Becky’s Guest Post on Ann Voskamp’s Blog today: Praying for a Truer, More Nourishing Story

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Ann-VoskampBig News today!

We are guest-posting at the lovely Ann Voskamp’s blog today.  A story from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Shawn, who had every right to be bitter after losing two beloved husbands, both named Ron, in the span of five years.   One day Shawn emailed me about an image God had given to her that was profoundly beautiful and comforting.  I’ve turned to it time and again in my own dark hours, and shared it with many others as well.  It is always soothing to the soul.

I hope it might bless you as well today.   Simply click on Ann’s picture above or the link below to read more.   

http://www.aholyexperience.com/2015/01/an-invitation-to-a-more-deeply-nourishing-life/

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Chipotle Chili, A Charm Bracelet Miracle, And The Long Awakening

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About 11 years ago now, one of my dearest writing friends, Lindsey O’Connor, gave birth to her fifth child, a little girl named Caroline.  That happy moment suddenly gave way to a trauma that would leave Lindsey’s life hanging in the balance for many long weeks and months.  She writes poignantly of that episode in her life, of what it was like to be “someplace other” and to try to make sense of it all once she woke up, in her brilliant memoir, The Long Awakening.  Warning: do not start the book until you have time to read it all. It is impossible to put down once you begin.

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Here’s a story Lindsey shared in her book, a memory I still look back on, and marvel at. In fact, I went to Texas two weeks ago, drove past the little store mentioned here, smiled and gave thanks in remembrance.

Near my daughter Allison’s birthday, my friend Becky had emailed Kathy asking for our home address so she could mail a birthday present she’d brought for Allison. Becky and I had started our friendship as writing and speaing colleagues and had grown into sister-friends, who knew and loved each other’s children, and she had wanted to get something special for Alli’s tenth birthday. She dropped in at The Mineola Mercantile, an East Texas boutique not far from where she lived, and told the owner what had happened to me and that I was lying in a coma missing my little girl’s birthday.

The woman told Becky she thought she knew “what God wanted this little girl to have.”

She pulled out a silver charm bracelet and the three silver charms – one said “Big Sis,” another of a heart with “mother and daughter” written across the front of it, and finally a letter “A” with a guardian angel peeking through the “window” of the letter.

The store owner said, “Now tell little Alli that charm represents her guardian angel that is always watching over her all of the time.” Becky went home, wrapped the present, wrote Kathy for the address, and only when Kathy replied did Becky discover a fact she had not know when she’d bought the gift.

It had been my tradition on each day of my daughter’s tenth anniversaries, their double digit day, to give them a silver charm bracelet…

Such a thing. Comatose for months;tradition intact. Unthinkable …..Coincidence? Perhaps.But I don’t think so. Loved by her God?  I believe so.  His eye was on my sparrow. ”  (Excerpt from The Long Awakening by Lindsey O’Connor, Revell, 2013, pg. 97-98)

Now, let’s fast forward time. Lindsey, of course, came out of the coma, and though the road was arduous, she is very much alive,  amazing us all. Caroline has grown from baby girl to double digit young lady following her sister Allie, who is now in college.   In addition to being the proud owner of a charm bracelet, she’s also of age to want to try her hand at cooking. I posted the picture of this Chipotle Chili, recently, on Facebook, and her mama, Lindsey, asked for the recipe.  There was a Chili Cook-off at church, and Caroline wanted to make an award-winning batch of it, all by herself. I gave her my best “Auntie Becky” style directions, and Lindsey let her daughter loose in the kitchen.  Later that night, Linds wrote in an email: “Carolyn was ecstatic when she won first prize!  She probably said, at least ten times while were cooking that she wanted to win, and thought she would win. And she loved knowing it was your recipe. She really did the whole thing by herself. I taught her how to cut an onion, stood back while she used her knife and kept wanting to take it from her the whole time. Taught her how to use the food processor.  She had such fun! Thank you for sharing the recipe.”

I hope this true story warms your heart, and the recipe warms your tummy.  Please visit & “Like”  Lindsey on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LindseyOConnorAuthor and tell her I sent you.  (I also write a story of Lindsey bringing me a wonderful Greek meal, including a favorite recipe,  watermelon mint feta salad,  in our book, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.)

