Creating Quiet


Simplify, simplify. A simpler, less busy life is what many of us long for. A life that’s uncluttered and downsized, with more time to relax and just enjoy being. I’m all about wanting to clear out the unimportant so I can focus on what’s really important. Are you wanting that too?

Clearing away the unimportant things, whether it’s a too-busy schedule or a cluttered room, helps create “quiet” in your life. The other day I read something that helps explain this mindset of simplifying things–this journey of creating a less crazy, more simplified life:

The journey of these years have been toward quiet–toward creating quiet around me, but more than that, toward creating quiet within me, which is much more difficult, and much more profound.

I’m amazed at how many things are ultimately connected: I like living in our home more when it’s less full of stuff. I find it easier to get dressed in the morning when I have fewer choices.

I’ve begun wandering through our house, gathering things up–less, less, less. And in my closet–less, less, less. I’m creating quiet in our home, on our walls, in my own closet, and that quiet gives me energy. The simplicity feels spacious, and inspiring, like I can draw a clean breath.

–Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect

I’ve read that having a lot of “stuff” is actually stressful. The more “stuff” you own, the more time you spend taking care of it, worrying about it, repairing it. It’s easier to focus on what’s important when you’re not surrounded with unnecessary clutter and distractions. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We can miss out on quite a bit, especially hearing God speak to us, when we’re too busy to take the time to “be still.” Or too busy to take the time to rest. Mark 6:31 tells how Jesus invited His disciples to “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” We all need time to rest and recharge!

So I’m encouraged to keep on moving toward a simpler life–less clutter, less busy, more quiet, more rest. Are you on that journey too?

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Strawberry-Zucchini Bread

Have any of you grown zucchini in your garden this summer? Several friends of mine have shared their bounty of zucchini with me, and this Strawberry-Zucchini Bread is one of the yummy things I made with it! It’s a really good, moist bread with chopped fresh strawberries that give it a nice fruity flavor.

It’s a great bread for this time of year, as summer turns into fall. The summery strawberries mixed with shredded zucchini and favorite fall spices–cinnamon and nutmeg–make a tasty end-of-summer combination!

STRAWBERRY-ZUCCHINI BREAD by NancyC

Makes one 9×5″ loaf

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup coarsely-chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9×5″ loaf pan; set aside.

In large bowl, blend together the flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In medium-size bowl, beat eggs and add in the light olive oil, mixing well. Stir in the shredded zucchini, chopped strawberries, and chopped nuts.

Add the egg/oil mixture to the dry ingredients in the large bowl, stirring until everything is combined (batter will be thick!). Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 350˚F for 43 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then cool completely on wire rack.

The weather here has been so nice these past few weeks. Warm but not-too-warm days and cooler evenings. Perfect for enjoying a slice of this quick bread with tea or coffee! What kinds of things do you like to bake this time of year?

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Blueberry Almond Pound Cake

I found some blueberries at a really good price at my local market, so it was the perfect time to make this Blueberry Almond Pound Cake! If you like blueberries, you will need to try this–it’s so moist, dense, and rich! You can also use frozen blueberries in this cake, but the baking time will be slightly longer. I prefer using fresh blueberries because the frozen berries tend to give the batter a blue-ish color. The almonds and almond extract give this pound cake a really nice flavor and the glaze adds a little extra sweetness. Serve it for dessert at dinner or at a brunch with coffee or tea.

BLUEBERRY ALMOND POUND CAKE by NancyC

Makes one 10″ bundt cake

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 (8-ounce) block of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 cup sliced or coarsely chopped almonds
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed

ALMOND GLAZE

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons Half & Half (light cream), depending on desired consistency
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 Tablespoons sliced or coarsely chopped almonds for garnish (you can lightly toast them if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10″ bundt pan; set aside.

In large bowl, blend butter, cream cheese, almond extract, and sugar until mixture is creamy and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and blend well after each addition.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to creamy mixture and mix well.

