Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To Be Loved by a Child: A Christmas Meditation

Me and my grandson Georgie, this holiday season, hugging it up in the kitchen!

There is a particular heart-tugging, almost aching sweetness that comes with being loved by a child, isn’t there?

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” the prophet announced.

“Why a child? A baby? Why didn’t God arrive fully grown?” I wonder.

Perhaps, in part, it was because there is nothing to compare with being loved by a child.

When my 3 year old grandson Georgie came to visit us last week from Seattle, his mother Julie said he carried a chicken nugget in his pocket everywhere he went the day before --to the bank, to his preschool, to bed -- determined to give it to his Nonny upon arrival in Colorado. My heart melts to be loved like this by a child.

When Georgie came with us to our church, after the service he asked me if I would take him around the room to show him the babies being held by various moms and dads. He did this when he visited our church in September as well.
“Me like babies,” he said, as he pulled me toward them. Once he asked a 3 month old baby boy, “Do you want to play with me?” as if he were fully expecting an answer and for the babe to hop down and play tag with him.


(Here's Georgie stroking his little cousin Titus's arm, his older cousin Nate looking on. I have so many pictures of Georgie with babies like this, being gentle, and completely focused and fascinated with them.)

I can’t help but wonder if Georgie senses that babies have arrived here, fresh from the hand of God, and wants to be near them to just breathe in their lingering fragrance of heaven. Perhaps the way the wise men and Shepherds wanted to be close to the Christ Child laying in his mother’s arms.

Jesus, ever welcoming of children, once called a little one to his side and -- to the probable shock of the grownups around him-- said:“Unless you come as this little child you cannot enter my kingdom.”

In essence,He was saying, “You think you are here to teach children so much about the ways of the world. But I tell you the truth: they are here to teach you so much more about God than you will ever realize. So squat down, look them in the eye and pay very careful attention.”

Babies teach us about divine, unconditional love as they gaze into our eyes with an adoration and trust we know we have not yet earned, nor will we ever really deserve.

Toddlers teach us to play, to slow down, to see the rainbows in oil spills, to receive hugs and kisses that so melt our hearts that we hardly notice their muddy hands or peanut butter smeared faces. (Or the age and condition of a well-worn chicken nugget in their pocket.)

Children teach us to love so deeply and fiercely that we would slay dragons to protect them from hurt and harm, if only we could.

Each time with spend a moment with a child and really open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to receive their truths, we step a bit closer into the Kingdom of God.

Every time we give rapt attention to the least of these, we welcome the Christ Child anew.

And if you look into the wonder-filled eyes of a child this holy season, you may also find Jesus welcoming you.

No, there’s nothing on earth quite like the glory and sweetness of being loved by a child…. it is here, so often, that the sacred sneaks up on a human heart, toppling defenses so Love can more freely seep in.


(Georgie at age 2, giving Baby Titus, 6 months, a little loving head rub.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nostalgic Tex-Mex Chicken Casserole


This was one of the more popular casseroles popping up in our home and at church suppers everywhere in Texas in the 1970's. Hungry for chicken enchiladas in a hurry tonight, I remembered this recipe, had the basic ingredients on hand, threw it together in no time. Satisfied my craving for Mexican food, while also reminding me of my mother's home cooking. Greg loved it, went back for seconds!


Ingredients for a small pan (will serve 4, double to serve 8)

9 corn tortillas (softened with a little splash of water, between to plates & zapped for a few seconds in the microwave)
1/2 onion & 1 large clove fresh minced garlic, sauteed (you can also add leftover corn, sauteed green pepper, a handful of sliced black olives, left over tomatoes, a few beans -- this is a great clean-out-the fridge casserole)
1 can low-fat cream of mushroom soup
2/3 c. velveeta cheese (I used some grated pepper jack to replace some of the Velveeta)
1 c. bottled salsa
1/4 - 1/2 c. skim milk
2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced (I use the breasts from a rotiserie chicken)

1 1/2 c. grated cheddar (or any combination of hard cheeses you like)

1/2 c. sour cream (may also use Ranch Dressing)

Sliced, pickled jalepenos for garnish

Preheat Oven 350

In a large saucepan, saute onions in olive oil until brown and crisp-tender. To this add cream of mushroom soup, Velveeta cheese, 1 cup salsa. It should be about as thick as queso at this point, but if you feel it is too thick, thin it with some skim milk so it is creamy and "stir-able."

To this mixture add diced chicken breast and stir to coat.

Line a greased 9 by 9 inch casserole or 9 inch deep dish Pyrex pie pan with 3 corn tortillas, torn in "chip size" pieces. Pour 1/2 the chicken-cheese mixture over the tortillas then 1/2 c grated cheese. Follow with 3 more torn corn tortillas, more chicken-cheese sauce, 1/2 c. grated cheese. Top with last of tortillas, last of cheese, and dot with dollops of sour cream and sliced jalapenos if desired.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted, casserole is heated through and edges are turning a golden brown.

Tasty served with fresh slices of tomato, avocado and pineapple.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Easy Sunday Roast Chicken


This recipe for roast chicken is almost embarrassingly easy, and yet I've forgotten how good it is, and its especially nice to come home to the aroma after church. Greg said he like it better than the roast chickens I usually get from the deli. The big advantage to roasting one at home is the nice plump size, and coming home from church (or wherever you've gone for 3 hours) to dinner hot, fragrant and ready to serve.


Take one plump roasting chicken (about 4 pounds) and remove the innards (I toss them but feel free to be as creative as you want with them:)


Rinse, pat dry then sprinkle liberally with your favorite seasoned salts, all sides and in the cavity. (I like a combination of steak or grill seasoning, citrus seasoning and Cajun seasoning or paprikia for color.)


Put breast side up in large Pyrex pan, uncovered, and cook at 300 degrees for 2.5 to 3 hours or until you get home from church. When you walk in the door, baste the chicken with drippings, then crank the oven to 400 degrees to let the skin get crispy. Baste once more before serving and enjoy.


Could not be easier!

Pairs nicely with corn pudding, carrots and a salad. (Recipe for pudding and carrots under "side dishes" on this blog.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Creating a More Spacious Life

(This is a picture from the top of a mountain, taken when my son Gabe asked me, spontaneously, to drive up and join him at his campsite for dinner one evening. Because there was "margin" in my life, I could accept the invitation and it will always be one of my best memories with my boy.)


A wise friend of mine once said, "First, there is the life you learn from; then, there is the life you live."

If that is true, then one of the things I gleaned in The Life I Learned From is that I blossom best in certain environments. My "element" is being in a loving marriage; prioritizing time with family and dear friends; plenty of free time with breathing space for creativity and rest, particularly after a day of giving or focusing on others. One of the perks of hitting mid-life, it seems to me, should be designing a life you love waking up to, based on all those decades of learning about what brings out your best self.

I have experienced what it feels like to have 5000 people standing and applauding a speech I just gave. I know what it is like to write books that thousands of people read and enjoy. And it was wonderful. But it was nothing compared to the "story "my four year old grandson Nate dictated to me last week, where he had me write: "Nonnie and me have been BEST friends." I have lived widely; now I want to live deeply. I've lived large;now I cherish one on one time with family, fewer friends, fewer activities, fewer projects. And I want to savor and enjoy what I do include in my life much more.

If you resonate with this and want to create more breathing room in your life in general, to do less but do it with focus and care, here's one way to begin the journey.

Make 3 Lists.

In list #1: write down the activities & people that you love AND that leave you energized.

In list #2: write down the activities and people that you feel passionate about, and want to prioritize, but... if you are honest, they are energy drainers. That's okay, you want these things or people in your life, but you need to preserve energy for them.

In list #3: write down activities and people you do not enjoy at all, but feel an obligation to keep in your life, either out of guilt or necessity.

