Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lentils and Rice

I have no idea what took me so long to post this recipe, but it's one I make pretty often and have made for years. Blogging recipes helps me to find them when I want to cook so now I don't have to go looking through my files for this.

I like it as a side dish with Lomo Saltado and other main dishes. I'm always sad if I make it and we don't have leftovers because I also like to warm the leftovers up in a skillet til it gets just a little toasted and eat it with an egg. I have made this so long that I don't remember where I found it, but I know I added the garlic and fresh salsa to the recipe, so that's optional.

Lentils and Rice

3 T. olive oil
1 medium onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 1/2 c. water
1 c. lentils
1 c. rice
1 t. salt
Pepper to taste
2 t. cumin
1/3 c. fresh salsa

Heat olive oil in saucepan, saute the onions until light brown. Add garlic and sauté. Add water to saucepan and bring water to boil. Add lentils. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. To lentils, add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer 20 minutes or until rice is tender.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let It Begin

Who hasn't gone through a very difficult trial? Who has not felt the weight of the world on your shoulders during that time? Sometimes those trials are due to our own mistakes, sometimes because of others' choices and sometimes just as a natural part of life. Whatever the trial, there is One who has agreed to take it upon Him and to carry that burden, but He only can if we invite Him to, if we "turn it over", if we "let it begin".

He can heal us. He has felt every pain, sorrow and sadness we have or will ever feel. My Savior knows me and is with me. He doesn't want me to suffer when He has already taken the sorrows on Himself. So I need to "Let It Begin".

These words in quotes that I've used are from a song that I heard last year after seeing Nick Sales perform somewhere, I think BYU. I liked his music and then looked him up online. Turns out he's from a little town called Spanish Fork in Utah, where some of my friends just happen to live. He's in BYU Jazz Voices now. He sings this song with Julie Yardley who originally sang it for EFY a few years ago. They both have videos online if you'd like to hear more from them.

For today, what do you need to do to take that first step, to "let it begin"?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Avocado Pico de Gallo Potato Salad

This is my new favorite potato salad and probably my new favorite side dish of all time. I still really like Garlicky Cilantro Roasted Potato Salad (both with roasted potatoes...yum!), but this one is so full of fresh veggies! So tasty! There's no mayo. The lime juice and the avocado kinda make a dressing even without smashing them if you mix it a bit.

The recipe is on Family Fresh Cooking where Marla makes this really colorful salad. Mine wasn't quite as colorful as hers since I just used mini potatoes, not multi-colored mini potatoes, and only red tomatoes instead of also adding yellow tomatoes. But it was still pretty and tasted good. I did use fresh garlic when roasting the potatoes and then again added sautéed garlic to the pico de gallo instead of the garlic salt and garlic powder. The other change I made was to cut the mini potatoes in quarters before roasting them, which gave them a little crunch.

Avocado Pico de Gallo Potato Salad

Roasted Potatoes:
1 lb. multi-colored mini potatoes
Olive oil
Garlic salt

Pico de Gallo:
2 avocados, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (toss with some lime juice to preserve color)
2 yellow tomatoes, diced, seeds removed
2 red tomatoes, diced, seeds removed
2 diced shallots
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 t. sweet smoked paprika
1/4 t. garlic powder
Lime zest
To add optional spice: 1/2 to 1 diced jalapeño
Micro greens for topping

Roasted Potatoes:
Preheat oven to 400° with the rack in the middle. Toss potatoes with olive oil, garlic salt & pepper. Place them on a baking tray in a single layer, Roast for about 25 minutes or until cooked through & a bit golden. Set the potatoes aside to cool, once cooled cut each potato in 1/2.

Pico de Gallo
In a large bowl place the cooled potatoes with all the pico de gallo ingredients, gently folding in cilantro and 1 chopped avocado last. Adjust seasonings to taste & add some jalapeño if you want some spice. Top potato salad with the additional chopped avocado & micro greens.
I shared this recipe on a Pin-It Party at Butter with a Side of Bread

Monday, January 26, 2015

Almost Transfer Time

This was the second week in a row that Alexander did not send me a single photo. How could he do this to me??? He knows how much I love photos. Lucky for me, though, one of the other missionaries he rooms with sent his mother a pic that included my son so I got to see him after all. You gotta read his letter to see it (or scroll down).

This week is usually the first week of the next transfer (on a 6 week transfer schedule), but this transfer is going to be 7 weeks long. All things considering, the transfer is nearly over either way. I still can't believe how fast time is going already, it's crazy.

