Food critic: “Can’t tell the difference.”

IMG_7510The pickier-than-me diner who sits across the table from me is the true taste tester for any recipe. His judgments range from a polite silence to “Mmm-hmm, that was very good.”

This weekend I experimented twice, to see if I could make an excellent gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. The grandchildren loved the Saturday effort, but the food critic remained silent.

However, the assessment of Sunday evening’s production was. “If I didn’t know it was gluten-free, I’d never know it was anything different than our usual good Thanksgiving pie.” Success!

So here are 3 recipes: pie crust, pumpkin filling, and whipped cream–all dairy-free, gluten-free, and almost-not-quite free of refined sugar (the 6th ingredient out of 12 in the bread mix is evaporated cane sugar)


Crust recipe from the Pamela’s Products website.

[Makes 2 crusts. I cut the recipe in half for the pumpkin pie]

    • 1 bag (3-1/2 cups) Pamela’s Gluten-Free Bread Mix (no yeast is used in this recipe)
    • 8 TBSP butter, chilled and cubed
    • 8 TBSP shortening, chilled and cubed
      • [my substitute for the above 2 ingredients: 1 cup Butter Flavored Crisco]
    • 7 to 8 TBSP ice cold water
  • You can use all butter in place of shortening
  • For a non-dairy crust, use 8 TBSP dairy-free butter and 8 TBSP shortening
    • [Note: Butter is a dairy product. But note that many margarines also contain some dairy ingredients, so read the labels.]


Pre-heat oven to 350° [for pre-baked single-crust pie].

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using paddle attachment, cut chilled shortening and butter into bread mix until small pea-sized pieces form (or use pastry blender or two knives). Slowly add ice water just until dough comes together (not sticky). Add 1 tsp additional water at a time if dough is too dry. Do not over-handle dough.

Divide dough in half. [I formed into ball and placed in fridge for 1/2 hour.] Roll between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap [I used wax paper and sprayed each sheet lightly with olive oil non-stick spray], to about 1/8″ thick. Peel off top layer and invert into lightly greased pie plate. Peel off second sheet and fix crust edge. (Cover and chill if dough is too soft.) [As I rolled out the crust, I stopped as needed to “clean up” the edges that tended to splay out.]

For pre-baked shell: bake in middle of oven for 28 to 30 minutes. If filling, bake in the bottom third of the oven, according to individual recipe. Dough may be frozen for later use; wrap in plastic and freeze, and thaw completely before use.

Chef’s note: This crust is perfect pre-baked and then filled with pudding, fresh fruit or your favorite filling. Or, for pies that bake with their crust, do not pre-bake, fill with quiche, pumpkin pie, or apple pie filling and bake the crust with the pie as directed. [I avoided burned crust edges by loosely crimping  strips of foil around the pie plate before baking.]

© Pamela’s Products, Inc. [Italics are my added notes.]

IMG_7513For the Saturday experimental crust, I used Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix. The baked texture was more like graham cracker crust, not what I wanted for pumpkin pie. But that recipe is worth remembering for a pudding pie or fresh fruit pie sometime.

This crust from the Pamela’s Bread Mix tastes great. Full disclosure: even the master food critic mentioned that my crust was a bit too firm–not the ideal flaky texture. I think that’s due to my lack of experience. I don’t do pie crusts. My usual homemade pie filling goes into a crust from the grocery freezer section. So 2 pie crust experiments and the Thanksgiving pie-to-come is proof of how much I love certain people. They know who they are.

Noel’s Pumpkin Pie Filling

(gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free. fills 1 single-crust 9-inch pie)

1-1/2 cups pumpkin (cooked fresh or 15-oz. can)

3/4 cup maple syrup (or honey)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

4 eggs

1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (regular, NOT light)

Mix together all ingredients well.

(If using fresh home-cooked pumpkin, a blender smooths it well. In blender, combine all ingredients and as much coconut milk as the blender jar accommodates. The rest of the milk can be stirred in gently and thoroughly after pouring the mixture into the pie crust).

Pour into crust. Crimp foil around crust edge to prevent over browning.

400 degrees. 1 hour–until knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving.

IMG_7506If there’s too much filling for your crust, bake the extra amount as pudding (crustless) in a small baking bowl. Don’t follow my example and think, “Surely I can pour it all in and still lift it into the oven without spilling anything.” Hmph. It’s also a good idea to put the pie onto a cookie sheet you’ve already placed on the oven shelf to protect the oven from any drips that do happen.

