Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Salad Swap

Linking up with Mel today for a:

This might be the best salad I've ever made. It is seriously SO good and definitely worth considering for dinner this week.

Dinner with friends: divine. This dinneralfresco, with friends, and an amazing rose´: a perfect Summer evening.

Starting with rose´ is totally optional, but honestly, why not? This lovely number is a french varietal bought at Trader Joe's.

A key to this delicious, flavor-packed meal is the lightly charred romaine. Oh my. Grilling the hearts makes for a more intense and smoky bite. I don't know that I'd ever make Caesar Salad again without grilling the lettuce--it's so worth it.

Add to the grilled romaine some tender grilled chicken, handmade croutons (not if you're grain-free like me), and a dressing so good it had me licking the spatula clean (a la` cake batter), and you have one unforgettable Caesar Salad. I've made this salad three times, and even without the homemade croutons, it is positively, absolutely, amazingly yummy and complete.


Thanks for the great idea, Mel! Looking forward to enjoying lots of new salad recipes in the hot weeks to come.

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
Adapted from

Serves 6-8

1/2 C freshly grated parmesan cheese (can do in food processor with grater blade)
8 anchovy fillets
3 TBS fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves
2 TBS Dijon mustard
3/4 C olive oil
Salt & pepper

4 breasts of chicken
olive oil
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
Salt & pepper

3 Tbs olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 3/4-inch-thick slices whole grain bread, crusts removed, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (4 cups)
Salt & pepper

3 hearts of romaine, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cracked black pepper

For dressing:
Combine all ingredients other than olive oil in a food processor; blend well. With processor running, add olive oil in a slow stream. Season with salt and pepper.

For croutons:
Preheat oven to 325F. Heat 3 TBS olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and fresh herbs and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Remove from heat and add bread cubes; toss to coat. Spread out bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until croutons are golden, about 15-18 minutes, stirring occasionally.

For grilled chicken & romaine:
Preheat grill to high heat. Spray with cooking oil.

Smother chicken breasts with a little olive oil. Season evenly with fresh herbs, salt & pepper.

Grill chicken over high heat until cooked all the way through, or until internal temperature reaches 165F, about 4-6 minutes per side. After flipping chicken halfway through cooking, brush olive oil over cut sides of romaine. Place romaine, cut side down, on grill and cook until just charred, about 2-3 minutes.

To assemble salad:

On a large platter, arrange romaine leaves, cut/charred side up. Slice chicken breast and lay on top of romaine. Top with 1/2 cup grated parmesan, croutons, and cracked black pepper.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oregon, Part 2

One of our favorite things to do while visiting our family in Oregon is to walk the farm. There are two barns, lots of old tractors and farm equipment, a horse, cows, orchards, trees, a creek and fields of wildflowers. It's a kids' dream come true!

A trip to the barn always includes sitting on multiple tractors:

Maddie was miss independent, climbing up this huge ladder all by herself!

Sam said, "I want one of these for my birthday!" I asked him, "a broken down, discarded lawn mower?" Sam: "Yep!" How can I say no?!

I snapped a bunch of photos of our old shetland pony, Jimmy. Little did we know he would die the very next day! He had a good last day, fed many apples and loved on by a sweet, doting Maddie. Thankful for all the photos I snapped of his old face. 34 years on the farm, born the same year as me. Rest in peace, Jiminy Cricket.

Friday night we headed to a winery outside Battleground, WA, where my parents, Aunt & Uncle belong to the wine club. They were having a release party and we joined in on the fun. It was an amazingly beautiful piece of property with lots of green grass to run around on. Maddie and Sam were more entertaining than the hired musician, what with the dancing, running and acrobatics.

I basically just followed them around, snapping photos among the lush, green landscapes. 

One of the grandparents and grandkiddos!

Fun times!

On Saturday Ben, Dad, Uncle Joe and Maddie headed to the Deschutes for a day of fishing. Maddie was GIDDY to be going along on her first-ever Daddy-daughter trip to the river. She was a trooper, following the guys along steep banks covered with prickly bushes, ticks, and the occasional rattler.

Mom, Sam and I drove over in the afternoon to meet for a late lunch and to bring our fishergirl home. Such a fun day in Central Oregon!

Stay tuned...more photos from Oregon coming soon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thanksgiving in June

Wines were uncorked, the turkey sliced, the cranberries plated. Kids were buzzing about, peeking at the homemade desserts. Friends and neighbors gathered around the table, full plates and grateful hearts all around. And all of this happened a few Saturdays ago in our neighborhood. In June.