I don't have my journal with me this week (I forgot it at the apartment), but I will do another summary based off of my planner again. So here is this weeks report:

After we emailed on monday, we went back to the apartment to drop some stuff of and then head over to the members house that we went to last week and played in the snow with. On the way back, however, we ran into a woman who goes by the name Debbie. She is American (from Chicago), and she has been living in Yonezawa for the past two years because her husband had a two year contract with his company. We had an interesting talk with her, about all the snow, and about some other things. One of the topics that came up was the Fall of Adam and Eve. She is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so it was interesting to hear her view on the Fall. I learned that she viewed the Fall as a fault in God's plan, as something God hadn't foreseen in a sense. To use her own words "we don't know what His plan was." I thought this was very interesting, because this interpretation is very different from our Church's. In our church, thanks to the expanding lens of the Book of Mormon, we see the plan as not a mistake, or some hindrance to God's previous plan due to the cunning of the devil, but as a part of the plan from the beginning. From the Book of Mormon, it is revealed that God had foreordained Christ to be the One to save us all from the Fall that would happen. The Fall was also part of His plan, as something that was necessary for His children to grow and learn. He knew that it was only through these experiences that we could grow to know joy, happiness, and peace. As explained in the Book of Mormon, "Adam fell that Men might be. Men are that they might have joy." How great the wisdom of Him who created us! He knew that the Devil would tempt Adam and Eve, He knew that we would come into this state of pain, suffering, loneliness, and sadness; but he also knew that "there must needs be... an opposition," (2 Nephi 2:15) and that through those negative experiences, we could grow to know the good things. Truly, the knowledge of Good and Evil. So much better a thought than thinking that He who knows all was fooled by something of naught!

After we finished talking with Debbie, we dropped off what we wanted to drop off, and then went to the members house. We played in the snow for a bit when we got there (even had a snowball fight), and then went inside and had family home evening with them and the other two missionaries in our district. We shared a message of Jesus Christ's light, and letting our light shine forth. Afterwards, we played a game of UNO (it's a bit different here in Japan), and then got a ride back to our apartment.
Tuesday, we had a meeting in the morning, and then afterwards went with an english class student to lunch in another city. We went to ramen shop, and it was pretty good, but really spicy. Afterwards, on the way back, I got in a conversation with him about Studio Ghibli, an anime move company that is really popular both in America and Japan. I found out some of the names in Japanese (but forgot most of them already :P ), and had a lot of fun talking about that, and what I want to be when I get off my mission (related to the music from the movies). We also talked to him about a program we do that is 30 minutes of English and 30 minutes of Japanese, and we'll be starting that this week (on saturday here). That was basically our entire day that day.

Wednesday, we went to go visit a less active member. He was really busy with work (owns a salon), so we couldn't meet with him then; we did get to talk to him for a bit though, so that was good. We then went to figure something out about some service we'll be doing this Saturday (snow shoveling), and then visited another less active. He said that he was busy with school this week, but he wants to play basketball sometime soon with us. Afterwards, we had a really fun English class, and afterwards I got to practice some piano while talking to some of the students.

Thursday, we went to a local... place for lunch. It is an international center of sorts for those foreigners here in Yonezawa (called YIRA), and that day they had a Chinese lunch. One of the Elder's here, Elder E., can speak a bit of Chinese, so we went. There is also a less active that works there, so we were able to talk to him for a bit. His name is Ben, and he is from America, but lives in Yonezawa. After lunch there, we had an appointment with an investigator back at the church building, so we hurried on back. We talked about his concerns about what he was reading, and he says that he thinks his faith seed (see Alma 32) has broken the surface. From there, we went to a different investigator's house. He is in his 60's. His name is Mr. Kato. Last time we visited him, we committed him to stop drinking alcohol, and when we went to go visit him, we found out that he hadn't drank alcohol at all that week! You could tell a significant difference in his attentiveness and how much there he was (he is a bit of an alcoholic), and it was a good lesson. He also has been doing a lot better in his prayers when we're there. Before he couldn't really get prayers, and thought that we had to recite a prayer from a pamphlet that had how to pray on it, even though we told him that we should speak to our Heavenly Father in our own words when we pray. The last time we went, he actually got it, and actually prayed, and this time at the end of the lesson (after we had testified about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon), he prayed to God to help him understand and be able to read the book. He had committed himself to do it! We tried visiting a different less active next, but she didn't answer her door. We had put some lemon squares in her mailbox weeks ago, and when we checked that day, they were still there! To be fair, she has two mailboxes (she lives in an apartment complex), one on the first floor, and one at her door, so it isn't too much of a surprise.

