Main Dishes – Chicken Casserole

Feed My Starving Children

Last Saturday, I took a group of youth and parents to Feed My Starving Children, in Aurora. There were 23 of us from Redeemer, a great number in my estimation. But we weren’t the only ones there.

Along with probably 100-150 other volunteers, we split up around various tables packaging food into “manna packs,” a blend of rice, soy, veggies, and vitamins. These are sent to various places in underdeveloped parts of the world.

In the packaging room, we noticed that some of the groups around us seemed more exuberant, more joyous in their packing than we did. Jacob said, with a wry smile, “Yeah, our youth group is kind of angsty.”¬†Jacob has this wit, this subtle humor that makes me hours or even days later smile a little to myself. He’s right: we are kind of angsty.

And isn’t that okay? We’re Lutherans, for crying out loud. As my friend Sherri said, “We Lutherans repress our feelings and bring a dish to pass at the potluck.”

Chicken Casserole

We Lutherans do love our potlucks, and our casseroles, don’t we? Or rather, those of a previous generation surely did. My mom made a salmon casserole that I remember, sadly, with much disdain. I eat fish at least once a week now, but I’m not wild about any noodle-y, creamy, crunchy additional ingredients.

Anyhow, despite my being down on casseroles, dishes like this make for an easy family meal, as Kathryn found when she cooked this chicken casserole (p. 42) for me! She cut up the chicken before cooking to make it easier to serve. Great idea!

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And here is the finished product:

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Nice one, Kathryn! Thank you for your willingness to help me get through these last few recipes. ūüôā

 

Desserts – Eclair Bubble Ring

What’s making me happy this week

On NPR’s Pop Culture hour, they do a roundtable at the end of each podcast called “What’s Making Me Happy.” So in honor of their feature, I’ll do my own version:

yogurt

1. Dannon’s Greek Light & Fit Toasted Coconut Vanilla yogurt. For a price of 80 calories, you’ll feel ready to swim in a vat of the stuff.

2. A finished manuscript. I successfully prepared Draft #2 of my novel in verse and sent it off to my agent this week. I call it a “draft” because I know it’s just that–one step in a long writing process. But it’s a creative work of fiction that topped 13,000 words, a stunning achievement for this writer. My “Cheep Cheep” book numbered only 7 words. Perhaps I’m developing. ūüôā

3. Handmade cards and gift tags. One of the many things I love about working at the library is the celebration of creativity in that environment. We’re adopting a “makerspace” culture, in which patrons come to the library to do their own creating. As part of that, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in programs that allow me to play, create, and make something to give away.

4. Lark Rise to Candleford. If you’re sick of hearing about my obsession with British TV, you can tune out now. My mom got me onto Doc Martin and Lark Rise to Candleford, the latter of which is based on a book about a hamlet in Oxfordshire around the 1880s.

5.¬†Swedish hymns. I love the lilting, happy melodies of Swedish hymns, much more than the heavy plodding Germanic ones. I love my German Lutheran roots, but¬†these Swedish hymns like “Children of the Heavenly Father,” are making me happy this week.

Eclair Bubble Ring

This is an interesting recipe (p.100)–from the name to the giant-ness of it all! My supervisor at work Cher put together this multi-step recipe to help me with the cookbook project. Thank you, Cher!

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She made the pastry, which is not really sweet. It’s sort of bread-y.

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Then she sliced the dough lengthwise for a custard filling.

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Finally, a chocolate topping was added to the top.

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Voila! Giant donut!

Thank you, Cher, for helping me with this project!

Breads and Rolls – Pumpkin Bread

More than we can handle

I recently read a blog post about an oft misused verse from 1 Cortinthians, and I realized that I myself have not understood this verse correctly and have repeated this misunderstanding¬†to those who are suffering, I’m sad to say.

The platitude goes like this: someone starts telling you about how his or her life is crumbling around them. A marriage may be so full of problems and confusion that neither husband nor wife can see a way to resolve their differences. A child may be struggling with drug use or is getting in trouble with the police. Or mortgage payments can barely be made, and the family feels frayed financially.

And then comes the platitude: “Well,” says some well-meaning but clueless friend, “God won’t give you more than you can handle. Everything will be okay.”

We see from the Bible and the sufferings of the disciples that everything was most certainly not okay. Paul describes being beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. He was in danger in the city, in the country, and everywhere in between. He went without sleep. He went without food. He was cold and naked and weak (2 Cor. 11:26).

