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Sunrise from my flight’s gate in Amsterdam.

After one very early flight from Cologne to Amsterdam, another flight from Amsterdam to Oslo, a four hour wait in Oslo and a five hour train ride through Norway, I finally arrived at the train station to be greeted by Sarah and her husband.

I was so happy to see them that the exhaustion from traveling over 14 hours was instantly wiped away.

Thursday was practically over by the time we arrived back at their home, but we made the most catching up over a traditional Norwegian evening meal before calling it a night.

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Friday morning presented the opportunity to follow Sarah through her school day. We ate breakfast, she packed a lunch, then we met with her two neighbor boys to take the bus to school.

Want to know another example of what a great human being Sarah is? She learned and then taught Braille to the younger brother who has become blind. Yeah, she’s awesome like that.

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It was such a privilege to be welcomed into Sarah’s schools and get to learn about the Norwegian school system. One of the interesting differences is that the children have a short break time between each and every lesson. I imagine every child I’ve ever taught could benefit from a short break between lessons.

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I spent the first lesson of the day in Sarah’s 4-5th grade English lesson before heading across the school yard to the preschool.

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After playing in the preschool and gymnasium with the little kids, we all had a nearly identical lunch of bread or crackers with either cheese or sliced meat. Sarah got all fancy and even packed us vegetables and hard boiled eggs. Apparently, Norwegians like to eat alike.

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The school day ends early in Norway so as Sarah carried on with after school supervision, I walked back to her home, taking photos along the way.

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When I arrived Thursday night, it was too dark to see the landscape, but in the light of day, I felt absolutely dwarfed by the greatness of the surrounding mountains.

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Sarah’s school is probably about 1km away from her home. It was a bit drizzly and overcast on the walk back, but the atmosphere was peaceful and calming.

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Lucky for Sarah and Aug, they were able to find a beautiful home right beside the water.

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As if waking up every day to this amazing kitchen wasn’t enough, check out the view!PA282134

Sarah and Aug have done such a wonderful job creating a warm, cozy, welcoming home. A lovely home to accompany their lovely personalities!PA282131

Once Sarah returned from school, we appropriately dressed for my first ever “real hike.”

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What I’ve been calling hiking all my life is a walk in the park compared to the hiking Sarah does in Norway.

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See that big waterfall coming down from the mountain? That’s called Haremdalen, and it was our first hike.

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Did I mention that Sarah is 29 weeks pregnant? After working all day, this lady was hiking up mountains like a goat. As Sarah put it, she was active before she became pregnant so it has been easy to have an active pregnancy.

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We climbed through mossy trails and even had to cross the rushing waterfall at one point, but Sarah expertly guided me along.

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The trail was very steep, but she encouraged me the whole time.

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A few times along the hike, I had to ask my pregnant friend to slow down so I could take a breather.

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Sarah kindly obliged each and every time.

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As we climbed higher and higher, the view became more and more amazing.

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Before I knew it, we were able to look into the valley at the miniscule town below, and take in the massive mountains rising in every direction.

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Although the sunlight started to fade and we needed to head back down before reaching the book at the tip-top, I still feel proud to say that on my 26th birthday, I climbed a mountain with the most fit soon-to-be-mama in Norway!

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After our hike down the mountain, Sarah made a delicious traditional fish dish for my birthday dinner.

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This baked dish was so yummy, I plan on making it with Sebastian later in the week!

After dinner, we relaxed in their hot tub, watched How I Met Your Mother, then ate cake. A great way to celebrate the day of my birth!

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I woke up yesterday morning to news that my Grandpa passed away. He’s been very sick and unable to care for himself, so his death comes as a blessing.

I’m not really sad about his passing as I believe in the hope of Heaven, but I do feel very far from my family right now.

I wish I could be there to talk to my mom and hear happy stories about her childhood; to celebrate his life with whole family.

It may sound ridiculous, but one thing that brought comfort yesterday morning was my breakfast. The flavors in these pancakes remind me of my mom’s pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.

Although I might not have been sitting in my mom’s kitchen yesterday morning, I brought her here to join me through pumpkins and warm, comforting memories.

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups flour
  • 3 Tablespoons white sugar
  • ½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 whole eggs beaten
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 ½ Tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 150 grams roasted pumpkin (or puree)

Method

  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Combine the wet ingredients in a small bowl until well blended. The color will be a fantastic bright orange.
  3. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until combined.
  4. Heat a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Pour about 1/4 cup batter onto the prepared skillet. Flip when bubbles begin to rise and the bottom of the pancakes are golden brown.
  5. Serve with maple butter icing.

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We’ll miss you, Grandpa.

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Green beans have always been one of my favorite vegetables.

I attribute my green bean love to my grandparents.

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Every spring, my grandpa plants an incredible vegetable garden. He plants lettuce, sweet corn, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, peppers, even peanuts, garlic and strawberries.

