Baked Some Cookies, Had A Party, Read a Story, Made Some Gifts…

 This morning had me up early and in the shower for two purposes: getting myself clean and scrubbing the tile.  I learned this whole clean-the-shower-while-you-are-in-the-shower trick from my friend Tamyra in Oklahoma.  Always multi-tasking.  Always.

And the reason I want a super-clean bathroom is because in just a few short hours my littlest nephew will be here from California along with his mom and dad.  (Actually, now that I think of it, he’s not my littlest nephew, because he has a little brother who’s on his way in another 4-5 months!) My youngest sister will also be here today, and we’ll all get to celebrate Christmas together.  I can hardly wait to see them, and it will be so fun to have a toddler in the house at Christmas!

Kayla had her annual Christmas tea party last Friday, but this year we called it a Cupcake and Cappuccino party like last year.  I think “tea party” was starting to sound too childish, and I understand, but we definitely didn’t want to do away with the event altogether.  Kayla is blessed with wonderful friends, and I love seeing these girls all together.

It was also a pajama party!
Like every year, the girls decorated gingerbread (well…graham cracker) houses, and then we played some Christmas-themed games: Candy Cane Pass, A Nativity Passing game, and a Christmas version of charades/Pictionary.  On the menu for lunch was bagels and cream cheese, cheese and crackers, chocolate dipped strawberries, cookies, cupcakes, and a ham and egg casserole.  Tea, coffee, and hot cocoa were the drink choices.  (Pardon the details, but this is part of how I remember and plan from year to year!)
Here’s a link to some fun Christmas party games.  Thanks to Laura Machak for the recommendation!

 When there was a bit of downtime,  the girls ended up having a spontaneous beauty salon and everyone ended up with some form of a beautiful braid.  The most special part for me is watching the big girls and little girls hang out together and in such a sweet way.  The age range was from 6 to 15 years old, and yet there was a kind and sisterly spirit with gracious accommodation on everyone’s part. What a blessing.

 I signed up for Advent devotions for women through Bible Gateway, and one of them included an incredible story about a child in Mexico who received a shoebox through Samaritan’s Purse which contained only socks. Wanting to do some sort of devotion with the girls while they ate, the Lord prompted me to print it out and read it.  You can read it for yourself here.  Might want to have a tissue handy.  Proof that God knows and sees us and is able to provide for our needs.

And while I’m thinking of it, here is another link to a wonderful article about the “why” of Christmas.  Why did Jesus have to come and put on flesh?  Because it was “fitting” that’s why!

Before the party a LOT of baking went on.  This served a triple purpose: the party with the girls, our staff and elders party later that night, and the rest were frozen for Christmas and my family’s arrival.

 I’m getting better and the gluten free butter/sugar cookie thing.  Using xanthan gum and CHILLING the dough before cutting out the cookies AND again after they are cut and on the cookie sheets.  A bit more time consuming, but it really helped.

I love these new blue and green sprinkles, and the gingerbread-looking men have cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on them.  Don’t know why I never thought to do that before!

And here’s a pic of the gluten free version of the “Insanely Delicious Turtle Cookies.”  Oh my….
These were NOT served at the girls’ tea party due to several nut allergies!
 I mentioned in the last post how much I love to give gifts to my kids, but I also love to give a gift to our church staff and elders as well as a few friends who are near.  It’s sometimes difficult to come up with a gift to give to about 10 or 12 folks that is the same.  I’ve done dish towels, bags of mulling spices, and baked treats before, but this year I came across another idea that seemed fun and practical and not too expensive ~ spice mixes. (And NO sugar ~ hurray!  Christmas often feels like the Plague of Sugar!)

 Collecting the spices was probably the hardest part.  It required standing at the bulk bins at Whole Foods for 15-20 minutes and dealing with their not-so-great system for pouring the spices out and labeling each bag.  Some of the spices I bought in jars at our regular grocery store.  I’ve kind of figured out which ones are the best deal and where after years of research, i.e. 20+ years of at least weekly trips to the grocery store. (sigh…)

I also saved lots of apple butter from the fall to give as well, so everyone got 2 different spice mixes and a jar of homemade apple butter.  Then I searched online for printable mason jar labels and found these cute ones for free. It was really fun to put all of this together, and I only wish I had more time for creative and kitchen-y things like this.  Even more fun to give them away!

In case you are in need of a last minute gift idea, here are a few links to the spice mix recipes and the labels.  There are tons of versions of labels and spice mixes out there, but this will get you started.
(I decreased the spices to 10)
(This can also be mixed with oil and vinegar for a steak or fajita marinade!)
(Same as above for a fajita marinade.)
(All of my favorite Indian spices here. Yum.)
Okay ~ off to do a bit more baking, cleaning, and errand running. ‘Tis the season for going to the store A LOT ~ Ha!
I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas week!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Chicken Tenders With Creamy Cider Sauce

Last Saturday was the perfect day for apple picking.  It was even hot outside, which I always hope for in September.  We went to an orchard we’ve never been to before called Cold Spring Orchard which is actually the one run by UMass.  I remember having someone from the orchard come and speak at The Amherst Woman’s Club years ago.  He brought samples from a large variety of apples.  It was my first time to try a Honeycrisp and a Macoun.  Both are delicious.

 I don’t remember the variety we picked last weekend, but they were large.  Very different from the Macintoshes we typically pick.

Kayla and Cooper were thrilled about picking apples, or was it that they were thrilled about what came after apple picking (a trip to the mall) and just decided it was a necessary evil?  Oh, they really didn’t mind it at all, but it’s so funny to watch the transformation over the years ~ from toddler giddiness to teenage nonchalance.  At least they don’t try and climb the trees anymore and throw apples at each other. Actually, I’m a little surprised about that last part.

