Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Me! I Just Found Out I'm Irish!

Only two weeks ago did I find out that I am, in fact, a wee bit Irish! My great-grandmother who died when my grandfather was just sixteen years old, was named Mary Kathryn McNally. He loved her fiercely and though he seldom, if ever, cried; he wept the day she died, one of the saddest in his life, so he told my Aunt Ann.

So today is the first St. Patrick's Day I can say with the rest of the Irish folk in the world: "Kiss me, I'm Irish!"

We often tease that our highest holy day at our church is St. Patrick's Day. Our pastor, Hugh Halter (author of The Tangible Kingdom) has read and modeled much of his life upon this beloved saint and has spent more than one St. Patty's Day in a real pub (sometimes by invitation), sharing the original meaning of this day and the man for whom it is named. He tells me that there are often tears in the green beer upon hearing the story of a man who loved life, God, and his fellow man so deeply.

You'll enjoy reading up on St. Patrick today, if you've never read about his life. You can "google" him anywhere.

There are so many great Irish sayings, greetings and blessings. But I've chosen this one to share with my friends today, as it contains a great truth. In fact, those who manage to do this are probably the happiest people on the planet, Irish or no.

Happy St. Patricks Day to One & All!

Always remember to forget
The things that made you sad.
But never forget to remember
The things that made you glad.

Always remember to forget
The friends that proved untrue.
But never forget to remember
Those that have stuck by you.

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chocolate Chip Banana Walnut Bread

I had lots of peeled ripe frozen bananas that needed to be used up this week, and also needed a good "transportable" treat to take to a family battling a week of illness. (There's nothing like chocolate, nuts and bananas to cure anything that ails you, says this Dr. Mom.)

Happened upon a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine with over 200 rave reviews. I now know why. It's a wonderful just-right banana bread recipe with or without the chocolate chips. I made a few tweaks to the original Bon Appetit recipe to allow for more bananas, cutting some sugar, adding a bit more flour. I think this makes for a more moist bread. I doubled the recipe below and it made 3 plenty generous loaves of bread. N

Tip: If I am in a hurry, I will often bake banana bread in 2 square Pyrex pans.... this speeds up cooking time, makes smaller slices and cooks evenly in a shorter time. (The reason for "layering" the batter with the flour coated chocolate-nut mixture is that if you don't, the chocolate chips tend to all sink to the bottom. This helps keep the chips and nuts equally distributed.)

1 1/2 cups plus 2 T. all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour 9x5x2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine chocolate chips and walnuts in small bowl; add 1 tablespoon flour mixture and toss to coat.

Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in mashed bananas, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Beat in flour mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of nut mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter over. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture. Cover with remaining batter. Run knife through batter in zigzag pattern.

Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Pie

There is nothing better than a perfect Fresh Strawberry Pie, the only hitch being ... it really does need to be perfect. Crust flaky and crisp, or it will get soggy from filling. Strawberries juicy, ripe and red. (Organic strawberries always seem to taste better to me.) The glaze: neither too thick or runny. Whipped cream.... made fresh from whipping cream (not heavy cream) just lightly sweetened, and I prefer no vanilla. I love the pure taste of unadulterated cream on this heavenly light pie.

Since moving to Colorado, I've had to play with and adjust recipes to find one that works well with the altitude. This glaze works beautifully at high altitude, although I've not made it at lower altitude so I cannot guarantee the results will be as good.

Prepare one pie crust (or two if you double this recipe, which I highly suggest if there are more than 4 people who will be eating it.... people tend to want a second slice!) I like the Pillsbury refrigerated brand that you roll out and press into your own pie pan, following directions on the box.

I also put dried beans in a piece of foil or waxed or parchment paper into the pie shell for about 1/2 the baking time to insure it doesn't puff up with air holes. (I keep the beans in a Ziploc bag with my cooking utensils to be re-used. I think I've recycled these "pie beans" for about 5 years now!)

Bake the pie shells until deep golden brown and they'll stand up much better and longer to the strawberry filling without getting soggy. Still, it is best to serve this pie within 2 hours of putting it all together. You can make everything ahead and then assemble just before company arrives, however.

For the glaze (for one pie)

Boil 3/4 c. water
Make a slurry of 2T. cornstarch and 1/4 c. water, and slowly add to boiling water, while stirring with a whisk.
Whisk in 3/4 c. sugar. Remove from heat.
Sprinkle 1/2 a 3 oz. package of strawberry Jello over this mixture, whisk in.
Add 1 T. fresh lemon juice, 1 T. butter, pinch salt. Whisk and set aside to cool.

When pie crust has cooled, fill it with about 2 pints of fresh strawberries, left whole. Cut the green tops off and put them cut-side down in the pie, starting with the biggest berries, and filling in with smaller berries (or you can cut some berries in half to tuck into open spots).

Finally pour cooled glaze of the top of the berries and put in the fridge to cool and set.

Just before serving, top with fresh made whipping cream (I prefer this over heavy whipping cream) that has been whipped until fluffy and sweetened with powdered sugar. (Powdered sugar works better than granulated to help whipping cream hold its shape.) I like to cut the pie pieces first, and then just top each with a big dollop of whipping cream, individually.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ruminators Anonymous: Help for Over-Thinkers

(Picture I took of Crater Lake on a trip to Oregon. The deepest, clearest lake in the U.S. and an image of rest, beauty and deep calm that I aspire to have in my head!)

