Monday, April 14, 2014

Chelsea Winter's Summer Chicken Salad

Somehow, no matter how much you love cooking, when you have to do it every night for 6 people, who may or may not be indifferent to what you cook, the sheer love of creating something beautiful goes out of it sometimes.

Some nights it's just pure survival. Whatever you have planned for dinner, you just do it, get it into their tummies and move on to the next thing. When you have sports and school meetings and homework and early bedtimes, cooking up something fancy and beautiful just isn't high on the priority list.

But even the busiest of families get tired of eating the same things week after week. 
I still hate chops (lamb chops that is), because it was the staple meal that my mother used to cook for us growing up in a busy house. 
I think my kids are going to hate rice, sausages and chicken nibbles. They are my stand by. 

So when, after watching Chelsea Winter win Master Chef NZ in 2012, I went out and bought her book, I honestly didn't expect to find so many amazing recipes in there that I could use on a weekly basis. My shelves are full of celebrity chef cookbooks, and after trying a few they usually sit there gathering dust because they're either too complicated or the ingredients are hard to find.

But not so with Chelsea's book. In a week where I had a mental block for any inspiration on meal ideas - I was going around the family and asking them for their favourites, and just about all of them said 'nacho's' (seriously? again?), and in desperation I pulled down Chelsea's book from the shelf and decided to do one every night for the entire week.

And all of them have been a hit, not only with me, but with all the family as well. I need to crank out a meal in about 30 minutes prep time or less, or I don't even bother with the recipe unless I'm entertaining or preparing for a special celebration. And every one of Chelsea's recipes that I tried, met that deadline, and yet were beautiful to look at and delicious - several great big steps up from the 'old standbys'. From her Buffalo Chicken Nibbles to the Prosciutto, mozzarella and basil pizza, to the Easy Butter Chicken (and the best I've ever made), and the Snapper with butternut puree, we have not been let down. I've made these multiple times already and always, always the kids and my husband ask for it again. But so far, the one recipe that takes the Blue Ribbon Prize for us, and my merry band of critical eaters is by far the Summer Chicken Salad. The herb and feta dressing is to die-for! I kid you not - I could lick it out of the blender - only my husband usually beats me to it.

We have been having some really hot, humid weather here in the Bay of Plenty this summer, and this meal just makes it all feel better - it's light, healthy and very, very good. And after asking Chelsea's permission, she has said I can share the recipe with you. This is from her book At My Table.

Thank you Chelsea, for being so awesome, and so generous to let me share it. You can find Chelsea on Facebook here, and her website is here, where she has lots more recipes available.

Chelsea Winter's Summer Chicken Salad

Herb and Feta Dressing
2 tbsp mayonnaise or aioli
1/4 cup feta
2 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp honey

olive oil for cooking
2 large boneless chicken breasts
1 tsp paprika

1-2 cups mixed salad leaves, tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup ripe cherry tomatoes
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cob cooked sweetcorn, kernels cut off
1 avocado
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
handful crispy noodles

Preheat oven to 220degC.
To make dressing, process all the ingredients in a food processor. Taste and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and add more honey or lemon juice to taste.

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the paprika on one side. Cook, skin side down, for a few minutes until golden and crispy. Turn over and cook for another minute or two.

Transfer to a baking dish and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes depending on the size of the breast. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly.

Arrange the salad ingredients on a plate, top with the chicken and drizzle the dressing over.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Perfect is Boring

Sometimes I think the words Perfection and Fear should go hand in hand.

There's a revolution happening among some of my friends. There's a revolution happening with me. Years ago we were involved with a christian organisation that taught that if you made the right choices in every area of your life, you would gain true success in life. Success in marriage, career, family, finances, that it would even make you closer to God, favoured by God.

But I've been learning these last few months that the mirage of a perfect person and a perfect life is as fragile and hallucinogenic as shifting sands. It's there right before you, within your grasp, shimmering and beguiling and always, always out of reach.
And I don't believe God ever intended it to be that way for any of us.

Photo Source

Because life is not really perfect, is it?

I don't have to be perfect to be happy.
My life doesn't have to be perfect to be fulfilled.
I don't have to make perfect choices to be successful.

We've all been there. We're afraid to make the wrong choices. We're afraid to anger God. We're afraid to spoil our reputation. We're afraid that someone might say, "she's complicated" or "she has issues" or "needy."

Ugly words. Words with stigma.

Ok, so I'm not deliberately going to go out there and make a mess of my life, and deliberately choose the wrong choice, just so I can get life experience. No! God forbid!
I don't think anyone chooses to be knocked down, or in difficulties. No. What I'm saying is that sometimes, even with the best of intentions we're going to do the wrong thing. But it's the lesson learned that counts, and it's what we do with that lesson.

We want to appear perfect. We want everyone to think we have it all together.
Our perfect Christmas cards, our perfect hair. Our perfect figure. Our perfect homes. Our perfect, prestigious job. Our perfect lives. Our perfect choices. We want to show the world that we are successful, and that success has come to us because we made the right choices about everything.

