Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Feathers from Heaven

(Melissa with my grandson Georgie, showing off the prized feather find!)

(Michael, Melissa and Sarah Gantt)

(Joshua Gantt, Forever Young, who would have been 27 this week.)

My dear friend and neighbor for a decade in Greenville, Texas -- Melissa Gantt -- recently moved to Seattle, which happens to be down the road from where my son, Zach, and his wife Julie and little boy Georgie have moved. On a visit to the great northwest last week, we had "old home week" with my daughter Rachel & Zach, Michael and Melissa Gantt, together again... only thousands of miles away from our small town life of years before. I was awash in joy and the comfort of being together again when, as we walked to the restaurant near the Pikes Market dock, we spotted a lone white feather. Melissa picked it up with a knowing smile, handing it to Georgie, as Rachel snapped a picture. Here is the story behind the white feather, in honor of what would have been Josh Gantt's 27 birthday this week. He was not only Michael and Melissa's son, and Sarah's brother... he was like a brother to my children, and my daughter Rachel's first "love" and first kiss. His smile could make young girls and even old women go weak in the knees. We miss him.

Feathers from Heaven?
(from my book, It's Fun to Be a Mom, Harvest House Publishers, 2007)

Hope is the thing with feathers on it” Emily Dickinson

When one of my closest friends, Melissa Gantt, was driving along one day, she reached over and found a white feather attached to her shoulder. She picked it off, smiled, turned to her husband Michael and said, “Look what my angel left me.” They shared a good laugh and drove on, not giving the incident much thought.

A couple of years later Melissa was at the funeral of her grandmother when her husband, Michael said, “Look on your shoulder” as he pointed to a white feather that had somehow landed there. Not long after this second feather experience, Melissa found herself in the emergency room. Her little girl, Sarah, was being examined for a head injury after hitting her head on a dock in a waterskiing accident. She was afraid, as any mother would be, and every breath was a prayer. When she and Michael were allowed in to see their daughter, there on the sheet, was a feather.

Michael, normally not a sentimental man, took the white feather that had found its way to his daughter’s bedside, and later brought it to the car and put it in a special box, as a keepsake from above. All would be well, both in Melissa’s heart and thankfully, with Sarah’s head. (She’s since had yet another head injury, and subsequent visit to the emergency room after falling off of a golf-cart onto concrete. We tell her she’s blessed to be hardheaded.)

Then one day, the unthinkable happened. Melissa's son Josh, just shy of his 20th birtday, drowned in the lake where we all lived, laughed, and loved during most of the years of our kids growing up together. The loss is too big to contain in words; however, since the day Joshua left earth for heaven, it has been raining feathers.

There was one large white feather stuck to the front door of the Gantt’s home the morning after Josh died. I was with Melissa on a trip to Montana several months afterward, a girlfriend getaway to do some healing and have some fun, when, just before we left to go home – I saw Melissa reach down and pull a white feather from the top of her suitcase. “I have a stack of them now, I find them everywhere,” she explained. “And Josh’s girlfriend called to tell me she came back to her desk at work today to find two white feathers in her chair.”

On one particularly hard day, not long after Josh died, Melissa allowed Sarah to stay home from school. My friend held her daughter as she cried and grieved convulsions of sorrow that went with the missing o her brother. Then Sarah wiped her tears, stood up and headed toward the kitchen for a drink of water. “Sarah,” Melissa said, laughing through her tears. “Look at the seat of your pants.” Sure enough there was a white feather attached to Sarah’s behind. “That would be just like Josh,” she said, one hand on her hip, then smiled for the first time that day.

Not long after, I was standing in front of a mirror in a hotel room, far from my Texas home, when I happened to notice a white feather stuck to the front of my shirt. Half-joking, half-wondering, I said aloud, “Josh? Lord? Anything you two want to say to us today?” I said it spontaneously, with a chuckle in my voice, but I remember the incident clearly because I spoke the question aloud, even though I was alone. Though I would never claim to be altogether normal, I don’t usually talk to myself out loud.
That afternoon I flew home, and met my son Gabe for dinner. Before we had barely settled into the restaurant booth he said, “Mom, I woke up from the weirdest, but best dream about Joshua this morning.”

“Really?” I asked, more curious because of my own fine-feathered experience that day. “Tell me about it.”

“Well,” he said, “I dreamed I was walking along the lakeside road and Josh came walking toward me. I knew it was a dream, and I knew Josh was in heaven and I was still on earth, but I could talk to him. So I asked him, ‘Josh, what is God like?’ And Joshua said, ‘You know Gabe, God is a lot more down to earth than we thought.’”

Yes, I thought, I believe that. Now more than ever. In fact, He may be close enough to let a feather fall from his hand and onto our sagging shoulders.

