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Monday, April 25, 2011

Gluten Free in Italy

In preparation for a trip to Italy over spring break I had googled "gluten free in Italy" and found one blog so glowing that I went on the trip expecting that I would still be able to enjoy the very best part about Italy from my first trip in 2006: THE FOOD.

I just want it on record: being gluten-free in Italy was oversold. Admittedly, it's easier in Italy than it is in the US to find gluten-free food in stores. On just about every other block there is a "farmacia" (farm-ah-chee-ah) with a blinking green neon cross sign above it. Since being "celiac" (though I only have a "gluten sensitivity" -- ah, the technicalities...) in Italy is recognized as a medical condition, many farmacias (what we would call drugstores in the US) carry GF products.

So in every town I checked out my choices, and had a few favorite products by Schars:
I made my own sandwiches out of the Pane, and I used the Crostini or the Fette to soak up sauces, olive oil or bruschetta when we would receive those big beautiful baskets of homemade Italian bread. That I could not eat.

That was all fine and dandy. But the websites said that so many restaurants in Italy accommodate GF eaters and I just did not find that to be the case. Nine times out of ten, when I would give my big hopeful smile and ask, just like the websites told me to, "Senza glutine?" (Without gluten?) or "Sono celiaco" (I am celiac) all those sweet, accommodating Italian waiters would quickly say "Si!" and then rapidly point to the same 4 items:
  1. Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil)
  2. Risotto in any variety of forms
  3. Zuppa di Fagiole (bean soup)
  4. Gnocchi (potato dumplings ~ though some savvy ones would admit that some wheat flour was used in making them too)
And while I L-O-V-E each of these yummy items, when traveling for ten days they can get a little old. (OK, so the caprese never got old... I tell you what, the "bufala" mozzarella over there is nearly a religious experience....)

I had one hilarious night where I ordered risotto AGAIN and tried it with shrimp. That sounds great, right?

Let's just say I didn't quite picture that I would receive entire shrimp with their black,
beady little eyes staring at me....

Perhaps gluten-free entrees are more available in the larger cities, but they sure aren't on the Amalfi
Coast. Except for two places that appeared like little miracles during our trip.

The first one is pictured at the top - Il Cerasiello in Naples. Perhaps you can read the writing in the window: "Menu e pizze per celiaci." When we stumbled onto this place (and we literally bumbled into it without knowing it existed) I nearly squealed! And here is my one and only pizza experience in Italy -- at least it was in the land of the margherita pizza, Naples. Look at me -- I am so, so happy.
I had to wait several days for another chance to enjoy. Closer to the end of our trip we were tired and very hungry in Vietri sul Mare, near Salerno. All the stores (including the farmacias) were closing at 1pm, like they did in all the quaint little fishing towns along the Amalfi Coast. We found a restaurant on a side street called L'Angolo dei Sapori. The menu looked good, so we sat down.

With barely a smile and certainly no hope, I said, with a sigh, "Sono celiaco." And lo and behold, Ferdinando the owner slapped his chest with both hands, then held up one finger and said emphatically, "One minute!"

He came back with another man dressed in the whites of a restaurant chef, pointed at his chest and he said brightly, "Him too!" Turns out Luciano, his cousin, was celiac! He said, "Don't order. I bring to you," and ran back into the restaurant. I was speechless.

First he came out after about 10 minutes with HOT BREAD. He had toasted it in his pizza oven. He said "senza glutine!" with great pride.

Oh my. At this point I am nearly overcome with delight. (And COMPLETELY embarrassed that I have the same clothes on in both photos, though they were taken 6 days apart. Can you tell we lived out one rolly luggage each?! We just washed clothes at night in the sink. But I digress...)

As I am chomping on the bread, trying to make sure I still chew it because I am so ecstatic, the food arrives...

Remember, I didn't get to order it. He just brought it. A steaming plate of GF pasta with sausage, tomato and cheese, plus a bowl of the BEST Zuppa di Fagioli from the whole trip. I could not eat all this food! But oh how I tried.

We came back the next day because I had to cling to this island of GF sanity for one more day. I had a different pasta then that was equally
spectacular. I also made sure to get a photo with my little angel Luciano.