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Becky’s Quick n’ Easy (Award-Winning!) Chipotle Chili

1 ½ lb.  ground beef or buffalo (if you have leftover roast or other beef, you can dice that up and throw it in too)

1 onion diced (if you like onions)

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 large (28 oz) can of fire roasted diced tomatoes

2 – 3 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (a little can in the Mexican food aisle… — you can freeze the leftover ones in a Ziploc bag to use in another recipe or salsa)

1 can (15 oz) Ranch Style Beans, with liquid

1 can (15 oz) Kidney or Black Beans, with the liquid

1 t. salt

1/2 t. pepper

1 t. chili powder

1 t. smoked paprika 

1 T. cumin

1 T.  brown sugar

Directions:

Brown the beef with onion in a big pot. Meanwhile,using a food processor or blender,  blend the big can of  tomatoes with the chipotle peppers and clove of garlic.   (If you want some chunks of tomato in your chili, don’t blend the whole can. But my husband Greg thinks I’m trying to kill him if there’s any visible chunks of anything but meat and beans in his chilli.) 

Add the blended tomato mixture to the pot,  then add the 2 cans of beans, and the rest of the seasonings, tasting as you go to make it balanced as you like it. Adding more sweet, or heat, or salt until you just love it.

Heat on med high and then turn down and simmer on low, for about 15 minutes, stirring often. (You can simmer it longer, but typically my family is in a hurry to eat it, and it doesn’t take long to be edible and yummy.)

You can top with sour cream or Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, jalapenos, diced avocado, green onions, chopped cilantro, crumbled tortilla chips… whatever you like. 

Always a hit with hot buttered corn muffins.

 

 


We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook: Happy Book Release Day!

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Releases Today!

By 3:00 P.M. I was still in my PJs. My hair was uncombed. I looked homeless. I’d been up since early morning on the phone and computer, in Mom Mode, trying to help out in a family crisis. Then I’d  switch to my Author/Blogger Role as I  prepared for … (wooden spoon drum roll here) … today’s  BIG RELEASE of  … (insert cymbal sounds of two saucepan lids clapping together) … Our NEW BOOK:  We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.

I found myself tipping back and forth between joy and worry. I was feeling fragile and disoriented. I could be easily blown, like a feather, toward tears or laughter, depending on the hour. Or minute.

What did I do to help calm and steady my emotions?  I put on an apron and whipped up the first recipe from our book, a rich Puttanesca sauce that my daughter Rachel (a vegan) and I tossed together one day, working like a pair of well-olive-oiled machines.  Puttanesca is an Italian sauce flavored with rich briny goodies like capers, pepperoncini, olives, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes.  Instead of adding meat, I topped it, as Rachel does, with roasted chickpeas.

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The dish, as always, was divine, a feast of taste sensations; however, the kitchen where I prepared the deep red vegan marinara looked as though I’d just butchered a hog. (I’m a good, fast cook; but not a neat one. The neat one would be my daughter who is probably reading this now, her eye twitching just a little at the thought of the image I just described.) The act of preparing a meal, tasting and tweaking … centered and calmed me, as it often does.

I looked over the day, half spent, and realized I’d laughed, I’d cried, I’d cooked.

Story of my life. And Rachel’s life. And perhaps, your life, too.

Now those stories can be yours for the reading, laughing along with, and sharing with others. Our food memoir (with lots of yummy recipes) can be purchased today on the most popular online bookstores including, Amazon, BN.com, and Christianbook.com in paperback, e-reader (Kindle, Nook) and audio form. (Rachel and I were honored do the voicing of the audio version.)

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Please visit our Book Page to read more reviews, endorsements and samples of the book.

