Monday, April 30, 2012

strawberry creamsicles

Part of belonging to our CSA involves making a trip to the farm once in awhile to pick up all the shares.  This is part of the "community" aspect in Community Supported Agriculture.  Our turn was yesterday, so Vicki Jo and I set out for Americus in the morning.  It's about an hour and fifteen minutes' drive.  When we got there, they were still bundling the green garlic and applemint, so we were invited to have a look around the farm.  We saw the sheep, the dog and cat, the chickens, and strawberries!!  Ramona gave us a clamshell and told us to fill it up with the fresh, tiny strawberries that had just popped up.  Let me tell you - the difference in taste between these juicy red jewels and the big, bland, storebought, crossbred giants is unimaginable.  The baby was eating them straight from the ground - a little dirt never hurt!  I'm cursing myself that I neglected to take any pictures. 

But I did snap a few on the iPhone of this delicious application of said berries.  It's so simple that calling it a recipe seems like a sham. 

Aren't these popsicle molds awesome?  I got them during a trip to Melbourne, Australia.  They always bring back happy memories of shopping in the Central Business District there.

Strawberry Creamsicles
3/4 lb strawberries, hulled
1/4 C heavy cream
2 T honey

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and mix until a smooth puree forms.  Pour into popsicle molds (a container with a spout helps!). 

Freeze eight to twelve hours and enjoy!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

the time jeff proposed on christmas day

By the time my now-husband proposed to me, I was pretty sure I knew when it was going to happen.  I had given him my mother's wedding band (resized for my chubby fingers because hers were so slender), we had discussed when and where we might like to be married, and I felt confident that I would know when it was coming.  And yet, he still managed to surprise me!

On Christmas morning of 2007, we showed up at his maternal grandparents' home in Tullahoma, Tennessee. My mother-in-law's family is large and rambunctious, and Christmas celebrations there are of the everyone-tear-open-your-packages-at-the-same-time-and-throw-the-paper-everywhere variety (he thought we were crazy when he did Christmas with my family one year.  We sort the presents and open them one at a time, rotating based on age from youngest to oldest.  My mother also used to make us carefully open the wrapping paper without tearing so we could reuse it).

Aunt Carol, my mother-in-law's older sister, also had a tradition of providing anyone who desired an alcoholic drink disguised in a coffee cup.  (Jeff's Pawpaw, an old-time retired United Methodist minister, did not like drinking in the home.)  Usually it was just a little Bailey's mixed in with the morning coffee, so I accepted graciously when she offered.

Upon taking the first sip, I discovered that she had left the coffee out that morning.  It was pure Bailey's Irish Creme - at least eight or ten ounces.  I was so busy with my drink that I neglected to eat any breakfast.  We opened presents, laughed and talked, and everyone seemed to - for once - be getting along fabulously. 

However, I was starting to feel a little ill.  Too much Bailey's, too little food, and I knew we had a couple hours' drive ahead of us.  I asked Jeff if we could leave, and he acquiesced.  I noticed he looked a little nervous, but I didn't think much of it.  I climbed in the passenger seat, closed my eyes, and drifted into a light slumber.  When I opened them about thirty minutes later, I realized we were not on the interstate.  Rather, we were headed in the opposite direction.  We were going away from Nashville and toward the rolling foothills of the Cumberland Mountains.  I began to ask him where we were going (for a split second I actually thought he had forgotten the way back to Nashville!), but then I thought better of it and shut my mouth.

I was feeling quite carsick at this point.  Anyone who has driven Highway 108 up the mountain knows that it gets pretty twisty.  I get motion sickness easily anyway, plus the overindulgence, and I was toast.  But I knew exactly where we were headed.  When we turned left at the intersection of Highways 108 and 56, I knew we were in the homestretch of the haul toward the Beersheba Springs Assembly.  The Assembly is an old Civil War-era hotel that served as a hot springs and sanitorium.  It is now the main campground of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Jeff and I had been to the Assembly countless times for retreats, camp weeks, parties, meals, and more.  The view from the main verandah is breathtaking:

We got out of the truck and walked to the overlook.  Jeff kneeled and asked if I would join him in marriage.  I laughed and cried and mostly just said yes. 

We realized we needed a picture of the moment, but no one was around!  Suddenly, a local police officer rolled up.  I think he was going to tell us that the property was closed and that we needed to exit.  However, we quickly told him our happy news and he celebrated with us, volunteering to take the photo:

And the rest, as they say, is history.  Pawpaw is gone now, and we have added two more babies to the family.  Aunt Carol still provides her "coffee" on Christmas morning, but now I make sure to eat breakfast too. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

jury duty

I received a summons for jury duty at the beginning of the month and I wasn't looking forward to it.  I have never been called for jury duty before, and it really didn't sound like my favorite way to spend a hectic work week (i.e. away from work, locked in a sad windowless room, etc).  I was instructed to call a certain phone number after five on the evening before I was supposed to report.  I'm not sure why it all had to be so complex, but whatever.  I called.  And they told me to report at the Shawnee County Courthouse at 8:30 the next morning.

So I showed up this morning, baby at the sitter and coffee in hand.  I was perfectly on time, and then proceeded to sit in a big waiting room with sixty other people all facing one direction and not talking.  We must have waited an hour.  We watched a DVD that was reminiscent of senior-year AP politics.  One thing that caught my eye immediately was the disproportionate whiteness of the group.  Shawnee County is 9% black.  In that group of sixty, I saw two persons who appeared to be African-American (I understand that racial preference can be signified in ways other than outward appearance, of course).  Folks, that ain't 9%!  My wheels immediately started turning about what would cause this skew toward whiteness:

1)  Sitting on a jury requires you to have the sort of employment or home situation where you can either request off in advance, call in the day of and not have negative consequences, or find a babysitter or relative to watch your kids easily.  Or perhaps you're unemployed and have no children.  During the fun of voir dire, I discovered that many people there seemed to be in this category.

2)  The little video stated that names for jury duty were pulled from the rolls of registered voters, those who hold driver's licenses, and those who carry state-issued identification.  All I can gather is that perhaps these sources are disproportionately white as well.

