A Week Of Thanksgiving

Last week went way too fast, and had to be highly scheduled as you can see.  Our boys arrived home for the Thanksgiving break Monday night after Robert, Kayla, and I had gone to bed. Cooper picked Kory up in Boston on his way home from Gordon College which was so perfect. Since Kayla and I would be gone early the next morning, I had to leave them a schedule for Tuesday.

The schedule included a list of mealtimes and appointments.  One kid to the spine & sport clinic for a scoliosis check up (all is well!), one kid to the dentist for a cleaning and wisdom tooth evaluation (which led to a wisdom tooth extraction appointment for the Christmas break), and one to the eye doctor, because a much needed prescription for new contacts was being held ransom there until an updated exam was in the books.

When you add in the cooking meals, monitoring of everyone’s checking account, school schedules, social engagements, and summer plans, it really becomes a full time job. The calendar is always up on my phone, and I don’t know what I would do without my iPhone “alerts.”

I decided to include cookies to soften the rude awakening: Welcome Home! Now…get up, get dressed, get in the car, and hurry! Time’s a wastin’!

There was, however, still time for reunions with old friends.  My boys got time with several of their “back home” friends – both at our place and at their friends’ new places. And Kayla got time with her friends at a Gilmore Girls party the day after Thanksgiving.  (More on that soon!) Thanksgiving Day was also a fun reunion of old friends.  That and enjoying lots of new friends, too.

My family still likes to eat breakfast on Thanksgiving Day while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, so I made two paleo dishes: Sausage-Rosemary-Sweet Potato Frittata (from Danielle Walker’s Meals Made Simple) and Almond Butter Blondies. (I double that recipe.) Lots of protein to keep everyone satisfied until our 1pm meal.

I had to make these in our toaster oven, since the big oven had a 20lb turkey in it.
It worked surprisingly well!

Pies and sweet potatoes were all made the day before, but not until the late afternoon, since our backsplash was getting its grout on Wednesday morning. Not having access to the kitchen for most of the day was a bit of a Thanksgiving challenge, but I’m so happy about these much needed upgrades.

This pic is actually from Tuesday when the backsplash was installed.
Our across-the-street-neighbor put it in and gave us a tutorial and a few tedious jobs
along the way. We were so thankful for his willingness to teach us.

Our first guests arrived fully awake at around 10am – can’t you tell? Actually, their mom forced them out of bed, so she could come early and help with the meal prep. Can’t believe these guys are all in COLLEGE now. Just yesterday they were all 7 years old.

From left to right: Baylor, Boston University, Gordon College, UMass)
All gluten free except for the flaky crusted fruit pies which Izckra brought.

 Here they are a little more wide-eyed, because…food.

This year we tried moving our dining room table into the living room and using smaller long tables from church in the dining room.  It seemed to work pretty well.

Our guests were a true blessing. Our worship leader, Cindy, and her family, since she had not yet given birth to baby #2 (4 days overdue at that point!) was here, and local students, too – one from New York, one from Kansas, one from Vietnam, one from China, and one from Kenya. Three from Amherst College, one from UMass, and one from Smith. Each one with a story and each one with a competitive spirit in the after-dinner game of Taboo. My friend, Izckra, and her family as well as our beloved Lois were also able to join us.

This guest book was a wedding gift 24 years ago, and we are only a couple of pages away from it being totally filled up. If I remember correctly, it was given to us by one of my grandmother’s friends, and it seemed like an odd gift at the time. Turns out it was somewhat prophetic, and having a steady stream of guests in our home throughout the years has been one of our greatest blessings. Truly. A blessing to us, and to our kids, too.  In fact, it would not really be a holiday or a Sunday lunch if we weren’t “having people over” to put it in their words. The community the Lord has provided for us over the years is something I am so very thankful for. Each person has left their mark, and we are forever changed.

