Happy Easter!

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Whew! Easter is hard. But the eggs have been dyed and hunted, spring outfits worn, and church attended. All that is left is dinner, and I haven’t done anything about that. I’ll have to go to the grocery store and hope for some inspiration. Perhaps a divine light will shine down from the meat aisle to give me some guidance.

I’ll probably end up going with lamb though. I thought about ham but I don’t like the religious significance of it at Easter time. The reason it’s a tradition to eat it at religious holidays is because historically it was a way for Christians to separate themselves from Jews. It bothers me to focus on that at Easter. But lamb is a nice symbol of springtime, plus a reference to the Lamb of God.

I realize this is probably overthinking things a bit. One meat is as good as another, right?

That’s what I do on Easter though – I overthink things. Unlike Christmas, this is the holiday in the Christian religion that is about faith. The historical fact of Jesus’ birth and life is not in dispute, but his death and resurrection, and the idea that in him we will have everlasting life is the part that requires faith. So, for me it usually brings some reflection. I sometimes wish I had that sort of faith that never questions, but I do. I question. I believe, because I CHOOSE to believe. And yet, I question.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Easter, but I struggle with it. I struggle with the way it moves around the calendar so it’s hard to get organized. I struggle because of the questions. And I struggle because I don’t get why it is such a Hallmark holiday. The idea that kids are getting gifts on Easter blows my mind because for me, it was never about that. It was just eggs and candy – and church if I was at my grandmothers house. I’ve never really thought of it as a gift giving holiday.

So we went with the traditions – eggs, candy and church, plus some Legos in the Easter basket. Unfortunately, a certain 7 year old boy decided to complain that the Easter Bunny didn’t bring the right Legos, rather than being grateful for having received Legos in the first place. So, I decided it was time to enlighten him as to the true nature of the bunny. He’s 7, after all, and has already figured out about Santa Claus (who never visited in Russia and so it never made sense to really try to instill a belief in something he already knew not to be true).

And I reminded him that when one is receiving gifts, it is better to say thank you than to complain about the gifts one has received. That is, if one wants to continue receiving gifts. Even Moms Easter bunnies like to hear a little gratitude once in a while.

With our priorities realigned, we had a better outcome with today’s church attendance than the last time we went. We made it all the way to the sermon before the wiggles took over and the boys asked to go to the nursery. Which I thought was pretty good for 5 and 7 year old boys.

Even before Easter we were getting a lot of questions about God, and Jesus and what all that is about, and since as a questioner I obviously don’t have all the answers, I guess it is time to get serious about finding a church home for our family. And while we have liked the churches we have tried, none of them yet have felt like home.

Many of the families we know go to the same big church in town, but we have resisted going there, partly because of not wanting to follow the crowd. Also because it’s a longer drive. I mean, we would have to drive 10 minutes to get there, vs. 5 minutes to go to the other churches we tried.

You may laugh, but we are seriously not morning people, especially not Sunday morning people, and so that extra 5 minutes makes a huge difference between whether we will show up or not.

However, there is something to be said for a church where you already know a lot of people and so it probably is where we are going to end up. We liked the church we tried today, but we just didn’t know anyone so it didn’t feel quite right. Plus, they do Sunday school after the church service which means you have to hang around for a long time. That’s not gonna work. If we’re gonna do this, we need to be efficient about it.

Plus, the kids have said they want to go where their friends go, and honestly I feel the same way.

After church we went out for donuts, and later today the boys are going out for some batting practice, and I am going to go walk and run at the track. That will be my first outdoor run since my surgery so I am looking forward to that.

From our family to yours, Happy Easter!.

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All Pie’d Out

Tonight was the annual Book Fair and also the Pie and Cider Fundraiser for my older son’s elementary school. It also happened that I made Chicken Pot Pie for dinner. Naturally, in addition to dinner I did have to sample the dessert pies (apple and pumpkin) at the fundraiser. And now, much as I love pie, I can officially say I am all pie’d out for the night.

Of all the pies, I will say mine had the best crust. Pie crust can be tricky to make, but over the last couple of years I have figured out a basically foolproof recipe. People argue over whether a butter crust or an oil or lard crust is better. Butter crusts are supposed to be more flavorful and flakier, while oil/lard is easier to work with and crispier. My pie crust secret is not to choose between the two types of crust, but to combine the benefits of both – I do this by using butter AND oil in my crust. It always turns out really well.

