Vegan Strawberry Banana Muffins with Coconut Oil {recipe}

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Sunday marked the first week of the triodion, which means Great Lent is right around the corner.  I’ve been scouring my cookbooks for our favorite lenten dishes and adding them to my new handy dandy meal planning binder (details coming soon!).

On our most recent trip to a local farm for produce, the boys did some strawberry picking and I wanted to bake something with all of the deliciously fresh strawberries we brought home.  I had recently run across a recipe for these strawberry banana muffins on Love, Joleen Photography and they sounded simply delicious.  So, I whipped up a batch.  My favorite part of this recipe is that it calls for coconut oil.  I’ve been trying to cook and bake more often with coconut oil because it seems I’m hearing more and more about the benefits of it.  Plus, it’s great for non-oil days!

Vegan Strawberry Banana Muffins

(recipe yields approx. 18 muffins)

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (can also use all-purpose flour or half and half)
  • 2 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large and very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 tbs. light brown sugar
  • ½ cup coconut oil, melted
  • ½ cup organic unsweetened applesauce
  • ¾ cup diced strawberries, stems removed
  • cinnamon & sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)

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Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, sift and mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and the salt.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, brown sugar, coconut oil, and the applesauce.
4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and fold into the dry ingredients until everything is just combined. Fold in the strawberries. Do not over mix!
5. Line a muffin tin with muffin liners. Lightly spray them with a bit of cooking spray. Scoop the batter into each mold until each is about ¾ of the way full. Sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on top of each muffin if desired.
6. Bake for about 13-15 minutes until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

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 I made these last week for our drive to Orlando and they were the perfect snack.  The muffins were not crumbly at all and the kids loved them!

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fresh & organic.

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i want to thank all of you who reached out and left comments or sent private emails after my through His strength, i am fearless post. you guys are incredible and the personal stories, thoughts and prayers you sent my way mean so very much to me. i can’t tell you how touched i was, and still am, by all of your kindness. i seriously love you all to pieces. ❤

for those of you wondering what’s going on…my endoscopy proved to be uneventful. there is nothing going on in my esophagus or digestive system, but the lump they saw in the scans is outside of my esophagus and is definitely pressing in on it, causing the difficulty swallowing and the “something is stuck in my throat” feeling i’ve been having. i have another appointment on march 5 where they’ll do another scope but there will be a needle on the end that will go through the esophagus into the lump and will remove tissue to biopsy.

with all of those recent issues, i’m trying to be even more aware of what we are putting into our bodies. [Read more…]

through His strength, i am fearless.

through His strength, i am fearless.

it’s been a roller coaster couple of months for me. it all started about three months ago with a phone call from my doctor’s office saying they found something near my breastbone on a recent chest x-ray. the doctor ordered it because of a persistent cough i’ve had and the occasional feeling that something was stuck in my throat, causing difficulty in swallowing.

naturally, my thoughts turn toward the worst. every time you turn around someone else has some type of cancer or disease, it seems like that’s all you hear nowadays. i believe our diets and the harmful additives in the foods we eat are one of the main causes of this.

last year, a dear friend of mine from Chicago went to venerate the relics of the Precious Cross that were brought to the US from Greece. These particular relics are known for having countless miracles worked through them. the priest who brought them over suggested people bring tshirts or blankets to bless over them. my friend did this and was kind enough to bless us with a tiny receiving blanket that was placed on the relics. i had started to sleep with the blanket on my chest and took it with me and laid it on top of me during my ct scan.

a long, drawn out two days later, they called with the results. there was definitely a soft tissue mass but it was not near my breastbone. they now thought it was somehow related to my esophagus. this relieved me a little bit. i had been praying ceaselessly for the intercessions of the Theotokos and Sts. Panteleimon and Nektarios and felt at peace knowing they, along with so many other people were praying for me. i never, ever underestimate the power of prayer… deep down, i know that it will be ok. i do. but at the same time, i pray for God’s will, whatever that might be. i know and believe that all things are done for the salvation of our souls and though, i pray that this will be nothing, i want it to be of His will, not my own.

whenever doubt tries to poke it’s ugly head back into my thoughts, i fight back with the Jesus prayer. and you know what? because of His strength, i am fearless. only through His strength.

it’s common for greeks, and other orthodox cultures, to make tama’s when praying for something. so, i made a tama to recite the agni parthene every day. it’s something that i’ve wanted to memorize for a long time now but never made the effort. that hymn is beautiful beyond words. it also felt appropriate since it was written by St. Nektarios. i always find comfort in the promises of God and His saints, so when i read this quote (last paragraph below) by St. Nektarios in the back of a little book called, Unrivaled Protectress, i found comfort yet again.

