Monday, September 1

Power Walking & Peppers

You know those power walking, arm swinging, phone squawking ladies around your neighborhood sidewalks? That’s me.

I’m dying to run, but I just can’t do it yet. My brain is ready for it (boy is my brain ever ready for it), but my leg just isn’t. So I’m walking instead. I go on long walks while talking to my girlfriends on the phone about work irritations and boys. It distracts me from my limitations, rejuvenates me with intentional catch-up time and yeah may slightly annoy fellow walkers briefly, too. Oops. Healing is hard and I haven't been entirely gracious (sorry, Ben). I’m thankful to have found a little peace in power walking.

Wildflowers seen on a walk with a friend
I battled in a similar way with a stuffed pepper recipe I made last week. I was ready to pass by a recipe I found online because of a long history of stuffed pepper failure: charred peppers, raw peppers, greasy filling, you name it. But this time I gathered my patience and gave it a whirl. And you know what? It worked.

The filling is a throw-whatever-you-have-in style, which I love. My version was loaded with red onion, zucchini, sun sugar tomatoes and kale. I bet it would be easy to do a Greek or southwest spin, too. All the veggies are tossed together with a boatload of quinoa, then piled in to the peppers. I cooked mine quinoa in chicken broth—a small move which amplified the stuffing flavor astronomically.

Raw filling
Cooked filling (pre-qunioa)
I roasted my peppers for 20 minutes pre-filling, then stuffed and baked for another 10. I finished them with a little feta cheese and breadcrumbs and tossed ‘em under the broiler for a minute or two for some crunch. And past failures be damned, my peppers turned out great. So great Ben requested the same meal two nights later when we had friends over for dinner. So great they too liked it and cleaned their plates—or else they’re just polite liars.

Honestly, I’d be surprised if these peppers won’t become somewhat of a staple around this kitchen of ours. And who knew it? I almost poo-poo’ed the idea of stuffed peppers all together. And you know what else? I’m thinking my power walks I once loathed but learned to love with the addition of good conversation might stay in regular rotation, too. Even when I’m back to my limitless ways of running wildly around town again, I think I stumbled upon a new habit I’m grateful for.

Simple Stuffed Peppers
All filled, waiting for cheese

Adapted from Food Network recipe found here.

4 small red bell peppers
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
1 small zucchini diced
¼ a red onion diced
1 handful cherry tomatoes cut in fourths
1 handful kale, stem removed and finely chopped
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
½ tablespoon minced garlic
salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano and cilantro (if you like it)

1. Cut the tops off the bell peppers, pull out the membrane and slice them in half vertically to create small open cups. Drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes—cut side down.
2. Cook quinoa in chicken broth to directions on package (bring 2 cups liquid to a boil, stir in quinoa and simmer, covered, for 12 minutes. Let it rest off the heat while covered for 15 minutes).
3. In a large saucepan, sauté onions, garlic and zucchini. After 2-3 minutes add the tomatoes and kale. Add the quinoa and season with herbs/spices to your liking.
4. Turn oven temp down to 350. Fill each pepper with quinoa/veggie mixture, top with feta cheese and breadcrumbs and bake for 10 minutes. Then stick them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese and breadcrumbs turn golden brown.

Friday, August 29

Mr. and Mrs. T.

Three bananas foster cupcakes. Those leftover wedding treats brought over by Andy and Ashley are all that’s left from their wedding last weekend. Sure, somewhere in this apartment there are two can koozies with their name and wedding date on ‘em, but I don’t even have a photo of us with the bride and groom for cryin’ out sideways.

Watching our two buddies commit their lives to each other was too beautiful to witness from behind the screen of a camera. Plus I had to focus on controlling my emotional wedding weeping that has plagued me at every wedding since Chelsea’s. Talk about cryin’ sideways. Even their reception was too full of dancing, laughing, drinking and chatting to remember to take home the flowers gifted to me by Ashley’s mom.

I was too busy sing/yelling Backstreet Boys lyrics on the dance floor with Ashley and her girlfriends who have become my girlfriends, too. Ben, Andy and their Troy gang were too busy busting out dance moves that would put Usher to shame—plus a few booze-induced moves that Usher would just find downright shameful…sorry fellas.

By now my emotions have simmered and the lines my shoes temporarily tattooed onto my feet have faded. Yeah, we’ve got the cupcakes, but we don’t need any material reminders of how awesome their big day was. Andy and Ashley are the kind of fun-loving couple that live in constant celebration of the good in life—and Ben and I can’t wait to continue the party with them.

