Friday, December 30, 2011

Foodie Friday - Yonanas!

Our family had a very Yonana's Christmas. You've seen the incredibly cheesy yet intriguing infomercial for Yonanas, right?  It's the machine that turns frozen bananas into an all-natural ice cream-like treat.

You've wondered if it's any good, haven't you?

My mother-in-law bought every one in the family a Yonanas machine for Christmas. My kids - especially my middle school daughter - couldn't wait to try ours out.  So we made a batch on Christmas ... and every day since then. 

So yes, it's actually good.

Start with very ripe bananas: the brown-spotted ones you can find super cheap at the grocery store. (Or, the kind you can find in your fruit bowl if you don't much like them plain and aren't addicted to PB&B sandwiches like I am.)

Peel them, then freeze them in a zip lock. Preferably overnight. Once frozen, break them in half.

To make a serving of the super creamy treat, I push half to 3/4 a banana through the machine, followed by any additional ingredients like frozen berries, then the other half of the banana. So far I've mixed banana with blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. I've also done it with pineapple and mango.

It comes with a recipe book with flavors like Mint Chocolate Chip and Blackberry Vanilla Bean. I'm looking forward to trying some fresh frozen peach in this in the summer. In fact, I bet it will taste amazing when fruit is in season. Right now you may want to sprinkle on a little sweetener as you push them through the chute.

The machine is simple and very easy to clean. The only drawback is that it's pretty loud when it's on. You don't want to run this when the toddler is napping. Or when the teenager is still sleeping. Although I've found it gets mine happily out of bed.

Bottom line: The machine can be a little pricey ($50) if it's not given to you or found on sale. But it does make good stuff with past-prime bananas. It feels and tastes like a creamy frozen dessert. Perhaps you could accomplish something similar with your blender or food processor but we are bananas for Yonanas here in the Olsen house.

I linked up today over at Ann Kroeker's Friday food tour.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mirth is of Heaven's Making

"Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the twenty-fifth of this month, that the Divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day; and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making."

~ Leigh Hunt
Today I am enjoying mirth with my family. We're playing games from under the tree, like Blokus and Just Dance for the Wii. We are feasting on the breakfast casserole I made, as well as the cool creamy deliciousness (banana, mango, strawberry) from the Yonanas maker my mother-in-law gave us.

And I'm giving thanks to the Divinest Heart born this day. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eve of it All

Christmas is the single day that holds all of time together. That makes today the eve of the greatest peripety the world has ever known. A seismic spiritual shift. A permanent trading of destinies.

A glorious light has come that can never be extinguished, not even on the darkest night.

Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill towards men!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You Won't Miss Christmas

I have a devotion publishing today at Encouragement for Today about the man who almost missed Christmas. Can you figure out who that was? Pop over and read it if you haven't yet.

My hope is that it will bring you some hope this Christmas, no matter how things are shaping up at this point in the week.

I always have an idyllic notion of Christmas in my head. Maybe it's because I was raised in family that owned a chain of Hallmark stores. Or maybe it's because I've seen too many holiday movies on the Hallmark channel. (Anybody but me have a slight addiction to sappy, sweet holiday stories?)

I don't expect my actual holidays to match the idyllic ones I dream up in my head. Nonetheless I also never consider that I might spend Christmas sick with the flu.  Or having a car accident that nearly totaled my car days before Christmas. Or getting stuck in a snow storm. Yet each of those have happened to me and gave me the distinct feeling that I might miss Christmas that year.

Of course it's impossible to miss Christmas when He is in your midst. That's the beauty of Emmanuel.

Leave a prayer request for whatever issues you are facing, or whatever Christmas plans you are making and I'll pray for you today. As you leave your comment, read the one posted ahead of yours and pray for them too. Because where three or more gather in His Name, He has promised to be in their midst. Merry Christmas!

PS. For a little Christmas gift to you, your figure and your health, see my last post. Just had to share the bargain!

Need to Exercise More?

I finally found something I've been searching for years for - I love it when that happens. Only thing better is being able to share it - at a bargain price - with someone else.

