Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

I know it would be ideal to be sharing heart-healthy, low calorie recipes with you for holiday celebrations, but we have some yummy family favorites that are at least an improvement over the standard options without being really non-fat or low cal. Last week’s date bar recipe—with dates and oats—is a big step up from candy, and today’s recipe, pumpkin bars—with pureed pumpkin—is healthier than traditional cakes or brownies. Besides, they taste great and are always a hit at potlucks and parties!

Pumpkin Bars
(makes 24 medium  or 48 small bars)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine:
1 15-oz can pumpkin
4 eggs
1 and 2/3 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup canola (or other cooking) oil
1/2 cup softened butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

3. Beat until smooth and then pour batter into a well greased, large cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until done. My pan is 17″ by 11″ and the pumpkin batter fits perfectly. A large jelly roll pan also works. If you use a smaller cookie sheet, it won’t all fit without overflowing and burning as it bakes. It can also be baked in a 9″ by 13″ pan, but this makes the bars very thick, and they’d have to be baked longer. (Not to mention, you’d also have super thick frosting with less surface area.) Test it for done-ness just like any cake: It’s done when the top is golden brown, the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, and the top springs back when touched gently (or a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out not wet).

4. When cooled (but it can be still warm) frost with:

Cream Cheese Frosting

Combine in mixer:
5 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
8 oz. softened creamed cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk or cream

Whip in mixer until fluffy, and then spread. The frosting will be quite soft, so use just 1 tablespoon milk if you want it to be thick. (I like it soft because it spreads easier). After frosting, sprinkle a little more cinnamon on the top.

Serve whenever. Warm with ice cream is amazing, but it doesn’t really need ice cream to be great because it’s so moist on its own. If you have a lot left over, refrigerate after the first day or so to retain freshness and consistency.

Psalm 95

O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also.The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” May we come before God’s presence with thanksgiving this holiday season and find our rest in Him!

 

Thanksgiving Through Time

Although we think of Thanksgiving as a day to thank God for life and abundant sustenance, the abundance is only true for some of us, and  what we think of as the first “Thanksgiving,” celebrated by the Pilgrims back in 1621, was actually a very stressful occasion when 90 Indians showed up uninvited to attend the festivities of the 53 surviving Puritans who had managed to last through the first year of life in the new world. The festivities lasted three days and had a frightening impact on the precious stores of corn and staples that the Pilgrims were depending on to help them survive the upcoming winter. Nevertheless, as an act of goodwill and faith, the Pilgrims shared what they had, played games with the Indians, accepted the 5 deer that the Indians brought to add to the feasts, and stopped worrying about survival long enough to embrace the Indians and rejoice together in God’s care. Such was the faith and hospitality of our forefathers, and such was the forbearance and goodwill of the Native Americans, who could easily have killed all the  Pilgrims that day had they wanted to!  My earnest prayer is that every person who reads this has enough to eat today, although I read frightening statistics on those who suffer. In Grand Rapids, anybody can get a good, hot Thanksgiving dinner at Mel Trotter Rescue Mission or Guiding Light Mission down town. I remember about fifteen years ago (when our kids were younger and we had a family band) providing music for Mel Trotter’s free dinner. Over 2,000 turkey dinners were served at the DeVos Convention Center. I’m not sure how many cities are that organized and charitable, but I pray that today people will reach out in faith and hope to embrace those around them who are spiritually and physically needy. God will  provide if we faithfully follow his leading, even during scary times, like the very first Thanksgiving!  By the way, I recently finished listening to a fascinating book by Nathaniel Philbrick called Mayflower, which was among the finalists for a Pulitzer Prize. If you’re interested in American history, this carefully documented account traces the journey of the Puritans, detailing the perils and conflicts that began before their cramped crossing of the Atlantic crammed into the 4-foot-high middle deck of the Mayflower . . . and all the way through the terribly destructive King Philip’s War (1675-1678). Although studying history dispels any illusions of universal peace and goodwill among any nation or tribe, it does have the effect of making me even more appreciative of the relative peace and security in America and around the world today. Despite the terrible accounts of persecution, murder, and war, the entire world is slowly becoming statistically less aggressive and murderous, with fewer violent deaths per capita than earlier times in history (according to the studies of psychologist Steven Pinker). In reflecting on the “why” of this, it occurred to me that it may be the result of the Kingdom of God coming to earth in the person of Christ, who is the Prince of Peace, and the calming effect of true believers (not all those who pose as Christians but are really wolves in sheep’s clothing and destructive) who are “salt and light” in the world. Just one thought, but a happy one! Well, throughout American history—and world history—we have innumerable reasons to be thankful, so I just want to say, “Thank you, Father!”

