Friday, February 11, 2011

Really Good Lasagna. Really Great Bread.

As requested by reader jmckemie, I’m posting the lasagna recipe that Vernie, my mother-in-law, has made famous—in our family, at least. (The recipe is from her church’s cookbook where it’s credited to Hannah McCord.)


The best thing about this recipe (besides the fact that it tastes marvelous) is that it’s perfect for preparing ahead of time. In fact, I think it tastes even better if you make it a day early and let the flavors blend. And meld. And organize themselves into a veritable cornucopia of yumminess.

And then on the day when you’re actually going to serve it, all you have to do is throw some garlic bread in the oven, toss together a tossed salad and voila’! You have dinner on the table. Perfect for when guests are coming over and you don’t want to have to disappear into the kitchen for long periods of time, wringing your hands over your perspiration-inducing preparations and muttering utterly dismaying stuff to yourself as you work your way through a 17-step recipe. (Was that a run on sentence? My apologies.)

Also--if you have any lasagna left over (and you wouldn’t, if I were eating with you) you can cut it into squares, flash freeze it (lay it out in rows on a foil covered cookie sheet and put in freezer till very firm) and transfer the frozen squares to a gallon Ziploc bag. Then when a lasagna hankerin’ hits, you can take out just one square for a meal-for-one or else half a dozen squares for a meal-for-more. It’s much more tasty and economical than buying frozen lasagna entrees.

How wonderfully simple is that?

So. Here’s the recipe being sent to you with the Smith family’s highest recommendations.

By the way, at the end of this recipe, I am going to share a top secret “bread recipe” with you that is so easy that you could do it in your sleep. (Although I do recommend at least a modicum of quasi-alertness any time you use your oven. Just sayin’.)

Luscious and Lovely Lasagna

1/2 pound hot sausage (Neese brand is really good)

1/2 pound ground beef (you could substitute ground turkey)

1 clove garlic, sliced thin (I take the Lazy Lady’s way out and use the minced garlic in a jar)

1 T. basil (dried)

1 (1 lb) can tomatoes

1 t. salt

2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste

1 (10 oz) pkg lasagna noodles

3 C cottage cheese

1/2 C parmesan cheese

2 T parsley flakes

2 beaten eggs

1 lb mozzarella cheese

1. Brown meat; drain fat.

2. Add next 5 ingredients

3. Simmer uncovered for thirty minutes.

4. Cook noodles, drain, rinse.

5. Combine remaining ingredients, except mozzarella

6. In a 9 x 13 pan, alternate layers of noodles, sauce, and cottage cheese.

7. Repeat layers, ending with mozzarella cheese.

8. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

9. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. And eating. And sighing with joy.

Okay, and now for the promised bread recipe. This was borrowed, taken, and otherwise hijacked from The Pioneer Woman’s recipe website. She calls it
The Bread which is also what we have opted to call it around these here non-pioneer parts of the country.

However. I have made a sight alteration to her recipe; instead of using the French bread, I substitute ciabatta bread. It’s way better. (At least in my humble, bread-loving opinion.)


I slice a (store bought) loaf in half the short way and then again the long way so I have four equally sized pieces. (One fourth of a loaf feeds Sarah, Steve and me; however, when Nathan is home, I double the quantity. I mean, College Dudes are nothing if not famous for their appetites for home cooked meals.)

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe calls for a stick of softened butter on each half of the French bread but I usually use just a quarter stick for each fourth of a loaf. The thing that ciabatta bread brings to the table (so to speak) that French bread doesn’t is that it has all those little holes and crevices woven throughout it that the butter just melts its yummy way into. (You can also add garlic salt to the top or crushed dried Rosemary.)

Follow the Pioneer Woman’s recipe exactly (right down to cutting it into strips instead of slices—I use a pizza cutter) and before you know it, you will have a most delectable sort of bread ready to serve. And although it seems high calorie, it’s really not too bad considering that (in my recipe, at least) the 400 calories of butter are divided up between three people. When you melt the butter first and then broil it, it gives just a little bit of butter a whole lot of flavor. (Well if, in fact, four tablespoons can be considered a little bit.)

