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Friday, March 29, 2013

Pistachio Thumbprints

I get lots of requests for this recipe, so I thought I might share it here! I first found these on allrecipes, and have changed just a very few things.  I love pistachio and almond, and I love pudding mixes see {hereherehere and here}….the possibilities are so endlessly amazing for these cookies!

I didn’t take any pictures while I was baking these, and the ones pictured here are the very last 2 cookies of the 6 dozen I made yesterday for a dear friend’s baby shower {In fact I "trimmed" teeth marks off of one}. They've been packed and unloaded twice, so they aren't at their best....but they are still delicious! 

Here's the recipe:

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies
adapted from
2/3 cup shortening (Crisco)
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 small box pistachio almond pudding mix
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
Mix shortening and sugar together very well, add eggs and mix well. Then add the pudding mix, almond, and vanilla and mix to combine scraping the sides as you go. Add salt and flour and mix again, just to combine. Scoop into small balls (I use my smallest Pampered Chef scoop) and roll with your hands to smooth out. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and bake for 9-10 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool. Frost with buttercream icing.

Here are a couple of tips:
  • ·      Don’t over mix the dough after you add the flour, just mix to combine, scrape the sides and mix again for a few seconds.
  • ·      For best results make the total amount of extracts add up to 1 teaspoon as you mix and match for flavors.
  • ·      Resist the urge to make these big, they need to stay small…just about 1 inch wide.
  • ·      Use a small scoop so that all your cookies are the same size (mine is 1¼ inch wide). I scoop all the dough out onto the counter and then roll them in my hands to make perfect little balls before I put them on the baking sheets.
  • ·      They won’t really brown on top, if they begin to brown on top you are close to over baking them.
  • ·      Let the cookies cool completely before icing them.
  • ·      FOR GLAZE (like in the pictures): Put one can of traditional store-bought vanilla frosting in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour it into a bowl along with about ½ teaspoon of almond extract and 1-2 teaspoons of half and half or milk.  Whisk together and add milk so that the glaze is the consistency of melted chocolate. Dip the top of each fully cooled cookie in the glaze, covering the entire top and sides of each cookie. Set on waxed paper and sprinkle with colored sugars or special sprinkles while glaze is still wet.FOR THUMBPRINTS: Buy or make buttercream icing and pipe onto the tops of cookies (similar to how you would pipe frosting onto a cupcake, but smaller). I use a star tip and swirl it in a small circle over the top of the cookie, ending with a peak in the middle – similar to the top of a soft serve ice cream.
These would be so fun to make for Easter, they are truly yummy and easy. Here are some other combinations you could use:

  • ·      Strawberry pudding mix with double vanilla extract frosted with melted chocolate for a “Chocolate – Covered Strawberry” Thumbprint.
  • ·      Coconut pudding mix with half vanilla half coconut extract and Coconut Frosting or Vanilla Glaze and toasted coconut.
  • ·      Chocolate pudding mix with almond and vanilla extracts topped with fudge frosting and a maraschino cherry would be delicious.
  • ·      Cheesecake pudding mix would work beautifully with a variety of extracts and frostings.
  • ·      Vanilla pudding mix with orange extract or lemon pudding mix with lemon extract would be refreshing.
  • ·      Pumpkin Spice with vanilla extract and fall sprinkles for the fall….OR:
  • ·      Candy Cane pudding mix with half vanilla and half peppermint extract and crushed candy canes for a Christmas cookie.
  • And of course, the original Banana Pudding is a classic....who wouldn't love a banana pudding thumbprint cookie.
So there you go!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Resurrection Trees

"Then they went to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, Sit down here while I pray.
And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be struck with terror and amazement and deeply troubled and depressed.
And He said to them, My soul is exceedingly sad (overwhelmed with grief) so that it almost kills Me! Remain here and keep awake and be watching.
And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and kept praying that if it were possible the [fatal] hour might pass from Him.
And He was saying, Abba, [which means] Father, everything is possible for You. Take away this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You [will].
And He came back and found them sleeping..."
Mark 14:32-37, AMP

It's hard to believe that I was standing in Gethsemane, just across the valley from Jerusalem a little more than one month ago. Holy Week...Passion Week...Easter Week; whatever you call it - it will never be the same for me. Gethsemane was an amazing place, I wrote about it here. But I want to share one more amazing thing from that garden. After we had our devotion time, we crossed a small street to enter a courtyard of a large Catholic Church built next to the garden. The oldest olive trees in the garden are protected here. Our guide stood in front of the tree pictured below and told us something interesting about olive trees. 

