Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16, 2012

Noelle's Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Pizza

Being home has its perks! Like real food. =D And for those of us who consider culinary undertakings a therapeutic retreat, being able to cook my own food is something I look forward to with great excitement. Especially when the produce is fresh from the farmer's market down the street or pulled from our own kitchen garden.

Friday nights has long since been an O'Brien tradition - pizza, Pepsi, and a movie or boardgame as a family. But unlike the American version, which would entail picked up the phone and calling Papa John's delivery services, the "pizza" phase actually denotes several hours in the kitchen - from three to five, depending on the amount of pizzas being baked up.

It all begins with a little fine flour, fragrant olive oil, and fresh basil. From there the sauce is simmered on the stove - rich chunks of tomato blended with Italian spices and raw garlic. Kendon is the master of sauce for us, and he is not want to disappoint. =)

The dough is made from scratch on an vintage solid wood board, flour and milk blended by hand in a rhythmic massage called kneading. Yeast and sugar, the key ingredients for the sweet, "pillowy" consistency of the crust, are warmed until the yeast begins to puff into a fluffy balm. Combined with the flour into dough, it is left to rise for an hour or two, then punched down, and left to rise again. Keeping the dough warm and moist is essential to attain correcting proofing. The bowl is left near a warm stove, floating in a sink of warm water, or covered with warm towels and placed in the close proximity of a microwave.

In the meantime, the knives come out and fresh vegetables are prepped for toppings. Take your pick - but our selection is usually sweet peppers (yellow and orange), golden onion, black kalamata olives, green olives, white mushrooms, ripe red tomatoes, whole garlic cloves, squash, and pineapple. (yes, pineapple!) Herbs? Fresh basil and cilantro, finely chopped and bruised to release their delicate oils and aroma.
Meat? Well, the guys buff it up with pepperonis from the US, but I prefer seasoned chicken or sardines in oil. Dog tastes decent as well.... okay, just kidding. =P But no giving me a hard time about my seafood! lol
Sharp yellow and orange Russian cheese, grated, is the last of the preparations.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface, pat onto a baking stone prepared with oil. I prefer my pizza to be deep-dish crust, about an inch and a half thick, and placed into a pie pan. Sauce, cheese, and toppings. Bake for twenty blissful minutes as the smell fills the house, and voila - dinner, the O'Brien way.
Compelled by my adventurous spirit from time to time to experiment a little, I took the key ingredients of my favorite Panera Bread panini, tomato and fresh mozzarella, and turned it into a pizza. Atop a bed of sauce and cheese, I spread large slabs of fresh mozzarella and slices of tomato, alternating in a checkered pattern across the whole pizza. Sprinkle fresh basil here and there (be liberal!) and then crush fresh garlic, sprinkling over the tomatoes. Be sure to be liberal with the garlic as well... there are fewer ingredients that produce better taste and aroma!

If you have a camera ready when the first piece is sliced from the oven, hot and bubbly, you can capture the mozzarella stringing in jaw-dropping perfection. =) As the Russians say, Na zdorovye! Enjoy =))

Red Sauce:

1 8oz tomato paste
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp basil
2-3 whole cloves of garlic, crushed

Pizza Dough:

2 tsp vinegar
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
*microwave for 30 seconds until yeast begins to rise, stir, let sit 15 minutes
4 cups flour
*combine liquids with flour and stir, knead on a floured surface, and place in a lightly-greased, covered bowl for 1-2 hours or until doubled
*punch dough with fist, portion into balls the size of a two fists, and roll out into desired thickness for crust.
*let sit 10 minutes on baking stone, top with ingredients

Bake 20 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Be prepared to fight over who gets second helpings!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9th, 2012

My brother is married!!!!! Steven and Nina tied the knot on June 02, and I could not be happier! I have the world's best little sister now, and Nina and I have already managed to sneak in an exclusive shopping day as legal siblings. We bought shoes =) What a perfect week!

