We started the new year with one of my eating no-nos – pork. There is probably enough research in the whole world that suggests that there are a few problematic things about eating a lot of pork even if there are a few benefits. We eat as little pork as possible, and it is difficult because it’s so darn tasty especially in smokey, cured, raw ham-laden Europe.

But every now and then I make an exception especially when I find a recipe that looks as great as this one. Confections of a Foodie Bride is one of my regular blog reads – I love her recipes but don’t cook them often as the ingredients can be hard to find in Europe, and I’m not a baker. I couldn’t resist this one for the ingredients, but also because I’ve never brined anything. It is always fantastic to learn something new about cooking.

Her secret to tender pork chops is a 24-hour brine in molasses, water, salt, pepper and rosemary, and it works. The meat was soft and tasty. The sauce is also a real winner. I followed the recipe carefully, so I don’t have any cooking notes today. I paired the pork chops with a creamy polenta that turned out to be a bit of a disaster. I have rarely cooked polenta and forgot that it really does thicken at the end. I thought there was too much liquid and started adding more polenta after the first part had already cooked – BAD idea. It was still salvageable at the end, but I’ll be doing that a bit differently in the future.

Salads are not my “thing,” and I’ve never understood people who can eat a salad for lunch or dinner and have enough energy to live for the next few hours. If I make a salad for us at home, it’s generally just a leaf that I like – spinach, rocket or watercress – with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. I break out the cherry tomatoes if I’m feeling generous. But veggies are a favourite of mine, and I enjoy doing creative things with them with the right inspiration.

When I lived in Ukraine for three months, I was introduced to the world of beets. They were everywhere, the gigantic, sandy orbs of brown that after boiling in a pot, bled the most red juice imaginable.  After a bit of research, I also found out that beets are one of the best kinds of veggies out there – a superfood, whatever that means. It is full of antioxidants, B vitamins and other goodies, and it is so naturally filled with flavour. Ukrainians primarily ate beets in salads, so I started making one of them while I was there. Since then, I usually boil the beet, peel it, slice, add salt and pepper and eat.

I had to take a salad to a dinner a few nights ago though, and went hunting for a salad recipe that looked interesting because, as previously mentioned, I don’t really “do” salads. This warm salad recipe from Taste looked great, and after a few modifications, I loved it. It was very easy to prepare, all that needs to be remembered is to put the beets in the oven 45 minutes to an hour before you want to start making the salad.

  • Warm Beetroot Salad I followed the recipe unless I didn’t have an ingredient. So I used real beets instead of baby beets, and spinach instead of the silverbeet. Roast the beets in a hot oven for as long as it takes for them to cook, remove, peel and cut into manageable pieces (I did squares).  Chop walnuts – I used pecans because it’s what I had – and toss in a pan with chopped garlic and olive oil. Don’t let anything burn, the point is to let the garlic infuse with the oil and for the nuts to get the flavour as well. Turn off the fire and toss the spinach leaves in there as well but do this QUICKLY because you don’t want the leaves to wilt. They should be in there enough to get warm but removed before they really “cook.” Toss with the chopped beets, crumble feta cheese on top and add a bit of red wine vinegar to finish.

It is probably a bad sign that my first blog entry for 2011 is two weeks into the new year and about last year. Oh well. Christmas anticipation was not usually a part of my life, and 2010 will always be special for me in that it was the first year that I meditated on Jesus’ birth, planned for Christmas and found ways to make it special for myself and Husband.

Our plan was always to have a special Christmas Day of our own even though for 2010 and 2011 at least we spent and will spend the 25th with our respective families. We wanted to start our own traditions now, so that our children will always have our family traditions to embrace and enjoy, not just the ones that their grandparents started.

It’s a short story in some ways – December 19 was one of the most special days of the year for me and easily one of my favourite ones of our married life. It was quiet, peaceful, tasty, fun, sacred and surprising. We began the day with a Christmas brunch of breakfast casserole (an ode to America) and pear and almond meal tarts.

Everything for the day was easy to prepare, and I think the sorts of food that our children could help us prepare as well. Husband took care of our afternoon spread of appetizers – our homage to Europe.

