Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Foodie - French Almond Macarons

Seems we haven’t had a Friday Foodie in quite a while, so I wanted to make something a little special today. Actually, I’ve been trying to make these little, French delicacies for months now and something always manages to move them further down on the list of things to do.

But hold onto your chapeaus, mesdames et messieurs, today is the day for…. French Almond Macarons! No, not macaroons, the American cookie with coconut in them. These are macarons, a light and airy meringue-type cookie sandwiched with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. All together now….mmmmm…

I’ve seen them made in almost every flavor combination, from chocolate to strawberry to pistachio and even sandwiched with tiny discs of crème brulee.

Today I’ve made a basic almond macaron recipe, though, and from there you can change the color or flavor of the cookie by adding 4 drops of food coloring to the egg whites, or a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder with the confectioner’s sugar. Or you can change the buttercream flavor by adding 1/3 cup strained preserves after the butter has been incorporated.

French Almond Macarons

1 ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla
All-purpose flour, for dipping
1 ½ cups (4 oz.) sliced almonds, finely ground, or almond flour (preferable)
3 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
¼ cup granulated sugar

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
2 large egg whites
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla

To Make Macarons:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Sift confectioner’s sugar into a bowl, whisk in grounds almonds (or almond flour); set aside. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and mark circles using a 1 ½-in. cookie cutter dipped in flour.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment beat egg white on medium speed until foamy; add salt. Gradually add granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time until the whites reach medium-soft peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Sprinkle half of the sugar-almond mixture, folding just until incorporated. Firmly tap bottom of bowl on counter to eliminate any air pockets.

4. Transfer mixture to a large pastry bag fitted with a ½-in plain tip (Walmart has a decent selection of baking supplies.) Pipe mixture onto marked circles on prepared baking sheet.

5. Bake, rotating halfway through, until macarons feel slightly firm to the touch and can be gently lifted off the parchment (the bottoms will be dry), 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer parchment to wire rack to cool completely.

6. Spread buttercream on flat side of one macaron and top with another. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes….if you can wait. Filled cookies can keep for about 2 days in the refrigerator.

To Make Buttercream:

1. In the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch (about 5 minutes).

2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cool, about 6 minutes.

3. Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixture on medium-low speed, add the butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. (If the frosting appears to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more.) Beat in vanilla. Beat on lowest speed to eliminate any air bubbles, about 2 minutes. Stir with a rubber spatula until frosting is smooth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The God of the Secret Place

Since the time I was very young, the circumstances of my life have always dictated maintaining a level of secrecy. It was never a conscious effort, but society’s taboos and lack of compassion and understanding silently say to the abused or to those who are caught in a sin things like Aren’t you over that yet? or We don’t talk about things like that. And so you don’t. And it begins to seem easier to live in defeat than to face your giants. Shame sets in and you learn to stuff it down deep somewhere where no one will see it, and maybe if you stuff it down long enough even you will forget it’s there.

But God sees. There is nowhere that is secret enough to hide from God. We can’t stuff our pain down far enough that He does not go further still. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “’Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.’”

The Lord sees your pain. He is your El Roi—the God Who sees. And not only does He see, but He is also a God of understanding, compassion and mercy. He longs for you come out from the shadows of pretense and worry and pour out your heavy heart to Him. The pain sits in your heart as a lump in the throat, suppressing words and acts of love.

I know it takes courage to face that pain again. It takes courage to go through life-saving surgery. But God is a skillful surgeon. Just as He is able to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Hebrews 4:12), He is also able to divide pain and sin and leave a heart more whole than it was before.

Trust your God again. Stop worrying about that thing that has left a part of you broken, or even pretending it’s gone when you know it isn’t, and fall on Jesus again. He is a God Who is able.

“Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

Do you see that, my friends? He LIVES to intercede for us. Jesus Christ rose not to just return to the comfort of His Father’s side, but He lives to continue to make intercession to His Father on our behalf. He sees our secret pain and He sets about restoring our heart.

But we have our part, too, and that is to be honest with ourselves and with the Lord. There will be work to do. With His strength, there will be forgiveness to offer, bitterness to let go of and sins to be nailed to the cross. And then there will be joy to behold.

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Enough tomorrows have passed. Begin your new journey today and walk in the light of life.

"Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart." (Psalm 51:6)

God bless you on your journey,

Monday, March 14, 2011

God of the Mountains

I was watching The Waltons a while back (yes, with John Boy, Mary Ellen and the rest), and in this episode John Boy was all grown up and going to college. The clothes he wore, the car he drove and his slight southern mountain twang always threatened to give him away as a country bumpkin in a sea of rich, college boys.

The annual horse race that was held on Walton’s Mountain was coming up, and since John Boy’s family was too poor to afford a horse, John Boy decided to enter with his faithful, hard-working mule, Blue. One of John Boy’s rich, college buddies--who was forever playfully rubbing his wealth in John Boy’s nose--caught wind of this contest and decided to compete with his prize-winning race horse.