The big day was simply ethereal. As Steven later said, "The wedding was magnificent, enchanting..." And enchanting it was. From Nina's dress of Indonesian lace and Italian satin, to the caravan of black Mercedes, to the best man's custom designed bowtie, to the banquet of  nine courses, and then of course the waterfall tiered cake to follow.... it was overwhelming. There will be professional photos uploaded on Facebook sometime next week, and I will sneak a few of my favorites on this blog. =)

I had the privilege of being Nina's maid of honor, and it was so much fun. She was the ideal bride, in every way. I was inspired by her tranquility, her excitement, her attention to detail, her thoughtfulness of her guests, her devotion to her fiance/groom. And the Lord's blessing was all over her and Steven as the event turned out better than anyone could have imagined!

The ceremony was held in the church, fresh for it dedication that coming Sunday, with the pristine white marble tile spreading like a milky glass sea from the foyer up to the wedding arch. Floating candles, a profusion of white Dutch roses, floor-length satin drapes gathered in billowy folds along every wall, an overflowing gift table... every thing was a fairytale. Nina's wedding colors, pearlescent white and dramatic royal purple, stood out in vivid contrast against the empty canvas of the newly-finished church. Wow.
The ceremony was packed with emotion. Both fathers cried, the mothers cried, the best man (Kendon, groom's brother) kept chasing the ring bearer (Sasha, bride's little brother), the guests awwed at the first church wedding they had ever seen. The vows were bilingual. Steven recited his in English, and Nina in Russian, but the first kiss was without interpretation.... everyone cheered =)

The reception kicked off the arrival of the caravan for the destination photoshoot. The bridal party rode in sleek black Mercedes, while select guests followed in a white bus. We toured the historic parks and gardens of the city, frolicking along cobblestone streets, playing at the fountains of the Grand Theatre where the Russian ballet performs, and jumping off WWII monuments. The main sights were the Kharkov Arch and Reflection Pool, adjacent from the theatre, Freedom Square, second largest square in the world, and Park Gorkova, a small city in size with mile-long alleys and perfectly sculpted lines of silver fir, delicate birch, shady maple, skyscraper cottonwood. The morning started with romantic rain showers, and ended with translucent sunshine. Thank you, God, for adding your own touch =)

Congratulations, Steven and Nina!

With love from your little sister <3

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012

Hello and howdy from the land of tornadoes, Panera Bread, and brown recluse spiders. Yes, that's right - a brown recluse spider - in my shower. MY shower. Me, barefoot, running for my life, screaming murder, from a hairy brown feller the size of a small apple that crept up within INCHES of me. That's right. I was INCHES from death, as of yesterday morning. Well, I am happy to report, that spider met boot and boot won. *round of applause* I sure felt like a jungle missionary heroine, squishing spiders at 5am as I get ready for a long day at work in the sweltering Oklahoma City. Bring on the arachnids. I'm an experienced killer now.

In this ever-exciting little life of mine, I find myself in a time of transition. This is a hard time. It is very difficult to find peace and contentment when everything is changing and there's no "solid ground" around. Classes are over, finals down, and I landed the President's List with all A's except for one B which I plan to contend as of tomorrow, thank you very much. (unhappy frown)
And yet I am not really lodged here for a summer stay, because in a week - SEVEN SHORT DAYS!!!- I am packing a suitcase, tossing on my European clothes agin (heavenly sigh) and climbing onto a jet plane home. YAY!!!!! Sooooooo excited!!! And just two days after I arrive, the festivities begin - Steven and Nina will be married Saturday, June 2nd, and three weeks later Katrina and Jonathan will be married Thursday, June 21st. So happy for them!!!!!
Then, I will be returning to OKC for the rest of the summer, and bringing back with me my youngest brother Kendon! He will need a good full-time job immediately to make his downpayment to begin Bible college, so please please.... be praying God gives him one right away! I am so excited to have him with me here in OKC. Not so much here in OKC, as much as, with me. =)

I'm also in the middle of a job transfer. Yes, gasp....... the happy little Panera trainer is seeking other employment. Actually, she's looking for the right career and planning to get her little engines going in a permanent direction. I'll be transfering my Panera stores for one called Brixton Square, on the other side of Lake Hefner. The redeeming feature? It has a drive-thru!! =) And to keep my store-wide-trainer status, I'll be training on drive-thru as soon as I move over, in June just as soon as I fly back after the weddings. I am not really happy about it, because it's not exactly what I wanted. I love my location in Nichols Hills. LOVE. Quiet, secluded, upper class, far from the dreary college neighborhood. The Brixton Square location is also far away and secluded, but.... this is where I began. I practically trained every single employee I work with.... and it will be so strange to be the newcomer, the odd one out. And yet, I need it. Because things at my Panera have become very, very, wrong and I know that God wants me to leave. It's just hard.

