are one of the best food items I’ve ever tasted.  A couple summer’s we would buy more than we could eat so we made strawberry jam.

With this memory in my mind when Kate told me they were offering a strawberry add-on where you could get 8 lbs of strawberries, splitting that between the two of us that would make 4 lbs each.  Obviously that would be a lot for me to eat on my own so I decided to make jam.  I particularly like homemade strawberry jam over store bought because I don’t really like the big chunks of strawberry that is  usually in strawberry jam.  I blend it up pretty fine so the resultant jam has more of the consistency of jelly without straining the fruit pulp out.

So yesterday I got to work.

Strawberry Jam

First you have to cut the stems off the strawberries.

strawberry2

Then you blend the strawberry mixture (or part of the strawberry mixture depending on how chunky you like it).

Next add it to a pot and turn on heat.

beginning of jam

Once it starts to simmer add in sugar. 4 cups for each lb of strawberries used. (It’s a lot but the recipe goes a long way and if you think about it you only use a little in each sitting so don’t worry!  You can use sugar free but I am not experienced enough to try that).

Add in the gelatin (1 box for each lb of strawberries) and bring to a boil, the juice from 2 lemons and 1/4 cup of  butter.  Cook at a rolling boil for 3 minutes Skimming off foam as you go.

jam phase 2

While it is boiling sterilize jars, lids and seals using hot water.  Then fill the jars with hot jam . I like to use my collapsable funnel to fill the jars.  This helps minimize mess and getting burned by hot sticky jam.  It looks like this:

collapsable funnel

Once the jars are full (leave a centimeter or two for the jam to expand and create a good seal) wipe off the edges and put hot lids on as quickly as you can.   Then turn them upside down.  This helps create a seal.  You do not need to water bath the jars for this recipe.  Some won’t seal and the button on the top is popped up.  Use those right away or for the freezer.

all the jam

After a few minutes upside down turn them the right way (or you will have space at the bottom of  your jar which looks funny.  Then let them sit for several hours, it took overnight for it to really set.  (luckily it did set.  Always a risk with jam!)

YUM! Toast with butter and homemade jam
YUM! Toast with butter and homemade jam
Pretty!
Pretty jam!

 

Proud Mama of her jam
Proud Mama of her jam

It was fun to do something so domestic and do it well.  Today someone told me I looked like a Grecian Goddess! I think I was inspired by my jam success.

What do you guys like to can, bottle or preserve?

So who wants some!  Btw, 3 more comments until I get to 2,000 comments.

Reposting this. Happy Easter. He is risen.

Smilingldsgirl's Weblog

I don’t have long to write this Easter morning, but I have been contemplating my relationship with Jesus Christ lately.  It amazes me how His sacrifice could be both intimate and infinite.  While every single person who ever lived is saved from sin and despair, I have also been saved.  His grace and power coupled by divine love and empathy gives me the strength to live my life with purpose and obedience.   What a comfort it is to know that because He conquered death and was resurrected on the third day- we all can live again with our loved ones.  In my limited experience with such things the knowledge of eternal life and resurrection was truly a balm of Gilead.  It is my greatest desire to follow Him and be a worthy disciple.  I love Him and know that His church has been restored. He truly did die for…

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Kids Have it Good

So I hated being a kid.  I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be more grown up, more mature.  While I could never go back to being told what to do and how to do it all the time (wasn’t good at that when I was a kid), there are some perks that I wouldn’t mind having.  (It’d be like the movie Big but in reverse, go back to being a kid.  Script in there!)

I was thinking about this today when I was trying to decide what to eat and nothing looked good.  I seem to shop all the time but never have much to eat or that I feel like eating.  (I know, a first world problem but there you go).   As I was staring into the fridge I couldn’t help but think ‘I wish my Mother was here to make me dinner…’.  My Mom is an excellent cook and I definitely didn’t appreciate the gift of having a delicious meal placed before me every night growing up.  What a treat that was!