The next day we had district meeting, and after that, we went back to the apartment to have a weekly planning session. We had decided towards the beginning to call this woman we met on the street the other day, and when she answered, she said that she was headed towards the place that we first met, and that we should meet her there. We decided to go, and when we got there, she showed us a painting she had just finished (apparently she's an artist). We went to a cafe, and she payed for some food for us. She shared interested in reading the Bible, and we told her that we could get her one. She wanted one in english, so we told her we could do that. Afterwards, we went to a members house. She was home alone at the moment, so we couldn't go inside, but we were able to talk to her for a while an share a quick message with her. We then took a bus back to our apartment and we finished our weekly planning.

On Saturday, we had companion exchanges. I was with Elder W., in the other companionship's area. After lunch, we took a bus up to the same sister's house for a lesson with a teenage boy who lived in the area. She was a bit surprised to see me again. The lesson was good, and I think that the preparation that we did before hand really helped with the lesson, because the scriptures we had prepared talked about the exact same concerns the boy was having about following Christ. We then went up to a different less active's house, and talked to her for a short bit. She was busy, and didn't really want to talk to us ( although she was really nice). I think it is so sad that someone can have such a strong testimony of the truth and then through not following the small and simple things like reading the scriptures, praying, attending church and the like, can forget it all. After that we had a long walk back to the bus, and took it back to our apartment. We did what is called the 12 week program (for the first 12 weeks of being infield), and talked about the gift of tongues. I truly feel that I have received the gift of tongues, because I can talk, listen, and understand, even if it is only to a small degree. Debbie, the woman I talked about earlier, said that in two years of being in Japan, she can get basic things across to people but that it is really hard to have a conversation of any kind. I truly have been blessed!

Sunday was pretty normal, with church at 11 to 1, and a potluck afterwards (we have it every week). Afterwards, we went to go visit someone we met on the streets earlier, outside his home. While we were out, we met two men, 20 years and.. 18? years, and they were fun to talk to. They took a picture of us with them, because we were "gaijin" (foreigners) and we are cool. I feel like I am mickey mouse at disney land, but that's fine, because I love it. We call it gaijin power. We walked to the other person's house, and when we go there, we got a call from a neighbor that said she had a member at her house and wanted us to come over. We got there and had some snacks, but she wasn't too interested in hearing more about the gospel at the moment. She gave us a ride to the next area we were going to go to after we were done meeting with her, and even though we weren't able to meet anyone in that area, we were able to get stuff done a bit quicker than we would have otherwise. When we got back to our neighborhood, we noticed that the drain system in our area was clogged with snow from too many people putting snow in it from their driveways and such. The system was made for snow removal, but it got clogged. So we went to the church, got some shovels, and unclogged it. It was lots of fun!

That's my week! Hope you enjoyed! Love you all, and have a great week!

Love, Elder _______
Alex is the second Elder going from left to right

Fun tidbits from his letter to me:

I haven't used my bike at all, because there is so much snow around here that we can't. But all is well, because I really don't mind walking everywhere. We have walked over 200 Km last month, and I think we're going to beat the record this month. My feet are holding up just fine, and same with my shoes. I have only used my boots since coming to Japan, but my shoes haven't had any problems in the MTC, so they should be fine.

I am eating just fine. We have more than enough food and money for food. We don't eat expensively, but we eat well! Normal meals aren't a rare thing here. Thank you for all your love, support and worry. I am doing just fine, and am 61 Kilos last time I weighed myself (yesterday), so don't worry about my food situation :D

My daughter Sabrina asked him some questions in her letter to him. Here were her questions and his responses.

Bri: First, have you gone mostly door-to-door or do people set up appointments or something? Second, have you seen any weird or unusual animals or plants that aren't in Utah? Third, do the missionary peeps ever have a limit of how warm it has to be to go out and teach people or do they let you freeze your bums off?

Alexander: In answer to your questions, I think that we do a bit of both usually. We have a plan of what we're going to be doing for the day, and then we go and do it, but if something doesn't turn out as expected we put pamphlets that the stake made into the mailboxes of houses around the area and then follow up on them a couple of days later. As for weird animals... I saw a dog that was 16 years old (112 years in dog years) yesterday. It was weird/unusual, because it was blind, had no teeth, and would just go in circles a lot of the time. It also had a diaper on. As for other animals, we see cranes quite often over here; they're really beautiful. I can't say I've seen too many weird animals yet though. Same with plants. There isn't a limit on how warm it needs to be to go out, but I don't think I've ever frozen my bum off. We are outside going places, rain or snow, cold or hot, cloudy or sunny. I've got layers of clothes on, so I really don't get cold anyway.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies

Warning (Seriously): These cookies are rich, fudgy, velvety, and oh, so addictive.

