Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leavin' on a jet plane

Tomorrow, I will travel hundreds of miles to meet this little guy. I am so excited, as I haven't been to Monica's house for more than two years! I am anxious, however, both for the flights (I've flown a lot but always get nervous!) and because I am leaving my own little guy at home. Would you please say a little prayer for me on Friday? I'd greatly appreciate it. I'll try to post at least once while I'm gone, plus I'm sure Monica and I will cook up some fun idea while we're together! Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Young women after God's own heart

I've mentioned before that I'm co-leading a small group for some middle school girls from our church. I am learning so much from these young women--we have meaningful conversations and a lot of laughter!
After a long hiatus from being involved in "official" church ministry, it's been wonderful to be part of this group. Isn't it true that when we give we receive much in return?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Muffins and pita and burritos, oh my!

I've tried several good recipes this week and wanted to share:

Carol's easy pita bread (Truly easy, as the recipe suggests--I lightly brushed them with olive oil before baking at the suggestion of a friend)

Poppy seed chicken (Warning: This is delicious, but it's not very healthy, so eat sparingly, and with lots of veggies!)

Cinnamon apple burrito (hat tip to Edi for providing a healthier version of this recipe; this dessert was made even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream)

Peanut butter banana muffins (from that "sneaky veggie" cookbook--I don't usually like the pb-banana combo, but these are yummy, and my son loves them!)

1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. natural peanut butter
1/2 c. carrot or cauliflower puree (I used sweet potato)
1/2 c. banana puree
1 large egg white
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

The book gives much more detailed instructions, but since I'm not a recipe purist, I just dump everything in a bowl and mix well. Bake in greased pan at 350 for 15-20 min. A single batch made 10 muffins for me instead of the 12 it indicated.

By the way, thanks for the comments on your favorite spices--I've found your lists fascinating!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The spices of life

I am always intrigued when I come across a list of spices that someone considers essential. For example, yesterday I was reading a book that said mace is a must-have. I didn't even know what that was until looking it up on-line!

My top ten jars, which I keep more handy than the others are basil, cinnamon, cumin, curry powder (a blend which I learned contains mace!), garlic powder, ginger, onion powder, paprika, parsley and red pepper.

I'm curious--which spices (not including salt and pepper) do you use most frequently?

A stewardship prayer

To close my series of posts inspired by Serve God, Save the Planet, I'll end with this prayer from the final chapter:

"Dear Heavenly Father: Thank You for the bounty of Your gifts, for the beauty of Your created world, and for the sustenance You provide me every day, both physical and spiritual. Thank You for giving me everything I need in such glorious abundance--from the air I breathe to the water I drink to the food I put on the table. Please forgive me for taking Your creation for granted, and give me the strength and will to become a better steward of Your blessings. Teach me to appreciate all You have given me, and help me to restore the forests, mountains, rivers, and oceans so that they can glorify You, the creator of heaven and earth."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Giving and receiving

*Thank you for playing Bingo with me--that was fun! Our first ball was N37 (and yielded the cutest photo); it took 3 more spins to find a winner: Brie with B1! Go visit Brie--she's a new blogger and a high school classmate who recently found me on this truly WorldWideWeb. Brie won a pretty spring notepad, a small box of these (a local favorite), and a little bottle of this.

*On another note, thanks to Jenn for the Everyday Kindness award! You have to check out Jenn's craft ideas--she is so creative! I am passing on this award to Katie because she is always so sweet and encouraging.

Brunch recap

The brunch went really well. After posting the menu, I was a bit concerned that the caramel rolls wouldn't quite be enough, so I ended up making a batch of these as well. I also decided to bake the caramel rolls in 2 square pans instead of a 9x13. This way, I could set one pan at either end of the long table, and also I was more certain they would bake evenly. (Sometimes the middle can be doughy) The only bummer with that was the caramel seemed to harden after being out of the oven for a few minutes. I think I must have over-baked them because I don't remember that happening before.

You'll notice in the photo that I used paper napkins. I only have 6 cloth ones, and hadn't thought ahead about borrowing. Also, for bigger groups, I'm not opposed to an easy alternative!