Although he was always on a careful planting schedule when I was young, he’d save green bean planting to do with me.

Green beans were always our special crop.

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Together, we’d prepare the soil, plant the seeds, give them their first drink of water and mark the rows. Every time my family and I would visit between spring and summer, my grandpa would take me out to the garden and proudly announce, “Look how much our beans have grown.”

In my mind, they were our beans, Grandpa’s and mine.

When the green beans were ready to harvest, Grandpa would call me up and exclaim that it was time to pick our beans.

He always waited and let me pick the first bean of the season.

Once we had a bucket full of freshly picked green beans, we’d bring them into the kitchen and my Grandma would take over.

She taught me how to snap off the ends and cook the beans to perfection with a butter and bacon.

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Years later, when I announced my vegetarianism, my grandparents made the ultimate sacrifice- they stopped cooking bacon with the green beans.

My brothers will be the first to admit that Grandma and Grandpa’s green beans just aren’t the same without the bacon, but they all lovingly made that change for me.

Even now, when I travel back to the US, my grandparents cook up green beans from the garden; specially saved and frozen for my next return.

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As I opened my CSA delivery this week and found a brown paper bag full of green beans, I was instantly taken back.

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Taken back to my grandparents’ garden, full of love, learning, gentleness and guidance.

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Although I wish I could have shared this green bean meal with my grandparents, I’m happy I can share it with you.

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Israeli Couscous with Garlic, Green Beans, Zucchini and Pine Nuts

Makes 3 servings ~ Ready in 15 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 zucchini, chopped into bite sized pieces

3 large handfuls fresh green beans

2 shallots, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 Tablespoons butter

1 1/3 cup Israeli couscous

1 3/4 cups boiling vegetable broth (or water with stock granules)

2 Heaping tablespoons pine nuts

salt and pepper to taste

Fresh parmesan cheese to garnish

Method

  1. Clean the green beans, remove the ends and cut into 1 inch pieces. Steam until slightly tender. Remove from heat.
  2. Place 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium sized pan along with the couscous. Cook over medium-high heat until the couscous begins to turn golden brown. Slowly stir in the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil and butter in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat until melted. Add the garlic, shallots and zucchini. Sauté until the zucchini becomes slightly tender. Add the steamed green beans and continue to cook for a couple more minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  4. Add the pine nuts to the vegetable mixture and cook until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. To serve, place the vegetables over the couscous and sprinkle with fresh parmesan cheese.

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful fathers and grandfathers out there… especially mine.

I love you all so much.

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I’ve been busy all night working on a project for the blog and trying to get ready for the new school term which starts on Monday.

Before going to bed, I wanted to share a few photos from the time we spent in Berlin.

Sebastian and I carpooled from Bonn to Berlin on Friday morning. The traffic was so bad that the driver decided to get off the autobahn and take country roads instead for part of the way.

It was wonderful to drive with the windows down as we passed farms and fields of canola.

P4225872 P4225873 We arrived in Berlin around 6. We sat around talking with Sebastian’s dad and brother for a few hours then went to a party at the house of one of Sebastian’s friends.

Saturday, we spent the day with Pierre. He is one of the most genuinely nice people I know.

P4235878 We walked around all day, had an ice cream and stopped for a beer a the beer garden.

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Later Saturday night, we went to a BBQ with a group of friends. P4235879

This was the first trip that I was able to speak with everyone in German the whole time. I understood almost everything and was able to confidently say what I wanted to say. Although my speaking is certainly not correct, I am finally able to be understood in German. Hip, hip, hooray!

Easter Sunday was a little strange for me this year.

I knew that we were going to the baptism of Sebastian’s baby cousin, but assumed that the service would be a part of the Easter Sunday service.

Sadly, it was only the baptism.

So, although I went to church on Easter Sunday, I didn’t go to an Easter service. First time in 25 years.

Although this made me feel sad, there was plenty of happiness surrounding the baptism that I tried to focus on that.

P4245882 The gorgeous church is right next door to Sebastian’s grandparents’ house.

P4245881 Here’s the proud Papa and his adorable son, Nico.

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Nico was really well tempered throughout the service and didn’t even cry when the holy water was poured on his head.

P4245916 One difference between baptisms that I’ve been to in the US and in Germany is that in Germany the baptismal gown isn’t put on the baby until after the baptism is complete.

After the baptism, the whole day was spent celebrating family.

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Naturally, coffee and cake were included.

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Sunday was a gorgeous, warm day. Perfect for spending time outside.

I spent most of the day with my favorite little girl, Nathalie, Sebastian’s cousin’s daughter.

P4245922 Even though I only see her 1-2 times a year, she remembers me and is always super excited to play with me.

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I feel the same way about her.

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The 6 cousins.