So anyway, this bread would be great with the lasagna and is also very good served with soup on a wintry day. Or a summery day, for that matter! In fact I firmly believe that butter-slathered items can be served on any ol’ day they want to be served!

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Alrighty then. . . since I hate to leave you with just pictures of food, I’ll close out with a few non-food pictures as well. Your diets can thank me.

Yesterday was a snow day and the kids got a break from school. (I know that people who live in Chicago and other cold places are snickering about school being let out for two inches of snow but hey, what can I say? We’re Southerners here, people!)


Sarah was, of course, very put out that she had to stay in her pajamas all day, snuggle with her doggie and watch TV. (Well, she only watched a little bit of TV because she had writing and editing to do up in her bedroom; however, this is the picture I just happened to catch.)


Can’t you just see the misery eking out of every pore of her little ol’ body? Such a tough day for her. And for Snowy. All that lounging. And relaxing. And reclining. Sigh. I hate to see my child having such a difficult time.


She even found time for some quiet reflection—until it was interrupted by a Mom Type Person wielding a camera.



At any rate, even though you can’t really see the snow through the glass doors, it was a lovely day, indeed; lovely for gazing outside and counting blessings along with snowflakes.



Trine asked, 1) Does Sarah still use her ear aid (Not sure of the English word the thing she uses for her hearing)

No, she hasn’t worn them in a while and seems to getting along fairly well without them. They really bothered her (for a variety of reasons) each time she tried to wear them and since her doctor said she is borderline for even needing them, she’s opting to go without them. (For now at least.)

2) I remember you mentioned in a entry that you had contacted her doctor about something with symptoms and late effects?

Yes we did, but thankfully the symptoms resolved themselves quickly and turned out not to related to late term side effects after all.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tears By The Sea

As a pastor’s family, we are often given the honor of being involved in the different passages of life that affect various members of our congregation.

Ten days ago, one of those passages came in the form of a memorial service for a church member’s daughter, Allison, who died of brain cancer at the age of forty-seven. She left behind a daughter in her teens and a son in his twenties.

We’ve been to numerous funerals and memorial services in our almost thirty years of ministry but this one will stand out in our hearts as being one of the most meaningful. (The following pictures are being shared with the family’s permission.)

After a church service that was packed to the walls and resonate with robust singing (Allison had requested a non-somber funeral), we went with Allison’s family and a few friends to a nearby beach for the scattering of Allison’s ashes.

Allison was an avid horsewoman and the family had arranged for one of her best friends to carry her ashes along the beach on horseback.



Steve and another pastor read Scripture and prayed . . .


. . . while Allison’s friend and Allison’s ashes kept watch.


And then at the place where Allison had spent so many contented hours, her ashes were scattered . . . _DSC0093

. . . and her memories were gathered._DSC0086

Having accomplished her loving, lonely task, her friend turned her horse and rode away--but this time, without Allison._DSC0103

Then it was time for family and friends to walk to the edge of the water and lay their roses down with the ashes._DSC0107

A certain beloved (and weeping) cancer warrior joined them._DSC0059 _DSC0114 _DSC0116



After Sarah had completed her sad and beautiful task, she walked over to stand near me. As she and I glimpsed each other’s tears, we both came to the realization that we were not just there as a mother and a daughter; instead, we were present in that moment as two cancer sisters who’d come to the sea to honor a third sister, whose beautiful life was cut short by an enemy that each one of us had done battle with.

Sarah and I stood and embraced for a long time, crying and praying and remembering. The cleansing air, the grief on the wind, the eternal waves—it was a moment she and I will not soon forget.


My tears continued as I saw Allison’s son say his final good bye. As I looked at him I imagined my own dear Nathan—so near his age—and I could only imagine what his feelings would be if breast cancer had taken me the way brain cancer had taken Allison.


The day held such beauty . . ._DSC0151

such sadness . . ._DSC0144

such hope._DSC0164

As we all finally turned to go, I looked back and noticed one single rose.

Representing one single life.

Well lived.


The Rest of the Story

Just to give you a bit of the “story behind the story,” here is a little background about Allison and a very special mission in her life.

allison collage

The following article about Allison’s Mission is from the
CHES Toy Drive in in Cape Hatteras, NC.