It all started two Summers ago when we decided to take back our neighborhood. It's said that people move to the suburbs to connect with community, but you wouldn't have known it if you drove into our small, quiet, well-maintained neighborhood just two miles from downtown. Folks drove up their driveways, into their garages and closed their doors. A few words might have been exchanged on Sunday nights when garbage cans were rolled out. But none of us really knew each other. 

It was fairly simple. One warm Spring Friday evening, we rolled our barbecue in front of our house. We passed out invitations a few days before. That first night there were just a handful of us. But we started to learn each other's stories, to exchange contact information, and to build relationships. As the weeks progressed, folks started stopping by as they drove past our party, grill smoking away and lawn chairs gathered in the parking places in front of our homes. We were a motley crew, to say the least, but we were starting to act like neighbors.

Along the way we picked up a few more families, growing from three or four households to many more. As we grew, dinner themes started to be tossed around. We're not sure who started the idea of Thanksgiving in June, but it was most likely Valerie, the wife of one of Danville's best-known car guy, Dave. (Val definitely started Italian night, which we celebrated last month with pans and pans of pasta and more garlic bread than should be allowable). 

So there we were, one Saturday night in June, hungry and salivating, holding our paper plates in eager anticipation. The folding tables were covered in fall-colored tablecloths, every square inch covered with dishes. Dishes holding potatoes, yams, dressing, cranberries, brussels sprouts, salad and desserts. Kids swarmed the dessert table, poking fingers at Joanie's polenta pound cake and asking about Dawn's platter of cookie "hamburgers." Mike carved the turkey he had barbecued all afternoon, handing out tastes to curious onlookers. 

And it was in that moment that I paused to give thanks--for a group of neighbors who love to laugh, to celebrate life, to think up dinner themes and to show up, week after week, in order to spend time with a bunch of former strangers who, around the table and over a few years, managed to become friends.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

camping tales

I like this whole bringing-a-laptop-and-upload-cord-on-vacation thing. I can keep you all updated from the road. :) Of course, all of these photos are SOOC (straight out of the camera) because I don't have my usual photo-editing software. But, vacation calls for taking it easy. So here you have it, a photo montage of 3 days and two nights of camping in central Oregon.

To break up the long drive from Danville to Sandy, we stopped to camp near La Pine. We had the quiet, picturesque, riverfront campground all to ourselves! Not only was it peaceful and beautiful, but the kids could be as loud as they wanted with no fear of waking the neighbors at 6:30am. :) It was a great camping trip, complete with two of the best nights of camping sleep ever! And even the port-a-potty smelled nice. (Seriously).

Within 10 minutes of arriving at camp, Sam was covered in dirt and soot:

Camping with colitis is totally possible. Just takes some advance planning. Grateful for aidell's all-natural sausages which make for a greg dinner by the river, when coupled with red grapes and carrots:

Our little fishergirl! Maddie became quite the expert fly-fisher and Daddy fishing buddy on this camping trip. I'm not sure who is more passionate about fishing now: Maddie or Ben! It is seriously the sweetest, most exciting thing to see my girl and her Daddy enjoying fishing together!

Here is a close-up of the general state of Sam while camping: 

At any point in the day, he was completely covered in camping dust. He would rinse off in the river and then run right back to his dirt piles and roll around. It was quite a sight to behold!

S'mores are a necessary part of any good camping trip (though, not for Mama). No sooner than we had finished dinner on the first night did Sam pull out the bag of 'mallows and ask for help. Good thing he's so darn cute and hard to resist.

Early in the morning, by the fire, dirty, tired, but content:

Early on the second day of camping, Sam was playing in a grove of trees by the river. I was taking pictures of the kids playing but started to move closer to Sam when I saw him scale these two trees right over the water. I was not at all surprised when he slipped and with a quiet splash, entered the fast-moving, frigid water. Luckily I was right there, and he was able to grab onto the bank grasses, but even after immediately whisking him to safety, he was drenched from the nape of his neck to his toes. And shivering. (this was after MULTIPLE discussions on river safety, the fast-moving water, the fact that there are falls downstream, etc. But we all know 3 year-olds lack the wisdom and maturity necessary to make decisions to avoid climbing trees near open water).

The spot where he fell:

Later that afternoon, Sam and I hung out at camp while Maddie & Ben hit the Fall River for some trout fishing. Five hours later, they'd caught a beautiful fourteen-incher, perfectly sized for dinner for four. Ben was practically glowing as he described Maddie fighting the fish. Maddie was basking in the joy of a river rainbow, plus her Daddy's pride. Sam just wanted to get a look at that fishie up close.