Anyway, before I had too long to think about why everyone was so white, we were split up into smaller groups of about twelve and subjected to the sort of invasive questioning that I thought was reserved for actual suspects of crimes.  I'm serious.  Everyone there was expected to state:  name, current address, any past addresses in the last five years, occupation and time at place of employment, whether you're married, where your spouse works if so, if you have kids, and what ages they are if so, and if you belong to a church or other public institution.  All of this in front of perfect strangers, attorneys, and the defendant in the case.  So, you know, if you find them guilty, they can send a hit list back to their colleagues with nice, specific information.

After the show and tell session, we were asked a bunch of questions that pretty much filled in the details of the case for me.  Had anyone ever gotten a DUI?  How do people feel about law enforcement officers?  Have you ever been tazered (my personal fave)?  Is anyone in your family alcoholic?  Do you think the legal blood alcohol limit of .08 is reasonable?  Does anyone here not drink?  Do you have a bias against people who don't speak English well?  Do you think people who use derogatory language and racial slurs are bad people?  If anyone shook their head differently than the rest of the group, they were singled out and questioned more specifically.  I learned SO many fun facts about our group.  One lady volunteered an embarrassing amount of information about her alcoholic brother, whom she had to remove from a group home because of his chain smoking (??).  Another man thinks that anyone who drinks is stupid and he won't associate with them.  My favorite was the THREE different guys who had been tazered at some point because "in high school a buddy was messing around with this tazer he bought."  And then, of course, learning the minutiae of everyone's DUIs took up a significant amount of time.  Turns out they give these things out like candy at Halloween. 

I myself got caught in the line of fire after being asked about whether I thought law enforcement officers were any more or less trustworthy than any other person.  I said I thought so, because we afford them extra respect and courtesy in our society because of their training and vocation.  This was not a popular answer.  Turns out NO ONE else there felt this way.  So, like, if a police officer walked in and told you to leave the room because it was unsafe, you would just disregard them?  After I persuaded a few people around me that they actually did feel this way, the attorney stopped asking.  No surprise, I was dismissed after that round of questioning!  I don't think attorneys want anyone who could possibly be more persuasive than they are to sit on a jury.  It just makes sense.

I had always heard that religious officials are not usually impaneled for juries.  I didn't really understand why, but now I do.  When I had to state upfront that I'm a pastor, and where I pastor, people looked at me.  When the women on either side of me stated that they belonged to United Methodist churches in town, they saw me as some kind of leader (I hope!).  They were among the two who changed their minds and agreed with me when I was questioned further about law enforcement.

All in all, much food for thought from my first brief jury experience.  Sadly, since pastors seem to make unpopular jurors, I'm not sure that I will ever get to sit through a whole trial.  As much as I hadn't wanted to be there in the first place, I did begin to get curious about what the outcome might be.  And you know, civic duty, blah blah blah.  I'm 'Merican, by God.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

applemint mojito

The co-ed literary fraternity at my college (I feel so ridiculous even writing those phrases) had a fun traditional fundraiser every spring called Hot Jazz.  When I was but a lowly freshman first-year, many of the older students who lived in my suite were connected with the fraternity.  I didn't receive an invitation to Hot Jazz that year, but some of the older gals invited me to help them get ready.  (Why I ever agreed to do this, I'm not sure.  I'm the queen of not getting dressed up or decked out to go out.) 

Several of the girls there had just returned from a semester abroad in Brazil.  There, they had become very good friends with a concoction called the caipirinha.  To make this drink, you use a big stout wooden stick called a muddler to mash a bunch of limes up before mixing them with liquor.  My main job at the getting-ready-preparty was to muddle up these drinks for them.  Now that I reflect on this experience, I feel like they should have at least tipped me!

Our CSA delivered us several stalks of applemint today.  It tastes like a mild variety of mint, without the burning pungency of spearmint, but with the same scent.  I sniffed it and immediately thought "mojitos." Like the caipirinha, this Cuban drink uses a muddler (or just the handle of a wooden spoon, in my case).  And I was transported back to those first awkward months away at school that are somehow now ten years ago. 

This drink is crisp and refreshing - a perfect way to utilize the mint that is starting to proliferate with the season.

Applemint Mojito
10 leaves applemint
1/2 lime, cut into four wedges
2 T sugar
1 1/2 oz light rum
1/2 C club soda

Put the mint leaves and one lime wedge in the bottom of a sturdy pint-size glass.  Mash them up thoroughly together with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon.

Add two more lime wedges and the sugar and muddle together again.

Fill the glass almost all the way with ice.  Pour the rum over the ice and top off with club soda.  Stir it up and enjoy!

Friday, April 20, 2012

anniversary traditions

As I mentioned in a previous post, Jeff and I will celebrate our third anniversary on May 23.  We chose that day in May because it was the closest Saturday in 2009 to the anniversary of his father's and stepmother's tragic deaths (nearly two decades earlier).  We wanted a happy day to help alleviate some of the sadness that comes around that time every year. 

We aren't huge on gift-giving in our household.  It's not really a principled stance, more just like busyness and laziness combined into the perfect storm.

But something has always seemed so charming to me about sticking to the plan for traditional anniversary gifts.  I like how it limits the categories so I don't feel overwhelmed by too many choices.  Also, if I put in enough time, I can look forward to some pretty sweet swag in years to come!

I kind of enjoy how they program in some senility.  You are only expected to remember the big ones after fifteen years! 

Our first anniversary, I knew paper was the way I wanted to go.  We had not much disposable income at that point, having just graduated from school and being about to move from Nashville to Kansas.  I wished I could have gotten plane tickets to somewhere awesome (now that's a good paper gift!), but instead I wrote a very heartfelt (if I do say so myself) love letter.  Now that we're packing up to move again, I found it the other day and reread it.  Many of the sentiments contained therein are detailed in this post

Last year, for our second, we had a six-week-old baby.  I was struggling to remind myself what time of day and what day of the week it was.  I remember Vicki Jo and I made our first big outing to Target by ourselves and bought him underwear, undershirts, and socks.  Not very exciting, huh?  But it was what he needed and he was very appreciative. 

And now, big number three.  I have decided that it will be something leather, and I will definitely be supporting this craftsman once again.  But, what to get . . .?