I do not know if the feathers we are finding are truly heavenly signs of comfort. I’ll concede (but not without some protest) that this could all be coincidence.I also do not know if Gabe’s dream was anything more than a dream. How could I prove what will remain a mystery until the veil of this life has been lifted? Until we discover, someday, what has truly been going on behind the scenes of the Days of our Lives, no human being can speak authoritatively on “coincidences” around us. The Bible only explains enough to reassure us there is a fascinating life beyond death, more wonderful than we can possibly imagine, but the description is just vague enough to leave plenty of room for plenty of surprises.

Who knows? Perhaps one of the mysteries solved in heaven someday, will be bumping into a ministering angel whose job it was to look for people whose hearts were heavy-laden –and lighten them with feathers.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91:4

Monday, September 21, 2009

Becky's Brown Sugar Bourbon Pork Tenderloin

(The following recipe is for one small tenderloin but you can cook up to 3 of them in a pan-- just double the ingredients for the sauce.)

In a sizzling hot skillet, melt 1 T. of butter with 2 T. Olive oil.Turn oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle all sides of a smallish pork tenderloin with Tony's Cajun Seasoning (or some mixture of salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder & garlic powder) & rub in the seasonings.

Brown all sides of pork loin until it is golden and caramelized.

Place pork loin in an oven proof 9 by 13 inch pan (or leave in skillet if it is oven proof).

Into the skillet drippings, add 1/4 brown sugar, 1/2 c. bourbon, heat and stir until a very thin syrup. Check to see if it needs additional salt & pepper or Tony's seasoning, whatever you prefer.

Pour syrup over pork loin, cover, and put in hot oven another 10 minutes or until the meat is still slightly pink in the middle. (If you cook it until the pork is white all the way through, it may be dry.)

Slice on the diagonal and serve with a ladle of the brown-sugar-buttery-bourbon sauce.

Delicious with sweet potatoes and a spinach salad.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Really Helps When Life Hurts

(Cousin Nate hugging his Cousin Georgie)

Greg and I have both traveled through the darkest of valleys in our past. The pain of that time remains palpable and we do not want to forget the "dark night of the soul" experience even as we are basking in a season of sunlight and joy and love right now.


Because that dark time stretched our compassion/understanding/empathy in ways that we are now using "in the light" to help others get through the fog of despondency. Some lessons we learned in our valley:

1. Nothing helped more than someone who really cared and listened, deeply. Often just the act of talking about a crisis or tragedy takes the terror out of the event and gives comfort. And even an hour of comfort is an enormous blessing. You can give no finer gift.

2. My friend Shawn sent me a little story about a child who offered to "cry with" a man who was sad. In essence, these are the friends I most cherish in my darkest moment. The ones who withheld judgment to offer their tears and "help me cry."

3. Never say never. When I went through the shock of divorce, I was amazed by my own mental and pscyhological reactions to trauma. I often felt kidnapped by my flailing emotions. I was not "myself" for a very long time. I now understand how good people can do very odd things during a traumatic time. Writing and studying the brain in trauma has further widened my compassion for those suffering from mental or emotional pain. The mind is no different than a bone, it gets shattered, splintered and it takes time to heal. We need to give people a wide berth during crisis and a boatload of grace. For as Jesus said of his children, from the cross, "They know not what they do." None of us knows, with certainty, what we are capable of doing, given a certain set of circumstances, or a brain hijacked by pain, or bad chemistry firing.

4. Professional therapists and life coaches and doctors all play an important part in recovery. But do not underestimate the power of a listening friend. And do not think, if you are the listening friend, that you must have the answers or some profound wisdom. Just being there, showing up, is 90% of what a wounded soul needs.

5. When a person is in overwhelm, it is often the old-fashioned simple things that bring a bit of cheer and relief. Sitting outside in the sun. A leisurely walk. A cup of hot tea served with love. Something for the hands to do -- like knitting, or as my friend Sue is doing -- creating collages from cut-up magazine pictures. Pottery. Hooking a rug.

When my stepson Troy stayed with us during a long recovery from surgery, I headed to the craftstore and bought him paint-by-numbers, a small latch rug kit, colored markers -- and he enjoyed/needed these little projects to keep his mind and hands occupied during the long hours of recovery that could have been so depressing.

In the book, Lifting Depression, the author describes a link between doing something with your hands and a release of comforting chemicals in the brain. Even vacuuming or coloring pictures, mending or ironing or folding clothes can be therapeutic.

6. Some kind of simple movement helps. Walking is wonderful. Swimming is great. I've come to love yoga, and as a Christian, I simply say, "Thank you, Lord" when in the prayer poses. There's something about the beautiful, simple act of humbly saying thanks -- with your body --that has increased my own sense of calm and joy.

7. A hot meal, chicken soup, a good fresh loaf of bread, a gift certificate for take-out (from a healthier restaurant) -- all of these tangible gifts are wonderful. Cooking and eating well tend to take a nose dive during hard or off-kilter times.

8. Offering to spruce up, clean up or paint a room. I will never forget something my adult children did for me when I was at the bottom of my life. My daughter Rachel organized her 3 brothers and picked out a pale sunny yellow paint to spruce up my kitchen and livingroom. I cannot tell you how much having a bright happy room in which to sip my morning coffee, did for my flagging spirits. I felt literally cocooned and hugged by my kids every time I glanced at the happy color surrounding me.