In the christian world, these issues of perfection are even more exacerbated. In the church, where, of all places, it shouldn't be prevalent. We go to God because we know we're not perfect. He is our safe place. He's always there for us when we make the wrong choice, and we realise all over again our vulnerability, our failure, our humanness.

Nobody can achieve perfection. Nobody.
We all have something to cope with in life.... our own cross to bear, because life is not perfect, and it never will be. Sometimes these bad things come to us through no fault of our own, but sometimes you have to accept that you are going to make wrong choices, you are going to make mistakes, you are going to be foolish. But from that comes beauty and an interesting life, a person with depth and courage and wisdom.

Photo Source
If you could go back to your childhood self, what would you say? What advice would you give, knowing that whatever you said would stay with you through to your adult years?

I would like to go back and tell myself that it's ok to make the wrong choice sometimes.
That from the wrong choice would come Wisdom. Experience. Personal growth.

Trying to achieve perfection without the lessons along the way is fruitless and will probably end you up in therapy.

The richness of life, the value of lessons learned comes through sometimes getting it wrong. We shouldn't be afraid to be wrong. To be a fool.

Perfect is Boring.

photo credit: bobrayner via photopin cc
photo credit: peasap via photopin cc

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Frivolous Fancy

This morning I went shopping.
I needed two things... sunglasses (because I just broke my good pair), and a gift for a friend in America. That was it. Just two things.

But on the way to my destination I  passed a most tempting shop, and there in the window as I swept by, my eye catches a glimpse of a beautiful red bag. A travel bag. I slow my walking pace. I pause. I turn. I hesitate. It looks so stylish. I imagine myself boarding the flight for New Caledonia later this year.... and now there is no resisting. I retrace my steps, enter the shop. Pick it up. And it's mine

Bags are my obsessive compulsive disorder.

Truth be told, I find it extremely difficult to pass over anything that is red.

Bags are my retail weakness.
I know (don't deny it), that every woman has a retail weakness. Something you find it really hard to pass up, even if you don't need it. What is yours?

The most popular are shoes.
I have a friend who can't stop buying bras.
Nail Polish.

My retail obsessive compulsive disorder is bags.
I know that my husband is going to read this blog post sometime today while he is at work, and he will be rolling his eyes right now!

I can't help buying bags.  This is my current everyday handbag. It was my Christmas gift to myself. It has lasted 3 months so far - which is pretty good for me.

This was my favourite bag ever.... until the strap broke.

I have beach bags....

And American brand bags....

And little bags.... (a coin purse is a bag right)?

And waterproof bags....

Bags are my retail therapy weakness.

What is yours?

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Flower of A Generation

When I watch this video clip, my heart is full. Full of the hope and promise of our generation. But I want to reach down into it and pull myself out. I want to reach back into the past and clasp my hand and running, take me far, far away from here. There is beauty in this clip, and there is pain. It is not only my pain, but the pain of many, many others, built on over the passing of many, many years.

I am in this choir. The year was 1993.  As you watch this, look at all the faces. These are the familiar faces of many of my old friends. Young women and young men who I knew and who I lived with and worked with.

"Name after name, which I cannot read, and which we who are older than you cannot hear without emotion; names which will be only names to you..... but which to us summon up face after face, full of honesty and goodness, zeal and vigour, and intellectual promise; the flower of a generation..."
Chariots of Fire

Full of honesty and goodness, zeal and vigour, and intellectual promise; the flower of a generation....

The christian organisation we sing with here was the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a ministry whose mission statement was to "give the world a new approach to life." We young people were the hope of the future. We were the guinea-pigs. We were going to carry God's commandments and blessing to the world, to the next generation.

But for many of us, the reality became something very different. Now, twenty years later, we are re-uniting on different ground. The internet has brought us back together again, now as adults, along with the slow, chilling awakening that what we were involved with back then would ultimately be detrimental to many of us, to our health and our relationships and our families and our lives and our spiritual growth. We are sharing our lives, sharing our stories. We are pouring our hearts and our pain out to each other, and it is bringing healing and laughter and friendship and joy.

There has been much in the, mostly American news, about the resignation of our old friend, and spiritual mentor, Bill Gothard. As we read and talk with each other, and as we process it all, the unique bonds we shared back then are rebuilding - but this time rebuilding on truth, and a joy that comes in hearing of an old friend who is now 'out' of the cult. They are free. We are free to celebrate together. To cry together over our pain. To comfort each other over our hurts and our pain and our disillusionment.
We who shared this rich, and promising history are finding the true blessing of God in finding freedom.

This moment of time in our youth when our eyes were closed to the truth, but not to God.
When our hearts were bound up by rules and fear and deceit,
When the God we loved became the God we feared,
When service to God became service to a man,
When wickedness prevailed behind closed doors.