There's another big transition coming in my life, but I'm not in charge of that one. And the other party is taking their sweet time. lol So that will have to wait for the next update!

I hope that everyone's summers are beginning well. That everyone is staying safe. Please remember me in your prayers, that God will fix my heart with His peace because HE NEVER CHANGES. My life is securely tucked in his palm. Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15, 2012

CLASSES ARE OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! =) Big hurrah... Friday the campus shut down and I moved my boxes out, locking the door behind me and not looking back. Twenty credit hours and six months after I flew back to the USA this winter, I have finished my junior year. Hello, Miss Senior. That's right! Me, the top dog, finally eligible to contend for a bottom bunk, larger closet space, and better parking. And the finish line to my Bible college journey is finally just a few short steps away! Very small, comfortable short steps for little petite me, too! =) This time next year, almost exactly, I'll be dancing across the stage to receive my diploma, my handshake, my 3-seconds-of-recognition for four years of too much work. May 16th, 2013. Mark you calendars! It's going to be a fun day =)

The future on pause for a few minutes - this post is about this past semester. I wanted to say thankyou to everyone who prayed for me. I truly could not have made it without God's strength. So many times my own failed, but He always helped me along and somehow, I made it! The effectual fervant prayers of a righteous man availeth much.... so much =) James 5:16

I did something new this semester. As classes finished up and finals began, I took a few nights to write down the people whom God had allowed me to meet this semester and tried to list a few things I have learned from them or can learn from them. Sometimes it was all negative, but there was so much positive.... I found myself inspired by the little things I'd seen in people, and overwhelmed by how much I have to grow! The very nature of college demands that many people will cross my path only for this one semester, and especially now that I am transferring Panera jobs, I wanted to make sure that the opportunity I had was not taken for granted. I blotted out the names and specifics, but I wanted to attach a part of the list here and encourage all my readers to never grow complacent where they are. I tend to ignore the people around me, because I'm not very social and have little interaction due to my hectic work and school load, but God put it on my heart to stop and open my eyes and try to grow, grow, grow...

I am looking forward to such a good summer! =)

* pray. for everything. Cherish family. enjoy the journey of life. look for value in the broken things. love.
* really care about people (even strangers). take time to talk to them. smile. a lot. be true to your convictions. laugh while you're young. sing while you vaccuum. make a "wow" experience to *everyone* who crosses your path.
* kill your enemies with kindness. it pays off in the end.
* encouragement is never out of style. keep drawing. maybe someday you'll make a picture that looks real.
* dress cute no matter what. and a cute purse WILL be noticed. Also a hug, a wave, a compliment goes a long way to building a friendship.
* be ambitious. each curve is a new challenge. live with zest. throw the rulebook out once a semester and live a little. scary movies are the BEST. always have icecream and tissues. girl nights.
* love God, and love your boyfriend. devotion is a beautiful thing. so is sincerety.
* go the extra mile yourself. Inspire others by working hard. Add on a little love <3
* people appreciate being told they are appreciated. treating those beneath you to a little something special is a huge morale boost.
* pay attention to details, and they will bring you attention.
* if you have a car, offer a ride.
* don't be competitive. don't ever leave your car a mess. don't ever chose favorites.
* it's okay to excell. to be a quick learner. to do your best all the time. and to have cute nails at work.
* be a good friend. long ticket times are lame, but getting yourself hurt in the process just makes them longer....
* don't take out your bad day on someone. it may come back to bite you and give you a bad reputation.