9. In cleaning out my files, recently, I came across a copy of this poem by John Fox. One of my absolute all time favorites. And again, there is no greater gift you can give someone who is muddling through the mire. Listening well, seems to me, a fine art. (Are you noticing a re-occurring theme in this post?) If you ask most therapists or counselors or good pastors or life coaches about the essence of what they do to help others feel better -- most would say, it is that they know how to "deeply listen" to another soul, and make them feel heard, loved and accepted. And so, I'll close with this.....

When Someone Deeply Listens To You

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you've had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind's eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you
your barefeet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.
John Fox

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Love Notes from a 7 Year Old Boy

(My son, Gabe, the romantic.... all grown up now walking on the Oregon beach with the love of his life, Aleks.)

I've been cleaning out old files this week, years of them. Even after a gloriously happy second marriage; I've had a very tough time looking at old photo albums or reading stories from the books I'd written from the years of my first marriage. It hurt too badly to open the pages of my past life. The edges around my heart were still too raw.

Until, now.

For whatever reason -- time's passing, or my heart healing -- it seems, now is the time to sort through what feels like Life #1 with the sort of benevolent distance I've been waiting years to feel.

To my surprise, I am actually having fun... often laughing aloud! Looking through the files has reminded me that all was not pain, there were great moments of joy and many of those moments came from my kids.

Gabe, the youngest of four, was so funny that he actually inspired me to start writing down his take on life which lead to a book called Worms in My Tea, inspired by a day when Gabe -- ever the critter loving little boy - deposited a couple of wringly worms in my glass of iced tea. Unknowingly, I drank the tea and then was horrified to spot two intertwined, slimey critters among the ice cubes at the bottom. Gabe, about age 4, was beaming. "See, how they are huggin' and huggin' each other?" he asked, obviously pleased with this gift he'd shared with his smiling, gagging, mom.

Nobody saw things quite like Gabe did. From a young age he was a ponderer of deep thoughts. ("Does God have hair in his nose?") And he was a romantic from the day he entered first grade and noticed the opposite sex. I found, in the stack of memories, an article I'd written from 3 notes found around Valentine's Day -- written by Gabe, in first grade phoenetic spelling.

The heartfelt sincerity, of this one, to his new little 7 year old "Valentine" was palpable, even spiritual:

"I love you more than dimmines. Yur more preshus than baby Jesus lyin in a manjer with shelperds watching over.

love, Gabe

P.S. its all true"

Gabe saved his dimes and quarters to buy his new girl a white fluffy teddy bear and when she thanked him, he was so touched, he wrote her back. I found this note typed on my computer.

"I'm glad you liked you're teddeybear. i rote a rime for you it goe'es like this
I think you'r grandey
I think you'r handy & I like to give canddey.

I know it's short but you know I love you & that's all that matter's.


Gabe's never been one to mince words; he has always just laid his heart and thoughts out there, telling it like it is. He is still like this today. Like Popeye, "he ams what he ams." I've never had to guess what mood Gabe is in, or what thoughts are flitting through his mind. His mind and his every mood is transparent as glass, which has been challenging at times -- but I wouldn't change this quality of his for anything.

Flipping deeper into the file, I found another note. Apparently Gabe's teacher had given the class a special Valentine's Day assignment and Gabe, in his mater of fact Texas style, complied.

"I'm polst to tell you good things about Valentims. They are giving presents becouse it's fun to watch them open it. I usually give my friends stufft bears & chocklets. The party's are fun beouse we get cookies, candy, Sprite & I can be with my friends.

I just flat out like Vallentines."

Today, that seven year old boy has morphed into a handsome young man of almost 23! He's got a fabulous girl, Aleks, who has stolen his heart ... and it is easy to see that they flat-out love each other. In .fact, I think he loves her even more than "dimmines."

It thrills my heart to know that Gabe has found a home for his heart in Aleks. In fact, that all of my children have found wonderful life mates.

When Greg asked me to marry him, I'll never forget my father (who has been in love with my mother for 53 years) hugged me and said, "I am so happy for you, Becky. There simply is no greater joy in life than to experience true love."

My dad was right. And one of the deepest joys of my heart is to see my kids happily in love. Because, to quote a 7 year old philosopher: "That's all that matters."

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved." George Sand

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

13 Ways to Help Shore Up Your Health to Fight Swine Flu

(Our grandson Georgie, not feeling too well during cold season one year. So pitiful!)

A few years ago, I read the following story, which I’ve summarized from The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. With the nonstop media coverage of the Swine Flu, I went back to re-read this story and decided I want to share with you!

In the 19th century, medicine began to focus on killing germs when Louis Pasteur discovered the antibiotic effects of penicillin.