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Here’s a few comments from others to whet your appetite:

“Amusing, endearing, and spiced with a close mother-daughter bond…. ” –Publisher’s Weekly 

 “We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook made me want to cook, made me want to call my mom, and made me want to gather the people I love into my home and around my table….” –Shauna Niequist, Author of Bread & Wine

A poignant memoir. Each story is beautifully rendered, exposing one layer at a time until I felt as if Rachel and her mother Becky were in the kitchen with me as I sautéed and stirred. Written with honesty, humility, and spot-on prose.” Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling Author of Into the Free

“….As engaging as a novel. A delicious book.” Dianna Booher, Author of Creating Personal Presence

“Someone once said, ‘She who bakes bread without love nourishes only half the man.’ I have eaten at Becky’s table many times with her husband Greg, and I can tell you firsthand that when she serves something from her kitchen, it nourishes the whole of you.” Ken Gire, Author of Moments with the Savior, Windows of the Soul, Relentless

“Unique. Special. Surprising. Entertaining. Humorous and heartwarming. You will be rolling on the floor laughing one minute and wiping a tear the next…” Carol Kent, Speaker and author of Between a Rock and a Grace Place

Food is increasingly dividing us. How we need B`ecky and her daughter Rachel, a vegan and a butter-loving mama to show us how to not only break bread together, but to make bread—and soups and all kinds of creative meals— together.” Leslie Leyland Fields, Author/editor of The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting

“From the moment I received We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, it was constantly in one hand while the other tended to kid-tastrophies…” –Heather Riggleman, Speaker to MOPS moms and author of Mama Needs a Time Out

“A delicious, well-marinated read!…. I love this book!” Sue Buchanan, Author of The Bigger the Hair the Closer to God

“…If they were kitchen utensils Rachel would be a bento box and Becky a salad spinner.  Not just funny, these women are real…” –Lucille Zimmerman, Licensed Professional Counselor and author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World 

There is nothing like word of mouth, or “word of internet” to get out good news.  We would SO appreciate if you would tweet, facebook, pinterest, blog or send smoke signals sharing today’s post with others. We could not have done this without the love and support of our readers and friends.


Shauna Niequist, Nigella Lawson, and Me: Some personal thoughts on food, curves & the book, Bread & Wine

(Becky, the Mama.)

In a departure from our regular food-with-recipes-post, today I’m writing about my favorite chapter from a delightful new book, Bread & Wine, by Shuana Niequist.  She describes the collection of essays as a “love letter to life around the table, with recipes.”

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The whole book is fabulous, but Shauna wrote a particularly vulnerable chapter that immediately resonated with me, and one I imagine will touch many other readers.

Last week I penned this paragraph: “All my favorite people are people who have resigned from the race for signifance. Who have made peace with their regrets and their flaws, who gave up on perfection and embraced their humanity, who treat children and elderly with focused attention and patience, who leave a trail of laughter behind them and sincere, warm-hearted welcomes and hugs as you greet them. Who invite you put your feet up and relax and breathe free. The sort who offer benevolent acceptance, without pretense or competition.”

Then I read Niequist’s chapter titled, “hungry,” from Bread & Wine, and  hastened to add a couple more lines to my thoughts above. “My favorite people are unashamedly hungry.  They embrace, rather than stuff or deny, their God-given appetites.”

Shauna brilliantly describes a classic struggle for so many of us who are rounder than we want to be, or than our culture wants us to be.   As a youth she began to associate natural hunger with shame, as thin people around her always seemed to “demur about food and hunger.”

Then she met Sarah, a friend who simply… ate what she wanted when she was hungry, without a trace of angst. “Sarah loved to eat and believed it was her right and a pleasure. She didn’t overeat or undereat, cry or hide food.  She just ate, for sustenance and enjoyment, both, and I was fascinated.”  Still it took Shauna many more years to speak the words, “I’m hungry,” without shame.

Part of the reason it took the author so long to make peace with true hunger is that she thought someday the competing issues of hunger and body image would simply…go away. That one day she’d win the battle and weight would no longer be an issue. “What I know now after all these years,” she writes, “is that there are some things you don’t get over, some things you just make friends with at a certain point, because they’ve been following you around like a stray dog for years.”

Shauna looks back over her life and realizes the fullness and beauty of it – she’s danced with her husband, kissed her babies cheeks, laughed with friends until she cried.  Not being a size 6 never prevented her from these life-giving moments. The extra pounds never stopped her from all God’s good gifts, but the shame attached to it too often stole some measure of joy. “And so these days my heart and mind are focused less on the pounds and more on what it means to live without shame,” she writes.