This memory of my Mom’s cooking started me on the thought track listed below:

Reasons Kids Have it Made:

1. Food of Some Kind Provided to them (in most situations) 3 meals a day

2. They don’t have to do meal planning, shopping list making, or have spices for whatever is made (I am always short something when I cook)

3. They could read all day and it be considered a good thing

4. They have activities like piano lessons and art classes paid for and encouraged.

5. They have time to take piano lessons and art classes

6. They can act like fools and it is seen as charming, not idiotic

7.  They don’t have to worry about dating, relationships or your biological clock running out!

8. They have someone who plans birthday parties for them and Santa still brings them presents.

9. They get driven everywhere and are completely oblivious of road rage, distracted driving and trying to navigate through town

10. When they do chores around the house they get an allowance. Those end when you become an adult! 😉

11. Their only job is to learn and get along with people.  (That I am most envious of!)

12. They should be able to eat without freaking out over carbs, fat grams, sodium, sugar and dieting

13. They have more to look forward to than to look back on

14. They have someone to make them soup and go to the pharmacy when they are sick

15. They have someone to help them on projects or doing most anything.

16.  They can have imaginary friends and talk to themselves and everyone thinks it’s charming not psychotic

17.  They have leaders, teachers, parents and others who are all thinking of how they can challenge/entertain them

18.  They don’t have to work and worry about money

19. They don’t have to worry about politics, current events or anything they can’t control

20.  They still have energy at the end of the day!

So there you go.  Enjoy it kids while you can!  Goodness knows I should have!  (I guess when it comes down to it kids are lucky because they still, or should, have a Mother at home)

What would you add to the list?

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5 Favorite Films

So Rottentomatoes.com has a recurring feature called 5 Favorite Films where various celebrities, mostly actors, give their 5 Favorite films.   (They even had Miss Piggy do a list (Wizard of Oz is I believe a favorite of hers).  It’s harder than it sounds to whittle everything down to 5 films.  I figure it has to be 5 movies I could watch again and again (and have).   There were so many that I wanted to pick like Clueless, Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Fiddler on the Roof, To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Hoosiers, Les Miserables, Juno, Talk of the Town, His Girl Friday, Sense and Sensibility but I was good and stuck to 5 so here goes.

1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

“You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-You-Are?  You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts.  You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, ‘Ok, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.’ You call yourself a free spirt, a wild thing, and you’re terrified someone’s going to stick you in a cage.  Well, baby you’re already in that cage.  You built it yourself.  And it’s not bound by Tulip, Texas in the west or Somaliland in the east.  It’s wherever you go.  Because no matter where you go, you just keep running into yourself”

– And no, I did not google that quote. It’s one of the few lines of dialogue from a movie that I have memorized (which I think that alone has to put it on the top of my list).  I love this movie if only for that thought.  Wherever you go you eventually have to be happy with yourself.  I love this movie because of the style.  I love the just below the surface sensuality and yet innocent romance.  I love that it’s vintage postcard to New York. I love Moon River and the rest of the music.  I love Audrey Hepburn and I love the idea that nobody is a lost cause when it comes to love.

The only thing I don’t like about this movie (and I almost had to take it off the list for this reason) is Mickey Rooney’s embarrassing performance as a Japanese photographer.

2. Sound of Music

It was tough to decide which musical to pick but I figured I had to pick one of them.  The Sound of Music is definitely the best translation of musical to movie, with the movie actually being superior to the stage production.  Julie Andrews is divine. I could listen to her voice all day.  All the child actors are great and Christopher Plummer is wonderful.  If I made a movie I would want to write a part for him.  He is so good at showing nuance in a character and making someone unlikable have a tender side.

The romance between the Captain and Maria is wonderful and I love the smoldering chemistry in the ‘Something Good’ musical number.  Also, Peggy Wood’s ‘Climb Every Mountain’ is perfect and that’s a hard song to pull off.  I love seeing Salzberg and the thrilling ending at the festival.  My Favorite Things, 16 Going on 17, Do Re Mi, Sound of Music, Problem Like Maria, are all great.