I'm always so impressed by Meredith's presentation with serving food. I knew our table was going to be crammed with all the dishes so decided against a centerpiece/flowers/candles. My favorite accent is my small collection of pitchers. These were all gifts and I love pulling them out for special occasions!

I thought Jamie raised an interesting point when she asked what holds people back from having others over. I had to smile when she said the condition of her dining room chairs kept her from hosting guests for dinner. Our chairs are literally falling apart (Eric repaired one of the chair backs with nails and a strip of electrical tape!!) and are not a matched set. I really dislike them, and look forward to replacing them someday!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Updates

*Thanks for all the great advice you gave on looking for a new house. We've toured 11 so far (that's quite a few for the small town where we live), seeing three of them twice. There's one I really have my heart set on (dangerous, I know) so we'll see what happens. My mother-in-law will be in town next week, and we'd like to have her take a look. Our families have seen photos of the house on-line, and they give their approval, along with our realtor (who also works in the maintenance department at our college). We made a long list of questions and things to check and are working through those items before deciding when and whether to make an offer. I'll keep you posted. We're praying that God will open and shut doors in the process!

*I'm almost half-way through my spring reading challenge. Here is my updated list (bold titles have been completed):

Animal Vegetable Miracle by B. Kingsolver
Serve God, Save the Planet by M. Sleeth
Frugal Luxuries by T. McBride
The Jane Austen Book Club by K.J. Fowler
Eat, Pray, Love by E. Gilbert
A Light in the Window by J. Karon (Why did I wait so long to start reading Mitford--I am loving this series!)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by K. Hosseini
Idol Eyes by Mandisa
Living Simply by J. Heim
Grace Eventually by A. Lamott
Summer Snow by N. Baart

*Thank you so much for your encouragement about the brunch. I'll try to take some pictures, but I know I won't get the finished table, as I'll bring the hot dishes out after the guests arrive--we decided family-style is preferable to a buffet for this occasion.

Last night, we set the table, started the caramel rolls to rise in the fridge overnight, mixed the juice, mopped the floor, and readied the coffeemaker (neither of us drink it!) OK, I'd better go get to work. I'll post the details tomorrow--thanks again for your well wishes!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fit for a king, or a president

My husband and his colleagues are hosting our college president and his wife at our house tomorrow. Brunch will be served, and the chef for the occasion is none other than yours truly. I hope everything goes well! It definitely won't be fancy, but I want it to be nice.

Here's what's on the menu, accompanied by milk, coffee and juice; and a bowl of fresh strawberries, pineapple and grapes:

Caramel rolls (a family holiday favorite)

2 loaves frozen white bread dough
6 T. margarine
1 c. brown sugar
2 small packages non-instant vanilla pudding
2 t. milk
pinch cinnamon
pecans are optional (I'm omitting as there is a person with a severe nut allergy on staff.)

Thaw loaves. In saucepan, combine margarine, brown sugar, pudding, milk and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Grease 9x13 pan. Break one loaf into pieces and drop in pan. Pour boiled mixture over dough pieces. Break second loaf into pieces, and place on top. Cover and let rise overnight in fridge. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Invert and serve.

Farmers' Favorite Casserole
from Gooseberry Patch Best-Ever Casseroles

8 frozen shredded hashbrown patties
4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 pound cooked cubed ham
7 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/2 t. salt

Arrange hashbrown patties in a single layer in a greased 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with cheese and ham; set aside. Blend together milk, eggs, mustard and salt in a bowl; pour over cheese and ham. Cover and bake at 350 for one hour. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bingo!

My husband purchased a Bingo roller off of E-bay a few years ago to assist in the lottery process for student housing. We sometimes use the roller recreationally, and now that Nathan's discovered it, it may remain in our home long-term! He loves watching it spin and enjoys putting the balls back in the cage.