This has been one of our hardest and biggest years together.  Although we have only been married three years, we have been partners for nearly eight.  The growth of our family, the progession of our careers, the stresses and strains of relatives growing old and frail.  We face these things together, always trying to remember that when God made people, God didn't mean for us to be alone. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

carrot + ginger

My super-close friend Ryan has auburn hair and freckles.  He would always describe other redheads in terms of being "gingers" and "daywalkers."  I didn't really know this was like "a thing" until I looked it up.  Turns out the difference is mainly related to the individual's predisposition to tanning or burning in sunlight.  Gingers burn while daywalkers can get some sun. 

I have a tendency to burn once, and then tan after that.  But I don't have red hair, anyway, so I'm not sure what that says about me.

I do love ginger, however.  Ginger tea helped me sail through the first months of pregnancy nausea-free.  Gingersnaps are my favorite cookies.  Sometimes I just snack on crystallized ginger.

Like I said before, the CSA has started, and we're getting a boatload of carrots to start.  They're just little tiny cute ones, so it took a LOT to make up the pound for this soup.  Usually, a pound of carrots would be like four or five medium ones - I probably used twelve to make this!  This is modified from one my favorite cookbooks ever, given to me by my brother and sister-in-law several years ago for Christmas. 

Carrot Ginger Soup

1 pound of carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t fresh grated ginger
1 t dried ginger
1 T butter
3-4 C chicken stock
salt and pepper
sour cream or yogurt

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the dried ginger and stir for a minute or two.  Add onion and garlic and a bit of salt.  Cook and stir for five or ten minutes, until they become soft and translucent.  Add the fresh ginger and carrots and cook for another ten minutes.  Add 3 cups of the chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover and simmer for thirty minutes or until the carrots are tender.  Taste the soup and season it with salt and pepper.  Let it cool a bit and then run it through the food processor in batches until it's smooth.  If it is too thick, add some of the leftover chicken stock to get the right texture.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt in the middle.  Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

crackers without the crap

I love a good cracker.  Really, in general, crunchy is my favorite food texture.  It's gotta be crunchy peanut butter or I'm not interested.  Crisp, fresh vegetables and fruits.  Chips are my weakness.  Wheat-thins or Triscuits have been staples of our pantry for a long time, but I started to get sick of buying them for a couple of reasons.  For one, it was impossible to find a cracker that had a simple, short ingredient list.  (Actually, original Triscuits are pretty simple:  whole wheat, soybean oil, salt.  But I hate soy and am trying as hard as I can to eliminate it from my diet.)  Two, crackers are expensive!  Even for the off-brand "wheat thins," I was paying three or four dollars for a box that didn't even last a week. 

And yet, making crackers seemed like an impossible feat.  How would I get them thin enough?  How could they be extra crispy?  I don't have an industrial kitchen! 

Turns out it's super simple.  An added bonus is that I can soak the flour overnight in yogurt, which produces a more tender cracker and also helps make the grain more disgestible (and therefore, the nutrients more easily taken up by my body).  Soaking grains and legumes is one of the small steps I've started taking toward cooking more traditional and wholesome foods.  In general, I love making things for myself and my family because I have total control over the quality and source of the ingredients.  This recipe is very adaptable:  you can use whatever kind of flour you please (whole wheat, spelt, plain all-purpose, etc - extra credit for being super fancy and grinding it yourself) and whatever herbs you think might go well together - or none at all if you're a purist.

We've been gobbling these up.  The baby especially loves to teethe on them.

Homemade Crackers

1 1/2 C flour (pretty much any variety)
1/2 C whole-milk yogurt (not Greek - you need all the whey from the regular kind)
1/4 C butter, plus more for brushing
2 t garlic powder
1 t fresh minced dill
salt and pepper

Stir together flour and 1 t salt in mixing bowl of your stand mixer (or just in a large mixing bowl).  Add the yogurt and knead with the dough hook (or your hands) until a ball of dough forms.  Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rest at room temperature for 8 - 24 hours. 

Preheat oven to 450 when you're ready to bake.

Remove the towel and add 1/4 C butter, garlic powder and dill.  Use the mixer attachment and beat it all together until it's well incorporated.  If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour until it comes together into a pretty firm ball.  Divide the dough into two balls.  Turn one ball out onto a floured pizza stone and roll it out very thin (~1/8 inch).  Brush the dough with melted butter and use a fork to dock it (poke little holes in it) about thirty or forty times all over.  Use a pizza cutter or a sharp knife to cut into whatever shapes you desire.  Bake for eight minutes or until they are lightly brown and crisp.

Once those crackers have cooled a bit, repeat the process with the other ball of dough. 

Yields about eighty crackers, depending on how small you cut them. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

the time we almost got serial killed in salisbury

When Jeff and I were about to be married (three years ago!), we thought for sure we would honeymoon in Jamaica.  We love island culture, reggae music, warm beaches, and all the other enticements Jamaica has to offer.  We were just about to book our flights when I had an email from Dr. Meeks, United Methodist theologian extraordinaire and just all-around great person.  He was writing to let us know that United Methodist students (and their spouses) at Vanderbilt Divinity had an awesome opportunity.  We could travel to Britain, stay for ten days, lodge at a bed-and-breakfast on a gorgeous cathedral close adjacent to the tallest cathedral tower in Europe, and tour with a group of our friends for something to the tune of two grand.  (That included the FLIGHT and everything!)  Just our plane tickets to Jamaica would have cost nearly as much.  We talked it over and decided to jump.  Sure, it wouldn't be the intimate just-the-two-of-us island experience we had planned, but it could possibly be infinitely more awesome.  And it was.

So, bright and early on the morning after our wedding, we pawned the pup off on Jeff's folks, dragged ourselves out of bed and stumbled onto a plane at Nashville International.  By way of Charlotte, we arrived in London. 

There was a course for credit being offered to students while we were there, but Jeff and I had agreed that I wouldn't attend the classes so that we could use that time to explore by ourselves.  The first night in Salisbury, we decided to jettison our jetlag by hitting up a few local pubs and seeing what it was all about. 

Contrary to popular lore about Britons and their stuffiness, everyone we met was friendly and talkative (it didn't hurt that our liberal politics and open-mindedness impressed everyone there - it felt good to be an American ambassador that was actually interested in experiencing another culture).  That very first night, we bellied up with our warm and flat beers (kegs are kept under the bar in England, rather than behind the wall in a cooler room - surprisingly, it makes them much more chuggable!) next to an older gentleman named Malcolm.  He had a beautiful dalmation with him (another awesome thing about all pubs in Salisbury:  well-behaved dogs always welcome!).  As Jeff is wont to do, he struck up conversation and they became fast friends over the next several hours. 

