Friday, September 30, 2011

Waking Up to Muffins

Muffins are one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast.  Especially when I've baked them ahead of time and tucked a whole batch in the freezer. This makes the first meal of the day a no-fuss, oh-so-yummy occasion.  And what better way is there to start the day?

I recently baked a couple of delicious recipes and thought I'd pass along the goodness.  These are two very different kinds of muffins, but I'm currently in love with them both.  They are taken from the February/March 2008 issue of Cook's Country Magazine.


Blueberry-Pear-Ginger-Oatmeal Muffins
First up we have these deliciously good-for-you muffins with an incredibly long name.  You'd think with a name like that, it might cover all the major ingredients.  But there are still a few important goodies not mentioned.  Like almonds.  And raisins.  And cinnamon.  But I suppose blueberry-pear-raisin-ginger-cinnamon-almond-oatmeal muffins would be too much of a mouthful?  Maybe so.

These muffins might look rather ordinary on the outside....


....but biting into one opens up a whole new world of happiness.

I don't remember ever tasting a blueberry-pear combination before and I didn't expect it to be anything spectacular.  But I was wrong.  It really is spectacular.   I actually doubled the amount of spices from the original recipe, and next time I might even add a little more ginger--since it's in the name, you really ought to notice it, don't you think?  They are perfectly wonderful as is (the recipe below includes my increased spices) but if you're a big fan of spices, feel free to bump them up even more than I did.


Dutch Apple Cheese Muffins
And now for something completely different.  But it's probably not what you think.  The cheese element here is an actual hunk of cheddar.  I know, it sounds a bit odd.  Especially if you've never liked the idea of topping your apple pie with a slice of cheddar.  I'm definitely in that category, so I hope you'll be brave and try these.



They only have a touch of sweetness from the apples and cinnamon on top, which wonderfully complements the golden, cheesy goodness of the muffin.  They don't taste like dessert to me, which was a little disappointing at first.  But once I'd thrown out my expectations, I couldn't get enough of these and had to whip up a second batch.  They make excellent breakfast muffins, and even my mom, who didn't think she'd like them much, really did like them.  A lot.


Recipes
Both muffin recipes are below, including links to printable versions.  Now go bake some muffins and start your day out with happy deliciousness!
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Blueberry-Pear-Ginger-Oatmeal Muffins
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
 2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg plus 2 egg whites
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 firm pear, peeled, cored, and chopped fine
1-1/4 cups fresh or frozen (unthawed) blueberries
Topping:
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions:
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease and flour 12-cup muffin tin
  2. For the muffins, combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in large bowl.  Whisk milk, sugar, egg, egg whites, and oil in another bowl.  Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until combined, then fold in raisins, pear, and blueberries.
  3. For the topping, combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin and sprinkle evenly with sugar mixture.  Top with almonds, pressing gently to adhere.
  4. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.  Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to rack.  Cool 10 minutes longer before serving.
Cook’s Country Magazine, February/March 2008

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Dutch Apple Cheese Muffins

Printable Version

Muffins:
        2 cups all-purpose flour
        1/2 cup sugar
        1 tablespoon baking powder
        8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
        8 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
        1 large egg
        3/4 cup whole milk
        1 pound tart apples, peeled, halved, cored, and sliced into thin half-moons


Glaze:
        1/3 cup sugar
        2 tablespoons water
        2 tablespoons unsalted butter
        1 tablespoon lemon juice
        1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Directions:
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease and flour 12-cup muffin tin (including the reas between muffin cups, as glaze will run onto pan when applied to muffins during baking).
  2. Pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cheese in food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal; transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Whisk egg and milk together, then slowly stir into flour mixture until combined.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin.  Arrange apple slices, cut-side down, on top of batter, pressing gently to adhere.  Bake until edges of muffins are just golden, about 15 minutes.
  5. While the muffins are baking, heat sugar, water, butter, lemon juice, and cinnamon in saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes.
  6. Once edges of muffins are just golden, brush muffins with glaze.  Return to oven and bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 10 minutes.
  7. Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to rack.  Cool 10 minutes longer before serving.

Cook’s Country Magazine, February/March 2008

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Give Thanks When a Life's Been Buried

It's an unseasonably warm day in the middle of September and I'm standing in the garden with a hose in hand, evening light falling all around.  There are dozens of plants left to water but I'm pausing here by The Memorial Tree, tracing the shape of leaves and marveling at the way these colors are seeping in while the green fades away.