I've owned a treadmill forever. I've walked on it with books. I've jogged on it while watching movies. I've run on it with my iPod. But what I've longed for is a video that would simulate being outside running some trail in a beautiful place. I found Virtual Active's 35 minute videos that take you running, or hiking or cycling in stunning locales.  Here, see what I mean.

That one is at running pace. This next one is a little slower at a walk/hike pace. This next one also shows the two options you have between guided workouts (which means a "coach" will periodically give you tips and suggestions) and basic (which means just the scenery). I've only bought the basic since I just wanted it for the scenery.

 Pacific Northwest Hike - Preview from Virtual Active on Vimeo.

I've downloaded six of them so far. To my surprise, my favorite of the six is the American Northeast run. I also enjoy the otherworldly feel of the American Southwest 2 run.

As you can tell, the videos have a techno music with them. Many also have some nature sounds mixed in. So when you run past Niagara falls or on the shore of Lake Tahoe, you hear the water in addition to the music. I like that. While I'm not a big techno music fan, I generally haven't minded the music in these. It keeps you going.

The other thing that keeps you going is the fact the the scenery changes about every 5 1/2 minutes. That's a perfect switch-it-up frequency to keep it interesting. It makes me want to press on to see where this next trail will lead to - they always lead to gorgeous vistas.

Wild California Run - Preview from Virtual Active on Vimeo.

The only downside I've found so far is that a couple of the videos (the Swiss Alps run I recall) have a song on the soundtrack I dislike. It's mostly instrumental but the beat is a little edgier than I want it to be and there is a line that is mumbled in the song about "the devil's playground." It ruins the moment for me as I feel it's the exact opposite of the stunning scenery. So I'm going to create my own soundtrack to play on my iPod while I do those videos. (The DVDs let you turn the music off if you wish and just hear location sounds.)

I talked with the company recently to suggest a Hawaii run, which they said they already have in the works. And they offered to give my readers a discount. If you purchase anything from their site before the end of the year, just enter the code rachelolsen and you'll get 10% off the entire order. That means you can try one of these downloads for about $7 or a DVD for about $18.

If you have a piece of stationary exercise equipment, this is a fun tool for getting or staying in shape this winter. (Can't you use that after all this holiday eating?!) Or take these to the gym on your iPad. Oh, and if you happen to try their California Wine Tour videos, let me know how you like it because I want to try that next.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Source of Beauty

I'm thinking about beauty today.  For no other reason that it is a beautiful day out, and the world is awash in the celebration of the coming of Christ. I think that's beautiful. 

I think He is beautiful. Perhaps no more so than when he hung - beaten, bloody, suffering - on the cross. When I hear myself say that, my rational mind says eww, but my heart says "yes."

Pondering this, 2 Corinthians 1:4-5 comes to mind:

"[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When others are troubled, we will be able to give the the same comfort God has given us.  You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ."

And I think of what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said:

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”   

Beautiful people are created by the trials they live through, the way they live through them, and how they use those experiences to love and comfort others. Our trails can either harden us or purify us.

In It's No Secret I wrote: "So it is with our trails. They're intense, and often last longer than we think we can endure. It hurts when God uses His shaping and buffing tools on our lives via our trials. Yet we can emerge stronger, more beautiful, more Christ-reflecting and more valuable to God and others as a result."

So that's what I'm thinking about beauty today.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Baker's Wife review

As an ameture foodie and a serious bibliophile, I love when these two passions come together. In other words, I love foodie novels.  I just finished one and started another.

The one I recently finished is The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy. It's an enjoyable Christian suspense/mystery with a supernatural element to it.  Supernatural elements appear to be a gathering trend in Christian novels.

But it does not dominate the story in this one.

In this one, the paranormal element is that the main character, the baker's wife, has the ability to physically feel other people's pain. Not everyone's pain, just the people that God intends her to help or serve in some way. So it functions as a means of God speaking to her and directing her to people who need His help.

It elevates the notion that pain is a gift (see Phillip Yancy and Dr. Paul Brand) to a whole new level.

Here's the story's set-up:

Before Audrey was the baker's wife, she was the pastor's wife. Then a scandalous lie cost her husband a pastoral career. Now the two work side-by-side running a bakery, serving coffee, and baking fresh bread. But the hurt still pulls at Audrey.