As you can see, Sam lost most of his clothes by the second day. He decided a pull-up (or nothing) was fine for camping, Lord of the Flies-style. Filthy, filthy, but happy little boy.

That night a huge storm rolled in, complete with thunder, lightning, and the pitter-pat of raindrops on the tent fly. Thank goodness for an amazing, dry, secure tent and the sound of a good, hard rain, to send us off to sleep. In the morning we packed up camp and headed west, past the Cascades, to Warm Springs, where we stopped for lunch, a bathroom break, and to cast a few flies.

Now we're safe in Oregon and glad to be with family! Stay tuned for further OR adventures!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tales from the Motherhood: Parenting with Chronic Illness

In case you missed this post earlier this week on Wendy's blog, here it is for your reading enjoyment.

Today I'm going to share with you what it's like to live with chronic illness. Because my full-time job is caring for and nurturing two little people, it's inevitable that in explaining how I manage my illness, I share a bit about how I manage parenting in the midst of it. So welcome to tales from the motherhood: parenting with chronic illness.

After several years of sporadic symptoms (nausea, diarrhea, indigestion) starting as early as high school, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in February of 2001. My husband and I had married the previous Summer, moved across the country to start graduate school, and on top of it all, I was stuck in a job that was frustrating and unfulfilling. With the number of major life changes couple with high emotional stress, my body started to shut down. (I later learned that stress is my major trigger for sickness). In my agony and frustration I met with a doctor who was the first to tell me, "chronic diarrhea and nausea is NOT normal." It had been my normal for so long that I was completely out of touch with what healthy looked like.

Maybe you've seen this little ditty floating around the internet. Yes, indeed. Colitis (UC) involves many unfortunate bathroom-related situations.

A G-rated version of UC goes something this...always: 1) knowing the closest restroom, 2) having extra underwear accessible, 3) not getting to eat a lot of delicious things, 4) being embarrassed by your own gas, 5) avoiding Mexican food at all costs, 6) taking along twenty-plus pills and supplements when you go out to eat (which isn't often because restaurant food is tricky).

At this point I was only 21. I was young and used to a degree of freedom. My UC diagnosis seemed like a big heavy iron door slamming on my future. Thankfully, I had a great doctor who was most concerned with restoring my health and improving the quality of my life.

My doctor immediately placed me on prednisone (steroids), with the understanding that if I didn't respond immediately, I was looking at a hospital stay in my very near future. Praise God I responded favorably and didn't have to be hospitalized. Along with the new medication regimen, I started doing some research into how diet affects colitis. My research led me to a book called Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall. This book has changed so many lives, mine included. It is based on a simple nutritional principle that complex grains and sugars are more difficult for the body to digest. By cutting out hard-to-digest foods, folks with unhealthy guts can once again feel normal.

Within two years of being diagnosed, after following my doctor's medical protocol and sticking to the specific carbohydrate diet, I was symptom-free. Other than the occasional bad day, my health was really quite good. A colonoscopy in the Spring of 2004 showed no signs of colitis. I had been completely healed! For the next several years, I followed the diet on and off, always took my medication, and tried to monitor my stress. Managing my illness was fairly easy when it was just me.

Enter pregnancy number one. I had no problems at all until the very end of my pregnancy, when I had a minor flare. I was a few weeks away from delivering my baby and my mom was in the middle of a super strenuous time of breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy. It was a stressful time and my body was showing the effects. Miraculously, after the delivery of my daughter Maddie I regained my health. Life was good, parenting was filled with joy, and I relished in my daughter.

After my second son was born is when things started to go downhill. We exchanged thrush back and forth many times. Then I got mastitis. A few weeks later, I got mastitis again. Then again. By the fourth bout in six months, I was quite sick. I had never experienced such acute pain and illness as with the mastitis. It was WAY worse than childbirth for me. In a desperate attempt to feel better, I started on antibiotic therapy to kill off the yeast. But as any sufferer of colitis knows, taking antibiotics is like asking for a flare.

Without totally boring you, the science behind a healthy intestine has much to do with the balance of good bacteria (think the active cultures in yogurt). A lot of stomach issues have to do with bad bacteria taking over (think E. Coli). Antibiotics kill off everything; they don't just target the bad. So essentially, with the thrush, mastitis, and medication treatment, my body was stripped of all its protection.

