Joel's Cottage Pie

Our family has been savoring “Shepherd’s Pies” and “Cottage Pies” ever since we first started visiting England years ago, and our son Joel has really perfected his rendition, so I’ve asked if I could share it with you today. It’s the perfect “comfort food” for a cold winter’s night!

Cottage Pie can really be a meal-in-one, although we normally serve it with some sides (such as you see here, from the last time he served it at home). Last Wednesday he made it again as his offering for a fellowship dinner with his church “life group” (prayer meeting; small group . . .) However you cut it, it’s always a hit!

Joel’s Savory Cottage Pie
(8-12 Servings)

Put a pot of salted water on to boil.
Preheat oven to 400F.

1.5 pounds of potatoes, scrubbed and cut into pieces. Boil until tender.
Brown 1 pound of ground beef in skillet.
Chop 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 4 oz mushrooms. Add to browned beef. Cook until vegetables are tender.
Add 1 cup frozen peas.
Lower heat. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to meat/vegetables, stirring until thickened.
Add:
3/4 cup beef stock (or 1 bouillon cube + 3/4 cup water)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Pinch of allspice to the meat/vegetables. Stir until combined.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mash potatoes with 2–4 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup half and half.
Put meat/vegetables in the bottom of a casserole pan. Cover completely with mashed potatoes. Use a fork to give the potatoes texture.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400°F. on top rack until the potatoes start to brown on top.

Now, the only difference between “Cottage Pie” and “Shepherds Pie” is that Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb rather than ground beef. We’ve found that ground lamb is a rarer commodity in America, so we usually make cottage pie, but if you can find ground lamb and want to be more authentically English, try it with lamb too sometime for a special occasion. Both ways taste really delicious! 🙂

Individual serving of Shepherd’s Pie on a ship cruising the North Atlantic

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). Have you listened to Handel’s Messiah yet this Christmas? We just attended it last weekend. The Messiah is a majestic, musical retelling of the story of Jesus, the great Shepherd who died for all of us and wants us to become part of his flock. How? Simply by asking. By praying something like this: “Dear Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. I know that I have sinned and need a savior. I am sorry for all the ways in which I have failed in the past—and for the times I still selfishly choose evil over good. Please forgive me, save me, and become my Lord and my Savior. Thank you for being willing to save me and make me your child. Please lead me in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Amen.”

Black and White Challenge

“Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22)

My daughter-in-law Carlie tagged me in a Facebook challenge to post seven black and white photos in seven days with no explanation or words. At the time, my life was spinning too fast to take her up on it, but tomorrow the holiday festivities begin with the first family arriving, and between now and the New Year, we have high hopes of seeing all twelve of our children (counting our in-law kids) and eighteen grandchildren except those who live in Belgium. Therefore, my life is going to be even busier . . . possibly too busy to write my blog! So, I’m thinking to have a series of seven black and white photos that depict what life has been like over the past few weeks (albeit interrupted over the weekend with my usual recipe post on Saturday and a scripture meditation on Sunday). Perhaps over the Christmas to New Year week I can post a series of color photos that relate to our holidays and the joy of family (from another popular challenge going around Facebook these days called “Grandma”).

Because my heart is to share the Lord, I’m allowing myself one scripture verse caption for each photo, but I won’t indulge in any other explanations or words. Hope you enjoy!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Christmas Coupon

Ready to savor a sweet, Hallmark-style Christmas romance?

If so, don your Hallmark tees and snuggle up on the couch for an evening of family-friendly entertainment that will warm your heart as well as your toes and leave you smiling.

Actually, although Christmas Coupon reminds me of a Hallmark movie, it’s even better, because it’s faith-based and Michigan homegrown! The movie was shot on location in the greater Detroit area, and several of the sites are special to me, such as Ward Presbyterian Church (where some of my friends attend) and Three Cedars Farm, where I’ve been many times with my daughter and her family for cider and donuts . . . and to enjoy their petting farm.

