Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fruit Dip Gone Healthy

"Can we have dessert?"

I hear that every day, sometimes a dozen times a day. I'm not joking. Our kids love dessert.

And who doesn't? Are any of us really so mature that we don't eyeball the candy racks, bakery shelves, and cookie aisles once in awhile?

Curbing the sugar craving, however, is a skill that is already difficult for grown ups, let alone a hopping toddler or preschooler whose tastebuds are hardwired for sweet. And the seasons don't help matters one bit, either. Shortly after the Christmas sugar rush is the allure of Valentine's chocolates, then minty St. patties, then Easter egg-shaped sugar-bombs, then a full Summer of any sweetened milk, yogurt, juice, fudge that can be frozen. Tummy ache, yet? And I haven't even started in on Halloween candy and bountiful Thanksgiving baking.

So, knowing what I know about my children, they like fruit enough to eat it as a snack or as part of their lunch but for dessert? That's a little trickier so I have to either cut it all up into a fruit salad or bake it into something that can be topped off with ice cream. That kind of defeats the purpose of sugar reduction, though. So what solution did I come up with?

Enter Agave. "Agave nectar or syrup is the juice of the agave plant, which is filtered and heated (raw agave syrup is heated only to 118 degrees F) to create a syrup of a consistency slightly thinner than honey. Agave syrup contains some nutrients including iron and calcium. Unlike white sugar, no animal products are used in filtering. Agave syrup is mainly fructose and glucose though ratios vary from 56% to 92% fructose depending on the agave variety. Because of the high fructose content, agave nectar doesn't raise your blood sugar as much as most other sweeteners."

So, turning fruit into a presentable dessert is actually very easy:

Agave Fruit Dip

1 8 oz pkg low fat cream cheese, or neufchatel cheese, softened
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a deep bowl and blend with handmixer until smooth. Chill until ready to serve with apple wedges, banana slices, whole strawberries, or other crunchy fruit.

"Yes, we can have dessert!"



Monday, March 28, 2011

My Old Cookbook: Old Fashioned Baked Beans

My mother has two copies of this cookbook by Meta Given, one well-kept edition which was discovered in a used bookstore and another well-used copy which has been in her kitchen for decades. The pages are stained with the ingredients that have been a part of our mealtimes since I can remember. It may not be the only cookbook she owns but there is something so comforting to any domestic chef to have a dog eared and tattered friend who's seen a thing or two sitting in the kitchen offering advice and instruction on feeding bodies and souls. I have a copy of that same book so for me it's also like having my mother working alongside me. I like that feeling.

So, today, there is Meta Given's Old Fashioned Baked Beans on the menu, with a few personal tweaks.

2 lbs. dried navy beans (I use pinto with satisfactory results)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon salt
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup ketchup
pinch black pepper
*I left out the salt pork from this recipe simply because I didn't have it

My method: Sort beans and place in large pot. Cover with 2 inches water. Bring to a boil on stove. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans, discarding liquid. Return to Dutch oven; add 4 qts. water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour or until the beans are almost tender. Drain and reserve liquid. Combine beans with the remaining ingredients. Transfer to two ungreased 2-1/2-qt. baking dishes or bean pots. Add 1-1/2 cups reserved cooking liquid to each casserole; stir to combine. Cover and bake at 325° for 3 to 3-1/2 hours or until beans are as thick as desired, stirring occasionally. Add more of the reserved cooking liquid if needed. Yield: 16-18 servings.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Don't Be Afraid {repost}

{February 22, 2010}

The family and I were at the beach at Waldport, Oregon, this weekend. With the blue sky, relatively calm ocean waves and very little wind, we wondered if this really was the latter part of February or May. This is not winter in the Northwest to be sure.

Before we left for home on Sunday, we walked on the beach one last time. The kids ran and played and we drank in the sounds and smells of the beach before we had to head home. I had the kids close their eyes to listen to the waves. I told them to take a deep breath and smell the saltiness of the air. I asked them to remember these moments. When they are in their beds at night waiting for sleep to come, they could remember these times on the beach and retreat back to them.

The Oregon coast is one of our favorite places. We get the spectrum of emotion when visiting. We see the ocean at its angriest in early winter. In the summer, the ocean sometimes pitches a fit but it mostly behaves like a toddler frolicking, kicking around and having a good time. The ocean this weekend was a little flirtacious, teasing us but really meaning no harm.