3. Howards End

Maybe my more controversial choice.  A lot of people hate this movie but I loved the book and movie.  It is about a set of educated elite sisters (played by Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter) who come in contact with the traditional elitist Wilcox family who own a house called Howards End.

The movie is partly about human character and how we often try to change people and how that usually leads to disaster but also about how good intentions on the part of all can lead to disaster.  There is also a larger social commentary about class struggles and how finding happiness in assigned class is typically the best kind of happiness.  Especially aspiring higher for others is noble in idea but usually awful in execution.

I love how rich this movie.  You have minor side characters that get a full story arc.  You get to feel the heart of a character like Mr. Wilcox who would normally be nothing more than a stiff aristocrat without feeling.   When Anthony Hopkins breaks down at the ruin of his son you feel wounded along with him.  He is not a bad man but money sometimes makes him appear so to others.

There is also a wonderful undercurrent of forgiveness within the movie.  As all the characters wrong each other in one way or another and all must forgive both the person and the class they come from.  I love the acting, writing, cinematography and story.  Like I said, I love the book and love the movie.

4. Up

Anyone who attended my housewarming party knows I love the movie Up.  It has my favorite opening sequence of any movie bar none.   The love story between Carl and Ellie is beautiful and told completely in an opening montage without any words spoken, just images.  I love that a character who dies in the first 5 minutes can remain an active presence throughout the film.  I love the relationships between other characters like Carl and Russell or even Russell and the animals.

I love the story, as far fetched as it might be I totally bought it as a modern day fairy tale.  I love the spirit of travel, family, friendship and adventure.  I love the end message that life is an adventure no matter where you go.   It is my current favorite movie.

The opening montage: I just watched it for like the 300th time and it made me cry all over again. (and not like a tear drop, no like all out crying.  It just does it to me every time.  I love this movie!)

5. The Little Mermaid

I figured I had to pick one movie that influenced me a child and there is no debate about this.  It is Little Mermaid for sure.  The only other candidate might have been Beauty and the Beast but Little Mermaid came out first so it influenced me earlier.  I LOVED the music.  The idea of the young girl who doesn’t quite fit in totally spoke to me.  My sister and I used to sing ‘Part of Your World’ at night with both of us contending that ‘I sound the most like Ariel’.  (I totally did…).  Jodi Benson is amazing as Ariel’s voice.  She set the standard for Disney animation to come.

It is also funny with Sebastian the crab and Scuttle the bird providing great comic relief.  ‘Les Poissons’ fish stew/crab hunting song being a particular favorite that still makes me laugh.  (I’m sorry if you start that song with any American girl of my age they will join right in).  Ursula is also one of the best villains Disney has ever created.  Sounding like a cigarette smoking grandma her song ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ is definitely one of those most delicious evil songs ever written.  (I love the villain in Tangled also).  She works because she’s plenty scary without being too real for little kids (The Rescuers for instance was a little too real with wicked people kidnapping children…Not exactly something great for most kids to see).

I think it is great that they could make hand drawn animation without 3D and it is as good if not better than most of the animated work put out today with all those helps.  It will always be a favorite movie of mine. It also celebrates the ocean (Maybe that’s where I got my love of the ocean and water!)

Oh and Eric is definitely one of the most dreamy, well developed Prince’s in the Disney cannon.

So there are my 5.  What would you pick?  Please share.

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Hoosier Meal

Yesterday I had a fun trip down memory lane thanks to the young men and women.  The youth in my ward were doing a missionary activity where they went to people’s homes and ate a meal from that person’s mission.  They could then ask questions and learn more about what a mission is like.  I signed up and luckily my voice lessons were cancelled so it all worked out.

