Friday, October 12, 2012

Brownies: The Perfect Food?

Do you love brownies? Cakey or chewy? Dark and dense or lighter and more airy?

I'm a rabid brownie-lover. In fact, between brownies and homemade cookies, I'd be hard pressed to tell you my favorite.

Love. Them.

The other day when The Peapod asked if we could have brownies, I agreed. But grocery shopping has been done for the week, and my mind was spinning, wondering how I could "healthify" these long-time favorites.

Normally my first stop would be straight to my pal Google, but I remembered a great cookbook, "Marvelous Meatless Meals," that I had tucked away in the cookbook cupboard. I flipped through, and found it: Eureka! Gluten-free, white sugar-free, yummy sounding brownies.

After a stressful blissful time whipping these up with The Peapod at the helm, spoon held high (literally), we got most of the batter into the pan and popped them into the oven. We waited till they cooled (since we were stuffing ourselves with pizza and watching a gripping episode of "Thomas the Train," then sliced, extracted, and bit in.

Oh. My. Goodness.

These brownies are good. Really, really good. They are cake-like but dense, with a strong chocolate flavor. Best of all they're sweetened with only maple syrup and molasses (my substitution as I had no brown rice syrup on hand) and include some healthy nut meal. You absolutely can't tell that they're gluten-free--they have none of that strange crumbliness that a lot of GF baked goods have.

Melissa also includes a variation: peanut butter swirl brownies. Psyched to try that next time . . . and there will be a next time. The Peapod concurs, these brownies really are close to the perfect food. You can find out more about Melissa by visiting this link to her website, or check her out on Facebook. She offers nutritional consulting, too (wouldn't that make a great Christmas gift--perfect way to start the New Year!), classes and more.

Here's the reprinted recipe, permission given by author:

Completely Delicious Cocoa Brownies

2 Tbl. ghee, melted (I substituted vegan margarine)
2 Tbl. canola oil
1/2 cup gluten-free brown rice syrup (I used 1/4 cup of molasses)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup almond meal
3/4 cup gluten-free flour mix
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1/4 chopped nuts (optional)

In a medium sized bowl, stir together melted ghee, oil, rice syrup and maple syrup.
Add eggs, cocoa powder, almond flour, flour mix, and vanilla. Stir until fully combined.
Stir in nuts.
Pour into an 8x8 inch baking pan that's been sprayed with cooking spray or lightly oiled.
Bake 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool before cutting.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Asking Why: More or Less?

The children's book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," pretty much sums it up sometimes, doesn't it?

 Some days are pretty terrible. Some weeks are horrible. And sometimes the very bad weeks turn into mostly bad months and before you know it an entire year (or three) has passed and you stand there wondering, "Why?"

"Fractured," mixed media on paper, 2011. Copyright JPC
This past year hasn't been terrible and no good, but it has been trying. Between a move to a new-to-us home, two cars dying painful deaths after months of expensive repair work, maintaining my writing work, living through the terrible two's, losing a grandparent and aunt and uncle and a host of financial whammies, it's been one of those years where I've continued to think, "It's going to get better. Something will improve soon."

"Why?" Has been my mantra in the past year; I sound like a two-year old myself.

How often do we ask "why?" when things go wrong, when we're having a terrible, rotten time? And how many times do we ask the same question when things are all sunshine and roses, when we get the promotion or the book deal, when we learn that it's not cancer, when we narrowly miss a head on collision fumbling for our coffee?

Same question, much different circumstances.

As I look forward I know that I want to ask "why?" less. A lot less in one area in particular. And spend more time giving thanks and being so amazed that "why?" is the only answer I have when I receive a blessing.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Breathing Holes

Remember that movie, "Click"? Adam Sandler played an average, everyday guy who found that he could magically fast forward the boring, dull, annoying or bad parts of life. This worked great--until he realized he'd missed half of his life.

But who of us doesn't sometimes wish we could press that button? Boss making unreasonable demands? Press. Spouse nagging you? Press. Woke up feeling discouraged and down? Press.

Yesterday I was talking with a pastor who I greatly respect about life stages, and how difficult it sometimes is as an introvert to deal with all the chaos and noise. He said that his wife, who is very introverted, has dealt with this throughout her life. When their kids were small, he said she had to seek out "breathing holes." Like seals who swim for long periods of time under thick, Arctic ice, breathing holes have to be found or the animal dies.

That's how it is for a lot of introverts, and not surprisingly, for a lot of artists. We need breathing holes.

This is something that seems so simple in theory but can be very difficult in practice. I'm reading, "Art Saves," by Jenny Doh right now and one theme that keeps coming up for many of the artists (no matter if they are full-time artists or not) is the challenge in carving out time to play. Every day.

I'm thinking of a challenge--a play challenge which will coincide with the launch of my brand new studio (I FINALLY found a name that I love and that ties together both writing and art). It will entail creative challenges and it absolutely doesn't matter if you're an artist, a writer or interested in any other creative field.

We're ALL artists, I really believe that. Some of us bake perfect cakes, some of us balance spreadsheets with precision, some of us dream up fundraisers and gather people together; artistry is more spiritual than mental, more a state of being than of what comes out of one's fingertips.

