Pretty Little Snippets

Refreshing the eye, the heart, and the imagination.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Red Potato and Asparagus Gratin





Last weekend we were wandering through the Farmer's Market with no list and no meal plan, which meant that we were open to whatever struck our fancy. For whatever reason, red potatoes, onion, and asparagus were what happened to strike my fancy, so that's what came home with us. This red potato and asparagus gratin was what came out of that. It's really good. I love scalloped potatoes anyway, but the thyme in this is addictive. Don't skimp on the thyme; it's a match made in heaven with the mozzarella. Just trust me on that. Oh, and the amount of cheese is a starting point. Because who doesn't like more cheese?


Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4 (or 6 as a side)

Ingredients
3 Red Potatoes
1 small Onion
1 bunch of Asparagus
4 oz. Mozzarella Cheese, grated
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper
2 TBS Butter
1 Cup Heavy Cream
2 TBS Flour
1 TBS Thyme

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Dice the onion and sautee in olive oil until translucent. Spray a pie dish with non-stick cooking spray. Slice the red potatoes into thin slices and line the bottom of the pie dish with one layer of potatoes. Spread the onion over the potatoes, then sprinkle the thyme and half the cheese over both. Add the second layer of potato slices.
2. Heat the butter in a saucepan until melted. Whisk in the flour and the heavy cream until the mixture starts to thicken and resist slightly. Pour the bechamel sauce over the top layer of potatoes, and top with the remaining cheese.
3. Bake the potato dish in the oven for 25 minutes, covered with foil.
4. Meanwhile, brush the asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and grill until tender.
5. Remove the foil from the pie dish and bake another 5 minutes, or until the cheese turns slightly brown around the edges. Top the potatoes with the asparagus (either whole or chopped, as above). Slice and serve!



Friday, April 18, 2014

When Easter Comes but You Don't Feel Like Rejoicing

Via



Sometimes your journey through Lent is harder than usual. You look forward to Easter throughout those barren, soul-searching 40 days, but the closer you get, the less you feel like it will actually be a day of rejoicing. Because now you feel your humanity more keenly. You know how broken you really and truly are. Sometimes it's easier to be broken when everyone else is coming to terms with their own brokenness.

Redemption. New life. Rebirth. This is cause for celebration. But you don't feel it. You feel lost in brokenness. You understand that being born the first time was hard enough. Being born a second time? Sometimes, that's the hardest part. And going back to revisit that rebirth can be really painful.

What they don't tell you is that it's ok to cry all the cries that result. That it's ok to drain yourself, to weep until your tear wells run dry. Because you've been walking along with a weary, down-laden head these 40 days. Your soul has been seeking sustenance and finding emptiness. You have not been enough. You've finally reached the end of your strength in the desert, and that looks like collapse. And so you do. Sometimes you have to grow completely weary and head heavy before you are able to rest. And once you rest, it's much easier to lift up your head. You have to, you know, to see. To really see.

Mary's head was down when she was approached outside the tomb. She thought it was the kindly gardener who spoke to her. But one word from his lips and she felt understood, rested, refreshed. "Mary." And she lifted up her head and saw.

Your inner voice has to be stilled for you to hear that you are understood, loved, and enough. That's why you cry all the tears and exhaust yourself. You have to come to the end of yourself because you are stubborn, wanting to do it all alone. Only at the end can you hear, lift up your head, and see. Only then can rejoicing be a part of your Easter.

But it's ok if your rejoicing starts with a fresh batch of tears.







Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Peace by the Water

Via. Original Source Unknown


Thank you all so much for your wonderful support after my big announcement last week. Ya'll are awesome! 

I don't know about you guys, but I have never been so happy to greet spring ("official," now the last frost warning is over). I'm in no hurry to get to summer, that's for sure, but I do crave some time by the ocean. Or a lake. Or a river. Water is calling to me these days. It's interesting, isn't it, how simply being by a body of water can calm our souls?

Any trip to the beach or lake will have to wait, however, until well after Easter. I can't believe it's this weekend! Do you have any Easter traditions you will be continuing? We always go to the Easter Vigil service at church late Saturday night. Solemnity turned into celebration. And since my sister and her husband are moving to Durham today, I just might have to institute an Easter brunch so we can have an extra excuse to enjoy their company!

Whatever your Easter weekend looks like, I hope it's a good one! In the meantime, do you have recommendations for beaches, lakes, rivers, etc. that I should check out this year?









Thursday, April 10, 2014

Introducing: Ardent Darcy




Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter know that there has been a special announcement in the works around here. Without further ado, I am so pleased and excited to announce the advent of my new business, Ardent Darcy!