So I'm grateful for these brief forays into the classic delights of pizza and pasta in Italy. Otherwise, I had to satisfy my cravings in other ways... at least one gelato each day and amazing, wonderful, beautiful cappuccinos, at least twice a day. I can't say I really suffered too much.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


With a little breathing room in my life I am unpacking some of my stuff from my trip earlier this month to Italy. Here is a brief quote I read during my first full day there ~ we were in Naples:
I came to the monastery to learn to live in the presence of God, to taste him here and now, but there is so much "ego-climbing" going on within me. I have so many ideas I want to write about, so many books I want to read, so many skills I want to learn... that I do not SEE that God is all around me and that I am always trying to see what is ahead, overlooking him who is so close. (Genesee Diary, Henri Nouwen)
Then I saw this reference from the 6th century monastic Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 4:
Your hope of fulfillment should be centered in God alone. When you see any good in yourself, then, don't take it to be your very own, but acknowledge it as a gift from God.
Reading all of this today, the day before Easter, I am reminded...
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. (Hebrews 12:1-4, New Living Translation)
Indeed, those "cloud of witnesses" are the faithful believers who have gone before us. Help me run the race and live the daily life, Lord, knowing it is not about "success" and accomplishment in this life. It is simply about you.

I am so driven, and really, nothing in me will be able to stop that impulse. But certainly the Spirit can re-direct ~ re-focus ~ my intensity more appropriately on the eternal, and less on the temporary gains that could be made here. Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Red Curry Flurry

Oh help. I am in a food coma. Sort of dizzy from the goodness... stuffed and so happy.

Granted, I said the same thing when I ate this meal... and what tonight's meal and that one had in common was that I got both recipes from Vegetarian Times. I consistently find their recipes creative, tasty, unique, easy and aromatic. Best of all, they make me think I can cook.

Now don't get all uppity and eye-rolly about the recipe being vegetarian. This meal will be molto buono with a meat like chicken, shrimp or pork... or with tofu (or garbanzo beans, which is what I had on hand). It is 1000% about the curry sauce you make in this recipe.

I'm not even embarrassed to have you see below at how many adjustments and substitutions I made. Like I said, Vegetarian Times has given me confidence ~ now I think I can cook.

What makes me most happy is that I have leftovers! Yessssss!

Thai Curried Noodles with Broccoli and Tofu

Serves 6 (I made a half batch)

This creamy, golden noodle dish is modeled after the Thai dish khao soi, which combines sweet, spicy, and sour flavors in one bowl.

2 tsp. vegetable oil
2 large shallots, chopped (1 cup)
(Used onions instead)
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro stems, plus 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
2 Tbs. yellow or red Thai curry paste (Easy to find at any Asian market, and I have even found it at stores well-stocked with international foods ~ Albertson's or Ralph's often come through. If you want to start making Indian food with any regularity, this is a STAPLE)
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground tumeric
1 15-oz. can light coconut milk (Normally I LOVE using coconut milk, but didn't have any. I used milk and was surprised at how well it worked. Just don't let the heat get too high).
3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tsp. light brown sugar
1 12-oz. pkg. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (or chicken or pork or garbanzo beans)
5 oz. dry fettucine (I felt like having this on white rice instead ~ tasted GREAT))
5 cups broccoli florets (final true confession... didn't have broccoli ~ used mushrooms, onion and chard. Just pointing out that this dish would work with so many different vegetables)
6 lime wedges, for garnish

1. Heat oil in medium pot over medium-high heat. Saute shallots in oil 2 minutes. Add cilantro stems, curry paste, curry powder, and turmeric; cook 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk, broth, and brown sugar, and bring to simmer. (Sarah’s Note: I think they mean boil.) Reduce heat to medium, and cook 5 minutes, then stir in tofu. Simmer 10 minutes.

2. Cook fettucine in large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Add broccoli to pot for last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain, and add tofu-curry mixture. Mix well, and serve with lime wedges and chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Yesterday I slapped my computer cover down around 4:30pm and took off for a quick 45-minute walk to just stretch my legs and see some sunshine before Bible study. My schedule has been crammed a little too tight for the last couple of weeks, and I needed some space to think and breathe.

As I walked through my neighborhood, I saw a former student who lives nearby, married with kids. Unfortunately, I do not see him very often, but when I do it's easy and fun.

I knew him when I worked with local Eastside youth who were labeled as "at-risk" students: mostly gang members and teen moms. This guy was the only one of the bunch who played school sports and avoided trouble, for the most part. When I saw him yesterday he was coming back from a game being played at the nearby high school against his alma mater. I teased him that old habits die hard, and he said, Gotta support my team, Kelly! It was so dear to see because he had the same breathless expression of excitement on his face that he had as a teenager. This guy didn't just play baseball; he lived and breathed it and absolutely loved it.

I laughed, grabbed his shoulder and said, I remember going to YOUR games!

Immediately we looked at each other with a what I felt like was a fond sense of nostalgia, because in the next moment we both caught ourselves and realized that was nearly 20 years ago. We chatted briefly about odds and ends, then parted.

But then he called back to me after a few steps: I'll never forget that you went to my games!

