Chocolate, Gratitude, Main Dish

Time to Celebrate: Birthday Cake and Shepherd’s Pie

Grateful for birthdays! We spent the entire day celebrating our seventeen year old son:

  • Homemade french toast for breakfast
  • Some pretty intense battles via Smashbros
  • Our favorite Shepherd’s Pie – recipe below
  • Dark Chocolate Cake
  • And, cozying up with a cup of tea and “The Imitation Game”

At the end of the day, I could not stop smiling. I love birthdays. Everybody needs a special day to be celebrated because each one of us matters. You matter! I matter! The world needs each one of us!!! Many years ago, I got some wonderful advice from a dear friend. She suggested on my birthday each year, I bake my own birthday cake and share it with others so that no matter what, even if no one else has time to plan a celebration, I will already have the party started. If someone else happens to surprise me with a cake, there is just more joy to share! Over the years I have come to enjoy the ritual of baking my own cake and inviting my dear friends over to celebrate together. And, most of all…  I love the ritual of baking a cake for my precious kiddos. I just cannot stop smiling.

I am also grateful for favorite family recipes. One of my favorite Shepherd’s Pie is served at a quaint little British pub, “The Black Lab” in midtown Houston. With some trial and error I think I’ve come pretty close to their recipe. Although, my friends from Britain have assured me that this is actually a “Cottage Pie” because I use beef instead of lamb. Also, my son does not like peas, so I use celery as a substitute. Regardless, the only thing left to say is “YUMMO!”

Shepherd's Pie

Our Favorite Shepherd’s Pie (Glutton and Dairy Free)

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, finely diced
  • 3 -4 large carrots, finely diced
  • 1 cup peas OR diced celery
  • 1 lb ground beef or 1 lb lamb
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme (or 3-4 sprigs fresh, finely chopped)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon margarine (Smart Balance is a healthy alternative)
  • 1 glass red wine (I prefer Malbec)
  • 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 heaping tsp. “Better than Bouillon” beef base
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour
  • 1 large quantity mashed potatoes – Boil potatoes for about 45 minutes. Drain potatoes and let cool until all of the steam is released (makes them lusciously creamy!). Mash with melted smart balance margarine, chicken stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Estimate about 6 cups, fresh or leftover.
  • If dairy is not a concern, 2 cups white cheddar cheese

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
  • Sauté onions in olive oil with a little salt and pepper until tender for about 5-10 minutes. Then add diced carrots and celery to the pan and continue to cook until vegetables are tender 5-10 minutes.
  • Add beef to the vegetables and cook until browned. Drain off any excess fat.
  • If using peas, add after the meat is browned.
  • Add thyme, margarine, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon, and red wine. Stir into the vegetable/meat mixture.
  • Add tablespoon of cornstarch to water and stir until combined. Add water/cornstarch mixture to beef.
  • Cook mixture until sauce thickens.
  • Spray 9 X 13 casserole with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Spread beef/vegetable mixture over the bottom of the casserole.
  • Spread mashed potatoes over the top of the beef mixture.
  • If dairy is not a concern, sprinkle 2 cups of white cheddar cheese over the top. My family sprinkles cheese over half the casserole to give family members the option of cheese or non-dairy.
  • Bake in over for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted or potatoes are browned on top.

Would love to hear what you are grateful for today!

Chocolate, Compassion, Dessert, Gratitude

I Am Magdalene

Today I am thankful for:

He Is Risen

Photograph by Cathleen Tarawhiti

1. A moment. She and I together. She has seen too much of life. Five children with several fathers. Time and time again, searching for love and coming up short… She looks at me, smiles, and says, “I am Magdalene.” She knows Jesus. Jesus sees her and loves her for all time. I feel as if I am in the midst of sacred beauty. Joy.

2. Happy Unbirthday. We surprised them again! Our kids came home from school, unsuspecting, to a house filled with decorations and a present for each of us. The Beatles’ Today is Your Birthday blaring on the stereo. “How did you do it again?” our daughter laughs with the biggest smile. Celebrate!

