Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Supplements that Keep My Brain Happy

(A few of my personal favorite products and I don't have any vested or financial interest in any of them. Use any & all supplements recommended here only after checking with your doctor. Supplements can interact with medication you are taking so this is really important.)

Several of you who read This is Your Brain on Joy or this blog have asked, "What supplements do you take?"

Great question; because supplements have been a huge boon to my well-being, focus, restful sleep and general joy.

Let me start with my personal routine and then I'll also give you Greg's supplement routine-- as I add a couple of supplements recommended to men to keep them feeling as frisky as an 18 year old at age 53. Okay, maybe a 35 year old.

My brain scan and brain test showed what I already suspected: I have a combination of too much anxiety (basal ganglia) and too little focus (prefrontal cortex; inattentive ADD) issues. So at night I need to calm anxiety and in the morning I need to wake up my PFC!

I keep 3 supplements in my nightstand and take them every evening before bed. I have had a problem with post-traumatic stres nightmares and with dreams of endless frustration. (Can't find a phone to call for help; find one and can't find quarter, find quarter and my fingers fall off and I can't dial.. that sort never-ending drama.) Now I not only drop off to sleep but my dreams are peaceful.

True Calm (By NOW Products. Contains GABA and other calming amino acids, etc You can order on line; I get mine at Vitamin Cottage.)
Melatonin 3 mg.
Magnesium Citrate 500 mg. -- calming & also great for headache prevention

When I wake up, I take two more supplements to help perk up my PFC before I even get out of bed.

Energize by ISatori, a company in Golden, Co. (It gives energy without jitters and I just take one tablet. Love this product. )
L-Phenylalanine, 500 mg. It supports a positive mood and is also energizing without causing jitters

(Both of the above supplements can be taken with water on an empty stomach and don't cause tummy upset.)

After breakfast, I take the following. (I put our daytime supplements in one of those "old people pill containers" once a week so I don't have to think about it daily. I put Greg's on his desk where he keeps a bottle of water handy. He will bring me his empty container because he feels SO much more energetic when he has his pills.)

1000 mg. fish oil
(lemon flavored are the only kind that don't result in fish burps for me! Natrol makes a good product, available at Walgreens and online.) Excellent for heart and also mood/brain health. If I'm stressed, I'll take more during the day.

CoQ 10 100 mg. for heart heath and energy

B vitamins -- 50 mg of each B in one tab. -- for headache & PMS issues

B2- I take extra for headache prevention

L-Carnitine 500 - 1000 mg. -- I've found a liquid version that tastes fabulous (pictured above) and is much more economical. I usually put a squirt in iced tea or just swallow straight. It is great for heart health and sustained energy.

Greg takes

Fish Oil
Co Q 10
L-Arginine -- 500 mg.
Gingko -- 500 mg.
L-Carnitine 500 - 1000 mg.

During cold & flu season I add one tablet of odorless garlic to our daily routine to help ward off illness.

Melatonin can negatively affect testosterone balance in men and so Greg takes a product called Revitalizing Sleep Formula by Enzymatic Therapy. It has Valerian in it, which smells like month old dirty gym socks. He loves to catch me off guard and give me a whiff of the bottle and watch me gag. (Men are such BOYS.) Thankfully, it doesn't affect his breath...

Everybody has to find what works best for themselves. I always recommend to only add one supplement (under a doctor's care) at a time, and wait at least a week to monitor symptoms before adding another. Our hormones, blood pressure, etc. can all be affected by supplements. Men can notice a drop in libido; women may notice breast tenderness ... if a supplement is affecting your hormone balance. With each supplment you add, check to make sure it isn't affecting your blood pressure negatively and you sure don't want it messing with your libido negatively!

For aromatherapy support: I'm a bath gal, so I usually bathe each night with a natural lavender oil or bubble bath and a cup of Epsom salts. This relaxes muscles and the magnesium in the salts keep leg cramps at bay. I love C. O. Bigelow's lemon balm and it is the only lotion that prevents cracked heels for me in this dry Colorado weather. So I lather it on at night and when I wake up. Plus it smells like real lemon pie -- not like some lemon stuff that smells like furniture polish!

I like Whole Food's 360 brand of shower gels and use them for bubble bath instead. The fragrances are from natural sources and it is minimally processed. Plus a huge bottle is only $5.00. Love the lavendar scent for night time and the herbal-mint scent for mornings.


For a more detailed list of supplements and ideas to help other brain-mood issues (along with medications if needed) This is Your Brain on Joy is full of helpful, practical lists and information.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Comfort Supper: Mini Meatloaves w/ Spicy-Sweet Sauce, Smashed Taters & Pear-Blue Cheese Salads

It's a lazy Sunday afternoon, Greg's watching the golf channel and we just had one of our favorite Sunday "luppers" (which is a cross between lunch and supper). Pure comfort food.

Mama-Becky's Mini Meatloaves (w/Sweet-Spicy Sauce)

(Adapted from the back of the Lipton onion soup mix… for Texas tastes and moms in a hurry. I love these because they cook fast, there's plenty of sauce so they aren't dry; but the meat isn't mushy -- its nice and firm. Makes great sandwich leftovers, too.)

In a blender or food processor mix:

1 package of dry Lipton onion soup mix

2 slices of bread

2 eggs

¼ c. water

1/3 c. catsup

Blend well and pour into a big bowl along with 2 pounds of ground beef.

Work the “catsup – soup mix goop”in with your hands (take off those wedding rings first.. or it’s a big mess)

Pat into your biggest oblong pyrex pan.