It’s interesting because I have never really tried to make the food from my mission.  This is partly because it’s not all that good for you (chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes, double starch oh my!) and because I never learned how to do it since I was so busy being a missionary. I haven’t cooked for a large group in a long while and it was exhausting!  I cooked for 8 people and realized while I was doing it that it is the size of my family! Gave me a new respect for my Mother!

I’ll just post the photos because I am behind on work and don’t have time to write much.  The meal was pork tenderloin sandwiches (an Indiana favorite inspired by Mug N’ Bun in Speedway, Indiana

Here are the youth and the youth leader.  It was fun to talk to them about my mission and answer questions
Here are the youth and the youth leader. It was fun to talk to them about my mission and answer questions
Pork tenderloin sandwich an indiana favorite.  They are sometimes called Hoosier Sandwiches
Pork tenderloin sandwich an indiana favorite. They are sometimes called a Hoosier Sandwich
My inspiration.  Mug n Bun pork tenderloin.  Mine looks pretty close
My inspiration. Mug n Bun pork tenderloin. Mine looks pretty close
Hoosier pies or also called sugar cream pies.  Kind of like coconut cream pies without the coconut.
Hoosier pies or also called sugar cream pies. Kind of like coconut cream pies without the coconut.
Hoosier pie with berries on top (not traditional with the berries but the pie is so rich it needed it)
Hoosier pie with berries on top (not traditional with the berries but the pie is so rich it needed it)
The spread
The spread
dinner hoosier sandwiches, corn chips, guac, and cesear salad
dinner hoosier sandwiches, corn chips, guac, and Cesar salad

It was a lot of work!  I was exhausted afterwards but it was a lot of fun too.    Sometimes I think doing regular things like cleaning and cooking make more achy than working out.

By the way, this is in no ways a low calorie meal.  It’s that midwest stick to your ribs kind of cooking but it sure tasted good!  I was proud of the sandwiches because I don’t have a ton of experience deep frying (probably better that way) and they turned out very yummy.  My roommate agreed they were a success.  The teens loved them!

Here are the 2 recipes I used

Hoosier Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

( I had the butcher pound out the pork so I skipped the first part of the recipe)

2 pounds center-cut boneless pork loin
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 sleeves saltines (about 80 crackers)
2 cups instant flour (such as Wondra)
Peanut oil, for frying
4 soft hamburger buns, split
1/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 half-sour dill pickles, thinly slicedDirectionsCut the pork crosswise into 4 equal pieces. Put each piece flat on a cutting board and slice horizontally almost in half (stop about 1 inch from the other side). Open like a book. Sprinkle each piece with water, place between 2 pieces of heavy-duty plastic wrap and pound to 1/4 inch thick with a mallet or heavy skillet.Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, garlic, 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper, and the cayenne in a shallow bowl. Add the pork, cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.Pulse the crackers into coarse crumbs in a food processor, then transfer to a shallow dish. Put the flour in another dish. Remove each piece of pork from the marinade, letting the excess drip off. Dredge both sides in the flour, dip in the buttermilk marinade again, then coat with the cracker crumbs.

Heat 1/4 to 1/2 inch peanut oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 360. Fry the pork in batches until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

Spread both halves of each bun with mayonnaise and mustard. Layer the lettuce, tomatoes and onion on the bottom halves. Add a piece of pork and a few pickle slices. Cover with the bun tops.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/hoosier-pork-tenderloin-sandwich-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

(I used store bought crust- Marie Calendars is my favorite)

For the Crust:
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes; 4 tablespoons chilled, 3 tablespoons frozen for 15 minutes
For the Filling:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
Confectioners’ sugar, for dustingDirections

Prepare the crust: Combine the vinegar with 1/2 cup ice water in a small bowl.