This may seem sudden to many of you, but dreams of owning my own business have haunted me for years. The concept of Ardent Darcy was born early last year, and while I did not sense the urgency to birth it, I did reserve the name, website, and social media, worked on my floral design skills, and took a class on entrepreneurship. Even after all that, the idea lay dormant. I've mentioned that 2013 was quite obviously a year of waiting, of holding back, of observing and learning. I clearly felt that it was a year of quiet and preparation. The timing just wasn't right.

Even the beginning of 2014 seemed to say, "Wait." It wasn't until just a few weeks ago that the sense of urgency to act kicked in. Looking around, it seems rather bizarre timing. Big parts of life are in flux; there's a lot of uncertainty. But it feels like time to start doing, oddly enough. It's scary, but it's exciting.

The past few weeks have been a flurry of activity: getting a business license and all the rest of what goes on behind the scenes in a business set up, creating a complete logo and setting up a website, working nights and weekends to tweak things and to pull together demo bouquets and photo shoots. It's been tiring, but it makes me so happy.

So what is Ardent Darcy? Ardent Darcy comes from my love of literature - Jane Austen, to be exact. In her novel Pride and Prejudice the main character, Elizabeth Bennett, is sure that Mr. Darcy is a stuck-up snob, only to be caught off guard with his passionate plea: "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." I blended that love story with my love of styling, floral design, and real-life love stories, and there you have it: the perfect proposal followed by the perfect wedding. I do hope you'll visit the website to find out more (unfortunately, the mobile version shows only the blog, not the full site), and will follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I can promise loads of beautiful flowers, some vintage classic styling, and lovely wedding photography as time goes by.

If you know a soon-to-be-married couple who needs styling assistance or floral design for their big day, please pass the word along!

And don't worry. I'll still be over here writing and wondering out loud. Thank you for joining me thus far, and for considering joining me on the next stage of life. I value each of you so much!



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What I Don't Do - Steps Toward a Holistic Life I Love

Via


As I mentioned earlier this year, I am working on creating a holistic life I love. Last year was about staying silent and observing. This year is about building the life I long to live. I read something last week about finding balance in life over at (in)Courage: "Do we just let life happen to us? Or do we make deliberate choices for our home and life based on our priorities and purpose?" The author's premise was that starting the day by seeking God is the key to balance. To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what that even looks like!

There are a lot of things - good things, even - that keep getting throw onto the Must Do list. If we let in too much information, it can be overwhelming. But the good life is not about maintaining a Martha Stewart house, or cooking like Gwyneth Paltrow, or working out like Jillian Michaels. You and only you create your good life. I and only I create mine. There's a balance between creating a life and letting life just happen to us. We get to choose, within reason and circumstances, what our good life will be. And let me just put this out there: We can't do it ALL! But we can do SOME. Grace, not perfection.

My good life looks like peace and simplicity. It's about being in touch with the earth and with heaven, about living a "slow" life in a fast world. Am I living that life? Not so much right now. But I'm working on it. And part of working on that is not doing some things that many people might think to be important. And that's ok.

Robin Long, from The Balanced Life, wrote a great post last week about things she doesn't do. There are things on her list that are good, things that some people aspire to do or actually do. But she's ok with not doing them because she knows that they don't necessarily fit with her good life. I love how making a Don't List frees us to be be ok with our personal good life. So I thought I would make my own.

  1. I don't make juice or smoothies. They look amazing when I see other people post about them, but I don't have the equipment, time or inclination for making them myself.
  2. I don't bake. Never mind the fact that measuring is almost foreign to me. I simply don't have time to roll out dough and watch to make sure things don't burn. And I honestly don't have the "touch," or much of a sweet tooth. The most I bake anymore is chocolate chip cookies.
  3. I don't search for the best deals when grocery shopping. I know what I need and I go get it. I'm usually in and out of the grocery store within 20 minutes. I will buy store brand over name brand, so couponing is not something I do. 
  4. I don't go to fitness classes. I used to, but I like to exercise whenever I feel like it and for free, so I zip across the way to our community gym, go for a run, or do yoga or pilates in my living room. 
  5. I don't own a smart phone. This is sometimes a pain, to be honest, and will most likely change soon, but it's good for me to unplug when I'm out and to engage with the real world, even if it looks like a lot of tops of heads looking at their smart phones!
  6. I don't shop a new wardrobe each season. I would love to have a great wardrobe, sure, but it's not realistic. I buy what I need and re-wear things, sometimes several days in a row. Classic pieces go a long way, and layers are key in the winter! It saves money since I can wear all my summer clothing with another layer thrown over them. 
  7. I don't accessorize. I wear the same few pieces of jewelry every day. 
  8. I don't do my hair. I chopped it all off because 1. it suits me, and 2. I have no idea what to do with long hair. Never did. 
  9. I don't mess with make-up. It takes too much time and usually looks a mess when I'm done. I still wear it, but much more pared down. We're talking concealer, mascara, brow pencil, and lipstick (sometimes) and that's usually it.
  10. I don't sleep in. (Unless I really, really need to.) I go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. It's an indulgent day indeed if sleeping in is allowed.

