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!


And here is the finished product:


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



Salads – Lime Jello Mold

Merry Christmas! 


 Therefore this is the chief article, which separates us from all the heathen, that you, O man, may not only learn that Christ, born of the virgin, is the Lord and Savior, but also accept the fact that he is your Lord and Savior, that you may be able to boast in your hear:  I hear the Word that sounds from heaven and says:  This child who is born of the virgin is not only his mother’s son.  I have more than the mother’s estate; he is more mine than Mary’s, for he was born for me, for the angel said, “To you” is born the Savior.  Then ought you to say, Amen, I thank thee, dear Lord. (From Martin Luther’s sermon on Luke 2)

Lime Jello Mold 

This recipe (p. 12) comes from Donna H., who made several great contributions to the cookbook. It’s a tasty treat! I used sugar free lime jello and boiling water instead of the heavy pear syrup.



It didn’t take long for it to set up. Delish! Thank you, Donna!

Side Dishes – Flavored Rice

Advent Preparation

From my husband’s sermon on Sunday, he shared with us some Advent themes: preparation, waiting for the Messiah, repentance.

He admonished us to stop trying to fill the empty places in our lives with things that never satisfy–possessions, money, success, and instead turn in repentance to the Lord:

All praise, eternal Son to Thee whose Advent sets Thy people free.

This line comes from one of my favorite hymns in Advent, “On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist’s Cry” (LSB 344).

Flavored Rice
This dish submitted by Lynda M. accompanied our tacos at youth group this past Sunday. It’s very simple–rice boiled in chicken stock with onion added. The kids ate it all up at youth group, and I even got one, “That rice was really good!” The chicken stock and onions even add a little nutrition to it!

Here it is, boiling away.


And the finished product:


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:


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. 🙂

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!


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


Then she sliced the dough lengthwise for a custard filling.


Finally, a chocolate topping was added to the top.


Voila! Giant donut!

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

Breads and Rolls – Apple Ring Coffee Cake

Stir Up Your Power, O Lord

In Advent the collects for the day are especially beautiful. You may remember I wrote about collects a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the collect for the first Sunday in Advent:

Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Each Advent collect begins with “stir up your power, O Lord, and come…,” and in Advent we wait. That’s why the altar is adorned in blue: blue is the color of expectation and hope.

Apple Ring Coffee Cake

Michelle W. made this great-looking apple coffee cake (p. ), submitted by Monique H. She said everyone in her family really enjoyed it! Thanks, Michelle, for baking, and to Monique for submitting.


Cookies – Gum Drop Cookies

Turkey Trotting

I had a nice surprise Thanksgiving morning. After church on Wednesday evening, Kelly asked if I might like to use her open spot in the Elmhurst Turkey Trot. I thought about it for a minute, and then said: YES! So as a last-minute plan, I ran/walked a 5K. It was surprisingly easy. We took a moderate pace, and would be happy to try again, another time running the whole way.

Here is the crowd at the starting line.


And here’s the gang under the underpass. IMG_0596.JPG

The crowd


And me with Kelly, all bundled up. IMG_0600.JPG

Gum Drop Cookies
This recipe (p. 98) had a surprise ingredient: gum drops! Here are a couple of the girls, struggling to chop gum drops. They’re so darn sticky !


And here they are on the platter on Thanksgiving Eve. I thought the gum drops would show up better to provide a more colorful presentation. But still, they were tasty!

Cookies – Meltaways

Random questions I wonder about while watching football

Are referees really small people, or are the football players just that huge in comparison?

How hard is it, really, to make a field goal? I mean, those goal posts are pretty far apart.

How do coaches and players put up with the cameras in their faces? HD TV doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

Is it embarrassing for these men to wear shiny leggings?

How do quarterbacks get so good at making caveman-like sounds before each play? Do they train for this? What are they really saying? Is this English we’re hearing?


While we ponder these deep thoughts about football, let’s talk about Meltaways (p. 98). Even though we successfully made these cookies, I’m still not sure I understand what they’re supposed to look like. I found this recipe for peppermint meltaways (which sound amazing), and they are little round coin-shaped cookies with a dollop of what appears to be peppermint-flavored icing, so it appears we were on the right track anyway.


Anyhow, it’s a butter cookie, and then chocolate is melted on the top once the cookies are baked. It can never hurt to add chocolate to your basic butter cookie, right?

Here’s the final product. They are the little tiny ones!


Appetizers – Spinach Balls



As I’m writing this, it’s the night before Thanksgiving Day. I’m so glad Jacob made it home safely, and is here for a few days with us. I’m thankful for my family, near and far, for my church family at Redeemer, for my friends and loved ones scattered around the country. I’m counting my blessings, truly grateful for all of the things in my life that God has challenged or blessed me with. I’m thankful mostly for the gift of God’s Son, whose loving sacrifice makes my life rich and full and beautiful–and forgiven.

And for you, dear reader, I am thankful for you, that you’ve stuck with me through this goofy church year cookbook experiment! Happy Thanksgiving!

Spinach Balls

These are easy and tasty! They’ll look nice on a dish, warmed and ready for company. Plus there’s the added bonus of knowing you’re eating spinach, so it seems like health food even though the butter probably negates some of the good nutritional value! 🙂

photo 1-1

It’s a spinach, bread crumb, parmesan cheese, egg, and butter mixture. That’s it! You have to thaw and squeeze out the spinach. I must say, that seemed sort of strange. It felt like I’m squeezing out my dish sponge, when actually it’s food I’m going to put into my mouth. But there you have it.