I find it funny that two of Sebastian’s cousins have children older than the youngest cousin.

All guests were expected to be photographed with Nico.

P4245967 Although it didn’t start so well…

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we eventually got a decent photo with the baptismal boy.

For the next few days, my camera barely saw sunlight.

We spent a lot of time just relaxing with friends.

On Wednesday, we took the train back to Bonn and arrived safely at home.

Although I was really missing my family and was constantly thinking about my trip back home last Easter, I still had a wonderful time in Berlin.

Alright, time for bed. Tomorrow is a pre-work work day so wish me concentration, focus, creativity and luck!

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Even though I can see online what vegetables will be delivered each week with my box, I am still so excited to pull back the plastic and see what lovely veggies are waiting inside.

Here are the vegetables that are currently in season in Germany.

P4296000 Arugula- my favorite salad green

P4296001 Fennel bulbs

P4296002a huge head of pak choi

P4296003  Cherry tomatoes

P4296004 Broccoli

P4296006 Beets- I love beets, juiced, cooked, warm or cold

P4296008Carrots

Sebastian and I had plans to make tofu tacos for dinner tonight so the only veg box addition came from the tomatoes.

What sweet, juicy tomatoes they were too!

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Last night we went to dinner at my friend Prachi’s house. Her mother and father are visiting from India and her mom wanted to cook for us.

Yes please!

We were stuffed to the brim, unable to refuse her flavorful snacks, curries, rice and desserts. 

Every time we would clear our plates, another serving was dished up. I felt like royalty. Very pleasantly stuffed royalty.

We stayed late into the night telling stories, hearing about life in India, laughing and enjoying the company of a wonderful family.

It was a great night indeed.

P4285996 As a gift, I made a flower pot for Prachi and her husband, Jigar. I drew the outline of Germany on a white flower pot with a black permanent marker. Where Bonn is, I drew a heart then wrote, “Jigar and Prachi Grow love, grow.”

They are the kind of couple that you see and instantly know their love for one another is insurmountable. They are perfect for each other.

It was lovely to be in the company of their love and her parents’ love with my love. Really, a lovely night.

 

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Two weeks ago, my friend Kim and I got up extra early, found our way to a gas station on an autobahn outside of Cologne, hopped on a bus and drove to the Netherlands.

P4165572 We were on our way to the Keukenhof tulip festival.

After a 5 hour drive, the view from the bus began to change.

P4165573 Fields after fields of brightly colored flowers greeted us around the town of Lisse.

P4165576 You know you’re in the Netherlands when the bike park takes up a quarter of the car park.

P4165589 The Keukenhof is a large, gorgeously maintained garden. Open for only April and May, tourists flock from all ends of the earth to see and smell the fragrant tulips, hyacinth and other spring bulbs.

P4165600 Unfortunately, the swarm of people greatly distracted from the beauty of the grounds. We were led through the tiny footpaths like packed sardines.

That part wasn’t fun.

P4165606 P4165619 It was really difficult to get photos without people’s legs and bottoms in the shot.

P4165636 Whereas Kim tried to avoid photographing anyone but the two of us, I found it so ironic that there were more faces than flowers, I found myself photographing the unbelievable crowds.

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One thing is for sure, the gardens are beautiful.

Spring is my new favorite season.P4165605 P4165620 P4165649 P4165650 P4165651 P4165671 P4165676 The color combinations were so inspiring.

I had planned to pack a lunch for our day trip but the 5:30 wake-up call was early enough- we bought our lunches at the Keukenhof.

P4165610 The most expensive cheese sandwich I have ever eaten.

Later on in the day, we also bought a Dutch sweet.

P4165711 Although these waffles looked delicious, they were too Belgian and we wanted something very Dutch.

P4165713 Our noses found the way to the Dutch caramel waffles.

P4165714 Yummy! Sticky, gooey, hot, sweet waffles!

Although the Keukenhof gardens were beautiful, after a couple of hours we were both feeling a bit irritated by the crowds and needed some space to move.

P4165704 P4165709 We needed to get out of the gardens and into the fields.

P4165729 My friend Kim is a beautiful person, both inside and out. She really has a way to make everyone feel calm, comfortable and beautiful. Even a photo-shy person like me was able to relax while Kim took flower photos.

P4165745 “You need to have photos of you too,” she said. “20 years from now a bunch of photos of flowers won’t matter, but the way you looked as a 25 year old who lived in Germany and travelled to Dutch tulip fields will matter.

P4165625P4165752  P4165756 How right she is.

P4165732 All day, I had my family strongly on my mind.

When I was in 8th grade, my mom and I went to Whidbey Island, Washington to visit my Aunt Bev.

While there, on the same Palm Sunday weekend only 11 years earlier, my mom, aunt and I went to the tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Seeing the tulip fields in Washington is still one of my favorite memories, and sorry to say it Keukenhof, but the Skagit fields have you beat.