Dairy-free Whipped Cream

Refrigerate mixing bowl at least an hour beforehand.

14-oz can Coconut Cream (refrigerated at least overnight)

1/2 – 3/4 cup powdered sugar (or 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey, if avoiding refined sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Use whisk attachment if your mixer has it.

Beat the coconut cream until soft and smooth. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Continue beating at high speed until achieving the whipped texture you prefer. (If it doesn’t whip up light, no problem. Just as it is, with all the ingredients mixed together, it’s delicious and thick.)

(I found canned coconut cream locally at Trader Joe’s. Even my usual grocery co-op didn’t have it.)

IMG_7515I’ve also used canned regular coconut–regular, not light. You want the heavy cream to separate from the rest of the liquid, so do not shake can. Refrigerate at least overnight. Again, do not shake when removing it from the fridge. The cream will be at the top of the can. Scoop it out carefully (I used a smallish gravy ladle) and follow the above directions. Save the remaining liquid for use later.

I used the leftover liquid instead of water to make gluten-free, dairy-free dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, from Pamela’s Bread Mix. The taste tester and I had to restrain each other to eating just one, so the rest could go in the freezer until Thursday. They are good.

What are your special-dietary Thanksgiving ideas or favorites? If you have time in this busy week, share your recipe(s). Thanks!

When there are few accommodations for disability

One child was abandoned by his parents for being physically disabled. His uncle does the best he can for him, but he must work to earn a bare living as well as take care of the child.

Another would go to school if he could, but he cannot walk, and it is too far for him.

This video is from Busia, Uganda, where our team will be working.

This is life for many people in many places in the world where facilities, therapy, and equipment aren’t available, except perhaps at such a price as to be unreachable for almost everyone.

Our team will put dozens of people in their first wheelchairs. This is a small number compared to the need, but we remember that Jesus healed just one person at a time, a small number compared to the total number of blind, ill, or disabled in Judea.

It is in his name that we go, praying to give even greater hope than mobility. Even the best wheelchair will fall apart someday, but Jesus will never forsake the ones who are his.

Our team will be working under the leadership of the Ugandan mission, Father’s Heart Mobility Ministry. The chairs are provided by  Free Wheelchair Mission.

If you feel inclined to connect with our team through prayer and/or a gift, Bethlehem Baptist’s Short Term Ministry Committee offers suggestions and instructions. We leave this Friday, October 16.


Got to quit reading and go pack

As I mentioned earlier, I’m part of a team that will travel to Uganda to help provide wheelchairs to people who need them and otherwise have no access. When I’m getting ready to travel, especially to a place I’ve never been–like to Uganda in a couple of weeks–there are a few things that help me.

1. A overview of the culture and help for avoiding obvious etiquette faux pas (like sitting in some Asian countries with ankle crossed over knee, thus aiming the bottom of the foot at someone nearby).
Uganda - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

2. A map, so when we’re traveling from Kampala to Busia, say, I can keep up with our route as we go. Or when I’m meeting someone, they can point to their home town on the map. Laminated maps are more durable, but sometimes they’re not available for the place I’m traveling to.

Uganda 1:550,000 Travel Map (International Travel Maps)

3. I wouldn’t call myself an avid birdwatcher. But I do see birds and ask, “What kind of bird is that?” Often, then answer is, “I don’t know.” But I want to know. So I was glad to find a laminated folder to bring along.

East Africa Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda (Pocket Naturalist Guide Series)

And here are two books that made me even more eager to get to Uganda. I searched for combinations like “uganda disability”, “uganda wheelchair”, “uganda handicap”, “uganda disabilities.” You get the idea.

The first is sobering, a report from Human Rights Watch about women with disabilities in northern Uganda as a result of the years of terror and atrocity caused by Joseph Kony and his “Lord’s Resistance Army”–a different part of Uganda than where our team will be. But no matter the beginning of a disability–whether by birth or violence or accident–the challenges to every day living and other people’s attitudes are similar. This book is a reminder to me of what I’ve seen in women and men when I’ve been to other parts of Africa with wheelchair teams.

I was thrilled to find the last book, written by a long-time Christian worker there. Although the characters in the book are Ugandan children with various disabilities, it is for children everywhere and those who love them.