Pulse the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the 4 tablespoons chilled butter and pulse until the butter is in pea-sized clumps and the mixture is sandy. Add the 3 tablespoons frozen butter; pulse until the frozen butter is also in pea-sized clumps. Add 5 tablespoons of the vinegar mixture; pulse 2 or 3 more times. Squeeze a small amount of dough between your fingers. If it does not stay together easily, add 1 more tablespoon of the vinegar mixture and pulse 3 or 4 more times. (Do not let the dough come together.) Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and gather into a lumpy ball; flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, about -inch thick. Fit into an 8-inch pie plate and trim the extra dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang; reserve trimmings. Fold the edges under the rim and crimp. Refrigerate the crust until firm, 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Line the chilled crust with foil and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake until the edges are golden, 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights; continue baking until the center of the crust is dry and golden brown, about 12 minutes. Cool slightly on a wire rack. Cover any cracks in the crust with the dough trimmings before filling.

Prepare the filling: Whisk the sugars and the flour in a medium bowl, breaking up any clumps of brown sugar. Combine the heavy cream and vanilla in a separate bowl and slowly whisk into the sugar mixture until smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared crust; bake until the pie begins to set around the edge but is still slightly wobbly in the middle, 40 minutes. (Tent loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes if the crust gets too dark.) Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before slicing.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/hoosier-sugar-cream-pie-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

More Photos from the Shoot

So my photographer Brooke was kind of enough to allow me to share with all of you some lower resolution images from the photo shoot.  Some are from my house and I think they are really neat.  There are a few more of me that while may not have made my top 10 I still like a lot.

sara
My signed Sara Bareilles poster I have framed in my living room
soft smile
An nice softer smile from me.
strawberry
working in the kitchen cutting some strawberries
strawberry2
cutting strawberries
subtle smile
Another softer look
veggies
thank the produce to bountiful baskets
window
My window and a little bit of my curtains in my master
apron
My flirty apron
bandtiff
favorite movie of mine. I have 2 audrey hepburn posters in my living room
books
Cookbooks galore. Love my Julia Child!
books2
Of course Edenbooke is front and center!
boxing tough punch
punch shot and know I do not wear this shirt when boxing
boxing tough
I don’t know if I can ever pull off the tough chick look but here is an attempt?
light fixture
My pretty light fixture. I just love it!
pie
Taking a pie out of the oven.

What do you all think? I think they are a lot of fun.

My Photo Shoot

Well, the photo’s are in.  Yes, I was a model for a day.  My sisters decided to give me a photo shoot for my birthday/housewarming present and it was a lot of fun.  The photographer is named Brooke Schultz and she did a great job.  She treated me like a movie star and made you laugh.  Her personality is very bubbly and fun and I’d recommend her for any of your photo shoots.  Although it was a gift the price I believe is quite reasonable and she took a lot of photos during the session.

http://brookeschultzphotography.com/

I will probably make a few prints so let me know which one’s you like the most.  I have to say that it really did make you feel beautiful to have someone asking you to pose and spending time taking your picture.  It’s funny because I grew up in a family of photographers but they do more landscape photos than portraits and I have certainly never had a session like this.  It was a lot of fun and something I’d like to do again.  It’s good for the self esteem.

(On another note, my talk yesterday went great! I got tons of positive feedback.  People even asked for copies to be emailed to them.  Hurray!)

boxing rachel (5) rachel (6) rachel (8) rachel (9) rachel (10) rachel (13) rachel (24) rachel (29) rachel (32)

Thai Chicken Soup and Turkey Curry

On March 9th Kate and I got a huge basket from bountiful baskets and it included a new thai pack they were trying out.  I just didn’t have time most of the week to use the pack so finally on Saturday I decided to do some shopping and cook up a bunch of food to have for the upcoming week.  I made the thai soup tom kha gai  and a big pot of curry.

Curry is a favorite of the Wagner household because it is easy, can be made with practically anything and aside from the spices relatively cheap.  It is also an easy dish to make vegetarian which it seems like we often have a vegetarian in our midst.  Oh and it is also gluten free and dairy free.  Makes everyone happy.