He goes on in chapter 12 to discuss a “thorn,” some¬†unnamed malady or difficulty which kept him from experiencing a fulfilled and satisfied life. He pleaded with the Lord to remove it. It probably felt like more than Paul could handle. And yet, God did not take it away. Instead, Paul learned from God that His “grace is sufficient” and His “power is made perfect in weakness.”

The reason why people often bring up this “God won’t give you more than you can handle” saying is that it seems to come from Scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear….” And yet, the actual context of this verse is temptation, not suffering.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about ¬†the areas in my life that I want to improve. It seems like I’ve got three major areas that are often out of balance. One is my work. Right now, I do not have enough time or creative space to be writing much. I’m trying to remedy that, but it’s a struggle to carve out time for this.

Another area is my health. I’m on a downward and hopeful¬†trajectory in terms of weight loss. This is good, but my slow progress¬†is making me¬†nervous about the long-term stability in this area.

Another area is finances.  We will soon have a college student in our home whose educational expenses, while reasonable compared to private schools, will still seem overwhelming at times.

Why is it that I can’t have all three “trouble” areas under control and in balance at the same time?

If my life were totally in my control, and in balance just the way I want it, why would I need God’s help? If I have everything “handled,” I’d be a-okay on my own.

But I’m not. I’m far from okay. I’m weak, I’m anxiety-ridden, I’m cranky, I’m rude. I worry about the future. I stress about the past. I can’t let go of trying to control my present.

This is when God’s strength is made perfect–when I admit I’m weak, and I need someone “higher than I” to help me. And this is the great comfort in knowing about Paul’s suffering. He suffered far more than I ever will. But still, I am weak, just as Paul was. And I need my heavenly Father’s care just as he did.

God may¬†give me more than I can handle at times. But that’s okay. Because I have a heavenly Father whose “weakness is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). He’s with me through my struggles. And that’s a comforting thought.

Pumpkin Bread

This is a good, basic pumpkin bread recipe (p. 70-71). I modified it to lighten it up. It calls for 3 cups of sugar. I used one, plus two of Splenda. It calls for 1 c. of salad oil. I used applesauce instead. For the 3 1/2 c. flour, I used 2 cups regular flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, and 1/2 cup ground flax seed. Everything else was the same, and you know what? I don’t miss the extra fat, sugar, or white flour at all. Instead of making bread, I made 4 mini loaves and 12 muffins. It’s a pretty big recipe, so you can definitely halve it if you don’t want the extra. But I’m planning on giving most of this away as my boys won’t really care, and I don’t need the extra calories.

I love having this sort of thing in the freezer to give away at a moment’s notice. Because all the time people are doing nice things for me, and I want to say thank you with food. ūüôā

You just can’t go wrong with the pumpkin/cinnamon/nutmeg flavor. Last Thanksgiving I tried two types of pie–one regular and one totally diet-friendly. The flavors of the pumpkin with the spices makes it delicious–whether or not a bunch of sugar is added.

Here’s the batter, looking pumpkiny and yummy.

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Into the oven they go. Do you see my broken-in-half Pampered Chef mini-loaf pan in the back? I broke it a few years ago while washing it, and you know what? I kind of like it better broken–much easier to maneuver.

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Even with the substitutions, they puffed up nicely. Last week, when I made the double cranberry muffins, they were flatter and didn’t respond as well to the substitution of flax seed for flour. But these pumpkin muffins were more forgiving and flexible.

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Yumminess!

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There are two pumpkin bread recipes in the cookbook, one from Donna H. which I made in February, and this one from Charlene G. Charlene’s is the basic recipe, and Donna’s makes some healthy substitutions, including plain yogurt in place of much of the oil. Both are fantastic. Thank you, ladies!

Salad – Sunshine Salad

Knives and such

So March 29 was my birthday, and let’s just say it was the 16th anniversary of my 29th birthday. While you’re figuring that out, I’ll go on to say that even though it’s starting to sound “old,” I wouldn’t go back even if I had the chance. Maybe I won’t say that when my body really starts falling apart, but for now, I cherish each of my years. I can look back on a tapestry of memories and see how God has taken care of me and provided me with everything I need. And that is a wonderful thing.