The doors have been opened, the light is dawning, and the darkness is leaving. There are scars, and many of them run deep. Some are healing over, but some never will.
Changing a mindset and indoctrination is not something that can be done quickly or lightly. Everyone is on their own personal journey, many having to strip away everything we knew and start again. Finding our way back to the true God. Back to His unconditional grace, that was there all the time, but we couldn't find it.

As we lay those burdens down, we are learning to find the beauty in the ashes.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Grey Gardens

Every week I get a couple of movies from the rental shop, and I watch them while I do my ironing.

It makes ironing interesting at least, and worth sitting over a steaming, hot board in the middle of summer.

For many years I have been fascinated by the American Kennedy family. I've read biography after biography about them, and that has only served to increase my fascination with this complicated, mysterious, flawed, powerful family.

Somehow I stumbled upon the movie, Grey Gardens, a true story portraying the Aunt and first cousin of Jackie O. Big Edie and Little Edie (Bouvier) Beale. Mother and daughter. Their house. Their lives. The strange inter-dependent relationship they shared, the control of the mother over the daughter. It is a strange and sad tale, and interwoven with that is the decline of this beautiful East Hampton home and the filth that these two women eventually found themselves living among. Many have written about it and a documentary was made in the 1970's.

Having gone from opulence, parties, beautiful clothing, servants and popularity to an overgrown garden that penetrates the walls of the house, to animals roaming free, to piles of excrement and rubbish.

It almost became too sad for me to continue watching. I wanted to shout at Little Edie and tell her to go, go, go, and not look back. I think partly, my pain at watching this movie came too close on the heels for me of my own experiences with a christian cult, and my newly awakened understanding of narcissism. In Big Edie, I can see those same traits of power and control and influence over a life. I have seen this firsthand and I have friends who are in relationships like this. It is an evil thing. In many ways, one of the most evil things that a human being can wield over another.

Yes, I want to shout 'Run Little Edie. Run for your life!'

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Lunchbox Games

Well, it has been awhile since I posted a blog post. What a whirlwind start to 2014 it has been for me.

Before the children went back to school I wanted to get things organised at home to make things run smoothly. I have plans to write all day long in between school trips and classroom mother help this year, so the house has to be in order, because I just don't like housework, really, and if there are things that will make it easier, then count me in!

One of the things I really wanted to take off my 'to do' list was the school lunches. Not only did I wash and fill the lunch boxes, but I also noticed that I was having to run to the grocery store every few days to top up the food.

When my friend Christine told me her secret tip that she used with her children, I fell in love with it. It's one of those ideas that you just know is going to work. And it is!

We have this system up and running. Some of my children, mostly the girls, love it. They rush in the door when they get home, wash out their lunch boxes in the sink of hot, soapy water and then make their lunches.

The boys…. well, it takes a bit of jogging them along, but they do it too, and this idea puts the control back in their hands, plus, they learn how to plan ahead.

So, you want to know what the idea is?

This is how I do it.

I went out and bought each child a large snap lock container. I bought pretty stickers and named all the containers. Initially, I bought open trays, but then as someone pointed out to me, it might end up being too tempting for one of the dear darlings to steal food from another of the dear darlings….. so snap locked boxes it was.

Then I went grocery shopping and bought 4 packets of mellow puff biscuits, 4 packets of muesli bars, 4 packets of dried apricots, 4 boxes of fresh grapes… you get the idea.

They each get their own packet of food - enough to last the 5 school days. You should have seen Teddy's eyes when he saw a whole box of mellow puffs, all to himself! And a whole box of crackers!

They have to decide how many items, and what they want in their lunches, if they want to eat the whole packet of mellow puffs today or spread it out over a week. Then they make their own sandwiches. No more wasted food. No more moaning because they don't like something. And I think it's helping the grocery bill as well, because I'm not having to restock halfway through the week.

This is such a fun idea. The kids love it and I do too!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Getting Back To Reality

Today is the last day of our holiday. Three weeks at the family bach has gone by so fast. Some weeks feel like a blink when I look back on them.

So my thoughts are now turning to the new year and getting back into the routines and what we want to accomplish this year as a family.

High on the list is the building of our new home. So many things have to come together for that to even start. Council consent for one thing! Finances, builder, agreeing to quotes and contracts. I feel as though I am much more involved with this build than I have been with the houses we have built in the past. Firstly, because I am intending to do all the interior decorating design myself, just to save a few dollars.
I can do this. I once did an interior decorating course, and it has been an interest of mine since high school days, but it often feels like an overwhelming task, which is why I've always had someone else do it. But this time I want it to be all my ideas.

I also need to set in place some fairly robust routines at home, not only for myself now that I will be working from home, but for the children. I've been thinking about this a lot during the holiday and how we can make things run smoother at home.

For us that means menu plans, designated homework times, specific chores, limited device access and set bed and wake times. I'm sure it's the same no matter how many children you have in a household, but last year I found it slightly chaotic trying to get four children out the door each morning.

I stumbled upon this website during the holidays. It looks like a great resource for helping busy mums and busy households.

We have about a week before the children go back to school. And I'm looking forward to getting started on the year and implementing new ideas so the home can run smoothly.

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