They don't die.
They live for about 80 years, then die - appearing completely dead and fruitless for about 30 years.
Then they come back to life.
New branches will sprout out of a long dead tree and grow to be healthy and fruitful.
Can you see it?

Can you see the little sparrow nestled in the new branches?

The trees in this part of the garden are ancient; dying and coming back over and over the centuries.  Could this tree have been there on the night Jesus prayed and was arrested? 

Probably not, but maybe so. 

I'm sure He knew about the trees, did He think about how they resurrect as He suffered with His decision to die? Did it comfort Him? Look at the tree and imagine Him. Close your eyes and imagine Him, hold on to the intimate glimpse we get into His ordeal. He suffered. It wasn't easy, this dying for mankind thing; it was horror coming.

From here He was arrested and taken to the house of the high priest, where He would've walked up these steps and faced the first of his trials and Peter's betrayal (Mark 14:53-72). 

The next morning He was taken to Pilate's headquarters just next to the Temple. He was tried.....beaten within a breath of death and finally crucified at the foot of this hill, underneath the skull (Mark 15:1-40).

No, Golgotha isn't the end of the story. But sometimes we rush past it too quickly, not taking time to realize the pain of Gethsemane. Under resurrection trees Jesus struggled and submitted because of His love for us. He battled enemies common to us:

Don't trivialize the presence of these pains. Don't think for one second that Jesus doesn't understand your heartache. He faced them, felt them, and yet He didn't run....He stayed and endured. Why?

"...let me quote for you a psalm that the New Testament applies to Jesus (Hebrews 10:9). It refers to his coming into the world to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin: “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8). The ultimate freedom is joy. He rejoiced to do his redeeming work for us. The physical pain of the cross did not become physical pleasure. But Jesus was sustained through it all by joy. He really, really wanted to save us. To gather for himself a happy, holy, praising people." -from Love to the Uttermost, by John Piper

He delighted to do God's will.
He really really wanted to save us.

Easter isn't just about the victory of Sunday morning, it is about the joyful sorrow of Thursday night.  It's about the Son of Man, kneeling before God and choosing you...choosing me so that we might be a happy, holy, praising people!

Maybe you find yourself here on a Thursday season of life and the dread of Friday is enough to bury you....Sunday seems so far away you can't even imagine resurrection even though you believe. Remember Jesus under Resurrection Trees, enduring. He is your trailblazer. Wrap your fist around the back of his coat even with a gut full of dread. And as He walks away from the garden -- keep moving; you also can endure as you follow Him.

"Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. ...When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again... 
Hebrews 12:2-3 The Message

The quote from John Piper comes from a free e-book of devotions for Holy Week Called Love to the Uttermost. Check it out!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tuesday Train Wreck

I have a Bible Study group that I adore. I teach--facilitate--vent to----- (the description of what happens in this group can change from week to week).  We share...truly share our lives in struggle and in growth. It is a unique place to be heard and accepted exactly as you are even while being challenged to do the hard work it takes to prune and grow a life that really matters. 

I love them.
You should come.

Since January we have been doing a study on temperaments that has been kinda funny, but also really eye-opening in a gut-punched kind of way. I wanted us to grow in our understanding of how God created us and what He expects for us to do with our God-given strengths and our flesh-drenched weaknesses. Although the content of our study was God-sent, my attitude was very teachery with just a hint of pride...some of you can imagine where this train might be headed. We finished our study with a three week look into the Fruit of the Spirit as taught in Galatians 5:21-25. It goes like this.....

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." Galatians 5:21-25, NIV 

We had a great first week studying through love, joy, and peace. And then came week two. I studied about patience and kindness and goodness and was ready to teach what I had learned. My notes were printed out neatly and sweetly tucked into my folder in my church bag, ready to be hauled up to Bible Study happiness Wednesday morning. Imagine skipping, that was Tuesday morning.

Only Tuesday afternoon happened first and that train I mentioned is about to de-rail, so hold on.

My husband and son were out of town where my son was playing in a tennis tournament that was going poorly {they would use stronger, less Momma-ish adjectives meaning really BAD}. I was getting text updates and felt helpless in the face of my son's frustration and guilty for not being there. I pressed on and went to pick up my daughters from school. One hit me hard with demands and expectations before her beautiful little fanny even hit the seat of the mini-van. I quickly realized that we were not going to be on the same page and my idea of a little "girls' night" while dad and brother were away was not going to satisfy. We survived the 5 minute drive home only to really face off in the kitchen. Did you know your kids can hurt your feelings? In one honest yet badly delivered sentence I found myself both shamed by the truth of what she said and wounded by the way she said it. So I did what any 12 year old would do; and defended myself! {Anyone see the problem with that last statement? Yeah. I didn't for about an hour}.