Another 19th century French scientist, Claude Bernard was also a famous medical researcher and friend of Pasteur, but he approached illness from a totally different point of view.His focus was on the immune system of the patient and believed that keeping people’s immunity high was a much more effective approach than “killing the germ.”

Bernard’s theory led to some interesting studies. In one of them, a Russian scientist named Elie Metchnikoff and his research associates consumed cultures that contained millions of cholera bacteria – yet none of them developed cholera. Why? They had built up their bodies immune systems so well that it defended itself against germ invaders.

Pasteur and Bernard continued a healthy debate about their different approaches to health and wellness for many years. But, as Pasteur perhaps began to see that antibiotics would be come less effective as the germs mutated and gained strength… he changed his mind. (Too late, however, to change the focus of medicine for the next century.)

In fact, on his deathbed, Pasteur said: “Bernard was right. The pathogen (germ) is nothing. The terrain (immune system) is everything.”

Now, we come back to the topic of the day: Swine Flu. Which, last season, caused semi-panic in Mexico, and a general uneasiness in the rest of the world.

There appears to be a new vaccine that might help prevent the spread of swine flue, which is wonderful news, though.. since it is so new, is not without risk. What I am wondering why no one in the media seems to speaking of the need to begin upsizing the quality of our immune systems? Even as an important addition to the vacinne?

If Claude Bernard was right, then we should be focusing less on the “swine germ” and more on building up our body’s immunity.

Here’s a list of things you can do right now, until the swine flu vaccine comes to your neighborhood, to help build up your immune system so that you can help protect yourself and your family from any kind of germ invader -- be it mad cow disease, bird flu, swine flu or anything else that Old MacDonald’s Farm o’ Pathogens can throw our way. And every single thing on this list is also excellent for your brain health!

1. Take a good multivitamin with plenty of vitamin C, garlic (there are many odorless garlic pills), and astragalus, a potent immunity builder. Garlic's antibiotic and antiviral properites are well known but astragalus and elderberry were new to me.

Below are statements from an article, "You can fight swine flu" that certainly piqued my curiosity. I now include them in my Dr. Mom kit!(

* "UCLA just completed a study looking at the effectiveness of Astragalus and found that it greatly enhances the body's ability to produce anti-viral properties," said Hensle. "It should be taken at the first sign of an illness coming on."

* "Other herbs, such as sambucol (elderberry extract), also have proved to be potent immune system boosters. Elderberry is a plant known for its remarkable ability to prevent colds and flu. It can be purchased in liquid form or capsules at independent health food stores and larger supermarkets, such as Wild Oats, Whole Foods Market and Clark's Nutrition Center.

* According to, sambucol was tested on patients during the massive Israeli flu epidemic in 1992 and 1993. The results were amazing. Within 24 hours, 20 percent of all patients had dramatic improvements in their symptoms. By the second day, 73 percent were improved. By day three, the figure jumped to 90 percent."

2. Drink black or green tea with honey (honey has wonderful antibiotic properties) to start your day. (Chamomile herb tea with honey in the evening to wind down your day.)My mother swears by dark stevia, a natural sweetener, that she's used for years with nary a sniffle! She says you've got to use the dark kind for it to be effective.

3.Take probiotics or enjoy yogurts with active cultures like Activia or Dan Active on a regular basis. (Also eat something "live" with something "dead" -- fruit, fresh vegies, etc. with meat or dairy. Your digestion and immunity will thank you.)

4. Drink one smoothie a day (see my favorite Blueberry Smoothie recipe at the end of this post) to ensure you are getting plenty of fiber and antioxidants. (You can put your yogurt in here!) A good immune system has much to do with a healthy gut, and fiber plus probiotics are key. (Plus garlic to help keep bad stuff, like candida yeast, down.)

5. Sleep well and if you don’t, try melatonin or a supplement with GABA and/or magnesium in the evening to help you sleep better.

6. Take periodic “healing” baths -- Epsom salt or sea salt (1/2 to 1 c.) with baking soda (1/2 to 1 c.) and few drops of lavender is one of my favorite “feel better” rituals. It helps pull toxins out of your body and relaxes you for sleep.

7. Exercise – Oxygen is a key nutrient for the brain and body. Just walking a few minutes can have a restorative effect. I took my first yoga class today and loved it! There really is no antidepressent with all positive side effects, like exercise.

8. Take 10 to chill. A couple of times a day, if you can manage it… take ten minutes completely relax your body going from head to toe until you are limp. Breathe slowly and deeply. Some new studies also show that yawning, several times in a row, can be a highly effective way to both relax and restart your engines! Soft music in the back ground can facilitate relaxation, as can aromas like vanilla or lavender. (Use nontoxic candles or essential oils rather than waxy artificial candles).

9. If you can afford a massage --- by all means get one as a special treat now and then!

10. Laugh -- one comedy a day can keep the doctor away! Collect funny friends, sign up for funny emails, talk to a 3 year old… whatever floats your humor boat.

