Recipe: Squashed Mac & Cheese

awesome issue

mac & cheese inspiration

the inspiration


Reading one of my favorite cooking magazines this morning, I ran across a homemade mac & cheese recipe that had me drooling. While I would love it with chard, or kale, I’m thinking most people don’t want mystery greens in their comfort food. Instead, I thought I’d roast an acorn squash and blend it into the cheese sauce with some roast garlic.



cream cheese

roast acorn squash

homemade mac & cheese


roasted garlic in the sauce

Homemade mac & cheese


2 packages elbow macaroni

1 package cream cheese

1/2 pound cheese of choice — I like colby jack

1 cup flour

4 cups milk

4 clove garlic

1 acorn squash

2 tbs olive oil

1 tbs cayenne

1 tbs pepper

salt to taste

1/4 cup bread crumbs


Roast acorn squash and garlic at 350 for 40 minutes. In the meantime, on the stove, add olive oil and diced onion. Cook until translucent — about five minutes. Then add flour and milk. Whisk for five minutes until it comes to a boil. Add cayenne, pepper, cream cheese and cheese — diced. Continue to whisk until the sauce is creamy and thick. Pour into food processor. Add roast acorn squash and garlic and pulse.

Boil macaroni for 10 minutes in salted water. Drain. Pour into two casserole dishes. Add a pat of butter if desired. Pour cheese/squash sauce over pasta. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

Voila — a secret way to get vegetables into an otherwise luxurious meal. My friend Raleigh is under the weather and without health insurance at the moment. I’m bringing by this comfort food with a loaf of bread tomorrow.


Domestic Barter

Frozen bananas for the bread

Bananas for the bread

Banana Bread

Nanner bread

When Austin brought me eggs earlier this week, I promised baked goods in return. Last night after a much needed girl’s outing to 4Peaks with (photo shy) Sheila, I aproned-up, starting with two loaves of banana bread.


Red velvet meets the African

Matt's first red velvet cupcake

Red Velvet

Tonight I have a fundraising event at a gallery in downtown Phoenix. The artist — an incredible photographer — has donated much of her time and supplies to help this organization. In turn, I’m helping bring food for cocktail hour. Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting seem to always go over well. Matty had never had one and was very pleased with the bright red concoction.

Cookie dough is so tempting


Oatmeal chocolate chip

While the oven was on (and really on, thanks to a new breaker!), a couple dozen chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies made the menu too.

Tomorrow, I’m teaching a friend to bake bread. Sunday, I’m helping feed a sick friend. As my mom would say, two birds — one stone.

Wishing you a peaceful weekend,



I’ve written about grace before, but I have to say, the concept is still a bit like calculus. Theoretically, I understand the basics. Practically, it is pretty hard  to apply to everyday life.

Then there are moments where I feel like grace knocks me on my butt and makes me take notice. One instance was a warm summer day in Cameroon when I was with some friends heading back from a farming training. We’d spent the better part of the afternoon in a red van, driving back to our village. I was daydreaming, looking out the window at the verdant green hills and yellow banana trees. The sky was full of those puffy white clouds that seem cartoonish. Heavy with tropical rain, the undersides are droopy and silver, while the tops are whispy and the brightest white you can imagine. There was a moment when the sun shone through those clouds just so. The rays were visible above and below, reaching eternity one direction and falling on rows of crops and tiny huts in the other. It took my breath away and I felt goosebumps raise on my arms.

I knew I was feeling God. It was grace, but I didn’t yet know it.

When we arrived in the village an hour later, there was a message waiting. My dad had sent along a note — through a ridiculous process because email was just reaching West Africa — to let me know two things: Mini had given birth to her first son, Bennett. Both mom and baby were doing well and sent their love. And also, my great grandmother Clarice had passed away in the night. My GG was another strong,  instrumental woman in my life. She not only taught me Scrabble but also why it is important to embrace being a woman and see femininity is a gift. She was maybe 4’8″ when she passed away at 93, after decades of slowly shrinking and bending forward. Her hands were constantly aching from arthritis, but she never let her crooked fingers stop her from playing a board game or wrapping her arms around her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It was timely her death was marked with a much anticipated birth. Nonetheless, I cried harder than I had in a very long time until finally an African friend humbled me by saying they didn’t understand  “great-grandmother.” The short life expectancy brought my pity party to a close, so wrote a letter of celebration to Mini and looked to the sky with eyes as puffy as the  ethereal clouds, certain GG was (and is) watching.

My faith makes many in my life uncomfortable. I try to talk about things like grace with a soft voice, inviting questions but never pushing. I am quick to flush when others poke fun; I don’t know that relationships become any more personal or vulnerable. I can say my time with God is usually peaceful and fulfilling. I always feel loved and quite often feel more blessed than I can imagine.

