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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nutrition Notebook #4

Had my monthly check up with the nutritionist to get the stats and see if this approach (see earlier posts) is paying off. I'm glad to say, yes indeedy. My cholesterol went from 201 to 178 in one month, people! My HDL and LDL numbers also went down, as did my TSH.

IDK what that means, but LOL, I'm told it's good...

Apparently it pays to eat LOADS of vegetables. And no meat or cheese. Fish and nuts are cool though.

So I have said goodbye to the food of youth ministry, perhaps forever. I will admit that I am not sure I can ever give up french fries, but perhaps I'm willing to scale back.

The plan is for month #2 to be like month #1. As I said in my first post on November 25 about it, I'll continue to be "a leafy green vegetable-eating squirrel -- tooting along due to a slight increase in bean intake." I get to actually increase my nut intake. So that's exciting. Well, maybe not exciting...

Final stat: I've lost 6 pounds. Hoping for, oh, a whole lot more of that, but who's counting?

Free piece o' advice: I must say that I would NOT recommend starting an entire revision of the way you eat the day before Thanksgiving, carrying on through the Christmas season. Just a thought. I'm not whining though.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Light in the Darkness

I appreciated this quote very much. It speaks to some very real things going on in my life this week.
Light in the Darkness

We walk in a "ravine as dark as death" (Psalm 23:4), and still we have nothing to fear because God is at our side: God's staff and crook are there to soothe us (see Psalm 23:4). This is not just a consoling idea. It is an experience of the heart that we can trust.

Our lives are full of suffering, pain, disillusions, losses and grief, but they are also marked by visions of the coming of the Son of Man "like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into west" (Matthew 24:27). These moments in which we see clearly, hear loudly, and feel deeply that God is with us on the journey make us shine as a light into the darkness. Jesus says, "You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Musings on Christmas

I read this today and felt like I was finally reading something new about the "quandary of Christmas." Tell me what you think.
I have this running quandary about Christmas. I get upset about it, because I feel that we American Christians make too much of it, and too little. Too little of it, because we pile all sorts of other things onto it, including some that have only the feeblest connection with the Event it is supposed to commemorate. If God did become a man, in any real sense, it is the most important thing that ever happened. Surely we, who believe it, could well devote one day a year to uninterrupted contemplation of the fact, and let Saturnalia fall on the winter solstice, where it belongs.

On the other hand, we make so much of the actual birth, and forget the things that make it more than just the birth of a baby (though even that is, in Walt Whitman's phrase, "miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels"*)--more, even, than the birth of the greatest man who ever lived. We forget the promise to Eve of a descendant who will solve the problem of Evil; the promise to Abraham of one by whom all mankind will be blessed; the promise to Moses of a greater prophet than he, to arise from his people; and the promise to David of a Son who would be his Master. We forget about the eternal Purpose behind it all: it's like telling a story and leaving out the point. Yes, it is true that God gave us His Son, and so maybe we ought also to give gifts--but what, and to whom? It is also true that God gave us Himself, and the only sensible response to that is to give ourselves to Him. There is nothing else that He wants from us, or, if there is something, He can take it. Only I, my ego, my heart, is truly mine to give or to withhold--and is therefore the appropriate gift to Him.

... Robert MacColl Adams (1913-1985), letter, 1982

* Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Song of Myself, in Leaves of Grass

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Books - Part 3 (and final... for now!)