Happy Unbirthday

3. Dark Chocolate Pie! Our unbirthday celebration was made complete with dark, rich, chocolately goodness. Chocolate makes everything better!

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Dark Chocolate Pie

  • 1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan. Stir in milk gradually. Add chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate. Place over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Take off burner.
2. Give the eggs a brief whisk in a separate bowl. Take about a quarter of the chocolate mixture and, working with just a few teaspoons at a time, pour it into the eggs as you whisk continuously. Adding the chocolate mixture this slowly prevents the eggs from being cooked instantly from exposure to heat.
3. Whisk egg yolk mixture back into mixture in saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla extract.
4. Pour mixture into baked pie shell. Press a layer of plastic wrap onto filling. Refrigerate at least 4 hours but no longer than 48 hours. Remove plastic wrap before serving and top with whipped topping.

Chocolate, Dessert, Gratitude

Birthdays

Birthday

Today I am thankful for:

Birthdays. Somewhere along the years I got into my head the idea that it was up to other people (my husband or family) to make me feel special on my birthday. As a mother, it was important for me to make others feel celebrated on their special day. But, when my birthday came around, I did not treat myself in the same way. Maybe I could only be worthy if someone else thought I was. It seemed un-humble or something to make a big deal out of me.

Several years ago, someone helped change my perspective. She said to treat myself in the same way I want my children to be treated. Make an effort to model for them what I hope for them. My desire for my children is that they feel loved, valued, and important… And that they know they are a super good reason for a party! My friend told me she buys her favorite cake every year and throws a party inviting loved ones to join in the celebration. If someone else makes a cake for her, that means more fun for everyone. What a wonderful gift to herself and her children. Chocolate Popcorn

This year I felt overwhelmed with gratitude throughout the entire day. My husband festively decorated the house. My family sang. I had lovely conversations with my sisters in Germany and Texas. Then, went to yoga where my yoga instructor gave me a wonderful little gift that included chocolate. She led the class in a mat-bound yogini rendition of Happy Birthday and played Radiohead throughout the entire class because she knows its my favorite. I was pinching myself at this point (thankful, thankful, thankful) and it was only 10:00. The rest of the day was full of chocolate, joyful messages from friends and family, and more chocolate. We topped off the evening with my very own homemade chocolate cake and shared dinner with dear friends. As I am writing, I am overcome with gratitude at the simple gifts that make life so meaningful. The best gifts were moments shared with beautiful people in my life. Chocolate Bar

I just want everyone to know that each and every one of us is a good reason for a party. Time to celebrate!

What are you thankful for today?

Chocolate, Gratitude

Christmas Lights, Milk, Cookies, and Merlin

Today I am thankful for:

1. Christmas lights. I love being greeted by the joyful twinkling lights as we drive through town listening to the pulsing sounds of the White Stripes or Beck (complements of my teenage son).Snowman

2. Cookies and milk. There is nothing better than a warm, gooey, chocolaty chip cookie and a big glass of milk at the end of the week. Well… the only thing better is sharing them with my kids. Mmmmmm.Cookies and Milk

3. Merlin. No plans tonight! We are watching our favorite show together and hanging out. I am grateful for time to slow down, relax, and enjoy time as a family. Treasure!MV5BMTYzNDExNjk2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTQ3NjYxMQ@@._V1._SY317_CR6,0,214,317_

What are you thankful for?

Chocolate, Gratitude

Oreo Truffles, Lemon Facials, and Sugar Hand Scrub

Today I am thankful for:

1. Oreo Truffles. I was told to bring something chocolate to our Thanksgiving celebration. I am often told to bring the chocolate because I adore chocolate, AND… Oreos and chocolate together make a beautiful partnership. This recipe is so simple… there is still time to make it. The best part is the smiles and mmmmm’s from my kids. Blessings!