Using the side of your hand, “cut” the flat loaf into 8 or so little mini loaves. It will look like little irrigation ditches along side your mounds of meat.

Bake at 375, draining off grease as the meatloaves cook. (About 30 min.)

While meat cooks put 3/4 c. catsup, 1/4 brown sugar, 1/2 c. picante sauce in sauce pan; heat and stir until sugar melts

Pour over meat loaves when they are done. Put loaves-with-sauce back in oven and turn to broil. Broil until sauce is nice/thick/caramelized.

I always serve these with smashed potatoes -- Just boil small golden potatoes (I cut them in half, do not peel) and when they are soft, drain water off and just mash with potato masher in the saucepan. Add a little butter, milk, salt & pepper (sour cream, bacon bits or chives if you are feelin' fancy) and you are done. Lots less trouble and more nutritious than classic mashed potatoes; and with the golden potatoes -- they are so sweet and rich you don't need much butter.

For some reason, everybody loves this meatloaf – even people who ‘don’t like meatloaf.” Great on sandwiches the next day so I plan on leftovers. Also can easily divide and freeze or give away to a friend in need.

I also served this today with a salad made from Lettuce wedges, Pear-apples (I get them at Sams -- a wonderful cross between the two and perfect for this salad), walnuts (toasted if you have time); and my new favorite blue cheese from Tarago River called "Shadows of Blue." (Tastes like a cross between mild blue cheese and the world's creamiest butter. Available at King Soopers in Denver which is a Kroger affiliate. In deli.)

For a dressing you can add a squeeze of lime and dash of pepper to any of your favorite Ranch Dressings. Today I used Brianna's Homestyle Asiago Ceaser Dressing. I'm a big fan of Brianna's dressings... they cost a bit more but a little adds a lot of flavor and the ingredients are pure and delicious.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What I Learned About Joy from a 100 Year Old Book

I picked up a little book at an antique store, tiny thing really. Written in 1912. Titled Just Be Glad. It has changed my life, for the much, much better.

Here's how it happened.

By late June, I was suffering burn-out after months of multiple stressors; and too often finding myself stuck on what I call Bad Thought Loops. You know, the kind of thoughts that ruin your day but go around and around in your head anyway.

Then Greg purchased me the wrong order at McDonalds. Grilled chicken instead of fried chicken snack wrap. I didn't say anything, in the way that wives cannot say anything and still yell at their mates through their eyeballs. My daughter-in-law Amy had purchased a Time Out Pad for her 3 year old son that buzzes when he's "done his time." Greg had already teasingly threatened to buy me one that morning.

At that point, we stopped at an antique store and he went one way, I went another. Tears in my eyes, I prayed, "What is wrong with me, God? I need help." And in the first booth I walked into I saw this tiny book laying by itself on a table, titled Just Be Glad.

I opened and read and began immediately to relax. I knew it was God's megaphone response to my achy-breaky brain. I found Greg, apologized, hugged, and purchased the book, promising to figure out how to get my Happy Becky Brain back as soon as I could possibly figure out how to do it.

Here's some of the gems from this fragile book (with a Merry Christmas greeting inscribed from 1915 inside!) that helped soothe, restore, re-orient my thinking, and calm my soul. I've shared many of these quotes bit my bit on facebook and twitter and the response was so encouraging (Please keep posting those!) that I decided to take some time to put them all in one place. If you or someone else needs a little re-directing to get back on the path of joy, please feel free to share this if you think it might be helpful.

1. "All things respond to the call of rejoicing, all things gather where life is a song." (the refrain in this book, repeated several times)

2. When things do not give you pleasure, proceed instead to give pleasure to your own heart and soul.
When things do not please you resolve to please yourself by being glad and you can add immeasurably to your happiness in this simple manner.

3. You must remember that the fountain of Joy within your own soul is infinitely greater than all your external sources of joy combined. But as far as we can, we should add the joys from the without to the joys from within, and in all things be glad.

4. If you have lost anything, have no regrets. Be glad and begin again. Be glad that you can begin again.

5. When fate seems unkind do not be unkind to yourself by being disheartened or dismayed. ....Before you lie vast fields of undeveloped and unexplored opportunities-- fields that you would not have known had not this seeming misfortune come upon you.

6. The heart that lives in disappointments is heavy. The glad heart ascends to mountain tops.

7. Surround us with an abundance of human sunshine, and the day's work will easily be done; we shall, with far less effort, overcome our obstacles; our troubles will largely be removed; and our burdens entirely laid aside. Every man can ease the troubles of others in this remarkable manner; and the secret is simple -- just be glad.

8. No man who acts just for personal gain can enter the spirit of joy; and yet the glad heart receives more of everything that is of true worth in life than does the person who forgets gladness in pursuit of gain for self alone.

9. Be glad for the things you have and you will find you have far more than you thought. Then you will not miss, in the least, the things you have not.

10. It is better to have attained to personal gladness than to have become the crowned monarch of a solar system. The reason is simple. The glad heart is the sunshine of all life, a benediction to every man, a perpetual blessing to everything in creation.

11. Prove that your cherished dreams are not necessary to your happiness and better things than you could dream will be yours.

12. He alone can live the best and enjoy life the most who takes for his motto -- just be glad. Though every mind in the world may give darkness; his will continue to give light.

13. Wherever you may be, add sunshine. Whatever your position might be, be a human sunbeam.

14. Do not think that happiness must keep its distance so long as you have so much to pass through. The more you have to pass through, the more you need happiness.

