Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Days and Neighbors

Tulsa got slammed with a blizzard yesterday so I have been home for two days with nowhere to go and loving every minute of it. I could get used to retirement quite easily, I think!

Ever since my girls were little, on snow days, I would make bread. Yesterday I made cinnamon raisin bread and turned some of it into cinnamon rolls and then began visiting my neighbors with warm rolls in hand. Mr. Bill (who is nearly 82) invited me in and we had a nice time. I asked about a charted map he had on the wall and got a great lesson in geology and fuel efficiency for the future. He has some great thoughts on the matter and I enjoyed my lecture - he should be a teacher!

Then I went to see Darlene, my 89 year old neighbor, and she talked about how she has been praying for her son and his girlfriend for years and now is beginning to see God work in their lives. This brings great joy to her heart and I rejoiced with her. This afternoon she called me and said, "Lunch is ready!" She had made some of her famous veggie beef soup and had it in a canning jar which she put in her walker basket and brought to me. I never refuse any of Darlene's soup!

Today the maintenance men began to clean up the snow on the walkways and brought portable heaters to the older ones who were still cold (below zero in Oklahoma does not bode well with the old folks!). I made them some "from scratch" frosted brownies and when I heard them in the hall, I took them out to them. I asked Ron, who lives upstairs from me, if he wanted some brownies and he shyly said no. Ben, just a young "kid" (to me, anyone under 40 is now a kid) was more than willing to take them all! I asked Ron if he wanted me to take some uptairs to his wife Lee and his eyes lit up, so I told him I would.

I did not know Lee because they had moved in very recently. She is retired due to arthritis and does not work. She was delighted to see me and practically pulled me into the apartment. She said Ron was very shy, but that he loved sweets, so I promised that when I baked in the future for Mr. Bill and Darlene, I would bring some up for her and Ron (she doesn' t like to bake, but enjoys cooking). She is from Korea and said she will make some of her egg rolls for me sometime (I am not going to refuse an offer like that!). As we chatted and spent some time getting acquainted, I found out her 33 year old son had a bad accident about 8 months ago when his little daughter was only a week old. He has been in a coma ever since. Last week he squeezed her hand very tightly, so they are very encouraged even though the doctors will not give them much hope. Lee is a christian even though the rest of her family in Korea are Buddists and she is believing God to give her back her son.

Sometime tomorrow, I will have to try to get out of the parking lot and head off to work again, but these past two days have been rich for me as I have had uninterrupted time with my precious neighbors. Darlene is concerned about Mr. Bill because he is not saved and is not open to any God talk, so I will join with her in prayer for him. And I told Lee I will pray for her son.

This snow will not be going anywhere any time soon as we have below zero and single digit temperatures for the rest of the week and more snow promised for the weekend. Maybe I will get snowed in again and I can invite Lee and Darlene in for tea and, hmmmm, maybe some scones or muffins.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Restoration of Health

I am not the world champion of blogging. I know people who not only blog every day, but sometimes several times a day. It's as though they are convinced that every thought they have is something the world cannot live without knowing. In my younger days, I would blurt out whatever I felt like saying and I drove people bonkers. Now, it takes me days, weeks, months and even years to sort out my thoughts and make them worth thinking.

I am not sure if anyone reading this will think it is any great revelation of understanding, but this is one of those times when I feel like writing out what I am thinking as I experience this phase of my life.

I call this my restoration phase.

Biblically speaking, a "week" is seven years (check out Rachel and Leah). In my process of healing and desperately needing some changes in my physical being, I emphatically told God, "I need a breakthrough and I need it THIS WEEK!" He was slient for a while and then quietly said, "This week is coming to an end." That's right up there with, "The sun will rise in the morning." But the thought did not go away, so I asked Him to tell me what He was telling me. That's when I went to Strong's concordance and found God's definition of "week" that He was using in my current life scenario. He had me backtrack the "weeks" of my life to when I was 13. I thought about each "week" and what I was experiencing at that time. Quite interesting to say the least. I counted the "weeks" and realized I am in the 49th year and the "week" I am now in ends this year! What comes after the 49th year? Jubilee!

Okay, now I am listening, God.

