Friday, October 30, 2015

Good-bye Halloween, Hello Christmas!

Well, it's the end of October, so that means Halloween...right? Wrong! It means Christmas! Yes, we'll get Chloe all dressed up as Elsa tomorrow night and take her trick or treating around the neighborhood and gobble up a few pounds of candy in the process. But then, when that's done, we can get on with the good stuff!


Yes, as Halloween goes whizzing past we officially get the green light to start putting up trees and lights and elfs-on-shelfs, and even to start cranking up the Christmas music playlist in the car!

I know, some of you feel passionately that November 1 is WAY too soon to move into Christmas mode, but to each his own, right? And for me, that means Jesus really IS the reason for the season--which includes Thanksgiving and Christmas and everything in between!

And what could possibly be a more appropriate and proper to kick off to this year's Christmas season than Barney the Pug spreading a little Christmas cheer while he sheds on one of Colette's new Isaiah 9:6-themed Christmas throw pillows!!

So as you get into the holiday swing, feel free to browse & shop the whole pillow set!

And whether it's early or just in time, a very Merry Christmas, to all!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Super Scrumptious Baked Fontina
Anyone who knows Colette knows that, among her many talents, she is a superb and creative chef. Delictable smells from her culinary creations fill our home and spoil the kids and me daily. But cooking is hard work, especially when feeding our hungry crew! And so I like to give Colette a break from the kitchen sometimes by turning the tables and cooking for and serving her, while she kicks her feet up and relaxes with spa candles and a glass of vino.

Now, at the risk of stating the obvious, my chefly skills are pretty amateurish compared with Colette's, but I do have a couple things I'm pretty good at making and which Colette really enjoys. I'm probably best at homemade pizza, and maybe that's worth another blog post someday. But right now I'd like to describe how just about anyone can make a delicious baked fontina--a dish (actually, probably more of an appetizer/dish) whose WOW! taste will pleasantly surprise when you see just how simple it actually is to make.

The recipe I use is from Food Network chef Ina Garten (i.e., Barefoot Contessa). It's a recipe that Colette discovered and made for us a few years ago, and was such a hit that I now make it every so often for the two of us to enjoy together.

Of course, you can always read and follow the original recipe directions (it's pretty straightforward), but I thought it might be helpful to some to describe in my own words how I make it.

The shopping list for this dish is pretty straightforward, but I can't stress enough how important it is to spend a little extra and go with the freshest stuff you can get for this--it really does make a worthwhile difference in the end product! I buy the necessary ingredients from our local Wegmans grocery store because their bakery is amazing and their cheeses and produce are excellent and fresh...(And speaking of the Wegmans bakery, try their fresh bagels if you can--they are unbelivable!)

So here's what you'll need:
  • 1 & 1/2 pounds of Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta cheese. I'm not a cheese expert by any stretch, but I've learned over the years from Colette (who IS a cheese expert) that cheeses are definitely NOT all created equal! So make sure you get the right cheese and ask if you need to. In the case of this cheese the name will be spelled just like it's written here: "Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta." You may need to go to a higher-end grocery store to find this cheese. At Wegmans the Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta comes in hand-wrapped chunks of approximately 1/2 lb each, so I usually end up getting 3 of these.
  • 1/4 cup of good olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves. Maybe I'm the only one who needed to look this up to be certain, but just in case I'm not--look here for a crystal clear description of exactly what a garlic CLOVE is. As you can easily imagine, a misunderstanding about garlic anatomy could give your dish an unexpected and near-toxic punch!
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves. You can use pre-packaged thyme if you want, but I think it makes a difference and is worth the effort to buy fresh thyme leaves and mince/cut them by hand (it doesn't take too long- 1 TBSP is not that much).
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves. Same thing on this- mince/cut fresh rosemary leaves if at all possible.
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A couple of fresh French baguettes (fancy word for long skinny loaves of French bread). I usually get one whole wheat baguette, which Colette prefers, and one white baguette.
Preheat the oven to "broil" and make sure the oven rack is about 5" from the broiler heat.

To assemble the dish, I usually start by preparing the cheese. If your cheese has a rind (the thin layer of "skin" that's sometimes on the edge), just slice the rind off. Then cut the cheese into cubes with about 1" sides.

Place the cheese cubes into a either a ~12" cast-iron skillet or similary-sized no-stick square cast-iron baking dish.