Shauna confesses to read cookbooks, authored by the curvaceous home chef Nigella Lawson, like novels, before bedtime. “She’s not at all daunted or afraid of her appetite,” Niequist notes with admiration.

I’m a huge fan of Nigella as well – her cooking show, her books and her new role as judge on the show, The Taste.  I’m loving that there are more real women with real bodies in the spotlight these days, like Nigella, like Shauna.  Women with a little flesh on their backsides, a little wiggle in their walk, who echo back to the days when the bodies God actually gave us were the bodies men wanted.   And in truth, if women turn off the TV and close the magazines, and spend some time talking to actual men, they will find as I have, that most men are still  drawn to women with natural curves, in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Women like Nigella who unashamedly enjoy cooking and eating, who are comfortable with their curves, have a sense of a humor, flirt with subtlety (the slightly raised eyebrow, a slow sly smile) convey,  “Yes, I’m a woman who enjoys and delights in all the sensual appetites, thank you very much.  Now would you be so kind as to pass the cream?”   Simply irresistible.

I tell my young unmarried friends, “A man who demands you be model thin, is a man who has no clue how to really love a woman. You do not want him. Trust me. These kinds of men are no fun to live with, make love to, or grow old with.”

Of course there is balance in everything.  At age 53, I’ve assented that I’ll have to prioritize exercise to keep my brain functioning, my energy up, and my body healthy, if not svelte.

When I cook at home, I make food that is nourishing, colorful, and delicious – using lots of fruits and vegetables.  I’m mostly vegetarian now and love it. I do not deny myself meat or a fabulous treat when I really want it.  (Tonight I took myself out to a “working dinner,” alone, and indulged in a creamy butternut bisque, a dish of fried avocado with crème frieche and pico de gallo.   Ordered a rich banana brulee for dessert.  Savored every bite with a goblet of fabulous red wine.)

Do I long to drop a size or two?  Yes, I’d like that very much. Perhaps it will happen.

Perhaps it will not.

At my age, I know what I’m willing to do, and also what I’m not willing to do anymore.  I am finished stepping on scales. (Clothes tell the tale well enough.)  I will not count calories.  No diets.  I do try to adhere to Michael Pollan’s simple advice, most days: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”   In fact, I stare in wonder at the colorful fruits and vegetables in a dizzying array of sizes and shapes at a Farmer’s Market, the way some gaze at an artist’s painting.  Can’t wait to get them home and into a dish of my own creation. I will walk to the park with my grandson  and I enjoy the elliptical as long as I can read while I work-out. I might venture into a Zumba class someday.  I’ll not be taking a spin class, hot yoga, or power lifting.

I love food. I also try hard to love my own flawed but womanly body, my sweet life and the people in it.  My family and my friends seem to love me back, just as I am. My husband  treats me as though I am the most beautiful woman in the world, though I am only 5 ft. 2, and decidedly not-thin.   People say that when I walk into a room, they can’t help notice Greg’s loving gaze in my direction.  It is true, my man only has eyes for me.  To me, this feels like a fresh miracle, day after day, year after year.

Most days, thankfully, that is gloriously, enough.  (Though I will still sometimes sink into depression if I see an unflattering photo of myself. I’m working on that.)

In the last paragraphs of the chapter, Shauna writes, “I think about the sizzle of oil in a pan and the smell of rosemary released with a knife cut. And it could be that’s the way God made me the moment I was born, and it could be that’s the way God made me along the way as I’ve given up years of secrecy, denial, and embarrassment. It doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that one of the ways we grow up is by declaring what we love.”

And one thing she loves with passion is cooking, serving and enjoying good food. Shauna’s book is indeed a love story to food, to the table, to friends and family gathered around it.  And to the God who created it all.  It is also about coming to love herself, her body,  just as she is, and relaxing into the peace this brings.

Bread & Wine is a welcome treat of a book to savor, like good chocolate, fine wine and dear friends. With a message every woman I know needs to hear.