“When you read my hymns to our Lady, the Theotokos, raise your mind and heart unto Her, the most-compassionate Mother of the Lord, and you will obtain Her swift help and aid.” -St. Nektarios

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the next step was to order an esophagram, which confirmed there was something there causing blockage when I swallow. only they weren’t sure if it was actually in my esophagus or on the outside somewhere and putting pressure on it. so then, they ordered an endoscopy. this is when i started getting nervous again. just the thought that there is really something there, is surreal. and of course, as much as i warn others never to read webmd, i caught myself googling symptoms. esophageal cancer was the most common thing that pulled up. this is why i warn people of this, everyone is dying according to webmd. :/

i was scheduled on new year’s eve, but due to a nasty flu had to reschedule. this time they pushed me all the way into february. february 11. i hung up feeling so down at having to wait over an entire month to even have the test done, let alone get the results. i wanted to cry but told myself i had to have faith. God probably just wanted to drag this on for as long as possible because i’ve been praying harder than i have in a long time… He probably figures now that He has my full attention, He’ll try and keep it that way for awhile.

after i hung up, i walked over to the calendar and flipped to february. i always like to see what saints are being celebrated, especially when we have important appointments, etc. i read that st. blaise (Vlasios in greek) of sebaste is celebrated on february 11. st. Blaise of sebaste? why did that name sound familiar?

now, a couple of weeks before all of this happened, my mother-in-law was telling me that someone had told her there was a saint who was known to help with allergies but she couldn’t remember his name. i told her i had a little booklet at home with the names of a bunch of different saints who interceded for all sorts of uncommon issues and that i would check to see if his name was listed there. i looked through it later that night, but there was nothing for allergies.

the name st. blaise kept running through my mind, so i grabbed the little booklet from off of the end table where i had left it that day and began to thumb through it. sure enough, there he was. st. blaise of sebaste commemorated february 11. known to be an intercessor for throat ailments. now i did start crying. i thanked God for showing me this little mercy. it’s mercies like this that keep me going.

i immediately did a paraklesis thanking Panagia for Her prayers, because i know it is Her whispering into Her Son’s ear for my healing. of this, i have no doubt. i can’t explain the peace that washed over me in that moment.

so now here i am, another month and a half later, finally going for my endoscopy. during my consultation the doctor also found a goiter when checking my thyroid and scheduled me for a thyroid unltrasound this week later this week. (i guess i am going to get to know st. vlasios very well :) )during the appointment, he basically told me to be prepared for anything. it is what it is, i guess. i trust in God and know that whatever He wills is for my salvation. + may He give me patience and strength, and if necessary, the gift of long-suffering. +

and you know what? regardless of the outcome, i’m honestly glad that this happened. it was a much needed reality check for me; an eye exam for my spirit. it’s sad that when you sit and think about how mortal we really are, every moment seems that much more amazing. listening to my children laugh, having my husband tug on my ponytail when he jokes with me, feeling the wind blow and the sun shine-it all takes on a brand new kind of feeling. this is what they mean when they say ‘live like you’re dying.’ life is so much more beautiful when you stop to appreciate it. and i hope i can hang on to this feeling forever.

but glory to God for His mercy and the intercessions of His saints. glory to God for these trials and struggles and for letting me know that He hasn’t forgotten about me. glory to God for ALL things. if you’re so inclined, please whisper a prayer for me today…through the intercessions of St. Vlasios.

Blaise

Hieromartyr and holy unmercenary Blaise (Vlasios Greek: Βλάσιος) was a physician and Bishop of Sebaste (modern day Sivas, Armenia). By divine grace, he healed the diseases of men and beasts, especially infants, which made his name extremely famous. He contested for the faith under Licinius in the year 316 along with the two children and seven women martyred with him. St. Blaise is invoked for the healing of throat ailments. He is commemorated by the church February 11.

This brief excerpt of his life can be found here on the Antiochian Archdiocese’s website:

St. Blaise was born in the province of Armenia, and was a physician by profession. Such was his reputation for holiness that his fellow-citizens elected him Bishop of Sebaste in eastern Anatolia. Though there were few Christians in that pagan city, the bishop labored tirelessly for his flock, encouraging them to stand firm during the fierce persecutions then raging, and visiting the martyrs in prison.