Also, I’ve become a fan of Daniel Knudson, who’s the director (and plays the role of the pastor in Christmas Coupon). Only thirty-two, this super talented and creative young man has directed or produced ten feature-length films, two of which landed in the top 50 movies on Amazon Prime! (As a sidebar, while discussing Christmas Coupon with Daniel in preparation for this blog, I discovered that he’s also shot some footage at NorthRidge Church, where my son-in-law directs the videography department! Small world! 🙂 )

Speaking of being a small world after all, Crystal Creek Media, the company behind this movie, is based in Whitmore Lake, where my kids started out their many years of singing as small children ministering at the Whitmore Lake Convalescent Center! What I didn’t know until researching for this post is that Crystal Creek Media “exists to create films with redemptive messages and assist others to do the same” . . . including a film camp, an on-line film course, and various workshops. So, if you or anyone you know is interested in the Christian film industry, be sure to check them out! http://www.crystalcreekmedia.com/

But, you probably want to know a little bit about the plot, too. Right? Well, it all starts when Alison Grant, a figure-skating champion, decides to teach skating lessons on a local pond and gets her nieces to help her spread the word by passing out coupons. What she doesn’t know is that her high school sweetheart has returned to their hometown for the holidays, and he has a niece who’d like skating lessons!

Like almost all good romances, there are quite a few swirls before getting to the happily-ever-after ending, but (also like most good romances) it’s more about the “how” and “when” than the “who ” or “why,” so no one is surprised—but everybody can be pleased—with the way the challenges are met and resolved, and nobody will stay awake all night frustrated by the ending!

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.” (Proverbs 16:20)

Choosing Joy

She had given up all hope of ever needing to make a blanket for her own baby, it had always been for a friend’s newborn. Just a few more months and she would be holding the son promised to Zachariah, her husband. The angel had appeared to him one day in the temple as he was doing his priestly duties. At first Elisabeth had almost been afraid to believe what the angel had said, yet she fervently hoped it was true.

For years she had suffered the disgrace of barrenness, which to the Jews, was always considered an indication of God’s disfavor. Despite her disappointment of not having any little one to hold in her arms, she and Zachariah had continued to faithfully serve God. Over the years, Elisabeth had learned to find her joy in her Lord, not in her circumstances.  It would have been easy to be bitter or discouraged, instead she had chosen to joyfully serve God.

Smiling again, she carefully stitching the blanket, her musings were interrupted when her cousin, Mary, greeted her as she come into the house. At the same time the baby in her womb seemed to leap for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.

Instantly Elisabeth stood up and blessed Mary, the mother of her Lord, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months. Elisabeth was one in whom Mary could confide.  Yes, her cousin did understand Mary’s fears. Day by day as they worked together Elisabeth shared her life of joyful service to God. Elisabeth’s long life of trusting God was reassuring to Mary. Elisabeth’s confidence and joy were infused into Mary’s much younger heart.

Elisabeth had learned that her joy was not dependent on circumstances, children, position or wealth but in serving God alone.

What is your response when life isn’t what you had dreamed it would be?  Have you become bitter and angry?  Or have you learned to love and trust God, to obey and serve Him with joy?  Are you able to find joy in Christ alone? Joy is often a choice, it does not always come naturally.

As we study His Word and live in obedience to it, we will understand His character more deeply and find joy in Him.  Then our joy will be contagious to those around us, encouraging them in their not so desirable circumstance or time of trial.

Have you experienced a disappointment and struggling to find joy and peace?  I encourage you to allow “… the God of hope fill you with all joy…”

If you have learned to choose joy, is there someone you can encourage like Elizabeth did Mary, who is struggling in her faith or facing a difficult time in her life?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” Romans 15:13.

© Cynthia Wedge 2017 (Cynthia has a wonderful tea shop in Grand Rapids [englishcottagetea.com ]and is also a fellow member of our Blue Water Writers Group. Cynthia writes devotionals to share with her customers at Christmas time and has graciously agreed to share a couple with me because I enjoy them so much! Thank you, Cynthia!)

A Man of Obedience

Working in his father’s carpenter shop in Nazareth, the same thoughts filled Joseph’s mind today as they had for the last three months.  Why did Mary, his future bride, leave so abruptly without letting him know?  All he knew about her disappearance was what friends and customers had said while in the shop.  When was she coming back home?  Oh how he longed to see her.

Even before their parents had made the arrangement for their marriage, Joseph had noticed Mary’s love for God, her quiet, sweet ways.  She would smile shyly when they had met occasionally.