Today, in need of a deep breath of air, I took a walk at Tempe Town Lake. With unseasonably windy and colder weather, I clutched the hem of my linen skirt and listened to my sandals flip flop as I made my way around the lake’s edge. My ears were full of whistling, my mind in prayer, my fingertips light purple from the chill. I have the terrible habit of living in the future, not the present. More than once, this unfortunate trait has brought great and unnecessary heartache. I know better, but it is weeks like these when I fully recognize my humanness — when ugly emotions bubble to the surface and I find myself an overly sensitive, tender mess. My stomach clenches with anxiety and I stop eating. I toss and turn and can’t find the comfort of consistent sleep. My mind races and my heart pounds. I feel like I’ve got an elephant standing on my chest. Needless to say, I am not full of grace.

Ironically, it’s these moments when I am most open to noticing grace elsewhere. Again, the sunshine spraying through the clouds this afternoon at the lake. A friend who picks up the phone with exactly the right words to say. Another willing to pray with me until I can find comfort. And yet another who wrapped me in his arms and just let me cry until I felt better. A day at work so satisfying that’s left me feeling more confident and content with my career than I have in a long time.

Some would chalk these up to coincidence — yet another tie to calculus. Instead, I can’t help but think intention, grace and faith are at play.


Sucrose Smile*

april 14 002

Rather than wallowing in my bad mood yesterday, I came home from work and made a point of walking around with my camera taking note of that which does make me very, very happy, such as: a new friend, Austin, who decided to bring me a dozen eggs from his ducks and chickens;


Pepper, woo!

More tomatoes

Peppers and tomatoes growing in my garden;

New for me

Pretty handmade treat

and maybe a little splurge on bling. I fell in love with these at Made yesterday and treated myself to gorgeous handmade jewelry.

april 14 008

Plus, when all else fails? Go for the girly wine.

Also? Thank you very much for the seeds. You are an amazing group and I am so thankful for your generosity!

{* Update: Completely forgot to mention the two things that are completely fueling my joy this week. 1. Rex is back running. We did 4 miles together this morning and it’s like he never had cancer. Thank God! It took 2.5 years after his diagnosis and the race we held in his honor, but we are back to running 10-15 miles a week together and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to this story. 2. Serious progress has been made on getting my book published. More details to follow!}


Community Garden: Seed Drive


We’re getting close to ground breaking on the vegetable plots with the refugee families and community members. A few hurdles stand in our way, other than the wicked Bermuda grass. Namely, we are trying to create a source of food security, potential income and community togetherness out of a field, with few resources other than a group of dedicated volunteers. Many of you have left the most encouraging comments about this project; I am very thankful. I am also hoping you’ll make a $2 investment and become part of this great vision.

I would like to collect as many seed packets as possible in the next month. The more seeds I can collect, the more food we’ll be able to grow, the less money we’ll have to spend on these materials (vs. the lengthy list of other needs) and it is a simple way to become part of something with amazing potential. Considering we’ll plant the first week of May in Phoenix, these are the seeds I’m looking for: blackeye peas, eggplant, cucumber, melon, okra, pumpkins, peppers, squash, tomatillos, watermelon and sunflowers. I may be breaking state law by asking you to mail me a packet of seeds from your home (or preferrably from your garden!), but hopefully the postal/agricultural gods will stare at the sun for a moment.

If you are interested in gathering and sending seed — whether purchased or heirloom — please let me know. I would sincerely appreciate it and can promise you lots of photos of your good deed making a positive change for a poor community in Arizona.



Yoked & Yolked

The crazy church casserole

The cake that almost wasn't Potatoes

Sunrise service was beautiful, including the flowering of the cross — one of my favorite traditions. Soon after, I scurried off downtown to the other Methodist church where I was expected to bring a casserole for Easter brunch. Thankfully, I arrived 2 hours before service, fired up the commercial ranges and went to town cooking my food for the day. The casserole still looked icky, but I did as asked. The cake that almost wasn’t was appropriately saved. The potatoes were baked, seasoned and soon enjoyed at the Passover/Easter brunch at the Wright’s. (Salty Senor’s family.)

Egg appetizers



The saved cake

Carmelized Onions

Olives for the appetizer

Fried Turkey


Lainey's Garden


Lemon Meringue

Passover Macaroons


The day was nothing short of lovely; we watched amazing golf, ate gobs of delicious food and managed to celebrate the mixed heritage of their wonderful family by having both Easter and Passover foods. Lainey, Adam’s mom, went as far as organizing an egg hunt in their expansive backyard. We (the 8 adult children) ran around like maniacs scooping up eggs, stuffing ourselves with jelly beans and eventually cashing in our eggs for coordinating lottery scratch tickets. It was such a fun afternoon! (And nothing says Easter like a bit of gluttony and gambling, right?)

Welcome, Easter!

Matty thoroughly enjoyed his first American Easter, including Peeps.


Breaker, Breaker: Over and Out!


The pantry is officially reorganized and clutter free. (Before photo here.) I love my new canisters and the red and white gingham liner paper. I also love the baking basket I put together with the things I use most often:Baking Basket

Pantry, AFTER

I filled the picnic basket with cookbooks I rarely use, got rid of jars that needed recycling and reorganized my canning supplies for early summer jam. My CRAFT along 09′ April project is officially complete.