I left my older daughter pouting and went on with my younger daughter to walk with some friends. As I was pounding the pavement I began to remember some of the Truth about patience, kindness, and goodness I'd just learned. I was humbled and ready to make things right as I headed home.

Only Tuesday evening happened first and that train that was coming off the rails crashed in a fiery heap.

My younger daughter got mad on the way home and threw a giant colossal car fit. As I was driving home I must've looked like I was having a seizure to other drivers because of how hard she was kicking the back of my seat. And I was sweating profusely since I'd had to chase her down INSIDE my mini-van to get her buckled up. She can go "boneless" like no kid you've ever seen.....seriously impossible to pick up. By the time we got home the "act your age and be the MOM not the 12 year-old" lesson I had just learned had completely evaporated along with every single shred of self-restraint. The end of this day had crushed me completely. And see, that's not a bad place for someone who believes what I believe. For weeks I had been teaching that we cannot transform our weaknesses on our own.  For weeks I had been teaching that when we fill our efforts with self-strength our families, marriages, and ministries are the ones most hurt by our powerless frustration. For weeks I had been teaching that real change takes Jesus, submitting to Him and allowing Him to fill us up with new stuff, foreign to us but completely made of God. So if I really believed what I'd been teaching for weeks, a "crushed flat, totally empty of my own failed efforts" kind of day should've been an opportunity, right? Well, instead of acknowledging the opportunity crushing emptiness provided, I came up swinging with self. And in my own frail strength I took out everyone in sight. Not with my fists, but with my self-righteous criticism, hateful words, and then angry silence. Anyone else ever shocked to find this is the only way self is strong?

And yet we all {miraculously, probably because Daddy came home} survived to face another day.

And I woke up thinking about the Bible Study coming up in a few hours....and my heart for the first time ever was filled with "I absolutely can't go to Bible Study" dread. As I looked around at the train wreck my efforts had created the day before I could still smell smoke. I planned all the ways I could change the lesson including some weird craft project that was really just coloring pages made spiritual. I couldn't figure it out without lying about having some made up disease, so I just faced it head on with great trepidation. Why the trepidation? Because as often as I make mistakes and am open about them with my ladies (often); I have never stood before them having completely, literally, word-by-word failed in every syllable of what I've prepared to say in the mere hours before it's time to share it with them.

This is how Galatians 5:19-21 describes a life lived in the flesh. Don't gloss over this, consider it. Lots of it felt familiar to me that morning.

"It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.
I could go on..." Galatians 5:19-21 Message

I went to Bible Study and stood up and told them I was struggling and prayed all wobbly-voiced wobbly-kneed and then started teaching. Below are my notes without many comments; just copied and pasted from my Tuesday morning lesson before the Tuesday night train-wreck. Unless you've slept through this post, you'll see the connections.

Patience "Makrothumia" in Greek means “patience, a self-restraint of the mind before it gives room to action or passion; forbearance, long-suffering. The person who has power to avenge himself, yet refrains from the exercise of this power. It is patience with respect to persons while "hupomone" or endurance is patience toward things or circumstances. Makrothumia is associated with mercy and is used of God. Hupomone is inspired by hope while makrothumia is inspired by mercy. "The believer is to exercise mercifulness, for he can feel compassion for the misery of sin upon others....“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5:7). Spirit-led makrothumia comes out in my lack of judgment toward others; in my abundance of forgiveness, in my extension into the life of another person and my patience as I wait for them to repent.

Kindness "Chrestotes" in Greek means "kindness. It is joined to philanthropia – human friendship. It means forbearance, to overlook; and is the opposite of "opotomia" which means severity or cutting something short and quickly. It is the grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would have been harsh and austere.” 

Goodness "Agathosune" in Greek means “active goodness. It is more than chrestotes (kindness), a mellowing of character. It is character energized expressing itself in active good. Thus chrestotes in action is agathosune.” 
Kindness in action is goodness. 