Sunday, August 17

Grand Religion

Grand Rapids may be well known for its breweries, but out in the 'burbs where we live it's much less about beer and much more about Jesus. I read somewhere that Grand Rapids has the most churches per capita—that's a truth to believe in.

Ben and I were joking once while driving through town that Grand Rapids can take any building and make it into a church. It was silly at first, but the funniest thing was that every example we traded was a true one.

“Grand Rapids loves their churches so much they can turn a gym into one.”

Right near our apartment was an old school turned gym with a workout facility, indoor rock climbing wall and pool. Now, it's a church. You think the pastor preaches while suspended from carabiners and cords?

“Oh yeah? Well Grand Rapids loves their churches so much they can turn a drive-in movie theater into one.”

This is my favorite. There's an old drive-in theater parking lot tucked off Brenton and 28th Street that long ago was converted into a church. Attendants drive up, tune their radios to the right station and listen to the sermon in their car while the pastor delivers it under a sheltered awning a few yards away.

“Psh, who cares about the drive-in theater church when there's a grocery store church!”

No joke. What was once an old Kroger grocery store is now some sort of weekend church. “Baptism in aisle 7.”

And of course there are all the new construction churches dotting the city every corner you turn. I'll tell you what, it may seem like overkill but it sure makes my Sunday morning errands a breeze. But wait... do you think those old-Kroger-now-church attendants are picking up their pantry needs while getting their praise on? Man, that would be multi-tasking worth worshiping.

Tuesday, August 5

Let There Be Cake

...and salads and cheese trays and dips by the dozens. And mushroom turnovers, mozzarella sticks and a platter of salami. And meatballs, hummus and Mexican bean dip. Plus beer, wine, iced tea and a Mai Tai punch that accidentally turned out blue. And cake.

Two big, glorious cakes. One for the guy I've happily agreed to live the rest of my life with, and one for me.

This was the scene at the beautiful family engagement party my mom threw for us last weekend. My grandparent's condo clubhouse was full of food, extended family, beautiful flowers and a lot of fun. Fun like watching my brother, who takes after my dad in his ability to befriend any living or non-living organism, re-tell the story of the passed out drunk man he found in a hospital elevator while at work last week. Fun like hearing aunts and cousins tell us they have trips planned to Grand Rapids soon and that we'd meet up on our side of the state soon. Fun like seeing all the people we love in a room together, without a moment of silence among them. Our party was truly filled with a lot of love.

And it was filled with a temporary power outage when a particularly nasty storm rolled through. And the sound of my 93-year-old great uncle's throat clear so forceful it could have knocked out the power again. And my great aunt's high-pitched husband-call aimed at getting uncle Manny to step away from the strudel plate after one too many trips there. And Ben's grandma reuniting with another great aunt of mine, who she graduated from high school with. And Ben's aunt and my cousin—two ladies who are truly cut from the same cloth—becoming newly fast friends.

It's hard not to feel the love when every group we chatted with was happy and excited and eager to hear what we were up to. And with everyone's quirks—my grandma's infectious excitement, Ben's great uncle Bert threatening my dad and uncle Manny in strudel consumption, my mom fluttering around like a relaxed/effortless host when she spent so very much effort organizing this whole thing—it's hard not to fill up on all that love and still have room for cake.

Somehow, Ben and I managed.

Monday, August 4

The Queen of RICE

Next year I hope to celebrate my work anniversary with a little less of a bang.

On my one-year anniversary two Tuesdays ago I was in a rental van with coworkers headed to a cross-state meeting when we were rear ended on the freeway. Quite intensely. Everyone is fine; bruised and sore, but fine. I was in the back so I’m extra bruised and sore—but also fine.

Because of the bruising and soreness (a.k.a. a muscle contusion), I’ve spent the last two weeks getting my RICE on.

How much have I been RICE’ing? I’m resting so much Ben hasn’t gotten a seat on the couch since mid-July. I’ve been icing so intently that I found a thawed package of peas hidden on the floor under a bath towel. I’ve compressed my way through three rolls of athletic tape and made an embarrassing purchase of three more rolls at MC Sports last week. I’ve elevated my left leg high enough perform as a Radio City Rockette.

I’m limping a lot, fighting an injured calf muscle that just wants to rest when so much of my daily movement calls on it to work. There are good days where I joke about hooking one of my crutches (from the med center) to the ceiling fan, holding on and going for a spin. There are bad days where I hobble home from work, pass out from exhaustion and wake up only to eat a slice of pizza and pass out again.

In two more weeks I’ll heal to a point where it seems like this never happened. Until then—Ben, can you pass me the remote and refill my water bottle, please? It'll be another four weeks until he heals from hearing that phrase every hour.