When the city was stripped of Christians, all of whom had fled or been killed, the bishop, already an old man, withdrew to a cave on Mount Argea and devoted himself entirely to prayer. The wild beasts sensed his sanctity, and gathered around the cave, waiting quietly for him to give his blessing or heal their injuries and ailments.

The persecutors, who had not stopped hunting for the bishop, eventually found the cave, and were amazed to find it like a second Eden, with lions, tigers, bears and wolves grazing peacefully around it. The Saint greeted them cheerfully and told them that he knew from a vision that they were coming for him.

As Blaise was taken back to Sebaste, the peace and gentleness that seemed to radiate from him were enough in themselves to turn many pagan bystanders to faith in Christ. Diseases of men and animals were cured as he walked by. One mother brought him her child, who was choking on a fishbone. The Saint put his hand down the child’s throat, took out the fishbone, and prayed to the Lord to restore him to full health.

At his trial, the holy bishop fearlessly confessed Christ and scorned the idols, for which he was savagely beaten with rods and thrown into a dungeon. Seven women and two of their children were imprisoned with him. The women were slain first after many tortures. The Synaxarion reads, “Having failed in his efforts to break St. Blaise’s resolve, Agricolaus [the governor] condemned him to be drowned in the lake. The holy Martyr made the sign of the Cross at the water’s edge and began walking across the surface of the lake as the Savior had done on the Sea of Galilee. On reaching the middle, he invited the pagans to join him, if they believed they could trust themselves to their gods. Sixty-eight of them took up the challenge and drowned, while a bright angel appeared and invited the Saint to return to the shore in order to receive the crown of glory.” St. Blaise and the two young children were then beheaded together.

St. Blaise is one of the most-venerated holy healers in both the East and the West. He is called upon for protection from wild beasts, and for the healing of every kind of ailment. His head is kept at the Monastery of Konstamonitou on Mount Athos.

almsgiving and its reward

monk-at-prayer

The following was printed in the January/February edition of the Orthodox Heritage.  It was taken from book Family Life, written by Elder Paisios the Athonite.  The first line of this story really hit me…

Below are two of my favorite book on Elder Paisios’  life and writings.

this book can be purchased at www.orthodoxchristianchildren.com

this book can be purchased at www.orthodoxchristianchildren.com

this book can be purchased at www.orthodoxchristianchildren.com

this book can be purchased at www.orthodoxchristianchildren.com

Tender Care for our Neighbors Helps the Family

People today will have as many problems as the amount of material goods they acquire.  They neither thank God for His benefactions, nor notice the grief of their fellow man that they may provide some kind of charity. They squander what they have and don’t even think their neighbor who does not even have enough to eat. How can the Grace of God come after such things? The head of a family therefore must manage his things to set aside something in order to give alms. He should say to his wife and children that in such and such a place there is a certain sick, homeless person, or some poor family who is in great need. If they don’t have money to give, let them say, “Let’s at least give a Christian book, as we have so many.” In giving to those who have need, they do well both to the needy and to their family.

In Russia the poor faithful are in such great need! I once gave a little box of incense to a Russian priest and told him: “a humble gift.”

“You really consider this to be a poor gift?” he says to me. “Our incense is…Cough-cough.”

And here in Greece, how greatly the refugees suffer! In Halkidiki I saw a refugee, a tile setter, who made only a dollar a square meter. He said, “Glory to be, O God, that we have bread.” For that reason, when a certain contractor told me that in his line of work they were burdened by many sins, I told him,”If you will support those refugees and help them financially, you will be unburdened of your sins. They have nowhere to live. Compared to them you are like Onassis.”

In order for us to practice the virtues, God allows there to be the sick, the poor, etc. He could have taken care of everyone, both the sick and the poor, but then we would have had the illusion that we were virtuous people. For example, we would have said that we were all merciful while we are not, whereas now our works make clear our virtues. Glory to God that people exist to sacrifice themselves for their fellow man. I knew someone who, as soon as he was released from the military, accepted to be unjustly convicted of a great crime in order to save a family. He neither considered the ridicule nor his future.

Everywhere IHG how God takes care to ensure that at least one member of each family has faith and piety, that the others will be helped! I knew a family in Konitsa in which, all but one person was completely indifferent towards the Church. Only one daughter was different. As soon as she heard the churchbell her feet flew; she would leave halfway through her chores and go to church. Moreover, even when the Germans came, when the church caretaker rang the bell for the people took flee their homes, she instead went to church for Vespers!