I have a serious problem. I just tried this recipe which is posted at Picklee last week and from the first bite, it was true love. I have since made it several times with different variations I thought of and you can try even more of your own. But it really is insanely superb as is! I included the amounts of the variation ingredients I used in my experiments, but feel free to adjust the amounts. The recipe only makes about 24 small-ish cookies so once I doubled them and they turned out great, but that's dangerous making so many.

I used semisweet chocolate chips, but Picklee calls for bittersweet. Other people commented on Jordan's blog that they used milk chocolate chips. So use whichever you like. I used slightly less sugar than was called for and will probably continue to do that. They use no oil or butter (yay!!) and no flour. If you use gluten-free versions of the other ingredients, it is a really delish gluten-free dessert. The trick to these is whipping up the egg whites to soft peaks! Make sure the egg white are at the soft peak stage before adding sugar and continuing on with the recipe. The outside is a nice crisp and the inside is melty goodness. Tip for eating the next day if there are any leftover-- you can pop them in the microwave for like 6 seconds and they're all melty again.

There wasn't a single variation that I made that I didn't like. The raspberry ones were a bit "wet" so I baked them an additional minute and they worked out great. I couldn't taste or see the flaxseed meal when I added it so I will be adding it to the cookies every time for some healthy goodness. (Shhhh! Don't tell my daughter Sabrina.)

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips (about 9 oz.)
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 c. powdered sugar, divided (plus 1/2 c. for cookie coating)
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. salt
Variations (add one if desired):
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. almond or orange extract
3 T. coconut
3 T. chopped candy cane
1 T. flaxseed meal
3 T. nuts
3 T. chopped, dried raspberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 2 large  baking sheets with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Melt 1 cup chocolate chips in glass bowl in microwave, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Set aside and let cool slightly.

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually beat in 1 cup powdered sugar. Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow cream.

Whisk 1 cup powdered sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Then, on a low speed, add these dry ingredients into the marshmallow cream mixture.

Next, add melted chocolate and any variation additions (candy canes, almond extract, etc.) and mix. Add chocolate chips and mix well.

Place remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar in bowl. Roll 1 rounded tablespoon dough into ball; roll in sugar, coating thickly. Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake until puffed and tops crack, about 10 minutes. Cool on sheets on rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack, cool.


 Rolled in sprinkles instead of powdered sugar

Candy Cane Pieces

Flaxseed Meal

I shared this link at :
Skip to My Lou.
Joy Love Food and Tumbleweed Contessa

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Beef Sirloin Steak with Baby Spinach

I am trying to learn how to cook beef better since it often turns out tough or dry. I found this Campbell's  recipe and wanted to try it with a few little changes. This is the recipe as I made it. The beef was tender and I loved all the veggies. The sauce also is like a gravy for the mashed potatoes I made.
Beef Sirloin Steak with Baby Spinach
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
2 t. fresh rosemary or 1 t. dried rosemary leaves 
1 lb. boneless beef sirloin steak, 3/4-inch thick, cut into 4 pieces 
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced (about 1 c.)
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (about 1/2 c.)
1/2 c. julienne carrots
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (10 3/4-oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 c .water
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1 t. dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1 bag (about 7 oz.) fresh baby spinach

Mix marinade ingredients together. Add steak and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in skillet. Add the onion, red pepper, and carrots and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook until the vegetables are tender-crisp, stirring often.

Stir the soup, water, vinegar and rosemary in the skillet and heat to a boil.  Stir in the spinach. Keep warm while cooking steak.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the beef and cook until well browned on both sides and just cooked to desired doneness in middle.  Remove the beef from the skillet.

Plate steak and pour sauce with vegetables on top.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Another Week Already?

This is as close as a photo of my son as I get this week. It's a drawing of him that an investigator gave him. He did give a lot of information about what he's been up to this week after I told him that he wasn't telling us what he's been up to. It's always so good to hear from him.

I can't believe how quick the weeks are going already! The time just flies so quickly when you have so much to do!

I am going to try something a bit different starting next week. I am going to write from my journal to you all, so that you can get more of a day by day feel for how things are for me. I can't promise I'll type up everything, but a synopsis (is that the right word?) or at least a summary, will be included.