Here is the recipe.

Chicken Pot Pie with Perfect Pie Crust.

Perfect Pie Crust

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, chilled
4 Tablespoons oil
1/2 cup ice water

Chicken Filling

2 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 small onion, chopped small
2 small peeled potatoes cut in 1/2 inch cubes
Flour to make a roux
Chicken broth
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
Salt, pepper and sage to taste
1/4 teaspoon thyme

Making the crust:

The crust must be made first and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

To make the dough for the crust, combine the flour and salt in a bowl (such as the bowl of a large stand mixer). Stir well.

Slice chilled butter into 1/4″ cubes

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Add cubed butter to the flour and salt mixture.

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Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour, until the butter is in consistent pea-sized lumps.

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Use a mixer on slow speed to incorporate oil to the flour and butter mixture, then very slowly add chilled water. When dough balls up, turn off the mixer. It is very important not to overwork this dough. Visible chunks of butter are good – they will make the crust flaky.

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Remove dough to a floured board. With floured hands, lightly pat together the dough. Do not knead. Roll the dough ball into a cylindrical shape and cut in half. Roll both halves into a ball, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

At this point you can also freeze this dough for future use.

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To make the filling:

Cube 2 cups of cooked chicken in 1/2″ cubes and set aside.

Finely chop a small onion. Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large sauté pan on medium low heat, and sauté the onions until translucent. Do not allow to brown.

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Cube 2 small potatoes in 1/2 inch cubes, and sauté with the onions.

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When onions and potatoes start to soften sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour to make a paste (technically, this paste is a roux).

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To the roux, add broth over low heat to make a thick gravy.

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When gravy has thickened, add in frozen vegetables. Mix well and reduce heat to low as you assemble the pie.

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Assembling the pie:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one ball of pastry dough from the refrigerator and place on a floured board.

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Using a floured pastry roller, begin to roll out the dough ball until it is large enough to fit your pie plate (recipe easily fits a 9″ plate when rolled to about 1/8″).

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Drape the first crust over the pie plate. Roll out the second dough ball in the same way and set aside while you fill the pie.

Spread the cubed chicken evenly over the bottom crust in the pie plate. Over the top of that, pour and evenly spread the vegetable/gravy filling. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sage and thyme to taste.

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Drape the top crust over the top of the filling. Fold back the crust 1/3 at a time to expose the bottom crust edge and brush it with water using a pastry brush. Fold the top crust back down to cover and repeat two more times, press the edges together to seal the pie.

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Cut off the excess crust – you can set this aside to roll out and make apple dumplings if you have enough left over. Use a fork to make a decorative edge. Poke some holes in the top and place in a 350 degree oven.

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Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

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Serves 4 – 6 people who like pie.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Gems

It’s a cold, rainy Friday here at our house and this kind of weather makes me want to do something to make myself feel better. I miss the sun already. Although I will say I am cheered somewhat by the fact that snow has started falling in the mountain passes. Maybe we will have an early ski season? Trying to stay positive!

Hey, speaking of staying positive, it is a scientific fact that cookies can improve mood, especially if they contain chocolate. I can’t point you to any official research on the subject, but I can tell you that I have personally tested and proven this hypothesis many times. However, in my observation it’s dose dependent. If I am feeling down and eat one or two cookies, I feel happier after. If I eat an entire batch, then I am more depressed and considering bulimia as a viable life choice.

(Just kidding, this blog neither practices nor endorses bulimia).

It is said that emotional eating = no bueno. However, I am pretty sure that whoever said this does not live in Seattle. If you live in Seattle and you know you are at the front end of a 6 month stretch of no sun, you do what you gotta do. So, I am going to have some damn cookies. However, in the interest of not undoing all my hard work, I need something sort of healthy(ish) that still tastes good and feels satisfying. Everyone in the family has to like them, since I don’t want to have to eat them all myself.

Here is a recipe that fits the bill. It contains no flour, no butter and only 7 ingredients, so it is super simple to make. The dough also keeps pretty well for a few days in the refrigerator, so if you’re like me and can’t leave cookies alone, you can just make a few at a time so you avoid eating the whole batch in one sitting.

