MC Squares: A Gluten & Dairy-Free Dessert

This past holiday my son wanted his favorite dessert we call “Squares”. It is a graham cracker crust with alternating layers of chocolate and peanut butter chips, coconut, walnuts, and marshmallows. It is pretty easy to make. The important part is to pour sweetened condensed milk over it before you add the marshmallow topping. The sweetened condensed milk acts as a ‘glue’ to hold the whole thing together. It’s really a candy bar cut into squares.

My darling daughter wanted to make it but she wanted it so that her sister-in-law who is dairy and gluten sensitive could eat it. Lots of people are finding dairy and gluten hard on their digestive system, and for various reasons have cut them out of their daily diets. Avoiding gluten and dairy can be difficult during holidays, so I wanted to share this variation of the above dessert. My daughter and daughter-in-law created it, and it had delicious results, even better tasting than the original.

The graham cracker crust was completely out since it is made of butter and wheat, so we made an oatmeal, nut butter, coconut sugar, and coconut crust. We didn’t measure anything, but I would guess a cup and a half of oatmeal, several tablespoons of nut butter (we used cashew and almond), and a few teaspoons each of coconut sugar and coconut. The important thing here is to have the whole glob of food kind of sticking together with the nut butter so you can flatten it in the pan. We also sprayed the pan with a little oil first. We did not cook the crust separately.

The layers we made with dairy-free chocolate chips, almond slices (or chopped walnuts would be good), dried cherries, coconut, and a few chopped up dates. Instead of sweetened condensed milk, the girls decided on sweetened condensed coconut milk. It is just as gluey as the dairy kind and worked well to hold the whole thing together. We topped it with marshmallows and put it in the oven (350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes), cooled it, and put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

The dessert turned out beautifully, and very tasty. It stuck together just like the original dairy one, and the crust held together even better than a graham cracker one! We all loved it. The cherries were delicious with the chocolate. The whole recipe was a complete success and worthy of sharing. I call them MC Squares, for Megan and Claire, my two darling daughters.

God puts the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). I would be very lonely without my family and I am ever thankful for them. My daughter’s  desire to give her sister-in-law a sweet treat over the holidays was an example of loving kindness that warmed my heart, and is attributable to the Spirit that God has given her. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is loving-kindness.

Jesus said if we who are evil know how to give good things to each other, how much more so does God our Father who gives the Holy Spirit to us when we ask for it. (Luke 11:13) God has given us this great gift through Jesus Christ, His very own Spirit, as a deposit for a most wonderful future He has planned for those who love him. He is our family and a great comfort to us in this life. His love is the ‘glue’ that holds us all together. Let us praise and thank Him for the love he has placed in our hearts for each other, and may God bless you in the new year.

The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.

1 Corinthians 12:7

La Dolce Vida and the Examined Life

“I feel like I have a hangover,” my girlfriend said the next morning, although she’d had no alcohol to drink the night before. Instead, we attended a “bring a dessert” dance. We drank coffee and ate as much dessert as we wanted and danced the night away. Her sluggishness and headache the next morning were due to a high sugar intake the night before.

A life of sweets, candies, sugary drinks, white flour breads and cakes can add pounds quicker than any other ingredient. Sugar turns to fat, sugar feeds cancer, sugar is addictive, and sugar is a killer. It doesn’t really matter how you take your sugar: honey, agave, white refined sugar, fructose, fruit juice, white rice, just to name a few, sugar should be eaten sparingly. Lately, I’ve allowed a little slippage and that is not good. I will need to reign in my sugar monster and put her back in her cage.

A good way to begin cutting back on sugar is replacing it with fruit. Fruit has a lot of natural sugar in it but it also has a lot of fiber which slows the process of sugar absorption, and that reduces the likelihood of the body storing the sugar as fat. Smoothies made from frozen fruit and almond milk with a little nut butter can be a healthy substitute for ice cream. Healthy Girl’s Kitchen blog has a cookie recipe made from bananas, dried fruit, and rolled oats. These healthier choices taste great and will not put weight on us like sugary drinks and desserts.

When we discover a few extra pounds, we examine what we’ve been eating that might have contributed to the weight gain, and then we revise our diets. Our spiritual health can be the same. When we find ourselves thinking negatively, it may be time to revise our spiritual diets.  Anxiety, worry, fear, and other negative thoughts are combated by prayer and scripture. The New Testament is not called the Good News for no reason. The message of Christ is so beautiful, so uplifting, so incredibly full of loving kindness from God to us, that fears and worries melt away. We are reassured by the loving words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and reading the epistles or some of the Psalms helps to bring perspective to our thoughts. Giving praise to God in our prayers for all we have been blessed with turns us away from negative thoughts and into people of gratitude who find joy and contentment in life. Christ encourages us to examine our ways, our thoughts, and our relationships and consider whether they give glory to God. There are many concerns throughout the day, but rest assured that God can help with each and every one of them.

Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

 

Power Salad and Power Prayers

Maybe Santa will bring me some salad scissors.

Maybe Santa will bring me some salad scissors.

“She drinks seven sodas a day,” my friend told me, shaking his head at this overindulgence. He had recently decided to eat more healthy foods and less sugar, fat, and salt. He had educated himself on the dangers of too much sugar which now he saw was so prevalent in the diets of the people around him. What was really great was that once my friend decided to change his eating habits, he never looked back. That’s the way it was for me, too.

A great way to combat unhealthy food addictions is to start filling up on healthy foods instead. It is important to eat regularly so that we don’t grow so hungry that we have no time to prepare healthy food and begin grazing through our kitchen pantries for snack foods. If this sounds familiar, try stocking your pantry with nuts and healthy whole grain crackers. Get rid of the chips and cookies. Another great trick to avoiding hunger grazing is to have a salad in the fridge already made. My husband and I prepare a large salad every week that lasts for five days. That way it is always available for lunch. I often make extra cooked greens and roasted vegetables to have something in the fridge that will serve as a quick hot meal too, and every week I buy several kinds of fruit for snacks and smoothies. Replacing healthy foods for unhealthy foods is the first step in beating food addictions.

I love the new salad I am making and I want to share the recipe with you. It starts with coarsely chopped kale, somewhat smaller than bite-size. Kale is a fabulous green. It gets the highest ANDI rating, 1000, and is packed with energy-supporting phytonutrients. Kale is probably one of the best foods to eat and recently  I discovered how great raw kale is. Kale has a tough leaf so that most recipes call for cooking it to soften the leaf, but chopped small enough, Kale is very tasty and palatable raw. To the kale I add arugula. Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable and as such has cancer-fighting properties. I put arugula in all my salads. It is slightly bitter but I like the taste. I often think that the healthy foods we crave are the ones our bodies need and arugula is like that for me. After I have those two greens mixed, I add cilantro, marinated mushrooms, artichokes, olives, sweet red peppers, and red lentils with bulgur that I buy ready-made. Really, whatever foods you like can be added to your taste. The real secret to the deliciousness of this salad is that I use lemon humus as a dressing. I also add a tablespoon of ground flax seed and some sesame seeds. Nuts and seeds give a salad some healthy fats and flax seed is a powerful antioxidant. Dr. Fuhrman recommends eating a tablespoon a day of either flax seeds or chia seeds.

Indulging in sugary foods and drinks can be a response to emotional upheaval. Emotional eating is quite common. Comfort foods are eaten as a way of pampering ourselves when we are downhearted.  Because of their addictive nature, however, they can quickly become habitual. For example, My husband and I became empty-nesters this year. I found myself recalling the past when my kids were young and how happy I was with them, but I know that joy of being a young mother is gone now. My sweet dog also died last March and the joy I received from her is also gone and I will never get to pet and hold her again no matter how many times I dream of her. Wandering around the house with these sad thoughts usually leads me to the pantry.

The struggle to readjust to this new more solitary lifestyle has given me a lot more time for prayer. In my longing for the happiness of days gone by, God has shown me His desire to fill that empty time in my life. Practicing the presence of God brings a better comfort than food, and helps me to notice the beauty of each moment. If you find that you are downhearted and need some comfort, God can fill that need as nothing else can. Go to Him without words, without formality, come just as you are as the song says, and be still and know that He is God. He has plan for each stage of our lives. He does not leave us as children must, or die like our beloved pets who live such short lives. Emmanuel, God With Us, is available 24/7 and rather than add extra pounds or cause headaches like comfort does, God reveals in us a glorious nature like His own. Just spending time with God is a powerful way of praying that can bring us peace and comfort, and hope for new joys to come.

 Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! –Psalm 139:23-24

Cauliflower Prayers

Romanesco Cauliflower

Romanesco Cauliflower

“It looks like something out of the sea,” my husband picked up the vegetable displayed on the farmer’s stand. I had seen romanesco cauliflower only once before when my daughter brought one home from Mom’s Market. “Yeah, like coral.” The green spiral cone shapes of the romanesco cauliflower make it beautiful to look at as well as eat.