It's been two and a half years since I stood at a grave and whispered words to a boy who was already long gone.  And that grave, it's too many miles from here, and this tree, it's the only thing I can touch with my hand when I most want to remember what's been lost.

Even with the sun's warmth still lingering on my face, I feel the weight of all the grieving as I'm counting down the days until the one that represents the beginning of all the breaking.  And this is the question that haunts me, leaves me empty of words--

How do you give thanks for the beauty He brings out of the ashes when everything began with a life burning down, a boy leaving the world behind on an evening in late September?

The sun lingers a day longer before the deluge begins and I can't help remembering that weekend of saying goodbye--my brother and I driving late into the night, rain pouring down, us trying to find our way through too much darkness.  I felt the sky grieving right along with us, and I thought I could stand up under the weight, but it was long months later when I realized I'd nearly drowned in all that sorrow.

Now it's three years later and I'm wrestling with my thoughts, the rain still falling steady and the trees bending beneath the wind.  A friend clutches my hand across the table, waits for the grief waves to recede, and I'm sitting here wondering at the way the gratitude mingles with the sadness and leaves me gasping for breath and words.

Because God, He's turned the darkness of a soul into the light of His Glory.  And He's taken a girl broken into a thousand pieces and woven her into a woman who bears the mark of His Love.  And I've no need to seek out something for which to give thanks.  No, there's more than I can even name, and I'm laid low by the Grace He's poured over and under and straight down into me.  This gratitude, it overflows even in the sadness of remembering, and I'm not in search of the what anymore--I'm just trying to understand the how.

How to give thanks for the healing and the hope when the cost of my becoming was the blood of someone's son.

Oh, I know I'm not to blame for the dying, but some days I still feel like a cold-hearted thief for reaping all God's goodness after the laying down of a life.  Can I really give thanks for what's sprung right out of the blackened ground without dishonoring the one who's buried in the soil?

This is the question I'm wrestling on the eve of the anniversary.

But the twenty-seventh day of September dawns dry and almost clear.  And long before noon, the sun's broken through the clouds and I'm stripping off all the layers--because isn't that what these three years have been about?  God breaking through, me stripping off the layers of who I used to be?  And the sun, it's burning me up but I won't pull the shade because how can I shut out the One Who's refined me in the fire, hammered me into the woman I am, imprinted His Love on every part of my being?

And it takes me all day to understand that every bit of Grace He gives, it comes at the cost of a life, a Son laid down in the darkness of the earth, His blood staining us all.  And there's no dishonor in living out the gratitude for all that's come from the sacrifice, even when I am to blame for His dying.

Maybe there's no comprehending what God's doing with all our lives, and maybe there'll always be grief on this day for the boy who left us too soon.  But the beauty that's come from all this loss?  How can I keep silent when God's using the heartache of a life to show His Glory to the world?

And I'm sure of it now that there's no dishonoring in the giving of thanks.  Because what I'm really saying is this--

Your life, it mattered to me.  And your death, it mattered to me, too.  I'm not the same person I was and God's used your living and dying to turn me into the woman He's always wanted me to be.  You were a gift.  And I can never say thank you enough.

I remember the promise I made that sunny May day, sitting on a bench at the foot of a grave.  A promise to come back, tell the tale of God's redemption to the boy who'd begun my story of falling apart and being made new.  And I might've thought I was ready to go back before now, but I know it today that this story's been incomplete before these last weeks and months.  Oh, I'm not counting out God for writing more beauty here, but there's enough already to fill up a whole life.  And I'm longing to go back, lay my hand against the name carved in stone, and whisper deep thanks for leaving his mark on my life.

This road, it's been the hardest I've traveled in these decades of a life.  But everything I've lost?  Every night of sorrow and anger and utter despair these last three years?  It's all been worth it to find out that God really loves me and to see how this Love is changing who I am.

I might still grieve for the boy we lost one Autumn night, but there's no denying all the Beauty and Glory and God that's come to us since.  And there's no better way to honor what's been buried than by letting God grow up a life of thanksgiving in the soil of our loss.

The last rays of sunlight are falling on the leaves of a tree planted in the grieving, but I see it now how this little tree's earned a new name.  And I brush my hand against The Tree of Thanksgiving and offer my whole life back to the One Who's turned my losses into a beauty I could never have imagined.