Early one morning on her way to the bakery, Audrey's car strikes something at a fog-shrouded intersection. She finds a crumpled motor scooter belonging to a local teacher. Blood is everywhere, but there's no trace of a body.  As the story unfolds, Audrey has no choice but to work with a soul-damaged ex-con and a cynical teen to solve the mystery of the missing body and clear her name. But she'll never manage that unless she taps into something she would rather leave behind - her excruciating ability to feel other's pain.

Naturally, my favorite parts of this novel were the descriptions of the couple baking all kinds of bread at home on their days off. No bread machines here - all from scratch and by hand. They did, however, use their dishwasher as a steam bath for the loaves! I also adored the description of the large, wood-fired brick oven they later used in their retail bakery kitchen.

See some of what I'm referring to in this section of the novel on Google books.

Just so happened I read the description of their wood-fired oven while on the way to visit my brother up north. And he'd just had a brick oven built in his backyard. Yes, I know - how very Gwyneth Paltrow of him.  I tried to keep my jealousy to a minimum as we ate homemade pizzas from his oven, poolside.

Also while reading this one, I visited the region of California that makes this novel's setting. An area famous for thick car-accident-causing fog, which figures prominently in this suspense.

Healy handles each element of this story just as deftly as she does the bread description. She weaves her characters and plot lines together intricately and well.

At times the antagonist (aka the bad guy) in the story felt a little one dimensional, but then bad guys usually are. At least in stories.  The rest of the main characters are well developed - complete with hurts, hopes, dreams and fears. Together they manage to find their way out of a horrific experience and teach us some lessons about judgement, grace, and trusting God.

If you like inspirational mystery/suspense, I bet you'll like this one. And if you like foodie novels, this one will make you want to bake some bread. Adding to the power of the book, last week I was on the phone with my agent who is learning to make french loaves from scratch.  So I can feel a major bread baking obsession coming on.

Before you go, see my last post - Gift Ideas from the Bookstore - for an idea on turning this novel into a great Christmas gift for a book-lover or bread-lover you know. And if you read The Baker's Wife, let us know what you thought of it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gift ideas from the bookstore

Thanks for stopping by today. A quick look around here and you'll know at least two things about me: I'm a word lover, and a lover of the Word Made Flesh. So with this post I'm offering a few holiday gift ideas that mix the two.

First off, let me say a great place to discover Christian fiction is over at She Reads. You'll find my review of the new Melody Carlson novel The Christmas Shoppe posted over there today. Pop over, check it out, and comment there to win a copy of the novel.

You'll also find my review of Dan Walsh's holiday novel Remembering Christmas posted here on my blog. Either of these novels would make a sweet present tucked into a gift bag with a festive tin of hot cocoa  - something like this one from Williams & Sonoma. Maybe add some peppermint candy stirring sticks - like these from Dillards. Or a faux fur throw to read underneath - I love these which are currently at half price at Macy's (but a snuggie would work too).

Got a girlfriend who loves football?  I have a couple! Create the same gift above but use the novel The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren. Better yet, replace the cocoa with red and green tortilla chips and some salsa for game day. And find a throw with her favorite team's logo.

Got a girlfriend who loves mystery or suspense? Grab a basket, fill it with a couple of fresh loaves of bread - maybe one sweet and one savory - and a copy of The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy. You can put a little jar of local honey in the basket too. I'll post my review of this novel later this week.

Have a young boy on your gift list? I highly recommend The Action Bible. It's a Bible done in comic book style with terrific color illustrations. My elementary-school son loves his.

It's hard to pick out a Bible for someone else, but one that I've given as a gift to both men and women is the C.S. Lewis Bible. I have one that lives on my treadmill where I sometimes do my quiet time - admittedly it's not all that quiet on those days. But if you know someone is a Lewis fan or a Narnia fan, package this Bible with the DVD set of the movies.  This could even be a gift for a pastor.