I've taken my sweet time listing my favorite, life-changing books, in response to a recent interview I heard on NPR (see Books - Part 1 and Part 2 for the books I've listed so far). Today's final few will round out the biggies for me. Thanks to those who have added their own life-changing books, or chimed in with comments. I welcome it all. Building on my list of ten books from the first entry, and five cooking/food/sustainable living books from the second entry... and in no particular chronological or preferential order (I can make my lists the way I want them, right?!):
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Perhaps this just feels too predictable ("wait, don't tell me, Catcher in the Rye is coming next...") but I can't help it, it's true. I had to read this book in AP English in high school, and I liked it. I thought I sort of "got it," too. THEN I read it in college for one of my Modern American Fiction classes... and then... ah... the Great American Novel! The beauty of literature (and heck, all art and creativity) is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And this one hit me between the eyes as the The Perfect Novel. It was the first novel I really loved. Tight imagery, well-crafted dialogue, pitch-perfect portrayal of the Roaring Twenties with those crazy flappers and shallow men living out the vagaries of the Jazz Age. Perhaps it all seems a bit obvious and heavy-handed now for our oh-so-sophisticated postmodern tastes, but I thought the giant eyeglasses of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg were a spectacular metaphor. I was impressed.
  • Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. I really loved this book. Honestly, I'm not at all a fan of Steinbeck's fiction. It is painfully dark, to the point where I am just flat out miserable when I'm reading. No thanks. But his narrative non-fiction is a banquet for me. Great stories, lots of adventures, interesting characters, telling confessions. The Log from the Sea of Cortez could be on this list as well. Steinbeck is a person from history with whom I wish I could have a cup of coffee. I have many questions for him. He insisted throughout all of his writing that life has no meaning -- it just happens. Yet so much of his imagery and dialogue takes on a deeply philosophical and even biblical tone. I was so intrigued I even wrote an article about him. I also learned a lot about writing from him, and try to take those lessons to heart. Steinbeck was a good writer, but it wasn't just a natural gift. He worked hard at it nearly every day, and it gave his life meaning. As he was once quoted, "a man’s a writer because there’s a craving inside him that makes him write. A man writes to get at the bottom of some basic fact of life."
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride. This book has stayed with me because it is the first memoir I really remember. Certainly, I had read plenty of biographies, and perhaps several autobiographies, by the time I read this book. Maybe I'm just being hoity-toity in separating the two... but a memoir isn't just a fancy word to me. A memoir is deeper and richer, more reflective. A chronology of events is told, but I oscillate between feeling like I'm reading about someone's life, and eating up a fantastic novel. McBride's book was like that for me. His description of his mother's life was spellbinding. I remember nearly eating this book whole. I read it when I ate, I read it at stoplights, I read it when I got up and when I went to bed. As one blogger writes, "let me tell you that reading McBride’s writing will be like listening to cool jazz – and there might very well be a connection there. In addition to writing, McBride has made his living as a journalist and a jazz musician. It is obvious that this combination has made him a writer of very lyrical lines." I probably also liked it because his mother is Jewish, and so is my dad; plus his mother's name is Ruth, and I have two important Ruth's in my own life. Anyway, this book caused me to now always browse in the memoir section of whatever bookstore I wander through.
  • Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner. This book is a jewel. I plan on reading it once a year, and I have given it as a gift several times. I even flew to Seattle just to hear Lauren Winner speak after reading this book. This book fed my soul. It took me to deeper places in my relationship with God. It explores the spiritual practices of Judaism, and pushes Christians to learn from them. It certainly taught me. Its chapter on mourning held the hands of all of us when we lost our dear friend Matt in 2006 -- I made a slew of copies of that chapter and we all held ourselves a little bit more together by sharing its vocabulary with one another. The chapter on candle-lighting is a wonderful little spiritual hors d'oeuvre too. Great, great book.
  • Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. I better be careful. I don't want to go into superlative overdrive on this one. This is one of those books where I would be reading and all of sudden I thought I heard a gong. Other than the Bible, I am not sure any other book felt more like God speaking directly to me. I have no idea who else this book was written for, because in my heart and mind it was only written for me! It inspired the title of this blog, and the quote below the title came from this book. Let Your Life Speak walked me into my sabbatical last year and gave me some footsteps to follow as I was stumbling along. I am utterly, deeply grateful for this book.
  • Serve God, Save the Planet by Matthew Sleeth. Several of the green/sustainable living books that I listed in Books - Part 2 were all part of my decisions related to the way I eat now. But this book pulled it all together. It solidified my sense that my faith and my habits of environmental stewardship were inextricably entwined. I learn more about God as I care for his creation, stepping into the job he created me for; but God also teaches me more and more all the time about ways to live more simply, selflessly, carefully. This book got me to buy energy-saving bulbs, hang my clothes on a clothesline, wash my clothes in cold water, and take the bus occasionally. All fun stuff. But perhaps most significant to me personally, Sleeth connected the dots for me between poverty reduction through environmental stewardship, which really caused me to dive in with Eden Reforestation Projects. I am not just a chic little recycling/reusable bag using/scooter-driving/organic eating American; I am a believer who knows that billions in this world teeter on the edge of total catastrophe in large part because of what we as the human race are doing to our planet. It is of dire importance that we recognize how much each of us needs to get involved in serving God by saving the planet. 'Nuff said.
Thanks for listening. Don't forget -- share your own.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nutrition Notebook #3