This week, I went to a place called Hard-Off right after emailing. It is a recycle shop, but it isn't like anything back home really. The closest it gets is a thrift shop, but that stuff usually isn't as good a quality. I looked for an electronic dictionary to buy, but there wasn't any I could find that were the right kind. I did find out that they have really good deals on musical instruments (and decent quality too), so I will need to take advantage of that if I ever live in Japan after my Mission. We kept running into a guy we met on the bus, and we're fairly certain that he wants to avoid us now, but it was really funny how often we kept seeing him on the streets. A cool experience I had in the evening when we did missionary work was that I guessed where an old investigator's apartment was when we were walking down the road (we were a bit lost).

The next day we had a lesson with an investigator that we see at least once a week, but usually more. He is getting ever closer to baptism, and I am really hoping that he is doing his part to get the witness he needs of the truth of our message. We then got to go to a members house for dinner with the other two missionaries. She made some really good food, including soup with mochi in it (a rice foodstuffs), which I really liked. One of her daughters I found out is a really good artist, and draws really cool anime/manga style stuff.

Wednesday, we met with the same investigator again, then went to visit a less active member with another member. We visited him at his work (he owns a hair salon), and he was busy at the moment, and said to come back the next day. So, instead we went and signed up for a service project to do some snow shoveling. We heard about it from a potential investigator that we met with last week, and we'll probably be doing the service together, so that will be fun. After that we went and visited a different less active member, and found out that he likes basketball, so we'll probably be playing that with him soon. We then got back to the church and taught English class. There were more people that came this week than any other time since I got here, and since there weren't any kids to teach (we usually have an adult and kids class), we split up the class into two groups, an advanced and a beginners. I got to teach the advanced class with my companion. It was a lot of fun, and the lesson was basically made by the seat of our pants.

The next day, we went and visited a woman we met on the street when we were going to a different appointment before new years even happened. She was really happy to hear that we could both play piano, since she's a piano teacher, and so we played some for her. We also had lunch and talked a bit about the main message of our Church (which we described as a focus on families and the fact that God is our Loving Heavenly Father). We aren't sure if she is too interested, but we don't think that she's not. We then went and taught the same investigator from the past two days again (it was his decision to meet with us that often); it was the most we had seen him in a row since he became an investigator. After that we went to visit the less active member that we couldn't visit the previous day. He was a bit busy again, but we managed to talk to him for at least 20 minutes. My companion shared a cool experience that he had the same day, that I want to share with you now. After English class, one of the students gave my companion, Elder O., a letter to give one of the previous missionaries from the area. Not long afterwards, he accidentally lost it in front of the curch, and didn't realize until we got back to the apartment. He said a prayer and asked Heavenly Father to keep it there and keep it safe until we could go by and find it. The next day the other two missionaries were passing the church on the way to the train station, and found the card sitting on top of the snow, completely untouched. It was a miracle and a tender mercy. Another example of how the Lord answers prayers.
After visiting the less active, we then went to a members house, and played in the snow with one of their kids. We dug out a snow tunnel in their yard, and it was really fun. We then went inside and had a quick meal in the genkan (google should have the answer for you ;) ).

The next day we had district meeting with the zone leaders. It was lots of fun, and I learned a lot from them. we went to a ramen restaurant afterwards, and then went to visit a different investigator. While there, he finally was able to understand prayer, and was able to say a sincere prayer in his own words. He is making slow progress, but progress nonetheless. We then had a lesson with an investigator from the other two missionaries, because they had another appointment at the same time. We watched the parable the President Packer told about a boy and the creditor. It was a really good lesson.

Saturday was fun, because we were able to go to a members house and have a lesson with them. One of them is an active member, but her husband is less active. The lesson was really good for them at the time, I felt, and we committed them to pray and read the scriptures more earnestly. We went to see if an old investigator was home, but she wasn't, and it was getting late, so we went home.

Sunday was interesting, because we went to a different town for church. The town is called Fukushima. The ward there is really awesome, and I had a fun time getting to know them. On the way there, our train was going to be an hour late, and then got stuck, so they allowed everyone that was going to be going on that train to ride the shinkansen (the crazy fast trains they have here in Japan). It didn't go fast while we were on it, but riding it was really fun anyway. After church, I explained heads up 7 up and red rover to one of the members who wanted to know some American games to play with her elementary students. After that, we caught a train back to our home town, and tried to visit two people. One of them wasn't home, and the other didn't remember to read a pamphlet that we gave them, so we'll be checking with them again soon.

That is my week love you all!