The pub was about to close around eleven that night and we were hungry.  Accustomed to American amenities, we figured we would just grab a bite at a deli or a mart on the way home.  Malcolm chuckled and explained that this is not the way it works in Salisbury.  All restaurants close around ten, and not even the grocery store would be open!  Instead, he offered, why don't we just come back to his house and he'll fix a snack for us?

My radar started beeping.  Follow strange man with large dog in foreign country back to his house?  Negative.  I could see pictures of our hacked-up bodies printed in the Salisbury paper and the headline: "American tourists stupidly trust local wacko!"  I tried to signal my hesitation to Jeff, but he had already agreed and had one foot out the door.  We didn't have our phones available to surreptitiously text-message, so I had to go along or look extraordinarily rude. 

Malcolm's home turned out to be one of the more fantastic things we saw in England.  Built during the time of Elizabeth II, when all fresh lumber was commandeered for ships to fight the Spanish Armada, the joists, studs, and supports were made from retired ship timber. 

Also, I noticed that we had to descend two or three steps to get to the entry level to his home.  He explained that this was because the road had been built up over the centuries, but his house remained at the same level.  Amazing!

He poured us a very expensive drink of sherry, made us sandwiches with bread and bacon (in England it's more like ham - not crispy), and I consequently spilled said sherry all over a very old and precious-looking Persian rug.  Ever the kind soul, Malcolm assured me it wasn't a big deal and to leave it alone. 

My radar turned out to be way off.  Malcolm was one of the kindest and sweetest people we met on the whole trip.  We decided it was time to head home, and we started the short walk back to our lodging.  It was probably about midnight or one at this point.  We were so ready to crash.

Let me pause here to explain what a "cathedral close" is.  I had no idea before I experienced it.  It is basically the oldest part of the city, which was built tightly around the cathedral and then a tall, thick, retaining wall was constructed as a fortification around that.  It's probably about an acre or two total.  Every night at nine or so, the gates to the close are shut and locked, and you must request a key if you are a visitor in order to let yourself back in if you plan to stay out later than that.

But, we didn't know that on our first night.  So, we showed up at the gate where we had exited the close and found it locked.  We had no phone service, scarcely any idea where we were, and not much hope of getting in.  Panic. 

We walked around the close wall to find the shortest part of it, where Jeff might boost me up and then try to pull himself up over the wall.  We found it, he got me up, and then he was stuck on the other side.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a couple of young men appeared, asking, "Need a boost, mate?"  Yes please!  He hopped up, and together we tumbled down onto the other side of the wall.  Like Malcolm had said, the street had been built up several feet, so on the other side of the wall it was a considerable drop down to the ground.  We fell hard.  I cut my wrist on some rocks and still have the scar to show! 

We tiptoed through someone's back yard, past the cathedral school, and into the front door of Sarum College.  Here I am shaking hands with a statue on our way home:

It was the first night of one of the best trips we've ever had.  We still long to return to Salisbury, and can't wait to take our kid(s) and show them everything!  Maybe we can even look Malcolm up.

Monday, April 16, 2012

the gift that keeps on giving

I told you all about how Easter is my favorite holiday.  In that post, I really focused more on the relational aspect of it.  But let's be for real:  the food is a huge plus as well.  One of the sad parts of being a pastor (and the main cook in our home) is that the big food holidays get short shrift.  Who has time to cook a fancy spread when they're doing four worship services on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day?  Who has energy to put together a fabulous Easter lunch when you're at church from 6:00 am to noon??  Not me.

One of the things I love about our big traditional American cultural/religious feasts is that we still cling to a bit of what is seasonal in those traditions.  Sweet potatoes or cranberries at Thanksgiving?  In season.  Peas or asparagus at Easter?  Spring foods!  Even Easter eggs - in North America, chickens are just coming out of moult around the time Easter usually happens.  That means the reappearance of fresh yellow yolks. 

This year, I decided to do a simple but traditional Easter supper:  ham glazed with apricot jam, asparagus, scalloped potatoes, King's Hawaiian rolls (husband's favorite), salad with dill vinaigrette.  The smallest ham they had at the store was 3 pounds.  For a family of two (baby only eats a little), that should make 6 meals. 

So, after the initial meal, I had to get creative in order to use up the ham in a week or so.  Here are some ideas for leftover Easter ham:

In a frittata with asparagus and leeks:

Ham sandwiches on sourdough with lettuce, cheese, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise:

Spicy black bean soup with ham:

I forgot to snap a picture of my final reinvention, but you can use your imagination:  a big salad with ham and whatever other veggies you need to use up. 

Hope I've given you some good ideas for how to reuse that Easter meal without just doing boring leftovers!  Leave a comment or email if you want any of these recipes.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

rabbit food

It's that special time of year again.  The time when I frantically search for ways to use up strange and copious amounts of produce.  The time when I proudly support a local farmer, not the middleman.  That's right.  My CSA has started.  Our farmers, the Crisps, brought our first haul last Saturday, and it will continue until the summer.  I've chosen only to do the Spring season CSA this year, since we're moving in June.  I will be sad to leave the Crisps and Shepherd's Valley Farm.  Their vegetables are fresh and wholesome and their eggs are second to none.  The facts that I've been to their farm several times, met some chickens, observed the way they are rotated around their pastures, and the bright freshness of the sunshine-yellow yolks.  Something about all that makes me like their eggs a lot more than the ones from the store.

Our first batch was small and included lettuce, onions, carrots and radishes.  The first three were no problem.  I could deal with those all day.  Radishes are harder.  My sister loves to eat radishes raw, like a bunny.  I know the French relish raw radishes with sea salt and butter.  I've just never gotten down on that spicy flavor.  Instead, I like to cook them.  That's right - you can cook radishes, just like all the other root vegetables!  They take on an earthy sweetness, much like carrots or turnips or rutabagas.  As they cook in the sweet and sour broth they impart their pink color.  This was our side dish for dinner tonight.  (Note:  I didn't have a shallot, and this is only half a pound of radishes.  I also used honey because we were out of sugar, and plain white vinegar because we were out of white wine vinegar.  It was still delectable!)