11. Gratitude – adopt an attitude of gratitude and positivity; just say a mental “thank you” prayer to the Creator for all the good things around you as you notice them. Positive people consistently fight off germs better than negative, complaining folk.

12. Nurture Relationships – a network of loving friendships and family, along with a loving marriage (with healthy sex life) is one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system. Hugging, touching, even stroking a pet builds immunity.

13. Follow The Joy Diet! (Plenty of fruits and veggies, healthy oils, lean meat and fish, whole grains and dairy products if you don’t have an allergy to them. Organic and fresh in season when possible. It is listed in detail in This is Your Brain on Joy.)

(Along with the above, of course, washing your hands fairly frequently is also helpful!!)

Swine Flu… Schmine Flu.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry… for tomorrow you have a lot to live for!

Becky’s Feel Better Blueberry Smoothie

1 c. orange juice
1 c. frozen blueberries
1 banana
1 dan active yogurt drink (I like vanilla)
1 emergen-c packet
1 T. protein powder( or more vanilla yogurt if you like..)
dollop of honey (has antibiotic properties)
a little ice if desired
Blend, blend, blend... should serve 2!

(Vary according to your taste....)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Blue Cheese-Pineapple Teriyaki Burgers

These moist, savory burger babies are rich enough to serve without a bun. We had them tonight in toasted Orowheat sandwich rounds. A good side would be baked sweet potato "fries" and a crisp tomato & cucumber salad.

Here's all there is to it:

2 lb ground beef
1 T. grill seasoning (sometimes called Montreal or Canadian seasoning)
3 T. crumbled blue cheese
1/4 c. finely diced canned pineapple (or crushed pineapple, drained)
1/4. c. Teriyaki sauce

Mix all together lightly and press (again, using a light touch for moist burgers) into patties, Grill or cook in a skillet.

When done, brush with a little bit more Teriyaki sauce, a tad of blue cheese or a grilled pineapple if you like.

Easy, but particularly delicious burgers!

Becky's Green Lemonade NRG Booster

(This is a pic of my youngest son Gabe and the love of his life, Aleks. Yes, you, too, can look like this if you just drink your greens every day!)

(The ingredients for my Green Lemonade shots!)

My son Gabe and his girlfriend Aleks went to lunch with Greg and me today. Gabe was getting a cold and Aleks said, "I just told him, don't worry. We're going to your mom's today. She'll fix you up."

One of my friends calls me Medicine Mountain Woman because I always have a wide variety of concoctions on hand to help cure whatever ails you. So I gave Gabe a take-home baggie with astragalas, garlic and elderberry tablets, along with a vitamin C powder. But before he left, I asked, "Do you two want me to make you green drink before you go ?"

To which both nodded enthusiastically, "Yes!"

This is one of Gabe & Alek's favorite energy boosters, and mine too. It actually tastes delicious and refreshing. But I make it in small "shots" -- about 1/2 c. over ice so you can drink it quickly before the green powder unmixes...

In a small juice glass:

Squeeze 1/2 lemon or lime
1 t. green powder (from health food store, I like Kyo-Greens brand pictured above)
1 T. L-carnatine liquid, citrus flavored by NOW products (great tasting stuff & this amino really gives you a non-shaky boost of energy and is excellent for heart health.)
Squirt of agave nectar or real maple syrup; or Stevia to taste

About 1/4 c. to 1/2 c. water
When you sip, it should taste like lemonade or lime-aid with just a little bit of that "freshly mowed lawn" freshness. :) So good.

I like mine over ice and drink it straight, like a cowboy downing his whisky at a bar.

Only it won't make you tipsy, just puts you in a good mood and increases your energy.

I like this at mid-morning and mid-afternoon on days when I need some extra zippidy in my doo-dah.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Oriental Chicken with "Peanut Sauce" Dressing

The first time I tasted a Thai Peanut Sauce, I loved it. If you don't love the peanut flavor, you can still make this dressing and it will be delicious -- just leave out the peanut butter.

For the salads put in each bowl:
Chopped lettuce (I like romaine)
Grated carrot
1/4 c. drained Mandarin oranges
1 T. sliced almonds
1 T. chopped green onions
(Optional: sprinkle of chopped cilantro for garnish if you like it)
Then on top of each salad place some sliced/diced chicken from a roasted chicken. Sam's had incredible bargains on these -- antibiotic free, big and plump and under $5.00.

Then, drizzle the following dressing on top of all:

Peanut Sauce Dressing

1/3 c. oil (I like olive oil)
2 T. rice vinegar (or other mild vinegar of your choice)
Juice from 1/2 fresh lime
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Sweet Thai Chili sauce (If you don't have this, use 1 T. honey plus 1 minced clove garlic and dash hot sauce)
1 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
(I keep pieces of ginger in small Ziploc bag in freezer and just grate it frozen, into whatever dish I'm cooking)
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 t. salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Stir with small whisk or fork until nice and smooth. Makes a great dipping sauce as well as dressing.