In honor of family ties, here are a few photos from the day that reminded me of my family back home.

P4165660 This one’s for you, Mom, the Jan Bos hyacinth.

P4165726 Ben, if anyone can spin a joke on a long Dutch word, I know you can.

P4165641 Whenever I see bleeding hearts, I think of you, Christopher. Are they still your favorite flower?

P4165767 Here’s a flower-covered airplane float that I knew you would like dad, especially since you didn’t have to sit through a parade to see it.

P4165727 Patrick, you would totally do this. You can’t see from the angle of the photo, but the suited man is also enjoying a beer from atop the street sign.

So, there you have it. Although the Keukenhof tulip festival was a sight to be seen, it was hard to enjoy the sights due to the hordes of people.

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Regardless, I still had a wonderful day with a fantastic friend, and that’s all that really matters.

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I’ve always ripped out recipes from magazines, just ask my mom.

Somewhere in my room back in my parents’ house, a folder exists with about 10 years worth or magazine recipes.

No surprise, this next recipe comes from the pages of my all-time-favorite rippable recipe magazine. Back in April of 2008, Better Homes and Gardens published a recipe for Asparagus Leek Risotto.

April of 2011, in my tiny German kitchen, I made this recipe my own.

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Vegan Asparagus Leek Risotto

While in Italy last October, I learned how to made real, Italian risotto. The most important risotto making rule is to ALWAYS use homemade stock.

P4034897 I started my risotto by making the stock using vegetables that were getting a bit old. I ended up only using the bottom half of the red onion pictured, and added another new red onion and a clove of garlic as well.

P4034901 Toss the veggies in a pot with a heavy pinch of salt then top with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

P4034908 You will also need 2 leeks, asparagus, Arborio rice, olive oil, black pepper, a lemon and parsley.

P4034929 Evenly space the asparagus spears on a lined baking dish.

P4034932 Brush with olive oil.

P4034938Sprinkle the spears with salt and black pepper then place in a hot oven to roast for 10 minutes.

P4034945 Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and add the chopped leeks. Sauté until the leeks are tender.

P4034949 Add the rice to the tender leeks and cook over medium heat until the rice begins to golden.

P4034954 Grate 1/2 tsp or lemon zest then juice 1 Tbsp of juice. Chop the parsley and measure out the black pepper.

Risotto is an easy dish that seems more difficult because everything comes together suddenly all at once. By having everything measured out and ready to go before you start, life will be easier and you’ll enjoy the process or making risotto even more.

P4034956 By now, the asparagus should be done.

P4034965 Chop 2/3 of the asparagus and set the remaining 1/3 aside- spears intact.

P4034968 Once the rice begins to brown, it’s time to start the action.

Stir in 1 cup of hot vegetable stock until all the liquid is incorporated.

P4034973 Continue to stir in the broth 1/2 cup at a time. Stir until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup.

P4034976 Just keep stirring.

P4034979 Once all 3 cups of the broth have been incorporated, add the cut asparagus, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest and ground black pepper.

P4034981 Gently stir the ingredients together, adding a little more salt if necessary.

P4034986 To serve, top the risotto with the remaining asparagus spears, lemon peel and fresh parsley leaves.

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For an extra zing, squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over top.

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Thick, creamy, fresh and Springy.

This risotto is the perfect combination of Spring flavors.

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Vegan Asparagus Leek Risotto

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens April 2008

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

For the vegetable broth

2 carrots, peeled and chopped into thick chunks

1 large red onion, halved

1 tomato, halved

1 garlic clove

1 handful fresh parsley

1/4 tsp. black pepper kernels

1 heavy pinch of salt

water

For the risotto

3/4 pound asparagus spears, trimmed

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups sliced, cleaned leeks

1 cup Arborio rice

3 cups vegetable broth

2 Tablespoons fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

(if you eat cheese, feel free to add some grated parmesan)

Method

  1. To make the vegetable broth, place all ingredients in a large saucepan, fill with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes. More time is always better though.
  2. Place the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet and brush with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Lightly sprinkle the spears with salt and pepper then bake, uncovered, in 450 F oven for 10 minutes.
  3. Cool slightly then cut 2/3 of the spears into 2-inch pieces. Set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook leeks in the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil until tender. Stir in the uncooked rice. Cook and stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the rice begins to turn golden brown.
  5. In another saucepan, bring broth to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer. Carefully stir 1 cup of hot broth into rice mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until liquid is absorbed. Then add 1/2 cup broth at a time, stirring until the broth is absorbed before adding more broth.
  6. Stir in any remaining broth. Cook and stir just until the rice is tender and creamy.
  7. Stir in asparagus pieces, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice and pepper. Top with asparagus spears and additional lemon slices to garnish.

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On second thought, maybe this only makes 2 servings.

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