How great is that? I just spent 4 days this past week working with a church on the endless nuts and bolts of running a youth ministry. We hammered out calendars and job descriptions and plans and budgets... Complicated stuff at times. But honestly, when you boil it all down, it's actually quite simple: It's sorta like baseball. Just keep showing up. That's what they will remember.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The whirlwind of activity since Italy is soon coming to end ~ I head back home today and will be staying home for a long time. But today, I write this as I sit in a local coffeehouse in Seattle, waiting for some friends for lunch. The image of Seattle is true... a coffeehouse about every half block, each one with its own flair... organic, dogs allowed, artisan pastries, artisan chocolate, beans roasted on-site, vegan donuts, slow-brew... it boggles the mind. But I'll be the first to admit that I have had a highly-caffeinated few days.

And I've needed it. I've been on a consulting project for Youth Ministry Architects, flying in late Wednesday night and hitting the ground running Thursday morning. Starting at 8:30am, a partner and I sat in "listening groups" with a wide spectrum of folks in the church: jr high students, high school parents, staff, youth leaders, yada yada... hours and hours of talking and listening and talking. And it's all important stuff. Endless notes were taken, questions were asked, more talking.

After a day of listening and talking that started at 8:30am and ended at 9:30pm, I collapsed into my hotel room (an amazing suite at the Marqueen Hotel, where we scored a tremendous mid-week deal) and tried to unwind with a few pages by Henri Nouwen in a book called The Genesee Diary .

I started this book on my trip to Italy and I am so reluctant to end it. So I'm taking it slow, drinking in just a few pages at a time. On this night after the listening groups, my head was hurting, spinning, blurring as I tried to come down off a people-intensive, talk-extensive, concentration-demanding day. Then I read this:
St. Benedict is very clear about the importance of silence. He seems to imply that it is practically impossible to speak about good things without being touched by the evil ones too...

Silence needs to become a real part of my life when I return to school [Nouwen was a professor at Yale Divinity School at the time].... Many people ask me to speak, but nobody as yet has invited me for silence. Still, I realize that the more I speak, the more I will need silence to remain faithful to what I say. People expect too much from speaking, too little from silence...
I laid back onto my pillow, and chuckled. Indeed. I wanted silence so badly after a long day of noise. But it wasn't because I was sick of those with whom I had spoken. I didn't want to just shut down, turn off, and withdraw. I was simply glad ~ relieved, really ~ by the quiet. Because then, I could truly listen.

I hear words all day just about every day. But it's actually hard to listen when there is so much conversation. In silence, I've been learning how to turn over words and images and conversations and thoughts like books in my hands at a musty used bookstore. In silence I can sense the Spirit nudging me: Pay attention to that... When they say that, they are hinting at something deeper... Hear their wounding, their ache, their longing...

Silence is becoming not so much a break, though it is that as well. More and more, it is meditation. A "re-listening." Like good spadework, I turn over the soil of those words over and over, poking, prodding, waiting.

It is the same with scripture and listening. This morning in church there was a passing reference to Ecclesiastes 3, the classic passage about "a time to..." This little line is tucked within it, near the end:
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
Do we enter silence as a "time to..."? Or do we usually approach it as "anti-time to...", the time to flop down and do nothing? I argue that that is what rest and more importantly, SLEEP, are for.

I am learning that silence is different. I am slowly seeking out silence like an important (and frequent) appointment. I try to approach it expectantly, listening carefully. This takes practice.

I learned in seminary that the word "obey" in the Greek is actually a fascinating one. It is "hupakouo," which is "hyper-akouo" or "hyper HEAR." How cool is that? To obey means simply, "to listen WELL." As in Matthew 8:27, when it says, The men were amazed, and said, "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" Nature herself knew she needed to listen well to her Creator. To listen well affects our actions.

So I leave this project having tried to listen well. To obey what God has placed in front of me, and act accordingly. To take on the privilege of serving others, especially his bride, the church, carefully and thoughtfully. In silence I can hear best what He has for me that day, and how I am to pour out to others. It's a pretty great life. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Hurrier I Go...

Friends have asked for photos and stories from my wonderful Spring Break trip to the Amalfi Coast. Trust me, I will be GLAD to share about this adventure, and still plan on it... but I have really been scrambling ever since I returned. All of it has been really fun stuff that has kept me busy, but PHEW, I need to catch my breath.

Because I'm excited about all of them, here they are:
  • Last Tuesday (April 5) I started a month-long series on historic worldviews at Providence Hall: Yes, that is as nerdy as it sounds, and YES, I am excited about it! I teach a class twice a week to the entire student body called Foundations of the Faith, and we cover church history, doctrine, bible study, theology, practical application, ethics... more than ever, this year with high school students at Providence convinces me that we as a culture (and in the church) consistently underestimate the incredible potential of teenagers.