Now, take a hard look at List #3. Take your time, this doesn't have to be done in a day.
Now, see if you can do one of three things with this last list:

1. Cross it out and fuggedaboutit
2. Delegate it or if you can afford to -- hire it out. Or barter it away with creative trading.
3. If you have to do the activity or see this person -- see if you can minimize the amount of time it (or the person) takes, or minimize the amount of brain space or emotional energy you "rent" to it. Or, make seeing the person or handling the task more enjoyable by rewarding yourself either during or shortly afterwards with something pleasurable and restorative.

For example, one of the activities I don't yet enjoy very much is exercising. But, if I can listen to an audio book as I walk, or chat and walk with my husband, it is easier. Even pleasurable. I could also reward myself in some way. Perhaps after a week of walking 10 miles, I treat myself to a cute work-out T shirt. Or I walk to Starbucks and reward myself with a cold Tazo tea and a healthy treat when I arrive.

If you have friend or relative whom you care about, but find yourself stressed or drained after time with them, see if you can orchestrate your time with them in a way that is less mentally exhausting. Can you see a movie or meet at a restaurant, rather than having them to your home where they may tend to linger too long? Can you kill two birds with one stone, and walk with them as you talk, rather than sitting and talking?
Also, on days when you have to do a lot of List #2 or #3 items, try to space them apart with days that have more List #1 items. When given a choice, cushion your difficult days or high energy days with days of ease or pleasure.

You may think that if you just push, push, push without breaks that you'll get more done or get all caught up. News Flash: The Land of All Caught Up is like Neverland or the Land of Oz. It never really arrives and when you look back on your life; trust me, you don't want to look back in regret, having missed the moments that make it worth the journey.

Truth is: I write better and generate more creative ideas when I take time to be with friends who energize me. I counsel and listen more deeply and love others with more focus when I've taken time to be alone and have filled my tank by reading, or journaling or simply putzing around doing whatever I want to do at any given moment. I'd even go out on a limb and say that when I live my life with more pleasurable spaces, between the more energy-draining stuff, that I get twice as much accomplished. Because I'm more fully present and energized for the tasks at hand, they get done with more ease and less angst.

Finally, for myself, I'd like enough free space or margin in my life that I can graciously adjust to an interruption, a real pressing need that pops up. I'd like to be, in a word... more available. Somebody needs to be available in a world when everyone is so busy they can hardly take time to breathe, much less slow down enough to soothe a hurt, or rock a baby, bring a casserole, or listen deeply to a child's inner thoughts. I realize this was not always possible when I was raising small children and juggling a busy career; so I am enormously grateful to finally be able to live a more spacious life.
"Actually,margin is not a spiritual necessity. But availability is. God expects us to be available for the needs of others. And without margin, each of us would have great difficulty guaranteeing availability. Instead, when God calls, He gets a busy signal." from the book Margin by Dr.Richard Swenson

Warm Spinach-Bacon Salad with Goat Cheese & Tomatoes

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This is one of my favorite go-to spinach salads. Here's a recipe for two.

Pan fry 4 slices of bacon in a small skillet.
(I like to use the thin pieces of pre-cooked bacon, weighing in at only 70 calories for all 4 slices and cooks up quickly)

Remove the bacon, drain and crumble for topping the salad later, leaving about 1 teaspoon or less of of bacon drippings in the pan. To the pan about 1/8 cup of any oil & vinegar based dressing (I like Balsamic or Italian) and 1/8 c. a sweet French type dressing (I like Catalina). Stir, and warm the dressings until just bubbling.

Pour desired amount of dressing over two individual salad bowls of spinach, sliced tomatoes, bits of goat cheese (or feta or blue or Gorgonzola cheese) and a few toasted pine nuts. The hot dressing will soften the spinach a bit. Top with reserved bacon crumbles and serve.
Serves 2.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Best Ever 'Nana Pudding or Banana Cream Pie with Almond Coconut Crust


My son, Gabe, is a 'Nana Puddin' gourmet, always in search of pudding perfection. He declares this recipe the BEST. I've worked a long time on perfecting the recipe so that it is just right-but-not-too-sweet, and fail proof. No reason to make pudding from a box, or try to hide the boxed taste by adding cream cheese, Cool Whip and sweetened condensed milk-- which boggles the mind and taste buds.

Using both brown & white sugar adds a smooth subtle caramel tone, and because with this method you don't have to temper the eggs, I've never issues with floating "egg bits" or flour lumps.

I've also included a recipe for a wonderful crunchy pie crust made with graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds if you prefer to make a banana cream pie instead of a pudding. My sister Rachel is a huge banana cream pie fan so I created this recipe for her, which provoked an eyes rolled to heaven response upon taking the first bite.

Vanilla-Scotch Cream Filling


3 cups whole milk
1/3 c. white sugar and 1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
(may use up to 1/2 t. if you are using it in pudding... the pie shell, however has enough saltiness from the butter that you want to err on the side of less salt if using this as pie filling)
3 large egg yolks, well beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla


With a wire whisk (use a heatproof rubber coated whisk if you are using nonstick pots)-- stir together all the dry ingredients in the bottom of a large sauce or soup pan.

In a separate large bowl, beat egg yolks well and slowly add milk , whisking, until there are no little “egg bits” and it’s one creamy mixture.

Slowly whisk the milk/egg mixture into the dry ingredients over a medium high heat, stirring constantly. It will take a while, but when the mixture begins to bubble and boil, count sloooowly to 60 because you want to make sure it boils the full minute. (If it looks like it is going to boil over, turn down the heat a bit.) Remove from heat and stir in 2 T. of butter and 1 t. vanilla.

For Pudding: Layer cooled pudding with Nabisco brand vanilla wafers and about 3-4 sliced bananas, ending with wafers and topping with whipping cream just before serving. Gabe prefers his pudding cold, served within an hour so the wafers aren't too soggy, waiting to top with fresh vanilla wafers just before serving so you also get a nice crunch.


Whipped Cream

Whip a small container of whipping cream. (Or however much you want.. a cup of whipping cream makes plenty for one pie.) Slowly whip in a few Tablespoons of powdered sugar – to taste - and 1 t. vanilla. (I like regular whipping cream much better than heavy whipping cream and using powdered sugar instead of sugar to sweeten as helps it stay “whipped” in a Tupperware in the fridge for several days.)


Banana Cream Pie with Almond-Coconut Crust

(Follow directions above for pudding, let pudding cool and slice in 3 bananas or as many as you like. Pour into pie shell below and top with whipped cream. Best served within an hour after filling is in the shell. You can also refrigerate the filling (without bananas) make the crust ahead of time and assemble the pie 30 minutes to one hour before serving. )


½ stick salted butter, melted

¼ c. almond slivers

1 c. graham cracker crumbs – (store bought, in baking aisle)

¼ c. finely grated, preferably unsweetened, coconut



Mix melted butter with graham cracker crumbs. Pat into a pie pan. Sprinkle almond slivers on bottom of pie crust. Bake at 350 about 5 minutes to let it harden and to toast the almonds.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Chill in the Air" Clam Chowder




(View from our backyard this week! Can you feel the autumn nip in the air?)







The first real chill in the air came to Colorado this week and with it, a hankering for good clam chowder, the sort we once tasted on our trip to Boston and Cape Cod a few years ago. There is nothing worse, to me, than a bowl of clam chowder that tastes like thick white gravy.... so I don't use any flour to thicken. Just pure cow's cream. We don't have clam chowder that often, and some things in this life simply call for heavy cream, no substitutes. This is one of them. This recipe is generous on the clams, as well. If you use small golden potatoes you don't need to peel them and they hold up very well in chowders.