Stir in sliced almonds, mixing to evenly distribute in batter and then gently fold in the blueberries and blend evenly into the batter. Spoon batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake 50 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or almost clean (do not overtake, or cake will be dry).

Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan onto a serving plate (you may need to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan a little with a knife). Let cake cool completely.

While cake is cooling, mix the glaze ingredients and after cake cools, drizzle glaze over the cake. Sprinkle the almonds on top. Makes about 8-10 servings.

Have you been enjoying fresh blueberries this summer too? What kind of blueberry baked goods have you been making lately?

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Avocado Mash with Tomato and Cucumber

It’s nice to have something simple and healthy to eat in the summer. Something a little lighter that doesn’t take too much effort so you can spend more of your time enjoying other fun summer things, especially since there’s not much of summer left!

This is a super-easy sandwich I love and if you have a garden and are growing your own tomatoes and cucumbers, it’s the perfect thing to use them in! All you need are half of an avocado, a little lemon juice, a slice of tomato and some cucumber slices…and a little dash of sea salt. It makes a great summer lunch if you like to eat light during the hot weather!

AVOCADO MASH WITH TOMATO AND CUCUMBER by NancyC

Makes 1 open-faced sandwich

  • 1 slice of your favorite bread (I used a whole grain bread slice)
  • 1/2 of a large avocado
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 6 cucumber slices (from a medium-size cucumber)
  • 1 tomato slice (from a large tomato)
  • dash of sea salt, if desired

In a small bowl, mash the avocado half with the lemon juice until creamy and spread evenly on the slice of bread. Over this, arrange 3 cucumber slices in a row on the upper top third of the bread slice. Cut the tomato slice in half and arrange the two halves next to each other in the middle third of the bread slice, slightly overlapping the cucumber slices. Arrange the last 3 cucumber slices in the bottom third area of the bread, slightly overlapping the tomato slices. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, if desired over the cucumber and tomato slices. Serve immediately.

When the weather gets hot and humid, I hate to turn my oven on. So I make lots of sandwiches and salads! What do you like making when it’s too hot to bake?

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Veggie Tortilla Pinwheels

Tortilla pinwheels are great for a summer snack or appetizer–they’re easy to make and, best of all, you don’t have to use your oven to make them! I try to make no-bake things on hot days to help keep things cool inside.

Let me just say that it does take a little practice to get nicely shaped pinwheels. The two most important things to remember are to roll up the tortillas tightly and refrigerate at least several hours. They’re much easier to slice and they keep their shape better when you do these two things.

VEGGIE TORTILLA PINWHEELS by NancyC

Makes about 4 dozen pinwheels

  • 1 (8-ounce) block of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped green onions
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained
  • 1 (4.25-ounce) can chopped black olives
  • 1/2 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 (8-inch) or 5 (10-inch) flour tortillas (flavored or plain)

In medium-size bowl, mix softened cream cheese, sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese until well blended. Add in chopped green onions, red bell pepper, green chilies, and black olives, blending everything together. Stir in parsley flakes, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread mixture in a thin layer over one side of each flour tortillas. Roll tortillas up tightly, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or overnight.

(You’ll probably have some extra cream cheese mixture left over–you may be able to make another tortilla roll with it, or save it to use as a spread on some bread).

Remove from refrigerator, remove plastic wrap, and place each tortilla roll seam side down. Cut into slices about 1/2″ thick (a small serrated knife works best for slicing). Arrange on a large tray or platter and serve.

Just about everyone loves these pinwheels, so you can’t go wrong making these for a potluck or party. Have you make tortilla pinwheels before?

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Apricot-Honey Granola

This golden granola reminds me of summertime! The combination of chopped and chunky dried apricots and golden raisins taste great together. Apricot-Honey Granola has a lot of other good things that I often add to my homemade granolas: sunflower kernels, coconut flakes, wheat germ or flaxseed, and chopped nuts. It’s sweetened mostly with honey and a bit of brown sugar. You can serve it as a cereal with milk, in yogurt parfaits, or just as it is, for a snack.