Deep in thought, he only half listened to people as they came into the shop.  Wait. What was this he was hearing?  Did someone say “Mary”?  His Mary?  Had she finally returned?  Frozen, he listened intently?  No, it couldn’t be, not his Mary, she was not the kind to be unfaithful to their marriage agreement.  Pregnant?  NO!

Mary had been home a week.  The rumors were true.  Joseph was beside himself with grief.  No, he could not bear to think of having Mary stoned as the law allowed. He decided to quietly break the engagement.

Heartbroken, Joseph laid down to get some sleep.  Waking from a deep sleep, he sat bolt upright.  The angel had seemed so real, as if he was right in the room with him. The angel said he was to take Mary as his wife, for the baby in her womb, conceived by the Holy Spirit, was the promised Messiah and was to be called “Jesus”.  So, Mary had not been unfaithful to him.  No matter what other people may think of her or him, he knew the truth.  He would obey God and take Mary to be his wife.

On the night Mary gave birth, shepherds had come to see “the Savior, which is Christ, the Lord”.  Today, wise men from the east had visited them, worshipped the baby and given them gifts.  Sleep came quickly to Joseph this night as he lay down next to his sweet wife. Then, just as quickly, Joseph awoke. Another dream.  This time the angel said to take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt to save the baby from the sword of Herod.  Joseph woke Mary and they quickly escaped under cover of night.

Twice more Joseph was visited by the angel in a dream.  Each time he obeyed.  It hadn’t been easy moving to a strange country so far from all that was familiar.  They rejoiced when the angel had told him they could go back to Judah.  As they traveled back home, Joseph thought of all that had happened since he had first become engaged to Mary.  It was not at all what he had envisioned as a young man.

Finally, they had reached Judah. It wasn’t far now to Bethlehem.  One more dream. This time the angel instructed Joseph to go to Nazareth, not Bethlehem.  Jesus would be safer farther from Herod.

While life had taken many different turns as God had directed him, Joseph had never questioned what the angel told him.  He had not hesitated to obey no matter how strange it may have seemed or what hardship it had caused him.  He simply trusted God and obeyed.

This same immediate obedience is what God desires from each one of us.  God sent an angel to Joseph, but today we have God’s written commands.  Sometimes people say they want to know God’s will, but they aren’t obeying the plain commands in the His Word.  God expects us to obey what He has already made available to each of us.  As we do He can lead us in specific ways.  Notice God did not tell Joseph to go to Nazareth when he was told to leave Egypt, it was as he obeyed that God told Joseph a detail left out before.

Is there a command of God you have been resisting?

“When Joseph woke from sleep,
he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”
  Matthew 1:24.

© Cynthia Wedge 2017  (Thank you, Cynthia! I love the way you bring the characters to life and help us understand them as “real” people just like we are.)

Truffles: “Buckeyes” (aka Peanut Butter Balls)

Next to fudge (which I wrote about three years ago, and the recipe can be found here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/yoopers-trolls-and-fudgies-and-a-recipe-for-amazing-fudge/), the most popular Christmas candies around our home are “Buckeyes,” which are basically peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate. If you love peanut butter and chocolate . . . you’ll love these! “Buckeyes” are so named because they look like horse chestnuts (which have been nicknamed “buckeyes”),  but that’s where the similarity ends, because the real buckeyes are poisonous to humans and most animals!    However, our homemade buckeyes are 100% edible and 200% scrumptious!

Homemade Buckeye Candies
(makes 48 candies, which serves about one person . . . just kidding!)

#1. Filling: In a large mixing bowl, combine:
15 oz. jar of peanut butter
1/2 cup (4 oz) softened butter
4 oz cream cheese
6 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix everything until smooth. ( You can use a mixer or mix by hand; I mix by hand because the dough is very heavy and there’s a lot of it, so the powdered sugar tends to fly everywhere, and it takes a big mixer to be able to handle it.)

#2. Refrigerate covered (to keep it from drying out) until well chilled and pretty firm (an hour) or until you’re ready to dip the candies. (Keeping the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight is fine, and the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for days—or even frozen, although that’s not ideal.)

#3. Roll the dough into 1″ balls and place on a cookie sheet. (The cookie sheet doesn’t have to be lined with waxed paper, but it does have to be lined before you dip the chocolates, because the warm chocolates need to be set on waxed paper.)