What’s not complete? I have a pot of potatoes on the stove, a bundt pan full of cake batter in the fridge and a raw casserole full of some concoction I am supposed to bring to church tomorrow for brunch after service. Apparently, just as I decided to start cooking this afternoon, one of my breakers went on vacation. Could be because of recent rain, could be just bad luck. Either way, I’m without hot water, have a dryer full of wet clothes that will have to be re-laundered eventually and a fridge full of food I’m hoping won’t spoil before I can hire an electrician Monday morning (coincidentally the same morning I have the largest grant of the year due).

In a not-so-brilliant moment, I went outside in Nancy Drew mode to find and fix this problem myself. I stepped into a puddle, in the dark, and tried to dry off the breaker when I felt a jolt travel up my arm and make my fingers (and heart) jump. The emergency electrician wanted $350 (before parts) to help tonight. I opted for a cold shower and candlelight instead. Maybe just maybe I will wiggle my way into church an hour early and bake away in the kitchen unnoticed. I’ll certainly need resourcefulness and a dash of favor to pull this Easter off with any grace and not arrive empty-handed for a full-dance card’s day worth of celebrations.

Hoping your Easter weekend is passing a bit more gracefully,



Posing Bunny

Sweet bunny butt

What's up Doc?

Best Bunny completed and to be gifted to a couple at church soon expecting their first daughter. Also, the number of homemade bunnies around here lately is a little frightening — but timely, no? Happy Easter, friends!


{P.S. Please do not be distracted by the shiny object that is the Somali pirate story. While entertaining to think of peg legs, parrots and eye patches, those Somali terrorists are shameful — kidnapping the crew of ships full of food and aid for the poor along the African coast. Instead, how about we pray for the thousands in Italy who are suffering. Or Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan,  Zimbabwe… Too bad these countries don’t have pirates. Maybe their suffering would get some press too.}

Bread for the Holiday Weekend

Easter sweet bread

The beauty of baking

Easter Sweet Bread

Easter Sweet Bread

April Domestic Bliss 2009 010

Recycled Packaging

Easter Sweet Bread*


6 cups flour (I use 2 cups of whole wheat)

2 packages yeast

1/2 cup sugar

2 t salt

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk, diluted with 1/2 cup warm water

1 t vanilla

1 t cardamom

1 t cinnamon

zest of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lemon

3 eggs, at room temperature, plus 1 egg, beaten

1 cup dried cranberries

1 stick butter, at room temperature

2 T sugar


Combine three cups flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in bowl. I like to do this in a large bowl with a lid I can seal — you could easily do this in a large Tupperware. Add diluted milk, vanilla, lemon, lemon juice, cinnamon and cardamom.  Add eggs and then work in cranberries.  Beat in butter.  Add additional flour a little at a time. You may need to add a bit more warm water to get the bread the right consistency. It should be sticky when all of the flour is incorporated.  Knead until smooth, using the heel of your hand, about ten minutes.  Place in bowl, cover and let sit for 2 hours. The ball should double in size.

Punch down dough, divide in two,  and let rest for an hour. Brush each ball with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar (or more cinnamon).  Bake at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet until golden: about one hour.

*Adapted from Collen’s Portuguese recipe.

This loaf makes for a great slice of bread, or even better French toast. I’m hoping wrapped up it also makes for a nice, while unconventional, Easter basket. Easter is certainly one of my favorite holidays, only behind Thanksgiving. With the lovely and mild spring we’ve had, it seems like an even better reason to be baking, gifting and enjoying the sweet season.


Stop to Smell the Roses

Dizzy love

Yeah, yeah. I know this photo is awkwardly blurry, but it I find beauty in the way the colors blend. Something about out of focus roses makes me a little dizzy. Not my favorite flower, but these are certainly very pretty.

Today is Wendy’s birthday. Wendy is single-handedly one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. She’s interning with me, although most days I feel like it is the other way around. She’s smart, committed and runs circles around me. Plus, she and her boyfriend Dan are a lot of fun.  I am so proud of her recent accomplishment — being accepted to a handful of ivy league law schools — and will tell anyone who will give me a second of their time.

Vanilla with chocolate frosting

“Do you know where Wendy is going to law school in the fall?”

Rosey view


Rosey view

It has gotten to the point where she’ll walk away quickly when she can tell I’m about to launch into her CV.

Blurry but delicious

So, today we’ll celebrate with vanilla and milk chocolate frosting cupcakes (with sprinkles, per request), new music and a handful of kitchen roses.

Rosey view

As I was baking last night, Matt was hovering the kitchen making small talk.  First I handed him the frosting whisk, then the spatula and finally iced two of the cupcakes and left them on a plate. One was inhaled instantly and somehow the other disappeared overnight. He followed me around eating saying, “how do you get this so light?” “How are these so good?”

Well, he’s figured me out.