....and so many more!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22, 2012

Acts 20:24 "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy..." This verse jumped out at me, quite literally, from the book I was reading for spiritual development class, right into my face. Lately I've been really struggling with a lot of things, and in my head I keep telling myself, "Just hang on, the year is almost out!" But it seems so hard!! Especially when things are coming at me from every direction, right? Well this verse just really means a lot of me. I made a list the other day of everything that was bothering me (I admit it was extensive lol) and just went over it with the Lord and my close friends and my Dad. Work was a big one - the environment has been changing, and management is now changing, and my potential for advancement is now being limited due to corporate policies that conflict with school... Such a huge crushing blow to me, the Panera girl who loves her work. =( Another one is classes, with so much due and being fined for things I didn't deserve and just aghhhhhh! The dorm, which has always been a heavy trial to me, has become almost unbearable... And then on top of THAT, the weddings and preparation, the struggles my own brothers and sister and going through... so so much. Then I found this verse! And Paul's invincible bravery: "NONE of these things move me!" I may be facing nothing that Paul faced, but his words resonated for me. Really, none of these things should move me. God is my Rock. enough said. "Neither count I my life dear unto MYSELF." Grrr. A hard one to admit. My life *is* dear to me. My plans, my reputation, my future, my family, my precious 6 hours of sleep.... And they shouldn't be. They should be sacrificed for God. For His plan. Surrendered to His grace and strength, because mine surely does not cut it! I suppose the root is self-centeredness or even pride. It is so hard at times to look past my own crazy hectic whirlwind and see the bigger picture... "So that I might FINISH my course with JOY." Amen! I can remember three or four distinct times this semester when I wanted, so badly, to walk away and quit. The Lord always gave me strength and grace and here I am - facing the last week of classes, then finals and my sister's graduation! - and I feel like blowing up and quitting it all??? How lame. And yet, in reality, so many people quit when they are almost there. Almost to graduation. Almost done with deputation. Almost almost almost. It is so easy to quit when it is almost! And Paul addresses that. To finish, and finish with JOY, and not frustrated all sliding into home base beat-up, worn-down, burned-out, scraped-up, fed-up.... that requires (1) steadfastness, and (2) the mind of Christ (selflessness). Please pray for me while I finish these last weeks. I hope this is a little bit of encouragement for everyone out there who is struggling with the artillery firing from every direction.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18th, 2012

The old Disney song from Alice in Wonderland, whose lyrics run, "I'm late, I'm late, no time to say hello, goodbye!, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late....!" has been the soundtrack of my existence the past (oh my word) two months since this blog had a post. No time! And yes, the college shuttle has delivered me late to work quite a few times. In the ratrace of college life, the end of the maze is finally visible on the horizon - finals, in just 10 days! Praise the Lord! This little hamster is tired of running full-speed on the endless wheel....

But these busy days have not been in vain. I have learned so much! I feel that God has brought me to a place where I can grow closer to Him than I have ever been before. The changes have been like a slow boiling cyctern, deep and real, and I am so thankful. The sermons in church and chapel, and also the spiritual sharpening of my godly friends, has been so revolutionizing! PTL!

The biggest news in the newspaper is my sister Katrina's engagement to Jonathan, on March 21st!!! Wow!!!!! I was able to be there and photograph the event... it was amazing. =) Just amazing! I am so happy for them and excited to be the maid of honor in their wedding on June 21st. I am also just as anxious for the wedding of my brother Steven and Nina on June 2nd!!

The other big news, of course, would be from work... I am now a certified trainer! Which means most prominently, that I wear a violet-shaded polo now instead of cobalt blue..... =P

Don't forget me! Sometimes in the winter when the leaves are gone and no movement is visible, the life-spring in the roots are finding their depth to spurt the tree into vivacity come springtime. Now that springtime is (literally) upon us, I am back! =) Hopefully, by God's grace, with many testimonies to share!