Even though my cauliflower mash recipe completely smashes out the fractal beauty of the vegetable, at least it keeps its pretty Chartreuse color. It’s delicious. In fact, I think it will be on my Thanksgiving Day table. Here’s how you cook it: cut off a whole head of cauliflower buds. Throw away the core center. Dump the buds in a steamer with sliced onions or shallots and cook till soft. (Use your own judgement on how much onion or shallots you want–I put in just one shallot bulb.) Mash it up with a potato masher and some roasted garlic cloves (I added about four cloves), about an 1/8th cup of cashew butter, and 1/4 C coconut manna. That simple and incredibly delicious.

Cauliflower is a pretty bland vegetable but boy can it fight. It is a powerhouse of vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. Sometimes our prayers for others can seem pretty bland, too. Not every prayer is a spirit-filled literary masterpiece but  they sure do have a lot of power. Praying for people is a good way of loving them from afar. Many times people’s names just pop into my thoughts while I am praying, and later on I find that the impulse to pray for that person was a timely one. So many times this has happened to me, that if I think of someone who I haven’t thought of for a long time, I take it as clue to pray for them. I think many of the people I have known throughout my life will be surprised in heaven when they find out how often I have prayed for them. In my own opinion, I think that God knows who has feelings of true love for whom, and that He uses the powerful love we feel for those special people in our lives to bring blessings to them. In this way we can truly say, no love is lost.

I have a friend who was actually awakened from her sleep with the urge to pray for her son! The next morning she got news of his perilous situation and that he had thankfully, survived it. We don’t have to say a lot of words, or even any words. All we have to do is lift the person up to God, thanking Christ for His amazing love and for that love to surround him/her. How great and grand is our glorious God who counts the prayers of people like us worthy to be received by Him. We are honored and privileged above all to be included in His loving blessings to other people. Nothing makes me feel more like a child of God than to hear that my bland cauliflower prayers have been received and answered by the almighty God. God takes our simple prayers and adds the beauty and flavors of His blessings to pour out upon those for whom we have prayed.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. — James 5:16(b)

Butternut Squash and The Beatitudes

Soup blender turns chunky soups into creamy soups.

Soup blender turns chunky soups into creamy soups.

“Well, they both start with the letter B,” my husband suggested the title and gave me the segue I needed. Then he said, “My work here is done,” and left me with a blank page. Sometimes I just need a little push to get started.

Butternut squash is everywhere. The harvest is on and there is nothing more tasty than butternut squash soup. My girlfriend gave me a wonderful recipe that I will share with you. “The secret,” she said and immediately my attention was hers–I love secrets, “is to roast the squash first.” So, I peeled it, chopped it into one inch squares, and sprinkled it with some garam masala and a little extra cinnamon (or whatever you like). I also added an onion and, per my girlfriend’s second secret, an apple.  I roasted all three for about 30-40 minutes until everything was soft, and then I dumped it all into a pot with some chicken broth (or vegetable if you like). I used my handy-dandy soup mixer tool that I just can’t live without to make a smooth and creamy mixture. It was pretty thick, so I added some coconut milk to make it less stewy and more soupy. I heated it all up to just about boiling and then served it with pepper and salt on the table. It was great. The apple gave it a very nice flavor. I used a red apple but my girlfriend suggested that a green one might be best. I will have to try that next time.

Something else that seems to be everywhere these days is breast cancer. October is breast cancer awareness month, so everyone is wearing pink, even our football players. Dr. Fuhrman has a bone to pick with the breast cancer awareness folks. He seems to think that it should be breast cancer prevention, as almost everyone is already “aware” of how the incidents of breast cancer are growing. He says this increase is due to our poor diet and, as you probably know, I agree with him. A high nutrient diet can help prevent breast cancer and many other cancers and diseases as well. He has said this and now the Nutritional Research Foundation is conducting a ten-year test to prove it. You can be part of the test if you are following his diet. The test hopes to prove that a high nutrient diet will indeed prevent breast cancer for many people. Let’s hope that he is right!

This cause and effect way of eating for good health is not new. What is new is all the processed foods. The cause and effect of eating heavily processed foods is poor health. The Beatitudes offer another cause and effect for the health of our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ gave us these blessings in the Sermon on the Mount, which is just another way of saying that he was giving a sermon on a hilltop. This is what He said in the Book of Matthew:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The cause and effect of pursuing these divine blessings is the way to happiness. Of course, it is not easy to admit we are spiritually bankrupt without Christ, or to be compassionate, meek, righteous, merciful, pure in heart, peaceful, or courageous enough to stand against the evil in this world as he did, just as it is not easy to stay on Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. But, at least now we know the two secrets to good health and spiritual well-being.

 

Soda Love and God’s Love

Soda Stream lets you choose how much sugar to put in your soda.