For this birthday, I had lots of great surprises. Two of them were cooking items! My co-workers gave me a super choppy, fancy schmancy chef’s knife, which I am loving. Instead of reaching for a paring knife, I find myself most often reaching now for a chef’s knife to dice, chop, and even mince. And this one is amazing!!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe second amazing gift was from my dear friend Kelly Q., who follows my blog and decided I needed a new hand mixer since my other one died. Hooray! Now I can make the cookies I was hoping to!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSometimes I look at other cooking blogs and see the fancy utensils and tools they use. I wonder if they get corporate sponsors to try out their equipment. But instead of needing corporate sponsors, I just have really great friends who keep me supplied with all the latest and greatest to continue cooking!

In the beginning of the year, I decided to adopt the one-word challenge for the year instead of making New Year’s resolutions. I chose persistence because I have some lofty goals of health and climbing mountains and such. But I’m learning that my choice should probably be superseded by GRACE. Even when I don’t meet my goals, I find there is grace and kindness in the faces of my friends and family. When I break my hand mixer due to my own mis-measuring, I get grace in the form of a gift from a friend so that I can keep on baking. In spite of ourselves, we all receive grace and should in turn show works of grace and mercy to others. And that is also a wonderful thing.

Sunshine Salad

This pretty salad (p. 16) is like a burst of sunshine with its fresh flavors and fruity sweetness. Patti G. submitted this delicious recipe, and I’m so glad she did.

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And then you add strawberries, pineapple, and green grapes. Top it all with a homemade poppyseed dressing. Yum!

I’ve decided to create a new category of recipe called My Favorites. These will include the ones I want to keep returning to, even after I finish my project. Everyone’s tastes are different, so please know that even if a recipe doesn’t make it to my faves, it doesn’t mean they’re not good. ūüôā I’m finding, however, that it’s becoming difficult to remember all of the recipes my family really enjoyed and want me to return to. I mean, when you’re cooking 5-6 new and different things each week, they tend to blur together!

First one to be added to my new category is this Sunshine Salad. It’s a treat!

There’s a second Sunshine Salad in the cookbook from Kim L., which has orange jello, grated carrot, and pineapple in it. This is the more popular version of the Sunshine Salad that I know. I’ll make it soon!

I guess I’m hoping that all of these sunshiny salads will keep the sunshine rolling around here. We’re getting some slightly warmer temps–and so thankful for them.

Salad – Shrimp and Cabbage Salad

J. Patrick Lewis’ Fabulous Advice

I recently read through my notes from my poetry writing workshop last fall, and came across this great piece of advice. J. Patrick Lewis, the former U.S. children’s poet laureate¬†said that “good writing begins and ends with¬†strong, personified¬†verbs.”

He pointed to this fabulous haiku by Basho.

peony

The bee didn’t¬†fall out of the peony. He didn’t¬†walk, crawl,¬†or¬†creep.¬†But he¬†staggered–giving the sense that he was drunk with the sweet nectar. The perfect verb!

Great writing soars with active verbs but falls like dead weight when loaded down with to be and the passive voice.

Shrimp and Cabbage Salad

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Slicing my cabbage. I had a head of cabbage already, so I used it instead of buying the napa cabbage called for in the recipe.

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Here’s the cooked shrimp along with oranges.

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It is even more delicious than it looks!

This recipe reminds me of a story I saw on the news about a culinary computer program that pairs unusual tastes together. I wouldn’t have thought of putting shrimp and cabbage together, but this is not only delicious but also satisfying. I had it with the tortellini soup, and wow–what a great meal!

 

Salad – Broccoli Salad

Writing Conference

In about ten days, I’ll be leading a writing workshop, so my posts might be a little shorter for the next couple of weeks. I’ve got a lot of my work done preparing for the conference, but I still have a lot of handouts and activities to put together.

In the meantime, we’re still in the midst of winter. I heard today that Chicago has had 68.9 inches of snow during this winter–ten inches MORE than Minneapolis. Sheesh. It’s snowing right now, but hopefully that will at least cover the disgusting icebergs in the parking lots. Here are two glaciers I documented for you in case you’re not privileged enough to see them (ahem, Cher).

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At this point in the winter, it’s tough to even imagine green grass, green leaves, spring blooms.

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Broccoli Salad 

So in the meantime, we eat broccoli salad (p. 7). It’s fairly simple: broccoli, sunflower kernels, onion, and raisins with a dressing over the top. I had extra golden raisins, so I decided to use those. Bacon is crumbled in the salad at the end.

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This is a great way to get all of the good nutrients from broccoli because it’s tasty and makes a nice side dish!