15. Gladness is not pure sentiment. It pays. It is not a luxury for a favored few alone. It is a necessity that all should secure in abundance.

16. Gladness is a magnet and it draws more and more of everything that can increase gladness.

To these thoughts I would add that joy is the well we must drink from to draw strength. I don't think I ever really understood that, but "The joy of the Lord is your strength," the psalmist said.

A clear vision of Joy to Come Again, helps us endure the worst of times. "For the joy set before him, he endured the cross..." Jesus clung to the joy ahead so he could endure his darkest hours.

Mother Teresa used to say, "Joy is the net I use to catch souls." Joy is irresistible and it is divine.

I wrote an entire book, with Dr. Earl Henslin, on the subject of joy and its effect on the brain. Yet I am still learning so much about joy that I don't know if I'll ever tire of its study. One of the last letters (to the Philippians) that the Apostle Paul wrote in his old age, used the word joy over 30 times. He, too, must have found the subject fascinating.

I am also realizing that taking responsibility for filling our Joy Tank is the most unselfish thing we can do. I know that my husband wants, most of all, a happy contented wife. For if he has that, the rest of the good stuff will happen naturally.

Joy is also a great clarifier when we lose our focus or feel confused. Since reading this book, when I stumble upon a problem or worry or concern... I press "pause" and ask myself, "What can I do right now that will be joy to my soul and body?" Then I concentrate on getting to a more joyful place FIRST, and the usually the answer comes, the worries melt, things get back in perspective and I have the "strength that comes from joy" to handle them.

" For the despondent, every day brings trouble;
for the happy heart, life is a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15

Texas Sheet Cake, Chocolate-Frosted Hospitality

Just been asked to bring a dessert for a bunch tonight over to our pastor's house. Since I am the token Southern Mama at our church filled with mostly native Coloradians and Oregonians, I thought I'd make my stand-by favorite chocolate cake. The famous Texas Pecan Sheet Cake. I served this once when Hugh (our pastor) came over and he said, "I don't know if this is cake or fudge, but it is sinful."

I may use toasted walnuts instead because that's what I have on hand and I am, if nothing else, the Substitute Queen. (I once made a carrot cake without any carrots. I just substituted zucchini. "Work with what you've got" is my motto.)

If you don't have buttermilk, you can "sour" regular milk by putting a T. of vinegar or lemon juice in it and let it sit for a bit, and the cake comes out great. I skip the cinnamon that is in the classic original recipe because I am just not a big fan of any spice messin' with my chocolate.

In her post, "Texas Sheet Cake: Hospitality in a 9x13-Inch Pan" (www.texascooking.com),Patricia Mitchell writes, " Texas hospitality most certainly extends into wonderful food of every description. Let there be company coming or birth, death, illness, wedding, engagement, graduation or whatever, home-prepared food in covered dishes is going to make the scene. My mother was famous for this. While she did not literally meet planes with fried chicken in both hands, the truth wasn't far from that.

Texas Sheet Cake is a perfect example of Texas hospitality translated into food. While it is absolutely delicious and satisfying to the senses, it can be whipped up -- start to finish, baking, frosting and all -- in 40 minutes or less. Ready to commemorate, celebrate or alleviate life events. It's also perfect when you want something delicious and you want it fast.

This cake, and its frosting, should be mixed by hand; you don't need to drag out your 40-pound KitchenAid mixer or even trot out your portable for this one. And by all means, get yourself one of those 9x13-inch pans with the nicely fitted plastic lids. But be sure and tape your name to the bottom so you don't lose track of it when you make this cake as a gesture of hospitality."

I actually love making this cake in the big commercial sheet pans that you can get at Sam's for a song!

Texas Chocolate Pecan Sheet Cake

2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 t.salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I omit this)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted *
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola or other vegetable oil
1 cup water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Some recipes omit the oil & use 2 sticks of butter instead. Paula Deen does this AND adds 1/2 c sour cream to the already sinful cake! You may want to experiment.

Preheat oven to 375 °F. Grease and flour a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.(I use a bigger sheet pan, it is up to you!)

Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda and cinnamon,salt and set aside.

Stir together the remaining ingredients.

Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients, stirring until you have a smooth, rather thin batter.

Pour into your prepared pan, and bake at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the frosting.
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup butter
1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
Mix the milk and cocoa in a heavy saucepan (stir, stir, stir). Add the butter and, over medium heat, stir until the butter melts. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add the pecans.

When the cake is just out of the oven, spread the frosting evenly on the hot cake.

Just a small piece of this with a few strawberries or raspberries will give you a treat without giving you a sugar headache. A glass of cold milk also helps. (I get shaky with too much sugar and no protein!) I make this rarely because its so tempting, but for a big crowd, its a hands-down favorite.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spicy Maple Nut Talapia w/ Rice-Feta Pilaf

Tonight was the second time I've made this recipe I created a couple of months ago and it is just so good and easy, I thought I'd better pause to share the joy.

Interesting combination of flavors – sweet/spicy/smoky/nutty. Healthy, too!

Generously coat bottom of skillet with olive or coconut oil, heat to medium high (I usually turn the skillet up to high and then back it down a notch)

4 medium tilapia filets

In one shallow dish, coat fish with your favorite mustard – any kind: honey mustard, whole grain, Dijon, chipotle mustard, hot mustard – whatever!

In another shallow dish mix the following spices:

2 T. paprika
2 T. cumin powder
1 T. Canadian grill seasoning (or salt & pepper to taste)

Roll the mustard covered filets in the spice mixture and patting it in evenly. (Greg,Mr. MildNorwegian, found too spicy, so I just lightly sprinkled the spice on one side of his fish. But I, Mrs. Texas Hot Pepper, love that spicy-blackened style Cajun coating!)