 The big apples filled our two half-bushel bags in no time at all.  Robert headed home to finish up sermon and other work for Sunday, and the kids and I headed to the “big” mall to meet up with the McCullah family girls in search of wedding clothes for this weekend.  We did not have any success, and I told my crew that the six mile run I’d been on earlier that morning was a breeze compared to walking the mall for four hours with five teen and tween girls and one baby.  Oh my.  And to leave empty-handed….

The wedding is tomorrow, and none of us have any clue as to what we’ll be wearing.
Monday night we returned to our tradition of having Lois over to watch The Voice.  She made bouquets for the bridesmaids while watching.  I made some homemade applesauce and also a paleo version of this recipe from about three years ago for our dinner together.  The only differences are that I did not “bread” the chicken tenders, but rather baked and broiled them, and that I substituted coconut milk for the heavy cream.
This pic is of the GF “breaded” version from a few years back ~ and before the cream was added and sauce thickened.
And here’s the paleo version:
Chicken Tenders with Creamy Cider Sauce
10-15 chicken tenderloins
4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, finly chopped
1 apple ~ peeled, cored, sliced thin
1 tsp thyme
2 cups apple cider (not juice)
1-2 cans coconut milk (or cream) ~ I used two because I wanted extra cream and sauce overall.
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
For chicken: Place tenderloins on a baking sheet.  Rub with olive oil (or coconut oil) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake in a 375 degree oven on middle rack for 15 minutes.  Turn the broiler on after fifteen minutes and move chicken to top rack.  Broil about 2 minutes each side.
For Sauce: Heat coconut oil in skillet adding onions, apple slices, and thyme.  Sauté 3-5 minutes until apple and onion are softened. Add cider and bring to a boil.  Keep boiling until liquid is reduced a bit.  Stir in coconut milk (or cream), dijon mustard, and salt and pepper.  Continue simmering and stirring until the cider sauce is slightly thickened.
Spoon sauce over chicken tenderloins to serve.
Our side dishes were sweet potatoes and sautéed kale.
Enjoy ~ and have a great weekend.  We’ll be rehearsing for the wedding tonight and spending most all of our day wedding-ing tomorrow with a wonderful couple from our church.  Kayla and her friends will be serving during the cocktail/appetizer hour as well as throughout dinner.  We’re praying for no rain and a beautiful outdoor-among-the-gorgeous-foliage ceremony.  S’mores and camp fire will be the grand finale if the weather cooperates.
Now…to find something to wear for all the boys and girls here at my house!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Kale Avocado Salad (A brunch and providential produce, too)

Happy Friday!

It’s beautiful here today, and as much as I dread the coming cold, it is nice to have a bit of a break from the humidity. Feels like you can breathe again. My fall wreath is now hung on the front door, which usually doesn’t happen until October, and I’m mentally planning a future weekend outing for apple picking.  This yearly tradition always sneaks up on me.

We probably won’t get around to it tomorrow, because Kayla will be off on a field trip to Salem to tour the Custom House (she recently trudged through that prologue to The Scarlet Letter), see the homes of Nathaniel Bowditch AND Nathaniel Hawthorne, follow a walking tour of Salem, visit the Witch House, and possibly end the day walking around historic Rockport.  I’ve been to the House of Seven Gables before, but I’m jealous of all the other things she’ll get to do tomorrow with homeschool friends.

I’m excited, though, for how I’ll be spending my day tomorrow.  It will involve shopping for groceries, cooking, baking, and setting up for a brunch at church on Sunday.  I spent time planning the menu and decor yesterday with some help from Pinterest, and maybe I’ll take pictures and tell you about it next week.  Our church always does a “Back to School” or “Fall” cookout after the 11:15am service on one of the first Sundays of the school year, but the 9:15am service folks always miss out on this event.  This year, Robert wanted the early service people to have their own special lunch ~ or brunch, in this case, so he asked if I’d be willing to take it on.

I actually love doing things like this.  Oh, there’s never really time for it (homeschooling, housekeeping, seminary, small groups, coffee dates…), and I do get tired of cooking (my family wants a meal EVERY SINGLE night!), but I also love creating something special for a church event ~ or houseguests or birthdays, etc. It makes me happy to create a meal and space where people feel comfortable and indulged in something beyond the usual fare.

Okay ~ well, maybe I’ll tell you more next week when it’s all over. For now you could pray that people WILL be blessed by the meals provided on Sunday and delight in the grace of sweet fellowship.  Good weather would be wonderful, too ~ as the later cookout/picnic is always held outside.

Here’s a recipe that I’ve made several times since the spring. It was originally inspired by a salad I get at Whole Foods on occasion and also influenced by one in the Elana’s Pantry cookbook I’ve mentioned before.  It does require a tolerance for kale ~ even raw,  “massaged” kale ~ but it’s a really tasty way to get this super-food into your diet.  I think it’s so strange that the grocery store which is almost literally next door to my house (I’ve walked there at least twice this week) carries kale all the way from Texas.  We are surrounded ~ again, literally ~ by local organic farms that have an abundance of kale.  The farmer’s market is brimming with several different varieties.