As you can see from these pics, I served these with 1/2 of those new sandwich rounds from Orowheat. (Just 50 calories and lots of fiber in each half.) I mixed a little whipped butter with a bit of garlic and parmesan cheese, spread on the sandwich rounds and placed face down in a skillet until browned and warm. Cut in 1/2 and served tucked into the salad.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Crunchy Coconut Cod, Thai Style

You may have heard and read that coconut oil seems to be beneficial for a variety of health issues from immunity, to heart health to weight loss and stress reduction. As with all things, moderation is key, but I love cooking with it. It is perfect for this recipe, giving a nice extra coconut flavor to the fish coating.

(For more information see:

This is a delicious recipe for any mild, firm white fish, like cod. Of course, the fresher the fish, better!

4 cod fillets
1 - 2 egg whites
1 c. panko bread crumbs (You can get these in the Oriental section of any grocery store, but I like to get bags of them at World Market because they are cheaper.)
1/4 c. coconut (I like unsweetened flakes but you can use the sweetened variety as well)
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/2 t. garlic powder

Towel dry cod fillets and then dip in egg white. Mix the next 5 ingredients together and gently coat the fillets. (You can also do this same procedure for coconut shrimp but you'll need more oil for cooking -- about 1/2 inch in a big skillet.)

Heat coconut oil in skillet (about 1/8 inch)to medium high. Saute fillets until they are crispy on the outside and flake easily with a fork.

I like to put a nice squiggle of Thai chili sauce on the plate, put fish on top of that, and then a slice of lime for garnish.

I served this with very thinly sliced small, golden potatoes sauteed in just a little olive oil butter, garlic, and seasoned with salt & pepper --- and a green salad.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

(Salzburg, Austria: The garden from The Sound of Music. Greg & I with castle behind us. The entry to the mountain top castle restaurant where the following story unfolded.)

Two years ago, Greg and I were sitting in a restaurant at the top of a castle in Austria, overlooking Maria Von Trapp's beloved and breathtaking alps. We'd just walked through the famous garden where the children and Julie Andrew's "Maria" had played and sang, "Do, Re, Me" in their clothes made from discarded draperies. (Maria must have had a tad of the creative spirit of Scarlet O'Hara, at least for transforming curtains into clothing, beneath her nun's habit.)

To our left, around a table, sat a happy, noisy family with foreign faces and foreign accents. (I would later find out they were Iranians living in L A on their first trip to Austria.) The mama of the group surveyed the beauty around us and as if unable to contain her joy, burst forth singing "My Favorite Things" -- but she kept stumbling as she struggled to remember all the verses. What was I to do, but join in and help her? After all, I have had every word to every song from The Sound of Music memorized since I was in second grade.

She beamed and encouraged and, in short, this is how I found myself in the most interesting impromptu performance of my life : singing a spunky duet about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens with a Middle Eastern stranger, in a crowded restaurant atop a castle in Austria. Her husband, equally gung-ho, took out his video to record the moment. (I am assuming to save & send in to Europe's "Funniest Home Videos.") As I and my dark-eyed-red-lipsticked-bejeweled singing partner finished up with a rousing, "And then I don't feeeeel.. so bad!" Greg just smiled serenely, as if to say, "This is my beloved wife, with whom, at least, I will never be bored."

That's a pretty elaborate introduction to the topic of this post, which would be, "What are a few of your favorite things?" Which led me to think of the little items or rituals that contribute to the overall joy in my life.

Here's a few things that sprung to mind :

1. Bigelow Lemon Body Cream. It makes me so happy I buy it in 32 ounce jars and smear it on both morning and night. It is the closest one can come to bathing in lemon meringue pie, twice daily. I'm equally enamored of their lemon lip balms.

2. An ear, nose & throat doc recommended that I try something called a sinus rinse by Neil Med. Just google it, at it is not pleasant to describe the process by which one uses this product, but it has added significantly to my quality of life in dry Colorado. Like warm, comforting sea water to dry Sahara sinuses.

3. Starbucks Rooibos Vanilla Tea Latte. It's the most comforting warm drink this side of hot apple cider with heavy cream.

4. Lara Bars. My friend Sue introduced me to them. They typically only have 3 ingredients: dates, nuts and another natural flavoring. It was love at first bite.

5. My supplements, whose praises have been extolled in detail in another post, because they contribute to the happy chemicals in my head.

6. Library Day -- I adore library day, and the vision of a big stack of books on my bedside table awaiting exploring.

7. My Porch Swing -- I once wrote a book called A View from the Porch Swing. What's not to love about what is basically a rocking cradle for grownups? Set in my backyard garden, with a canopy, pillows and a nice cup o' tea nearby .. is heaven.

8. Kashi Waffles smeared with butter & Nutella. It's health food meets decadence. And probably describes my approach to food. I'm happy to go healthy if it tastes good, or if, at the very least you can smear it in chocolate until it tastes good.

9. Herbal Mint bubble bath. I adore my baths, take at least 2 -3 a day. This is also where Greg and I hold our "Bathtub Board Meetings" when we want to relax and talk. You would not believe how many creative titles and problems we've solved under the influence of hot water and bubbles.