Oreo Truffles

1 pkg. cream cheese

1 pkg. Oreos

1 pkg. chocolate candy coating

Blend together Oreos and cream cheese in food processor. Melt chocolate coating in microwave. Roll Oreo mixture into balls, dip in candy coating, and drop on wax paper to set.

2. Facials with my daughter. We have a lovely little facial recipe that feels heavenly: organic lemon juice and sugar. Sharing this time creates such a beautiful memory with her. The experience was capped off with some Lemon Sanpellegrino. Nice way to start off a school holiday. 

3. Our evening fun was finished off with a healthy helping of Sugar Hand Scrub. Our youth group is making all kinds of wonderful holiday treats to sell in order to make money for their Honduras mission trip. My daughter and I were luxuriating over the softness of our hands and the delightful smell of citrus. 

What are you thankful for today?

Chocolate, Gratitude

Hot Fudge Sauce

Today I am thankful for:

1. Hot Fudge Sauce. When I was in boarding school, my girlfriends and I would make homemade fudge. We would make the recipe according to the directions right up to the point where it said to boil so many minutes at candy ball stage. What we were left with was some runny, ummy, yummy hot fudge sauce. Then a room full of 14-15 year old girls would grab a spoon and pass the pot around until we had devoured all of the chocolate. Mmmmmm. Good memories and great hygiene. A dear friend of mine shared this recipe with me several years ago. It was her grandmother’s recipe. One taste takes me back to those delightful girlhood, boarding school memories. Mmmmm good.

Amy’s Hot Fudge Sauce
1 Stick Butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1 can PET milk
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanillaMelt one stick butter and one cup chocolate chips in large bowl in microwave. Stir in one can of PET milk and heat for 2 min in microwave on full power. Stir in 2 cups powdered sugar.

Mix and cook in microwave for 2 min.
Mix and cook for 2 more min.
Mix and cook for 2 more min.
Mix and cook for 1 more min.

Stir in 1 tsp of vanilla. YUMMO!

What are you thankful for today?
Chocolate, Compassion, Dessert, Gratitude

Daring Greatly, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Dr. Who

Today I am thankful for

1. Dr. Brené Brown. A friend introduced me to her work two-and-a-half years ago just as my family was transitioning to Houston. Her work gave me permission to reach out and share my struggles with close friends (connection), be kind to myself on difficult days (c0mpassion), and have the courage to believe that I am enough just as I am. Productivity, success, and meeting up to other’s expectations do not define my value … even if I struggle sometimes feeling like they do. I am worthy of love and belonging simply because I am a fellow human being. She changed my life, and I am grateful. Over the next few weeks she is offering a free podcast (read-a-long) on her website to discuss vulnerability, courage, parenting, leadership, life, wholehearted living, our shame, and fears when we take risks, etc. Jeff got me her new book, Daring Greatlyfor my unbirthday, and I am thankful every time I pick it up. (An embarrassing moment was when I met Brené a couple of years ago and launched into a big hug before I could help myself. She was lovely and gracious.)

Daring Greatly

2. Chocolate Chip Cookies. I promise (cross my heart) that these are the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Anyone want to challenge me? 

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Jennifer Christian
350 degrees

3 1/4 c Flour
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Baking powder
3/4 tsp. Salt
1 C. White sugar
1 C. Brown Sugar
1 C. Vegetable Oil
3 Eggs
1 ½ Tbs. Boiling water
2 tsp. Vanilla
2 C. Chocolate Chips (Ghiradeli’s bittersweet at Sam’s are big and wonderful!)

 1. Mix dry ingredients together in small bowl.

2. Mix sugars, oil, eggs, water, and vanilla in large bowl.

3. Add ½ flour mixture to wet ingredients until well blended, then add other ½.

4. Add chocolate chips.

5. Drop on ungreased cookie sheets.

6. 350 degrees for 9 min.

7. Savor!

3. Thankful for Friday nights. We often take Friday evenings to have a family night. Tonight we have big plans with Dr. Who and some Chocolate Chip Cookies. Love it!

What are you thankful for?