Sunday, November 29, 2009


My sister and I thought it would be fun to make tamales for Thanksgiving this year. We had made them together once before and thought they turned out really yummy, so we decided to do a Mexican Thanksgiving.

Tamales are a difficult thing to make. It's kind of something you get better at the more you do it - like an art. Traditionally, Mexican women learn early how to make tamales for their husbands and families. They are made for special occasions, such as parties and holidays.

You start by making a chicken stock with 3-4 lbs. fresh chicken in 2.5 quarts cold water with 1 large celery rib, 1 green onion, 2 carrots, 1 yellow onion, 1 bunch cilantro stems, 4-5 garlic cloves, .5 tsp. pepper, and 1 tsp. salt. Bring all of this to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for one hour.

You will use the chicken for the chicken filling. We also put a roast in the crock-pot with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic for the beef filling. You can also do pork (which is what the classic tamale is made of), but we didn't.

The next step is to make the Red Chile Sauce. Mix 5 cups of the chicken broth; 1 lb. tomatoes, quartered; 12 oz. white onions, quartered; 6 cloves whole peeled garlic; 6 oz. dried New Mexico chiles, stemmed and seeded; one Tbsp. butter, at room temperature; 1 tsp. salt.

In a stock pot over high heat, bring the stock, tomatoes, onions, and garlic to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes.

Stir the dried chiles into the stock, making sure it covers them. Remove the pan from heat and soak chiles for 15 minutes.

When the mixture is cool, transfer it to a blender until liquefied. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the residue with the back of a ladle to extract all of the chile flavor.

In a large saucepan, reheat the sauce and stir in the butter until it is melted. Stir in the salt.

Now you are ready to add the shredded chicken to half the Mexico Red Chile sauce, .5 tsp. ground cumin, and .25 tsp. cayenne pepper. Do the same with the shredded beef.

Start soaking your corn husks, as they will need to soak in water for 20 minutes before you can use them.

You can either buy prepared masa or make it yourself by using a bag of Masa flour and a 3 lb. tub of Crisco. Mix it all together, then divide into two equal parts. To one part add 1 cup of the beef broth, and to the other half add one cup of the chicken stock. We thought the masa turned out a little too dry, so I would recommend adding more stock. The way to test the masa is to wet your fist in water and press it into the dough; the dough should leave no residue on your hands.

Here are the chicken meat mixture and the beef mixture with the masa mixture.

Next, take a corn husk and place the rough side down, away from you, so that the smoother side is facing you. Place about a quarter cup of the dough on the corn husk. Spread it out over the husk, leaving 1/2-inch borders along the sides. Spoon 1/4 cup of filling down the center of the masa.

This next part we didn't do so well. Lift the sides of the corn husk up to meet each other in the center, and gently press to seal the masa together, making a tube shape that encases the filling. The corn husk should wrap around the roll, but not be embedded in the masa or touching the filling. (We didn't do it exactly like that, but it didn't hurt anything in the outcome.) Fold the top edge of the husk over the end of the roll.

Cover the tamales with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

We put them in this roaster with a couple inches of water in the bottom and covered them with tin foil. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour.

Here is the end result with queso, refried beans, guacamole, and chips. We also served stuffed peppers, enchiladas, salsa, sour cream, and rice...

...and pies.

And the girls had to relax with their parents' laptops after a yummy meal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Proud Moment

Here are Allika and her cousin, Tea, at their ballet recital.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A List of Adventures

There are times when I think I would really like to live out in the country on a large plot of land and just enjoy life from that perspective. The last few weeks have shown me that there are some great advantages to living in a big city, though. There are so many things to do and a lot of them are free. It's been so fun spending time together doing some of those things over the past several weeks.

I am thankful to be a part of a really great home-school coop. One of the things we've done recently is go on a field trip with the rest of the group to the Science Museum. They're having an exhibit on the Titanic right now. We got to see the exhibit and the Imax film on the Titanic, and Allika loved it. She also got to experience the rest of the museum which is hands-on science. I should be honest with you here and let you know that she is not the most focused person. She takes after her mother who does not like to spend a lot of time absorbing one thing when there's so much else to see and do. Poor Van has no hope. He likes to stay at one little, tiny display until he has processed all the information there is to process and then some. Ahh! It just drives me crazy. We are not the cute, little couple walking through the museum, holding hands and discussing what we are seeing. We are the guy who gets very annoyed at the girl for being so impatient and the girl who gets very frustrated at the guy for always being about 25 exhibits behind when there are still 1,000 more things to see. It's very romantic.

Sorry my pictures are blurry. This is the science guy doing his thing. Very cool.

Allika and her friend in front of an iceberg display.

(Wow! Really blurry pictures. Apparently, I don't like standing still in front of a display long enough to take a picture either.)

Another thing we did recently was attend a free college symphony concert that was performing "Peter and the Wolf." They really tried to make it for the children, so they had an instrument "petting zoo" before hand, where the kids could play all the symphony instruments. They also had a little craft and snacks for everyone. It was very nice, and Allika really enjoyed it. The conductor was so cool with the kids. He told them he needed them to help him conduct the symphony for one song, showed them what it involved, and then stepped back and had all the kids in the audience "conduct" for him. It was so cute to see Allika get jiggy with it when the music got really loud and exciting. Van and I were laughing. She kept looking over at us and telling us to stop laughing. It was really hard.

For their performance of "Peter and the Wolf," they had their Opera professor come out and read the story while they showed pictures of it up on the screen. It really made the music come alive for Allika and helped her to appreciate all the instruments and what message they were trying to convey. I was very impressed with everything they did that night.