I splurged on a couple of tablespoons of white potatoes and even had a piece of pecan pie for dessert, but am
still trying to stay on the GAPS/Candida diet for the most part. Feeling lots better, too!
Forgot to get a before pic!
Here’s a pic of the new counter (with appetizers!) and backsplash – though we hadn’t wiped off the haze of grout yet.
Even though it was cold and drizzly on Friday, we managed to pick out and chop down a Christmas tree at our favorite local tree farm. We even ran into friends from church there. (Hi Brett, Jenna, Edison, and Graham!) Wish we had thought to take a picture with them.
It was so nice to be able to chop down the tree all together this year, but I couldn’t help wondering if it might be the last time, and so I was determined to get a photo. They’re growing up and outgrowing home in some ways – ways that are probably good and healthy, but it’s all bittersweet to me.

There was the annual post-Christmas-tree-chopping trip to Starbucks, and then we said goodbye to Kory on Friday afternoon, but not before we put him to work on our Gilmore Girl party preparations (!). Cooper took off Sunday afternoon after having his old friend Cameron over on Saturday evening. Lots of basketball playing, zombie killing, and junk food eating.

All of it making me thankful. A full schedule. A full house. A full heart.

(And a full report on our Gilmore Girls Party and movie marathon is coming up next!)

I Hate My Guts

I really do.

I’m infuriated with my intestines.

I despise my digestion.

My stomach makes me sad.

A page out of Bagels, Buddy, and Me. Sick villi lie flat and can’t digest food properly.

When I started blogging almost ten years ago, I did it because Robert said “All authors have blogs.  You should start a blog about your book.” I wasn’t really considering myself an author, but blogging seemed like a fun idea. Bagels, Buddy, and Me is all about Cooper’s (and Kayla’s and my) Celiac Disease diagnosis. It was all about what happens in your body and to your intestines when you eat gluten. There weren’t really resources for kids at the time. Since then I’ve added lots of recipes here that are gluten free, but more than that I’ve enjoyed documenting our life and sharing it with those of you who read.

This scene has been on repeat at my house lately.

I don’t really like writing about health and nutrition and my own intestinal issues, but it’s something that consumes a lot of my thinking and daily efforts in shopping, meal planning, and cooking. My stomach and digestive tract have been a glaring issuse in my life for almost as long as I can remember, and recently I discovered something that I’m hoping will be the final piece in my healing process. I learned (through stool testing) that I have a Candida yeast overgrowth in my intestines.

See? This is why I don’t like writing about this. “Stool” and “Candida” are such yucky words, let alone substances. The reality is, though, that lots of people – male and female – develop this issue, and I’m thankful or those who have written about it.  (Though I have almost NONE of the typical symptoms.) So, what follows is a bit of my history and current battle.

When I was 8 years old I was hospitalized for stomach ulcers. Evidently, they were sprinkled all over my stomach. I’ve had several “upper GI” x-rays that included delicious barium drinks since that time. (Thankfully no “lower GI” x-rays and barium “drinks” for that – yet.) My mom’s answer to me having chronic stomach pain was to make me drink lots of milk.  “It coats your stomach lining,” was the medical wisdom of the day. She even required the nurse at my small town elementary school to come and pull me out of class mid-morning EVERY DAY of first and second grade and sit in her office and drink a small carton of milk. I was also put on the “Ulcer Diet.” One thing I remember from that list was “grapes, but not the skins.” As if eating grapes was worth the trouble of peeling them. Spicy food was also off limits, and when you grow up in Texas, that’s kind of a big deal.

(My parents also divorced when I was 8, but I wasn’t able to make the probable connections that had to my stomach issues until much later in life.)

Later, dinners out with friends often ended with me lying down in a car somewhere. Regular birthday celebrations and meals at “Miss Riggs'” apartment (our favorite teacher!) all throughout high school often sent me to the couch for a while afterward. Once, on a journalism trip to the University of Texas with my yearbook and newspaper crew I asked my journalism teacher to drive me through the Wendy’s drive through for a baked potato, not being able to eat what everyone else was eating due to having a terrible stomach ache.

In high school I also began taking antibiotics every day for acne. I continued this routine throughout college and only stopped taking them in order to start taking the birth control pill a couple of months before getting married. (And feared I would have acne in all my wedding photos!) For those of you who know anything about Candida, you know this combo of antibiotics and oral contraceptives is pretty much the kiss of death. Oh, if I had known then…

I got off the pill two years later in order to get pregnant with Kory, and never took it again. I hated taking it, and dislike taking pretty much any prescription meds at all, but at times it seemed like the only option. And this was long before the internet and abundance of information on natural health and natural family planning.