Hopefully this time I listed all the ingredients! There are only supposed to be seven, so I think we are okay this time.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Gems

1/2 cup peanut butter (can be crunchy or creamy)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 and 1/4 cup instant oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the peanut butter, brown sugar and egg in a medium size bowl (I mix them in the bowl of a stand mixer).

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In a small bowl, stir together the oatmeal and baking soda, then add to the peanut butter mixture. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Stir chocolate chips in by hand.

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Scoop a spoonful of dough (should be a 1″ to 1-1/2″ lump) and roll into a ball between your hands. My lovely assistant here demonstrates the proper technique – it’s more of a cradle and pat, than a true roll.

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Place about 2″ apart on a nonstick cookie sheet.

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Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or just until bottoms are slightly golden.

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These cookies are about 100 calories each, fairly high in protein and low in cholesterol due to using peanut butter instead of butter. Just don’t be like some people I know and eat the whole batch. Remember it’s not so much about what you eat but how often and how much.

So go ahead and enjoy yourself. Winter IS coming, after all.

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This is Max and Oleg, Eatandrunmom’s official cookie testers, and they have approved this message.

Cat From Hell

Today I had to take my cat to the vet, and one of my kids to the doctor. The kid just has a persistent cough (post nasal drip seems to be the culprit). The cat was peeing blood in what seems to be a long-term recurring battle with urinary tract infections. The vet trip was the more stressful of the doctor visits given that peeing blood is usually not a good thing and he is an old cat. Plus we have sort of a policy on cats which is if they need more than $1,000 in veterinary repairs, they are totalled.

Let’s step back in time to twelve years ago, when I acquired a cat by the name of Asher. He was howling away inside of a box at Starbucks, where he was being given away by a young mom who couldn’t keep him because apparently, he kept attacking her kids. Being a single-ish (dating but not married) over-30 lady, and not having any kids at the time, I saw no problems with this behavior. All I saw was a cute, grey, über-fluffy cat about a year old, and in need of a home. I had a home in need of a cat. What could go wrong?

Well, the first thing that went wrong was that my boyfriend (later to become my husband) didn’t like cats. I didn’t consider this a problem and figured his dislike of cats could be overcome simply by spending more time with one, petting it and smelling its soft, warm fur. Which sounds good in theory unless a) the person in question dislikes and is also allergic to cats and b) the cat in question is the kind that bites when you pet him or try to put your face near his body. Both of which turned out to be the case. The cat didn’t help matters by being the sort that specializes in sneak attacks and stalking and pouncing on passing legs like they are some wily prey.

Over time, the husband and the cat came to an uneasy truce, but the balance of power is still a fragile thing. Violence occasionally erupts when the cat decides you’ve petted him too long, or you’ve invaded into an area that he has determined to be his territory (such as sleeping in the linen closet on top of the towels). As a long time cat owner, I just naturally know how to deal with these situations (keep petting sessions brief, distract the cat with the left hand while grabbing towels with the right). But these things are harder to explain to husbands and small children who lack a natural affinity for dealing with felines. My older son and I are both pretty good readers of the cat’s mood. Little brother and my husband are not. Which leads me to the conclusion that some people are just “cat people,” and others not – just as some cats are “people cats.” Mine, again, is not.

That all said, the cat has come up in our family’s estimation in recent years given how well he has handled the transition from a household without children, to one with 2 active, rambunctious and grabby little boys. Well, one of the boys is grabby – the other as I said is just naturally a better reader of the cat and handles him better. The cat has taught the other one to have respect and give a wide berth because if he doesn’t the cat bops him. He’s never hurt him, just “gotten his attention” with a swift paw to the face.

We always refer to Asher as the “worlds most expensive free cat,” because he is prone to UTIs, and various other veterinary ailments. The veterinarian refers to him as the cat from hell because he hates the vet office and everyone in it, and when they handle him he has to be handled in the same protective gear they wear when dealing with vicious dogs. So after dropping off the cat to be checked out, the first call I receive is to ask if they can sedate him. Of course, knowing how he is, I said yes.

Ultimately, I got the call that Asher would be okay, and that he just needs to be on more expensive food to help prevent further UTIs (of course). But even though he is how he is, we realized how much we would miss him if he were gone…so maybe we should rethink our limit in cat repairs. Even the husband realized that the cat adds something to our family – and not just hair balls and vet bills.

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