The “Go Texan” twist-tie on my Massachusetts kale is interpreted by me as a little “wink” from God, which you may think is reading way too much into a twist-tie, but that’s okay. I don’t mind being thought silly for believing that God is capable of revealing His love for me and my plight of being an alien in a foreign land through my leafy greens.  He has the hairs of my head all numbered, so there’s no doubt He can guide the produce buyer’s hand at Big Y on my behalf. 😉

Here’s the Texas/Massachusetts recipe:

Kale Avocado Salad

1 med. bunch kale, washed, de-veined, torn in small pieces
1 ripe avocado
1/2 – 1 red bell pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp orange juice (fresh or from a carton)
2 tsp honey (Optional ~ the orange juice sweetens it quite a bit!)
salt and pepper to taste

Place washed and torn kale into a medium sized bowl. Pour olive oil and orange juice over the kale and massage it with your clean hands until the kale is thoroughly coated and softened a bit.  Let sit for 10-20 minutes while prepping the rest of the ingredients.

Depending on how much you desire, cut red bell pepper into medium diced pieces. Add to kale mixture and massage a bit more.

Peel and chop the avocado.  Add the pieces to the kale and massage until the chunks of avocado are mashed up and coating all of the salad.  Leaving some of the avocado chunks intact is okay, too!

Add salt, pepper and honey and toss to coat.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!  I’ll be making another version of this salad for the brunch that involves chicken, wild rice, apples, and cranberries.  Can’t wait to try it!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Fajitas & Sprouted Black Beans

 It all started when I got an invitation to sign up to take a meal to a young couple who just had their first baby.  Actually, this happens on a very regular basis at church these days.  We’re definitely having a baby boom there.  Thanks to another mom’s discovery, we use an internet based sign-up for this “meal ministry” called Take Them a Meal. It is a wonderful resource and very easy to use.  You can see every date for which a meal is needed, and as people sign up, they list what they will be bringing for everyone to see. That way the poor new parents don’t have lasagne and salad every other night for a month!

I’m always stumped as to what to make and take to the next new set of parents, but for some reason fajitas sounded like the thing to deliver this time.  Maybe because the new mommy actually transferred from Baylor University to UMass after she got married a year and a half ago, having married a young man from this area, and I thought she might like a little bit of Tex-Mex?  I don’t know.  She’s actually from Missouri, not Texas, but she did love her time at Baylor.  Or maybe it was that whatever I made for them, I would also be making for our family’s meal that night, and everyone’s always up for fajitas around here.

 Typically, you make fajitas with skirt steak, but you’d be hard pressed to find this in any local grocery store in these parts.  I’m sure dedicated butchers and meat markets might carry it, but I’ve never seen it in my local store.  What I have been seeing a lot of lately is sirloin tips.  They are usually pretty expensive, but they’ve been on sale in recent weeks, and they are delicious, as you can imagine ~ unless you are a vegetarian, of course.  I made beef tips and gravy with them two weeks ago for an after-church lunch here at the house, we grilled them last week for dinner along with sweet potatoes and sumer squash, and this week I decided to use them for fajitas. They turned out really delicious, and mostly due to the expert grilling of my husband.

 The Paleo Diet does not recommend eating legumes partly due to their nutrient diminishing tendencies.  They contain phytic acid which makes them difficult to digest, and also pulls vitamins and minerals from the body in the process.  I happen to love all kinds of beans, though, especially with Mexican food, so soaking and sprouting them has been our cheat/compromise.  Before beginning the Paleo Diet, I was greatly influenced by the research of the late dentist Weston A. Price as well as the cookbook his discoveries about nutrition inspired ~ Nourishing Traditions.  Soaking and sprouting is almost a given in the cookbook with any grain or legume.  That process allows germination to begin, which actually removes much of the phytic acid and greatly increases available nutrients.  Here’s a quote from The Vegetarian Times blog regarding this practice:


Nuts, seeds, grains, and beans are nutritional powerhouses. However, the natural agents that protect them from early germination can wreak havoc in our digestive system. Soaking and sprouting replicates germination, which activates and multiplies nutrients (particularly Vitamins A, B, and C), neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes.

 It takes a bit of foresight and planning, but it makes eating beans much easier on the system and adds nutrients to your system, rather than depleting them. I think I was even scared to try it at first, but after just a tiny bit of research, I decided to give it a try.   It’s really so very easy, and I’ll list the steps below.

We decided to do both beef and chicken fajitas, and I used the same marinade for both.  I made sure Robert could be home before 6pm (which was the delivery time) to do the grilling, and had them all ready to go when he returned. As you can probably see from the pictures, we used about 6 chicken breasts and 6-8 strips of sirloin tips.

After grilling, we sliced them thinly and against the grain ~ longitudinally (sorry, we’re studying the explorers currently) which was a bit tricky due to the long thin strip nature of  the sirloin tips, but makes them easier to stuff a fajita taco with.

We sautéed peppers and onion in olive oil with a bit of garlic powder and salt, packaged them up along with the rest of the usual fixings ~ the sprouted and cooked beans, guacamole, salsa, chips ~ and cheese, sour cream, and flour tortillas for the non-paleo folks ~ and enjoyed making the delivery.  The best part, though, was holding the precious, now one month old little boy ~ sweetest, cutest little thing. Oh my.

The hardest part for Kayla and Cooper was waiting for us to get back, so we could eat our portion of the meal, which we finally did outside on the picnic table.  It was a really beautiful, warm evening.  There were even leftovers for lunch today.

There are so, so many recipes out there for meat rubs and marinades that are probably much better than what I’ve come up with through trial and error and simple ingredients on hand, but in case you just want something super easy and tasty, here’s what I did:

Marinade for the Beef and Chicken:

1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp McCormick Montreal Steak Grill Mates (optional, but it’s really tasty!)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Mix dry ingredients/spices together.  Add cider vinegar and olive oil and whisk together.  Pour over chicken or beef and let sit for 1-4 hours, turning and coating sides alternatively.