APRICOT-HONEY GRANOLA by NancyC

Makes about 12 cups

  • 6 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 1/4 cups hulled, raw sunflower kernels (if using roasted, add them in after baking)
  • 1 1/4 cups sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ or ground flaxseed
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup light olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 cups chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Line two 10×15″ rimmed cookie sheets or one 13×18″ rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In large bowl, toss the oats, sunflower kernels, coconut flakes, wheat germ or flaxseed, and chopped pecans; set aside.

In small microwaveable bowl, heat honey for 20 to 30 seconds to make the consistency thinner. Then, in medium size bowl, blend honey, brown sugar, olive oil, and salt, blending everything well.

Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and toss until the oat mixture is well-coated.

Spread this mixture onto the prepared baking sheet(s) and bake at 325˚F for 20 minutes; remove pan from oven to stir and  toss the mixture (for even baking). Return to oven and bake an additional 15 minutes, until granola is golden.

Remove from oven and add the golden raisins and chopped dried apricots to the mixture on the pan; toss to combine everything well. Let mixture cool completely on pan (the mixture will get crunchier as it cools), then store in a tightly-sealed container for 2 to 3 weeks.

When I make granola in the summer, I usually do it early in the morning, when it’s still cool. I try to avoid using the oven later in the day because my place gets so hot! But it’s worth making this yummy granola, even if you do have to get up extra early to do it! 🙂 Have you made any granola lately? What do you like to add to yours?

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10 Tips: Picking a Ripe Watermelon and Serving Ideas

Have you been enjoying watermelon this summer? It tastes especially good on really, really hot days–like the ones we’ve been having the past few weeks! And it’s good for you, too–I read that it’s high in vitamins A, B6, and C, and it’s also a good source of lycopene, which is good for your heart. And, since a watermelon has over 90% water, it helps keep you hydrated on hot days!

I’ve always managed to pick good watermelons–I don’t remember ever buying a bad watermelon. It doesn’t hurt to know a few helpful tips when you’re choosing one, so you might find these helpful the next time you buy a watermelon!

  1. You may find the best selection at your local farmer’s market, since watermelons sold at grocery stores are often picked before they are fully ripened–once a watermelon is picked from the vine, it usually doesn’t ripen that much more.
  2. Look for a watermelon that has a uniform, symmetrical shape, smooth texture, and free of bumps, dents, and bruises–lumps mean the melon didn’t have a regular amount of sunshine or water while growing.
  3. Look at the skin of the watermelon-it should have definite dark and light green strips and should be dull rather than shiny–shiny means it’s not ripe (some grocery stores sell melons with skins that have been waxed, so this tip may not help in that case).
  4. Check the bottom of the watermelon (also called the “field spot” or “belly”)–you’ll want to see a creamy, buttery yellow color there–that means it’s ripe (you don’t want to see a white or light green bottom).
  5. A ripe watermelon should feel heavy for its size–pick up some watermelons that are the same size and compare their weight–the heaviest one is the ripest.
  6. If you tap the watermelon and it sounds hollow, that means it’s ripe. If it sounds dull, that means it’s under-ripe or over-ripe.
  7. A cut watermelon can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.
  8. You can freeze watermelon chunks to use in smoothies (you won’t want to freeze watermelon for eating, though–the texture gets soft when thawed).
  9. You can freeze watermelon juice in ice cube trays to add to lemonade, ice tea, or punch.
  10. Make watermelon skewers by pairing watermelon chunks or balls with any combination of the following: large blackberries, strawberries, honeydew or cantaloupe chunks or balls, mango chunks, pineapple chunks, cucumber slices, banana slices, feta cheese chunks, pitted black olives, cherry tomatoes.

Have you used any of these tips yourself? Do you have any other watermelon tips of your own?