We also got to go to the free Christian Community Fair last week. It was fun to see all the different Christian ministries in the Twin Cities and learn about the various ways we could get involved. Of course, I wanted to volunteer for everything from mentoring victims of domestic violence to building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Van kind of has to keep me in check because I'm a little unrealistic when it comes to how many more things I can fit into my schedule. What I was really looking for was something we could all do together as a family. I did find some things, so I will be looking into them and keeping you posted.

They had a lot of fun things for the kids, so Allika got to ride a pony for the first time, catch a fish for the first time, jump on the inflatables and do the inflatable obstacle courses, enjoy the petting zoo, see a real bald eagle up close, go on a treasure hunt that she never finished, and a few other things.

Our adoption agency also put on a "Circus of the Heart" for people who are waiting to adopt or who have already adopted. It's just pretty much a big carnival. I thought it would be something that provided more information and opportunities for networking with case-workers. It was fun, though, so I'm not complaining. I always like to do fun things with the family, especially when they're free.

The last recent event I will tell you about was really neat because Allika and Van got to do it together as their date on Tuesday night while I was at school. We are really trying to help her be more outward focused during the holidays instead of just thinking about herself and all her wants. There are several things we are tying to do to accomplish that, and maybe I'll write about them sometime, but one of the things we're doing is looking for service projects we can do for those who don't have all the advantages we have during the holidays. That is why, on Tuesday night, Van and Allika were found making Christmas cards to send to the orphans who don't get any cards during Christmas. It was another event our adoption agency sponsored, and both Allika and Van really thought it was a lot of fun. Allika did find that she is more creative than Van when it comes to making cards.

Anyway, those are some of the things we've been enjoying together lately. I still wouldn't mind living out in the country someday, but until then, I can enjoy whatever I'm doing, wherever I'm doing it as long as I can spend time with my wonderful family...even going to the museum.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

I know this is the time of year we start thinking more about being thankful, and I think it's a really good idea to have an official time to focus more on all the blessings we have. It's not just a silly platitude when people say that making a list of all you have to be thankful for really changes your whole perspective on life.

One year, I made a little "Thanksgiving Tree." I just got a branch, decorated it, and tied some yarn all over it. Then, I got little pieces of paper and punched holes in them. Everyone was supposed to write down something they were thankful for and tie it to the tree. There was a catch, though. Instead of writing good things they were thankful for, they had to write about things that seemed negative at the time but turned out good in the long run. I thought it turned out really neat to read all about the hard things we had all gone through, knowing we could recognize the good in them.

That's what the verse in I Thessalonians says. It doesn't just say to give thanks; it says to give thanks in all circumstances. That is what can be really hard sometimes. It is easy to thank God for the good things, but do we thank him for the hard times also? It is in the hard times that we are strengthened and caused to grow (James 1:2-4).

In light of these things, I thought I would make a list of what I am thankful for this year, but instead of all the nice things (and there have been boat-loads of those), I thought I would write why I'm thankful for all the tough things we have been through.

1.) I am thankful for...a decrease in income due to Van's losing a part-time position...because it has freed up our schedule a little more and allowed us to be more creative in how we spend our money.

2.) I am thankful for...having ten people choose to place their fellowship with a different church after years of working together and building relationships...because it has caused us to be really introspective about who we are and why we are in the ministry; it has challenged us to be faithful; it has shown us ways that we need to improve; and it has caused us to see the potential in people we were overlooking because we were so focused on the ones we thought would stay and be the pillars.

3.) I am thankful for...being diagnosed with cancer...because it made me think about death and the legacy I wanted to leave behind; it showed me the sweetness and support of my family, church, and friends; it gave me a new perspective on what it's like to have cancer and not know what the outcome will be; and it made me appreciate what I've got even if it's not always what I want.

4.) I am thankful for...having to make some tough decisions about our daughter's emotional health...because it has helped us not to be so judgmental of other parents because we may not know everything that's going on behind the scenes; it has opened the doors to discuss some very deep truths with our daughter that most parents will not get to discuss with their children until they're much older; it has made us have to confront some of the unhealthy and untrue things that we were telling ourselves while we thought we were being perfectly rational.

5.) I am thankful for...the difficult navigation of the adoption process and that we are still waiting for that match...because there is a special child out there somewhere waiting for the love our family can give, and all the time it is taking to bring us together is just preparing our hearts for the perfect moment when the child we've been praying for becomes a part of our family.

So, whether you write a list of all the good things you're thankful for or all the not-so-good things you're thankful for, take the time to notice what God is doing in you're life. He is accomplishing great things in you, even when you may not feel so great about it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fall Festival

Every Halloween our church hosts a Fall Festival to reach out to the community and let them know we're here and we want to serve them. We have a little trunk-or-treat, where we decorate our trunks and the kids can go around and get candy out of them. We also serve food and drinks, set up one of those inflatable jumper thingys, have a drawing, and this year we had a petting zoo. I think the petting zoo was a huge hit. You know, it really got people's attention when they saw a camel in our church parking lot.

The organization and planning of it is a lot of work, so I have been busy for the last few weeks with that and everything else going on. That's my excuse for neglecting you anyway. Sorry.

Here are some pictures for you to enjoy.

Allika holding the guinea pig

Allika and the "scary" gorilla (a.k.a Van)

Allika and her cousin sat in the trunk and handed out candy with their puppets. So cute!

Allika and the llama or camel (not sure which)

The kangaroo

Some of the kids holding some of the animals

The camel

The trunk that won the prize for "Best Trunk."

My sister and neice

Van the man

Our little lion

The costume that won "Best costume."

We did a Noah's Ark theme, so that was fun. We tried to dress up as animals and decorate our trunks with that in mind.

It was fun while it lasted, but glad it's over.