My body entered a lengthy season of sickness. Having two energetic, outgoing and demanding kids to care for added to the stress. The next three years were a roller coaster of all the joy of raising my kids coupled with the stress of managing my illness. I had to make a lot of changes to our routine in order to accommodate how I was feeling. For example, there were several months in the past year in which I chose not to make the five-minute walk from our house to the park because there is no bathroom on the way. Things were really bad.

Another list to give you an idea of what it is like to live with UC...parenting in the midst of a UC flare means: 1) sometimes driving to the park instead of walking, 2) having your kids get away with all sorts of shenanigans while you are stuck in the bathroom, 3) shipping your kids off to friends and family because you're too sick to take care of them, 4) explaining over and over why Mommy doesn't eat the same foods, 5) spending lots of extra time in the kitchen making gut-friendly meals, and 6) spending a lot of time on your knees in prayer, both for good health and for patience to make it through the day.

But the good news (yes, there is good news!) in all of this is that while my body is totally imperfect and insufficient, God is perfect and sufficient. In all the ways my body fails me, Christ sustains me. This was made abundantly, exceedingly, miraculously clear this past year when I reached my sickest point yet. After 12 days in the hospital, Jesus met me in a very tangible, loving, amazing, humbling way. You can read all about it here.

Managing chronic illness means a lot of really hard days. BUT (no pun intended), it also means I have a built-in need for something outside of myself. Just as my physical self needs medication to supplement and heal, my spiritual self is completely dependent on Christ to give me strength and perseverance.

Since my bout in the hospital, I've started seeing a naturopath. She's got me on all kinds of helpful vitamins and supplements to replenish and heal by body. I feel better than I have in a few years. My symptoms have totally improved and I am steroid-free.

And best of all, my kids have their mom back. With good health comes the ability to walk to the park, create new and exciting recipes with foods I can eat, and teach my kids about healthy living.

If you suffer from chronic illness, want to know more about the specific carbohydrate diet, or if you want to know more about the really good news of who Jesus is and his love for you, please drop me a line. I'd love to chat. ben_beckyjoyce (at) yahoo (dot) com

Monday, July 16, 2012

Guest Posting today...

This morning my family is heading on family vacation to Oregon. Head over to Wendy's blog Tales from the Motherhood to read my guest post on parenting with chronic illness.

If you like to read stories about unicorns, magic sprinkles, or well-behaved children, don't click the link. If, however, you like the occasional story about bad gas, indigestion, and/or the love of Jesus, well then, this is your lucky day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My 34th Birthday, Part 2: Mile-High Chocolate Cake with Swiss Meringue & Strawberries

The search for the perfect grain-free birthday dessert was well worth it! After trying a bunch of different recipes, I eventually just developed my own chocolate cake recipe and it was AMAZING! It was so fun to mess around in the kitchen, experimenting with different flavors, all in the name of a delightful birthday dessert.

The chocolate cake recipe started as the bottom layer of the Neapolitan Cake, which was delicious to start but only improved with time and trial. For the ice cream sandwich version, I added extra cacao powder and sweetened it with extra honey. For this final recipe revision, I added even more cacao powder, more honey, and an additional, special ingredient: coffee!! The trick is adding just enough to enrich and bolster the chocolate flavor of the cake without overpowering it. I'd say that this recipe knocks the others out of the park!

Once I had decided on the cake flavor, I decided to return to the light and fluffy Swiss Meringue Buttercream from the Neapolitan Cake. This time I diced strawberries to pile on top of each frosting layer as well as adding chocolate curls to the top.

As far as cake aesthetics go, I'm never happy with a plain old sheet cake or even a two-layer cake anymore. Once I started on three-layer cakes, I just couldn't go back. (Then my hubby stole my Sur la Table 9-inch cake pans for his coffee roaster, but that's another story for another time). The trick to this tall cake? Cutting the two cake layers in half, making for four thin sections of cake to pile with buttercream and strawberries. This is definitely a cake worth making, but only with the sweetest, in-season berries.

Mile-High Chocolate Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream & Strawberries
serves 12-16

3 1/2 C. blanched superfine almond flour (I use Honeyville, purchased through Amazon)
1 C. cacao powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 C. honey
6 eggs
1 TBS pure vanilla extract
1 TBS instant coffee (or up to 1/4 C. very strong coffee, brewed and cooled)
8 TBS butter, softened

Swiss Meringue (adapted from Roost)
4 room temperature egg whites
squeeze of lemon juice
1 C. honey
2 C. strawberries, diced
2 TBS dark unsweetened chocolate

For the cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 8-inch cake pans with oil and line with a circle of parchment paper cut to size.