But in a brief display of might, the teasing ocean yesterday wasn't anything one would want to mess with. It was with that background that I read a little from Mark 6: 48-51:

48He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50because they all saw him and were terrified. "Immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.' 51Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down."

While reading, I asked Murron, our seven-year-old to imagine being on a boat in the waves, being afraid, and then seeing a ghost, and being more afraid, but then realizing it was Jesus, who said to not be afraid. Watching the waves, it wasn't hard imagining what I would do in that situation.

But when God says not to be afraid, He means it. If He made the winds and the seas, then there really shouldn't be anything to fear. It's a constant lesson. But to actually obey the Lord and not fear when things appear to be out of control would be a great thing. Until then, or at least while trying, I'm still begging the Lord to get in the boat with me. I don't want to be out in the storm alone.


Friday, March 04, 2011


"But a woman dishonors her head if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair! But since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, she should wear a covering."
1 Corinthians 11:5, 6

You know, I don't actually have a problem with these verses!

Call me old fashioned or stereotyped but shaved hair on a woman does not look feminine. I understand that there are women who do so because of health reasons or to promote awareness of health issues. As a matter of choice, however, I will grow my hair to whatever length I am able. Maybe I feel this way because my hair has always been thin and fine like baby's hair. Nonetheless, I have gained quite an appreciation for attractive and stylish headwear ever since hats reemerged as the fashion must-haves they, in my candid opinion, have always been.

So, here's a few of the possibilities I have enjoyed discovering and will keep my eyes and available cash ready for:

Super fun and fabulous!

Elizabeth totally rocks the beret look. So not fair!

Classy yet can work with a pair of good jeans or long black skirt.

My favorite! Outrageous, bold, and still sophisticated. I LOVE the French!!!


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

lovely tangle

Recently I have read several blogs that have been refreshing and comforting to me as I struggle to make sense of how I am to spend my days and hours and minutes. What has really inspired me the most is how real and open these writers are in sharing their lessons learned, their wisdom gained, and their sins forgiven. I have felt necessarily uncomfortable as their stories have shed a gentle light into the hiding places of my heart and mind. It has confirmed how much farther I have to go in appropriating God's mercy and grace toward me and sharing those holy virtues with others.

lovely tangle is my open journal and outpouring of prayer and praise to the One who gives me courage and strength to be who He has called me to be. I want to invite you, readers and friends, to walk with me and offer your insights into this mysterious world of God's unending love and grace. I hope you visit whenever you can!


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dinner on a Dime

Our family is usually very discriminating in food tastes. We never eat white bread, we mostly bake from scratch, and even pancakes and waffles don't come from a mix. It has even become a bit of a joke around our friends, as our oldest declared one July 4th potluck gathering, "I don't eat processed potato salad." Indeed that basic Summer staple is made entirely by hand at the haven.

So it was a drastic departure from the norm, on Sunday evening, when I tossed a few boxes of mac n cheese into the grocery cart. Bill nearly went tachycardia on me until I explained as only a desperate housewife can, "I REALLY NEED something fast and easy to fix for lunches..." Being a little breathless from the snow-chilled air may have helped appeal to him, too.

I set to work boiling the water, checking the pasta to make sure it wasn't getting too soft (I really prefer my noodles firm to the bite). Then, once drained, I was about to add the remaining ingredients when a bold flash of inspired creativity struck me. I just can't leave a decent recipe well enough alone! The resulting dish was quite nearly elevated to fine cuisine status. My secret? Sour cream. No butter or milk. Just about 4 - 6 tablespoons sour cream blended in with the "cheese product" packet and the flavor is fabulous. Add a few dashes of fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, dry mustard, or other savory herbs and it becomes a dish you could even proudly bring to a social gathering.

The real trick to preparing good meals out of a box or can is imagination, friends. Just because it comes with instructions printed on the side does not mean you have to follow them exactly and to the letter. Cooking is fun, for crying out loud, so it's okay to play with ingredients. Got a can of chili and a package of hot dogs? Chop those puppies into the chili and add some brown sugar and barbecue sauce. Cream of mushroom soup and cooked rice? Mix them up, shape into balls, drizzle with a bit of melted butter and bake until golden brown. A family size can of potato soup, 1/2 lb of browned and drained bulk Italian sausage and some extra minced onion gets you something pretty darn close to Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana!

So shed those it-has-to-be-scratch inhibitions, grab a few of those convenience grocery items, and have fun creating!