Although she was also very charitable, her parents were totally stingy. Her father, instead of eating food, would eat a dry rusk which he would dip in a little water; and her mother was very tightfisted! Even when her children had good jobs and were well-off, to light a fire she would grab a smoldering ember from the fireplace and light it up with bug spray, so as not to waste a match! For a coffee pot she used an old tin can. When I was at Stomiou monastery, because her mother loved me so much, if her daughter wanted to take something from their house to give to the poor and couldn’t do it secretly, she would say: “mother, the monk wants this.” “Give it, give it to him,” she would tell her. Only for the monks what her mother not get angry.

Even during the German occupation the girl secretly helped the poor. She would take me from the family pantry, carry it to the nail, grind it, and then distributed to the poor families. Once she was caught by her mother who grabbed her. She then prayed, “My God, help me to find a job and to give all my earnings as alms.” The next day a certain establishment called for her. Oh, the joy she had! She kept her vow too: she didn’t even buy herself a pair of socks from her wages; she gave it all as alms. How many people now say to her: “God save you, and bless the bones of your parents! “You see, through her alms, God even took care of her mother.

orthodox mom unplugged: are you addicted to your smart phone?

Orthodox Mom Unplugged

am i the only one who feels like they have a technological addiction??

between writing posts for this blog and the three others i write for, going back and forth with emails from editors, readers, friends and family, advertising my posts on facebook, instagram and twitter, the new book i’m working on, and two big projects i’m trying to organize, it seems like i am constantly on either my phone, ipad or laptop. and honestly, that’s not even all of it.  i cook from recipes saved to my ipad, read books in ibooks, and about a million other things.  last week, i caught myself using all three at the same time!  it’s completely unnerved me lately.

so, i am officially unplugging myself this week.  and maybe next, too.  sometimes, i just wonder how much time i really waste being connected. i guess i just need a break, all of this technology is beginning to feel like more work than it’s worth and i’m not liking that feeling very much.

whenever dh starts nagging me about being on my phone (it’s the biggest culprit) or computer, i always tell him i’m working and if i wasn’t i’d never have any reason to be online so much.  i always excuse my excess usage to all of the work i do online.  but the truth is, i might not spend a ton of personal time online, i still know it’s more than i should.  but i’ll never tell dh that! ;)  remember our last conversation about my work online?  we’ve already agreed that the secret life of mommy bloggers is not always easy!

anyway, this week, i’m going to live to live and not to document it.  i have some posts scheduled, and someone else will be  linking them through my facebook page, so check in for those, but i won’t be responding to comments until i’m back online.  there are a lot of time sensitive messages that pass through my inbox, so i will still be checking and responding to emails but i’m only allotting myself fifteen minutes twice a day.  i just want to see if i notice or feel a difference.  wish me luck!

have a blessed week!

Q&A Journal for Kids

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the kids are busy growing like weeds and i can’t help but want to bottle up their childhood innocence and keep it under my pillow.  every day is full of new discoveries and funny kid conversations.  and you all know how much i love kid conversations.  remember the one about christouli eating lucky’s grilled cheese sandwich?  or when ace asked if all the incense from our prayers made God sneeze?

(if not, click the link above)

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i’ve mentioned lots of times how much i love pinterest.  because, seriously, i do.  it’s not like other social networks that just slurp up your time leaving you zoned and distracted.  pinterest is great because it actually encourages you to do things.  i can’t tell you how many recipes, crafts, home decor, or organizational ideas i’ve found there in the past year or two.  you can follow all of my favorite pinterest ideas here.

my latest find was this awesome q&a book for kids.  i love recording the quirky and funny things the boys say all the time but sometimes i just don’t get around to it, or i try to remember to write them down when i get home and end up forgetting.  or what about the time i logged dozens of them in the notes section of my phone only to lose them when i switched phones?  :(

that’s why this journal is perfect! it is a 3-year journal that asks one random question a day.  some questions are serious, silly, or just typical.  since lucky doesn’t know how to write yet, i write down his answers word for word.  ace has been writing his own answers, but i’m beginning to notice a pattern of them being very short, which means he’s being lazy, lol.  so, i might start writing down his, too, so that i get better answers.

here are a few that we did this month:

this one is from ace’s journal.  this kid is going to really give me a heart attack when he’s in middle school.  at least, if he ever goes missing, i know where to find him.  ;)

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this was one of lucky’s.

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gee, thanks honey.  i think, lol.

you can see the 20_ _ underneath, which is where we’ll write the answers to the same question in 2014 and 2015.  Neat, huh?

you can order them from amazon…just follow this link!