Soaked and Sprouted Black Beans:

Sort and rinse 1 package of dry black beans.  Place beans in a medium-large bowl and cover with warm water for 10-12 hours.  The beans will double in size, so be sure and add plenty of water for the soaking. Drain beans, rinse, and drain again.  Leave beans in the bowl or a large jar and cover them loosely with a towel or plastic wrap ~ allowing for some air to reach the beans.  Rinse and drain every 4-6 hours until you can pry one open and see a sprout forming, or a tiny sprout emerges from one end of the bean.

For the above black beans, and probably because it was warm outside, this only took an overnight soak and sitting drained and loosely covered on the counter for most of the following day.  By 4pm, they were sprouting and ready to cook.

To cook beans, add water to about an inch above the level of the beans. Add salt to taste and a slice of bacon if you like for seasoning.  Cook over medium-high for 1.5-2 hours until beans are tender.  Add water as they cook if needed.

Sautéed Peppers and Onions:

Slice 1onion and 2 peppers into thin strips or circles.  Sauté in 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add salt and garlic powder to taste as they cook and soften.

Those of us following a Paleo diet here just forgo the tortilla (corn for my GF kids) and fill a bowl with onions, peppers, beans, beef, chicken, guacamole, and salsa.  Sometimes we add a bed of lettuce and tomato, too. Everyone else stuffs their tortilla with meat, guac, sour cream, cheese, salsa, and peppers/onions which they truly think is some kind of heavenly meal.  I won’t tell who it was, but one teenager ate FOUR fajita tacos last night.  Someone is going through a growth spurt ~ and I am now officially the shortest person in the family.

Enjoy ~ and have a wonderful weekend!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday ~ Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins (& Summer Sanity)

Happy Friday!  I’m sitting here near a sunny window in a central Massachusetts Starbucks waiting for a beautiful young woman to meet me for coffee. It’s sort of a halfway point for each of us, and I’m remembering several other mid-way coffee dates I’ve had here.  Life, walking with Christ, ministry….and boys (You know, the usual…) are on the agenda I think, and I’m always so impressed and encouraged when a 19 year old wants wisdom on these things.  Truly the Lord is at work in the lives of young people.  I see it all around me.
My body is so sore today, and not due to any long runs I’ve been on this week either.  Rather, my hands, legs, and back are aching because I spent the day cleaning, organizing, bagging, and boxing items for the Salvation Army yesterday.  I think I gave away about 200 books (really), a dozen coffee mugs (those things multiply!) and even 4 trash bags full of girls’ clothing to a family with four daughters younger than Kayla.  It felt so good, but there’s still so much to be done.
And it just feels so good to be at home for a day.  Summer is so chaotic and always means jumping hastily from one major activity to another with almost zero concentrated or consistent time at home.  Weddings, various youth camps, traveling, more weddings, teen activities, birthdays, out-of-town visitors, and more.  I was in complete denial when I planned to re-paint several of the rooms in my house, not to mention my basement staircase and floor for summer projects, because I KNOW that summer is like this.  I’m always anxious for the school year to arrive, because it brings a more predictable schedule ~ for everyone.

And even though there is so much housework to be done, baking something or cooking a complete meal always makes me feel like I’ve truly been at home accomplishing something.  So, though I desperately needed to re-arrange and downsize the sheets and towels in my linen closet (among MANY other things), I also NEEDED to bake something and then clean the kitchen from top to bottom.  So, that’s what I did, and it was wonderful.

Raspberries were on sale here “buy one get two free,” and so I was anxious to do something with at least one of the packages I bought instead of just gobble the whole thing down immediately.  I had also just stocked up on a week’s worth of groceries (which hadn’t been done all summer either) and had dark chocolate chunks on hand.  I looked at several recipes for muffins including those two ingredients, and finally came up with a version of my own.  And they’re pretty good.  Not so-good-your-non-paleo-kids-will-eat-them-all-before-you-do, but still a great breakfast treat or afternoon coffee accompaniment for those who’ve given up carbs and sugar for good.

And I have to tell you (though I probably already have; I’m getting old) that Robert is more sold out in that decision than I am, and I’m pretty sold out! He can tell a HUGE difference in the way he feels after giving up breads and sweets, and I don’t think there’s any turning back as far as he’s concerned.

Here’s the recipe. I’ve had a Ziploc bag with a couple of these in my purse on several occasions this week as I’ve dashed out the door before eating breakfast.  They are very satisfying.  Hope you enjoy.

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins

Makes 1 dozen

1/2 cup coconut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
dash sea salt
6 eggs
4 tbsp honey
3 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 – 1 cup raspberries, chopped (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks (I chopped mine to a finer grade)

**Save a few raspberries and chocolate to sprinkle on top of muffins before baking.**

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk all liquid ingredients together~ eggs, honey, vanilla, coconut oil, and warm water. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together ~ coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt.  Add dry ingredients to liquid and mix thoroughly.  Coconut flour soaks up lots of liquid, so your batter will get pretty thick, but that is normal.