I thought it would be fun to host our own little bloggy version of Bingo. Please leave a comment on this post, indicating one Bingo slot (B12 or G49 as examples). I'll have Nathan spin the roller, and the first ball to match up with one of your guesses wins a prize! As a reminder, here are the numbers:

B 1 - 15
I 16 - 30
N 31 - 45
G 46 - 60
O 61 - 75

Contest open to everyone, but each slot can only be listed once. If two people select the same number, we'll go with the earliest commenter. Also, you must leave me some way to contact you (blog or e-mail address) or your entry won't count. Comments open until Friday at noon CST.

Let's play B-I-N-G-O!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Trash talk

Dr. Matthew Sleeth says that "the quickest measure of a household's waste is how much trash it makes." After reading about how the Sleeth family committed to reducing their amount of garbage by 80%!, I have been thinking about this a lot lately and really want to improve in this area.

The prevalence of disposable items is disturbing to me. I fall for it often myself, and lest I be a hypocrite, I need to come right out and tell you that we use DISPOSABLE diapers. There. I said it. I am making strides in other areas, though. Thanks to my recent phone call, I learned that we can recycle tin cans, glossy paper and cardboard. Keeping those items alone out of our trash bag will definitely make a difference!

At a recent gathering of moms, we somehow started talking about cleaning projects. I cringed when one woman said she uses a handful of the disposable wipes every time she cleans the bathroom, and when another mom said she buys the Gladware/Ziploc plastic containers so she can pitch them when she clears the fridge instead of washing and reusing them. This attitude is so common that I find it overwhelming to know when and how to speak up. I don't want to come across as judgmental or overly critical, nor do I want to act as if I am the poster child in this area (disposable diapers, remember?!) But it's also difficult to remain silent on something I care about. I know I have much progress to make, too, and I want to challenge myself to do more!

I found a couple of good websites that offered easy and practical ways to reduce trash here and here. I also appreciated A's recent post on how her family decreases the amount of garbage they produce. In a previous post, I talked about ways we're trying to waste less paper. Do you have other ideas for reducing the amount of garbage you throw away? I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, February 15, 2008

So long, farewell

Exactly six months ago today, I told you I was "letting them go." Just last week, I finally re-read the final issue from my 5-year collection of Real Simple magazine. I kept only a handful of my favorite issues, as well as probably a hundred loose pages with ideas, recipes, etc. to file. My closet has now gained the space where 8 magazine file boxes used to sit--what a difference!

I found a student who was interested in "inheriting" the collection, and it felt so good to get rid of them! As we anticipate moving in a few months, I'm excited about tackling projects like this. Who wants to lug around 60 magazines? Not me!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Carried away

Whenever I come across another blogger named Carrie (via comments/links on other blogs), I am compelled to stop by for a visit. As I have found quite a few Carries in the blog world, I thought it would be fun to introduce you to them.

Carrie's Cooking Adventures

Carrie's Crafty Cottage

Chocolate the Other White Meat

Ginger Lemon Girl

Looking Through the Backyard of My Life

Natural Moms Talk Radio

Oak Rise Cottage

Pine Meadow Farm

The M-V Legacy

Three Girl Circus

I thought this was a fun way to meet some new people, and have you do the same! How many bloggers are you aware of that have the same name as you?

Note: I don't read any of these blogs regularly at this point, I've just been compiling this list for a couple months. I look forward to visiting all of these Carries today and in the future.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Food for thought

My post title is that of a chapter from Serve God, Save the Planet. This post is a combination of thoughts from Dr. Sleeth, as well as some of what I learned from recently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

After studying the issue of vegetarianism which he had previously deemed too radical, Sleeth discovered that ten times more energy, water and grain is needed to produce a pound of beef or pork than a pound of milk or cheese. As a result, Sleeth's family gradually dropped meat from their daily meals until it was part of only a couple dinners a week.

According to Kingsolver's husband, Steven Hopp, "each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles." The amount of fossil fuels used to package, transport and refrigerate our food is truly unbelievable! Hopp says that if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of local and organic meat and produce, we would reduce our nation's oil consumption by over a million barrels of oil every week. Small changes=big difference!