Designed by Father God


If you feel inclined to connect with our team through prayer and/or a gift, Bethlehem Baptist’s Short Term Ministry Committee offers suggestions and instructions. We leave October 16.

Your comments are an encouragement. The comment link is just under the title at the top of the post. Let the team and me know you’re praying. And pass on any thoughts you have about Uganda.

Africa again–Uganda this time

noel at monique'sI’ve traveled to Africa 10 times–I think. (I’m better at going than counting.) Liberia, Cameroon (several times), Guinea, Senegal, Kenya, Egypt, South Africa. The last trip was 5 years ago, so it’s time, and it’ll be Uganda.

I’m part of a team from our church that will be working under the leadership of Francis Mugwanya, founder and director of  Father’s Heart Mobility Ministry. He and his colleagues work to mobilize Ugandan churches to reach out to people with disabilities and enfold them in the Body of Christ.

woman bent over

She will do whatever it takes to move around, even using her hand as a foot while the disabled foot drags behind.

In many parts of Uganda, therapy and appropriate equipment are not available to those who need them. Or if such are available, people can’t afford them. In addition, stigma is attached to disability. If a person can’t walk, and must drag himself along the ground, he is looked down upon, both figuratively and literally. I think most of us can’t imagine what it means to be lifted from the ground and placed in a chair that allows a person to launch into  the world face forward.


Anxiety--strange people, unfamiliar language. What will they do to me?

Anxiety–strange people, unfamiliar language. What will they do to me?

That is what we will be doing, using wheelchairs provided by Free Wheelchair Mission to Father’s Heart Mobility Ministry. In Busia, we will work alongside volunteers from local churches who have received disability awareness training through Father’s Heart.

This will be the third wheelchair mission I’ve been part of. Each time Bob Horning has been the team leader. And each time he reminds us that wheelchairs will change lives, but none of them will last forever. We bring Jesus, and he is the one who will never leave or forsake the ones who trust him.

Her face begins to show hope.

Her face begins to show hope, as one of our team’s physical therapists eases her into position in the chair that will be hers.

The pictures here are from Cameroon, 2009. I expect similar encounters in Uganda.

I hope you will check out the websites of Father’s Heart Mobility Ministry and Free Wheelchair Mission. Both are doing amazing things in Jesus’ Name. There is a tab for making a donation on each home page.

I expect my role to be as photographer, gofer, one-on-one conversations, encouraging the missionaries we’ll see and learning about their lives there. Also, Bob insists that I won’t have fulfilled my duties unless I get a wrench in my hand and assemble a wheelchair–despite all my protestations about not being able to line a screw up straight in its hole. If you feel inclined to connect with our team through prayer and/or a gift, Bethlehem Baptist’s Short Term Ministry Committee offers suggestions and instructions. We leave October 16.

Over and over, we saw anxiety begin to glimmer with hope and finally to shine with joy.


We will find ourselves both exhilarated and exhausted. So I will be thankful for your prayers for our team, for the people who are receiving chairs, for their caregivers, and for the people of the church and town who may be seeing for the first time people touching, showing love toward people they may have considered untouchable. We want all of them to see Jesus’ hands at work.



Your comments are an encouragement. The comment link is just under the title at the top of the post. Let the team and me know you’re praying. And pass on any thoughts you have about Uganda.


Holiday trips for kids, via vehicle or armchair

by St. Paul'sTalitha’s been a traveler since before she can remember.

In the earlier days, I was the one searching Lonely Planet guides for details about our destinations. And both of us loved the great photos in Eyewitness Guides — almost as good as being there.

If the Christian Focus’s Adventure series had been available when she was younger, I think she would have enjoyed them. I know I would have, for both physical and armchair travel.

Catherine MacKenzie describes the 15 books in the series as “a mix of geography, nature, history and mission . . . a really good read for children age 8-12.” Read the rest of her post–Christian Travel Books for Kids— at her blog, Hurrah4Books.

A leisurely and (almost) free afternoon in Knoxville

After worshiping this morning at Christ Church, we had a Fathers Day yummy Mexican meal at La Fiesta, a good illustration that the proof is in the cooking, not in their low prices and the unimpressive strip mall setting.

Then came the (almost) free touristy afternoon.

We headed over to the World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville. We wandered a bit before we found parking–we should have used the map at their website, but we finally found free parking in the municipal ramp on 11th at Cumberland.