Fold in chopped raspberries and dark chocolate pieces, saving some of each to sprinkle on top.  Fill 12 greased muffin cups about halfway with batter and then sprinkle each with a few pieces of berries and chocolate.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.  Be careful, as the coconut flour bakes fairly quickly.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Girls’ Day Out in NYC

I’m writing from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (that’s really what it’s called!) where Robert and I arrived yesterday for a wedding.  We are staying on a gorgeous lake and everywhere I look the only colors I see are green and blue ~ trees, mountains, water, sky.  Truly beautiful.
We returned home from our trip to New York City at 3am on Tuesday morning, mostly due to traffic merging to one lane repeatedly along I-95 which was a fairly frustrating end to a really fantastic day.  I am also learning something about myself through several similar late night bedtimes over the last year or so, and that is…
I. Need. Sleep.
Oh my goodness.  We’re now three days out from the NYC trip and I am only just now feeling somewhat recovered from the exhaustion.  Sadly, the problem can’t be remedied through sleeping in the next morning either, because evidently when you are old you lose your ability to sleep past the hour of 6am.  And three hours of sleep is simply not enough to function the next day with any amount of patience or kindness or perspective.  Pretty sure I was in tears over many important and monumental things on Tuesday ~ like why Trader Joe’s has to be out of coconut oil for the 4th or 5th week in a row and why everyone in my house keeps walking past the lone sock at the bottom of the stairs instead of picking it up and putting it with the dirty clothes. 
Clearly I was tired, and yet Tuesday was not a day for resting, but a day in which many, many things needed to be accomplished in order to leave for a wedding on Wednesday at noon and leave my children behind at home for five days. I did it to myself, which is usually the case.
But we’re not just going to a wedding this week.  On Friday morning, after the Thursday evening wedding, we’ll go straight to Gordon College for a week of youth camp where Robert will serve as camp pastor.  This meant packing for 11 days away from home and including things like a coffee maker, muffin tins, sheets, towels, hangers, and an ironing board. Robert’s truck is parked in our host’s driveway and the bed is packed tight with Rubbermaid containers with nearly everything we normally use to function for a week. (think The Beverly Hillbillies.)
In spite of the fatigue and the pressure of gearing up for yet another big week, we did have a wonderful day in New York City, so here’s a bit of a recap:

 We arrived at Grand Central Station around 10am and began to trek up 5th Avenue, stopping to shop along the way ~ Gap, Sephora, Build-a-Bear, Strabucks, and more.

We didn’t go into Cafe Grumpy, just stopped for an appropriate pose. 
Snuggling with Unicorns at Build-a-Bear. They are REAL, ya know. Kayla is adamant about this.
We packed a lunch and ate in Central Park near Columbus Circle.
After eating and giving our feet a bit of a rest, we walked to an Argo Tea Cafe at Columbus Circle and each tried a different iced variety.  Sadly, they were out of sparkling water, which is the main reason for going there, in my opinion.  Good thing it was Monday and not Tuesday, or there may have been tears shed over the shortage of water bubbles.  Somehow, I survived the crisis even though a Moji Mint Tea is NOT the same without bubbles. Neither is a Green Ginger Twist.  So sad.
Times Square!  People Everywhere!

 After spending (a disproportionate amount of) time in the M&M store in Times Square, we were met on the sidewalk by a man carrying this python who offered to let us hold it for $5 ~ or $10 (which he said would make him happier), but no one wanted to hold it.  When we asked if we could just pose with him holding the snake, he agreed, and then somehow managed to wrap the snake around Izckra while they stood posing and then remove himself totally from the picture. Though she is smiling in this picture, the other four or five deleted photos reveal her horror.  She mustered up some bravery and smiled for this one with the girls.

So crazy.  We wondered if this was even legal.  Shouldn’t you need special training and a permit for carrying large dangerous snakes around in large crowds of people?  Oh, New York…

 We got to see many of the latest fashions…

Ride the Times Square Toys R Us ferris wheel…

 Snuggle with minions…

 …and visit a very tiny, but fairly famous bakery called Babycakes.  Everything in the bakery is soy free, vegan, gluten free and made with ingredients like agave and coconut oil.  It was the end of the day, and fortunately for us they needed to get rid of some “cupcake toppers.”  We were happy to help them with this problem and each indulged in the top of a cupcake dolloped with nearly an inch of their delicious icing.  Mine was carrot cake.  So good.  We also bought an eclair, a Madeline, and a doughnut.

We asked the girls working there if they had served any celebrities, and they had, but more than that they had filled orders for some big names ~ like Russel Brand ~ ha!

 After hanging out at Babycakes for a little while, we taxied over to Risotteria ~ an Italian restaurant featuring gluten free everything ~ pizza, paninis, bread sticks, and desserts.  My friend from elementary/middle/and high school, Mike, and his wife, Wende, and one of their three girls joined us.  They are so sweet, and this is always a fun reunion.  We missed the older two girls who were away at summer camp, but thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up on life and sharing pictures and talking about how time flies. Mike and Wende live in Tribeca, where Taylor Swift recently bought an apartment just around the corner from them.  They hadn’t met her yet, but lots of their friends had pictures of their Taylor sightings and meetings.  Mike offered to let us stay with them for the night so we could stake her out, but we decided to save that for another visit.

 The last thing we did was something that one of the girls in my small group at church recommended ~ thank you, Chelsea!!!  I didn’t know if we really had time, but mentioned it to Mike and Wende at dinner, and they also heartily recommended it and showed us where to have the taxi take us. It is called the High Line and is a walkway along what used to be an elevated train track in the meatpacking district. It is a wide walkway, with landscaping on either side, and including cute benches, lounge chairs, and wooden bleacher-type seating all along the way.  It was a beautiful evening, and so there were tons of people sitting out eating take-out food and enjoying the summer night.  We walked the whole thing from 14th to 30th street and were able to see at all times the Hudson River as well as parts of the NYC skyline.

Along the High Line
From 30th street, Grand Central Station is a quick cab ride away, and we arrived just in time to hop on the 9:39pm train back to Greenwich.

 Pretty sure they were just playing possum here, as they were still giggling and acting crazy for the first hour of our van ride in one-lane traffic back to Massachusetts.  But eventually they fell sound asleep until we arrived back in Springfield at 2am.

Exhausting, but so worth it!  Kayla kept saying all day, “I just love this, Mom.  I love it here.”