My stomach and intestinal issues (pain after meals, bloating, diarrhea) worsened with each pregnancy. By the time I was pregnant with Kayla we did have internet, and the very first things I searched were “irritable bowel syndrome”, “pain after eating”, etc. Part of me thought these things were just a normal part of life and eating, that everyone’s stomach hurts and blows up like a balloon after meals, but Robert would assure me that this was not the case. I can still cause him alarm by protruding my “9 months pregnant belly” after a meal. And just when he thought we were about to be empty nesters…

Turmeric: a natural anti-fungal

The Celiac diagnosis came in 2003, and I have never knowingly eaten gluten since then – except for a very occasional communion cracker. (Strong willed, rule follower here.) Eliminating gluten helped quite a bit, but there were still lingering issues especially after eating starchy things like gluten free breads, pastas, and rice dishes. Fast forward to 2014 when I picked up a Paleo magazine before a trip because it had an article entitle “When Eating Gluten Free In Not Enough” or something like that. It described my symptoms as being associated with eating lots of grains and carbs and advocated the Paleo diet which is mostly proteins, vegetables, and low sugar fruits. To my surprise, Robert decided to join me in this new diet, and it has also helped quite a bit with alleviating previous digestion distress. As for Robert, who did not have any digestive issues, there doesn’t seem to be any going back.  He feels better, has more energy, and won’t go near gluten containing foods anymore.

Last winter/spring though, I had an episode that sent me back to the doctor searching for other potential issues. I ate a gluten free, all-tapioca flour roll (I do cheat on the Paleo diet occasionally!) from Whole Foods with some soup. Cue severe intestinal distress for two days. (The Candida monster loves to be fed high carb, high sugar, so I think the tapioca starch made him really happy!) I ended up doubled over after a women’s retreat planning meeting at my friend Ashleigh’s house. She was sweet enough to bring me some essential oil in water to settle the pain and let me snuggle on her amazing, oversized bean bag until I could get in my car to go home. There was also the tiniest amount of blood in my stool, and that’s always a sign to see the doctor.

Goat milk kefir, store bought bone broth just in case, probiotics, ginger, good pastured butter, ginger root
and cider doughnuts…sadly, for the family we were delivering a meal to that night, and not for us!

The GI doctor ordered a colonoscopy and the FODMAP diet. The FODMAP diet helped (Avoiding short-chained sugars), but colonoscopies have always seemed to carry as much risk as benefit to me with their highly invasive nature, so I canceled it.  Instead, I made an appointment at the Northampton Wellness Center with a more holistic MD. Nine vials of blood and three days of stool collection later, I began waiting on my results. His prediction, though, was dysbiosis which translates into a very unbalanced gut flora, which boils down to way more bad bacteria and yeast than good. And he was correct.  My results came in about a month ago – “marked dysbiosis” and overgrowth of two bad yeasts, Candida Albicans and Rhodotorula. The prescription was to kill off much of the yeasts with antifungals – both over-the-counter supplements and prescription Nystatin, and then repopulate the intestines with a HIGH dose of probiotics. 225 billion units a day to be specific. The anti-candida diet was also prescribed.

As I read about the Candida diet (no sugar/very low carb, which is pretty much how I was already eating) and thought about my history, I realized that deeper healing was probably required, and so decided to put myself on the GAPS diet. I’ve known about this diet for years, heard tons of success stories, and even sent the book to folks I knew would benefit from it. I never really considered needing it myself, but it was becoming clear that my villi and enterocytes still needed the restoration that the GAPS diet promises.

The diet begins with a lot of bone broth. Then it progresses to bone broth with cooked veggies and then added meat. I’ve been drinking lots of it or eating it like a soup or blending it with veggies to change it’s presentation.  Sometimes I add a little coconut milk for excitement. The only other thing really allowed is no-sugar yogurt (or kefir) and lemon-ginger “tea.” I wasn’t supposed to drink any black tea or coffee because of a mold sensitivity and also because caffeine suppresses the immune system and wears on the adrenals. Broth, goat milk kefir, and lemon-ginger water. That’s what my diet consisted of last week – and for most of the two weeks prior with some additions because of travel and other responsibilities.