I haven’t updated my gigantic fanbase (thanks, all three of you…) with the latest on this new self-improvement project.... This all started on November 25 with a visit to the nutritionist to get some help in my gluten-free status. She decided that my cholesterol and thyroid needed a gigantic kick in the pants as well.

So I'm on a rigorous, how-low-can-you-go nutrition plan in terms of establishing a baseline for my cholesterol. Folks, we are not messing around. Nutrition Lady is taking me down to the studs -- no meat, no dairy, no sweets, no soda (Diet Coke, I miss you!), no pasta, no bread, no crackers. (The last 3 are not difficult -- don't be forgettin' I've been gluten-free since late May).

Yes, I'm essentially living on twigs and branches, with an occasional nut for fun. KIDDING. I'm doing just fine. Granted, I'm reaching new levels of vegetable intake unbeknownst to humankind, but I'm not suffering, even in this Christmas season of peanut-butter balls waiting to pounce around every corner.

I won't bore you with every detail, but here's a generic framework, at least till end of this month, when I will get bloodwork done to assess my numbers:
  • Trader Joe's "Essential Greens" first thing in the morning. Not as bad as it could be, but not Yippee, Time for Essential Greens! either.
  • Followed by hot cereal (gluten-free, yes there are options) with lots of fruit, topped with nuts, or eggs with lots of vegetables (mushrooms, onion, spinach, whatever I want). Yes, I still get one, count 'em, ONE cup of coffee.
  • Lunch is a gigantic salad with protein - fish, nuts or beans
  • Dinner is a hoot: a salad, ONE POUND of cooked vegetables, and an entree: fish, beans, 1 lb. of potatoes or polenta or 1/2 cup (dry) of brown rice.
  • Snacks are veggies, fruit, hummus, air-popped popcorn.
After some radical ups and downs that first week or 10 days as my body went into shock and let me know it was noticing I was up to something, I settled in to it comfortably. I'm not gonna lie: eating out is pretty tricky, and I spend more time cooking than I ever have. I'm trying not to panic about how I'm going to make this work when I'm at Urbana Dec 26-Jan 1. But I feel GREAT, and there have been two side bonuses:
  1. I’ve lost 5 pounds (honestly, how could I not??!)
  2. I had a student blurt out in class this week at Providence Hall, “Hey Kelly, you look younger!” He has no idea about this change I’ve been working on, so I haven't the foggiest sense of where this comment came from. Sadly, I had no witty comeback for him.
Here's one new favorite treat that I can have for a snack occasionally - it's sort of a mind-blower.

Almond Bread - I usually make it in half batches
1 lb almond flour (you can buy it at Lassen's, Lazy Acres or Whole Foods)
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tb olive oil
3/4 c water, carbonated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour flour into bowl, add remaining ingredients. Pour into olive-oiled bread pan and bake 1 hour (for my half batch, I only bake it for 35 minutes...). Can stay fresh for over a week in an airtight container in refrigerator.

Major disclaimer -- I would NOT try this nutrition plan unsupervised. Remember, this is geared for me due to my various needs and issues. But it's quite a ride, and I'm interested to see where it takes me. It is most definitely worth making a visit to a nutritionist recommended by your own doctor though. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sustainable Stocking Stuffers from Eden Reforestation Projects!

I bet you're just starting to think about what to get everyone for Christmas. I won't go on a rant about how much money is spent on mindless gifts. You know all that rot already. Instead, I'll just share a sustainable, tax-deductible, life-giving gift option for you.

For each $5 you give to Eden Reforestation Projects, you can then take the graphics on this post, right click or save 'em or whatever and print them up on cardstock in your printer and hand them out to friends, family, co-workers, your paper boy, your mailman, whoever!