Now…off to lunch in this quaint little Vermont town, and then a 3pm wedding.  Onward to Gordon College tomorrow morning where we’ll hang out with 500 teens come Monday.  Whew. See ya soon!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday ~ Pineapples Grilled, Wrapped, Diced

We’ve been having a little debate here at our house about the way in which pineapples grow.  One person believed they grew on trees and the other was adamant that they grow UNDER the ground, like a potato.  Evidently, the argument got fairly heated while I was away in Texas last week and went unresolved, though I’m not sure why, since we have this cool thing called the internet nowadays, and a picture of growing pineapples is just one Google search away. 
 The funny thing is that while I was in Texas, I spent time in Dallas at a very swanky mall called NorthPark Center, and was truly fascinated by the large planters with interesting and various vegetation growing in them all throughout. (The other funny thing is that my uncle, whose memorial service I was there for, spent most of his career in mall landscape design!) One of those planters caused a double take, because it was perfectly covered with rows of growing pineapples ~ above the ground and not on a tree, which I happily reported once I got home and heard about the great pineapple debate. (And then Googled to prove it for those who remained skeptical.) They actually grow on a plant close to the ground as pictured above, and so for some reason the person who said they grown UNDER the ground is claiming victory in the debate. (That person happens to be under the age of 14, so they are, of course, the correct and clear winner in every debate.)
The radicchio was not as well-received as the pineapple!
Anyway, we’ve been eating lots of pineapple this summer, and it helps that they’ve been on sale at my local grocery store for $2.50 a piece with a “silver coin” ~ the little reward and prize program the store offers. So, please don’t tell me if you’ve been buying them at H.E.B for $1.50.  Let me bask in the glory of acquiring pineapples for less than $3.99 while I can. The same goes for avocados which I can get for under $2 a piece… occasionally.
And we love eating them fresh cut, but we’ve tried a few other things with them in the past couple of weeks, too. Slicing them and grilling them for a few minutes is a fun and delicious way to enjoy them, especially alongside grilled chicken or fish.
We also tried bacon-wrapped pineapple for Kory’s 19th birthday cookout with friends.  This is another easy way to serve pineapple.  I used one package of bacon and cut all the strips in half at one time.  One regular package of bacon was the near-perfect amount to be wrapped around one whole, chopped pineapple. Aim for medium sized chunks and simply wrap a half slice of bacon around, placing the bacon edges on the underneath side as you arrange them on a baking sheet. One thing I would suggest, though, if you have it, is to use a large metal cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Place the pineapple chunks wrapped in bacon on the cooling rack and this will allow the bacon grease to collect on the baking sheet and not be soaked up by the pineapple pieces.

Bake them at 400 degrees until bacon is brown and somewhat crispy ~ about 20-30 minutes.  Add toothpicks to the individual pieces for easy serving.

So, pineapples grilled and wrapped and now for the diced version.  Trader Joe’s sells a jar of pineapple salsa that is pretty good, but my brother, Stu’s, version is just as good, if not better.  He made it to go with fish tacos one night while Kayla and I visited last fall, and it was really delicious. He texted me his list of ingredients today, which I’ll share with you, and then also give you a few other options for additions.

Pineapple Salsa

2 cups pineapple, diced
1/2 cup cilantro
1 small jalepeno pepper, diced
1/4 cup green onion

That’s it! (and the measurements are mine, but it’s a forgiving recipe!)

You could also add a bit of these things or make substitutions with them if you like:

diced red pepper
diced garlic clove
diced red onion instead of green
diced mango
diced radish
lime juice
salt

Pineapples are really good for you, too.  Lots of Vitamin C and an enzyme called bromelain, which aids in digestion and is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Happy 4th of July!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Honey Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs

First of all, I wanted to say thank you for all of your encouragement and excitement over my seminary acceptance. Robert tells me that the only credential really required for acceptance is a pulse (such a funny guy) which would explain a lot, since my college transcript was certainly no vote of confidence. Your reading about my journey and your kind words and cheers meant so much to me. 
I should mention that I had a lot of help along the way.  My friends Betsy and Kelly filled out character references, Robert had to write an essay explaining his spousal approval and support of my attending seminary, Ryan M., our associate pastor, had to fill out a church recommendation, and Dan M., one of our church elders, also had to fill out a pastor recommendation, since the school has a policy that if your husband is also the pastor of your church, he is not allowed to be that reference.  The funny thing is that Robert DID fill out the reference form before we knew about this policy, and I believe that Dan gave me a more glowing report than Robert. So evidently the concern for bias was not really an issue in our house.  I believe it was the “emotional stability” question that I received an “Excellent” from Dan and an “Above Average” (that was kind of him) from my husband. And I only know this, because they told me, not because I was able to see anyone’s recommendation. We try to keep it brutally honest here at the Krum house.  (Not really.)
My New Student Orientation is next week, and all online.  I can’t wait, but have to admit to feeling a bit intimidated by things like Moodle and the test I will have to take to show that I understand all new student responsibilities and school policies.  I hear students and my own son talk about these things all of the time, but it’s been a foreign language to me so far.  Anyway, I’m excited to get started.
Now, onto the recipe…
One of my favorite bloggers even before we started following a Paleo diet was Elana Amsterdam.  She has a wonderful blog called Elana’s Pantry, and such a lovely, simple style and demeanor. (I can tell all of that from her blog, of course.)  She has been grain free for about 10 years, mostly as a way to deal with her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.  I highly recommend following her blog and “liking” her on Facebook.  Actually, it was an issue of Paleo Magazine in which she was featured that sort of pushed me over the Paleo edge, so to speak.  She has a very compelling story and inspiring lifestyle.
A few weeks ago, I bought her new cookbook, also very simple and practical.  I just love it, and have made several recipes from it.  In fact, just last night, to go along with our chef-style salads, I made a loaf of her Paleo Nut Bread.  It is just wonderful and perfectly satisfies my craving for toast with butter. (Kerry Gold, of course.  Yum.)