Many families have special Christmas traditions that are passed down and enjoyed year after year. Certainly one of the more enjoyable traditions the CHEC family enjoys is the annual CHEC toy drive. Every year, the CHEC lobby is filled with toys to be given to little ones on Hatteras Island. And every year, there seem to be more toys than the last, thanks in large part to another tradition started by a very special person.

Allison Fagley taught the children at her day care, Friendship Bridge, the importance of giving and they began their own Christmas tradition. Each year, the children would have bake sales to raise money that they would then spend on gifts for others. To the delight of CHEC employees, each year Allison and the Friendship Bridge van would pull up to the office. A seemingly endless line of young children would file in, with gifts they purchased for others their own age to add to the collection. Emails would fly out, “the children are here!” and employees would come to the lobby to see the kids and help them bring in the
toys that they had collected.

Something has been different the last two years. Though the CHEC lobby still fills with toys, there is no van, no parade of children with gifts. Allison was diagnosed with brain cancer and has been in that battle for years now. She had to give up the day care she ran for 20 years and move away from Hatteras Island to be closer to family.

However Allison’s tradition of giving continues. Parents of past Friendship Bridge students and friends of Allison still have the bake sales, still buy the gifts and still bring them to the CHEC lobby. Like many family traditions, the people and places change but the tradition itself remains.

Allison shown with her day care students after delivering toys in 2008


And finally, here are a few pictures from before and during Allison’s cancer journey. The picture in the bottom left corner is especially meaningful because her family told us that in the last few days of her life, Allison used a large wooden cross as a “telephone” with which to talk to Jesus. (You can’t see the cross in the picture but it’s what she’s holding in her hand.)

They said she would sometimes talk for thirty minutes at a time and always seemed so peaceful when she was done. It’s inspiring for me to think that even in the midst of her suffering and the muddling of her mind from the advancing cancer, she was still aware of God’s presence in her life and was able to talk to Him and find His comfort and peace.

allison use collage

But now? She has no cancer, she has no pain and she is finally able to talk to Him face to face.

And here on earth, our hearts have been made forever rich by the memories we will always treasure—memories of ashes and roses and tears by the sea.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How To Wear A Monocle

Important (and also urgent) announcement!

I am exceedingly sorry to have to tell you that it appears as though the paint fumes have gone to the head of the Really Renowned Remodeler of the Smith Family Master Bath.

Last night I wandered innocently into said bathroom to snap a few shots of the progress being made and before I knew it? Insanity had set in.

And I really did nothing to encourage it. Honest!

Steve already had a paint mask sitting on top of his head when I arrived, which is where he keeps it when it’s not actually being used as a mask. And all I did was set my lens cap on the counter. That’s it.

He took it from there.

But I must say that after he and I looked at the pictures I took last night, we had a Very Long Hysterical Laughing Moment. Watch this video and see if the pictures don't affect you the same way.

(I apologize in advance that the photos are not of sterling quality. In my defense I was: 1) standing on a ladder 2) laughing my head off 3) dealing with horrible lighting from a single work light that was perched on the countertop.

But hey, I don’t pretend to be a pro! If I were a pro, I would most likely not be spending my Monday evening in a bathroom with an insane guy!)

NOTE: To watch this full screen, click on the rectangle in the right hand corner of the screen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Journey To The Queen City

On Friday morning, Steve, Sarah and I headed out for Charlotte, AKA The Queen City. Although it poured rain the entire trip and we were delayed (in the rain, at rush hour) for at least an hour outside of Charlotte due to an accident, there was least one “person” in the vehicle who was not stressed.

And that would be Snowy--whose wee little white doggie self is not the least bit spoiled. (And no, that is not his own personal neck pillow, but he does commandeer it quite a lot when he’s ready to launch into a bit of car snoozing.)


Part of the purpose for our trip was to help Steve’s dad, Ken, celebrate his 80th birthday.

That celebration included the following wonderful things:

My mom-in-law’s Fabulous Should-Be-Famous Lasagna. (And I am not even kidding. It is amazing.)


. . . a table decorated with a military theme. (Since Ken is a retired Air Force fighter pilot.)