Tell me about your breathing holes. What do you do when you find yourself with 15 or more minutes and just need a break from life? What do you find most relaxing and how often do you take time to do that activity (or non-activity)?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My 3 Year-Old Has More Patience

Sad but true; my three year-old has better waiting skills than me. Since The Peapod was small, I've tried to instill the value of waiting for things: most of the time this is related to food, like when we bake cookies but sample only one and save the rest for after dinner. Or when we borrow a movie at the library but wait until evening for the allotted TV time to watch it. He might hold the DVD in his hand, look at the pictures and ask questions about it, but rarely does he ask if we can watch it "right now." In fact, one day I offered to let him watch a DVD during the morning when I was trying to get some work done on the computer and he replied, "Mooooom, you know we don't watch that until after dinner!" As though I were trying to trip him up or something . . . geesh.
Mixed media on paper, 2011, aptly named, "Wander"
Yup, the kid has some self-control; I, on the other hand, am seriously lacking in that department.

I'm at that place (once again) where I feel panic bubbling beneath the surface. What should I do next in my career? I have a huge goal list and rarely are the tasks getting neat little check marks. Where am I headed? How will I ever fulfill the dreams I have if things don't start coming together? Am I being patient and "waiting on the Lord," or just spinning in place, inert and inefficient?

Another area of my life is also lacking right now: my spiritual life. Oh, I've been going through the motions, taking time in the morning for quiet, reading the Bible, prayer. But it all feels flat, empty. There's a sense of spiritual numbness and I can't help but see the correlation between this and the fact that my mind is going 125 mph most days, struggling to work out my future, wondering about what will happen, how I can MAKE things happen . . .

It was wonderful then, to come across this excellent post by The 1st Follower this morning, "When God Writes Your Story."

Read. Breathe. Pray. Let Go.

Repeat as needed.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


It's been a tough couple of days. You have them, I'm sure; trying to fit so many things onto the to-do list that it becomes smeared with anxiety, activities piling up around you like piles of lost socks, deadlines breathing hot on your neck.

Finally, today in the chilly pre-fall air, I felt complete gratefulness. Grateful that I had an entire hour to myself, ALL ALONE, tucked up in my art studio. Grateful for the paint that I picked with eyes closed and how the colors (oddly) worked together. Grateful for friends who came to help us with a demolition project and in-laws that took The Peapod out to a long breakfast so we could work hard and fast. Grateful for spiced pumpkin coffee and a fresh, plain donut this afternoon, curled on the couch.

I feel filled up today and hope that your weekend contains some moments of pure peace, pleasure and gratitude.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Tri: Success?

Yeah, that's a question mark up there because I'm still wondering how one measures "success" in a triathlon. By winning? By placing? By kicking rear end with a stellar time? By doing better than you envisioned in all the long, hot, sweaty workouts leading up to the race?

If success is measured in those ways, I wouldn't count this race a success.

But maybe success just means finishing. Maybe it means setting the goal and then seeing it through. Maybe instead, success is simply enjoying the fact that it's OVER and now one can kick back and relax a little.

That sounds more comfortable to me.

Me, in all my swimming glory

The day started off at 10:00 a.m. when our little group met at a local state park. The beach was awesome; all sand and clear water. The swim was first: twenty minutes in the rather choppy water. I drank so much of the lake I didn't think I needed much of my bottled water on the cycling portion, which came next.

That was the best part of the entire race and I think it was the best time I've ever had while riding. The route was fairly flat with some gentle inclines, an out and back 15-miles. There wasn't as much traffic as I'd worried about and there's always a little breeze on the bike~much appreciated as the temps were in the high 80's.

Last came the 5K run. It was after 12:00 by the time the run started. So. Freaking. Hot. I had forgotten to eat my banana before the bike ride, and didn't have enough to drink (fastest ride ever means more sweat than usual=more need for fluids). Sadly, I realized after creeping jogging down the road that I'd forgotten my banana yet again. This time I was in trouble because I was getting seriously overheated and hadn't had anything to eat all day other than one piece of toast with PB at 8 a.m.


Needless to say it was one of, if not the absolute, worst runs of my life. I didn't even run it all, in fact, I walked most of the course. I started to feel really chilly and had goose bumps. My coach had me pull up my shirt and tuck my sleeves into my sports bra to cool of a bit more. When we finally made it back to the beach she plied me with water and a banana and took me right into the lake with my clothes on to cool off. That water felt frigid but was really warm like bath water.

After I finally started to feel normal again and everyone was done splishing and splashing, we all clambered back up to our picnic spot and enjoyed our lunches. My parents (so sweet!) had brought a Congratulations cake for everyone to share. I had little gifties all wrapped up and gave award ribbons in lieu of medals (one said, "Best Tooth Brusher!" another, "I'm Proud to Be Me!" and so on).

We raised close to $170 for Shared Hope International~awesome generosity of everyone was so appreciated!

It was a great day and those who participated have been asking if we'll do it again next year.

Who knows?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Eagle or Hippopotamus?

"There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud." ~Carl Sanburg

Photo credit: me

Today I can relate to Carl Sanburg's quote entirely; it's more of a hippopotamus type day. And I automatically wonder, was it the ice cream I ate yesterday? The gluten in the English muffin after days gluten-free? Or just a hormonal shift or not enough sleep or the fact that some days are just not-so-great? But what about when there are many days that are not-so-great, back to back?

How much do you think that food affects mood?

There are people all over the map on this: some believe that food and mood are in no way connected, others swear by how bad they feel emotionally, mentally of physically after eating foods from a certain group.

With all the food allergies and sensitivities, it's hard to know what to think about food these days. And maybe even thinking so much about food is part of the problem. The French think positively about food and are healthier than most Americans and seem to enjoy a higher level of satisfaction.

Maybe I'll learn more about food and mood in "Spontaneous Happiness," a book by Dr. Andrew Weil that I have on loan from the library.

What's been your personal experience between food and emotions? Do you feel that they are connected or not? Have you ever stopped or started eating a particular food and noticed a difference in your physical or mental health?