Cut or pull (whichever you find easier) the leaves off the thyme and rosemary and cut into fine pieces. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves, and then mix the thyme, rosemary and garlic together in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil evenly all over the top of the cheese cubes, then spread the garlic/thyme/rosemary mixture evenly over the whole thing.

Finally, sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top of the cheese and then bake the dish under the broiler for about 6 minutes. You want to cook until the cheese is melted and bubbling and starting to brown. Keep a close eye on the dish while it's cooking--it won't take long to cook, but your baking time may vary depending on your oven and your individual taste preference. We prefer to bake until the cheese is spotted with a nice deep & bubbling brown. Serve the fontina piping hot right out of the oven with the bread.

As for the bread, just slice it and serve it either soft & fresh or--as we prefer--toast the bread slices in the oven. (To do this you just need to arrange them on a baking sheet, brush them with olive oil, and sprinkle them with garlic salt and crisp under the broiler for a minute or 2). You can either dip the bread into the fontina or spoon it onto the bread slices (this seems to work best).

That's it - Hope you enjoy!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Planted, Watered & Headed North

Whenever you navigate to some destination, it's critical to be certain of which direction you need to travel in relation to some fixed point of reference. In navigational terms this point of reference is generally the direction "north." By knowing for sure which direction north is, your navigational tool of choice can calculate with accuracy where south, east, west, and all points and directions in between, are. And if followed, a navigational system based on the known direction of north will ultimately help ensure you reach your desired destination.

Sounds simple, right? Not so may not be. In the realm of navigation, north may actually not be North, because it turns out that there are actually different kinds of "north." There is what is known as "magnetic north" and also what is referred to as "true north."

Magnetic north and true north are close to the same, but are inherently different in a way that is especially crucial to accurate navigation. Magnetic north is the direction a compass points, toward the magnetic north pole of the earth (which is different than the "true" north pole). True North, on the other hand, is the direction along the earth's surface towards the geographic (ie, "true") north pole, located right on the actual top of the earth. The problem with using magnetic north to navigate is that it is always moving, and in fact today magnetic north is actually someplace over northern Canada. When pilots and other navigators use magnetic north, they must make sure they factor in a precisely calculated margin of error or else they'll end up miles off course.

This idea of true north and magnetic north seems to me an appropriate concept in relation to many societal issues which have been brewing in our country for some time, and which are plastered without end across news headlines and our collective attention as a nation. All you need to do these days to raise just about anyone's blood pressure is make a definitive statement of any sort about one of a host of popular topics categorized via names and buzz words like (just to scratch the surface): Bruce Jenner, Planned Parenthood, Kim Smith, Michael Sam, Ashley Madison, Same-Sex Marriage, Traditional Marriage, Liberal, Conservative, Religious Freedom, Abortion, Gender Confusion, etc...

I'd like to suggest that it would be infinitely more productive for us to start talking less about the actual topics themselves and more about the differences that exist across the values and life-views underpinning people's opinions on the issues. In other words, I suggest we start talking about what version of north we as a country are using to navigate, how this has shifted over time, and where our presently charted course is taking us.

I suggest we start taking a much closer look at our country's history when considering its trajectory into the future. And forget the Constitution and where our founding fathers would certainly have stood on the sorts of social issues that are dividing our country today. Let's go back even further. Consider for a minute those brave souls who sailed across the Atlantic 400 years ago, landing on Cape Cod and forming the small society that eventually grew into our great nation.

Let's not forget that the pilgrims traveled here on a mission, laser-focused on establishing a new society based expressly on freedom of Christian religious beliefs. In fact, they felt so strongly about the importance of establishing societal order based on their Christian beliefs that they didn't even wait to get off the ship to put their rules of community and government into writing. Before they journeyed out into their new world, these folks wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact which was the governing document of their fledgling society. The Mayflower Compact is beautiful in its brevity and simplicity, and among its few central declarations includes the following:
"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten...Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid..."
If we're honest with ourselves, I believe we can't help but see how liberatingly on point this one simple document was for the Pilgrims, and just how refreshingly relevant and on target its precepts remain for us today. The pilgrims didn't need long, wordy documents or endless heated debates to deal with life or to get along and agree on what was best for their society. The short and crisply directive Mayflower Compact was all they needed--not because it contained all the answers, but because in its simple, humble wisdom it pointed to the One who has all the answers: the Lord God Almighty.
Expressly and without question, our country's forebears placed God's authority and His Word above all other authorities. They made prideful reliance on their own beliefs and ideas subject and secondary to humble obedience to God's ideas and beliefs. In short, the pilgrims plotted their course using True North.
This is why they succeeded, and it's why America has enjoyed so much success ever since. But somewhere along the way, we as a country fell asleep at the wheel and veered dangerously off course. We're now barrelling down a new path chasing the deceptively elusive and shifting magnetic north. We've lost sight of True North and, like all lost travelers, are in danger of landing in a destination far from where we intended to go.
But thank God, there is still hope. With God, all things are possible and in His infinite love He longs for us to turn our lives and our country back to Him. In the end, the strength of any tree is always determined by the quality and strength of its roots; I think it's high time we take a long, hard look at ours.
Thanks for reading,