2015 is the Year of the Ram so someone made this snow ram on New Year's
 In my letter to Alex, I asked him how he has seen or felt our Heavenly Father's love this week and how he has been able to show that love to those around him. Here is his response:

The question of how I've seen my Heavenly Father's love is a tough one to answer, because I feel of His love every day. I have not gotten seriously injured, I stay warm in the snow, I have been led by the spirit down paths that have lead to those who are prepared, and countless other small and simple things. I have done everything I can to try to show my love to others in my example, by smiling at all times, and by simply saying hi to everyone I meet. I try my best to show sincere interest in what they have to say. I have a similar goal to you with prayer, in addition to praying more sincerely and from my heart. I can't say that I post anything to a blog, but I have noticed how an hour of scripture study a day has really blessed my life and faith and testimony. I too have been able to feel the spirit as I do them with real intent. I am glad that you are feeling His love, and are recognizing the gifts he gives you. Thank you so much for sharing your testimony with me!

Something I just thought of while typing is that in the Preach My Gospel, it says something very interesting about prayer. It suggests that as we pray we listen to the spirit for what we should say in the prayer, because God knows what we need before we ask Him. I thought that was very interesting and have been trying to do all I can to do just that. 

I know without a doubt that my Father in Heaven has blessed me and loves me. I know this partially because of the love I feel for those that I have come to meet while on my mission, for I know it to be a piece of God's love.
Elder E., one of the missionaries in the other companionship who shares the apartment, and Elder O., his companion. I was glad to see them acting like boys and that there were clean dishes there. I'm such a momma. 

Alex said this was a really good meal he had at a Chinese restaurant. They don't get invited to eat at member's homes often so it's either restaurants or cooking and I imagine they don't have lots of time to cook. It's funny to me that they serve French fries with the Chinese food.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Prune Brownies

I have a bag of prunes so I looked for a prune brownie recipe to use some of them and found this one at A Taste of Madness. I made them while my kids were at school so they wouldn't know what was in them. They are fudgy and chocolatey and I couldn't tell from the texture or taste that there were prunes. It's nice to know that they don't have much butter and do have some fiber.

My girls were happy to smell that I had baked brownies as soon as they walked in the house. Then one asked, "What's in them?" And I said, "No black beans this time." (Tried that one HERE before and they still remember.) They were still cautious, but tried them. They still kept asking me what was in them. Then Sabrina went over to my computer and saw the recipe on one of my tabs. "I knew there was something sticky in it," she said. Elisa said, "I figured there was something different in them since you never make just plain brownies." They still ate them even after they found out. We all 3 liked them and I have more prunes so I'll be making more sometime.

Prune Brownies
1/4 c. pitted prunes
2 T. water
1/2 c. chocolate chips
2 T. butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 egg white
2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line an 8-inch pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Set aside.

Place the prunes and the water in a food processor and process until smooth.

Place chocolate chips and butter in a microwaveable bowl and microwave for 1 minute and mix. Keep microwaving for 15 seconds and stirring until smooth. Immediately whisk in the sugar, egg, egg white, prune puree and vanilla until smooth.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flours and cocoa powder. Stir in the chocolate mixture until fully incorporated.
Pour the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for around 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool completely in the pan. Using the foil, remove the brownies from the pan, and cut into squares.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lemon Bars and Gloves

Sadly, Alex didn't send any photos this week so I'm using an old one of him. First, I have included his letter to all and then parts of his letter to me. He asked me to send some specific recipes he could make, so I sent them, but mentioned that someone told me they may not have measuring cups and spoons.  His emails came a bit later than sometimes on Sunday night and I was starting to think he might not write. So glad he did because I'm missing him.

This week has been very interesting. The first interesting part which I included in the title was when I tried to make lemon bars. I used a Japanese cookbook, and even then had some trouble with making sure I had translated it correctly. The first batch I made I accidentally mistook the word for "white sugar" for "white flour" when making the top part. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either! I made the next batch with sugar, and it ended up fine! Me and my companion took the bars to two of the less actives in our branch. 
Also this week, we had Zone Training meeting. We had to go to yamagata, a neighboring city ish, and it was lots of fun. I got to seen someone I knew from the MTC, and got to talk with my Mission president and his wife. I had so much fun! I also got to sing a special musical number in the meeting, along with the others in my district, and it went well. The music fell off the stand at the piano though, so two of the elders had to rush over and save the day!