However, I'm all about quick and easy, so I used some Ziploc steam bags to help speed up the process. Here's how I put it together:

In a Ziploc steaming bag place 2 peeled carrots & 4 -5 small golden potatoes (skin on)
Nuke 4 minutes, while you saute 1/4 onion and 2 stalks celery, diced, in a little olive oil until tender-crisp in a soup pot. (You can cover pan to speed cooking, since you don't need to brown these.)

Greg doesn't like the texture of onions & celery, so at this point I blended them with 1 c. vegetable broth into unrecognizable flavor:) For those who enjoy the texture of onions & celery, simply add 1. c. vegetable broth (or chicken broth), a minced garlic clove and 1 bay leaf to the pan. Simmer. It is okay for the broth to reduce by as much as a half, as there's plenty of liquid to come!

When carrots and potatoes are tender, let cool to touch, release from steam bag, then dice and add to vegies in broth. (Greg loves corn, so I also added about 1/2 cup frozen baby white and yellow corn at this point. Totally optional.) Continue to simmer and then...

Add 4 small cans chopped clams, with juice. (6.5 oz each, I used Snow's brand.)

Heat through, gently. (Clams can get tough with too much simmering.)

To this add 1 pint heavy cream. You may also want to add a little sherry or dash of white wine. Some recipes even call for a tad of scotch.

Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. I like a little heat so I used a dash of Tony's cajun seasoning as well (or dash of cayenne or Tabasco would also work). If you like a hint of sweetness, a little pinch of sugar is nice. Finally, remove bay leaf.

Serve with a nice crusty bread and salad or fresh fruit slices.

Monday, October 18, 2010

3 Minute Chocolate Cake in a Mug: "The Most Dangerous Cake in the World"



Sometimes dubbed "The Most Dangerous Cake in the World" this recipe has made its way from email inbox to inbox, satisfying cravings for "something chocolate" in no time, with ingredients most of us have on hand.

I made this today with my grandsons, who thought it was mighty cool! And this Nonny was duly impressed as well. Makes enough for two servings, and best served warm with vanilla ice cream!

Chocolate Cake in a Mug

1 large coffee mug

4 tbls. flour (plain..not self -rising)

4 tbls. sugar

2 tbls. cocoa

1/8 t. baking powder

1/8 t. salt

1 egg

3 tbls. milk (may substitute strong coffee instead for mocha flavor)

3 tbls.oil

2 tbls. chocolate chips (optional)1

1 tbls. chopped pecans

small splash of vanilla


Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.

Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.

Add the chocolate chips and/or nuts (if using) and vanilla, and mix again.

Put the mug in the microwave and cook for around 2 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave, you may want to cook it for a little less or a little longer but it is best not over cooked)

Remove from mug and share 1/2 with a friend, husband, child or grandchild - if you are in a sharing frame of mind:) A dollop of vanilla ice cream makes it extra special. A squiggle of chocolate syrup on top of that, makes it decadent.

Play Dough: Recipe to Amaze & Entertain the Kids & Grandkids!


(Two of our grandsons, Nate and Titus, happily making their own creations and Poppy & Nonny's house.)

Make this recipe in a jiffy, and you will never buy commercial stiff, smelly, easily-dried out play dough again.

This dough stays soft in a Ziploc bag for months and months. It also handles being left out of the bag, without drying out.

Nate & Titus, age 4 and 2, played with it for 3 hours today! So you get an awful lot of playtime creative bang for your buck. I bought a big bag of plastic cookie cutters at an antique store for $2.00 and then gave the boys plastic knives, forks and spoons and a rolling pin. Nate normally has a hard time staying interested in any one toy for long, but play dough fun allowed his creative mind to go wild.

(Nate, wearing his Batman costume while rolling out play dough. Super Heroes cook too!)


In addition, its fun to watch how quickly it comes together on the stove, which can impress the kids.

Best Ever Play-Dough

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Food coloring by drops

Begin by mixing the salt and flour together, then add the rest of the ingredients.
Cook and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat. (Easiest if you use a nonstick Teflon-type pan, and I prefer to use a big soup pan because it comes together faster.) It will get thicker, and look lumpy. Turn heat down a bit at this point but keep stirring until it turns in to one big smooth round ball of dough, following the spoon around the pan. Cook until you can touch it (carefully, obviously it is hot!) without it sticking to your finger.

Immediately turn out dough onto cool counter. When cool to touch, knead it a bit and then, it is ready to go. Keep in Ziploc bag (with air squished out of it) when not in use.







Sunday, October 17, 2010

LaRae's Harvest Butternut Soup



I just finished two bowls of a delicious butternut soup, full of flavor, creaminess and a touch of sweet from the squash and apple. It tasted like an autumn harvest in a bowl. Looking at the ingredients, it is also chocked full of nutrition and fabulous fiber. Finally, it is also vegetarian friendly and if you sub almond, soy or coconut milk for the half and half, it could easily be vegan.

I owe a big thanks to LaRae Weikert, for this recipe, who not only has good taste in food, but is one of my favorite editors and one of my most beloved, interesting and kind friends. Whenever we visit my husband's hometown of Eugene, Oregon, I love to meet with the 3 Amigos, all editors or writers: Carolyn McCready, Hope Lyda, and LaRae. I can count on those gals to pick a yummy restaurant and dive into interesting, honest, deep conversations with plenty of laughter on the side.

I titled LaRae's recipe, "Harvest Butternut Soup" as a nod to the publishing company (Harvest House) that these three beautiful women have worked with many years, and who published 9 of my books. Harvest House has been, far and away, my all time favorite publisher to work with and these three women have a lot to do with that.


1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
1 apple chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Half-and-half

Combine the squash (I roasted the squash in the oven for about 30 mins. and then added it to the vegetables and apple), celery, carrot, onion, and apple with the broth in a sauce pan. Cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Slightly cool the mixture before processing in blender or Cuisinart until pureed. Add enough half-and-half to make the soup creamy. (Becky's note: check seasonings to see if you may need to add a little sea salt or pepper.) Add a little nutmeg for flavor. Cook in a sauce pan over medium heat just until heated through.

Becky's Notes:
I topped my soup with a few buttered croutons, as you see in the picture above, but was thinking it would also be delicious topped with a teaspoon of roasted pumpkin seeds or pinenuts and perhaps a small dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.

=
Tip: If you are in a hurry, these steaming bags are real time-savers.



I used one to cook the butternut squash, another to cook the carrots and apple (I left the peel on, just removed seeds). It only takes 3 minutes in the microwave. While these vegies were cooking, I sauteed the onions and celery in a tiny bit of olive oil. Then continued cooking as directed above.


Another time-saver is to use frozen butternut squash, which usually works very well in soups.

What My Friend's Cancer is Teaching Me: Newly Updated, Julie's Pathology Report!

(Me and Julie, all dressed up for her radiation appointment. She's beautiful here, but when she's finished with steroids, her cheeks will be shrinking back to normal again. )

About two years ago, thanks to facebook, I was privileged to get back in touch with a dear friend from my youth, Julie Garvin Luce. It had been 30 years since we'd seen each other but the years faded into nothing as we slipped so easily back into friendship, only deeper and wiser from the joys and heartaches of the years that had passed. I had survived a painful divorce, Julie had survived debilitating chronic illnesses. But what we had in common was our dogged determination to find lessons in loss and to grab joy with both hands wherever it could be found, the way a drowning person grabs a life-preserver. That and our faith that God was never absent from us, even in the darkest days. We saw each other several more times and caught up with long phone calls as well.

Then, Julie went through another huge trial: a divorce after her longterm marriage. While she was still in the earliest days of recovery from that ordeal, I received a phone call saying, "Becky I wanted to call you and tell you I love you and all is well. But I am going into surgery for a brain tumor they just found today, and just in case I am unable to talk to you again, I want to thank you for your friendship and all it has meant to me."