Friday, August 28, 2015

Where in the World Did Summer Go?

Where did August go??!!  I am not looking forward to the colder weather, which will be upon us soon and which always seems to come way too fast in New England.  But I think, as August quickly draws to a close and we look ahead to a change of seasons, that it's only fitting to take a few moments to look back and remember a truly amazing summer.

After our brutally cold and snow-packed winter, I have to give praise to the Lord who has truly blessed us with what is probably the best summer weather we've had in our 10 years living in Massachusetts! I truly believe you can never fully appreciate summer more completely than when you live somewhere like Massachusetts. The ever-present stark reality of another impending long winter on the horizon just has this way of building in you a near-desperate longing to enjoy every single last moment of the short but beautiful summers here.

It seems that each summer is just a little bit different, as the kids keep getting older and inevitably move into new directions and activities, but I love that our family is always the constant. And no matter what, the one common thread we always manage to weave through each summer is spending ample time together as a family outside under the summer sun.

This summer has been especially busy, but also especially great, filled with new and exciting changes, and lots of great family time together. Some of the highlights were:

Our new pool. We loved and enjoyed our pool in Whitinsville so much that we "took the plunge" this year to put in a pool in our new backyard.


Getting ready to dig


Digging under Barney's Watchful Eye

And Done!

New Flowers by the Pool

Fourth of July weekend at Seacrest in Cape Cod and one of our favorite family destinations, the Harbor View in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard! So glad ChloĆ« got a chance to fully enjoy the experience this year now that she's a little older, just like the boys did for so many years when they were little!

Pizza, grilled to deliciousness on my new outdoor pizza oven that Colette bought me!

Around the house & town!

Grilling--Hunter style!! (Sorry Barney, none for you!)

Hunter & Mitch had a summer full of great football camps!

And we also managed to squeeze in one last trip to the Cape to ride the Shining Sea Bike Path, eat at Landfall, and hang out at the "rock beach" along the bike path! Jack had to work unfortunately this day!!

But of course the biggest event of the summer was Jackson heading off to college! We had a farewell sendoff graduation/birthday party for him at our house, then it was off to Holy Cross College in South Bend, IN!! We love you and miss you Jack!!

Orientation weekend for Holy Cross

Last dinner  at Amici's with Jackson before we leave for college (mitch was at football)
we took this picture by propping the cell phone on a ladder- not bad… and it was the first shot which never happen!! 
In the car headed to the airport!
Here we come Chicago!
got in late but still made the trip to target to get all Jackson's supplies… we were so tired!
OHH k. I am too old for this, says Jackson. He did play along a little though.

Great roommates!! 

Our hotel going home was right by the airport were you could see all the planes coming in.
Chicago pizza time!!
no more pictures!!

And finally, just this week ChloĆ« headed back to school at St. Bernadette's...she's had a great first couple days of first grade already and looking forward to an amazing year ahead!

Hunter and Mitch will be the last to head back to school next week, and soon after we'll begin settling into our fall family routine which has its own very special rhythms (not to mention tons of football- hallelujah!!)...and so as I think ahead with thankfulness and anticipation for the many new blessings God has in store for us, I find it just a little bit easier to close the chapter on summer.

With a grateful heart and with many fond memories, I thank God for all He has done in my life, which this special summer has reminded me of so beautifully and so often...I thank God for my beautiful wife, soul mate & best friend Colette, who is the most precious gift I will ever receive; for our 4 amazing and special children who light up our life continually and fill our days with joy; and for the love and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus, who gave us all the ultimate gift.

God bless and thanks for reading!