This is so easy, but so life-changing. Five dollars plants fifty trees in Haiti, Ethiopia or Madagascar. These trees provide jobs, shelter, renewed soil and groundwater and most importantly, HOPE.

If you would like to personalize your cards, or increase the amounts listed on your cards, just contact me by email at kelly.soifer@gmail.com, and I can send you the MS Word doc for you to make an insertions or adjustments.

  1. Go to Eden Reforestation Project's donation page.
  2. If you want to just send in a check for your stocking stuffers donation, send it to the address listed in Azusa. Please write "stocking stuffers" on the envelope in the left corner.
  3. If you would rather pay by credit card or PayPal, scroll down and select the gold "Donate" button. Fill in the TOTAL amount you want to donate based on how many stocking stuffers you want to send. For example, if you want to give 12 stocking stuffers for $5/each, that will total a gift to Eden Projects of $60. (Which plants 600 trees!!)
  4. Please add the note "stocking stuffers" in the "Add special instructions for Merchant" box.
Thank you so much. We planted over 4.6 million trees this year, and our plans are to plant at least 8 million in 2010. Your gifts will give us a great jumpstart as we try to keep up with the many opportunities coming to us on the ground in Africa and Haiti.

Two more sustainable gift options through Eden Reforestation:
  • Match the amount you spent on your Christmas tree with a gift to Eden. Just think -- if you spent $50 on a tree, a matching gift would plant 500 trees. (When you send your gift to us, put "matching Christmas tree" in the instructions box.)
  • Donate $1 to Eden for every Christmas card or photo you send out. Along the bottom include in tiny print, "I donated $1 to www.edenprojects.org for every card I sent this season as a way of offsetting all the trees I killed in sending these cards :) " If you send out 100 cards, you would plant 1000 trees. That would put you well on your way to giving an entire forest to a village. (When you send your gift to us, put "holiday card offset" in the instructions box.)
P.S. Duplicate the impact of your gift by SPREADING THE WORD about this to your friends and social networks. Just send an email with a link to this post, or load up the info on your status updates on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Books - Part 2

This week I ran into two different stories that prompt today's entry. First of all, earlier this week I snuggled in bed (as I do most nights) with one of my issues of The New Yorker, and I enjoyed an article by Adam Gopnik entitled What's the Recipe? Our hunger for cookbooks. I wish I could give you the link, but the New Yorker is rather stingy with their content. A wise move in terms of preserving fidelity to their printed product, but I wish I could share it.

There is no way to summarize it quickly. Fortunately, the other story I stumbled on helps to know. Mr. Gopnik was interviewed on NPR's Talk of the Nation this week about this article. The essence of the article is summarized as "cookbooks and why do you read them?"

His article created two nearly concurrent feelings in me. On one level I felt a bit deflated -- I thought my own experience with cookbooks and cooking in the last year was sort of... "mine." It was a happy place where I went, often at night. For example, the other night I put The New Yorker aside and read my favorite Indian food cookbook before bed. Now I come to discover that not only do others do things like that, but a LOT of people do. That makes me feel trendy and well, common. Hmmph.

On the other hand, it was fun to realize that I'm not crazy. I'm participating in a large-scale mass delusion... that is actually rather harmless, and certainly enjoyable a lot of the time. Of course, this is why Julie & Julia was so popular.

What exactly am I talking about? It is that strange conception that owning a cookbook, tearing a recipe out of magazine, or googling three ingredients from your kitchen and finding something online, makes you think you can actually make that. And that feeling is nearly enough. For delightful little windows of time, I believe that I am a cook. As Gopnik is quoted as saying in the radio interview, The act of wanting ends up mattering more than the act of getting.