The makings of GAPS “tea.”

My digestion definitely improved, but mostly because there wasn’t much to digest!  My pictures are black and white, because “gray” is sort of how I was feeling health-wise and attitude-wise. When the antifungals kill the excess yeast, the Herxheimer Reaction begins, and it makes you feel pretty terrible. Then, when all you have to look forward to “eating” is broth and veggies, life becomes a little bleak. And the anti-fungals are supposed to be taken in increasing amounts every three days.  The goal was 6 per day.  I worked my way up to 5, but had to call the nurse yesterday due to extreme intestinal distress (the “D” word), and because I had been feeling awful for days. When I told her about doing GAPS rather than the more lenient Anti-Candida diet, she was okay with it, but said “You can’t starve Candida without starving yourself!  You have to add in some carbs and sugar.”

Those were helpful words.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, quinoa, winter squash, and steel cut oats are the carbs she helped me settle on. Fearing I wouldn’t make it through my appointments yesterday – PSAT and babysitting jobs for Kayla, appointments with two young women from church, seminary assignments, errands etc., I began eating my way through the day. Fried eggs and hash browns for breakfast, an almond milk latte at the UMASS campus center, a smoothie from The Works where I had picked up Kayla’s post-PSAT lunch, some chili from my favorite South Hadley restaurant, and a grain-free peanut butter cookie from The Woodstar Cafe as well as some (real, black) hot tea with honey. I could literally feel the infusion of energy making its way through my body.  Yes, I (and all of us) need SOME carbs and sugar. Anti-fungals + super powered probiotics + a strict GAPS diet was taking a toll on me.
Here’s a few pics from this past weekend.  Robert and I did a little breakout session on dating and marriage at a collegiate conference where I could not eat anything at all in the boxed lunch that was provided.  I made a fast dash to Whole Foods between sessions for chicken soup and then grabbed this appetizing meal for later when we stopped at Five Guys for Robert to get some nourishment before making the trek back home from Cape Cod.

Actually, the color photo is even more depressing in this case.

See? He won’t do the bun anymore – unless they have a gluten free version.

Fish, cauliflower, and green beans. Yum.

Have I mentioned my love for cheeseburgers and fries? (Insert sad, crying emoji here.)

In hindsight, I probably should have thrown the fish out and gone for a Five Guys meat patty and veggies (and stolen a couple of Robert’s fries), but I felt bad about throwing away food I had paid for. At least it would have been warm. My fish dish was about 2 hours cold.  Double yum.

I was feeling pretty desperate on Tuesday before my Western Mass eating spree on Wednesday, so I scoured the internet for a GAPS-Candida-Legal muffin. I just really needed something that was not broth.

These probably don’t look very appetizing to the untrained eye (or stomach), but to bone-broth-veggie-kefir-girl they were a glorious sight. Pumpkin, coconut flour, flax meal, coconut milk, and a bit of honey. I could barely wait for them to come out of the oven. When Robert stopped by for lunch that day he asked if he could have one, and I have to admit not wanting to share this warm and newly created treat. I warned him that he would not like them, but he was undeterred.

I wish I could say that I am better today. The symptoms I called the nurse about yesterday are worse, and so I’ve really cut back on the antifungals and probiotics for the time being.  I’ve incorporated some carbs and healthy sugars, but am still waiting on the turn around. It’s discouraging, because I actually felt much better when I was living with the symptoms that led me to this current journey. So while I do believe things had to get a bit worse before getting better, I’m really anxious for moving past the “getting worse” part.

Oh, and running!  Two weeks ago I was able to run my usual 20 miles per week – or a little over 6 miles three mornings a week. It’s a Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning routine that Robert and I hardly ever break. Last week I was down to a very slow 5 miles on those days, and yesterday I only made it two miles and had to turn around and walk home. I was too weak and depleted, which is also a sign that things aren’t quite right, but movement is always beneficial in the healing process, so I wanted to keep getting out there.