Braised Radishes
1 pound radishes, scrubbed and trimmed, halved if large
1 C chicken stock
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 T butter
2 T sugar
2 T white wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. 

Bring to a boil, cover, and cook until radishes are tender (15 minutes or so).  Uncover, crank up the heat, and boil off the excess liquid until it reduces to a thick glaze.

Friday, April 13, 2012

a thoughtful gift

One of my oldest close friends is named Micah.  We met in sixth grade at a feeder band concert because we both played French horn.  Our band teacher, Mrs. Cox, taught at both our elementary schools, and predicted that we would become fast friends.  Come junior high, we spent countless hours giggling, chatting, getting into trouble, and making music under Mrs. Cox's watchful eye and impressive silver hair.

For my wedding, Micah commissioned an original piece of art to be hung in the Central Junior High band room in my honor.  What a creative and deeply thoughtful gift!!  That's just like Micah.  I ran into Mrs. Cox downtown several months back, and she said she remembers us often when the artwork catches her eye.  Micah and his partner are having a commitment ceremony in the fall.  What can I think of to give him that will match his amazing gift to me?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

mealtimes, redux

I wrote about our attempts at a hybrid of Montessori-style solid foods and baby-led weaning a while ago.  We just ate lunch a few minutes ago, and I thought to myself, "I should give an update on how this process is going!"  So, let's revisit. 

When I wrote before, we were doing a combination of me spoon-feeding Vicki Jo and her practicing feeding herself with a utensil.  A month or so after that post, she started refusing to be fed anymore.  She wanted and was ready for small chunks of soft food.  So, the decision was made for me.  She would do it independently. 

My brother and sister-in-law got us a great picnic set for Vicki Jo for Christmas, so we've been using that.  That veers away from the Montessori philosophy.  It is plastic and brightly colored.  Vicki actually doesn't have much of a habit of throwing her plate or bowl, but I use them because they are more her size.  Also, we have been using a stainless steel drinking bottle (also a present, from her friend Olive) with a spout to avoid spills from her cup.  When it was just water, I didn't care as much, but now that she drinks milk at meals, I don't want to waste!  We still practice drinking water out of a glass.

We almost always eat together.  I try to model appropriate behaviors at mealtime:  eating slowly, chewing thoroughly, not speaking with my mouth full, not watching tv or checking my phone.  We usually have a little conversation to practice our grace and courtesy.

I have noticed something interesting.  When we sit together and eat, she will usually pick at her food.  She eats some, but also pushes it around and plays a bit.  When I get up, though, to take dishes into the kitchen, or to fold laundry, or to sweep the floor, she gets very serious about eating and finishes her plate.  I have no idea why.

She does have some very clear signs that she's done:

Feeding the dog what is left on her plate:

And turning herself completely around in her chair.  In my mind, there is nothing that says "I'm finished!" more than turning your back on your food!

We never did get the weaning table and chair.  I still might buy one, since she's quite small for her age and could use it for many more months as an activity center.  I'm working with an old friend who is an artisan carpenter to handcraft some Montessori furniture for Vicki Jo.  Stay tuned for that! 

I can't help but think how much our next child will benefit from all the learning that I've done as Vicki has grown.  Not just in terms of Montessori, or feeding, or furniture.  In every way, she has taught me so much!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

sister shubert's

Mountain Tennessee Outreach Project, where I spent so many happy and exhausted hours, has a special Friday night worship service each camp week.  It's an emotional and spiritual high.  We celebrate communion together and look back over a week that brought a bunch of strangers together and saw them become friends.

One of the duties of the staff is to procure communion elements sometime on Thursday or Friday of a camp week.  Typically, King's Hawaiian or something from the Dutch Maid constitutes the bread.  One particular Friday night, about five years ago, I was working as a Summer Intern, which meant I was kind of like an extension of the full-time staff and worked to help supervise the summer staff who were really running the camps.  My job on Friday night was to kind of lurk in the background and try to be helpful in whatever way. 

This staff had done a great job and had everything ready for Friday night worship and communion.  The worship space was dazzling, the music was cued and ready, the worship packets were neatly set out on the benches with a small rock placed on top of each one in case a breeze should come up.  They even had the forethought to place the communion elements out on the altar, covered neatly with a cloth.

We ate supper together: poppy seed chicken, green beans, and rolls.  The rolls are one of the most beloved items on the oft-adored Mountain TOP weekly menu.  Most folks think they are homemade.  No sir.  They are Sister Shubert's. 

Of course, once the kitchen staff takes them out of the freezer and gets ready for supper, they daub them twice with a liberal brush of melted butter.  That's what makes the out of this world.  So much butter.  Yum.

So anyway, we ate supper together and then moved into some times of group sharing before we came together for worship.  As the sun was setting, the cicadas began that rhythmic strummimg of their wings, and the atmosphere was perfect.  I breathed it all in.  Then I saw the Program Manager running toward me out of the corner of my eye.  She was frantic. 

"The bread!  Something came and got it!" 

I followed her down to the worship center and saw what she meant.  A small animal - I'm guessing a raccoon? - had jumped up on the altar, dragged the bread down onto the ground, and proceeded to gnaw some bites off before being scared away.  The bread was a total loss.  What to do?!  The nearest grocery store was thirty minutes roundtrip.  We had no backup loaf.  I ran to the kitchen to see what we did have.

Since it was the end of the week, we had no sandwich bread or loaves.  What did we have?  Leftover Sister Shubert's.  We couldn't just take a basket of dinner rolls out there, though.  We had to disguise them.  So we tore them up into bite-sized pieces.  A conundrum, though:  the pastor needs a full, unbroken loaf while celebrating communion.  All we had to offer was an unbroken dinner roll.

As I sat in the back at that worship service, I quietly snickered when the pastor raised a tiny dinner roll above his head, blessed it and broke it.  It was truly comical.  No one else seemed to notice anything awry.  Communion and worship went fine, and I was helping clean up afterward when I looked into the cup.  There was a thick grease slick resting on top of the grape juice.  It had to have been from all that butter.  I felt so bad for whoever was last in line at communion.  I'm sure they essentially dipped their roll bit in butter, put it in their mouth in the darkness, and wondered what the hell kind of rotten grape juice we had purchased!  I don't think Jesus lived long enough to develop arterial placque or elevated triglycerides. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

no cavities!