I have been going through years of assault against my body - four auto accidents (okay, one was my fault...), a terrible surgery experience with the removal of a lung tumor that took me years to fully recover from, and most recently, breast cancer. In the mix of all of this, my life-long sleeping difficulty exploded into full blown insomnia which has not yet been healed. Throw in a couple of allergic reactions here and there, a lumbar scoliosis as a result of one of the accidents, and I have a body with scars and weaknesses and I don't like it one bit. Oh yeah, and a couple of surgeries and a near drowning when I was younger. (Friends thought I could swim and pushed me in. They had to pull me out. While I was in the water, I thought, "This is it", and I let myself go to die and began to sink, feeling quite at peace. God had other plans and I never even got water in my lungs.)

But, this is today. I have healed in body and soul except for the insomnia. And I have been very frustrated about losing the weight I gained by taking the sleeping med, and then giving in to the sugar cravings caused by the med and the lack of quality sleep. I have continued to receive prayer from the faithful intercessors and prayer warriors at the Healing Center and other trusted friends. God has healed so much in me, I know He can heal this.

I have been listening to Arthur Burk's CD teaching on Leviathan this past week and strength has come into my thinking. We love to go to people to pray for us to essentially remove the consequences of violating God's principles. This keeps us from being accountable for our actions. This is not a good use of the authority we have in the Name of Jesus! The "eyes of my understanding" have gradually become enlightened through such teachings as this and also things the people who have been praying for me have received in prayer concerning me.

For the first time in years, I feel strong enough to obey the wisdom of God in His design of me. I want to be "like everyone else", but I have to be who God created me to be whether I "fit in" with those around me or not. This pertains to my health habits as well as my morality, relationship with God, finances, etc. The Holy Spirit has revealed the roots of some of my major attitudes about myself and others and I have done a lot of that thing called "repentance" (which, by the way, is only effective when done through the power of Jesus' blood).

One of my major hobbies is my cooking/baking. I have no one to cook for since I live alone, so when I try a new recipe (which I LOVE doing!), I have to find someone to give it to or to invite over for dinner or tea after I have done my tasting. I struggle with this, thinking that if I am going to discipline myself to cooperate with God's healing in my body, I should NEVER eat sugar or fat or carbs again! That old "all or nothing" attitude (which really stinks, by the way). As I have been talking to God about this, He has helped me to understand that disciplining myself comes out of my soul and ultimately doesn't accomplish much, but responding to His discipline comes out of my spirit and is much more effective (self-control is a fruit of the Spirit). I listen to His voice and then I respond to it out of my love for Him. Takes a lot of the pressure to perform and "be good" out of the process.

I want to live what I call the "fasted lifestyle", but I balk against the word "fast". One day the Lord told me that true fasting is not deprivation, but the removal of excess. Okay, I want that! The fasted lifestyle is living in Him, listening to Him, responding to Him. It is allowing Him to work deeply in our hearts to reveal the hindrances that are keeping us from living out the life of Christ in this world.

Bottom line: He heals us and restores us for His glory and to strengthen us, enabling us to establish His kingdom on this earth to prepare for His return!

Now, that is what I call restoration of health!!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cookies, Cancer and God

This past week, I went back to Artesian where I had my radiation treatments for my six week follow up. One of the parking valets saw me and got all happy! She told me she had lost my phone number and had wanted to call me. So, this is the story...

As I started my six and a half weeks of radiation, I found that the people I met each day (parking valets, front desk people, radiation techs, etc.) were polite, but just doing their job. I had to do this daily for 33 sessions; how was I going to connect with these people so I became a person and not just another car to park or breast to radiate!

One day, I asked the parking valets if they would like me to bake them some cookies. They looked at me as though they were seeing me for the first time. I listed off some cookies I could make and one of the guys jumped up and raised his hand to vote for the chocolate chip - thanks and all that, but oatmeal raisin just wasn't going to cut it. I promised them that one day soon I would bring them cookies.

When time and energy coordinated, I baked and the next day took them their cookies. The girl couldn't believe it; she grabbed me and gave me a hug and then hugged me again and kissed my cheek! From that day on, we were friends and chatted on a daily basis and she opened up her heart to me more and more. She, too, had a bout with breast cancer and lost her breast. She is a beautiful person and no one would ever have guessed the things she has faced in her life.

One day, I was telling her about the Tulsa Healing Center and how God was healing people. She told me about a friend of hers who had bone cancer and tumors in his brain and said she would try to get him to the Center.