Julie went through that surgery and to the absolute shock and surprise of the medical staff, came through it with flying colors. There were some rollercoastering times following this, however... a seizure that did affect her speech, ability walk, swallow,and read.The doctors could not get all of the tumor but as Julie explained it, it was the size of a lime and they got all but the "rind." With Julie's joyful outlook and unwavering faith and great medical, friend and family support, she learned to walk, talk and read and eat normally again in just two short months.

Julie just finished 7 weeks of chemo and radiation. I was privileged to fly to be with her in California a couple of weeks ago, and while we were eating a simple stew dinner she said, "I am the happiest I've ever been right now." And when I asked why, she smiled and said, "Because I don't have to try so hard, I can just live."


Before I left for Colorado, she crossed another huge milestone and drove herself to her treatments: the first time behind the wheel since she had surgery in July.



There seems to be a certain clarity that comes to those faced with their own mortality via a potentially terminal diagnosis. My daughter's pastor, Matt Chandler, was also diagnosed with a brain tumor this year and in a recent interview he said, "The reality is that I could die in the next couple of years or I could live another 20, and that’s exactly where everybody is. I just get to live on the cliff without all the fog. Most people live on the cliff with a bunch of fog, unaware that today could be their last."

Julie has her first appointment with the doctor to hear the results of the chemo and radiation on October 20. (And if you are the praying sort, I know she would appreciate prayers on that day.) I truly believe that the results will be startling and positive, simply because Julie's been amazing the doctors from day one. But no matter the results, Julie will choose joy and live every day of her life with gratitude, the same way she lived it before the cancer.

What if, without a serious diagnosis, we could learn from Matt and Julie and live with less fog, see more clearly what mattered? And what if, we stopped trying so hard and just decided to live? What would that look like in your life, and mine, today?

Happy Postscript Added to This Blog Post, October 21, 2010

Good News!!!! The tumor is gone! Today at UCLA Nuero-Oncology they had all three of my brainscans up next to each other on these special monitors. It was amazing to see the stages of my brain cancer recovery right on front of my own eyes!

Here's what it looked like:
Scan #1....(7/27/10) pre-operation MRI showing my huge, lime-sized tumor in my brain.
Scan #2....(7/29/10) post-op MRI shows empty cavity where tumor had been thick piece of tumor "rind" left.
Scan #3...(10/18/10) the post treatment MRI shows the cavity completely filled in except for a pea-sized indention surrounded by a tiny scar.

As a preventive measure, I start the maintenance "standard of care" tomorrow. Chemotherapy, in pill form, at home for 5 days then off for 22 days...then 5 days on 22 off...to continue for one year. I'll have labs and scans throughout the year.


So please keep praying! I guess God is still in the business of miracles!!

Lotsa Love to all,
Julie

Also, as a result of Kristi's comment below, Julie has joined up with the Tribe to help cover her medical bills. Such a fun easy way to show some tangible love. Thank you, Kristi! Most of you know the statistics of a woman's income following a divorce... in Julie's case, not only did her income drop to nothing, but she was unable to work having to put every but of her flagging energy into Survival Mode to beat this tumor.

Hello friends & family,

So many of you have ask for ways to financially support me as my medical costs rise and I am unable to work. This week a friend shared with me a creative way to do just that through the Human Tribe Project. This organization was created to help cancer patients bridge the gap between insurance coverage and real costs. As in my case despite having insurance, many cancer patients incur large debts as they undergo treatment.

At the Human Tribe Project, they sell really cool, custom dog tag, jewelry that can be purchased for as little as $20. 100% of the money is given directly to pay a bill or cover a medical expensefor me. The Tribe Tags include three charms: a Human Tribe Project tag, a Tribe Print charm symbolizing the common thread that connects us all, and a personalized charm bearing my initial, "J". They can be worn as a sixteen inch or eighteen and a half inch necklace or carried on a two and a half inch key chain. Tags are sold in the Tribe Tag Store on my Human Tribe Page.

*Nickel Plated Steel Tribe Tags sell for $20, $15 of which is given directly to me as a tax-free gift.

*Sterling Silver Tribe Tags sell for $100, $75 of which is given directly to me as a tax-free gift.

If you'd like to purchase Julie's Tribe Tag go to http://humantribeproject.com/tribes/julies-tribe You'll have to register as a member as you did here on my Caring Bridge site.


Julie

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Caramelized Scallops


Today I had a headache and needed something nutritious and delicious I could make in no time. No groceries in the house so to the seafood counter at Whole Foods I went.

I picked out 10 large beautiful wild caught scallops and drove home trying not to look at the price tag. ($20.00!!! But, these are gourmet quality... best scallops ever.)

I washed them gently with fresh water, and patted them completely dry with paper towels. Light dusting of sea salt and light sprinkle of sugar on top.

In a large skillet I put a squiggle of olive oil, a smashed garlic clove (to flavor oil, remove later) and a pat of butter and heated until screaming hot. Put scallops on, seasoned side down (try not to pack them next to each other) and while they are getting a gorgeous caramel brown, sprinkle the other side with sea salt and light sprinkle of sugar. Cook only until both sides are a deep beautiful brown and remove, drain excess oil if needed, on a paper towel.

Tonight I served them over large ribbon noodles tossed with a little bit of butter and olive oil and Parmesan cheese. (Though this pic above was taken on another occasion when I used angel hair pasta.) Serve in a nice wide pasta bowl with a generous slice of lemon. The fresh squeezed lemon is key.

A quick Ceasar salad (the easiest salad in the world if you use a good bought Ceaser dressing) and dinner was served. Greg and I nearly purred with contentment.

Sometimes the simplest dishes with quality ingredients really are the best and easiest. And worth every penny on special occasions like anniversary's, or a bad headache.

Today's Joy Snack: The Resting Cure



(My husband Greg and our 3 year old grandson Georgie, resting in the sun on an Oregan beach this summer)

I have been reading a wonderful book, Seeking Peace, the latest by best-selling author Mary Pipher. In many places I felt as though she must have been reading my life, my mind. Like me, Mary's brain tends toward overwhelm if not given lots of solitude, sunshine, books, quiet time and rest to balance the social, out-pouring part of her life. We, whose chemical make-ups lean toward anxiety, ignore these needs at our own peril. Meltdowns can occur with too much traveling, social interaction, information overload, stress, performance, over-scheduled days.

Mary called the time of her recovery from ten years of too much doing, the "resting cure." I love that. Here's some of what she did to reclaim her life.

"My initial act was to construct a gentler schedule for my life."

"I greatly reduced the amount of information I received from the outside world." This including reading any books about world disasters and substituting light novels and mysteries.

"I limited my encounters with people."

"I erased my calender engagments until I had three months of 'white space' in my future."

"I asked my doctor for antidepressents" (after resting,excercising and reading failed to help her mind calm enough to sleep)

"I finished with self-improvement projects I had launched my whole life.. I wanted to create a mental environment in which I viewed myself as someone who deserved to be understood and cherished, rather than criticized and improved."

"I spent hours with my old Siamese cat, Woody. I bought myself fresh flowers and herbal teas. I made pozole and chicken curry . To cool down my agitated brain, I played solitaire and listened to classical music. Dressed in sweat pants, T-shirts and thick warm socks, I watched the snowfall and the winter birds."


I do not know about you, but this sounds pretty much like paradise to me. I'm a person who loves people, but I probably prefer 60 percent of my time in solititude or with my husband, and 40 percent with people. I try to make sure we have two days of quiet before a day of socializing, as busy as our lives are with loving, caring for and entertaining people. This past summer, in June, I was close to meltdown from over-travel and people, my body felt sick and tired to its core. Greg gave me the gift of an entire unscheduled summer at home and to guilt-free ability say "no" to anything I wasn't up to doing. It was the best gift I've ever received, I think.