I hope everyone has a great week! If you have a Panera Bread near you, stop in this week and get an Earth Day water cup. They're green and awesome. I want one, but they are 10$ and I'm using that money for my sister's upcoming graduation! =)

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17, 2012

I anticipated this semester being very busy. I did not anticipate it being THIS busy!!! A sincere apology to my readers for the month-long delay on an update.
God has been good! I have been pretty sick and struggling to adapt back into the routine of full-time student, full-time Panera associate, full-time sister/chaperone, part-time ministry helper.... But God gives grace. =)
I find myself missing home a very great deal. The months I spent overseas last year, while unexpected, were truly a blessing from God and I look back in realization of how blessed I truly am. During these cold, tiring days I miss hot milk with honey and nutmeg at 2am, shopping with my mom, movies with my little brother, my dad's preaching... and of course, my puppy Zubi and my turtles and my couch Chester! Agh!
But even here in nowhere, Oklahoma, God continues to give me blessings. I have really wonderful roommates, a beautiful dorm, and enough food. The sermons and chapel messages and devotions and classroom lectures have been wonderful. God has really been working in my heart about many things, and I am so thankful! I would like to post about some of them, as time permits, Lord willing.
A belated Happy Valentines Day! =)
This week I am taking my first midterm. Wow... talk about time flying!! At this minute, actually, I am out the door to witness on the streets downtown in the rain. Amen.
More posts to come! =)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11, 2012

I promised my dear friend Karina that I would post about my New Years experience in the United States, and so here it is! =) In Ukraine, New Years is the biggest holiday of the calendar, the grand finale of the year, so to speak. It is celebrated with fireworks and dozens of courses of food, all day and all night preaching, games and fellowship at the church, pictures and sleigh rides downtown around the enormous New Years tree.
This year, I was in Oklahoma City with my sister for the holiday. I did not see any fireworks, and there was no special service at the church. I was sorely disappointed. I spent the day at work, and was so tired I crawled into bed when I got home and almost slept in the new year - but not quite. I set an alarm to make sure I was awake for the countdown. =)
The days leading up to new years, and the days following, were the real celebration. I was once again with my sister and best friend! Along with her boyfriend Jonathan and my Heartland friends, I was able to have many wonderful memories made of the holidays in the USA. We went to see the Christmas lights in Yukon's public park, as well as in the private district of Nichols Hills. We went walking around Lake Hefner, played boardgames at IHOP, ran around the mall and watched movies sipping hot chocolate. We even hung up stockings and opened them. =)
I am grateful to God that I could spend this holiday season both with my family in Ukraine, and with my sister in the United States. I am excited for this new year!!!!
I hope that everyone's holidays have been filled with such good memories. =)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

January 8th, 2011

Hey everyone!!!
I miss having lots of time to think of my blog posts, but now that I'm back at school and working fulltime, they are coming in soundbite form. =) God has been very good to me, although every day has had its own share of hardships and difficulties. I am grateful for my family's enduring support and very touched by the warm welcome of my many friends here in Oklahoma City.
Since returning to Panera Bread, I have brushed up on the new celebration items on our menu and taken back my training position. Oh, the fun stories I could write about my trainees. They try my patience, my temperance, and my longsuffering. But they also make me smile and laugh. Working with people - coworkers as well as customers - is a never-ending challenge!
I'm registered at college for this semester. I posted on Facebook my one huge blessing - someone anonymously put 100$ down for my initial downpayment!! What a surprise and blessing. I am thankful to God that he knows how to give good gifts to his children, indeed. =) [Matt 7:11]
The sermons at church have been a big encouragement to me since I've returned, as God prepares my heart for every challenge that he sends my way. Amen. =)
I appreciate all the prayers sent my way... they are not taken for granted. I really, sincerely appreciate them!!!
The weather in Oklahoma has been very interesting. The temperature has swung from sunny 70's to overcast 30's... but it doesn't feel like winter in any case. I miss the snow! =/ The dorms are decorated with soft white Christmas lights all over the lobby and yet... there is no snow... it is very strange. =P
This coming week starts the Annual National Home Missions & Church Planting Conference at Heartland Baptist Bible College. I am excited to hear the preaching and see the Lord work! And hopefully, I will get to see a very dear Pastor and wife of one of my family's supporting churches. Last year they took my sister and I out to IHOP and Starbucks. =))) Haha okay... I'm happy to see them for other reasons besides great food and fellowship. =P It is so nice to have friends around the world and reunite =) God is so good and I am looking forward to the big reunion in Heaven someday!! No more time differences and mile distances and saying goodbyes. Amen!

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 6th, 2011

My new room!!! =) Got all moved in yesterday, and today is registration! =)