Fast forward to my six week follow up. She and her friend had gone for prayer. He had been experiencing double vision as a result of the tumors, but that day, God touched him and his vision cleared and has been perfectly clear ever since. She couldn't wait to tell me about it.

I made cookies for the people at Artesian to open their eyes to me, but what God did was open this girl's heart to Him and through her, touched a man's eyes.

Making them cookies told them they were not just parking valets, front desk people, or radiation techs going about their daily routines unnoticed or unappreciated. As I reached out to them, God opened a door I didn't even see at the time. I was just being me. And God was just being God.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Grandma's Soup, Cheese Pecan Biscuits and Friends

After the first surgery, a friend dropped off some veggie soup for me. It was delicious and nourished body and soul. I emailed her for the recipe, and she answered, "No recipe, this is how Grandma made soup from her garden." So I proceeded to try to imitate Grandma's healing soup and the recipe is below (I emailed Jacque once or twice more to gather the details).

About that same time, Bill, my neighbor next door who has claimed me as his current cook, hung a bag on my door with a recipe in it from the newspaper for Cheese Pecan Biscuits. He said, no hurry, wait until you recover. Well, I got bored enough to want to play in the kitchen, so I made soup and biscuits. It took a couple of days to gather ingredients, mix and chill, slice and bake and also to allow the soup to blend flavors. This worked okay; I was in no hurry and strength had to be doled out in small increments. I took soup and biscuits to Bill and he was a happy boy. The biscuit version I used was without the leavening because he wanted it to be like shortbread. I agree; they are wonderful, sort of like thick crackers.

When Glenda took me to the hospital for the second surgery, I pulled biscuits and soup from the freezer and sent them home with her for dinner. She and Frank enjoyed and she told me I could make the biscuits any time I wanted to and share with them, and could she have the recipe for the soup? I also gave her a few slices of organic hot dogs from our local Whole Foods store to make the soup a bit more hearty since Frank is still a hard working man who needs his meat as well as his veggies.

Last night, a friend came over with a salad, a hot wax tub, and a foot bath along with all sorts of creams and scrubs and lotions. So, after salad, I got pampered all evening. Body and soul got fed! Another friend came over with a can of cashews which delighted me no end! She had called and said, "What are you craving?" I told her and in minutes she and the cashews appeared at my door.

It has been good for me to open up my heart and receive this sort of loving ministry. I had not felt worthy of such care in the past, but God has done so much healing in my heart as I have gone through the messes of life, that now I am able to receive the tenderness of others toward me. I don't always have to be the strong one, taking care of all my own needs. God is caring for me through others. When I knew I was facing surgery, I filled my freezer with soup and other dinner things, most of which I have not used since I am being so pampered! (Bill brought me lasanga for lunch today from one of his favorite Italian restaurants south of Tulsa.) This is more healing from the residuals of having husbands who did not nurture me, but either neglected or abused both heart and body. God is so good and His love so tender.

I hope you enjoy the soup. Remember, this is a basic soup recipe and you need to adjust amounts and veggies according to your taste. And I dare you to not like the biscuits!

Jacque's Grandma's Soup

In a large 4 qt. Dutch oven, melt 1 stick of pure butter (or use half butter, half olive oil). Saute a large onion and 2 large cloves of garlic. Chop up a couple of large unpeeled baking potatoes and add to the onion mixture. Add 1/2 bag each of frozen corn, frozen okra, and frozen lima beans and stir to mix. Chop up several large tomatoes (Jacque said she uses 6) and stir in. Add water, salt and pepper and simmer until veggies are tender. Even yummier the next day after flavors blend.

Old South Pecan-Cheese Biscuits

2 cups flour
1 cup extra sharp grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup butter
1 cup chopped, lightly toasted pecans
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking powder (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, cayenne pepper and baking powder (if using; adding baking powder will make the biscuits a little spongy instead of crispy).

2. In a separate bowl, combine the butter, cheeses and pecans and mix with your hands, if necessary, to blend well.

3. Add the flour mixture, mixing with your hands again, if necessary. You can add a bit more flour if the mixture is too sticky (this depends on the type/brand of flour you are using).

4. Divide the dough into 4 parts and shape into logs about 1" in diameter. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

5. Slice the logs into 1/4" rounds using a very thin knife. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes depending on how thick you actually cut them. You want them browned, but only slightly; over browning will give the cheese a burnt taste. These can be frozen for several weeks.