The following is an excerpt from a devotional God Calling, a page I have copied and shared with others in need of a good old-fashioned resting cure: to allow God, nature, and a simpler life to re-boot weary brains. Basking in the sunshine, like a happy lizard, is also curative for me, so I loved the references to sun in this piece.

May it be a blessing to you, as it has been to me.

August 17, Nature Laughs

I come, I come. You need Me. Live much out here. My sunshine, My glorious air, My Presence, My teaching.

Would they not make holiday anywhere for you. Sunshine helps to make glad the heart of man. It is the laughter of Nature.

Live much outside. My medicines are sun and air, trust and faith. Trust is the spirit sun, your being enwrapped by the Divine Spirit.

Faith is the soul's breathing in of the Divine Spirit. Mind, soul, and body need helping. Welcome My treatment for you both. Drawing near to Me.

Nature is often My nurse for tired souls and weary bodies. Let her have her way with you both.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Joy Snack for Today: With You, My Heart is at Home



Sometimes "home" is a place, sometimes it is a person. When I am with my husband, wrapped in his arms, no matter where we are... it is home for me. Who is your home? Who are you "home" to? What a gift it is to provide a place -- be it a therapist's office, a porch swing, a kitchen table, or a comfy couch -- where others can exhale, put their feet up, relax and simply be who they are in your welcoming, accepting presence.


The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
Maya Angelou

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away." ~ George Eliott

"I found it shelter to speak to you." Emily Dickenson

A beloved hymn begins with the phrase, "Abide with me" and I've always loved this image. Abide means "to settle down and make yourself home with" someone. It is the joy of God to do this with us, the joy of humans to remember He's here, very near.

"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you." Jesus (John 15:4, The Message)

Joy Snacks: Quick Quotes & Quips for Today



(Joy Shot: Flowers sent to us by dear friend & fabulous therapist, Michele Weiner-Davis. Her friendship has been one of life's beautiful surprises.)

As you may have noticed, I've enjoyed posting recipes to this blog... but life's current busyness has left me feeling like a deer in the headlights when it comes to posting blogs about joy and the brain, a subject I love but have limited time to write about.

Today I realized, "What I love reading the most in my own inbox, and on facebook/twitter is quotes." In all honesty, I don't have time to read all the blogs I subscribe to, much less write them. Sound familiar?

However, I love to collect, digest and share snack-sized thoughts that make me ponder, focus on the good or on God, or chuckle aloud.

Soooooo...though I'll reserve the right to wax wordy on occasion, what I'd like to do between posting yummy recipes is post a random sampling of quotes to lift the heart. Sort of Super Brief Therapy, coming to your inbox with more regularity.

Here's today's Joy Snacks for Your Brain:

The surest way to find God is to go out to others: to love them, to accept them wherever they are, to care for them, to be patient with them. God is found both by the person who loves and by the person who is loved.
John Powell



Fast way to calm the brain? Train it to be here now. Ruminating over the past or fears of the future puts our brains in default mode of Anxious/Depressed loop.The cure: look around you,find something beautiful,touch or focus on it, be grateful, breathe. Be fully present now.Buddhists call this mindfulness.Jesus taught it in his "consider the lilies" sermonette. Whatever you call it, brain science shows it works. ~ Becky Johnson

And finally, your health tip of the day, from a series of cute cartoons sent to me by my beloved Aunt Ann: "If you put a crouton on top of your ice cream sundae instead of a cherry, it counts as a salad."

Or, heck, just keep the cherry on top and eat that ice cream with mindfulness and joy, because life, after all, is too short not to eat ice cream occasionally:)

For as Thornton Wilder wrote, "My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate."

May your day be filled to the brim with love, calm and joy!

Blessings,

Becky

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pumpkin Pie with Hazelnut Cream, Caramel & Toasted Pecans



Want to take a simple Thanksgiving pumpkin pie to a whole new (eyes rolled heavenward) level?

Try it with a generous dollop of hazelnut whipped cream, a squiggle of caramel and toasted pecans. I did just that tonight and two men returned their plates to the kitchen but said, "Don't wash this. I am just waiting for there to be more room in my stomach so I can have another piece."

My favorite fool proof, childishly easy recipe for pumpkin pie is as follows. (And I always make two; one is never enough!)

Preheat oven to 425

Filling:
1 16 oz can pureed pumpkin
1 can Eagle Brand (or other) sweetened condensed milk
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. powdered ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
2 eggs

Mix by hand until smooth with a wire whisk.

Poor into unbaked pie shell (I use Pillsbury refrigerated crusts) and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Then lower temp to 350 and bake another 20 - 30 minutes or until pie is set in the middle. While pie is cooking, toast about 1/2 cut of broken pecan pieces on a warm skillet on top of the oven. Watch closely, they burn quickly. (Ask me how I know:)

Top each pie slice with a generous dollop of freshly whipped hazelnut flavored cream (I prefer regular whipping cream to heavy whipping cream. It takes a little longer to whip but it never gets too stiff or butter-like.)
Sweeten cream, once it is whipped, with 1 T. hazelnut flavored agave nectar and powdered sugar (add 1 T. at a time until desired sweetness). I prefer using powdered sugar to granulated sugar in whipped cream because it helps the cream "hold its shape" and doesn't break down in the fridge should you have any leftovers.

Then drizzle whipping cream a heaping Tablespoon of commercial bottled caramel sauce and finally top with toasted pecans. Don't skip the toasting of the pecans as this really makes a huge difference.

Savory Autumn Beef Stew for a Crowd



This stew is rich and meaty, with slightly sweet and spicy tones. Perfect to serve a bunch for any Autumn or Halloween night party!

Into a large Reynold's oven bag (placed in a large pyrex pan) put:

3 lbs beef for stew (should already be cut in cubes -- Sam's sells theirs in 3 lb sizes)
Sprinkle meat with 1 T. Grill seasoning (or salt & pepper generously)
5 cloves garlic peeled & presses or diced
1 28 oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen Organic)
2 1/2 cups water
1 envelope Lipton onion soup


Squish ingredients around then tie up bag and roast for 3 hours at 350.

Take out of oven & let cool slightly, then carefully poor contents of oven bag into a large soup or stock pot. (Should be able to hold at least 1 and 1/2 gal of liquid)

Add to pot:

1 32 oz box of organic beef broth
1/2 c. catsup
1 bay leaf
1 t. paprika
1 T. brown sugar

Check seasonings at this point and salt and pepper to taste


Simmer very low uncovered for 1 more hour or until stew meat is as tender as you like it.

While stew is simmering, put 4 potatoes in oven to bake. When nearly fork tender and slightly cool, peel and dice the cooked potatoes, add to stew.

In microwave oven (using Steamer bags) cook 5-7 whole peeled carrots for 3 minutes or until done. Let cool, then slice and add to stew.

(The reason for pre-cooking potatoes and carrots before adding to the stew is they tend to turn to mush otherwise. This way the vegies hold their shape and I just think they taste better... fresher!)

Finally add:

1 lb frozen corn (I prefer baby white and gold corn)
1/2 lb frozen peas
(prefer baby peas)

Simmer until vegies are heated through.

To thicken stew, if you like, remove a ladle of broth, put in a small bowl, add flour one T. at a time until you've got a thick paste (about as thick as typical cornmeal batter). Add this mixture back into the stew, 1 T. at a time, stirring as it simmers until stew is thickness you like. Remember it will also thicken up a bit as it cools, so err on the side of a thinner gravy.

Serve with hot corn muffins, and if you like, a dollop of sour cream.