{In Loving Memory of Nathan R. Neahring, July 7, 1990 ~ September 27, 2008}

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When You Don't Recognize Yourself

On a whim, I sit down in front of a camera, fumble with things I don't know how to do, and try to give the world a glimpse of the woman behind these words.  My voice, it trembles a bit with the weight of all the nerves, and I'm not convinced this is the right thing to do.  Who am I, but an introverted girl with a broken past and a fear of not being enough?

But I write down words here in this corner of the world because I've lived them first and He's the One writing the story of a life.  How can I keep silent about the God Who's loved me into being? 

And I want you to see my face, hear my trembling voice.  Because maybe then you'll understand there are no pretenses here.  Only a woman walking with her God, Him healing all the broken places, her letting the Light of His Glory shine straight through.

So I take a deep breath and speak into the empty room, trying to still a heart beating fast and a mind racing ahead.  It comes out stilted at first and I start again.  And again.  And again.  I laugh at the mishaps and wonder if I'll ever get it right.  But there's nothing to prepare me for what's coming next.

I push play, begin to watch the recordings one by one.  And I avert my eyes because I'm afraid to see that I've made a fool of myself, laid out all my imperfections for the whole world to see.  But I hear a voice speaking the words I remember, and I'm stopped short.

I glance at the screen and I can hardly breath because I don't believe what I'm seeing.  Who is this woman, her voice soft and sure, her face lit up with hope and joy and life?  She can't be me.

I've never seen her before.

It's the next day when I sit down to record the real thing, and I'm still reeling from the revelations I don't yet understand.  But it's finally clear that I'm doing what's right and I'm starting to see that it isn't just the ones who read my words who need to see this woman I am--it's me, too.

Because God's been unearthing me these last months--years, even.  He's been stripping out the fears and pouring Himself right in, and somehow He's breathed courage under my skin, convinced me that who I am isn't meant to be a burden to me or to the world.  No, she's meant to be a gift.

He knit me together in the darkness of a womb, carved His own image into the marrow of my bones, loved me without end before I'd even begun.  And He knew I'd break before I could even write my own name, knew I'd carry wounds and fears and deep pain for decades of a life.  But He knew, too, that this world would never be a match for His Love, that there was no damage He couldn't heal, no sorrow He couldn't use for His Glory.

And maybe it's taken me years to figure it out, but oh, finally I'm learning that this woman I am--she's enough.  And she's not a burden at all.  She's a gift.

I've been writing it out loud in bits and pieces these last months, and His Truth, it's been taking root in the soil of my being.  But in my head I've still been holding that picture of the girl I've always been.  Broken, afraid, unlovely.

And then I see myself right there on the screen and I don't see that girl I used to be.  I'm stopped short because I don't really understand what's happened.  I've still got plenty of broken places.  I'm still afraid in ways that I can't name, and yes, there are still pieces of the unlovely lodged deep, waiting for the breaking and the healing only He can give.

So why can't I stop staring?  What's made this woman so different from who I used to be?

I wrestle long with what I've seen, and it's days before I remember the words of a friend.  She wrote them after looking through the pictures of my growing and somehow she saw what I couldn't until now.

...you look beautiful--His love for you is written all over your face...

And my heart, it falls clean apart when I hear Him whisper the answer I've been seeking.

This woman, she's still broken, still afraid, still full of unlovely places He's yet to carve out and rebuild.  But when I look at her face, hear her speaking of life and love and Him, I don't see all of that anymore.  I only see this:

She is loved.  And she knows it.

It might've taken a thousand different things to finally convince me of the love He's always held me in, and I might've made that declaration loud and clear on a day in the middle of July.  And I might've thought I knew how His Love would change everything, but why didn't I realize it would change even the face of the girl I used to be?

I look at her, the woman I am now, and I see Him.

His Love, it's settled down into every part and I'm no longer the one I used to be.  He's done what few of us ever thought He could, least of all me.  And I'm face down under the weight of all His Glory because He loves me and I know it and, yes, it's changed everything.

Won't you let Him change everything for you, too?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Courtney Chronicles {Meet Courtney}

A crazy idea occurred to me recently.

Why not record a few short videos for the blog to give my readers a better sense of who I am in real life?

I didn't think I could pull it off.  After all, the last time I was on video I was about 7 years old.  I was being baptized.  And I only had to say one word before I was dunked in the water.  That word was "yes," by the way.

But I thought I'd be brave and try out this crazy idea anyway.

I wish I could show you an outtake reel from yesterday's practice session.  Oh my.  It was quite entertaining.

But oddly enough, I wasn't nearly as awkward and tongue-tied as I expected to be.  So I decided to go for it today and recorded what I hope will be the first in a series of short video posts giving you a glimpse into different pieces of my life.  I'm calling these videos The Courtney Chronicles.