I had a dentist appointment this week.  I was one of those kids who always had a cavity when I went for my checkup.  Awful.  So much drilling.  So many amalgam fillings slowly leaching mercury into my system and making me even crazier.

But then when I was about seventeen, they just stopped.  I didn't do anything differently.  In fact, when I went away to college, there were probably a lot more nights when I was a little too . . . preoccupied? . . . to brush my teeth before collapsing into bed.  But the cavities didn't return.  I've had maybe one since I graduated from high school ten (gasp!) years ago.

The fear of the dentist, however, remains.  I still go to the same dentist who saw me as a child.  (Dr. Kincaid in Lawrence - look him up if you want thorough dental care mixed in with a strange sense of humor and lots of nitrous.)  I also retain the sense of ebullient triumph when I hear those words at the end of an exam:  No cavities!

One thing that always comforts me in the waiting room is this toy:

What are these things even called?  I have never seen one outside of the dentist's office.  I wonder if they are marketed specifically to dentists for some reason.

Monday, April 9, 2012

chicken tortilla soup

I have previously extolled the virtues of cooking with a whole chicken, and also my penchant for making broth out of the roast chicken carcass.  But what to do with any leftover meat you have?  I'm glad you asked!  Soup is my favorite way to use up roast chicken meat.  Soups are so nice for rainy spring week we will be having, and also make an excellent quick lunch.  I like chicken rice soup, or this wonderful chicken tortilla.  The last time I made this, I used two leftover chicken leg quarters instead of the whole carcass.  Do whatever combination of chicken you want (two breasts, a leg and a breast, whatever), just so long as you end up with half a chicken's worth.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
1/2 a leftover roast chicken
32 oz chicken stock
1/2 an onion, diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
2 jalapenos, sliced (seeded if you desire less heat)
1/2 C corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
1/2 an avocado, rough diced
1/2 a lime, cut into wedges
2 or 3 oz feta, crumbled
cilantro (if you were into that sort of thing, which I decisively am NOT)
corn tortilla chips
salt and pepper

Bring the chicken and chicken stock to a boil in a large pot.  Drop back to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, remove the chicken and let it cool.  Add the onion, tomato, and jalapeno to the stock and simmer for 20 more minutes.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull it from the bones and shred.  Add it back into the stock and veggies.  When about five minutes are left, add the corn.  Taste and season the soup with salt and pepper.

Drop some tortilla chips in the bottom of your soup bowls.  Add soup to the bowls, and then top with feta, avocado, and more tortilla chips.  Add the cilantro at this point if you think it tastes like anything other than dish soap.  Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over the top and enjoy!  Serves two to three.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

where's thy victory, boasting grave?

It's Easter Sunday!  My favorite holiday.  Really, my favorite day of the whole year.  And I'm not required to say that just because I'm a pastor. 

I was so lucky to grow up in a family that regularly darkened the door of our church, not just C'n'E (Christmas and Easter).  Nonetheless, Easter was a huge family celebration.  We would often go to two, three, sometimes four church services.  Then a big lunch, and then Mom would sequester us while she went to hide all the treats.  Easter was a much bigger deal than Christmas, present-wise.  We would get candy, little trinkets, clothes, books, and more.  Mom would hide them all over the yard, and we would collect as many as we could.  Then we would sit and try to figure out which gift was intended for which person.  I have so many happy memories of Easter sunrise services out at Clinton Lake, singing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," and "Morning has Broken." 

I find it so fitting that I have all of these happy reminiscences centering on my mother on the day in which we celebrate the ultimate defeat of death.  In the same thought, I remember her, grieve the loss of her, and rejoice in the knowledge that death is a temporary separation. 

It's been gorgeous weather the last few days (with the exception of thunderstorms wrecking Easter egg hunts across the county yesterday morning!).  Dog, baby and self have been taking long, rambly walks.  As we walk, I look down on my little one wrapped up tight against me, and I tell her the story:

"Today is Maundy Thursday.  This is the day we remember when Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room for the last supper.  We remember how he washed their feet like a slave, and then we remember how he said the words that I say all the time:  'This is my body, this is my blood.'  And then we remember how one of his own betrayed him for money."

"Today is Good Friday.  This is the day when Jesus died.  We don't know what happened after he died on the cross.  Some people say he went to hell and freed all the people there.  I don't know, but that sounds just like something he'd do."

"Today is Holy Saturday.  This is the day when everyone thought Jesus was dead and gone.  His disciples were so sad.  Now we just wait because we know how the story ends."

We don't do Easter lilies at Countryside because so many people have lily allergies anymore.  As much as I loved those gorgeous displays of a wall of white lilies, I understand the reason it's impractical.  But we do offer people the chance to buy different spring plants in honor or memory of loved ones.  It was important to me to participate this year:

And when the handbell choirs play their shining choruses this morning, and when I go to join the choir for the Hallelujah chorus, I will remember the woman who ensured that I always knew the love of God that was so deep, so pervasive, so triumphant, that even death could not ensnare it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

the booch

Up until a few months ago, I had never tried this mysterious concoction called kombucha.  When I heard it tasted a bit like fizzy vinegar, I knew I would like it.  I love vinegar.  Sometimes I even just drink a little vinegar by itself (is that weird?  Oh well). 

The health benefits of this ancient beverage are often cited as reason to begin consuming it.  People get a little fanatical (can it really cure cancer?), and most of it is not verifiable by any large empirical research studies.  I'm all for a good liver detoxification, but the real reason I started brewing my own 'boocha was because I wanted to quit drinking diet soda.  I'd had a mild diet-Coke-a-day addiction for many years, and I was ready to kick artificial sweeteners out of my life. 

I went to the Merc while I was in Lawrence for playgroup one Thursday and picked up a few bottles.  I got unflavored raw kombucha made in Lawrence and I got a ginger-flavored one from GT's, which is a very popular purveyor of these beverages.  They each cost me about five bucks, making it nearly ten times as expensive as my cans of diet soda.  After a taste test in which I confirmed that I did indeed love the flavor, I quickly decided I needed to start brewing my own because of the exorbitant cost of store-bought kombucha. 

After downing a bottle that Thursday afternoon, I made an important discovery:  large doses of kombucha make me crazy!  Far more so than caffeine.  And they made my breastfed baby even crazier.  We were both up until midnight with insane amounts of energy.  All I can figure out is that those B-vitamins are mad powerful.  Lesson learned:  I restrict myself to less than 8 oz, and drink it at lunchtime or before. 