Combine almond flour, cacao powder, salt and baking soda in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle. Combine on medium speed until well mixed.

Add to mixing bowl: honey, eggs, and vanilla extract. Combine well on medium speed.

Finally, stir in coffee and softened butter. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and well combined, and no streaks of butter remain (about 3 minutes).

Divide mixture between two prepared cake pans. Bake at 350F for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few crumbs attached.

Allow cakes to cool in pans on wire rack for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, carefully invert onto wire rack and allow cakes to cool completely to room temperature.

For the swiss meringue:
When cakes are completely cool, make buttercream. Put egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk. Squeeze in a little lemon juice and whisk at medium-high to high speed until stiff peaks form, about 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring honey to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.

After stiff peaks have formed and when honey is boiling, with mixer running, slowly and carefully drizzle honey into egg whites. Once honey is completely added, run mixer for a minute more.

To assemble cake:
Cut cake layers in half horizontally, carefully, using a serrated knife. Place first layer, cut side up, on a cake stand. Cut three rectangles measuring about 3 inches wide from parchment paper. Place them just under edges of cake, overlapping, to keep meringue from messing up the cake stand. Pile about 1/4 of the meringue on top of the first layer. Top with about 1/2 C. of the diced strawberries.

Repeat with second layer of cake, 1/4 of the meringue, 1/2 C. of strawberries. Repeat again with 3rd layer. 

For top layer, place cake cut side down. Top with remaining meringue and strawberries. Using a grater, grate chocolate curls onto top of strawberries. Carefully remove parchment paper rectangles from under cake.

Serve immediately, or place in fridge until serving time, carefully wrapped in saran wrap (or under cake dome).

Hooray! You have a beautiful, delicious, rich cake that is completely grain- and sugar-free! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My 34th Birthday, Part 1 of 3

I celebrated my 34th birthday on Monday with just a handful of good friends. This first post will be the photo extravaganza!! Post two will be the recipe for the cake (after a trial of three previous recipes, as chronicled here, here, and here). The third and final birthday post will be about the wine and food pairing process. Fun, fun!
I decided on a wine and food pairing party because 1) I love wine and it is good for digestion (true story. Read 1 Timothy 5:23), 2) cheese is my FAVORITE food of all time, and 3) we have three amazing homemade wines to showcase and share with our friends.

I saw an idea on pinterest a while back that incorporated a chalkboard surface into a tasting party. Ben had the great idea of spray painting the reverse side of our marble outdoor table with chalk paint. It totally worked and now we have a great writing/decorating surface for future parties and boring afternoons at home.

Some photos of the spread/food:

Wine + cheese + nuts + food pairings = JOY!
Cheese, cheese, olives and salami. Nom nom nom
Wine, glasses, and some yummy steak bites with blue cheese

 The lovely folks who helped me celebrate:

Da Fellas: Andrew, John, Beau, Gregg, Ben & Lee
Some ladies & kiddos: Janet, moi, Sam, Maddie, Kelly & Susan 
Gregg tells a story, Maddie snuggles with Suz, Andrew & Bridgette
Listening to my toasts, John & Janet, Bridgette & Lee

Lots of photos of the birthday girl!!! (nice to be on the other side of the camera for a change): 
cheese & salami plus well-earned 34 year-old forehead wrinkles :)
It's not a party until you've got an open-mouth cheesy photo!
Me and my little man
Mama, Sam & Daddy
 Cake time:
Mile-High Chocolate Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream & Fresh Strawberries (recipe coming tomorrow)

is your mouth watering yet?

Trying not to catch my hair on fire

Sam enjoys the grain-free, sugar-free cake!

Sam hates the attention he gets from my besties

SO thankful for this man!!!

Toasts to the birthday girl:

I think Bridgette might be telling the story about my delirium when sick in the hospital
Maddie gives a toast--the sweetest words ever!!!
This picture pretty much captures our love and pride for Maddie's toast!
Big hugs and big tears in my eyes

He's just delicious. That's all there is to say.

I got lots of kiddo loves that night! Best bday present ever!

Sweet Suz

Lovely Janet

thanking everyone for a MOST lovely night!

Tune in tomorrow for part two. Hope you've enjoyed the photos! I've enjoyed re-living a most wonderful, love-filled, delicious evening.