The last thing that I want to mention that happened this week, was the following. We were waiting for a bus, and wen the bus had come in sight, I got my wallet out to get some money. I had gloves on at the time, and also had an umbrella that I was trying to fold up, and getting on the bus at the same time. Through all of it, I hadn't realized that the glove I had taken off to get the money out was no longer in my other hand. I didn't realize it until I sat down. I said a prayer in my head that I'd be able to find my glove, and trusted that God would provide. A little while late, when someone was getting on the bus, she picked up a glove from on the stairs and put it up on the dash board. I saw it, and instantly knew that it was my missing glove. I know that it was an answer to a prayer than one of Heavenly Father's children said in his moment of distress, and I know that He cares about every aspect of our lives, no matter how trivial they may seem compared to the eternities. 

I love it here, and all the people are so friendly and talk to us when they have the time. Just last night we talked to three people that we happened to run into after we picked up some garbage and went to throw it away at a store that was close by. It was a bit out of our way to go to the store, but I'm glad we did, because we had fun with them, and found out that they all liked English, and might come to our english class!
I don't have much time to write anything else! Thanks for listening to me, and for all the support you all show!
Elder _____
I can't say that I understand a lot of the conversation, but I have the innate gift for feeling the air of conversations; at least according to my companion. I am learning slowly, but I can't say I have much to complain about the language. I have much to learn though. I can't say that I've made any funny mistakes yet, but I'll be on the look out!
We have a scale here, but it's analog, not digital. We have teaspoons and tablespoons, as well as a measuring cup at the apartment, so we should be fine in that department. I'll see what I can do! Thank you so much for the recipes!
 The weird thing about the microwave here, is that it has an "oven" setting, and I can set the temperature in Celcius and everything. We do have a microwavable pan as well, as well as mugs, so we can use that recipe for sure

Friday, January 9, 2015

Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup

This recipe from The Girl Who Ate Everything was dinner tonight . I used skim milk instead of half and half for less fat and followed the rest of the recipe. I made it with homemade rolls and really liked it! Packed full of veggies. 

Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup

2 (14-oz.) cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1 c. finely diced celery
1 c. finely diced carrots
1 c. finely diced onions
1 t. dried oregano or 1 T. fresh oregano
1/4 c. fresh basil
4 c. chicken broth
½ bay leaf
½ c. flour
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
½ c. butter
2 c. half and half (or milk), warmed
1 t. salt
¼ t. black pepper

Add tomatoes, celery, carrots, chicken broth, onions, oregano, basil, and bay leaf to a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 5-7 hours, until flavors are blended and vegetables are soft. 
Blend the soup partially or completely, depending on how chunky you desire it. Return to slow cooker.

About 30 minutes before serving prepare the roux. Melt butter over low heat in a skillet and add the flour. Stir roux constantly with a whisk for 5-7 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1 cup hot soup. Add another 3 cups and stir until smooth. Add all back into the slow cooker. Stir and add the Parmesan cheese, warmed half and half, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook on LOW for another 30 minutes or so until ready to serve.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Made Something Out of Nothing

I heard this pretty song today and appreciated its message. It's called He Knows My Name by Francesca Battistelli. It's important for us to know our Father in Heaven loves us and knows us individually and by name. It helps to guide us and our decisions and to see eternally instead of just seeing the here and now.

There are two parts that really made me think.

"I'm not meant to just stay quiet.
I'm meant to be a lion.
I'll roar beyond a song with every moment that I've got."

What does this mean to you?

In one way, to me it means that I shouldn't just stay quiet, but instead share the joy and peace that comes from knowing a God and His plan and feeling His love. I was a very shy child, but even with that quietness, I was always eager to share the gospel with friends and teachers. I wouldn't say that I ever roared, but I did talk.

"He calls me chosen, free, forgiven, wanted, child of a King,
His forever, held in treasure,
I am loved."

To me those are powerful words. We each inherently yearn to be loved, adored, chosen. It helps me to go on in spite of trials and disappointments when I know I am someone's forever and held in treasure by someone, He who knows my name and knows me. I'm so grateful for my Father, the King, and for his eternal love.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Real Frozen

I think this photo will be THE iconic photo of his mission. I guess they call it the Chosen Frozen for a reason.
He does not complain about the cold and even talks about how fun it is and how beautiful the snow is. "I have a lot of layers on usually, so it's easy to stay warm." Yeah....right. I'm his mom so I worry about that red, chapped looking face and if he really is staying warm walking out in that every day. I was told that it just started snowing hard when he got there. I hope it warms up soon.

So here are some parts of his letters to us in italics with my comments not in italics.

My daily routine? Wake up, Exercise, shower, eat breakfast, personal scripture study for an hour, companion study for an hour (or two most of the times since I'm a new missionary), language study, lunch, go out into the world and walk everywhere until it's late and we have to go back to the apartment, dinner, planning, writing in my journal, district prayer, companion prayer, personal prayer, sleep.