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Basil Pesto

I’ve grown basil every summer for many years–sometimes in a garden, but lately in a large pot, since I don’t have space for a garden right now. I love making homemade pesto with my basil! It’s really easy to make and there’s nothing like cutting fresh basil from your own garden or pot to make it. What probably takes the longest time in making this recipe is picking the basil leaves off the cut stems…but even that task is enjoyable because you get to sniff the wonderful aroma of fresh basil while you’re doing it! Here’s a simple recipe I use…it’s a good starting point, and you can adjust the amount of certain ingredients (like the garlic, for example) to suit your taste. You can use a food processor or blender–a food processor probably works best, but a blender will work, too.

BASIL PESTO by NancyC

Makes 2/3 to 3/4 cup

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves. packed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. pine nuts (I often substitute pecans or walnuts, because they’re less expensive)
  • Dash or two of salt, to taste (optional)

In a food processor or blender, add the basil, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic; blend or process until smooth (the mixture is on the thick side, so if you’re using a blender, you may have to stop the blender and stir with a spoon to help it along). Add the Parmesan cheese and nuts (and salt, if desired) to the basil mixture, and blend well. Spoon it out of the blender or food processor into a small bowl (or covered container if you’re going to use it later).

I mostly eat pesto spread on a thick slice of crusty bread. It’s also really good on the Asiago cheese bagels you can buy at Panera Bread or Atlanta Bread Company. If you’re a sourdough bread fan like I am, it’s good on that too!

Do you grow your own basil too? What do you like to make with it?

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Bacon Onion Mushroom Quiche

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I haven’t had much success with making homemade pie crusts. I know I need more practice, and just don’t seem to have the time. Which is why this quiche appeals to me, because I can use frozen pie crusts in it. If you are a good pie crust-maker, then you could use your own homemade crusts.

I also like this quiche because it has bacon, green onions and mushrooms in it. I take the easy route and use a pouch of real bacon pieces, but you can always fry your own bacon and crumble it. Or, if you’re not a meat-eater, you can leave out the bacon and add in some chopped tomatoes. So you can make this quiche the real easy way or make it a little more homemade, depending on how much time you have. Another great thing about this recipe is that it makes two quiches (you can halve the recipe if you just want to make one). Perfect for breakfast or brunch!

BACON ONION MUSHROOM QUICHE by NancyC

Makes two 9″ quiches

  • 2 frozen 9″ deep dish pie shells
  • 1 (3-ounce) package real bacon pieces (about 3/4 cup)–or substitute 3/4 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 5 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 (4-ounce) can sliced mushrooms (or mushroom pieces and stems), well drained
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Fiesta (Mexican style) Blend cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups Half & Half (light cream)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • a few dashes of salt
  • a dash of pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. flour

Position your oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat oven to 375˚F. Remove the pie crusts from the freezer and let thaw for about 5 minutes. Prick the bottom and sides of the crusts with a fork to help prevent bubbles from forming in the crust as it bakes, and bake for 8 minutes. Remove pie crusts from oven–there may be some bubbles in the crusts, so just gently pat the bubbles down. After removing crusts from the oven, reduce heat to 350˚F.

In large bowl, combine the bacon, green onions, mushrooms, and cheeses; mix together and set aside. In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, Half & Half, sour cream, salt and pepper, and flour. Add this mixture to ingredients in large bowl, and mix well. Then distribute mixture evenly between the two pie crust shells, put in the 350-degree oven and bake for 45 minutes or until set (I like to put the pie crusts on a large rimmed 13×18 baking pan while the quiches are baking–it’s easier to put them in and take them out that way). Also, you can cover the quiches with foil the last 10 minutes of baking if your crusts are getting too browned.

Note: The egg filling will be a little puffed up when you take it out of the oven, but it settles down as it’s cooling.

I like making the full recipe so I have two quiches–one to eat now and one to freeze for later! Do you enjoy making quiche and do you make your own crust or use pre-made crusts?

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Good Things

He crowns you will unfailing love and compassion like a king….

He fills you with good and beautiful things, satisfying you as long as you live.

PSALM 103:4–5 The Voice

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