This is My Father’s World
(—Maltbie Babcock, 1901)

This is my father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres…
This is my father’s world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.
This is my father’s world
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is king, let the heavens ring
God reigns, let the earth be glad.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’ 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,’We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign'” (Revelation 11:15-17).

 

Marshmallow-Smothered Sweet Potatoes

With Thanksgiving coming up in just a few weeks, it seems appropriate to write about family favorites for a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner, and one of my family’s favorites is a sweet potato casserole smothered with toasted marshmallows. It’s super simple but always popular. Here’s how:

Marshmallow-Smothered Sweet Potatoes
(serves about 12±)

3 pounds of canned yams (or baked, peeled, and diced sweet potatoes)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Sprinkling of salt

4 tablespoons butter
10-ounce package of marshmallows (can also use miniature, but full-sized ones look almost irresistible!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. After draining off all but about two tablespoons of the juice from each can, empty both cans of canned yams and their juice into a covered casserole dish, arranging them so they’re as flat as possible (without squashing them).
3. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt evenly over the yams.
4. Bake covered in the oven for 40 minutes.
5. Remove the cover and add a layer of marshmallows over the top.
6. Return the uncovered casserole to the top rack of your oven and bake until the the marshmallows are melting and start to turn a golden brown. This takes approximately 15-20 minutes, but test it carefully and often, because all ovens are a bit different, and the casserole can go from toasty to burned very quickly!
7. Serve immediately, although if you can’t, you can try covering it loosely with aluminum foil. Don’t let the foil touch the marshmallows, though, or they will stick and pull off the beautifully toasted, crusty top!

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,
and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High
” (Psalm 92:1).

Mackinac Island’s 70th Annual Lilac Festival Starts Today!

  Alan and I have been going to Mackinac Island together for over 50 years now, and I try to take him up every year for his birthday. This year the timing worked out to go last weekend, and the lilacs were just beginning to blossom out, so I’m sure it will be spectacular for this year’s       Lilac Festival, which begins today and lasts through Sunday, June 17th.Every day there are over a dozen events planned, and the whole festival culminates in a Grand Parade down Main Street on June 17th…
which also happens to be Father’s Day this year. The weather is predicted to be in the upper 60°s and sunnyish every day,        so if you can afford the time and money and live within driving distance,    it might make a marvelous place to visit this week or to celebrate Father’s Day!  M-185, the 8.2-mile highway circling Mackinac Island, Is (I think?) the only highway in America that doesn’t allow cars, although the quiet road is punctuated with the clippity-clop
of horse hooves now and then. Most years Alan and I walk around the island and bike around too, although over the years we’ve had to make a few compensations to offset the effects of aging. When we were young, we couldn’t afford to stay on the island
(not to mention we weren’t even married the first few years),so we’d just head over for a day, walking in the morning
and riding in the afternoon after a yummy picnic lunch. By our fifties, we could afford to stay overnight and eat at restaurants,
which gave us ample opportunities to rest up between excursions. This year (68th birthday), we noticed that after our 10+ miles of hiking         around the island, enjoying lunch,  walking around town, shopping, and meandering through the gardens at the Grand Hotel, we were too bushed to take a bike ride on the same day!Even worse, there is only one restroom, which is halfway around the island, so if you’ve got an aging bladder, don’t drink a lot of coffee or tea before heading out!Give your body a little time to digest and equilibrate  before your hike,
or you might find concentrating on conversation a little more challenging
at times as you journey to the site of the British Landing!  🙂Over the years, we’ve stayed at a number of different hotels. Many people have a favorite and always go back to the same place, but we love trying new places so often try some particularly good “special.” This year we stayed at the Harbour View Inn. The landscaping, room, and ambience were lovely! The continental breakfast was…adequate. However, unless we’re staying at the Grand, we do have a favorite lunch spot. We almost always have fish at the Village Inn, and the food is always excellent! Have I piqued your interest? It’s never too late to embark on a new adventure!