The park is large and beautifully landscaped with a small lake and fountains of various sorts, including one designed for water play. I expect we’ll see more of the park another time, including perhaps the Knoxville Museum of Art, a gathering at the Knoxville Convention Center, or a concert at the Amphitheater in the park.


playing in fountainThis time our goal was the Sunsphere–Knoxville’s sunsphereiconic golden tower, built for that 1982 World’s Fair. The 4th floor within the globe is a 360-degree observation deck from which you can see much of Knoxville (with a golden glow) and far off into the mountains. We think we figured out which was the mountain we see from our front porch. Access to the elevator and the deck is free–always free.

(In case someone else needs to know, I believe the nearest rest rooms are outside the Sunsphere–walk under the Clinch Avenue overpass and to the left.)

A few blocks away is Market Square. We were hot and decided to drive, which was fine, because there wasn’t really anything to see or do until we arrived at Market Square, where there’s a pleasant park and a couple of blocks of pedestrian plaza with specialty shops and cafes housed in the old buildings of this part of old Knoxville and another fountain to play in. There are a couple of parking ramps nearby, but we parked on the street, where meters are free on the weekends.

fountain in market square market square market square

snake oil foot pump dentist drill see rock cityAfter we’d strolled the square, we discovered the East Tennessee History Center  on the other side of the park from the pedestrian plaza. Admission is inexpensive all the days of the week except on Sundays, when it’s free for everyone. Children 16 and under are always free.

This is an impressive one-level museum which walks you through eras of East Tennessee history, starting with the earliest Native American residents. My photos here don’t give any idea of the breadth and detail there. You can spend as little or as much time as you (or your children or your lower back) wish. We were there about an hour and a half, and look forward to returning again for more.

fathers daySo we spent about 3 hours starting to get familiar with Knoxville and the only thing that cost anything was a couple of Cokes.

Not a bad way to hang out on Fathers Day with a husband who’s glad for every occasion not to spend.

Hey, y’all!

golden porch









Here we are for a year in the land of:

  • grits
  • cornbread
  • the best biscuits in the world
  • blackeye peas
  • pimiento cheese sandwiches with potato chips squished in
  • peanuts in your Coke bottle
  • slow talking
  • story-telling as conversation
  • chatty salesclerks. . . 

and where:

  • y’all is the non-ambiguous second person plural
  • all soft drinks are called coke
  • if you order tea in a restaurant, you get sweet tea automatically, unless you specify “unsweet tea” (“Yankee tea,” I’ve heard it called)
  • dogs belong outside
  • barbecue is what you put on a bun, not what you do on a grill in the back yard
  • pepper sauce is a keep-on-the-table condiment (“pepper vinegar” to some of y’all), that lasts forever because you just keep adding vinegar
  • even towns that are no more than post office and a few homes are overlooked by a giant First Baptist
  • the prairies with their windowpane road pattern is a land far far away–here the ground bulges into mountains where ancient paths of least resistance have grown into roads, though some are still only half-grown

Help me, you Southern friends. What am I forgetting?

This week was the family goodbye supper [evening meal] for my cousin. The menu on my aunt’s kitchen island included field peas (blackeye peas’ colors condensed into one), cornbread with crispy crust and tender insides because it was baked in cast iron skillet, turnip greens with the option of the aforementioned pepper sauce, and wild turkey thanks to one of the hunters in the family. Goodbye dinner? Way to make a fellow want to say hello instead of goodbye.

This is not a foreign land for me. I’ve just been away for a while. I grew up only 5 hours away, in the rolling landscape that’s the piedmont –foot of the mountains–of where we are now.

As I sit in my rocking chair on the front porch writing to you, Bob’s familiar voice is calling–old bobwhite, that is. I haven’t heard him in a long time. He must be calling to the towhee who is insisting that he “drINK your teeEEA.”

Tea. Yes. Sweet tea. In the fridge . . .

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Japanese lessons–of culture or humor?

I should be packing for our one-year move to Tennessee. So naturally, I’m on my computer instead–acting as if I’m preparing for a trip to Japan.

It started when a Chinese-American friend posted this escalatingly funny Japanese video with chopsticks instruction.