We finished off the night with a roast dinner (photo at the very top). This was the meal I put the most amount of thought into. I picked lamb because we want to connect Christmas and Easter for our kids from the very beginning. We want them to understand that these aren’t two separate occasions, one that has lots of fun things, the other just a weekend. The idea – for now, who really knows in the long run – is to have a roasted leg of lamb twice a year, on Christmas Day and on Easter.

With the lamb, which was amazing, we had mashed potatoes, roast sweet potatoes and roasted green beans.

  • Roast Leg of Lamb I did most of what was suggested in the comments section of this recipe – added balsamic vinegar to the marinade, roasted it at slightly lower temperatures, and if I had a rack on which to put the meat in the pan, I would have done that as well. I took the drippings and used it as a gravy.
  • Roasted Green Beans I followed the recipe pretty much to a T. Confections of a Foodie Bride is one of my all-time favourite food blogs.
  • Mashed potatoes I wish I had followed a recipe because I wasn’t thrilled by how these turned out, a bit too gluey in texture (I added butter, cream and salt), and it’s possible that I didn’t pay enough attention to what kind of potatoes they were as well.
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes chop, coat in olive oil and salt and sprinkle chopped rosemary over the top. Bake until cooked at a medium high temperature.
  • Pear and Almond Meal Tarts my mother made these for Christmas brunch a few years ago, and it was out of a cook book by this New Zealand woman, and I can’t find it now. This recipe is kind of from memory and also a bit from this recipe online.  Preheat oven to a medium heat, roll out some puff pastry and cut into circles (I used an upside down saucer). Mix almond meal with apple juice – I apologize for the lack of specific quantities, I just estimated based on the puff pastry that I had. You want the mixture to be firm but also a bit damp. Spread on the puff pastry leaving a centimeter or a bit more of edge all the way around. Slice the pears finely and arrange in a fan on top of the almond meal. Melt honey on the stove and brush on the pears. Put in the oven to bake. It’s done when the puff pastry is cooked and the pears are golden. Melt a bit of apricot jam on the stove and brush on the pears to finish.

Peace makes me think of relaxation, calm, a wide open space and harmony. When I want to be “at peace,” typically that means an escape involving travel, alone time or a quiet nook in a cafe.

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, promises the Prince of Peace.  I do not give as the world gives. I am always searching for my completion, my peace, in what someone else offers – a soothing candle, exercise and diet, relationships, social media and entertainment.

My peace I give to you. If peace is something that he gives, if he is peace, then peace is wholeness and completion, something that only comes with the presence of the Prince of Peace in our lives. Peace is not the escape from our circumstances, but it is the embrace of someone, him.

He gives himself as our peace, and he asks me to surrender to his peace.

This week’s advent meal happened by accident, and turned out to be a dual effort by Husband and I. Lentils have been on my mind more and more as a good source of protein instead of relying constantly on red meat, and I love lentils in almost anything. There is something complete, hearty and nourishing about this humble…I don’t know what it is. Vegetable? Grain? Pulse? Last weekend I tried making Sri Lankan dahl for the first time in my life. It turned out well, so well that I wanted to eat it again on Monday as my advent food.

I made a big pot of it, and when I returned after eight in the evening, Husband already had a portion of it. But he re-invented it per German standards. It turns out that his grandmother used to make a lentil dish almost exactly like this particular pot of what I thought was Sri Lankan dahl, only the German version has sausage and – promise – red wine vinegar. Very strange to think of vinegar in dahl, yes? It soothed my taste buds and satisfied my hunger.

  • Gerlankan Dahl sautee in oil chopped onion, crushed garlic and finely chopped ginger. Add a few cinnamon sticks, some cumin powder and a bit of garam masala and keep sauteeing. After a minute or two add red lentils. Fry for another minute or so then add water. It is hard for me to know how much water to add – I started with double the amount, but  as it soaked up the liquid, I added more. After the lentils are cooked and it’s a good consistency, chop some sausage into it (the better quality the sausage, the better it will be; we had the cheapest kind of smoked sausage available and it was still good). Add red wine vinegar at the end – go easy, add bit by by and taste as you go.