So there's my Don't List. Not doing these things frees me to do all the rest of the things I do, and even those tumble out of control sometimes! Acknowledging the Don't's allows me to focus on the Do's, and to evaluate how they fit into my good life. What is on your Don't List?


Friday, March 28, 2014

The Reading Room - March Edition




It's time for the March round-up of what I've been reading. But before I get to that, I'm curious about what you've been reading. Do you have any recommendations? Or is there a book you'd like me to review at some point on here? Looking back over my reading selections, they seem rather random. I go to the library and pick what appeals to me at the moment. Apparently I'm having a rather eclectic moment! Here's proof:





No Man Is an Island - Thomas Merton. This book kind of destroyed me, but in a good way. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk (d. 1968) who wrote about contemplation and the spiritual life with depth of vision and experience. In No Man Is an Island, he combines essays (one per chapter, divided by numbers into sections) on spiritual life into a full book. And he destroys whatever inclination the readers may have regarding their holiness. 

Merton is extremely intellectual. The whole chapter on Psychological consciousness v. the Subconscious v. the Moral Conscious was fascinating, yet humbling. First, who knew there were so many different kinds of consciousness, and second, who knew that these layers work in different ways so that while we may master one, the next is there to break us? This is even more humbling when taken into consideration with the readings on the layers of intention. Does it sound daunting? It was. I'm going to be honest: as fascinated as I was with this book, it took me weeks upon weeks to digest it. I started this in February, finished it in March, and still feel like I need to go back to figure out all it imparted.

There were a couple of chapters that really stuck with me, though. The first was on suffering (kind of a Lenten thing, I guess). Merton notes that "The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering. Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except, perhaps, to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration." He says, "Divine strength is not usually given to us until we are fully aware of our own weakness...it is a gift." And yet he cautions against seeking suffering as a way of holiness. As a monk, he has observed (or perhaps been prey to - he doesn't clarify) people who take pride in suffering. Yet this too is sin, and does not turn the suffering to holiness. Holiness comes via suffering only when we come to our deepest self and realize that we desperately need the Divine. Suffering and baptism go hand in hand, according to Merton. Both turn unto the other. We are baptized into suffering, and suffering reminds us of our baptism and why it was needed in the first place. 

The other chapter that really struck me had to do with industry. I love this quote: "He has done a great deal and it has only made him tired." How many of us can identify with that? I certainly can! It reminds me once again of being intentional about my life. Merton continues by saying, "We do not live more fully merely by doing more, seeing more, tasting more, and experiencing more than we ever have before. On the contrary, some of us need to discover that we will not begin to live more fully until we have the courage to do and see and taste and experience much less than usual." We do not need to do all the things! And we should not! Simplicity. Balance. Harmony. These are key.

This is a perfect book for Lent, because it makes the case that even our best intentions, actions, and goodness are in fact tainted and not good at all. Yet while crushing the readers with this knowledge, Merton raises up hope, for God accepts us and loves us as we are, knowing our limitations. And then Jesus. We need Jesus.





Midlife Crisis at 30: How the Stakes Have Changed for a New Generation - and What to Do about It - Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin. Ever since my college days I have loved sociology and psychology. While psychology focuses on why specific people do what they do, sociology focuses on why groups of people do what they do. In Midlife Crisis at 30 (written in 2004), Macko and Rubin investigate why U.S. women of all walks of life are having meltdowns around their 30th birthdays. The first third of the chapter covers their research: interviews with 30 year old women, personal anecdotes, data that explains this phenomenon.

They note that women have been focusing on their individual progress as defined by modern socially accepted norms: go to college, focus on your career, figure out who you are, find a partner, marry and have children. These same women then have major stressors of life converging on their 30th birthdays: the big job promotion that will seek more of their time, a possible mate (or not), the birth of children (or not). These women are left wondering how to juggle it all, if they "have it all," or where they went wrong if they don't.

Macko and Rubin then wonder if it's the women's individual issues, or whether instead it's a societal issue, noting that in the previous generation, the Baby Boomers, women worked as a collective to fight for equality, whereas the Generation X and Y women are fighting alone, heads down, instead of together. So if they are held back in all the same ways, at the exact same time, perhaps it's not them individually, but society as a whole. They urge women to join together to change the norm for the better.

The last two-thirds of the book contains anecdotes from well-known women from all walks of life from the Baby Boomer generation. They explain where they were at 30 (most did not have the pressure of having life figured out at age 30), and where they are now, with the most important lessons they learned along the way. In short, there are societal issues that must be addressed collectively, but each woman gets to choose her own path to happiness.