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We had it tonight with Priester’s Carrots and Cheeseburger Pie. A great dinner! Thank you, Jeanne D. for a great addition to the cookbook!

Main Dish – Cheeseburger Pie

church

I like this picture because it shows the quiet unadorned church as it stands Monday through Saturday. On Sunday morning, the white cloth is removed, the altar paraments dictate the church season (currently Epiphany), the brass gleams, the candles glow. But on a midweek evening when I took this picture, all is quiet and still.

My anxiety reared its ugly head last week, which is probably why I long so fervently for the quiet of sacred spaces. Anxiety is a cruel taskmaster–it stirs up nervousness and worry even when there may be nothing to worry about. I feel an inner buzz–not the pleasant, friendly buzz after a glass of wine, but a buzz that makes me constantly jiggle my knee and pick at my nails. I can’t quiet my thoughts.

It’s a shame these days that we can’t keep the church open for prayer and quiet during the week. But we have to lock it up tight to prevent theft (or hobos from making it their home, but that never happened at Redeemer–or did it?!). Sad reality of modern life. Good news is that we’ll be starting a scaled-down midweek service during the summer, to give people more opportunities to worship.

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In the meantime, I’ll be able to enjoy the quiet sanctuary after handbell practice on Thursday nights.

Cheeseburger Pie

This cheeseburger pie (p. 42)¬†is a lot different from the Biquick version¬†I’m used to. I’ve made the Bisquick recipe for many years, and it always goes over big. This recipe from Jane O. uses refrigerated crescent rolls for the crust. The filling is made up of ground beef, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, onion and some water, covered with cheese.

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Here is the ground beef cooking with the onion.

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And here is how it came out. Looks good, eh?

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Had the cheeseburger pie with Priester’s Carrots and Broccoli salad. Great!

Salad – Grape Salad

Pottery Update

This week–after six lessons–we got our very first pots back. I made mine the first or second night–not sure now, and then they were fired. After that, we glazed them with a denim color, and….drum roll….

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Here she is!

Last week we made small pitchers, and this week, we started on a covered pot. Here’s the lid:

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The covered pot that the instructor made had holes in the side, sort of like a garlic container. We’ll see how it comes out next week. What I’m learning is that at any given time, potters have a plethora of projects going at the same time. Some are brand new. Some have been drying for a little while, and are ready to be trimmed. Some are ready to be fired. Some are ready to be glazed. And then if you add more than one color of glaze, it takes several firings.

It’s sort of like writing. Sometimes when people ask me what I’m currently writing, I have a hard time answering. That’s because I usually have several things going on at the same time. Right now, I’m working on 3 different poetry collections, 2 stand-alone poems, and I have two other picture book ideas brewing. So it’s always a lot of things going at the same time.

Grape Salad

As I remember, we had a BUNCH (ha!) of grape salad recipes and had to pick and choose to make sure we didn’t overdo it. That’s why the recipe is listed as having 3 contributors! So thank you, Sheree, Patti, and Sharon! I had never made this before, but I see now why you all wanted to add it.

The other multiple recipes were cheeseburger pie and taco soup. Go figure! I thought we’d have a bunch of tuna casserole or chocolate chip cookie recipes. But no.

This recipe (p. 10) calls for a LOT of grapes (4 lbs). So here is a giant bowl of grapes. Doesn’t it look inviting and delicious?

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Well, I only had a giant bowl of grapes after pulling all of the grapes from the stems. So here’s the detritus left in the sink.

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This is really an easy recipe–it’s just washed, de-stemmed grapes in a cream cheese/sour cream dressing, topped with some brown sugar and pecans. I’m wondering now if this should be filed under desserts, not salads! Wow is it delicious.

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And here it is in my new pot!

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Appetizer – Simple Fruit Kabobs

Holy Spaces

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Over the weekend I went with my son to visit Marquette U., one of his top choices for college, and on the tour we visited the Chapel of St. Joan of Arc. Well, this little gem was a bright spot on an otherwise frigid and wintry day.

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You can read the official history from the college, but to sum it up, this chapel was built in the 1400s in France in honor of Joan of Arc. (She, by the way, is someone I want to learn more about some day.) It stood in Lyons, France until the 1920s when a wealthy American bought it and had it moved brick-by-brick to her estate on Long Island. Eventually it was donated to the university.

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We were only in the building for about five minutes, and of course I was the last to leave with Jacob hauling me out. I couldn’t get enough of it. Even in those few moments, I sensed this internal longing, this desire to be in holy, quiet, lovely spaces like this small chapel.¬†I needed to sit there and be quiet and let the space settle me so that I could turn my attention away from myself and to my Creator, to worship and be still.