Put in sauté pan, along with a handful of nuts (You can use slivered almonds, pine nuts, chopped walnuts,cashews or pecan.) Remove nuts as soon as they are toasted and keep warm, nearby.

Cook tilapia just a few minutes on both sides until the fish flakes, and spices are a dark golden color.

Serve tilapia over rice pilaf, recipe below. (Also good over mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes)

Drizzle fish with a little real maple syrup – to make a nice glaze. Sprinkle with toasted nuts.

My Favorite Rice Pilaf

Cook 1 package of Uncle Ben's Wild Rice (I like the quick cooking 5 minute brand) according to directions. When done, add 1/4 c. dried cranberries (I'm fond of the orange flavored ones), a few chopped nuts (any kind you like), and a couple of Tablespoons of crumbled feta or goat cheese. This is also good with white or brown rice, but I love the colors and textures in the wild rice for a fancy company dish.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prayer of an Unemployed Man, Or Telling Mountains to Move

The way spring follows winter, there are signs of the economy blooming again. Just a few little buds peeking through the snow, but I do believe we are on our way to much better for most who have suffered job loss and worse. I hope, don't you, that we don't forget the lessons left in wake of loss (and there are always lessons in the wake of any loss). That we remember that our jobs and our savings can disappear and that we are more grateful for our daily bread. More careful with our spending. More compassionate with those who are down and out because now we realize that really and truly, most of us are just a few paychecks away from homelessness.

I found an old musty book of poems published in 1941, with the Great Depression not fully in the rearview mirror yet. One of the poems was called The Prayer of an Unemployed Man and it was if the poem's author was reaching across time, because the meaning had suddenly become unbelievably needed and relevant here in the Great Recession of 2008/2009. For those who are still waiting for a job, a house, and their bank account to have money in it again... I offer this little bit of empathy from a man who has been there. May you feel a little less alone today.

Prayer of an Unemployed Man

Here in the quiet of my room,
I come to Thee for friendship; to feel
That Someone is with me, though unseen.
All day I have seen a multitude of people,
But I am still lonely and hungry for human cheer.

No life has touched mine in understanding,
No hand has clasped mine in friendship;
My heart is empty and my hands are idle.
Help me to feel Thy presence,
So that the disappointment of this day
Shall not overwhelm me.

Keep me from becoming cynical and bitter;
Keep me warm and human, and set a new faith
Before my eyes - a new hope to live by
And a new spirit with which to overcome discouragements
Guide me to that very necessary thing
Of life - work!
Abide with me and be my friend. W.C. Ackerly

For further encouragement I would like to steer you to one of my favorite authors and wonderful friend, Patricia Raybon. First to Patricia's most recent blog post on how to remember our Source in hard times. Titled: "Fries with that?" --http://www.patriciaraybon.com/blog.htm

And if you enjoy that appetizer of her writing style, then I would love to suggest her book, I Told the Mountain to Move. It came to me in a moment of deep felt need, and shabby though I am at prayer, it taught me how to come to God with my overwhelm, and to trust. Not through sermons. But through story: Patricia's personal and vulnerable struggle to make her faith real in the muck of life's problems. You can order an autographed copy, on SALE (!) at http://www.patriciaraybon.com/disc.htm.
Tell Patricia I sent you:)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Savory Parmesan Asparagus Spears

I have fallen in love with roasting vegies using this yummy, easy technique. It brings out the best in asparagus, broccoli, carrots, onions, potatoes, green beans... just about any vegie you like can be roasted and dusted with parm and turned into a caramelized delight.

Preheat oven to 375.

On a cookie sheet or roasting pan, sprinkle about a tablespoon of Olive Oil and 1 teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar. (Just eyeball it -- approximately 2 times the olive oil as vinegar)

Then roll asparagus spears in the vinegar and oil until coated on all sides. (I don't trim the ends because they make handy "holders" -- this recipe allows for picking them up and munching...as an appetizer.)

Sprinkle very lightly with salt & pepper or Montreal (or Canadian) Steak Seasoning.

Roast until asparagus begins to brown on one side, then turn them over and cook until brown on other side.

Remove from oven. With a fine grater and a hunk of good Parmesan in hand, grate a light sprinkling of cheese over warm vegies.

Let it melt and cool. I personally enjoy these at room temperature the most, but they can be served hot, warm, or cold and .... yummm.

Such an easy side dish when you are grilling outdoors in these last days of summer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Art of Being There

(Greg, Carrying grandson Georgie on the beach, when he needed a little comfort and rest)

Whether you need one, or want to BE one, there is definitely an art to comforting someone who is in pain. First step is to realize, at least 90% of the time, that you can't fix it. (Oh, do I have to fight my motherly instincts on this count.) Secondly, though it may not seem like much, just being a kindly listener and hand-holder is a near-angelic ministry. There's an art and skill to simply being there.

Henri Nouwen, one of the world's dearest priests, put it like this.
" When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."

That is probably the most profound and best advice I've ever heard on how to befriend someone in their valley.

Though this old poem, below, may not win any profound awards (a bit sing-songy), I love the message it conveys on the subject at hand.