#4. Chocolate coating: Combine in a microwavable mixing bowl
10 oz. chocolate chips melted in microwave with
2 tablespoons shortening (or coconut oil)
Microwave for 40 seconds. Take it out and stir, then place it in the microwave again for another 20 seconds and stir until it’s completely melted and smooth. Take your time. It’s critical that you don’t microwave the chips any more than you have to, so if you really need more time, only go an extra 5-10 seconds.#5. Once the chocolate and shortening have melted, dip the buckeyes one at a time by inserting a toothpick into the top center of one of the balls. Swirl it in the chocolate, leaving the very top without chocolate. Set the buckeye on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, and gently pull out the toothpick, using a fork if needed to dislodge it. You can use the same toothpick for each buckeye. If your family can resist eating them on the spot, store them in a cool place until they are completely cold. Once they are cold, they can be stored (carefully) in a container. I place them right next to each other, but I put a sheet of waxed paper between each layer so that they can be stacked into 3 or so layers. Enjoy!!

 

Buckeyes. 01.19.17.jpegAnd she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus:
for he shall save his people from their sins
” (Matthew 1:21).

Reflections on Christmas Trees by Grace Truman

Have you got your Christmas tree up yet? Traditionally, we set up a tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving and take it down when we ring in the new year. Decorating a tree is one of my favorite things about the holidays, because every ornament has a story. We have bulbs that belonged to both sets of our parents, clumsily painted ornaments made as gifts from our children during Sunday school days and as home-school projects, and gifts from friends. Our latest additions include a hand-blown glass ornament from Venice (sent by our kids who were stationed in Italy for three years) and two beaded hearts given to us over Thanksgiving by one of our grand daughters. Every Christmas tree tells a story, don’t you think?

I have a sweet friend in my writers’ group who wrote her reflections on Christmas trees, and I liked them so well that I asked permission to share them:

“DISCLAIMER: What follows are my personal preferences.  I am not implying that ‘my way’ is right and others’ preferences are wrong.  We are each free to make our own choices—hopefully in accordance with the principles of Scripture.                                                       Choose Real

“Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I was blessed to be surrounded by nature and blessed to have a father who loved both the Creator and His creation.  Following in my dad’s footsteps, I grew to love the outdoors as much as he did and spent as much time as possible outside. We didn’t have much money, but we did have five acres of property.  Huge white spruce trees grew on our land, along with numerous young trees. Every year, when Christmas drew near, we would walk around and find the best six or seven foot spruce for our Christmas tree.  This created my preference for a real tree. My husband shares this preference.

“Choosing real carries over to the rest of my life.  I love unpainted wood and things made from nature. I don’t like artificial sweeteners or flavorings, silk flowers, or anything plastic.  I choose not to dye my hair or wear makeup, although a friend says that if the barn needs painting, we should paint it.                                                  Choose Homemade

“At one of my bridal showers, my best friend gave me six Christmas tree ornaments that she made.  They still go on the tree every year. After my husband and I were married, money was tight, so I made a treetop star out of cardboard and tinfoil for our first Christmas together.  That, too, still goes on the tree every year. Through the years, we have received more handmade decorations from friends and family. There are beautiful cross stitched ornaments made over thirty years ago.  There are ornaments made by my late sister and a friend who now has dementia. There are knitted, crocheted, tatted, and penny rug decorations. The ornaments our son made in elementary school are on the tree, along with the popcorn string our family strung when he was little.  We, as a family, also made tree decorations from cinnamon and applesauce and salt dough. When I hang each ornament on the tree, I think about the person who made it. We do concede to store bought lights, though.

“Our preference for handmade shows during the whole year.  We decorate with Native American baskets, quilts, and original art.  I cook from “scratch,” using organic ingredients as much as possible.

“My husband sometimes describes people as “store bought” or “homemade.”  By that, he distinguishes between those who seem to focus on possessions and looking good, and those who care more about being genuine and loving others than their looks.

“There is a handmade magnet on my refrigerator that says, ‘Happiness is homegrown.’  I think true happiness comes from love for God and the people in our lives. One way to show that love is by the work of our hands.”

—Grace Truman

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works;
I muse on the work of thy hands”
  (Psalm 143:5).