Soda Stream lets you choose how much sugar to put in your soda.

“Can I get you something to drink?” The flight attendant had her hand at the ready on a can of soda and I felt like a puppy at feeding time. What had I gotten myself into? I was returning from a week at Honduras Outreach, a church-related mission ranch in rural Honduras that had served me soda at every meal in every flavor of my childhood, my favorites being cream and orange. It occurred to me I was addicted to soda after only a week of drinking it. Yikes! I asked the flight attendant for water and drown my sorrows.

My second grade class will tell you there’s nothing wrong with a soda every once in a while and I have to agree. For me, too many rules take away too many pleasures in life, and if soda is something you’ve grown to love, perhaps the new “home sodas” are an answer.

I have Soda Stream. A CO2 cylinder squirts compressed air into a bottle of water I screw into the machine. It allows me to make club soda at home and eliminates the environmental problem of buying plastic bottles of sparkling water. It comes with soda syrup I can add if I want soda–they have all flavors and you can add a little or none at all :). The serving size contains only 8 grams of sugar compared to 20+ grams in the store-bought brands, and does not contain high fructose syrup. The process is very easy and quick and when a cylinder runs out, I can exchange it for a full one. Not a bad deal for this little puppy.

Although drinking soda every day is not ideal, the power of addiction to it can make us want to give up on diets. But making soda at home is at least better than store-bought sodas. The same is true with many habits and weaknesses in life, we may not be strong enough to eliminate them fully but reducing the power for harm is a good strategy.

Religion can be the same way. Guilt over repetitive sins, a big mistake kind of sin, or weaknesses can make us want to turn away from God, to give up, or just make us plain sad all the time. Christ, who is the constant and final sacrifice for all our sins past, present, and future, can reduce the guilt and sadness we find when we realize we are not perfect. Because Christ has opened the door to God and given us freedom from sin, we have the power to worship God with joy and thanksgiving instead of fear of retaliation for what we’ve done. And this joy is constant, it is not a one-time deal. God’s grace goes on and on and never stops. When we can come to God as a sinner and know that He still loves us and always will, then we have found Him, the Christ, the one who loves us just as we are.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20

Teff Loves You and So Does God

Teff“Have you heard of teff?” I asked my brother-in-law. He’s one of my favorite foodies. I can always count on Joe to serve up something I’ve never tasted before. “It’s a grain from Africa that has lots of calcium.”

Teff is new to me but is actually an ancient grain that has been around for thousands of years. It’s a food-hottie of late not only because one serving provides ten percent of our daily needs for calcium, 7 percent for protein, and 14 percent for iron, but it is naturally gluten free. For someone on a wheat-free diet, teff is real find.

Teff is versatile too. It comes as a whole grain that can be cooked as a hot breakfast or added to stews and breads. As a flour it can be used for almost anything: veggie burgers, pancakes, cookies, breads, muffins, etc. It is often coupled with cinnamon and maple sugar to give it a nutty sweet taste. One drawback is the price. It is a few dollars more than our more familiar grains and flours, but the expense is worth it.

Our bodies love healthy foods and once we begin to eat more healthfully, it is easy to tell this. We feel energized, full but not bloated, and the extra pounds start pouring off. It is easy to lose extra weight by making a diet of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. When we first begin eating like this our vision of what it can do for us and how much better we can feel is limited by our lack of experience. However, the way we eat is a habit and habits can be changed. The better we feel after a healthful meal often compels us to make our next meal a healthful one, too. Concentrate less on giving up unhealthy foods and more on adding healthful foods into our meals. Is it hard to give up soda? Try drinking more fruit smoothies instead of denying all sodas. Is it hard to give up chips and snack food? Eat more beans which are much more satisfying and the hunger for snack food will diminish.

God loves us in much the same way. It is hard to begin trusting God because we lack experience and our realization of God’s love for us is so small. Even when we read the wonderful promises and hope for the future written in scripture, we skim right over it and concentrate more on the do’s and don’ts. Like diet rules, the do’s and don’ts are easier for us to grasp a hold of and control. We are more comfortable with structure like this and at the end of the day we can judge our successes.

Unfortunately, perfection is the goal of the do’s and don’ts and sets us up as a failure because we rarely achieve it. Try putting more God into your day just as you put more vegetables into it. Simply spending time with God will open our eyes to the amazing love He has for us. It is God’s love that we feel when we pray to Him and which compels us to spend more and more time with Him. After a while, we begin to cherish His presence in our lives and because we love Him, we begin to seek ways to please Him. We will never achieve perfection, not in our spiritual lives or in our physical lives, but we will achieve a transformation that will lead us to a greater vision of both.

[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19