Kingsolver writes that "the main barrier between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements," she says, "are patience and a hint of restraint." For the Kingsolver-Hopp family, this restraint includes not eating bananas since they can't be grown locally. They gave up fruit for most months of the year, other than the apples they'd canned for the winter. That certainly takes patience, but I'd call that more than a hint of restraint!

I can relate to and support not buying some produce out of season. Tomatoes, for example. Our garden has absolutely spoiled me, and in the winter, I pass right by that table at the grocery every time. Once you've had the real thing, pink and mushy doesn't cut it. Kingsolver makes a fascinating point on this subject when she says, "you'd think we cared more about the idea of what we're eating than about what we're eating." She says our mantra is '"Give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former self.'" I haven't thought much about planning meals around the seasons, so I'll have to borrow the book I gave my mom for Christmas!

I do want to be more intentional about supporting local farmers, especially since we live in such an agricultural area. I'd particularly like to find a local source for eggs. I do enjoy going to the farmer's market, though last summer, I realized that most of what I'd bought there in the past, was already growing right in our own backyard!

Many people, myself included, conclude that the price of organic food is too high. I wrote a post on this last summer, and Jenn recently asked her readers to share why they buy or organic or not. (Both posts received lots of comments, so check them out!) There's not enough space here for me to share all the compelling things Kingsolver said on this subject, but here's a striking quote: "In our daily fare, even in school lunches, we broadly justify tallow-fried animal pulp on the grounds that it's cheaper than whole grains, fresh vegetables, and hormone-free dairy." Yikes!

I really enjoyed reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Statistics and academic arguments are woven together with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes of farming adventures and family. There are also lots of recipes, which you can find here. I'm looking forward to trying their Friday Night Pizza dough.

For now, I'm not giving up bananas (my son's favorite food!), nor am I suggesting you do the same, unless you feel led to. But reading these two books has certainly given me something to chew on. I hope it gives you some food for thought, too.

"When consumerism becomes the driving ethic, it has only one commandment: Get the most by paying the least. In this system, dignity, ethics, beauty, fairness, and families that live on small farms do not figure. The only line is the bottom line." (Sleeth)

"Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren't trivial. Ultimately, they will, or won't, add up to having been the thing that mattered." (Kingsolver)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sigh

This morning was supposed to be our pampering/spa morning at MOPS. Apparently, I didn't get the memo that our local schools are closed today; thus, MOPS does not meet. I just drove over to the church, and it was such a bummer to see an empty parking lot. Spring, where are you?!

Sweet!

A friend and I made notecards over the weekend. Here are my favorites--so simple, but I love how they turned out! Both of these will be sent to friends who just had babies.

Also, if you need inspiration for some unique homemade valentines, look no further than here. Lots of fun ideas for re-purposing your junk drawer contents into one-of-a-kind greetings. Since they only show one photo, here are some more examples from the actual magazine article: a packet of sugar ("you are too sweet"), a match ("you light my fire") and red hots/Tabasco sauce ("hey, hot stuff"). So cute and creative!

The little things

For accountability purposes, I will tell you that I have taken my monthly retreat. However, this time I'd like to keep thinking privately about what God has put on my heart.

I do want to share a favorite quote of mine from Mother Teresa that I was reminded of during my time of reflection: "Be faithful in the little things, for in them your strength lies." I think that is such a true statement that has served as a powerful reminder to me over the years. It reminds me of a definition of integrity I heard a long time ago--that integrity is who you are when no one else is looking.

Help me, Lord, to be faithful in the little things. Even if no one else is watching me, You are, and I want to be mindful of that.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Serve God, Save the Planet part 3

Though I had hoped Serve God, Save the Planet would give more practical ideas for environmental stewardship, I found Sleeth's points to be very motivating. "To move from thought to action," he writes, "we must feel some discomfort with who we are." In the same chapter, he says that "Contentment does not result in change." So true. Sometimes I think it's hard to strike a balance between being too hard on myself and not hard enough when it comes to getting certain things done. Do you know what I mean?