Got a foodie on your list? Get some butcher paper and wrap up a new cookbook (such as The New Best Recipe, or one specialized to her tastes ... Italian cooking, Farm-to-Table, Gluten-free, etc.). Include a devotional book too (like this one or this one) and a card with the "man does not live by bread alone but by every word that come out of the mouth of God" quote from Deut. 8:3 or Matthew 4:4.  Oh, and tell her she has to have you over when she makes one of the recipes!

Finally, if your girlfriend is more of a non-fiction fan, may I suggest a copy of It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know wrapped up with a pretty journal and some Starbucks' Christmas blend coffee? This cover is ready made in Christmas colors.

Got any books you like to give as gifts, or one you're hoping to receive this Christmas? ... do tell.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Christmas Tree 2011

Over on Facebook (are you and I friends on FB?) a few people asked to see photos of my Christmas tree. Hence, today's post.

I put my tree up this year the Sunday before Thanksgiving. What, too soon you think?  I've been quite pleased with that decision so far. So here is this year's rendition of the tree:

Every year my tree is a little different. Ok, some years it is a lot different - I have a husband that is patient with my Christmas tree love.  I'm also a logophile (word lover), so that played into this year's theme.

The whole thing started from a spool of ribbon I found on sale. I knew my kids would love this ribbon, and they do. It set the tone for a slightly more whimsical tree than recent years. It also dictated the green, red and gold color scheme - not surprising colors for a Christmas tree.


I made the bow - googled how to do it, watched a couple videos and voila. It was easy.

I added the red spikey branch things for drama. My tree always has to have a little drama. Just to be clear, I like drama in my tree and novels, but notsomuch in my relationships.

OK, your turn. What's your tree style?  I'd love to see pics of your tree. If you've posted photos online please tell me how to get there! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Remembering Christmas review

Today I’m featured at Karen Ehman’s blog in her 12 Days of Christmas … which is really twelve days of giveaways. I’ll be giving away a copy of my book It’s No Secret, a $10 Starbucks gift card, and a copy of the new Christmas novel Remembering Christmas.

I recently finished reading Remembering Christmas by Dan Walsh – here’s my review. 

Rick Denton is climbing the corporate ladder as an accountant and enjoying his bachelorhood. It’s Thanksgiving and he is thankful to have left his childhood home in Florida years ago – he has little interest in going back to visit his mother and step-dad now. That’s exactly what he must do, however, when his mom calls with news of her husband’s aneurysm. She needs his help managing their small Christian bookstore while she keeps vigil in the hospital.

Rick is out of his element in Seabreeze, FL. He doesn’t do small town. And he doesn’t do Christian. He hardly does compassion. What he thought would be a few days has stretched into weeks. And his heart – towards God and family – is being stretched in the process.

Remember the age of cassette tapes and pay phones? Set in the 1980s, Remembering Christmas is a heart-warming story by best-selling author Dan Walsh. It takes place during the holidays but this novel could really be read any time of the year. In fact, the cover photo and title led me to expect more "Christmasness" in this story than was actually there – but it is there.

And maybe that’s the strength of this novel. It’s not a mittens-and-kittens holiday novel. Remembering Christmas is a story about broken relationships – complete with misconceptions, unresolved feelings and distorted memories. But it's also a sweet story about reconciliation and slowing down to experience the true treasures of life. I can’t think of a better time of the year for that.

The main character in the book is a male – that’s a switch from most of the fiction we read over at She Reads. But his tale is told through a narrator, so we don’t spend the whole novel in Rick’s head. (Not that I would mind that.) Rick seems an accurate portrayal – a well drawn character.

Also, I will tell you this story has a twist. But I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll just have to read it. I will say that it stays with me.

Former pastor turned author Dan Walsh said, "I wanted to bring an inspirational, entertaining Christmas story to life. One that, hopefully, will stir hearts and minds to consider what matters most during the holiday season." He has done that in this tale.

I can confidently recommend Dan’s book if you want a holiday read, and mine if you want something to embolden your walk with God. So be sure and pop over to Karen’s blog and comment to win.  And if you win, tell me what you order with your Starbuck’s card – I love hearing what people order at the coffee counter. Currently I'm all into their crème brulee latte.