I did a little research and found out I had some options.  I could locate a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast - the thing that does the good stuff in the kombucha) from someone locally, order one from an online company, or take some time and grow my own.  I went the grow my own route.  It's easy, but it took about a month.  Here's how I did it.

Take a bottle of raw, unflavored storebought kombucha and pour it into a quart-size mason jar (glass is really the best medium for doing all things kombucha.  It's so acidic that it can leach from metal or plastic).  Brew up a cup of black tea using filtered water (chlorine in tap water can kill the microorganisms that you want) and add one tablespoon of sugar while it's hot.  Once it cools to room temperature, add it to the mason jar.  Cover with a tea towel or cheesecloth and secure the top with a rubber band.  Put it in a dark cabinet or corner and leave it alone.  Over time, you will notice a thin layer start to build up at the top.  That's good!  When the layer gets to about a third of an inch thick, you have a SCOBY ready to go.

I can hear your thoughts:  but Emily, aren't you worried about botulism?  Aren't you worried about making yourself sick doing this stuff in your own kitchen?  Are you crazy?  No, no, and yes.  The only thing you really need to watch for is mold on your SCOBY.  I've never had this happen, but I've seen pictures and it literally just looks like the mold on old bread.  You can't miss it.  If that happens, throw everything out and start over.  And have a little faith in the history of humankind:  people have been brewing beverages at home for tens of thousands of years.  I don't know figures on death from this, but surely it's in the freak accident range.

Okay, so you have your SCOBY ready to go.  Here's how you make your first batch.  I make just a quart at a time, since I'm the only one drinking it.  You can really make as much as you want, it will just take longer.  Or, you can grow more than one SCOBY at a time and have multiple jars going. 

Bring a quart of filtered water to a boil.  Add four tea bags and a quarter-cup of white sugar.  Stir to dissolve and let it come to room temperature.

Remove the tea bags.  Funnel it into a quart-size mason jar, leaving some room at the top (you may have a little extra sweetened tea - enjoy a cup!).  Transfer over your SCOBY from the other jar (chopsticks are helpful.  If you use your hands, make sure they are very clean).  Pour in enough of the liquid leftover from growing your SCOBY to fill the jar.  Cover loosely with a tea towel or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.  Put it in a dark cabinet or corner.  In the winter, it takes me about ten days to get a good fermentation.  In the summer, more like five.  How can I tell when it's done?  I take a clean spoon and get a little of the brew from beneath the SCOBY and taste it.  If it's mostly sour and fizzy, I know it's done.

After the initial fermentation, you have some choices.  First, remove the SCOBY and transfer it to another batch of sweetened black tea (thus starting the whole process over).  Also, remove about 25% of your finished kombucha and use it in the next batch.  This insures consistency in the brew.  Then, you can just cap your finished kombucha and refrigerate.  Or, you can add some fruit juice or ginger for flavor and cap it, then put it back into your dark corner for a secondary fermentation.  Leave it for two days, then refrigerate and enjoy.

I've heard that you can let your SCOBY go dormant after you're done with it, and then bring it back to life like a sourdough starter.  I've never done this, so I won't tell you how.  Over time, your SCOBY will have babies!  They are so cute!  Just kidding - in general a SCOBY is really scary looking and I use it to threaten my husband.  Jeff!  Take out the garbage or I'll put the SCOBY on you while you're sleeping!  You can just leave it all together, or you can separate off the babies and share them with people who need SCOBYs.  Or just take them off and throw them away.

When you open your finished and refrigerated kombucha, watch out.  There can be a good deal of pressure built up behind the seal. 

It is a beautiful, light, fizzy contribution to my beverages.  I haven't bought a single soda since I started brewing my own.  The cost is negligible:  the initial investment in a bottle of store-bought kombucha, some sugar, water, and black tea bags.  And jars.  And it has opened the door to a world of other home-fermenting projects.  What's next?  Ginger bugSourdoughKefir?  I will keep you posted!

Friday, April 6, 2012


We are short on closets in this old house, and we have no real basement or garage.  Technically, we actually have both, but the basement is just a dirt hole and it freaks me out (plus feral cats live down there in the winter . . . don't ask), and the garage is out across the backyard and not very secure.  So, we are limited to pretty much just keeping our stuff in our two floors of the house.

I despise clutter, and feel that I'm constantly battling it.  Anytime I can find a way to get some things up off the floor or another surface, it feels like a triumph!  I got this idea from my sister, who did it in her old guest bathroom with extra toiletries.

I took an over-the-door shoe organizer and filled it with baby supplies:  lotions, washes, medicines, thermometer, brush, comb, diapers, etc.  Works like a charm for diaper changes without the extra space taken being taken up by a changing table!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

ham and beans

We have had, by any account, a strange winter and spring.  Only one or two real snows, and only a couple inches at that.  Highs in the 70s in January.  Highs in the 80s in March!  If things continue in the way they're trending, this summer will be unbearable.  I loathe hot temperatures, and even Kansas feels too sweltering in summer for me.  I think I was born to be Canadian.

Today was a welcome exception.  A perfect "April showers" day:  dark and overcast, intermittently sprinkling and hovering around 65.  A soup day.

I'd been meaning to make something with a pound of dry white beans in the back of my cupboard, because we're moving (!) and I need to start using up all my excess dry goods.  Remembering to soak them ahead is kind of a pain in the ass, but it must be done.

This is kind of the spring counterpart to the fall dish I posted last September.  This one uses ham and white beans, rather than andouille and kidney beans.

Ham and Beans
2 C dry white beans, such as cannellini
baking soda
2 T butter
1/2 an onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped small
3 stalks celery, chopped small
1 ham hock OR 1/4 lb thick-sliced deli ham cut into a dice
chicken stock OR water
salt and pepper

The night before you want to make this, combine beans with water to cover and mix in a tablespoon or two of baking soda.  Leave on the counter to soak.  When you're ready to cook, drain and rinse the beans.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, celery and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.  Add a bit of salt to help them release their juice.  Add the ham and cook for another five minutes or so.  Stir in the beans.  Add enough chicken stock or water to cover.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook until beans are soft (about forty-five minutes).  If you used the ham hock, pull it out after awhile and let it cool, then shred the meat and add it back into the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

I served this with a pan of cornbread, cooked as I usually do in my cast iron skillet.  I love cooking with cast iron because it's naturally nonstick, and it imparts a little extra iron into your foods.