For example, for several months, I've been planning to call our city office to find out if and where I can recycle tin cans and cardboard. I keep putting if off because I don't know the specific person to contact. (Not a great reason, especially after all this time!) I am committing to call TODAY, and I will update this post later this afternoon after having finally completed this little task.

It is powerful that the above quotes apply to all areas of our life--contentment does not result in change!

UPDATED at 11 am: I made the call, and it took all of two minutes! I got the information I needed, and it was great news: our local recycling drop-off does accept tin cans and certain kinds of cardboard. Posting this as a resolution gave me the motivation I needed. I was so inspired I made another phone call I'd been putting off. Yay!

Friday, February 8, 2008

The exchange

Thanks to all who submitted requests, and thank you to all who will respond to help them out!

If you have a recipe or idea related to the following, please respond directly to the person who submitted a request (via blog or e-mail). My responses appear in italics.

Wendi: I am married to a meat & potato kind of guy. The grocery prices in my area, especially beef, continue to rise. I would like recipe ideas that use less meat, but don't make my hubby feel like he isn't getting his meat fix.

Wendi, though we do not eat a lot of meat at our house, I always decrease the amount of meat called for. If you even slightly lower the amount (3/4 of a pound instead of a full pound, for example), you can stretch the meat further without much difference in taste.

I did find this recipe in the winter issue of Kraft Food & Family, which encourages braising less expensive cuts of meat. Click here for the recipe for Prairie Land Pot Roast.

Meredith: I'm always on the lookout for new crock-pot recipes. Any terrific recipes out there?

A new crockpot recipe I recently tried that we both liked was Slow-Cooker Orange Chicken. (I substituted peach jam and apple juice because my husband's allergic to citrus!)

Mom2fur: I am interested in 'five ingredient or less' recipes or recipes that freeze well.

I can respond to several of the requests with a single recipe: white chili! I've seen and tasted quite a few versions, but this one is quick and easy (only 5 ingredients!), and it can easily be multiplied for larger groups and made in a crockpot.

Simple White Chili

2 c. cooked diced chicken

1 48 oz. jar of great northern beans

1 8 oz. jar salsa

1 8 oz. package of shredded Colby jack or Mexican blend cheese

2 t. cumin
Mix all ingredients and simmer. Can be frozen.

Monica: I'm looking for the ideal Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. I've tried lots of recipes and none ever turn out as good as they did when I tasted them at that person's house! I love a chewy chocolate chip cookie and a favorite variety is the kind you can find in some grocery store bakery departments - just a hint of salty in with the sweet. I have tasted these homemade, but mine never turn out the same.

Monica, my favorite recipe came from Kristin. The secret ingredient is a box of vanilla instant pudding! Here's the link for a double batch.

Kristin (k.r.sedy@verizon.net): I would like some good and easy recipes for entertaining, and some quick fixes or crockpot meals for Sunday after coming home from church.

Kristin, here's a wonderful article on hospitality, which includes some menu ideas for entertaining. See above for crockpot recipe.

Stephanie: I would like ideas for baking mixes.

Stephanie, my baking mix recipes can all be found here.

Katie and Niki: (Both had the same request) My request is for "make-ahead" meals...the type you can prepare ahead of time and throw in the freezer until you are ready to heat it up. Ideal to make for elderly folks, families who have just come home with a new baby, etc.

Katie and Niki, I'll point you to this post where Monica recently asked the same thing. Perhaps she can elaborate on ones she successfully tried!

Spaghettipie: I'm always up for a new fish recipe (typically use salmon or tilapia, but open to other types). We eat fish at least once a week, and my recipes get a little old.

Lindsie: I would love to know how I can use a big ham bone. I know you can make broth from chicken and turkey bones, but what about ham?

We don't eat fish or ham at our place, so I'm hoping others of you can help these ladies out!

An anonymous reader asked for suggestions/recipes for meals for large groups that are inexpensive and simple. Please respond to me with those ideas, until I know where to pass them on.

For myself, as stated earlier, I am asking for ideas on preparing lentils. We were given a large bag and I'm not quite sure what to do with them. (Please keep in mind that my husband is allergic to tomato products.)