Serves 12.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Asiago-Onion Stuffed BBQ Burgers


This was such a tasty combo of ingredients that I want to write it down before I forget!

1 1/2 lb ground hamburger
2 T. teriyaki sauce
3 T. Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce
1 t. grill or steak seasoning
1/2 t. Tony's Cajun Seasoning
1 t. liquid smoke

Mix thoroughly. Form into 10 equal size "meatballs" and smash them flat with your hand or spatula. Sprinkle the ingredients below into the center of 5 of the thin hamburger patties, then top with another thin patty and seal the edges.

2/3 c. chopped onions
1 c. grated asiago cheese (you can use any good firm cheese, but asiago -- which tastes like a cross between mozzarella and Parmesan cheese worked especially well for these)

Cook on both sides in a medium hot skillet until done. Serve alone, or in a bun with traditional hamburger fixings. Serve with extra Baby Ray's BBQ sauce if desired.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Manderin Orange Chicken Salad w/ Ginger-Lime Dressing



This is one of our favorite salads and a wonderfully healthy way to use up left over bits of rotisserie chicken.

For two big salads (a full meal in itself) divide the following into 2 big bowls in layers:

3 cups baby spinach (may use other lettuce, chopped, or a mixture of several)

1 c. diced or shredded cooked chicken (I prefer the rotisserie chicken as it is more flavorful and moist. You can omit or substitute edamame if you want to go vegan!)

Optional: About 1 c. sauteed vegies. This good place to use up left overs as well. Tonight I sauteed a sliced portabello mushroom, 1/2 red onion, and 1/4 yellow pepper in olive oil. (I tossed a smashed whole garlic clove in with the vegies but then removed before serving. This flavors the oil and vegies without coming on too strong.)

1 small can Mandarin oranges drained
Slivered or sliced almonds (may also use chopped peanuts)
Chinese Rice Noodles (the fried kind, in a can)


Ginger-Lime Dressing
1/4 c. teriyaki sauce
1/4 c. fresh squeezed lime juice
2 T. Sweet Thai Chili sauce
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. sesame oil
1 "inch" of fresh ginger finely grated (I keep ginger in the freezer in a Ziploc bag always to use in recipes or to make ginger tea for uneasy tummies or sore throats, then just peel and grate in its frozen state. Works great!)
1 T. honey or agave nectar
dash salt or to taste
Put all ingredients in a jar or plastic container with lid and shake, shake, shake!
Pour over salads. Serve salads with crunchy garlic toast. Recipe below.
Crunchy Garlic Toast
Use slices of almost any bread you have on hand from leftover hamburger or hot dog buns to french bread or a hearty wheat, or even those cute little sandwich rounds work well. Squiggle bread with a little olive oil AND a little butter. (Oil adds the crunch and butter adds great flavor.) Broil until toasted, Cut a fresh garlic clove in half and rub over the top of the toasted bread. This is such a simple technique and makes the best garlic bread -- super fast!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Oriental Rice Bowls



This is a great meal to serve a group and tonight's "rice bowl" got the coveted comment from Greg: "This is one of the best ones you've ever made."

Begin with... well.. duh... rice. In a hurry (which I always am!) I like to use Uncle Ben's QUICK cooking wild rice, but only use half the seasoning packet (or it is too salty). If I have time, I love to cook jasmine rice. (A rice cooker is on my To-Buy list!) Put 1 cup frozen peas into the rice about 5 minutes before the rice is ready to serve.

Next bone a roast chicken and shred or chop the meat.

In a skillet put a good squiggle of olive oil and another of sesame oil. Saute 1/2 chopped onion and 3 cloves minced garlic. Meanwhile microwave about 4 carrots in a steamer bag until tender, then cool, slice, add to skillet.

Next add the chopped chicken to skillet. Grate 1 T. fresh ginger overall. Add 1/2 cup chopped pineapple, 1/2 c. teriyaki sauce,
1/4 c. sweet thai chili sauce and 1/2 squeezed fresh lime to this mixture. (You want enough sauce to coat the chicken well plus a little extra to drip down over the rice, so if needed, feel free to expand the portions listed above.) Cook until caramelized in appearance and flavors are blended, about 5 minutes.

Serve over rice in bowls with toppings like chopped cilantro; slivered almonds or peanuts; or crisp Chinese noodles. (Also delicious with cook shrimp or thinly sliced cooked beef.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

An Easy, Tasty Breakfast Trick: Fried-Poached Eggs




It amazes me that at midlife I'm still learning lots of new tricks with even the most simple of foods. I saw this method of cooking eggs on some TV show (so sorry I've forgotten which one) and decided to give it a whirl. The results were so good that this is our egg-cooking method of choice now. In fact Greg said, "These are the best eggs I've ever had!"

He loves the texture of poached eggs and I love how healthy they are, but poaching takes a lot more time.... waiting for that water to boil. This version of eggs has a nice crispy bottom, like fried eggs but have that buttery poached egg texture on top. And , they cook up in no time!
You simply lightly oil a nonstick skillet (I use a paper towel and just smear on the lightest sheen of olive oil). Heat to pan to medium high. Then carefully break your eggs into a cup, one at a time and pour slowly into the skillet. (As you can see I often do 3 eggs together at once, separating them with the edge of a spatula after they are done. Not fancy, but fast.)
While eggs are still wet and moist sprinkle with sea salt and pepper -- this allows the salt to absorb and "melt" with the eggs and is so much more flavorful than sprinkling with sale & pepper after cooking. And, like so many others, I have discovered that sea salt is FAR superior in flavor to typical table salt.




Then while the skillet is hot sprinkle and eggs are cooking, sprinkle about a Tablespoon of water around the eggs, then cover with a see-through glass lid (I use one slightly smaller than the skillet) to create an instant mini-steamer. When the yolks are done to the degree you like them, simply lift out of the pan, sunny side up and serve.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Oreo-Mint Ice Cream Pie -- No Bake Summer Company Treat


This pie is oh so easy, and if you are having a big crowd, just double the recipe and put it in an oblong rectangle pan to freeze.

For pie shell:

24 Oreo Sandwich Cookies
(I used Newman's Own Chocolate Mint Sandwich Creams tonight and they were great, too!)
1/4 stick butter, melted

In a food processor, process cookies until they are fine crumbs. Then pour melted butter over all, and pulse a few more times. (If you don't have a food processor you can also put the cookies in a big Ziplock bag and mash with a rolling pin until they are fine crumbs.) Press this buttery crumb mixture against the bottom and sides of your deepest pie pan.

Fill cookie pie shell half way full with mint chocolate chip ice cream (easier if ice cream has been allowed to sit at room temp for at least 5 minutes), spooning and packing as you go. (You can use your imagination on types of ice cream.... they all work beautifully!) Squiggle Hershey's chocolate syrup over this, top with more ice cream, packing as you work, then another squiggle of Hershey's chocolate syrup.

Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm. Let sit just a few minutes before serving and if desired, let guests top with whipped cream, chopped nuts or maraschino cherries or extra syrup.

We went simple tonight.. just an extra squiggle of syrup.

If you are feeling extra fancy, make your own chocolate sauce by heating the following ingredients in a sauce pan over low heat, stirring constantly, until chips are melted.


Homemade Chocolate Sauce


• 1/2 cup half-and-half

• 1 tablespoon butter

• 1/2 pound semisweet chocolate chips

• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vietnamese Spring Rolls: The Perfect Summer Snack!



Thanks to our friends, Matt and Gretchen Crocker, I learned how to make the spring rolls I love so much at Tokyo Joe's. Only, these are EVEN better. When putting spring rolls together, a picture says a thousand words and once you see how its done, I hope you'll give them a shot. Soo refreshing, crunchy, healthy and delish. Especially dipped in peanut sauce. (Recipe to follow!)

