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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Recipe Review: Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Last night, I made a breakfast casserole (which my be my favorite food EVER) and this bread for dinner. It was awesome. And since I cooked it just for myself & Taylor, we have breakfast/lunch/dinner for the next week. Hooray for no Lean Pockets!!

The bread was unusual for sure, but delicious. It called for 1 cup of wheat flour with 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour. The addition of the wheat flour was great because it gave the bread a more hearty texture. The recipe also called for cinnamon and flaxseed - neither of which I had (or should I say neither of which Taylor's stockpile of man-food had). So (cringe) we added about 1 teaspoon of espresso in lieu of the cinnamon. Don't ask me why espresso naturally comes to mind when there is no cinnamon in sight. Despite my initial predictions, the espresso was a surprisingly good addition to the recipe. We didn't add much but you could see the espresso bits after the bread baked! Overall, this was delicious. It wasn't a difficult recipe at all, especially since it didn't require yeast. The long list of ingredients might look intimidating at first but its well worth all the measuring and mixing!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The City Project Update

If you have no idea what I'm talking about with this whole "City Project" thing you can find out: read this. Read it? Okay, good.

Now, on to new stuff. A few weeks ago I met up with all the other TCP participants. It was awesome. We got to meet the staff too. They were awesome. We got to hear about fund raising.
The fund raising speech was not so awesome. In fact, it was kind of a downer. It was overwhelming and scary. Due to the feeling of imminent doom the fund raising talk induced, I got to writing my support letters and sent them out - all 98 of them. As I was addressing all the letters, I roughly calculated what each person was going to give me. This family from church- $50. My dad's co-worker- $25. My uncle - $200. I asked a few people to pray for me as I started this fund raising process. I prayed over the letters and subsequently shipped them off, hoping for good results.

Then, money started coming in. Praise the Lord! However, my expectations were totally blown. People whom I thought would be my "big donors" gave me $20. People whom I thought wouldn't even send me money gave me $500. Crazy. Furthermore, my home church has a Missions Committee (who knew?) and they were so incredibly gracious in giving me a huge chunk of what I need.

Through all this, God was and is showing me to rely on Him, because His power is infinitely larger than mine. Shocking. I seem to have amnesia when God proves to be so incredibly good and blows my mind. So I forget and He has to remind me. Then I remember all the times He's proved Himself faithful and am completely amazed. Then I forget again. Its a cycle.

I now have approximately half of the money I need for TCP!! Thank you to everyone who has supported me financially thus far. You'll get a thank you card. I promise. I hope that regardless of financial support, you'll support me through prayer as I (and my fellow participants) prepare for what God is going to do in and through us this summer.

(And, its official, I'm going to be living with the Greear's!!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Babies: the Movie

Some of my friends think my love for babies is a bit strange. The thing is, I've always loved babies. When I was little, my parents would find me in my room, alone, hysterically crying. When asked what was wrong, my response was always "I want a baby brother." I knew I couldn't have a baby of my own so I wanted a baby brother. Taking Child Development and helping out with the church nursery has only exacerbated my love for babies. So, needless to say, I absolutely loved the movie Babies.
The movie features four babies from across the world: Ponijao from Namibia, Mari from Japan, Bayar from Mongolia, and Hattie from the U.S.. 
At first, the documentary was a bit strange due to the lack of dialogue. However, this aspect actually gave the movie a simplistic, almost innocent, feel which was definitely appropriate.
The cultural exposés that Babies inadvertently features are amazing and at points mind-blowing. Right after giving birth, Bayar's mother jumps on the back of a motorcycle and travels back to their home on bumpy gravel roads and through cow pastures. Instead of diapers, Ponijao's mother shakes Ponijao, prompting her to relieve herself onto her mother's leg (which she promptly wipes off with a stick).
Despite the extreme differences in location and culture, these babies are extremely similar when compared throughout their first year of life. They all cry, they all laugh, they all interact with their parents, they all eat, they all sleep.
If you too love babies, then its highly likely you'll enjoy this documentary. This might not be the best movie to watch on a date night due to the whole birthing process and African nudity, but it is eye-opening and entertaining!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Quick & Easy Cookie Cheesecake Bars