This first installment is entitled {Meet Courtney} and is just an introduction to me and the blog.  It's far from perfect, but I decided the first take was good enough and I'd just mess it up if I tried too hard to get it right.  I hope you'll enjoy it and let me know what you think of this crazy idea.


(If you are viewing this post in a reader or email, you may need to visit the blog directly to view the video)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When Life's Slipping Away



Our paths cross unexpectedly on a sunny Autumn day in the middle of an arboretum.  He's a friend from the past, his family in tow, and I'm just this beauty-hungry woman with a camera cradled in her hands.  We're all here wandering through the woods to see the trees dressed in glory, afternoon sun glinting off every leaf.




We chat for a while and I join them in their happy explorations, but there's one thing he says that catches me and I can't forget.

These leaves, he says, are really dying.  And we're here gazing at the beauty, but shouldn't we be mourning instead?

He's right and he's wrong all at the same time, and me, I'm searching for words to answer his seeking.  But he's the one with the glass half empty and he can't let in the glory of the moment because he knows too well that life's full of pain and there's dying even in the living.  There's nothing I can say to loosen his grip on all the heartache he's seen, so I let him go.  But his words, they follow me long after we part ways.




It's three years later and I still haven't forgotten.  Every time the leaves whisper of Autumn's coming, I think of him and wish I could've said then what I'd tell him now.

Because these three years, they've been full of all the grieving and the healing, the breaking and the mending, and I've seen the way God works in the middle of our darkest years.  And it doesn't take me by surprise to see so much beauty in the dying of the leaves.  No, that's just the thing I've come to expect from the One Who shatters who we are in order to make us into who we're meant to be.




I watch the leaves change color and I'm so taken with all the beauty that I don't notice that life's slipping away, creeping back down into the darkness, hiding from all the heartache of a winter.  But that's just it.  There's no dying here, really, only life finding protection from the things it cannot bear.  And there's hope in the falling leaves because it's clear that life's found a way to hold on until spring.

And what better way to celebrate hope than with all these colors raining down?




I see it now, the way He does the same for me.  Pieces of a life, they fall away and I'm too busy with the aching and the mourning to see that there's no dying here, only life finding protection from the things it cannot bear.  Because God knows when the heartache's coming and He'll never leave me unprepared.  I won't see it coming and I might think I've been left out in the cold, but why do I forget that He's known all along, that He's been drawing my deepest places into Himself, back down into the womb of His refining, shielding the sacred pieces of who I am?

It might take months, even years for me to find a way back into Spring's light, hold the pieces out for His mending of a soul.  But there's always that day at the end of the grieving when I realize He's held me through all the loss and He's protected me even when I felt ripped open, shattered through.

And oh, there's beauty in all of it because He's in all of it.




I might wish I understood the workings of a God Who loves too much not to break us open for His Glory, but maybe knowing I am loved is better than understanding could ever be.  I'll still mourn the losses of a life but I'm looking for beauty in them now, looking for Him in all the heartache of a life.  And maybe it shouldn't still leave me breathless when I find Him there, but it does and I am and, oh, I'll never get enough of this beauty in all the broken places.




Maybe I'll find this friend from the past again someday, and when I do, I'll tell him that there's hope raining down in the Autumn leaves, that there's God raining down.  And yes, there's pain and there's heartache and there's oh-so-much loss in these days of our living.  But God, He's working it all out in Love and we only have to look for Him if we want to see Him here.

So open up your hands, I'd say, and let in the beauty and the glory and the God in this moment.  And know that you are loved by the Greatest Lover of All.  Because isn't that enough to change everything?

Yes, it's enough to change everything.

It already has.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Childhood

Tiny little town
Beside a big, big ocean
The roar of waves
Forms the background of
My memories

Learning to ride a bike
With a blue banana seat
Straight down the middle of
A street without cars

Picking blackberries on a
Hot summer day--
The smell of ripe fruit
And the taste of happiness

Walking fence tops
Around a yard full of daisies
Rolling plastic culverts
In an empty field of grass

Stolen sunsets on a
Flat, puddle-filled roof
Mishaps and mayhem
In an overgrown forest

Tree swing and tree house
Sand box and sand lot
A little imagination
And a whole lot of laughter

These are the things I remember
These are the things I miss
These are the pieces of
Who I used to be



Wishing the happiest of birthdays to the one who shared my childhood.  My best memories from those years are the ones of you and me together, always in the middle of one crazy mishap or another.  Thank you for all the laughter, the late night talks, and the wild adventures I'll never forget.  Happy Birthday, B.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Coconut Chewies

In case your midweek is in need of a little sweetening up, here's something that might do the trick.