So here we go:
First slice up all manner of yummy vegies but I think the essential ones, if you like them, are cucumber, carrot (slice very thin -- even thinner than in this picture), avocado and cilantro. Other good vegies are thin slices of jicima, red pepper, scallions. I even used some cold leftover sweet potato sliced thin.



You can find these spring roll rice wrappers in almost any oriental section of a grocery store or at World Market. They come stiff and transparent. So your job is to dip them in a fairly deep bowl of hot water (from the faucet, no need to boil), and then rotate them around in the water until they are soaked and eventually become the texture of thick plastic wrap. (Only takes a few seconds.)Just when they are soft enough to drape (as shown on top of this glass) remove and lay on a plate or cutting board.








Next, lay a small bundle of vegies, along with cooked shrimp or chicken if you like, at one end of the rice paper circle. Then carefully and snugly, roll up burrito-like. The rice paper will stick to itself just like plastic wrap.







Dip in any sauce you like, but this is my favorite!

Peanut Sauce

1/3 c. peanut butter (I like chunky)
1/3 c. teriyaki sauce
1 T. fresh lime juice
1 t. grated fresh ginger if you have it
1 T. sweet Thai chili sauce

Mix together until nice and smooth, taste and adjust ingredients to your taste!
If you don't like peanut butter the sauce above is very good without it. You may want to add a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Triple Berry Crisp




This berry crisp is wonderfully easy and delicious served warm with ice cream any time of the year!

Lightly spray largest rectangle pan with baking spray (or rub lightly with a bit of oil)

Pour in 1 large frozen package triple berry mix (about 6 cups frozen fruit). You can make this dish with the fruit still frozen or slightly thawed. Just have to cook it a bit longer if the fruit is frozen.

Sprinkle fruit with about 2/3 c sugar and toss in pan until fruit is coated.

In a separate large bowl mix:

2 sticks butter (1 cup)
1 c. flour
3 c. old fashioned oats
(Can also add 1/2 c chopped pecans)
1 t. cinnamon
1 c. brown sugar

Cut with a pastry blender, two knives, or mix with hands until butter is broken up into dry ingredients, making a crumble.

Lightly pour crumb topping over berries.

Bake at 350 until topping is golden brown. (About 30 minutes)

Cool a few minutes, then serve with vanilla ice cream

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Seeded Parmesan Pull-Aparts



Thank you to Jennifer who shared these amazing tasty tender-on-the-inside, crunchy-flavorful-on-the-outside rolls (I dare you to eat just one) at a lunch following a dear friend's memorial service, then was kind enough to forward the recipe. I made them tonight and Greg and I both agree they are some of the tastiest little bread treats we've ever had. And so easy.... made with flaky canned biscuits. I will probably serve them for Thanksgiving this year! Enjoy!


SEEDED PARMESAN PULL-APARTS

2 T butter
1 T minced onion, dry (I used grated fresh onion, 2 Tablespoons)
2 t dill seed (I used 1 t. dried dill)
1 t poppy seed
¼ t celery seed
10-oz can refrigerated big flaky biscuits
¼ C grated parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 F. In oven, melt butter in 8 or 9” round cake pan, tilting pan to cover bottom. Sprinkle onion, dill, poppy, & celery seeds evenly over melted butter. Separate dough into 10 biscuits, cut or tear each into 4 pieces. Place biscuit pieces and cheese in a bag, shake to coat. Arrange coated biscuit pieces evenly in prepared pan, turning to coat top and bottoms of biscuits. sprinkle with any remaining cheese from bag. Bake 400F for 15-18 mins or until golden brown; turn onto serving plate. Serve warm. 10 servings.

Spinach-Strawberry-Pine Nut Salad w/ Berry Balsamic Dressing


As soon as my husband took a bite of this salad tonight, he said,"Wow.That's a great salad!" I had to agree! Just in time for summer, this salad is both beautiful to look at and truly delicious. Sweet, savory, toasty... The dressing is based on a Dark Cherry Balsamic Dressing I love at Nordstroms, with a few "Becky" twists.


Salad for 2 - 3

3 cups fresh spinach
6 large strawberries, sliced
Asiago or Parmesan cheese - a few thin slices, peeled with a cheese slicer or potato peeler
(Also delicious with goat cheese, feta or blue cheese)

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds (or a combination) Walnuts or pecans would also work great!

Lightly toss above with a sprinkle of sea salt

Then top with a drizzle of the following dressing. Now this recipe makes a nice batch of dressing, you can put in a jar and use again. It's one of the most delicious I've ever had. The balsamic is not too strong or vinegary because you reduce it first with sugar. Oh my goodness. Yum.

Berry Balsamic Dressing

½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 cloves garlic roasted and minced or minced then quickly sauteed in a bit of oil
½ cup berry preserves (whatever you have on hand, whatever you like)
1/4 c dried berries (any kind, I used cranberries)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup canola oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper


In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the balsamic vinegar and sugar to a simmer, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Simmer the mixture, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. It should look like thick syrup, close to molasses. Add the roasted or sauteed garlic and berry preserves and cook until preserves melt. Remove from the heat and let cool. When room temperature, whisk in the red wine vinegar and then the canola oil (pour in a ribbon as you whisk like crazy.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mojitos for a Bunch!


(Adapted from Michael Chiarello's recipe on www.foodnetwork.com)

I love mojitos, as there's no more refreshing light summer cocktail, but they are a royal pain to make, especially if you are serving a big group. I hear that bartenders are prone to cuss when someone orders them, in fact.

So I love this recipe from Michael Chiarello,because it is delicious and serves a group with ease, but I halved the rum and cut the sugar for our taste. The lemons tend to be juicier and bigger than limes and add a nice balance to these drinks.

In a big pitcher:

Put one bunch mint, cleaned. (If you plant it, it will grow, and come back every year with abundance.)

Add 1/2 to 3/4 c sugar and mash with a big wooden spooon to release mint oil. (Or just enough sugar to serve as abrasion to mint, then use agave nector to taste)

To this add "mash" add:
Juice of 3 to 4 limes and 2 lemons

Mix well.

Add 1/2 bottle (750ml) white rum (I've also made with vodka and it is delicious. Rum sometimes give me a headache!)

Top with club soda, leaving room at top of pitcher for ice. Put in about 2 - 3 cups of ice.

Stir and pour into glasses (with the ice) garnishing each glass with a sprig or two of mint.

This serves about 8 people. If you squeeze the citrus ahead of time, you can quickly make another pitcher if you have more people.

You can also cut this in half easily (2 limes, 1 lemon) for a smaller group.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Blessing of Loving Others, Enthusiastically!




"People may forget what you say,

but they will never forget how you made them feel."



There's something about my husband that draws friends, both old and new, like bees to honey. It is especially curious to me, since, in nearly all polls on Friendships of Men, most males claim not to have even one close friend.

This past week we spent time in the Great Northwest, where Greg grew up, reached out and made friends, the same way he's been doing all his life. He sought them out to reconnect, find out how they were doing, to share mutual triumphs and failures, sorrows and joys that make up our lives as the years pass. But mostly, to let them each know how often he thinks of them, and always with joy and gratitude. He's the most proactive, intentional friend to others I have ever observed. And thus, people bask in the sunshine of his kind approval like, as my Texas mother says, "a sick kitten takes to a warm brick."

When I asked Greg, "What makes you so proactive with people?" (As just one example, he paid $20.00 for a special search program to find a long lost friend with whom we enjoyed the most wonderful conversation over lunch last week!)He said, "There's a song called When God Ran that is a sort of undercurrent to my life's philosophy. It's a song about how God pursues us, and its a quality I've always wanted in my life. I'm an initiator."