When I'm at school I don't have a viable kitchen. Or my mixer. Or things like flour or sugar or baking powder. So if my sweet tooth is in overdrive I usually cook at my sweet boyfriend's apartment. One of my favorite recipes to make at school (due to its simplicity and deliciousness) is cookie cheesecake bars. Its basically two layers of cookie dough with a layer of cream cheese filling in the middle. I make my own(ish) cookie dough from a cake mix, but this recipe can be even easier if you buy cookie dough. It really can't get simpler. Or more delicious. 

Here's the recipe:
Cookie dough:
1 box of moist yellow cake mix
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cheesecake filling:
1 eight ounce package cream cheese
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg

Cookie dough mixture:
Mix 2 eggs, oil and cake mix together. Fold in chocolate chips.
Cheesecake filling:
In a separate bowl, stir 1 egg, sugar and cream cheese together until blended.
Press approximately half of the cookie dough mixture into a 9×9 pan with your fingers. Pour in cheesecake filling.
Sprinkle the rest of the cookie dough over the top of the cheesecake mixture, creating a cobblestone-like pattern.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown, making sure not to over bake them (the middle may seem not quite done).

*These bars are best served at room temperature. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why All My Friends Aren't 20

I'm not talking about helping a cute older lady across the street or taking an older man's groceries to his car. I'm talking about having an older and wiser Christian mentor. If all my friends were my age I would be passing up a big blessing.

Over spring break I was able to meet with a godly woman who mentors me. Thinking back, its hard for me to recall how we first met. I think it was right before my first international mission trip to Romania in 2007. I had to get Cipro to take with me in case I got sick (I, of course, did get sick after eating my first hot dog since the 7th grade - another story for another time) so I went to my doctor's office and someone, I can't even remember who, told me to talk to a receptionist named Wendy. Lo and behold we clicked and have met with one another ever since. 

This woman is able to speak into my life in a way that I know what she says is from the Lord.

I often find myself just moving on from one event in my life to the next, never stopping to see how God worked in each event or season. But Wendy is able to point back to seasons in my life and show me how God guided me during that time in ways I haven't even considered. Each time after we meet I can't help but be thankful and praise the Lord because she shows me the plethora of reasons I have to worship by drawing on my past experiences in which God revealed Himself (I'm just usually too oblivious or busy or dumb to think about it on my own).

In addition to talking about recent happenings in both of our lives, we pray for one another. Both Wendy & I have seen prayer requests answered not even a week after we met over spring break. Crazy. Like 1 Thessalonians says, we're able to give thanks for each other and pray for one another, remembering what God has done in both of our lives.

If you don't have a mentor then pray for one or ask an older, godly woman or man to mentor you. Its a huge blessing!

2We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
-1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recipe Review: Sit & Stay Awhile Apple Crisp

Over spring break I made yet another dessert from Joy the Baker's extensive recipe index.
For this baking escapade, I had some help from a boy who loves me enough to peel six gigantic apples, keep nursery at church, and buy me a Kitchenaid mixer. Oh, and allow me to take goofy pictures of him whilst baking. Its true love.
After cutting all the apples into thin slices, I layered the apples with a sugar-cinnamon filling according to the recipe.
I repeated this process until all the apples were covered with the cinnamon-sugar goodness.
Then I dug my fingers into the apples and gently tossed them around to make sure they were all coated with the filling. I may or may not have stolen an apple or two for consumption.
Next, I sprinkled the topping over the apples, stuck it in the oven and waited.
This was what I pulled out of the oven after about 45 minutes. There are these mysterious white spots on the cobbler. I realize this. It could have something to do with the fact that after about 35 minutes in the oven the apple crisp was looking a bit dry, so naturally, we added more butter. My apple crisp didn't turn out as beautiful as Joy the Baker's, but its what's on the inside that counts. It tasted beautiful, especially when paired with vanilla bean ice cream.