Tom Kha Gai is a chicken and coconut soup that uses a lot of lemongrass and ginger to give a rich, complex flavor.  My roommate gave it the stamp of approval.  There is something wonderful about drinking a hot, vibrant bowl of broth.  So good!

The recipe for the soup I got from Tyler Florence of the Food Network with a few changes and the curry I made up myself (I’ve made it tons of times but I will try and give you an idea.  It made a lot of food that will freeze very well but really finding the ingredients is the most difficult part of these items.  Cooking them at the same time reduces the amount of time spent washing and preparing because I could cut one onion for both, use 1 knife for both, one cutting board, etc.  I guess I’ve always been a mad bursts of energy kind of person.

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Soup and curry bubbling away
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Turkey curry with Sweet potatoes and tom kha gai soup
Ingredients1 quart chicken stock, recipe follows
(I also added about 4 cups of water and bullion cubes to make the soup go further)
1 stalk lemon grass, white part only, cracked open with the flat side of a knife
(I added 1 onion, celery leaves, and basil because I had them)
3 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, hand torn  (Couldn’t find, put some extra lime juice for the flavor)
1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced  (I left my fresh ginger in the cart at the store had to use ground spice but it still tasted good)
2 small Thai chilies, halved lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (13-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 (8-ounce) can straw mushrooms, rinsed
4 limes, juiced
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leavesDirections(Cook onion, celery in tbsp veg oil). Bring the stock to the boil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, chilies, and garlic. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and gently simmer for 10 minutes to let the spices infuse the broth.

Uncover and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, mushrooms, lime juice, and chicken. Simmer for 5 minutes to heat the chicken through; season with salt and pepper. (I let mine cook for quite a bit longer to get a strong flavor and added more fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar than the recipe called for) Ladle the soup into a soup tureen or individual serving bowls. Garnish with cilantro. Be careful to avoid chewing the lemongrass, ginger, or lime leaves.

Turkey and Sweet Potato Curry
1 1b turkey breast (or chicken I was just trying to be a little different since I had chicken in the soup) Pork would be good or lamb, anything
2 large sweet potatoes (or regular) cut into chunks
2 cups diced celery and celery leaves
1 bell pepper
2 large diced carrots
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup of chutney or tropical jam like I used mango jam
1 tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce
2 thai chilis removed before serving if you like it real spicy.
2 heaping tbsp indian curry
cumin and garam masala start with tsp and add as much as you like
1 tbsp african spice blend (or hot sauce would be fine, sirache etc).
1 onion
10 ounces chicken broth and then water/bullion to fill up rest of pot.
You could put in greens or tofu or whatever you want.  Cauliflower is great in curry.  It’s so versatile.
Start by heating the onion, celery and bell pepper with a little oil.
Then add cooked turkey cubed or shredded.  Add potatoes, carrots and any other vegetables you want to use.
Add all of your spices.
Then add water, coconut milk, and chicken broth and let come to a boil.   Once the potatoes are soft add in your jam, fish sauce to taste.
So yummy!
(You can also use unflavored yogurt instead of coconut milk if you want to lower the calories but its a good kind of fat so I think its all right)
I like to serve it over couscous, rice or quinoa.
I’d be curious to hear of what variations you come up with.  Happy cooking!

Sacrament Meeting Talk: Developing a Relationship with God

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So tomorrow I am giving a talk in church for the first time since 2010.  (My last talk was on patriotism https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/patriotism-my-sacrament-meeting-talk/).  The topic was ‘The Power of Testimony”.  The more I thought about it the more I kept coming back to my relationship with my Heavenly Father and how essential that relationship is to my testimony.  It’s not just a set of facts or experiences but a lifetime of being nurtured by the Lord.

It is a missionary farewell so I tried to relate it to my mission in a way that felt natural and on topic.  So this is what I came up with , with a few modifications for the blog.

I’d be curious to know what you all think.