So to build on my post from earlier this week, I want to share a few food-related books have been life-changers for me. Not earth-shattering, existential life change, but pleasant shifts in thinking and experience. Enough for me. P.S. This is a rather short list. I'm new to this whole nesting-at-home-and-trying-to-cook thing. But I am looking forward to years of more acquisitions!
  1. An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey. I got this book as a white elephant gift at a Christmas party a few years ago -- it was printed in 1975. It looks like the kind of book you see spilling over into messy, neglected piles at used bookstores, where you think, Where does all this junk come from? I didn't look at it for a year or two. I cannot even remember why I finally picked it up; but I found a wealth of treasures when I did. It deserves first place on my list because to me it is the pinnacle of why this crazy trend in cookbooks happens. This is not a simple book of recipes, one after another -- it is full of delightful stories: Jaffrey describes immigrating to the US and being disappointed in the lack of good Indian restaurants and good supplies to make Indian food; she shares about writing to her mother still in India for recipes from home; she teaches the origins of the word "curry" and what it really is. And then the stories segue seamlessly into recipes. This is a travelogue as much as a cookbook; I am transported when I read it. I adore her sample menus, and picture a leisurely evening around a table of good friends, lazily grazing through each course. Best of all, I love her pre-heart-disease-fearing amounts of cooking oil. My absolute favorite recipe in this book, "Cauliflower with ginger & Chinese parsley," calls for eight tablespoons of oil! This book introduced me to the wonder and enchanting flavors of Indian cooking, which I now make at least once a week. It also gave me the courage to try.
  2. 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate. Another Indian food cookbook that I purchased after I'd gained some confidence in Indian cooking. I wanted some updated recipes from the 8-tablespoons-of-cooking-oil years. This one doesn't have many stories, but it is beautifully photographed. This is the cookbook I took to bed the other night. It is visual comfort food, formatted perfectly with lots of burnt orange, dark yellow, beet red, cinnamon brown, khaki tan, with a few bursts of green for kicks. I made the Sauteed Beets with Mustard and Lemon Juice from this cookbook the other night, and I'll be honest -- it was stunning. Extremely simple and so flavorful. Indian food has made me fall in love with vegetables, and THAT, folks, is a life-changer.
  3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. I could name a couple of other books in this vein -- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith & J.B. Mackinnon. I read these books in quick succession, and they just took me to a whole new plane. After reading them, I realized how much I wanted to eat sustainably by eating locally, seasonally and organically. I go ON AND ON about this on this blog, so I'll save my breath on this. But one example sums up what I enjoy about this life change: I really love red peppers. I could eat them every day. They are like candy to me. I love the way they crunch. I love their subtle sweetness. I love slathering them with hummus. I love throwing them in salads, in omelettes, in sandwiches... but I also realized that when I was eating them off-season that I was eating peppers from South America or from high-energy hothouses, all of which consume fantastic amounts of energy to produce them just so I may indulge my first-world belief that if I want it I should have it. So despite my profound enjoyment of red peppers, I only allow myself to have them when I can buy them here in Santa Barbara from a local farmer when he grows them. This has taught me surprising amounts about discipline, anticipation, and appreciation of the moment. Which um, overflows into other parts of my life, funny thing.
  4. My Life in France by the Great Lady Herself, Julia Child. I bought this book when I heard the movie was coming out so I could read it before I saw the film. This was one of those rare experiences of utter bliss. I simply could not put the book down. The stories, the photos, the funny way of writing, the love story between Julia and Paul, the phenomenal work she put into her cookbooks ... all of it was enchanting. I'm sure part of the enjoyment had to do with the fond memories I had of watching The French Chef as a child. I have no distinct sense of understanding it or doing anything with it. But we were a hearty public television family, so it was just ON. I can hear her shrill Bon Appetit! as I type this. This book makes me enjoy sharp knives, stainless steel cookware, kosher salt and fresh ingredients. And in a perfect world, I would have a kitchen like hers.
  5. Los Angeles Times Food Section. Not a book. Got it. But honestly, over the years this is my #1 go-to in terms of reliable recipes, especially for seasonal needs. For example, it had a great section on how to prepare the turkey for Thanksgiving. But I have gotten some fabulous standards from them over the years too -- I have saved my recipes for Chiles Rellenos and "Hurry Curry" from this, for example. The restaurant reviews bore me (and I always think they are too rigorous -- it feels like nothing would ever be good enough), but other than that, this section is a fun 2-minute vacation when I need a break from emails, and a serendipitous source of "Huh, I have never tried making that."
Honorable mention: Vegetarian Times magazine. This is fun and stimulating. Some of the recipes do not interest me at all. But winners like Polenta Pizza and Three-Herb Pesto keep me coming back for more.

What cookbooks do YOU like? And why?