10. My favorite ritual of all: Every morning for the last 5 years, when I come down the stairs, there is a smiling man waiting to greet me, hug me and welcome me to the day. As I start down the first few steps, I hear him say, "Do I hear my little mouse?" and then I squeak something out because I am mostly unable to talk before caffiene. Then he gazes at me, no matter how morning-disheveled I am, as if I were Audrey Hepburn descending the stairs in her evening gown from My Fair Lady. Next, he holds me close as both of us bask in the gratitude that we get to live to be married to each other for one more precious day. It is the closest thing I can imagine could happen on earth to being wrapped in the love of God.

Kids, too, have their love of little things and routines. Greg and I love that our grandsons have their favorite things to play with at our house. Nate and Georgie and Titus know where all the good stuff is... from Poppy's magic magnetic rocks (in the living room table drawer) to puzzles to the basket of books and Disney videos, to 3 kinds of blocks, to the farm house & animals, and the big bucket of sports balls outside. Their playtime at Poppy and Nonnie's house is not complete until they've made their rounds to each of their favorite things. Most of the toys, books, etc. were picked up for a song at garage sales. But oh, the joy we've squeezed out of those fifty cent puzzles and 75 cent Disney videos.

There's an old poem with the line: "I come in the little things, saith the Lord" -- and isn't it true that it is the little things, for the most part, strung together like memory pearls, that bring us the greatest joy? Rituals of married love (good morning kisses, spooning at night); rocking a baby to sleep in the porch swing; a good cup of tea, a stack of books, a hot bubble bath or a nice citrus scented lotion.

Or.... raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

Or.... singing about them with a dark-eyed stranger at the top of an Austrian alp.

And what, I wonder, are a few of your favorite things?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Best Waffles Ever: Crunchy, Light, Buttery Goodness

I adore waffles but I am the world's pickiest waffle eater. I love them crisp, crisp, crisp on the outside and lighter than air on the inside. Nothing worse than biting into a crumbly, heavier-than cement waffle.

We typically eat whole grain cereal for breakfast so waffles are a rare treat for special occasions. Therefore, I pull out the stops and go for taste rather than health when I make them from scratch.

The whopping amount of butter in this recipe makes "the crunchiest, most delicious waffle imaginable" according to The Joy of Cooking where I snagged this recipe. You can make it with half or even 1/4 the butter for a light and lighter version. But everyone should try the full butter version just once for the transporting experience. I also love that this recipe does not use baking soda...I really hate that baking soda taste in baked goods and avoid using it when I can.

Finally, for the ultimate eating experience: I like to melt a little dab of butter with about 2 T. maple syrup for just a few seconds in small bowl in the microwave and then dip bites of waffle into this mixture, rather than put butter and syrup on the waffle. This way you get that super-crisp bite with all the taste of the butter & syrup... that seems to just soak in and disappear into waffles, making them heavy and soggy.

Preheat waffle iron. Whisk together in a large bowl:

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt

Thoroughly blend in another bowl:
3 eggs
1 cup (2 sticks butter) -- if you are watching calories you can cut this 1/2 or 1/4 cup... but try it once with the whole cup and make Paula Deen proud
1 1/2 c. milk

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Combine with a few swift strokes of the whisk. At this point you can add in "stir-ins" -- I love 1/3 c. chopped pecans, but you can also add blueberries or other fruit.

Lightly grease the hot waffle iron with paper towel dipped in vegetable oil and then cook until a golden brown.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blessed Are They Who are Pleasant to Live With!

(My Parents: Two Happy People Make One Long Happy Marriage!)

(My Beloved. Alias: Most Pleasant Man on the Planet.)

When I came across the first line in this poem below, "Blessed are they are who pleasant to live with --" I immediately thought of my husband, Greg who qualifies as the Easiest, Most Pleasant Person to Live With I've ever known.

My longtime friend Shawn, who lost her husband Ron (complications during surgery) only a handful of months ago, would agree that her Beloved fit this description as well. Both of us have been married before, and in our youth we thought love equaled work. Very hard work. And the bulk of that work, to our Pollyanna minds, was in trying to cheer up someone who, frankly, preferred their melancholy.

Late in life, we married men who were "pleasant to live with" -- who took responsibility for their own joy and took difficulties in stride. Who saw the best in us and downplayed the worst. And we both had the same reaction: "Wow. Love can be easy? Really?"

As Shawn is grieving the loss of her wonderful guy, we are talking more and more about privilege to have known such Great Love. ("Amore Grande!" so says the old woman in Under the Tuscan Sun.) If we were to give young women and men advice on who to marry in order to enjoy their life to the hilt; both of us would say, "Marry a guy who makes his own sunshine. Love a person you can lean on for both comfort and joy. Marry a woman who smiles a lot, who has a reputation for kindness and joy. If you want a happy marriage, be a happy person and marry a happy partner."