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

(All photos were taken on Mackinac Island last Saturday, June 2, 2018.)

Have You Found Messiah in the Passover?

      Yesterday Christians around the world celebrated Easter, and so did we!  The most common Christian traditions are attending church as a family, a special festive dinner together, and an Easter egg hunt, where everyone searches for brightly-colored Easter eggs (usually hard-boiled chicken eggs). . .       as well as various types of candy, in particular, chocolate Easter bunnies!  We enjoyed all these activities, and it was a wonderful time of worship and celebration. However, what many Christians (and Jews) don’t realize is that the day Jesus was crucified—which we call Good Friday—is also the Feast of Passover for Jews. And, Easter Sunday—when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ— is also the Feast of First Fruits.   Did you know that? If you’re like me, you may not have known this, or at least fully appreciated the significance of these facts. Jesus was the Passover Lamb. God provided his own son as the sacrificial lamb, like the ram God provided for Abraham nearly 4,000 years ago to substitute for his son Isaac. The Passover lamb, sacrificed by the Israelites 3,500 years ago on the night before they fled Egypt, looked forward to the time when the Lamb of God would be sacrificed, once for all, to bring each of us from spiritual bondage and death into freedom and spiritual, eternal life. That is the day when Jesus died on the cross.  Messiah in the Passover, edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, is a landmark reference book for the Church to connect us to our spiritual roots, deepen our love for God, the Jewish people and our Messiah, and to teach us how to “experience the joy of celebrating Messiah in the Passover in our own homes and churches.”

Nearly eighteen scholars contribute chapters explaining the fulfillment of Old Testament patterns in the life of Christ, shedding brilliant light on the symbolism surrounding the life and death of Jesus as the Messiah and giving even more depth to our understanding of communion, which was first established at the time of our Lord’s last supper (which was also the Passover Seder that Jews still celebrate today).

As one outstanding example of what the book teaches: One of the central aspects of the Jewish Seder involves taking three sheets of matzah (unleavened bread) and inserting them in three compartments of a special bag, known as the matzah tash. At one point in the evening ritual, the father (or leader) takes the middle sheet of matzah and breaks it in two. He replaces half but wraps the other half in a white napkin and hides it somewhere in the house. (As a game, the children are supposed to look for it.)   This hidden half is known as the afikoman, which is found and distributed in small pieces to everyone as “dessert” after the meal, but it’s literal derivation is from the Greek and means “the one who has come,” a clear reference to the Messiah. Matzah is a flat bread, made without any leaven (which is symbolic of sin in the Bible). It is also striped and pierced. For Christians, the symbolism cries out so loudly it gives me goosebumps! The three matzahs are perfectly symbolic of the triune nature of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The middle sheet is broken and half of it is hidden. Jesus was crucified and buried. After three days (at the end of the meal), he “comes again” (is  resurrected) and distributed to all. Jesus was like the matzah. He was sinless (without leaven). He was striped (lashed) and pierced (by the nails and sword). He was hidden for three days but then rose again.  His life has been distributed to all who will accept it. As Jesus said at the Last Supper, “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you (Luke 18:19-20). What a clear message: Jesus was the Messiah, offering himself as the Passover Lamb, crucified on the Passover, and raised again on the Feast of First Fruits. If you are Jewish or have Jewish friends, this makes the Gospel so accessible. May we all find Messiah in the Passover!   Beyond many very scholarly articles explaining the Old and New Testament teaching about the Messiah, there are a couple of chapters dedicated to sharing everything you need to know about how to conduct your own Passover Seder. There are complete recipes for all the most common dishes (I published one for Matzah Ball Soup two days ago), and they give permission to anyone who would like to run off copies of the order of service for their personal use. There are additional resources available at their website:

https://www.messiahinthepassover.com/

Think about it! I hope you get the book and learn more about finding Jesus, the Messiah, in the Passover. Next year, I’m hoping either to participate in a Seder or hold my own! As Gentile believers, I think we’re missing out on a great blessing if we fail to enjoy this marvelous feast that God gave (all of) his children thousands of years ago. Let’s connect with our spiritual roots and begin enjoying the privileges of His communions!