I know this post is long, and this process could be messy, but aren't all kitchen endeavors somewhat of a mess?! Please link to this post on your blog to encourage the potential for greater response. I hope everyone gets some great ideas--thanks for exchanging!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Craft time

My sister inspired me to make a simple Valentine wreath. The heart-shape form cost a dollar, and I used pretty fabric and ribbon scraps left from my failed attempt at making an apron last year. At least some good could come of it!
I've seen these colorful letters popping up all over on blogs, and thought it would be fun to decorate an "S" for my new nephew, Samuel. When I saw this polka dot patterned paper, I knew it was the perfect choice. I hope he likes it! (I found these instructions via an Internet search.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Playing hostess

A couple of months ago, I wrote that I wanted to be more intentional about hospitality. I am reporting back to you, because I kicked it into gear last weekend.

First, I invited 2 girlfriends over for a weekday lunch and served homemade minestrone, this bread, and the yummy cinnamon swirl Bundt cake.
Then Sunday after church, we hosted a couple and their 2 young daughters. I made this (our favorite dish when we have company), mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, and the Bundt cake, this time a la mode.

Sunday evening we had a group of "regulars" over for what one friend named "appiteasers." Mmm, a potluck of dips and finger foods! I made homemade soft pretzels, accompanied by jalapeno cheese dip (ahem, FritoLay), and others brought things like guacamole and artichoke dip.

Though there was extra preparation and dishes to wash those couple of days, I was excited to open our home, and to extend invitations to a few people we hadn't hosted before. I also just sent out little heart-shaped invites (with a pink Hershey's kiss attached) to a few friends for a little pre-Valentine cardmaking party. Anyone else hosting guests for a special meal or gathering soon? I'd love to hear what you have planned!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Prizes--wahoo!

An overdue thanks to Katie for the "You Make My Day" award. Katie, you are definitely a bright spot in my day! Thank you so much for your encouraging comments and challenging posts!

Thank you also to Leanne for naming my blog "excellent." You're right, Leanne, we're all in this together!

Hip, hip, hooray! I won something from the giveaway! (That rhymes, if you read it with enthusiasm.) Thanks to Laura, I won a prize from her Heavenly Homemakers store. I can't tell you what it is, because it will make a nice gift for two wonderful little girls in my life. But I sure was excited to win.

I also won a recent giveaway from Gift of Green--a notebook to record baby meal information. What a great idea!

Please keep thinking of ideas to submit for the recipe exchange (see yesterday's post)--I've received several so far and am excited to host what I hope will be a fun and helpful resource! (Note that your comments will be deleted after I read and record them, which is why it looks like no one has commented so far.)

Lastly, if you'd like some ideas on making things from scratch, click here for this week's Make it from Scratch Carnival.

I love blogging--what a fun group you all are!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Recipe and idea exchange

Inspired by Shannon's Works for Me Wednesday (Backwards Edition) and an interactive feature in Taste of Home magazine (in which readers write in to request recipes from other readers), I would like to host a little recipe exchange.

Here's how it works:

I envision someone needing ideas for a special Valentine's meal, a recipe for no-fail pie crust, or wondering how to use up an enormous bag of lentils (um, that would be me). Obviously, we have the luxury to search for various recipes and tips on-line, but sometimes the options are so numerous it can be overwhelming! This exchange will allow other bloggers to share their tried-and-true ideas.

If you would like to participate by submitting a request, just leave me a comment on this post. Once I've recorded your name, contact info (either blog or e-mail address), and request, I will delete your comment. On Friday, after the submissions have been collected, I will compile them into a single post on my blog. Then the fun begins! People who have a tip or recipe related to your request will respond to you directly, and you can do the same for others' requests.

I may not have thought through all the "kinks" yet, but I figured you don't know if something works unless you try it! Once the post of requests is up, it would be great if you'd link to it on your blog, so we have the potential for more respondents!

Comments will be open until Thursday (2/7) at 11 pm CST. Let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to reading your requests! (And please don't respond yet about the lentils--I'll include that in the final post. Thanks!)