John Boy seemed fairly confident at first, but as the weeks went by and the contest neared, his friend’s boasting began getting into his head and the thought of racing against a purebred stallion had him a little worried.

The day of the big race came and people from all corners of Walton’s Mountain came to cheer on their favorites. John Boy sat on ol’ Blue, and the rich, college buddy strutted up to the starting area with his beautiful, quick, pedigreed horse, clearly standing a number of hands taller than Blue.

The rules were given to the riders. They were to ride to a certain spot, round a marked tree, and head back. How the riders and their mounts got there and back was up to them.

The race was on. College Boy and his thoroughbred were off, racing straight for the turnaround tree along with most of the other riders and their horses. John Boy and Blue knew the shortcuts. They veered off the main route, making up for Blue’s lack of speed with John Boy’s wisdom of knowing the terrain like his own bedroom, and Blue’s strength and sure-footedness that comes from being bred a mule.

They climbed up and down the steepest slopes, ran through creeks that might spook any other horse, climbed up out of the forested mountainside and onto to the homestretch path just ahead of all the other riders, including College Boy, and won the race.

Just as John Boy and ol’ Blue had a wisdom and strength that College Boy and his fast horse knew nothing about, so God’s children have been granted a godly wisdom and strength that is far richer than anything found on any college campus or in a bank account that is bulging at the seams.

Now, in case you think I’m saying that an education is unimportant or even wrong, I’m not. An education is great when you can get it, but its wisdom will never replace the wisdom of God. It is not a degree that grants us entrance into the kingdom of heaven, gives us eternal wisdom, never-ending strength or a peace that surpasses all understanding as we face our own uphill battles. It is only as we rely on the Lord that He will fill us with power, strength and peace to victoriously endure those mountainous terrains of suffering.

It is God, the Creator of the Universe, Who is able to sustain us and mature us in Christ, not just in spite of our suffering but because of it. It is the obstacles that are placed in our lives, coupled with the leading of the Holy Spirit that brings us a spiritual maturity that the world will never know. Unlike the world’s, His wisdom and resources are infinite and so is His love toward us.

So fall on the Almighty God, El Shaddai, which, ironically, is also translated as “God of the mountains.” He will more than take care of us and we, in turn, are blessed to have our lives used to glorify the Eternal God.

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-32)

"Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'"  (1 Cor. 1:31)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Anatomy of a Sin

“City Worker Stole $100K”

“Con Man Offered 19 Excuses As To Why He Couldn’t Pay Back Investments”

“Ex-Teacher Guilty of Sex Charge”

Most of us would look at these current headlines in shock, maybe even with what we might think of as righteous indignation, and wonder how a person can sink so low as to commit these crimes. But sin doesn't take over a life overnight. It’s a process of giving in to temptations, justifying the acts and deceiving one’s own heart. And none of us are immune to it.

If we were in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago, we might see this headline in the local paper:

“Judas Iscariot Betrays ‘King of the Jews’”

“Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests. And he said to them, ‘What will you give me, and I will betray Him to you?’ And they appointed to him thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.” (Matthew 26:14-16)

Why did he do it? Why would Judas betray this man--this friend whom he walked with for 3 years, who taught him, who trusted him, who had just knelt before him and washed his feet--for a mere 30 pieces of silver, the wages of a slave?

I think we find the answer in John, chapter 12.

Many are gathered in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus where a dinner was being given in honor of their friend, Jesus. Mary had just unsealed the lid of a very expensive jar of perfume and had washed the feet of the Guest of Honor with it, wiping them with her own hair.

Judas said, “’Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” John 12:4-6.

Instead of confessing to Jesus that he had given in to the temptation to steal from the money bag, Judas gave in to the temptation time after time, letting greed take over. And in 3 short years, Judas’ love of himself and of money became more important to him than any love he would have had for Jesus. And at some point evil took over as satan, the enemy of Jesus, entered into Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3), carrying out the betrayal through him.  And by the time Judas' conscience caught up with him, it was too late. He had handed over the Son of God to His death.

(Yes, Jesus' death was planned for by God all along; yes, it is by His death that we are saved from our sins and are given eternal life, but I wouldn't want to be the one who betrayed Him, would you?)

Once again, instead of confessing his guilt to the one Man who would have forgiven him, Judas confessed to the chief priests and the elders who couldn’t have cared less. Guilt consumed him and he hung himself.

All of us are faced with the temptation to sin every day. Being tempted is not a sin; even Jesus was tempted, but He remained sinless. It's when we've given thought to the temptation, however brief, and choose to submit to it that we've sinned.

In the beginning, it may seem as harmless as taking a few coins here and there from a money bag, or looking at a picture on the internet every now and then that we know we shouldn’t, or flirting with that co-worker. If we continue to deceive ourselves, thinking it's no big deal, or we can handle it, we may look back someday and realize we've made the biggest mistake of our lives.

Whatever your temptation is, before it gives birth to sin and the consequences are more than you ever wanted to pay, confess it to the one Man who can and will forgive you, the God Who can help you, the Lord Who loves you--Jesus Christ.