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When I was a little girl I was bullied for 2 years.  After trying the normal school channels, my parents took me out of the situation and then we moved across the country.  It proved to be a fresh start for me and a chance to figure out how to make friends which I was able to do.   However, I always knew that despite my best efforts the world could reject me.  I could not rely on them for my self-confidence and happiness.  So what was I supposed to do?  I looked at the people I loved and none of them relied on other people for their self-worth.  They had an inner fire that come from something higher.

I realized I needed to not only pray to God each night but that I needed something that could build a life around.  Something that could protect me in the lonely times.  It was then that I first started building my relationship with God.  Some may call this a testimony but I prefer to think of it as a relationship that but is a work in progress.

Speaking to the women of the church Elder Russel M.  Nelson described this type of relationship with God

“Her self-esteem cannot be based on physical features, possession or lack of a particular talent, or comparative quantities of anything. Her self-esteem is earned by individual righteousness and a close relationship with God. Her outward glow is generated by goodness within. And her patience is much more apparent than any imperfection.”

So to God I went and the first step in building this relationship was learning that He was there and that He loved me.  As a middle schooler , I first asked these questions and have asked them again and again with each time getting the sweet confirmation that ‘Yes, Rachel.  I love you.  You are special’.

How could the bullies hurt me again with that in my pocket?  I had the God of the Universe tell me I was special.

As I grew the relationship grew.  I learned repeatedly about repentance, forgiveness, family, trials, rejection, patience and hard work and all of these experiences made the relationship better and stronger.  It was work, but it was a sweet work.   There were seasons where I forgot to trust him where my anxieties felt almost overwhelming but in the end I always knew He was there rooting for me if I just took the leap of faith.

Elder Wirthlin said,

“I have been impressed recently with the thought that this life is made up of little things—little things that count a great deal. I believe that the little things are of great importance in our relationship with ourselves, in our relationship with others, and in our relationship with God.

The Lord has said, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).

Now I don’t know if I’ve done many great things but I know the Lord is happy with my efforts.  I know this because of the relationship I started way back as a bullied youth.

Elder Oaks described this type of relationship with God:

Of course, we have leaders, and of course, we are subject to their decisions and directions in the operation of the Church and in the performance of needed priesthood ordinances. But when it comes to learning and knowing the truth of the gospel—our personal testimonies—we each have a direct relationship with God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the powerful witness of the Holy Ghost.

So what can we do to develop such a relationship with God?

President Uchtdorf tells us how:

We improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning of Him, by communing with Him, by repenting of our sins, and by actively following Jesus Christ, for “no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Christ].”10To strengthen our relationship with God, we need some meaningful time alone with Him. Quietly focusing on daily personal prayer and scripture study, always aiming to be worthy of a current temple recommend—these will be some wise investments of our time and efforts to draw closer to our Heavenly Father. Let us heed the invitation in Psalms: “Be still, and know that I am God

Doesn’t sound too hard right? A little quiet time, personal prayer and scripture study?  I’m sure all you Mom’s are wondering how you can get such time and if it really exists?  My only thought on that topic is to think of the quiet times I’ve had in my life where I was surrounded by people and yet alone.  The mind can ponder while the body is busily engaged.

Regardless, Heavenly Father knows when we are trying.  He loves us.  He wants to bless us.  He will bless us with time, patience, enhanced spirituality or the ability to persevere through seeming droughts of spiritual knowledge.  We must trust in Him.

President Uchtdorf continues on:

Our relationship with God is most sacred and vital. We are His spirit children. He is our Father. He desires our happiness. As we seek Him, as we learn of His Son, Jesus Christ, as we open our hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit, our lives become more stable and secure. We experience greater peace, joy, and fulfillment as we give our best to live according to God’s eternal plan and keep His commandments.

I have a friend who went to the MTC and felt sad that her testimony wasn’t as seemingly strong as the other members of her district.  Such comparisons miss the point of a relationship with God.  Just as strong marriages come in many forms and styles a strong relationship with God can manifest itself with different strengths and weaknesses.