I know a lot of people don't care for coconut.  And theoretically, I can understand why someone might object to its texture and unique flavor profile.  In reality, though, I'm a coconut lover through and through and I'm a little bit mystified by the fact that so many people don't like it.

If you're one of those non-fans, this recipe is most definitely not for you.

But if anyone does share my love of coconut, I am pleased to offer you one of my favorite recipes.  My mom has been making these cookies for as long as I can remember and they've always been one of my favorites.  She acquired the recipe from a neighbor when she lived on the East Coast some 30 years ago.

There's nothing fancy here, just a simple cookie boasting a warm coconutty flavor and fabulous chewy texture.  They are delicious, not too sweet, and oh-so-easy to make.

And I hope they'll bring just a little bit of joy to the middle of your week.



Coconut Chewies

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/3 cups (approximately 160 g) shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together brown and white sugars, butter, egg, and vanilla.  Combine flour, salt, and baking soda and gradually add to sugar mixture.  Thoroughly stir in coconut.  Use a spoon or cookie dough scoop to drop tablespoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until edges are just lightly browned--don't overbake or the cookies will be crunchy rather than chewy.  Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Makes about 30 cookies.

Monday, September 5, 2011

In the Growing

A friend writes the story of her healing and I see myself right there in her words.  We've come from different places, she and I, but we share the kind of breaking that changes the course of a life.  And I didn't realize until I read it in her words that sometimes the healing marks us for all the world to see.

I was just shy of my 18th birthday when the first wave of that healing began and in the wake of all the shifting, I started cutting off my hair.  Because I'd been broken too long and I'd spent years covered in the ugliness of the past.  My hair had grown long and untamed those years of a life, and I'd wrapped it around me to distract all the eyes from the girl I didn't want to be.

But when the faint stirrings of healing began, I felt it strong, how it was time to stop hiding and I had to choose to live.  I kept cutting until there was nothing left, and I didn't mind because this hair--it no longer defined who I was.

Oh, healing was still a long way off and I'd be burying the truth if I said there were no more wounded places even as I write.  But healing did come to dark corners and hard memories, and that little girl who couldn't protect herself, couldn't trust anyone not to rip her open?  I'm not her anymore.

But I was 25 years old when I looked in the mirror and realized I was hiding all over again, afraid of being who I was.  Maybe I wasn't that broken girl anymore but I was still afraid of being a woman.


It was just months after the discovery of my Shame and I didn't know it then, but Grace Himself was already at work mending my deepest pain, hammering away the chains that had long bound me tight.  All I knew was this:  It was time to grow out my hair.

6 months of growing


1 year of growing


2 year of growing (...and dyed red with henna)


2.5 years of growing


3.5 years of growing (...and a Retro Party)


4.5 years of growing


And how could I have known that the years of growing hair would be full of more heartache than I'd known in all the years before?  If He'd have told me from the start, I might've turned away, grabbed the scissors and chopped off any hope of becoming the woman I was born to be.  But I'd have missed out on the deepest healing of all, the Grace Waters washing away the Shame of a past I'd carried too long and Him shaping me into this woman I'm becoming.

There's only gratitude now for the One Who keeps the secrets of tomorrow.  Because I might think I want to know what's coming, but don't I already know the only thing that matters?  That He'll be here always?  That His Love will run through all my days, building ruins into beauty, breathing life into the dying, and working all the broken pieces into His Glory?

And who has the strength to bear the knowledge of all the heartaches to come?  Isn't it enough to know that He'll put the pieces back together, heal us deep when we're sure there'll never be joy again?

It's four and a half years since the growing began and I walk into a salon because I'm ready to cut it off again.  I've finally figured out that who I am is enough and I'm not afraid to grow my hair out long or chop it all off.  I'm not afraid because God, He's loved me through it all and He's taught me that it's okay to be who I am, a little bit broken and a little bit scared, but full of hope and love and Him

Before....

And after....

This last transformation might've only taken an hour but it's been a long time coming and He's been hard at work every day since I was born.  And He'll keep working and I'll keep growing for all the days He's given because this woman I am?  She won't be complete until the day He's standing here for all the world to see and she's on her face and there's no more breaking, only Him filling all the earth with His Glory.