This sent me searching for others in the “Japanese Tradition” series. I’ve learned so much today about:

  • The Japanese Tradition–apologizing
    “Ojigi: The rudimentary apology for upstanding citizens. . .  back bent to 45 degrees. Common mistake: 35 degrees is a greeting.”
  • The Japanese Tradition–origami
    “A showdown between rival masters is traditionally called a ‘fold-off.’ . . . [When there is a tie], this is called “folding the match.'”
  • The Japanese Tradition–sushi
    “Sushi is served on Japanese sandals called ‘geta.’ The geta is sterilized first so it safe to eat from. Some people then wear them home.”

Hmmm. I’m thinking I’ll need additional lessons before I decide to go to Japan again.

How about it, Japanese friends and those who’ve been there? Anything to add?

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China then and now–Children

Recently Joann and I talked about the Esther Expedition at the monthly gathering of the China Outreach Ministries near the University of Minnesota. We’ve told our story several times to different groups, but this was the first time to a mainly Chinese audience.

We included a few slides of then-and-now photos– shots we took trying to duplicate pictures in Esther Nelson’s albums, 1924-1951.

Afterward, one Chinese student asked if we could show more of those. I promised him I’d post some. For today, I’ve gather some shots of children.

In the early 1930s, Esther wrote home asking if someone could send designs for a kiddie car that she could give a local woodworker. In December 1936, she wrote: I do have so much enjoyment at Christmas time in making things and giving to the children. I knit a couple of suits for two children, had two kiddie cars made for others . . . 

 nelson kiddie car









Here are a couple of kiddie cars in 2012:


Nelson Kiddie car








In Esther’s day, baskets carried many things, including babies. Today too.

nelson baby basket





Nelson baby basket IMG_9574








Baskets also weren’t and aren’t bad for keeping tabs on baby on the ground too.

Nelson baby basket









Little boys in every generation seem to be unsmiling about dressing up.

1940s. Photo by George Cole, colleague of Esther Nelson

1940s. Photo by George Cole, colleague of Esther Nelson












In cold weather, you still can see toddlers dressed in thick quilted clothes, chin to toe. And that’s indoors too where it may be as cold as outdoors. At this point, I’m going to mention something that will seem perfectly normal to most of my Chinese readers, and quite the opposite to most of the rest of you. Look at the red pants of the modern-day little girl. There’s a gap in the middle. She’s in church, so there’s cloth (the white center section) wadded in there, but otherwise, there’d be nothing–just an open middle from front waist to back waist, as you can see in last photo, taken last year.

Nelson quilted toddlers IMG_1229









Nelson toddler pants






Well, that’s all there is for today, so I guess there’s just one thing left to say:

The End.

Turning our backs on the Abbey & Big Ben

Florence Nightingale: Gods Servant at the Battlefield (The Sowers)Several years ago, Talitha was interested in Florence Nightingale after reading her biography. So having the homeschooling mother’s determination to take advantage of every opportunity, I searched my travel guidebooks and the Internet to see what we might find in London.

In St. Thomas’ Hospital is the Florence Nightingale Museum. Appropriate place, because St. Thomas’ was where Miss Nightingale worked, struggling for reformation in nursing care, after her return from the Crimea.

Big churches and fine buildings have their places, but we were tired of them at the moment, so we turned our backs on Westminster Abbey and the tower of Big Ben to stroll across the Westminster Bridge. Couldn’t help noticing the rosy red cheeks of the little children, but none of the bobbies were on bicycles two by two. (Sorry, Roger Miller, I got carried away.)

Anyway, just on the other side of the Thames was the museum. It was the kind of place I can really enjoy. I wouldn’t have come to London just to visit the Florence Nightingale museum, but it was a small treasure worth seeing while I was there already.

Since then, it’s been renovated and what I read about it looks wonderful. Here’s a description of what you’ll find there now–better organization of exhibits, interactive experiences for both adults and children, digital opportunities to pursue topics more deeply, and the museum is physically accessible.

If you have the London Pass, the museum’s entrance fee is covered. Visit the museum’s website for closest public transportation.

Now, unless you’re in London at the moment, it’ll be a while before you go to the museum. So in the meantime, you can get a biography of Florence Nightingale (vol. 1 and vol. 2) and Notes on Nursing, What It Is, and What It Is Not, by Miss Nightingale, all free for Kindle.

One more thing. At the Florence Nightingale Museum I made a discovery that’s relevant this month, Black History month. You can read about it at my general blog,

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