Overall, I really liked the apple crisp. It wasn't overwhelmingly sweet, which was definitely a good thing. When we went to scoop it out of the dish, it was a bit wet, but that might have something to do with the 8 whopping tabs of butter I smacked on the thing before allowing it to fully bake and be coated with the natural juices from the apples. This was a great alternate to something rich and chocolaty. And since its fruit, you can have 3 helpings because its basically like a salad.

You can find this recipe at Joy the Baker's lovely blog.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Love Wins?

Of late, the Christian community has been up in arms about a book (or rather a promo video for the book) from a popular evangelist. The video (and the book) raises the concept of hell and "resolves" the conflict by saying "love wins." While I'm not here to bash a book, or more importantly a fellow brother of mine, I would like to investigate the claim "love wins."

Christians today often presume that God's greatest attribute is love, when in actuality it is not. Yes, God is loving, more loving than we could ever imagine, but God is also just and righteous and holy. In a seeming paradox, God's characteristics do not ever conflict with one another. He is just as he is loving. Because God is holy, sin cannot ever enter His presence. Moreover, sin must have consequences.

Another presumption Christians often make is that people are inherently good. Wrong again. If we were inherently good, God wouldn't have had to send Jesus to earth to die for our sins. People are horribly disgusting, wretched creatures, saved only by grace through Jesus' death on the cross.

By combining these two thoughts (that God's greatest attribute is love and that we're actually inherently bad), the concept of hell is completely logical. God is so indescribably holy that we, as slime balls, can't be in relationship with Him on our own. If we choose to believe in Jesus as our savior, then we can be reconciled into relationship with God. However, if we choose not to be in relationship with Him then that action, cosmic treason, must be punished. The only just and right punishment for such a blatant disregard of God is hell, separation from Him for all of eternity.

While said Christian evangelist may be wrong, that is not for us to decide. I hope he is right and I am wrong about hell. I hope that all will go to heaven and no one will reside in hell for eternity. Unfortunately, based on scripture, I don't think that's the case. 

As Christians, this debate should not lead us to condemn one another, but to work all the more readily to build God's Kindgom and share the Gospel. That's the ultimate goal.

If you're interested in further exploring the topic of hell, here's a good article from Mark Driscoll: To Hell with Hell?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Recipe Review: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

Apple cinnamon is my favorite kind of oatmeal. In my book, its the only kind of oatmeal. Its basically fall in a bowl. Cookies are my favorite dessert. Hands down. When I saw this recipe from Joy the Baker for apple cinnamon oatmeal cookies, I went into anaphylactic shock for about 4 seconds, then grabbed my mixer and started baking. 
As far as dough goes, this was no doubt the best non-chocolate cookie dough I've ever made. It was sweet, but not overpowering. The chunks of apple added a hint of tartness which made the dough unexpected and really added to the texture. 
The recipe directions said to line the baking sheet with parchment paper. I almost skipped that step, mainly because my parchment paper is about 4 inches too wide to fit my cookie sheet and I can't have that, so I have to cut the paper down to size. OCD tendency. Luckily I followed the directions, despite the parchment paper cutting, because once the cookies were done I realized how important the parchment paper is to this recipe. The brown sugar and apples caramelized very well together which would have made scooping them off a non-parchment-lined sheet difficult.
I baked the cookies for 10 minutes (the recipe said to bake them for 10 to 13 minutes) and they were very gooey but I decided to let them cool and set up. The cookies remained somewhat flimsy but the taste made up for it, plus, they were soft.
Overall, these cookies were amazing. They were so unusual. The texture, once set up, was really like eating homemade oatmeal that was stuck in the oven for ten minutes. Really sweet, gooey, cinnamony homemade oatmeal that would probably kill you if you ate it every morning for breakfast.