The Friend Who Just Stands By

When trouble comes your soul to try,
You love the friend who just "stands by."
Perhaps there's nothing he can do --
the thing is strictly up to you;
For there are troubles all your own,
And paths the soul must tread alone;
Time when love cannot smooth the road
Nor friendship life the heavy load,
But just to know you have a friend
Who will "stand by" until the end,
Whose sympathy though all endures,
Whose warm handclasp is always yours --
It helps, someday, to pull you through,
Although there's nothing he can do.
And so with fervent heart you cry,
"God bless the friend who just 'stands by'

B. Y. Williams

The Proverbs speak of a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" -- I call them Velcro Friends. Sometimes I think that life provides Friend Tests. Will your friend be there when you fail or fall or embarrass yourself? Will they stand by when you go through grief unspeakable? Will they keep watch and pray when your soul is in agony and doubt? If so, these are your Velcro Friends. They have sticking power.

And are you a Velcro Friend to a few precious people? I have to say, in observation, I have never seen a person who is more of a Velcro Friend to so many as my husband Greg. He's the ultimate Golden Retriever; he simply does not give up on people in a way that astounds and inspires me.

In short, a friend is not someone who cures; but simply someone who cares. But we should never underestimate the profound power of simply caring, or "simply standing by."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blueberry Oat Bars

I love those little blueberry bars at Starbucks -- they are a "just right" treat; not too sweet and the oats make me feel like they are almost healthy, too!

So here's the recipe I made tonight. A big hit and really great served warm with vanilla ice cream. Meadow Gold had blueberry granola yogurt today, so I offered that alongside the bars as well.

Nothin' to it. And because you don't add any sugar to berries,very simple and not too sweet.

3/4 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. oatmeal
(optional 1/2 c. chopped pecans)
2 c. drained blueberries, fresh, frozen or a combo (I used a combo because it is what I had on hand.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar, mix in flour, salt until well blended, add oatmeal. Press half of the mixture into a greased 9x13 inch pan: spread blueberries over the mixture and sprinkle with the remaining oatmeal mixture. (Like a crumb topping) Bake @ 25minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5-10 minutes before cutting into bars.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This is Marriage; This is Love

One of the poems that I read from the wonderful old, old volume by A.L. Alexander in Poems That Touch the Heart created, with sparse but deeply-loaded words, the way I feel when Greg and I settle down in bed at night. Each of us with a book,inches apart, reading by lamplight until we get sleepy. He usually succumbs to slumber before I do, but always, always, kisses me goodnight before he drifts into dreamland, and says, "Sleep well, My Love."

I also love the phrase describing these quiet moments together as "The one true Sabbath of the heart" -- for a marriage should be just that, a living breathing Sabbath, a place of rest and renewal, fortifying each other, filling each other up again to face and give out to the world.

Anyway, enough of my interpretation; to the poem...


You and I by this lamp with these
Few books shut out the world. Our knees
Touch almost in this little space.
But I am glad. I see your face.
The silences are long, but each
Hears the other without speech.
And in this simple scene there is
the essence of all subtleties,
The freedom from all fret and smart,
The one sure sabbath of the heart.
The world-- we cannot conquer it,
Nor change the minds of fools one whit.
Here, here alone do we create
Beauty and peace inviolate;
Here night by night and hour byhour
We build a high impregnable tower
Whence may shine, now and again,
A light to light the feet of men
When they see the rays thereof;
And this is marriage, this is love.

Ludwig Lewisohn

Monday, August 10, 2009

Beck-garian Ground Turkey Goulash

I have been staring at defrosting ground turkey all day, dreading it. Nothing more tasteless to me than ground turkey, but I was determined to find a way to make even blah turkey taste good.

So I went to work and experimented.

Greg took one bite and said, "This is really great. I would definitely like to have it again." I said, "I better write down what I put in it before I forget! Because I think it has everything but the kitchen sink."

So here it is, and yes the ingredients may sound odd... but the result was delicious and full of flavor. Feel free to vary according to your tastes!

Put a big pot of water on to boil and boil a pound of your favorite macaroni style pasta. I love Orecchiette ("little ears")pasta for this. Shells would also be nice.

Season and cook 2 lbs of ground turkey with season salt (I like Tony's Cajun for a kick) and 3 cloves of pressed garlic. (Onion lovers could also add some diced onion at this point.)

Drain any fat and then just start emptying your spice cabinet into it. Okay, not quite, but here's what I put in:

2 Dash worchestershire
1 T. hoison sauce (if you don't have this sweet/plumy tasting sauce on hand; try brown sugar or maple syrup or honey instead)
1 t. cumin
1 t. Italian seasoning
1 t. Tarragon

1 can diced stewed tomatoes
1 small can tomatoe paste
1/2 c. picante sauce
1/4 c. bar-b-que sauce

To this Add: Any little bits of leftovers from your fridge.
I used some corn and black beans, but carrots, diced potatoes, black olives, peas, mushrooms.. all would be good!

Stir altogether and taste/check seasoning -- may need some more salt & a good bit of pepper. Should be slightly sweet, fairly thick, spicy and full of flavor.(Water can be added if needed to make it the right consistency -- about that of a thick spaghetti sauce.)

When pasta is done, drain and toss with a teaspoon of butter and dash of olive oil and just a pinch of salt.
Pour pasta into a casserole. (Pasta should just cover the bottom of it, about an inch deep or so.)

On top of pasta ladle the turkey mixture.

On top of turkey mixture dollop sour cream. (I used low fat) Then spread the sour cream until turkey mixture is covered, like icing the top of a cake.

Finally, grate cheese over all! As much as you like. I used a combination of cheddar, pepperjack and Parmesan.

Put in a 350 oven for about 10 minutes and then if cheese is not melted, turn oven to broil and watch until cheese gets nice and bubbly.