Ruminating over past,current, or possible future relational problems with just about anyone I've ever known, know or could know is a tiny problem of mine.

However, unhooking my brain from the never ending loop of rumination is a challenge I'm determined to conquer. I was relieved to discover I am not alone, particularly in my gender group. Many of you have been there, too, I am sure. You wake at 3:00 A.M. and your mind goes straight to the The Problem, and while you'd really like to go back to sleep, your Inner Lawyer is preparing a defense or a case against your attacker (or shunner), or your Inner Fixer is searching for something you've not yet tried, some rock that hasn't been turned over. And there you are, an exhausted helpless victim to the ruminations of your own mind. You lose sleep; those you love only have about half of you fully present; you are missing your life -- 98% of which may be fabulous! -- letting one sticky issue rob your joy.

Time to take your mind by the scruff of its neck and re-direct it to more helpful places.

Here's a few VERY HELPFUL thoughts and ideas gleaned from the book Women Who Think Too Much by Susan Nolenn- Hoeksema, Phd. with a few of my own discoveries as well. Perhaps they'll help you, too.

1. Understand that Over-thinking is NOT your friend. It is not giving you insight, it is clouding your vision.

2. Give it a Rest. Especially at night, say to yourself, "Nothing is ever solved after midnight that makes any sense in the light of day. I'll deal with this at a set day and time when I'm fully rested."

3. Do Something that is Fully Engrossing, and if possible, takes creative thought. I personally found that deciding to finally start writing a chapter in a food memoir I'd been toying with, gave me hours of "time off" from ruminating. In fact, it felt so good, I decided to postpone ruminating for another day.

4. Get Up and Get Moving. Physical activity helps disengage the brain and gives it fresh oxygen and fresh perspective. If there something you CAN do to help the problem, it is more likely to come to you after a good walk than by staring at the ceiling and thinking in endless negative loops.

5. Just say NO to your brain. It's an interesting moment when you realizing you do not have to obey or believe your thoughts. Who knew? The best image is a big red stop sign. Mentally hold it up to Ruminating Mind and say, in your best Buzz Lightyear voice, "Not TODAY, SIR!" and just don't go there. Don't let even one thought in the door or like the Cat in the House it will bring friends and make a wreck of your mind, and you'll realize you've lost precious hours in your day. Stop the thought train at the threshold of your mind's front door.

6. Don't Rent Space in Your Head to Negativity... it only lets the other guy win. In cases where you've been unjustly wronged, tell yourself that you will not allow your continued internal upset to rob you of the joy and the life you still have to live. Life is hard enough without further punishing yourself with painful thoughts. Enough is enough.

7. Schedule a Ruminating Hour. If you really need to think a problem through, pray about it and perhaps take some action: schedule a set aside time to do this. Bring a journal, a Bible and your undivided focus. But only ruminate at the schedule ruminating hour, and if your mind wanders there before the set appointment, gently remind it that this is not the time.

8. Hand it Over. You know the commercials where somebody slaps their hand to their head and says, "I shoulda had a V-8!" Well, that's how I feel when I remember, REALLY remember all the times that I've finally let go of an issue or a person I could not figure out, and God has intervened and done marvelous things without my help or manipulation. "I shoulda given this over to God!" I remember, and eventually, when I do, peace begins to descend.

9. Talk with Someone. A caution here...just venting to multiple people multiple times doesn't help much, and in fact, it can heighten and widen the Highway to Rumination in your brain. But talking with a wise person or setting an appointment with a life coach or therapist who will give you honest feedback can be very helpful.

10. Write it out. Thoughts written down seem to help them escape the confines of your mind and stop the endless ping-ponging. Journaling, for many, provides much relief.

11. Find Pleasure and Pursue It. Make a list of all the things that give you pleasure from great music, to sunshine, to books, to getting out in nature or watching a funny movie, making a fabulous meal..... In times of stress you really do need to proactively "double your pleasure, double your fun" as it feeds and protects a mind that is going through crisis, however small or large.

12. Instead of putting all your focus on the one issue or relationship that is draining your life, think about doubling your efforts to nourish the good relationships you enjoy. Sometimes a "challenge child" or a difficult family member becomes a vortex into which all the emotional energy is poured... until you wake up one day and realize that those who have been there all along have been neglected and may even been suffering from that neglect. I remember a poignant news story about a "normal sister" with two schizophrenic sisters. The parents naturally poured all their emotional energy into the mentally ill sisters and the normal sister, feeling guilty about having a healthy brain, played the part of the brave, quiet, good, and faithful supporting sister. But the camera caught this "normal sister" crying, pulling out her hair strand by strand, suffering quietly but suffering, all the same. Do not let one Problem Person rob you or the rest of the family of mental health, joy and great memories.

If you're stuck on a negative feeling, make something: a poem, a pie, a blog. Creativity pulls your brain into a happy place.—Martha Beck

My favorite passage, put to memory, and pulled out more often than any other scripture:

Philippians 4: 6, 7

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.