So he skipped the whole explanation of what he does while he's out in the world. He told us he doesn't go knocking on doors because that's not effective. I know that he teaches English class, but I don't know how often.

Elisa asked him what new hobbies he has and his response was, My best newfound hobby is missionary work. I do it all day every day ;)

There are a total of 17 ish active members in this city, and a lot on inactive ones. But we're working on that! No one really hears about Mormons too much here, because a lot of christianity just gets ignored here. Nothing like in America or other mainly christian countries. 
This photo is actually from an elder who shares the apartment with Alex (not his companion), but I had to include it just to show more snow.
A silly hat we included in his stocking, along with Christmas gifts of the sweater and scarf

Alex's letter to everyone:
So for new years, we got to eat lunch/dinner with a member and his family. There was so much food, I couldn't believe. All of it was so delicious. We couldn't eat it all there was so much! I should have included a photo, but if I didn't then sorry!
Also at that event, I got to practice piano, and play ping pong, a really big thing here in Japan. I had a lot of fun!
After that, we went to the local shrine. There were booths selling food and items (apparently it's the year of the ram), and the snow was absolutely marvelous (both the snow on everything, and the snow that was falling). I got to go ring one of the bells they had there, and participate in the traditions as well, so that was a cool and new experience. We then had to walk home in the snow, right when it turned into a blizzard. It was so much fun. Also included is a picture of me covered in snow.

Not too much activity here as far as missionary work, however, because of how special this family time is, so that was all we did outside the apartment on new years day.

When we got back to the apartment though, we read all of 3 Nephi from the Book of Mormon on our own, and made goals for the new year. I had an amazing time reading it, and I have been keeping to my goals so far!

I pray that all is going well for all of you, and hope that you stay happy and positive whatever the circumstances may be!
With all my love,
Above is the New Year's Eve feast at a member's house. 

 He didn't give details about this meal, but it seems like it's at a restaurant.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Spirit Daughters of the Most Creative Being in the Universe

I was recently going through a stack of papers in my closet as I was trying to organize. I came across a paper that had this quote:

"God left the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged, the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to us the challenge of raw materials, not the ease of finished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that we might know the joys and glories of creation."
Thomas S. Monson (Teachings of Thomas S. Monson, p. 76)

Isn't that beautiful? Our Father in Heaven not only leaves things unfinished so that we can work and learn, which is important, but also so that we can "know the joys and glories of creation". He knows that feeling we have when we start from scratch and work hard and take time and then see an end product whether it be a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music, building a cabin, or something simple, which is what I do, and create a meal.

There is a special feeling that comes from creating something from nothing. And usually we want to share that creation with those we love. It makes us happy when others appreciate it.

The quote reminded me of President Uchtdorf's talk Happiness, Your Heritage from a General Relief Society Meeting in 2008 and it talks about how creating makes us happy.  Below is a portion of the talk.

"The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

You may think you don’t have talents, but that is a false assumption, for we all have talents and gifts, every one of us. The bounds of creativity extend far beyond the limits of a canvas or a sheet of paper and do not require a brush, a pen, or the keys of a piano. Creation means bringing into existence something that did not exist before—colorful gardens, harmonious homes, family memories, flowing laughter."

I do not have the talents that many who I know do to create art or music or beautiful hairstyles so I'm glad that he listed a few things that I could create like memories and laughter. What will you create today?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

What delicious, lemony, soft-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside cookies! I made these last month, and I'll be making them again this month. It's posted on Lauren's Latest  and made about 2 dozen cookies for the size I made.

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

½ c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
½ t. vanilla extract
1 whole egg
1 t. lemon zest
1 T. fresh lemon juice
¼ t. salt
¼ t. baking powder
⅛ t. baking soda
1-½ c. flour
½ c. powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease light colored baking sheets with non stick cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whip in vanilla, egg, lemon zest and juice. Scrape sides and mix again. Stir in all dry ingredients slowly until just combined, excluding the powdered sugar. Scrape sides of bowl and mix again briefly. Pour powdered sugar onto a large plate. Roll a heaping teaspoon of dough into a ball and roll in powdered sugar. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.

Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms begin to barely brown and cookies no longer look shiny. Remove from oven and cool cookies about 3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.
*If using a non stick darker baking tray, reduce baking time by about 2 minutes.

Utah Local: Rico Cocina y Tequila Bar

I wanted to find somewhere different to have dinner with my children, but it had to have food that all of them would eat. It's not easy ...