I adapted this recipe from one of hers that is featured in the cookbook ~ even on the front cover, I believe.  It may seem like more of a winter dish.  Folks in New England don’t tend to have central A/C, so no one wants to turn on an oven in June, July, or August, but I still make it occasionally on a Sunday ~ even leaving it in the oven for a couple of hours ~ to eat when we return home from church.

Honey Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs

1 lg pkg chicken thighs (8-12 pieces)
4 lemons (2 juiced, 2 sliced)
2 Tbsp of honey
2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic bulbs
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken thighs (I like to trim off excess skin/fat.  Not very Paleo, I know) in a large baking dish.  Pour lemon juice evenly over each piece, and then brush each with olive oil.  Sprinkle salt and pepper to your liking onto the chicken, and then drizzle honey over each thigh.  Place in oven uncovered.

During the first 15 minutes of baking, slice the remaining lemons.  Also during this time, take some of the papery covering of the garlic bulbs off and slice the bulbs across the top revealing the “meat” of each clove. (see above photo)  After the chicken has baked 15 minutes, remove from oven and place the lemon slices in various places over the chicken.  Add a garlic bulb near the middle and ends of the baking dish in the midst of the chicken thighs.  Brush a bit more olive oil on the lemon slices and garlic bulbs and return to the oven.

At this point, you can either keep baking at 375 for 45 minutes, or turn the oven down a bit if you plan to leave the house and return more than an hour later, but not more than 2.  I think I usually turn my oven down to 250-275 degrees in this case.

Add a salad and/or your favorite side, and enjoy!

P.S.  Be sure and squeeze the roasted garlic out of its bulb and spread on your chicken or a slice of Elana’s Paleo bread, or on a side of roasted broccoli.  The roasting process makes it taste a bit more mild, but so delicious!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday ~ Almond Butter Bars (& Summer Stuff)

Happy Friday! We’re still sort of inching toward summer here in New England, and so it’s only about 65 degrees this morning, but it’s sunny, and that makes ALL the difference. Robert is off to physical therapy for his back which has been in constant and fairly severe pain since December. (Pray for his healing if you think of him!)  Kory and Cooper are off helping an older couple in town move into a new house as well as various lawn mowing jobs.  Kayla and I are about to do some “summer Algebra I” (much to her dismay) in hopes of keeping her skills up and lightening her workload in the fall, and then we will get ready for a bit of a girls-hang-out party tonight with her friends ~ pancakes for dinner, a craft, a movie, games, and sitting around the fire pit.

Cooper will be up bright and early for “SAT round 2” tomorrow, and Kory will start his third summer job at Subway. We’ve been replaying Tim Hawkins’ “I Work At Subway” video to celebrate the answered prayer of not just one, but THREE summer jobs!  He’s working at American Eagle (lots of discount perks!), at Subway (where he’ll be tortured with the smell of fresh bread that he can not eat on a perpetual basis), and for a mom from our church who needs various household and lawn tasks done 2-3 times per week. Hopefully now he’ll be able to support his own college habits in the form of Chuy’s fajitas and Common Grounds blended drinks and maybe even buy a textbook or two.

Now, on to one of our very favorite recipes these days…

These almond bars are just so good, and I can’t take any credit whatsoever for the recipe.  My friend, Lois, introduced me to the Unrefined Kitchen blog, and to these “Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies.”  The sad thing is, that shortly after she passed along the recipe to me, she had a serious reaction to all nuts, and can no longer eat them. (Be warned: too many nuts in your diet can cause this to happen. Stick with only an ounce or two a day!)

I’m pretty sure I’ve made at least one batch, and oftentimes two per week since last September. When I traveled to California in October to see my brother, sister-in-law, and my new, adorable nephew, I made them two batches (Rachel was on a semi-paleo diet), and left her the recipe.  My brother texted me a few weeks later with a picture of the recipe I left behind and told me that Rachel had been making batch after batch, too. These really hit the spot with lots of protein, healthy fats, and a touch of sweetness. Post-partum mamas take note.

The only things I’ve done different from the original recipe, are to double it, add an egg, and some cashew flour. The cashew flour is not necessary at all, but since Trader Joe’s just happens to carry it, I decided to try a 1/2 cup in the recipe and see what happened.  I think it may lighten and moisten the texture just a bit.

We tried to keep the deliciousness of these bars a secret, but the kids caught on.  For a while they were just “Mom and Dad’s Paleo bars ~ gross!” but after Kory tasted them over Christmas break, I ended up sending several college care packages to Baylor with these bars included.  Great brain food, for sure!

Almond Butter Bars

2 1/2 cups almond flour/meal (I use 2 cups almond/1/2 cup cashew)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
dash salt (optional)
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened/melted
2/3 cup honey (can be less)
1/2 cup almond butter
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2-2/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine nut flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt in a medium bowl.  Add almond butter, coconut oil, honey, vanilla, and eggs and stir until thoroughly combined.  Spread into a medium sized baking pan ~ mine is 8×11.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is very slightly browned and an inserted toothpick or knife can be removed clean.

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday ~ Christmas Prep & “Coffee” & Homecomings

 Christmas can kinda make you (or just me) crazy, it seems. Here’s evidence…

On Wednesday, I was frantically running around town doing errands and frantically running around the house trying to clean it and make Kory’s bed for his arrival home from his first semester at Baylor.  Somehow I got it in my head that his plane arrived in Boston at 5:30pm.  This was perfect, since we had tickets to a really special version of A Christmas Carol at 7:30pm in Concord, MA. We got on the road at about 3:45 after having to make two trips to the bank, since the teller forgot to give Robert back his driver’s license.  Kory texted about 30 minutes later: “On the ground in Boston!”