Speaking of the Messiah (and fulfilled in Christ), the Bible records: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

(Last photo shared by my spiritual sister, Elizabeth, from her family Seder. It’s not exactly like the one you can download from  https://www.messiahinthepassover.com/  but serves as a lovely example! Thank you, Elizabeth! Our German daughter, Gerlinde, taught us one of the German Lutheran traditions of sharing a lamb cake to teach that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next year, Gerlinde and I are hoping to organize a Good Friday Seder for our family as well! Thank you, Gerlinde!)

Corned Beef and Cabbage: Traditional St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

Many of us with a little Irish heritage like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every March 17th with a special dinner of Corned Beef and Cabbage, which we’ve grown up believing is a very traditional Irish dinner. (However, my daughter-in-law, Gerlinde, who grew up in Germany but with an Irish mother, had never eaten it before I served it the other night, so perhaps it’s not as traditional as I thought! 🙂  )   Nevertheless, it’s become quite traditional in America—from the East Coast to Hawaii—so I thought this might be a good week to publish our home brew in time for St. Patrick’s Day.  Corned beef can be roasted in oven and is great when smothered with caramelized onions.  However, the most common method is to boil it.  Some folks prefer throwing out the salty broth for fear of preservatives  (check with  your local butcher to see how it’s been brined if you’re concerned), but corned beef can be made simply by being heavily salted and isn’t necessarily full of other preservatives.  Personally, the old-fashioned stew is our family favorite:

St. Patrick’s Traditional Corn Beef and Cabbage Stew
(Serves 6-10, depending on how many children or adults you’re serving!)

2.5 to 3 pound corned beef brisket (with a packet of seasonings)  Add the packet of seasonings and  bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 2 hours (or use an instant pot for a much shorter period of time). You can drain the water off at that point and refill the pan until the corned beef is covered again (which I don’t personally do). Either way, the next step is to add veggies:6-10 potatoes
1 pound carrots
3-6 whole onions
1 cabbage chopped into 6-10 chunks
Then, add more seasonings (whether or not you’ve drained the water and refilled the pan):
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Lawry Seasoning Salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon parsley
2 bay leaves
(If you drained the water, add another teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon dill seed)
Bring to a boil again and simmer for another hour. If you have some fresh bread and  butter to go along with it, you’ve got a hearty meal fit for any Irish American …or probably anybody else. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!  🙂

“For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth” (Isaiah 38:18-19).

The Art of Life

How is your January coming? Have you noticed that it takes a certain amount of leisure to be meditative and creative? I have to confess that between all the marvelous company (beginning November 21 and lasting into January, which made me extremely happy but exhausted) and a strangling cold that wouldn’t relinquish its grip until Alan and I went on a two-week cruise through the Panama Canal (where we rested in healing, sunny, 82° sea breezes)…until these past two months came and went, I’ve been so focused on living that there’s been precious little time for meditative reflection or writing. Have you also noticed how valuable it is to take a step back from your daily routines every once in a while to gain perspective and recalibrate your spirit?  During our break, I was encouraged by these words from Leonardo da Vinci: “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment…Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.”*  Isn’t that the truth…not only for the creative genius of a Renaissance man, but for the creative art of making our lives a work of beauty and goodness?   I’m well, refreshed and ready to begin anew. Here is my first offering…a little poem that came to me while enjoying this peaceful Pacific sunrise last week:

Light

I long to write a poem:
Simple.
Elegant.
Filled with God.

Even more, I long to be a poem:
So filled with light that all are drawn to the Light.
So beautiful that those who draw near are also warmed and filled.
So deep that even eternity will not end our unity.

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7)

 Jesus prayed, “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23).

(*The three middle photos weren’t taken in Central America but from a different vacation, with our two youngest sons, while visiting da Vinci’s residence in Amboise, France known as Clos Lucé.)