A testimony when seen as a relationship is not thrown off by questions in theology or seeming offenses of church members because a relationship ebbs and flows. It leaves room for questions and it can always be better.  A relationship is never finished.

Now I have a long way to go in my quest for perfection and my relationship with God can be much stronger than it is today.  So how do I do that? How do I make it stronger?

Since this is Elder Lampings last talk before going into the MTC, I thought I would answer this question with a little missionary advice.  Because I think how to be a good missionary is the same as how to develop a relationship with God:

  1. Be obedient-  You will meet people, even companions, who want to shrug off some rules.  Many will say ‘I’m living the spirit of the law’.  You will not know the spirit of the law unless you are living as close to the letter of the law as you can.  Be obedient.
  2. Pray for Love- pray for love of yourself, your companion, your investigators and all the people you serve, even those that reject you.
  3. Study as Hard as You Can-  Use your study time well.  Yes, you will have mornings where you fall asleep into your scriptures but try your best to think about the needs of your investigators and how you, using your skillset can help them.
  4. Be happy- Find something to be happy about each day.
  5. Serve with No Regrets-  Leave each area, each companionship knowing that you did all you could do, spiritually, emotionally, physically all you can do.

When I was flying home from my mission I had a distinct impression from the spirit that ‘We had done it’.  That the Savior and me as His representative had found everyone we needed to find, we had helped everyone we needed to help and that the work was done.  I promise it was the best feeling of my life.  I left my mission with no regrets.  I wasn’t perfect but I had no regrets.  I honestly thought that all missionaries had a similar experience but in speaking with some of my fellow sisters none of them seemed satisfied with the breadth of their efforts.  They had not received this same assurance

Now the reconciliation of their missionary labors is between them and the Lord but shouldn’t a life with no regrets be our goal no matter if we are missionaries or members.  It’s certainly my goal.  I want to be able to have a similar feeling that I had on that plane when I’m in the spirit world ready to move on.  It should be a feeling of ‘we did it’.  Because of our relationship, Jesus Christ and I did it together.

Our goals should be to say like Elder McConkie before his death

“And now as pertaining to this perfect Atonement, I testify that it took place at Gethsemane and at Golgotha. And as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God who was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person… And in the coming day I will feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s almighty Son and he is our Savior and Redeemer and that Salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.”

May we all strive to be obedient and to develop this relationship with God

Name of Jesus Christ,Amen.

Jesus hugging a man

Reasons to Come and Visit Me

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BTW, I sort of love this photo!

As if this smiling face wasn’t enough reason to come and visit here are some more:

1. Amazing dark master bedroom you could use and get the best sleep of your life!

2. If you opt for the guestroom there are 2 mattresses and your own fridge and microwave

3. 5 national parks in Utah, more than any other state!

4. I cook really well! Ask the girls who go to my cooking lessons- it’s good stuff!

5. Broadway level theater everywhere from Utah Shakespeare Festival, both Hale Theaters, to The Covey Center in Provo.  Fabulous

6. Lots for you history buffs- Golden Spike, This is the Place, Lion House and the largest family history library in the world

7.  Plenty to inspire including free Tabernacle Choir concerts, performances and beautiful church buildings of many faiths

8. Let’s be honest- I’m a lot of fun to hang out with!

9. Great shopping at City Creek and new outlet mall in Lehi and more

10. As many trips to local lakes to swim or kayak as your heart desires (mine many) and you could meet my awesome SLOW friends

11. Workout and play in Treehouse Athletic Club one of the best spa/sports clubs in the country.  (for real).

12. Oh and some people like to ski and I’m willing to learn.

13. 5 star accommodations at $0 price.  The deal of the century!

14.  Terrific local sports including super fun BYU games

15. Olympic park for you Olympic fans

16.  Great local venues for concerts, symphonies, operas and basically anything your want to see.

So there you have it.  I will hear no excuses!  Come and visit!

(Seriously I’m so lucky to live where I live!)

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