Both me and the little one loved this.  Everything got nice and soft so she could gum it up, and the flavors were just right.  Enjoy soup while you can!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

the time i got an $800 bag for free

Once upon a time, several years ago, Jeff and I lived happily in East Nashville.  This funky neighborhood is full of young up-and-comers and hosts a huge street fair every summer called the Tomato Festival.  Here I am at Tomato Fest 2009.  It was an unbearably hot day. 

On that very same day, I happened upon a street vendor who was selling the cutest hand-tooled suede bags.  I picked up a card and resolved to look at his etsy shop when I had a free moment.  The company was called East Nashville Upholstery, and it was basically just a guy named Emil making high-quality hand-stitched leather goods out of his house.  I needed a new bag that was durable for toting textbooks and my computer (still in graduate school at the time).  I hooked up with him and bought a grey suede bag for about eighty bucks. 

Me and my beloved bag in Melbourne, Australia.

I proceeded to use and abuse the hell out of it.  Although he had reinforced the shoulder straps, earlier this year they started to fray a bit.  I google-searched his etsy shop, but found it had closed.  Oh well, I thought, we had a good run, didn't we?  But then I saw another link on the google search page!

Turns out Emil had caught on, and was doing big things with his bag line!  Now called "Emil Erwin" (although his name is actually Emil Congdon?), these bags were a far cry from the eighty bucks I'd spent three years ago.  High-end leather and canvas tote bags, men's wallets, and more, all running anywhere from $125 to $1400.  They were for sale in Nashville and at Barney's in New York!  I browsed around for a little bit, congratulating myself on my early-adopter good taste.  Then I saw the link on his page where it says all his goods are guaranteed for life. 

On a whim, I emailed him to see if he might repair my little grey suede bag he made years ago.  He got back to me very quickly, and we proceeded to have a fairly hilarious Emil/Emily gmail exchange for the next few months.  First he asked me to send the grey suede bag to him in Nashville, where he could look at it and repair it.  After I did that,  he got back to me with a proposal.  He had just finished his holiday orders, he said, and he had an army-green canvas tote leftover from a miscommunication.  Rather than repair the grey suede bag, could he just send me the green canvas tote and call it good? 

I checked out his website again.  People, this green canvas tote costs EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS. 

So immediately I said YES SOUNDS GREAT LET'S DO THAT. 

He sent it to me without further ado.  The funny part is that, ever since I received the tote in the mail, it has been sitting in one of our dining room chairs.  I'm scared to use it.  I've never had something so expensive in my life, except a car or a degree.  It's a beautifully made product, durable and hand-crafted.  It makes me feel very chi-chi.  I cannot recommend Emil Erwin/Congdon enough, and I will definitely support his business in the future.  Just probably only with the $125 wallets.

Monday, April 2, 2012

the explosion of language

Sorry for my recent silence.  I was commenting to my brother the other day that I have many topics to write about, but I always forget to take or find corresponding photos, and everyone knows that blogs without photos are BOR-ING.  Anyway, enough with the niceties.  I have big things to discuss.

My baby turns one today!

How can it even be possible? 

That was her just a day or two after she was born. 

And that was her last week. 

The big change recently?  Aside from three (!) teeth within a week?  Language. 

Jeff and I are both exceptionally verbal people.  Our professions revolve around clear and concise communication.  We talk a lot at home.  I had no doubt in my mind that Vicki Jo would speak early and often.  She was never what one could describe as a "quiet" baby.  Lots of crying, cooing, babbling, fake-coughing, and just general noise.  She started stringing syllables together around six months.  They were nonsense, though.  There was no intent to communicate meaning through her babbles.

In the last month or two, however, mem-mem-mem-mem morphed into Ma-Ma-Ma, and da-da-da became Dad.  And she meant MaMa and Dad when she said it.  She had succeeded in identifying the two most important people in her life!  And what amazes me about looking back on it is that no one was calling me "mama."  This wasn't a super-familiar term to her.  Likewise, it wasn't like I called Jeff "dad."  Somehow she just knew that these were the words in our language for us. 

After that, our other family member was identified.  We spent a few days working on "dog," and now she pretty much has it:  duuk.  When I say "working on it," I mean just repeating the word back and forth between the two of us for hours at a time.  With some pointing interspersed. 

Sometime in there, she figured out her favorite word:  that.  As in "give me THAT (whatever she's pointing to)."  This development was prophesied by Jeff's family, who reported that he was slow to crawl and walk as a baby, preferring to talk and point to what he wanted and have it brought to him, rather than moving his body over to whatever object he fancied.  That is exactly what has been happening in our household.  It can be pretty sweet, too:  last night poor bub was experiencing a good deal of pain from the afore-mentioned teeth, and Jeff brought her into the kitchen where I was fixing dinner.  She looked and pointed at me, said "dat!", and gestured for me to hold her.  "That" was MaMa.

Along with "that" came "what."  Similar sounds, so it makes sense.  This one is still in the occasional realm.  She usually just asks when she wants to know what something is called. 

The latest rhyming pair to come about has been "up" and "stop."  "Up," with the arms lifted in the air, is the obvious cue for "pick me up!"  (Immediately followed by squirming, wriggling, and screaming to be put back down.)  "Stop" is generally when she is in pain.  That one has only come out a few times, so it's not in our regular repertoire yet.

So, seven words of which I'm quite confident she knows the meaning. 

One thing which I have never done as steadily as I wished has been reading to/with Vicki Jo.  We have lots of books, and we spend time playing with them, opening and shutting the covers.  But she has never been one to just sit there and watch while I read to her.  She wants the book.  She wants to chew it, practice turning pages. and throw it.  All of which makes me curious as to how she absorbed and connected all these words.

Language is a huge development.  The neural pathways Vicki Jo is laying now will be necessary for all her future education, formal and informal.  The fact that she is able to produce sounds, connect them with objects or emotions, and communicate wtih intent is enormously gratifying.  Now just to remember all this while she is pointing at my iPhone, saying "Dat!  Dat!  Dat! Dat!"  :)