Cut in big squares and serve in bowls. We had this with a good green salad and an ear of corn and glass of chilled Riesling.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

After Movie Glow: Thoughts on Julie & Julia and Beyond..

From the first scene until the credits rolled, I had that rare movie-going experience, somewhat like a great book-reading experience, where I so enjoyed every scene that I dreaded the coming of The End.

First of all, I'm one of those women who is ultra-sensitive to pain, shock and violence on the big screen. So the moment I sat down to view this movie, my body completely relaxed ... knowing that the most violent thing on the screen would be the boiling of a live lobster. (If you don't count the famous SNL skit, where "Julia Child" remains calm and joyful while bleeding uncontrollably from a knife cut to the hand.)

At the opening scene of Paris in the 1940's, revealing Julia's excitement over getting to live here, and Paul's quiet joy over his wife's exuberant happiness... a tear began to trickle down the corner of my left eye and re-occured too often for me to keep count throughout the film.

The movie had all the elements of things that bring me great joy...

I love the 1940's-50's era. Those charming kitchens, the dresses, the hats, the music..

I loved seeing old-fashioned Happily Married People who are kind to each other, who recognize and appreciate one another, who applaud each others dreams,comfort each other in sorrow, find each other irresistibly sexually attractive, enjoy their comfortable companionship in quiet times.

Scenes I loved: When Paul and Julie taste a bite of fish cooked the French way, in real butter. They look at each other with mutual wonder at a loss of words and finally just say, "I know. I know." They get each others love of small miracles, like a perfectly cooked fish. Long-married, happy couples do this in a hundred ways; sharing a bite of something they love, or a good line from a book, a peek at a sleeping child, a rainbow or sunset, or a good joke -- because it is the way of true love to want to share all the blessings in life, small and big, with the other.

Another scene that I thought was masterfully acted/directed was when Julie opens a letter from her sister Dot with news that her sister is pregnant. Nothing has been said until this point in the movie about Julia's longing for a child she could not have; but when she bravely, through tears, declares how happy she is for her sister's news -- her husband, Paul, answers by holding her close and gently saying, "I know, I know." He understood his Pollyanna wife was both genuinely happy for her sister and grieving that she'd never have a child of her own as well. He grasp her complicated emotions of joy mingled with pain, as only a good husband who is a good friend can.

I love the way they looked at each other as if both were the most beautiful, charming, bright and kind-hearted spouses on the planet. It is said that love is blind, but I disagree. True Love sees things the rest of cannot see. It has X-ray vision to the hidden beauty of the object of our love.

It goes without saying, that I adored the cooking scenes, love Julia's exuberance and pluck, loved the publishing story with the fairytale-come-true ending.

I also enjoyed the modern marriage love story that unfolds with Julie and her husband as she reflects on how easy it is to get enamoured of a new project and lose sight of the most important person in your life. What husband or wife has not been there, and had to readjust their life, rearrange their priorities to keep their love alive and well.

I love the food, the beautiful food. Real food. It reminds me that though I want to lose weight (who doesn't?), it will never be at the sacrifice of real, whole, delicious and gorgeous food. I'll just eat less food, but I will not sacrifice quality. Better one teaspoon of real butter on a thin slice of good hot French bread; than a tablespoon of chemically created tub o'butter on a big, blah white roll.

For decades,in my own life, cooking took a back burner to emotional survival of a painful and confusing long season. Then I married Greg and soon after, discovered the wonder of the Food Network Channel. Paula Deen and Rachel Ray made it look so easy and they talked in comforting, "let's get real" tones, and I was hooked. Slowly, and happily, I began to cook. Cooking or just thinking about it, became my angst free zone. In short, they were my Julia to my inner Julie and I found a good measure of healing and recovery via the joy of cooking for those I love.

Now I am dreaming of cooking in Paris and in Italy. If we save our pennies, we think it can happen next year. Soon I'll begin taking Italian lessons and dreaming in earnest of Tuscany, fine Chianti,hunting for wild mushrooms and chopping up tomatoes, garlic and basil to serve atop hearty bread that has been slathered with olive oil and grilled to perfection.

In a year or so, I feel sure that Greg and I will be sitting on some villa's veranda, over looking the vine-covered hills. I'll raise my glass to him and say, "A loaf of bread, a glass of wine,and thou." And then we'll toast again to the memory of Paul and Julia Child ("Bon Apetit") who showed the world how to savor good food,fine wine, and great love.

For an earlier, related post @ Marriage of Paul & Julia Child see http://joybistro.blogspot.com/2009/07/of-publishing-julia-child-fine-marriage.html

Friday, August 7, 2009

Becky's Baja Fish Tacos w/ Mango/Avocado Salsa

(Mango-Avocado Salsa... close to what mine looks like!)

This is one of our favorite summer meals: healthy and easy and really pretty, too!

I usually soften corn tortillas by stacking them about 5 to a plate, sprinkling a little water over all, inverting plate on top -- and microwaving about a minute or so. It steams them and you don't have to use any extra oil.

Then sprinkle both sides of talapia (about 2 small ones per person) with Tony's Cajun seasoning (or seasoned salt) and sautee in a hot skillet with a little olive oil. Cook, turning the fish and breaking it up a bit with a spatula, until just done. Doesn't take long!