Shauna Niequst. www.shaunaniequist.com

(You can visit Shauna Niequist’s blog at  http://www.shaunaniequist.com.  Her book is available online and in bookstores, releasing this coming week. Please tell her I sent you!)


Solitude, Self-Care & Tortellini Soup (Welcome Author & Guest Blogger Lucille Zimmerman)

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(Becky) I’m thrilled to share our blog today with new author, compassionate therapist, and dear friend, Lucille Zimmerman. We’re celebrating the fresh release of her new book on self-care for women titled Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World.

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I was thrilled to endorse it and wrote: “This is a book that I want to give to every woman I know. It contains wisdom I wish I had at twenty, and reminders I still need at mid-life, to regularly refill my own well. Lucille shows that in order to have something to give to those we love, we have to replenish our physical, spiritual and emotional energy. With wonderful personal stories and a therapist’s keen insight, Renewed, is a like a cup of cold water to women who are parched for permission to take care of themselves.”

Seriously, you gotta get this book.  Even better, pamper yourself futher and  read it while you sip her comforting recipe for Tortellini Soup with Italian Sausage.

Below are some personal words, a short excerpt on self-care and Lucille’s soup recipe. One of the reasons she loves it is because it allows her to chop veggies, a calming and centering activity for her. Enjoy!

Guest Blogger Lucille Zimmerman, Author of Renewed

Guest Blogger Lucille Zimmerman, Author of Renewed

(Lucille)

I’ve noticed I’m the most stressed when I can’t focus on one thing. Right now I’m trying to finish up the grades on the counseling course I taught, I have a series of blog posts that need written, a daughter who is planning a wedding but is prohibited from driving until medical tests prove she’s not having seizures, and I’m launching my first book. Needless to say, the multitasking is causing me stress. I am in need of solitude.

Here is a little excerpt from my book, Renewed, on the topic of solitude:
 

So what do people gain from spending time in solitude? One researcher said the mere presence of other people obliges us to coordinate our actions. Right now I am alone. Snow is falling silently outside and the only sound I hear comes from water trickling in my office fountain. Right now I can do whatever I want. I can slurp my split pea soup while taking intermittent bites of a chocolate bar. I can sit on my chair with one leg tucked under in unladylike fashion. I can take a break to let the dog out, and I can sing badly while doing all of the above. I’m still wearing my workout clothes from yoga, my bangs are hanging in my face, and I don’t have on a stitch of makeup. These little freedoms are not to be underestimated.

Humans may be social beings, but solitude has been shown to have great societal value. It is like the rests in a line of music, giving information, nuance, and structure to the melody. Without it, our lives are a cacophony, a never-ending noise that wears us down. Solitude is essential for our spiritual experience – it is where we hear the still, small voice. Jesus was our model, showing us how to balance being with people and being alone. ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed’ (Mark 1:35), and ‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’ (Luke 5:16). In these verses we see Jesus becoming known as a great healer and teacher, but he still took time to rest and pray.

So in spite of my to-do list, I put everything aside and took a walk in the sunshine. Then I made a tortellini soup. If anything brings my calm and focus back its sunshine, exercise, solitude and chopping fresh, colorful and fragrant vegetables. 

(Excerpted & Adapted from Renewed, by Lucille Zimmerman, Abingdon Press. Lucille’s info and blog is at http://www.lucillezimmerman.com)

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Tortellini Soup with Italian Sausage: shared by Lucille Zimmerman


1 lb sweet Italian or turkey sausage
1 cup onion
2 garlic cloves, diced
5 cups beef broth
1 cup water
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
½ T. basil leaves
½ t. dried thyme
1 (8 oz) cup tomato sauce
1 ½ cups zucchini, sliced
1 (8 ox) fresh tortellini pasta
3 T. fresh parsley (use less if dried)
Parmesan cheese

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In a 5-quart Dutch oven, brown sausage. Remove sausage and drain, reserving 1 T of drippings. Sauté onion and garlic in drippings. Stir in beef broth, water, tomatoes, carrots, celery, basil, oregano, thyme, tomato sauce, and sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 30 minutes. Stir in zucchini and parsley. Simmer 30 minus. Add tortellini last 10 mins. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

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