    Last year I taught a series on Mere Christianity and then we talked about each student being able to “give an answer for the hope you have,” (1 Peter 3:15) and explain why they follow Jesus Christ. This month, I want us to take a step back from that ~ before we can give our answer, I think we need to really understand what the question is! Based on perhaps the most fundamental human question of all ~ What is the meaning of life? ~ we are examining how ancient civilizations have come up with their own answers to this question. I am calling this study of various worldviews the "Ism's" ~ polytheism, pantheism, monotheism, dualism, atheism, deism. (Though there are more, we're focusing on the main ones up till the Enlightenment.) You'd have to see it to believe it, but our discussions as a school have been animated and engaging. These students get it.
  • Challenge Ball, April 8, for Providence Hall: for the 2nd year in a row, our athletic department put on a really great fundraiser. I'd guess that at least 300 people came. It was a great turnout, and I was grateful to friends like Rob Crawford, Jeff Mumm and James Kinzler for playing on the "Past Prime-Time" squad. I was blowing my horn and ringing my cowbells gleefully.
  • Ministry Leaders' Conference, April 9, Pasadena, CA: As of January I have been working with the Free Methodist Conference of Southern California as the Director of Recruiting and Training. One of the projects I proposed to our superintendents was a conference dedicated to the unique dynamics of working and leading in ministry as a single adult. They had already provided a conference for married pastors earlier this year. The superintendents were very receptive to the idea and I got to direct the conference this past Saturday at our Free Methodist church in Pasadena. Rather than be a singles conferences, this was a ministry conference for single adults. We had worship, speakers, seminars, and great food (including our own barista!). It was a gift to be able to be so creative. All those who came were a blast to be with ~ they traveled from all points around So Cal, ranging from Escondido to Santa Barbara to Barstow! I look forward to debriefing it all and figuring out next steps.
  • Youth Ministry Consulting Project, April 13-16, Seattle with Youth Ministry Architects: My schedule has not allowed me to go on one of these projects since last fall. On this one I will be working with a young and gifted female youth pastor I've come to really enjoy and respect, and my YMA partner is my old and dear friend Doug Ranck. PLUS I get to see several old SB friends who have migrated up to the Big Wet North, so that's an added plus.
I must admit that I will be ready to stay home for awhile after I return from Seattle. After that, I hope to share the afterglow of Amalfi... Ciao for now.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Long View

I cannot begin to describe the glorious, delightful, restful vacation I just had these past 10 days... due to the generosity of friends and family, I got to celebrate this latest birthday (a significant marker whose number need not be named!) by going to the Amalfi Coast in Italy with my best friend.

We started in Naples (forgettable and dirty, but stayed in a lovely hotel) then went on to Sorrento, the island of Capri, Amalfi, Salerno, Pompeii and back to Naples. This was unlike other trips I've made abroad in that we stayed within a relatively small piece of geography, not spending more than an hour traveling on any of our days there. So we were able to take things slow, sight see, read, linger over meals, get plenty of sleep, and give up any need to worry about time.

No email, no phone calls, no appointments... it was so great to just be there and really rest. The photo here is of one of my favorite sites, the Duomo in Amalfi. Though it is striking, no photo could really capture its dramatic presence. It practically explodes out of the square. Climbing the stairs made me feel like I was ascending a pyramid ~ they were so steep and wide, pointing up to the true center of town. The dramatic stripes and contrasting squares of black and white were utterly unique. This website gives more of the background of the cathedral and many more photos of what we saw there (photos of my own visit there, along with the rest of our trip, will come later I hope).

There were so many highlights to this trip. I am still in awe of it all, and so very grateful for the opportunity. But perhaps the most long-term effects will come from all the great reading I got to do on the trip. Between long plane flights and evenings with no distractions (along with a daily cappuccino break each afternoon, naturally!) I got to dig into some books I've been waiting to get to.

Here is the first quote that rocked me to the core. It's practically a statement of purpose, and I can only pray it speaks to how I have attempted to live my life. It comes from Archbishop Oscar Romero, martyred in El Salvador in 1980 for speaking against the repression of his people. I read it in my devotional:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

As I return to work tomorrow, to students and with churches whom I have come to love so dearly, I pray that God's Spirit would help me not give in to my flesh, which tends to have a great need to feel effective, and instead seek to take "the long view" as it is described here. And as Romero says, I pray that in realizing that I cannot do everything that I will be liberated to simply do the best I can, to the glory of God.