Mango-Avacado Salsa

Dice one peeled mango, one peeled avocado and one ripe tomatoe. Mix in a low shallow bowl (I love those Italian pasta bowls for this.) Toss with one clove of freshly pressed or mashed garlic. Squeeze with about 1/2 a small lime and spinkle lightly with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. You could add cilantro if you like it. I do, but Greg doesn't. Cilantro is a Love/Hate thing with people so I rarely mix it in to food, but serve it as a separate condiment.

To assemble:
Fill each tortilla (or let your guests do this themselves) with about 2 T. of sauteed fish, mango avocado salsa, grated cheese, sour cream and anything else you like!

I usually serve this with black beans and corn on cob. Leftover salsa is also yummy on the beans.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Experience Gifts" -- Joy of Giving Memories Instead of Stuff

(Greg --"Poppy"-- making memories with our grandsons. Teaching Nate to skip rocks in the ocean and Georgie to build a sandcastle on recent "Christmas in July" family beach vacation.)

My in-laws, Jim and Beverly, from my previous marriage, gave our family the most awesome gifts, that I have adopted their philosophy of gift-giving and added a little bit of my own to it. In a nutshell, they gave us and our kids...memories.

Never flush with money, but using their ingenuity and Bell Helicopter Employee coupons (!) Jim and Bev took their kids and grandkids (we produced 8 grandchildren in 7 years between us) to Six Flags, Barnum & Bailey Circus, a Christmas play at Ft. Worth's famous Casa Manana, The Harlem Globetrotters and at least one memorable camping trip to hear Blue Grass bands perform in the Texas Hill Country. Beverly would often forget the kids actual birthdays, but sometime during the year she’d call and say, “I’d like to teach Zeke how to watercolor” or “I’d like to take Rachel to the museum” or “I’d like to spend a couple of days teaching Gabe to swim.” She gave them random, but special and memorable gifts of her time and talent. As the grandkids got older, Jim and Bev gave the teens -- for Christmas -- a week at any summer camp they wanted to attend. (Within financial reason!) The friends, life lessons, memories my kids made at those camps (Jan-Kay Ranch in East Texas was a favorite) are among their most treasured.

My parents, too, would often rent a condo on the banks of Holly Lake in East Texas and give me, an exhausted mother of four, breaks from cooking and corralling the kids. Daddy would take the grandchildren fishing, mom would play puzzles with them. I could take a long, blessed, uninterrupted nap!

Now that Greg and I are parents (and step=parents) to a brood of six adult kids, almost all married -- and either in, or soon entering, child-producing years – we’ve made a decision to try give “Experience Gifts” to our kids and grandkids rather than a lot of material stuff. All are at a self-sufficient age and have the basic necessities of life, so now that the kids are out of college and gainfully employed (Thank ya, Jesus!) we’re channeling some funds toward experiences to remember.

“Like what?” you may be asking. Here’s a few of the things we’ve given our kids for birthday and/or Christmas.

1. Late Night Bite at The Melting Pot in Littleton, Co. We gave this to all my grown kids one year for Christmas, and we babysat the little ones so that the Sibs & Mates could enjoy an evening out. For $30.00 a couple they got cheese fondue, a salad, chocolate fondue and a bottle of wine. They still tell me this is one of the most fun times they’ve ever enjoyed together. Only hitch is that they had to go for a 9:00 dinner. But hey, they are young and stay up late anyway!

2. We gave Greg’s sons and their wives a night out at the Wynkoop in downtown Denver – a gift certificate for dinner and Improv comedy show after. Because they don’t have kids, we joined them! So much FUN just laughing together.

3. One year I purchased the Lunch Counter Cooking Class (at Denver’s Passionate Palette) for our grown kids who have an interest in cooking. (I think this group included Zach, Rachel, Troy & Steph.) I went along for the fun and it, too, was a deal. $20.00 each got us a personal cooking class – and we got to eat the delicious chef-prepared food for lunch.

4. Greg’s treated his boys to golf and lunch for birthdays; I’ve twice done a Girls Only meal out at Macaroni Grill with my daughter and 5 daughter-in-loves. They have round tables (essential, in my book, for visiting in large groups) and great pre-fixed dinners at reasonable prices.

5. Twice we’ve given each of our adult kids $25.00 to spend on a big Antique Store Outing during Christmas week. We’d all meet an a big antique mall and go our separate ways shopping for our “finds” then meet up at the counter and share our treasures. Drew & Gina bought a couple of old windows with panes that Drew turned into a unique coffee table. Zeke and Amy bought a big crate they turned into a very cool side table/storage box. Gabe and Rachel bought unique decorations for their new little nests. (Gabe was into Western stuff; Rachel into French décor at the time.) Julie bought a giant mirror to turn her dresser into a vanity.

6. Gabe loved all things Elvis and so he and I took a mother/son trip together to go “walking in Memphis” when he was fifteen. It was a tender time for both of us – my marriage had come apart and we were both trying to navigate what our relationship would look like post-divorce. A place called “Graceland” seemed the perfect spot to do that. The time was so sweet that I also saved money to take another mother/son trip with him to see Billy Crystal perform his spectacular, moving, hilarious one man Broadway show -- “700 Sundays” in Chicago. There were portions of that show (I’d seen in NYC) that I just knew Gabe would love; which he did. We also went together to see “Wicked “last year, as he’s my kid who most loves music and theater.

7. Rachel and I went on a mother-daughter trip, alone, to the Ft. Meyers when she was going through a soul-wrenching time several years ago. We were able to drown her sorrows, together, in pool-time, shopping time and eating fresh shrimp on the deck overlooking the ocean. Since she’s married Jared (who is so much like Greg) they have become one of our favorite vacationing partners. It is so great when your kids grow up to be such fun friends.