Some morals to this story:

  • Don’t take antibiotics unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Or oral contraceptives. (But really all contraceptives mess with hormones and gut health.)
  • If you do have to take these things, be sure and take a probiotic to replenish good bacteria.
  • Really, you should just go ahead and take a probiotic anyway, or make sure you eat a lot of local, grass fed yogurt and fermented veggies. (Or make your own, which I’m about to embark upon. Yogurt, that is.)
  • We definitely eat too many processed carbs and sugars in this country, but eliminating all carbs and natural sugar is not the way to go.

So, I truly hate my guts, but I hope it’s not for much longer.

(Sadly, I have also come to hate preparing and drinking all types of bone broth at this point. Oh, I’ll probably choke some down in the next few weeks, because it is so good for you, but still.)

A stomach of strength and stamina.

Invincible intestines.

And dreamlike digestion.

The final puzzle piece in my gastrointestinal saga?

This is my hope and prayer.

(Did you read to the end? Thank you so much for your interest and kindness. I would really LOVE to hear from you, but could possibly get embarrassed by public Facebook comments. So, if we could keep the sympathy and bodily function mentions to a minimum? Private messages? That would be so nice. Thanks, friends.)

(Oh, and I know so many of you Plexus reps and about how wonderful the product is. I’ll most likely move to that regimen when this course is finished.  For now though, I think it’s best if I stick to doctor’s orders and tweak his suggested routine as needed. Don’t worry, Plexus peeps, I’ll be calling you!)

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!

A Poem and a Latte Help, I Guess.

 It’s already happening. I couldn’t wear shorts on my run this morning and had to pull out the long-sleeved t-shirts as well  Next thing you know ~ probably tomorrow morning by the looks of it ~ I’ll be wearing mittens on my morning runs.  Mitten day is always a sad day, because it ominously marks the beginning of what is really almost 9 months of winter in my opinion.

While working on her algebra this morning, Kayla complained of being cold.  Though I felt her pain, I had to tell her to get a blanket and put on some socks and a hoodie, because we are certainly not turning on the heat mid-September.

Oh, I love fall and colorful foliage and pumpkins and fire pit gatherings, but if my fellow New Englanders are honest at all, they will admit that summer really only started two weeks ago.  I was wearing my hoodie on the beach in August remember?  It’s just not fair.  Why does summer have to be the shortest season of all?

I spent all last week learning about “natural revelation” or “general revelation” which is regarding how God reveals Himself in nature and its beauty, seasons, and patterns.  That the fall season arrives every year without fail is understood to be a witness to the covenant faithfulness of God. That the sun “rises” every morning a sign of His goodness, His provision.

“If this fixed order departs from before Me, declares the Lord, Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.”
Jeremiah 31:36

“Thus says the Lord, “If you can break my covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne…”
Jeremiah 33:20

I suppose I should be worshiping when I have to put on extra layers, but I am whining instead.
I received a letter from Lars last week in which he described a tree just outside their picture window and overlooking the Cape Ann Atlantic. Apparently this tree, with its reliable-weather-predicting abilities via its early or late leaf-turning, has declared with undeniable evidence that we’re in for a very long and harsh winter. Evidently, the tree has never been wrong.  I really hope it’s a fluke this year.
One person in my house is giddy over the change in season, though.  It’s the same person who needed to bundle up to do her algebra.  In her excitement and celebration of all things fall, she typed a poem about it. (She’s aware of her misspellings and mistakes, and didn’t want me to post it in this form, but I just love the typed words on her “typewriter” paper.)
When she wasn’t writing poetry, she was researching recipes for dairy free “pumpkin spice lattes” (her doctor asked her to eliminate lactose for a while), and spending time in the kitchen creating them. She shared the final product with me while I studied.  It was almost “paleo” but contained quite a bit of sugar.  This one is made with coconut milk (she actually used coconut cream!) and real pumpkin.  We even own a little hand held “frother” now, so our homemade drinks can look and taste extra official.  It was super-yummy, and I’ll request honey to sweeten next time!
There really are so many things to love about fall, and I am thankful to live in a part of the country famous for its autumn majesty, but today I am grieving the end of the short-lived days of warmth.  And if the predictions are correct, (because Lars’ tree isn’t the only one) I’m also grieving the impending harshness of the coming winter.
Good bye summer. See you next August. Maybe.

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!

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

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.