So, on a cold winter's night, invite some friends over for soup and biscuits and the warm fuzzies of friendship.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Life Unexpected is Still Life!

Ever hear anyone say, "You never know what to expect next in this life!"? But life happens anyway, expected or not.

A couple of weeks ago, I was happily planning a get together at my apartment with some friends from work and another friend who used to work with us. I had gone through the recent routine of my annual physical, including a mammogram. I got a call to come back in for a follow-up mammogram as they had found something they didn't like. I didn't like it, either! It was interrupting my life! I had the repeat mammogram and they scheduled a biopsy. One of the girls at work asked if I wanted to postpone the Saturday get-together. Absolutely not! Just because something had invaded my body was no reason to cancel life and crawl into a hole until the storm passed. We had our afternoon tea that Saturday and got caught up with each other and laughed and ate gingerbread scones and leftover Christmas cookies. One of my favorite teas, and one I always prepare for a tea party, is Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer. It seems to go with anything and was particularly appropriate this day.

After an MRI, I was scheduled for surgery to remove the cancerous lump this past Tuesday. Initial reports were that they got it all, but the final pathology report showed that in the middle of the non-invasive tumor were some invasive cancer cells, so now it is back to the operating table next week to check things out further. This time, I did want to crawl into a hole and wait out the storm. I called a friend to come sit with me for a while and she came over, hugged me and let me cry. Then she put my head in her lap and stroked my hair and comforted me as we talked about cancer and unfulfilled dreams and myriads of other things. When she left, my heart was stronger. My sister asked me how my courage was when she called that night and I had to admit that I didn't have any right now. She said that was okay, everyone else could be courageous for me.

It is not that I expect to die, because I don't. God highlighted Psalm 118:17 to me: "I will not die, but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done." And no, He did not highlight the next verse to me! I do not sense that He is chastising me in any way, but He is doing a deeper work of trusting Him through this experience. What I am dealing with is the shock of the unexpected; this shock came in wave upon wave and I could not get through one wave before another hit. So, I gave up trying. My prayer has been, "God, you are faithful and do not lie and I am staying in agreement with You." Father God says Jesus healed me and who am I to argue with God?

I have stopped trying to be strong and in control. That is the job of the Holy Spirit in me. When Mom asked what she could do for me since she could not be here for me, I told her I wanted flowers. The very next day, flowers were at my door! I stick my nose in them and touch them and enjoy their life-restoring fragrance. A friend asked me how she could pray, so I told her I am concerned about paying the bills for what my insurance won't cover. I know she prayed because I am no longer worried about the bills because God is already providing in unexpected ways. Not all of the unexpected things in life are dreary!

And, being a writer of sorts, I felt the need to write this blog and share not only the recipe for the gingerbread scones, but my heart as I walk out this journey of faith and trust in an "unseen" God who shows Himself through the friends and family who are surrounding me with their faith, love, prayers and support. I see Him in you and my heart is comforted.

Gingerbread Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon each ginger, cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon each cloves, nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1 large egg
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Cut the butter into 1/2" cubes and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form.

Mix the egg, molasses, milk and vanilla together and add to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add a bit more milk if necessary. The dough should be sticky and slightly crumbly.

Pat into an 8" circle on a greased cookie sheet and cut into eight wedges with a serrated edged knife. Bake in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Remove to wire rack and cool for about five minutes. Recut into wedges and serve with Maple Butter.

Maple Butter

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons maple syrup

Blend well and serve at room temperature.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day and Snow in Tulsa

Well, Tulsa got dumped on last night - snow for Christmas in Tulsa - who'd a thunk it? It shut us down. (Nephew) Greg came over last night in the midst of the sleet and rain and took me to Sand Springs where I camped out for the night. The trip took a short eternity! (Cousin) Marshall brought me home in the 4-wheel drive truck and we decided that (Sister) Glenda and family were staying in Sand Springs today instead of coming to my apartment for dinner. What to do with all the food I bought? Neighbors! The neighbors are snowed in and either don't have family or can't get to family, so I am cooking and we are going to have Christmas dinner.

God knew all this, don't you think? What a gift!!

So, Merry Christmas to all of you and I hope any sudden changes to your holiday plans open up to God's plan for the day!

Excuse me now, I have food to prepare for some lovely people I am getting to know a little better today...