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As a pastor’s wife, I spend a lot of time at our church. And I love it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. But sometimes it’s not as restful as being in a place without responsibilities, a place where I don’t notice the bulletin board needs to be updated, or the refrigerator needs to be cleaned out, or the bookcase in the youth room tidied. That’s not to say that we don’t have people who help with these things and much, much more. But it’s like the difference between visiting a friend’s house for dinner and being in your own. In my house, I see the imperfections. Somewhere else, I don’t notice and I’m not so preoccupied.

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I’m hoping I’ll be able to come back to this little chapel some day. But at the very least, being my mother’s daughter, I bought the brochure on it.

If I had an unlimited travel budget, I would visit chapels like this all over the world. Wouldn’t that be amazing? To see how worshippers across the globe kneel together in front of altars like these? After hearing about the El Camino de¬†Santiago¬†in Spain, a 500-mile walk interspersed with stops at monasteries, convents, little Spanish villages, among lots of pilgrim wayfarers, I decided that is now on my bucket list. My dream writing assignment would be to blog my way through El Camino or write poetry or some such along a spiritual journey. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Simple Fruit Kabobs

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The great thing about this recipe (p. 5), along with several others in the Redeemer cookbook is that this isn’t so much a brilliant concoction, but more like an idea for a great dish. These kabobs are definitely simple–just fruit chunks on a stick. But lined up on a pretty tray, they look appealing, attractive, and yummy!

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Oh, I didn’t even notice until now that I’m making two of Kelly Q.’s recipes from this week–this one and the Simple Salsa Skillet. It’s little wonder since I’m now starting on my training for the mountain climb coming in May, and I’m trying to focus on healthy, simple meals.

This week I’m continuing with my cardio (now that I’m mostly healthy again) and adding strength training. I’m still not sure where/how I’ll do a 2-3 hour hike in this weather. I guess the treadmill if the weather doesn’t break. In addition to walking on an incline on the treadmill, I’m now carrying a backpack with a bunch of books in it. I didn’t weigh it, but I can tell you at the very least, it’s not light.

And in case you wanted an update on the picnic table snow depth, here you go.

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Main Dishes – Oriental Meatballs

Hope for the Hurting
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On Sunday evening, we got together at church to make fleece blankets for an organization called Phil’s Friends, a group that brings Christ-centered hope to cancer patients. They send cards and packages to kids and adults with a cancer diagnosis. If you know someone who could use support, you can anonymously give their name and contact information to receive a care package and weekly, personalized card. The blankets we made will go into the care packages. The founder of the organization, Phil, had a cancer diagnosis in his early twenties and found that care packages and cards meant the world to him as he was fighting cancer. So this is a great organization, with roots right here in Elmhurst.

Couple funny things from kids at church today:

I saw Pastor at Starbucks in regular clothes! I thought he had to always wear the black shirts.

And speaking of what a pastor wears, someone else wondered,

Does Pastor get hot wearing all those robes in church? 

Yes.

Would it be church if he didn’t wear them?

¬†Yes, we’d still have church even without robes! Okay, now what is a Creed?

Isn’t a Creed the thing that pastor talks?

No, that’s a sermon.

Oh!!! I know. It’s a statement of belief.¬†

You got it! Okay, now, what about absolution? What’s that?

Uh…

I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with confession.¬†

Oh, confession? We’re always late to church so we miss that part.¬†

Oriental Meatballs

Speaking of names of things, it seems to me that a good name for these meatballs to give an idea of the flavor is to call them ‘Sweet and sour meatballs.’

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For some reason, these didn’t really stick together into balls. They were more like meat lumps. Or meat clumps. They had a nice sweet/sour flavor, but I wish they’d stuck together better. But either way, they tasted good. I wonder if it might be because of the type of ground beef (I got 93% lower fat).

This reminds me–oddly–of something Jacob and I discovered. I always thought those things you drive over in your car were called “speed bumps.” But then we saw a sign (we think in Pennsylvania?) that named them “speed humps.” Humps? Bumps? Clumps? Lumps? Ooh…I’m sensing a book idea forming.

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And here are the meatballs, along with the (more successful) creamed spinach. Donna H., who added this recipe to the cookbook always has a kind word, shows grace in her setbacks, and a ready and helpful attitude.