Do you see how impossible it is? After I taught these words and we looked at other passages that just further confirmed the beauty of a patient, kind, good woman I told my Tuesday story of the opposite. My heart and voice were broken as I shared; not because I had a bad day {almost every woman in my class faces more difficult circumstances DAILY, that isn't the point} but because my heart was genuinely broken that I am so powerless, that my best efforts are so empty, and that I can so quickly disregard such beautiful grace-filled Truth. I saw the faces of these women who love me and I knew that some of them had already tuned out the powerful words we'd just studied in light of my sadness, and were moving on to planning what comfort casseroles they would bring me and when they could kidnap me for coffee or surprise me with skittles in the carline at school and what is it she always orders at Sonic?.....

I didn't want comfort, I wanted Him. And I was convinced anew and more than ever before that He is the only way. I was both humbly horrified by my behavior and freshly grateful for His strength that defies my own. And that desperation is why I shared with them and why I am trying to work up the courage to hit "publish" on this quite raw blog post. I want Tuesday's disaster to open my eyes and theirs and yours to the paradox of "Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal." 
John 12:24-25, MSG

Resolute dying to self and reckless living to God isn't popular and it isn't intuitive; so often it feels backward. But it is TRUE and it is FRUITFUL and it is SATISFYING. Take heart when you have a Tuesday train wreck, because it provides the opportunity to bury self and come up fruitful, and in that little nugget is the seed of Hope for each of us. Be encouraged, when you are weak He is strong and that is enough.

These are all phone pics taken on fun less "Train-Wrecky" days.
Blessed beyond what I deserve!

The definitions for patience, kindness, and goodness came from The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, 1991 Spiros Zodhiates.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Favorite Salsa

I always have a hard time getting back into the swing of things after vacation or a mission trip. Last week was a good example {Sorry}....

One of the best things for me is to go back to the basics of taking care. I love to get back on a menu routine full of cooking and baking; it feels like home and I've been doing that this week.

This recipe is my son's favorite thing I make (closely followed by my Chocolate Chip Cookies). So I took a few pictures this morning while whirling all these makings in the blender and thought I would share.

This recipe came out of this cookbook, which is one of my favorites, from the Austin Junior Service League. The opening chapter is Mexican food.  I've changed up the salsa recipe pretty drastically to fit what my family likes, but it still makes me happy to read it here....

So this is how I make our Favorite Salsa. It starts with canned tomatoes (you could use fresh - blanched and peeled, I've made it that way but my family likes the canned better and it's easier). I think this recipe is the perfect blend of easy convenient "done for you already" and fresh ingredients. The original recipe called for jalapeno slices from a jar along with fresh Serrano peppers. I made it that way for years, but have found that using fresh jalapeno peppers is the way to go for us.  I use 2 jalapeno peppers.  I cut them in half and clean the seeds and membranes out of 1 1/2 of them.  That makes the right mild heat for my family. 

Jalapeno peppers vary, every time I buy them they are a different "heat" level.  I would encourage you to save the inside guts of the jalapenos and add them in if your salsa isn't hot enough after you've blended it all up. Keep in mind also that the salsa gets a little bit hotter (and better) as it sits in the fridge waiting for you to eat it. I learned this the hard way....more than once. So it's up to you, experiment with your favorite combination until the flavor is what you like.

Here's what I do - I rough chop (very rough, like almost in quarters) half of a medium-sized white onion, 2 jalapeno peppers (all but one half seeded), and 1 small handful of fresh cilantro. I also cut a lime in half so that I can juice it into the blender.

Then I pour a large can of whole tomatoes into my blender, top it with the peppers, onions, cilantro, squeeze in the lime juice, and add the seasonings.

Right before I start whirring it all together I add some garlic.....this was not a part of the original recipe but it's a must for me. You can 2-3 fresh cloves or 1 heaping teaspoon of pre-minced. I'm a cheater.

This recipe is where I first was introduced to my friend cumin. Along with cilantro it makes this salsa perfect. I'm a fan. Blend it all up - as smooth or chunky as you like it and taste....add heat or salt as needed. Pour it into a jar or other container and let it sit in the fridge for several hours, it needs that time to work its delicious magic.

Serve with tortilla chips or blend in with sour cream to make a creamy dip {I got that idea from the original recipe}.

You will be delivered from your post-vacation funk in minutes.....
Here's the recipe - Enjoy and share!

Fisher Favorite Salsa

Adapted from Austin Jr. League Cookbook

1 large can whole tomatoes (Hunt's)
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, remove seeds from all but 1 half
½ onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 Tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic

Put everything in blender – coarse chopping onions and peppers.  Blend well, taste and add additional salt and jalapenos depending on personal preference.  Allow to sit in fridge for several hours or overnight.