. . . and a magnificent chocolate birthday pie. (After spending four weeks eating no desserts, the pie tasted especially wonderful.)


And just in case you’ve ever wondered if the making of dramatic faces is genetic? Well, here’s your answer to that. Ken is almost more dramatic if Steve—if that’s even possible.

ken collage

Although Steve does give him a run for his money.


The two of them have decided to get rid of a home made airplane they’d worked on for several years back when Steve was in college. But first, they had to have one last picture with it.


After the airplane picture taking was over, we moved on to the family picture taking.


I also had to take some “family pictures of the family pictures” of Ken and Vernie from back in the day. I just love old pictures of young hearted folks.


Our second reason for making the sojourn to Charlotte was so that I could speak at a ladies’ luncheon on Saturday. There were about 240 women from about fifteen churches in attendance and we had an absolute ball.



I disappeared backstage for a while to go over my notes one last time and try to calm my nervous little self.


Afterward I received so many hugs and words of encouragement from that sweet group of ladies. We cried and laughed together and just had a really lovely time. I’m blessed by these opportunities to get to share my music and my message. Plus, I got to meet one faithful blog reader (Hi, Linda!) and also sit with another faithful blog reader during lunch. (Hi, Karen!)


The only tough part of the trip (well, other than the bazillion miles driven in the rain) was trying to get packed to go.

Because right now? Our bathroom looks like this.



And also, my Official Plastic Drawers are out of place which discombobulates me terribly.


Official Plastic Drawers, you ask? What in the world is that?

Well. Just because we are such a classy family in every sense of the word, for many years I have been repurposing the plastic storage units that I used after Sarah’s transplant to store her medical supplies. I now use them underneath our bathroom sinks in order to make finding stuff a bit easier. I realize that they are quite utilitarian and even quasi-ugly but hey, they work! And they’re cheap!

However, all of those plastic drawers were removed from the cabinet area when the counter top was being worked on and they are still stacked in the bedroom. And with everything else in the bathroom in a state of uproar, I can’t find a thing in the mornings when I’m getting dressed. Which is bad enough on a regular day, but trying to pack for a two day trip? Just about impossible.

And so I usually wander around the area for great lengths of time with a bemused, bewildered, befuddled look on my face—which I happen to do very well—until the light dawns (on what I was looking for) or else I get so overwhelmed I just go sit in a chair and rock back and forth until Steve comes to rescue me.

Have I ever mentioned I hate chaos?

But at any rate, Steve is making good progress on the bathroom and it could be partly operational again within a day or two. (Or so. Kind of. Maybe.)


Q. From Anon: OK, I HAVE to ask for clarification on one point: By putting 2% milk on par with fat-free ranch and diet crackers, are you saying that you would prefer something ABOVE 2%? Like whole milk?

If so, I gotta ask how it is - is it like melted ice cream? Or just a little richer than regular milk?
I buy fat-free soy milk but was raised on skim, and I'm honestly fascinated. I've tried 1% and 2% before, but whole sounds like a new world, you see.

A. Hmmm. I had to think about this for a minute or two but I guess I would have to say that yes, if whole milk were just as healthy as 1% or 2%, I would probably drink it. It is very full of lovely flavor but not at all like melted ice cream—nowhere that sweet.

I have started buying soy milk for Steve since he seems to have developed a bit of a lactose intolerance and actually I was surprised at how good that tastes—especially the vanilla or almond flavored soy milk.

Whoever knew milk could be complicated!

Q. Judy said, The bathroom looks absolutely gorgeous. The tile work is truly a work of art, Was it just placed on top of the formica countertop?

A. Judy, thanks for the compliment; we are lovin’ the counter!

Our counter guy was going to put it on top of our Formica but since the Formica was placed over particle board, he said that if there was ever a leak anywhere under the sink and the particle board got wet, it could swell to twice its size and could damage the tiles.

So he and Steve pulled off the particle board and Formica and replaced it with “backer board” which was actually quite inexpensive. Here’s a picture of the new counter top being created._DSC0221

So that’s the story on that!

And finally--in the next couple days I will be writing a post about the inspiring and heartbreaking story behind this picture. Stay tuned!