Basically, this is a throw-everything-together-and-then-bake-it sort of a deal.

photo 2-1

It’s hard to tell if the balls are actually cooked (so I don’t actually know if this picture is from pre-baking or post-) but 10-12 minutes cooks them up. I’m serving this as an appetizer for Thanksgiving Day.

Salads – Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Cooking Fail

So on Sunday afternoon, I was feeling like cooking or baking, and now with all of the cookies finished (more to come soon on that), I thought I’d work ahead for Thanksgiving and make Donna H.’s Strawberry Pretzel Salad (p. 15). Before I settled on making the salad, though, I had a fairly epic baking failure.

So at the last cooking club, these cooking geniuses all showed up at the library with their amazing Thanksgiving dishes to inspire our own holidays. One woman brought Parker House Rolls. They melted in your mouth–like butter! They were so delicious!

I said to someone, “I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try this recipe,” and my friend responded, “What’s there to be afraid of? You’ve got the recipe all laid out for you.”

Well, there’s a lot to be afraid of when you’re kind of a disaster-waiting-to-happen like me.

Recently, I heard a description of what happens when an airplane crashes. Most of the time, the author said, the pilot is blamed for the final mistake, but often the fault can be laid at a series of small mishaps and errors made by a variety of people. The co-pilot might spill his coffee on the control panel, and then when the tech is called in, he doesn’t notice that another part of the panel shorted out. Once aloft, they run into a storm, and lightning strikes the plane. This isn’t always a big deal, but because part of the controls were already compromised, it causes major problems. And then when the pilot turns left instead of right, an engine fails, and the flight is doomed.

I think this is how it is with most things, and is definitely true for me in my cooking when one mistake after another piles up to a giant snowball of cooking failure.

My first error? I didn’t study the recipe carefully to see how much yeast to buy. So I was trying to do my best to halve the recipe.

My next task after figuring out the math was to proof the yeast. So I heated water to the just-right temperature, between 110-120 degrees. I heated it in the microwave for a little too long, so I added some cold water, and bam–I got 118 degrees. Okay, ready!

So I dumped my yeast packets in the water and started stirring, only after I realized I had not measured the water. I had dumped all of my yeast into what amounted to about 3 times the amount of water I needed. Sheesh…

Well, there went that recipe down the tubes.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

So, instead, I decided to make the strawberry salad (p. 15). I assumed when I started this recipe that it was similar to the strawberry cream cheese salad my family makes, which is basically a strawberry jello salad with chunks of cream cheese added. Yum.

But this one is more of a layered deal. First step is to crush the pretzels. I just sort of squooshed them in a plastic bag. Hopefully I got them crushed enough.

photo 4

Then, combine pretzels with some sugar and butter. By the way, butter is not in this recipe, so I added 4 T, and that seemed to be enough. Press the mixture into the bottom of a pan (I used a 9×9 pan and only made 3/4 of the recipe since our family is small) and bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 min.

photo 5

Then the creamy layer of sugar, whipped topping, and cream cheese is added. This layer could definitely be lightened up. It calls for a full cup of sugar–I think half of that would do just fine.



This layer is followed by the frozen strawberries and jello.

And here’s the finished product. Looks great, eh? Once is sets, it’ll be perfect for our Thanksgiving dinner, along with cranberry sauce.

Breads and Rolls – Zucchini Bread

The War of Art

I’m reading this fascinating book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which Scott found in the amazing bookstore (Eighth Day Books) at our conference last week. Pressfield is the author of a bunch of historical novels, mostly set in ancient Greece. This is a nonfiction book about making one’s art and the things we do to avoid that.

the-war-of-art (1)

The first section names a “character” at odds with our creative lives called Resistance. Resistance takes a variety of forms–procrastination, busyness, excuses, delays. Anything that keeps us from doing our creative work. I loved this section: “Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of the amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come, whatever they like” (p. 43). Great stuff! So true!

Here’s another tidbit: “What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless” (p. 32). Pressfield posits that the only way to cure this unhappy, restless feeling is to do our creative work.

The second section (which I’m starting now) is about the difference between the amateur and the professional. The amateur, for example, will not have clear boundaries regarding his or her work. It will take over and destroy relationships and marriages. The professional separates the personal and professional life, knowing when it’s quitting time and devoting time to building family relationships.

Anyway, it’s really enjoyable so far. For anyone reading who has creative work they’re trying to do or struggling to find time for, this work will help you.

This is partly why I was so enriched and rejuvenated by our time in Santa Fe last week at the fabulous Glen Workshop. Thanks to Greg Wolfe and his great team at Image, we had an intellectually stimulating, artistically fulfilling, and all-around fantastic week.

Zucchini Bread

This is the first recipe of the 7 or 8 which include zucchini in the cookbook. Kelly Q. brought me this club-sized zucchini this week to get us started. This one zucchini produced enough to cover three recipes! The first of the three is Joanne H.’s zucchini bread (p. 72). There’s also a recipe for zucchini frittata, carrot zucchini bars, and a couple of others. So if you have any zucchinis you’d like to donate to the cause (for you green thumbs out there!), I’d sure appreciate it!

photo 1-18

This zucchini bread is moist and delicious! Next week I’ll make the one of the other zucchini bread recipes and see how that compares.