I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban - Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. I've long wanted to read this book, especially after seeing Malala's interview with Jon Stewart, and my turn on the library's list finally came during this month! This autobiography is loosely divided into thirds: the first shares the history of Pakistan as it particularly relates to Malala's family and hometown, the second reveals what life was like as the Taliban took over control of the area, and the last deals with the aftermath of her shooting. But who is Malala?

Malala Yousafzai is the beloved daughter of a teacher, a believer in Allah, and an outspoken voice for women's rights and education in Pakistan and around the world. She and her father have stood up together against the injustices of those who corrupt the Islamic faith and who try to erase both the heritage and the future of their country. The book is full of deep love for learning and for Pakistan. Malala's heart is within Pakistan, and she yearns to see it at peace and prospering.

It was beautiful to see Malala's relationship with her father unfold in her story. In Pakistan, baby girls are seen as more of a curse than a blessing, yet her father welcomed her with joy and with celebrations reserved for male children. He saw in her a future of hope and destiny, and with that conviction, Malala was raised to have an education and a voice, which she used to denounce the restriction of female education (the Taliban says that women should not be educated, should remain fully covered from head to toe, and should stay in the home unless accompanied by a male family member). While I'm sure he envisioned her to have a voice with their country, I'm not sure he foresaw that she would have a global voice, or that it would take her getting shot in the face by the Taliban for that voice to have such impact. 

Malala is (so far) the youngest person nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She didn't win that, but she acknowledges that the prizes are just things; the work she is meant to do is just beginning. With Pakistani heroines as her inspiration (Benazir Bhutto and Malalai of Maiwand, her namesake, are two), Malala yearns to become a political force to be reckoned with. And her forceful yet peaceful voice will radically change the way Pakistani women live in the future. It's already started.

The book was an easy read. I very much appreciated the history lesson on Pakistan, as it's constantly in the news and in the media, yet my knowledge of it is limited. I was eager to read the civilian perspective of the wars waged there: of how traumatized civilians are trapped between the Army and the Taliban, both of which promise big returns yet are corrupt and wreak havoc, and of how the devout Muslims are not those who impose stricter laws at penalty of death, but are those who seek Allah's true intent of peace and rights for all.

There were parts of the book that seemed odd to me, mostly random sentences about childish squabbles that seemed out-of-place in the midst of battle scenes, or that seemed to try too hard to make Malala appear a child, as she still is, of course. It waffles on the cusp of womanly goals but keeps falling back into childish pratter (pretending to be vampires like in Twilight, for example). Reading it is slightly disconcerting, but fitting for the innocence it portrays. As Malala grows up, so will her vision, her voice, and her methods. Every girl should have such inspiration.




Monday, March 24, 2014

Heart-Healthy Kale Salad




It's been a while since I've posted recipes on here, mostly because I've not been quite so creative in the kitchen. I don't think Trader Joe's frozen Indian dinners count as creative and shareable! Ok, it's not (always) that bad, but I have fallen back on most of my stand-by meals of late, several of which I've shared here already. The other day, however, I took a few moments to make a real salad, and it was wonderful, so I thought I would share.

Even though I'm vegetarian, I don't really eat much in the way of salad. I generally prefer warm foods. Perhaps now that we're getting a peek at warmer weather, salad has just sounded really good to me. But it has to be a fancy salad. Of course. This one is full of good stuff: kale, mango, avocado, brussel sprouts, boiled egg, walnuts, almonds, lemon juice, tomatoes. Nutrients. Yummy freshness.

If you, like me, like warmer foods in general, you can switch it up a bit by cooking quinoa and mixing that into the salad. I did that for lunch one day and it hit the spot.

P.S. I find that the more fruits I add to a salad, the less dressing I need. I do not use dressing with this salad since the lemon juice, mango, tomato, and avocado add enough zip to dress the greens. If you prefer a dressing, I recommend a lemon poppy seed vinaigrette.



Heart-Healthy Kale Salad
Serves 4 as a meal, 6 as a side

Ingredients
Kale - I filled one of those veggie grocery bags full
Brussel Sprouts - 4-5 large heads
Grape Tomatoes (Mine were heirloom)
Mango
One lemon
Walnut Halves
Sliced Almonds
2 Eggs
Olive Oil - 1 tsp
Sea Salt
Avocado

1. Tear the kale leaves from the ribs, tossing them into a large bowl. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the kale and massage into the leaves to break down the fibers. Set aside.
2. Boil the eggs, and while they are cooking, chop the brussel sprout heads into quarters. Heat the olive oil in a small pan and add the brussel sprouts, cooking until tender and slightly brown at the edges. Sprinkle with sea salt and toss in with the kale.
3. While the eggs are cooling, cube the mango and add to the salad. Toss in the tomatoes, walnuts, and almonds, mixing well. Peel the eggs and slice them, arranging them neatly on top of the salad. Slice half the avocado and add them to the salad as well.

Enjoy!