8. Last October, Greg took his son Drew (Troy, sadly, broke his wrist and couldn’t go) on a trip to a very special reunion of the WW2 paratroopers from Easy Company, portrayed in the HBO series, The Band of Brothers. Greg represented books for two of the men, now in their 80’s, and got a once-in-a-lifetime invite to their private reunion. He wanted to share this experience with his sons and so paid for their airfare and hotel to make it happen.

9. The last two summers – for everyone’s Christmas gifts -- we were able to splurge and rent a beach house – one in San Clemente, Ca. and this year in Neskowin, OR. (We have had great luck using www.vrbo.com to find affordable housing.) We rented the house and also helped with travel expenses paid for food we would cook. The kids paid for any rental cars, entertainment and dining out themselves. We book the house and they can come and go as their schedule allows.

We will probably take a year or two off from big family beach vacations (we’re saving for and dreaming of a couples trip to Italy …) – but will definitely do it again in the future.

The type of bonding that happens when extended families have a few days to talk, fish, cook and clean together, play card games until midnight, go for ice cream at quaint country stores or walks along the beach …. have deep and lasting impact on all.

Before you say, “We can’t afford that!” – I have to brag on myself. I am the Getaway on a Shoestring Queen. Using priceline.com to bid on hotels, watching for weekend getaway specials from travel sites, we’ve been able to enjoy “experience gifts” for a song. There’s a getaway for everybody’s budget. But it takes someone willing to think, plan, shop and save for a deal in order to keep “making memories” a priority.

I don’t know if my old crumbling white tile counter or my aging Pontiac Aztec will ever be replaced. Because every time Greg asks, “Should we get new countertops, upgrade your car, or go on a trip?” I always answer without hesitation, “Take me away, Baby!”

Things will fade, break, or loose their sheen. But memories remain forever golden in back roads of a family’s mind. I cannot think of a better investment.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Surprised by... Poetry? What's Up with THAT??

Picture of my father, of gentle eyes, who loves the rain...and me

Even though I love to read, cook, listen to music and other artsy-joyful things, about the last thing on my list of Fun Ways to Wile Away the Hours would be: Read a Book of Poetry.

But on our road trip yesterday from Eugene to Reno by way of Crater Lake, by way of getting lost, by way of avoiding a forest fire.... I had 10 hours and one 400 page book of poems at my disposal. I picked up the book at an antique store in a seaside town when I opened it randomly, and read a couple of short poems that actually brought a smile to my face and lump to my throat at the same time. I call this the Bambi Effect. When a movie or book gives you that "smiling through tears" emotion, such as Walt Disney's "Bambi" ... it is usually an indication that you've stumbled upon something magical. A treat for your soul. So I plopped down the 5 bucks for it in a "why not?" moment.

The collection, originally published in 1941 (I got the 27th printing, at 300,000 copies sold) was put together by a radio broadcaster, apparently well known in his hey day named A.L. Alexander. I'd never heard of him but he was, it seems, a bit like the inspirational storyteller Paul Harvey. At the end of his show, he would read a poem and his listeners loved these. So he gathered them together in a book and titled it simply, Poems That Touch the Heart. Though there were a few overly sentimental sing-song verses; I found so many that I wanted to read again, and again. Most were short, perhaps that helped. Each poem seemed to immediately create an instant mental picture of someone I loved, or someone I'd lost or something I'd felt but had not put in words. The depth of emotion surprised me.

"Feel free to read me one aloud," Greg said as he drove. And I said, "I want to, but I can't. I'll cry. I'm already swallowing lumps in my throat while I read them silently." Hours later, I'd finished the entire book.

So, I opened it and began again.

At this point, I braved trying to read one aloud, and could not get past the first line without my voice cracking and tears in my eyes.

But it wasn't a sad kind of tears. It wasn't exactly tears of joys either. It was the tears that come from a place of deep emotion. Sometimes these tears come when I sing in church and I have to stop singing and think of a hamburger or a gerbil or something totally void of emotion, because my mascara will be run down my face and I don't want to frighten other parishioners.

I had no clue that poetry could do this to me, too. Maybe I'm finally old enough to understand them. Perhaps poetry requires having lived a little, loved deeply, lost something precious.

When I taught first grade (I'm a retired teacher, having "retired after 9 months of faithful service")I used to love teaching the kids a short poem every week. We started out with "Keep a poem in your pocket and a picture in your head...and you'll never be alone at night when you're in bed..." That little verse returned to me as I read my big book on the road.

Below is one short poem from the book that grabbed my heart and put an immediate picture in my head. A bit of background: My father, the worlds kindest and most tender Daddy, with soft eyes and a gentle heart used to love to listen to rain on the roof. I remember one cool autumn afternoon when it began to rain and he took me up to the attic so both of us could hear the pitter-patter drumming even better.

Who Loves the Rain

Who loves the rain
And loves his home,
and looks on life with quiet eyes,
Him will I follow through the storm;
And at his hearth-fire keep me warm;
Nor hell nor heaven shall that soul surprise,
Who loves the rain,
and loves his home,
And looks on life with quiet eyes.

Frances Wills Shaw, 1917

Even as I was copying this poem down, I remember how much my Dad used to love the poetry of Robert Frost and now and again, he'd read one to me from his favorite overstuffed chair from his "reading nook." How had I forgotten this little memory?

Anyway, I may post a poem or two now and again from this old book I've newly come to love. Maybe there's some real wisdom -- a newfound joy -- in keeping a poem in your pocket and picture your head.