Besides being a pursuer of people, there's a second quality I see in my husband that he may not even fully recognize. He responds to those he loves (like me, for example) with enthusiasm. He does this by adding just a little more "oomph" to his typical responses than the average guy.

Often, when folks come to the door he greets them by walking toward them, arms open wide saying, "Well THERE you are! It is so GOOD to see you!"

When I offer up an idea he likes (from a restaurant to try, to a book title)he doesn't ever say, "Good." or "Fine" or "That sounds okay." He says, "That's GREAT idea!" Or "Absolutely!" That little extra bit of enthusiasm goes through me like a bolt of joy. It's almost embarrassing how happy his simple but exuberant responses make me feel.

When I call home from anywhere, including the grocery store down the street, he greets me with, "Hi Darlin'! So good to hear your voice..." When I overhear him answer the phone from clients or friends, he always greets people in a way that conveys, "I love that you called! So GREAT to hear from you...." Someone once said, "A salesman without enthusiasm is just a clerk." I really do believe it is Greg's authentic enthusiasm and enjoyment of people that has made him one of the most successful and beloved literary agents in the publishing industry.

A few months back I wrote a blogpost based around a poem called "Blessed Are They Who Are Pleasant to Live With" as it seemed to epitomize my husband. A huge part of that blessing and of Greg's "pleasantness" is his pursuit of and enthusiasm for me as his wife. I never stop being surprised by how truly happy he is to see me every morning as I come down the stairs. In the 6 years since we've been married, not a day has passed that he doesn't rise to greet me, hold me close (as if deeply grateful to have his wife in his arms, again, this new day), gaze into my eyes and make me feel as though he's been waiting for this moment all his life. He turns a good marriage to a great marriage by the sheer level of enthusiasm he brings to our love.

And I'm learning, from him, how meaningful it is to be positive, uplifting and wholehearted toward the people we care about and too often take for granted. How much we all need someone to be happy we called; to believe we are bright, talented and insightful;that we can overcome obstacles and face challenges with confidence; to believe we matter, deeply, to another human soul. What a gift.

I'm editing a book for my pastor and I came across a passage where he mentioned a variety of people who taught him a variety of people-skills in ministry. One taught him "how to serve" and another "how to communicate" and so on. Then he wrote, "Greg Johnson taught me how to love."

Indeed. My husband has taught me volumes about how to better love others, and he's done it without a word of instruction. He's done it by simply loving me with enthusiasm, every blessed day we've been given to share together.

If you have zest and enthusiasm you attract zest and enthusiasm.

Life does give back in kind.

Norman Vincent Peale

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Creme of Coconut (Ridiculously Easy) Cake



This is such an easy cake, I'm almost embarrassed to share the recipe! But it is sooooo good. Especially served cold. Moist and light and almost irresistible.

Make one white cake mix according to the directions in an 11 by 14 pan.
(Be sure to use the egg whites only recipe... not the one for whole eggs that is usually an "option" on white cake mixes. Egg whites is worth the trouble, makes it much lighter.)

When cake is cooled but still warm to the touch, poke it with a big fork or chopsticks all over (but not all the way through to the bottom), the pour an entire can (14 oz.) of Creme of Coconut over it, slowly, letting it soak into warm cake.

(Coco Lopez is a good brand and you find it in "mixers" section of the grocery soft drink aisle near the margarita and bloody mary mixes. Comes in a blue can. It is sometimes a bit hard to spot -- thus the hints!)

(Warning: many versions of this recipe called for a can of sweetened condensed milk over the cake as well. I must ask, "Why?" It is plenty sweet enough and Eagle Brand only masks the pure coconut taste. Less, in this case, is definitely MORE.)

Cover with plastic or foil and refrigerate until cold. (Overnight is best if you have time.) Just before serving, "ice" with either Cool Whip or homemade sweetened whipping cream. Sprinkle with flaked coconut. If you can find fresh grated frozen coconut in your grocery aisle, this adds a wonderful moist touch. But it will work just fine with sweetened or unsweetened regularly packaged coconut.

And that's it. But wait until you taste it.... people will be licking their plates and coming back for more!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spiked Citrus Shrimp

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Love Tex-Mex and even though dinner plans to eat out at a fave Mexican restaurant were cancelled, I couldn't stop the craving! So scrounging for something to fill the bill, I came up with tonight's colorful dinner,the star of which was a Spiked Citrus Shrimp that grilled up a beautiful caramel brown and were as tasty as any I've eaten at any fancy cafe!

Marinade for the Shrimp *serves 2-3

12 - 18 medium to large sized shrimp
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon or lime (I was out of limes but lemon worked fine)
1 large clove minced or pressed garlic
1/3 cup tequila
2 T. Triple Sec
Sprinkle all (very lightly)with Citrus or Lemon Pepper Grill Seasoning
A Good "squiggle" of Agave nectar

(Let sit for about 30 minutes, unless frozen, then marinate for about an hour. I like the raw, frozen, peeled, tail-on shrimp at Sams when I cannot get fresh.)

Grill on grill pan until just golden on both sides. Then pour marinade over all (in grill pan) and let it boil down just a bit.

Serve shrimp over wild rice, pouring a little of the cooked marinade over all. Wonderful with seasoned black beans and corn, with small sides of fresh guacamole, salsa, sour cream (I've been substituting 2% Greek Yogurt for sour cream -- it is delicious!) and tortilla chips. And a margarita to go with wouldn't hurt one bit:)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Balsamic Cherry Glazed Salmon




I loved a salmon dish at the Rialto Cafe in downtown Denver, glazed with a wonderful balsamic cherry sauce. Below is my attempt at approximating the dish and it was, I have to say, delicious! Wonderful served with either wild rice or garlic mashed potatoes and side of asparagus or fresh green beans.

To grill the salmon, I simply rinse and pat the salmon dry and sprinkle lightly with grill or steak seasoning and grill each side in a screamin' hot grill pan with a generous squiggle of olive oil. I prefer my salmon a bit moist in the middle so I try not to over cook. While salmon is grilling prepare this easy rich reduction sauce:

In a medium sized skillet mix:

1/2 c. white or red wine
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar (if you don't like balsamic, a red wine vinegar can also be used)
1/4 c. dried cherries (Or a dried berry mix)
1 clove minced garlic
little squeeze lemon
3 T. cherry preserves (my substitute other berry preserves if you don't have cherry on hand)
1 T. brown sugar


Simmer sauce until it is reduced by nearly half, and getting syrupy. Add salt at this point, to taste. Spoon over grilled salmon.
(Would also be nice to add some sauteed shallots to this dish if you have a little extra time!)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Easy Peppery Shrimp in Citrus Butter Sauce


(Had to borrow a photo as we ate all the shrimp before I could snap a picture!! Mine looked like this with more sauce, more pepper.)
This easy shrimp dish would be perfect to double and serve in a big pan on the patio on a pretty summer eve. Let everyone put some in their bowls and dip hunks of fresh hearty bread into the savory sauce. Perhaps serve with corn on the cob and fresh sliced tomatoes. Could also serve over mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta.


Peppery Shrimp in Citrus Butter Sauce

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Into an oblong pan put generous squiggle olive oil, 1/2 stick melted butter and 2 minced cloves garlic. To this add juice of 1 small orange, juice of 1/2 lemon, juice of 1/2 lime, squiggle of agave nectar (or sprinkle of sugar).

Mix and toss with 1 lb raw shrimp, cleaned and peeled, tail on.

Sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with fresh ground pepper. Slice reserved lemon and lime halves and lay in pretty pattern over shrimp.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until shrimp is just pink.

Ladle shrimp with butter-citrus sauce into flat wide bowls and serve with grated parmesan cheese, and a good hearty bread (toasted is nice) for dipping in butter sauce.