Boston is 80 miles from my house, and we had traveled only about 10 of those.

Robert had thought Kory’s pick up time was 3:45pm, and indeed it was ~ with a 30 minute delay due to snow in Boston.  I pulled up his itinerary, and 5:30 was not a time anywhere on the thing. So, Kory was right on time and I am crazy.  The poor kid had to wait in Boston for TWO AND A HALF HOURS before we arrived.  How’s that for a warm welcome home?

And I’m not even going to describe the traffic going out of Boston to Concord and how we missed the opening scene of the musical and how I was in tears over missing this long-planned-event and how everyone’s bladder was going to burst in the process and how we ate dinner at Denny’s at 11pm and got home at 1:30am.

Hordes and hordes of these

 Last night we planned a family shopping trip to the “big” mall half an hour from our house.  We knew we wouldn’t make it home in time for dinner, since the trip had to be after Cooper’s driving hours scheduled with his Driver’s Ed school that day.  We all had a great time, got most of our gifts purchased, and had a fun Mexican food dinner out.  Watched a movie when we got home while some of us took turns upstairs wrapping gifts. (Not me, though.  NONE of my gifts are wrapped, and only about half of them are purchased. Sigh…)

This morning I realized that while we were out having fun and accomplishing tasks we also missed Kayla’s final gymnastics class before the holidays, which she also missed last week due to being sick, which we also paid quite a lot of money for this semester.

I am losing my mind.

Gingerbread house-making supplies

 But it’s okay.  The Lord is teaching me to trust Him and not myself, and showing me that despite my failing at my to-do lists and obligations, HE is accomplishing things, and we’re having Christmas just like we always do.

There was a tea party ~ or “cupcake and cappuccino” party as we called it this year ~ for Kayla and friends, complete with a French theme. (And yes, I know that cappuccino is not really French.)  And it was complete with all the usual gingerbread-house-making, treat-eating, and craft-for-mom-creating.

Ready to be decorated by Kayla’s guests!

Madeline HAD to make an appearance at our France-inspired Christmas Tea Party

 We even managed a family cookie baking night for the 3rd Sunday in Advent.  Dad, Cooper, and Kayla ALL got in on the action, and while that is a bit stressful for me (I like to be in control of outcomes in the kitchen), it was nice to all be working together and listening to Dean Martin, Amy Grant, and Karen Carpenter sing our favorite Christmas tunes.

One of my favorite Susan Brach Cookbooks ~ opens to this page automatically!

 There was an eye doctor appointment which led to shopping for a new winter coat which led to Christmas shopping for siblings (and self!) and then a lunch at Whole Foods with Cooper, who is quite entertaining to be with at all times, except for when he texts people from my phone and says questionable things without making the true author of the text known. He’s a laugh a minute, that guy.

Did I mention it was an intense snowstorm and snow day for most while Cooper and I were shopping?
This is the front of Whole Foods right as the snow started.

 More cookies were made in anticipation of my dad’s arrival Monday, and for dinner guests on Christmas Eve. ALL cookies are snug in the freezer, and I stationed an armed guard in the basement to protect them from pre-Christmas thieves.  Well, not really, but “out of sight” has so far resulted in “out of mind.”

 And while I don’t really have time for trying new recipes, let alone creating them, I have been sipping on a new form of “coffee” that was inspired by a recipe my friend Karla posted on Facebook, as well as a recipe my chiropractor sent out to patients for tea.

It’s delicious, and I look forward to a cup every afternoon if I am home and can spare a few moments to prepare it.  I haven’t had coffee since the beginning of October when I read about its cross-reactant properties with gluten, and I can tell a huge difference with digestion/tummy issues. Here’s the recipe:

Coconut Milk “Coffee”

1 1/2 cup coconut milk/almond milk
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom (I LOVE cardamom!)
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grass fed butter

1 tsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp honey
In a small saucepan heat milk and add spices, butter, coconut oil, vanilla and honey. After about 5 minutes of heating make sure butter and oil are melted and then blend in a blender for 15-20 seconds until frothy. (Be very careful blending this hot mixture, though.  Hold on to the lid of the blender!)
It’s sort of like drinking chai minus the tea, but you could certainly steep some tea in this if you desire.  I think it is delicious, and a delightful coffee replacement.
Here’s a photo of the homecoming.  This was taken at about 10:30pm on Wednesday night AFTER the musical and BEFORE a late night Denny’s meal.  Aren’t they cute?  It’s so nice to have everyone home together for Christmas!

I hope you are not feeling as crazy I am right now.  Still so much to do here. Now, I’m off to shower and then head out to buy LOTS of groceries, ribbon, gift tags, gift cards, and a few remaining gifts.  We did manage to get our 250 Christmas cards in the mail early this morning on the way to the gym. Whew!

Here’s what I’m trying to keep in my heart and mind as I go about the dizzying list of tasks.  It’s what Scrooge said, or actually what he prayed, down on his knees, in Wednesday night’s beautiful performance, (based on Charles Dickens’ own spiritual transformation) when he finally understood what God was trying to reveal to Him all along…

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.


O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.

Yes, descend to me, abide with me, enter in to my world of sin and chaos,  keeping my heart meek, soft, and open to You being WITH me, as I forge ahead in my own strength all too often to “do” Christmas.

I pray you are also able to experience His nearness despite the frantic pace, and will have a very merry weekend-before Christmas!