Check out these cookies and Joy the Baker's website!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Puppy Chow Brownies

Puppy chow might be my favorite sweet snack. If I were stranded on a desert island, I would take puppy chow, a tent, my Kitchenaid and ingredients to make more puppy chow. Exaggeration, perhaps, but I really love the stuff.

Since puppy chow in and of itself is so great, I decided to incorporate it with brownies. I'd never made anything like it before, I'd never even seen a recipe for it before, but it turned out to be phenomenal.

First, I made Ghiradelli triple chocolate brownies, just straight up from the box. While the brownies were baking, I made the puppy chow mixture. 

I heated up 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter (I used crunchy, but creamy would be best) and 1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips slowly in the microwave on a low power level. 

Once the peanut butter and chocolate melted, I stirred in 1 1/2 cups of semi-crushed chex cereal. 

Then I topped the brownies with the still warm puppy chow mixture a minute or two after they came out of the oven. 

Hello, beautiful. You'll be put to good use. 

Using a sifter, I sprinkled powdered sugar over the brownies. 

Luckily I made these brownies when we were having guests and most of them got eaten by the end of the evening. They were amazing. However, if I were making them again I would make sure to cut them and place them on a platter before serving because some people found it difficult to get both the puppy chow mixture and brownie together in one scoop. I would also wait until closer to serving them to sprinkle them with powdered sugar. Overall, this was a great recipe. I will definitely be making it again soon! 

Here's the recipe:
1 box of brownies (and additional ingredients specified on package)
1 1/2 cups crushed chex cereal
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 
Powdered sugar, sifted, for topping

Bake brownies according to directions on package. Heat peanut butter and chocolate chips in the microwave or double boiler using low heat until melted. Stir in chex cereal. Top brownies with puppy chow mixture. Allow to cool in the refrigerator for two hours. Top with sifted powdered sugar. Cut and serve!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: Adopted for Life

For quite some time now, I've been interested in adoption. I would love nothing more than to have a diverse family that is a testament to God's grace in my own life. A friend of mine recommended this book to me and I read it in a matter of days (which for me is rather impressive). It is powerful and thought-provoking, as the author, Russell Moore, speaks of his own experience adopting his two sons from Russia. The book begins in a somewhat theological manner, and ends with more practical information regarding adoption. Initially I thought I knew all there is to know about the theological aspect of adoption- we're adopted as sons and daughters of God so we should love those less fortunate, like orphans. Simple enough. It wasn't until I read the first parts of this book that I realized how desperately I need to constantly be reminded of my own sinful state and my own beautiful story of adoption.

Moore poses a scenario of adoption that painfully puts things into perspective. He encourages readers to imagine they're adopting a child that is twelve years old, has been in psychotherapy since a very young age, is a pyromaniac, enjoys skinning kittens alive and acts out sexually. Furthermore, he has a long history of violence such as abuse and serial murder. All of his family has ended their life by suicide. Moore ends the scenario by saying "He's you. And he's me." Chilling. But what a beautiful picture of the sinful state (fire, skinned kittens & all) that Christ rescued us from, adopting us into his family!

Moore goes on to say we often think we're naturally born into Jesus' family rather than adopted from a sinful state. I find myself thinking that all too often, thinking I'm worthy of being called a daughter of God and that I'm "good enough" to be a part of His eternal kingdom because of my own abilities. Moore not only speaks to the theory of adoption but reminds readers, like my forgetful self, that we are adopted from a horrid, wretched state, a state from which we couldn't save ourselves.

Because we're adopted, we have a new identity, an identity that isn't tied to the flesh, an identity found in Christ. And since this identity is of Christ, not of the flesh, we can forgo the "I want my kids to look like me" mentality.  If Jesus would have waited until we looked like Him to rescue us, we would still be waiting.