Here's the poem, from the 1940's collection, Poems That Touch the Heart.

Blessed Are They

Blessed are they who are pleasant to live with --

Blessed are they who sing in the morning;

Whose faces have smiles for their early adorning;

Who come down to breakfast companioned by cheer;

Who don't dwell on troubles or entertain fear;

Whose eyes smile forth bravely; whose lips curve to say:

"Life, I salute you! Good morrow, new day!"

Blessed are they who are pleasant to live with --

Blessed are they who treat one another,

Though merely a sister, a father or brother,

With the very same courtesy they would extend

To a casual acquaintance or dearly loved friend;

Who choose for the telling encouraging things;

Who choke back the bitter, the sharp word that stings;

Who bestow love on others through the long day --

Pleasant to live with and blessed are they."

Wilhemina Stitch

In our upcoming book, This is Your Brain in Love, Dr. Earl Henslin and I have woven a red thread through the book. It is the missing link in marriage therapy. And the message is this: "Take responsibility for your own brain health. If both partners will bring their most balanced, joyful brain to the marriage, then just about any kind of marriage counseling will work for you." True! When you have two people whose brains are healthy, whose thoughts are mostly joyful and who are "pleasant to live with" in general -- helping them work through problems, glitches and issues is a walk in the park for any marriage therapist. But most therapists overlook the two wrinkled grey "elephants" in the counseling room: the brains of each partner and the level of happiness therein.

Thankfully, even those who were "Born on a Blue Day" can, with help, find sunshine. Anyone can choose to get help and experience more personal joy -- and thus, became the sort of partner who is pleasant to live with; and also be healthy enough to choose a mate whose adorning, most often, is an easy smile.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Last Minute Company Dinner! (Mexican Casserole, Fresh Margaritas, Bananas Foster a la Becky)

Years ago, my friend Liz Higgs wrote a little book of humor and I'll never forget one of her recipes, because I myself use it so often. As close as I can remember it went something like this:

Busy Day Casserole
Take leftovers on the left side of the fridge.
Combine with leftovers on the right side of the fridge.
Sprinkle with cheese & potato chips and bake at 350.

I had a long writing day, when a call came in from one of our favorite couples desirous of a little Greg & Becky TLC, a hot meal and our "comfy couches." (This is what we call our livingroom couches which are, I have to say, about the biggest, fluffiest, most comfortable couches we've ever seen. People joke about calling ahead to reserve a napping spot on them.)

So, I looked in the fridge and found seasoned ground beef, beans, Mexican crema (which is a non-sour cream... delish), a bit of rice, picante sauce and cheese. I whirled a can of tomatoes with some picante sauce, chili powder and spices, mixed it with the ground beef and layered all of the above with tortillas, topping it with cheese. Baked it for 40 minutes (it was huge!), garnishing with crema, crushed tortilla chips, tomatoes, green onions and avocados.

Served it with corn on cob, watermelon and carrots & cucumber sticks with vegie dip.

It was good; but even if it didn't win any prizes for being the best thing I've ever concocted, the fresh margaritas that I served with it certainly helped raise the overall dining experience. (My feeling is that if you serve a nice cocktail and end with a good dessert, what happens in between isn't nearly as important.)

Here's the margarita recipe which our guest said was the best I've ever made!

Becky's Fresh Margaritas

Fill blender 2/3 with ice cubes.
Add about 1/3 to 1/2 c. freshly squeezed lime juice. (You can also add the juice of an orange if you are shy of lime juice)
2/3 c to 1 c. good, clear tequila (it doesn't cause hangovers like the darker verson)
1/2 c to 1 c. limeaid, lemonade or margarita mix
1/4 c. Triple Sec

Blend, taste. If too sour, add simple syrup or agave nectar until it is too your liking.

To serve pour in salt-rimmed glasses and top off with just a little squeeze from a fresh orange or tangerine, floating atop the drink.

Serves 6 to 8 drinks.

Finally, I looked around to see what I might create for a quick & easy dessert. I spotted vanilla ice cream, two bananas, some walnuts and formed a plan in my head. Here's the results, and I have to say, this was really scrumptious. I'd definately serve it again.

Bananas Foster with a Becky Twist

In small sauce pan melt 2 T. butter with 1/4 c. brown sugar. Squeeze 1/2 an orange and just a little fresh lemon juice into the pan. Cook until bubbly and thick. Add handful of pecans or walnuts. Slice 2 bananas into the pan and stir until bananas and nuts are warm and well coated.
(If you like, you could add a little sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg as well. I didn't. But feel free.)
Serve immediately over bowls of ice cream and top off with 1 T. of your favorite liqueur. I love Amaretto, and Greg likes Kahlua.

I had enough casserole leftover to freeze 1/2 of it and share with another family this week.

My friend, Noelle, mother of six, says she loves the challenge and creativity involved "re-purposing leftovers" for her big family. I agree, it's kind of fun, and in these tighten-the-belt economic times, it's becoming a real necessity!