Later on in the day, after dinner:

Well, five of us put a tiny dent in the food I prepared. I had bought food for seven with plenty of leftovers in mind for people to take with them. The five of us - Bill, Darlene, Bob and wife Eva and I - had a wonderful time! I listened to the stories of years gone by and some of Bob's experiences as an EMT and a chaplain for the Rader Center and another jail that has since been closed down. I understand this is the last month that the Rader Center will be operating as well. Bill was quite taken with my cook books and while he joined in the conversation as well, he had a fun time reading the recipes and, I am sure, making mental notes about which cookies I need to make for him in the very near future.

They told stories about coping with growing older (Eva and I are the babies in the building with the others all being 75 and up) and laughed about it all. The biggest insult to these spunky people is when other well-meaning friends, family and health care people try to put them in wheelchairs. No way! They will adapt to walkers if necessary, but not the dreaded wheelchair - that means you are really old!

Darlene will be a proud 88 on Sunday, so we are going to have another party here to celebrate her. I am making a chocolate angel food cake and will put out more of the Christmas cookies and we are inviting a bunch of other tenants to come join us for dessert and coffee.

Snowed in, maybe, but not slowed down!

Chocolate Angel Food Cake

3/4 cup cake flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
12 egg whites (1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup superfine sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Stir together the four, cocoa and the first confectioners' sugar; set aside.

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until foamy. Add the superfine sugar a little at a time while continuously beating on high speed until the meringue holds stiff peaks. Gently fold in the flavorings with a wire whisk. Sprinkle the first mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, over the meringue, folding in gently just until the mixture disappears.

Push the batter with a spatula out of the bowl and into an ungreased tube pan (not a bundt pan). Using a knife, cut through the batter gently to remove air bubbles.

Bake in 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched with your finger.

INVERT the tube pan on a funnel and let it hang until the cake is completely cool so the cake does not fall.

Run a knife around the edges of the cooled cake, and turn out onto a cake plate. This is delicious when frosted with whipped cream that has a little cocoa whipped into it. You could also serve it with strawberries, mandarin oranges, or a blend of berries and put whipped cream on top of each piece instead of frosting the whole cake with whipped cream.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas, even if it turned out to be other than planned!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fun connections and more recipe tweaking!

This past week I made two pies for a birthday celebration for one of my co-workers. I had made a cranberry pie several months ago and took it to work for the "guinea pig test". I do this to them often when I am trying, or developing, a new recipe. I did not like the pie, so I discarded the recipe. But, lo and behold, she liked the pie and requested it for her birthday. I relocated the recipe and made it, to her delight. Since I needed two pies to be sure every employee got some, the second pie I made was a cranberry pecan pie, which I like a lot!

Our newest employee is a young Russian immigrant whom we have enjoyed having as a part of our office. When he saw the cranberry pecan pie, he was so impressed, he got out his phone and took a picture of it! (I really like this young man!) A few moments after he ate a piece of the pie, he was at my desk telling me I needed to open a bakery. I told him the story of The Almond Branch, and he bought both of my cookbooks on the spot!

One of the other women in the office and I decided that if he bought the books, he needed to use them and bring the results into the office. We told him this, but he said, "No, I bought the books for someone else to use to cook for ME!"

Before I give you the update on tweaking the White Chocolate Cherry Berry recipe, here is the recipe for the cranberry pecan pie I made. I think it came from a magazine of some sort years ago.

Cranberry Pecan Pie

3 eggs, beaten
1 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs grated orange zest

Prepare your pie shell.

Combine the eggs, sugar, syrup and butter. Stir in the cranberries, pecan and orange peel. Pour into the pie shell and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour or until the mixture is firm in the center. Cool completely before serving. If the crust edges are browning too much before the pie is finished, cover the edges only with aluminum foil.

Now, on to the tweaking!

I played some more with the white chocolate cherry berry cookies and this is what I did for Christmas (cookies are in the freezer!) I used:

8 oz of white chocolate (not vanilla flavored chips, but either Baker's white chocolate or Ghiradelli), chopped coarsely

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

6 oz. dried cranberries

2 tsp. grated orange zest

1 Tbs. water

Also, decrease the oats from 2 1/2 cups to 2 1/4 cups.

I baked them at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. I used a 1 oz disher (a small ice cream scoop you can find in restaurant supply stores). One oz is equal to 2 Tbs.

As I said in the original recipe, it is fun to paly around with your added ingredients and see what YOUR taste buds come up with!