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
-Galatians 4:4-7

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Experimenting with Pesto

This past Saturday was the UNC-Duke game. In honor of this momentous occasion, my family stayed home and cooked a pre-game dinner. Said dinner consisted of homemade pizza, one of my favorites. I wanted to try something different, something with a little more pizazz than plain pepperoni, so I made a pesto sauce to go on one of the pizzas. It was definitely an experiment, but it turned out really well!
I realize it doesn't look like the most appetizing thing in the world, but hang in there with me.
I decided to put shredded chicken and bacon on the pizza, just to balance out the healthiness of the spinach pesto. I can't receive too many nutrients from vegetables, my body won't allow it. I need meat.
I added more cheese for good measure. It full of calcium, so its good for you. Kinda.
After about ten minutes in the oven this is what came out. Delicious chicken, bacon, pesto pizza.
I was afraid the pesto was going to be too strong, especially for my dad & brother, neither of whom are garlic lovers. I was shocked to see that they both really loved it. The pesto was not overpowering at all! It was interesting enough to make this pizza great but at the same time it wasn't too strong. It was juuust right.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, UNC won.

Here's the recipe for the spinach pesto:

4 cups baby spinach
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 clove of garlic, pressed
1 tbs. olive oil
2 1/2 tbs. water

Add the first three ingredients to a food processor and blend well. Add wet ingredients. Pulse for approximately one minute intermittently, until a desired consistency is reached.
*Note: A blender could also be used to make this pesto, so long as the nuts and garlic are finely chopped beforehand.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Upcoming Lazy Summer... Not.

This summer I have an amazing opportunity through my church, the Summit, to be a part of a program called The City Project. The City Project is a two-month program this summer (June 1 through August 2) that entails a domestic mission trip to New York City, an international mission trip to either Kenya or Malaysia (hopefully I'll find out soon which location I'll be going to!), an internship with the Summit, and classes through Southeastern Theological Seminary. This trip would be amazing if I was only getting to do one or two of the things I just described - let alone all four of them! And, as an added bonus, I get to live with a host family from Summit. I'm really counting on them having cute kids for me to babysit. 
Everyone, students and staff, who will be participating in TCP this summer met up last week and got to know one another. I'm really excited to get to know the friends I made there better and I'm delighted to get to know the staff and their families better as well (yet another babysitting opportunity!).  

How emotionally taxing this summer is going to be hasn't set in entirely. I've tried envisioning how physically and emotionally drained I was after my one-week trips to Romania and multiplying that by about 10, but it's hard to imagine being that exhausted is humanly possibly. I know this summer is going to be crazy in so many ways. I know I'm going to physically, mentally, and emotionally maxed out by the end of the summer so I ask that you pray for stamina and endurance. Without the Lord girding me this summer, I know I will easily tire and wilt. I'm relying on Him, that His strength will uphold me throughout these upcoming eight weeks. But, I also know that this summer is probably the greatest opportunity for me to grow and serve God I've ever had. And for that, I'm thankful and excited.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He said "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." He didn't say "Hey Peter and John, oh and Andrew, I guess, why don't you guys go and make disciples of all nations." He said "Go," implying all, commanding all to further His kingdom. This summer, in a very tangible sense, I'll be carrying out the Great Commission. However, I realize if you're a stay at home mom with three kids, it might be a bit difficult to give up two months of your summer and go to New York City and Malaysia. But that's why the Lord equips some of His followers to go and some to give in order that others might go. If you'd like to support me in carrying out the Great Commission, you can make checks payable to The Summit Church and put "Liz Nicholson-The City Project" on the memo line and mail it to the Summit (2335-114 Presidential Drive, Durham, NC 27703). Also, all donations, if made payable to The Summit Church, are tax deductible!  

I hope you decide to join me as I embark on this journey!