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Monday, May 30, 2011

Profound

“The way to Christ is first through humility, second through humility, third through humility. If humility does not precede and accompany and follow every good work we do, if it is not before us to focus on, if it is not beside us to lean upon, if it is not behind us to fence us in, pride will wrench from our hand any good deed we do at the very moment we do it.” Augustine

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Indian-Spiced Lentils with Spinach


This has been a good cooking week ~ beautiful late-spring vegetables, lovely warm summer-like weather and school winding down are putting me in a happy mood.

This week I have made Thai Peanut Sauce on Rice Noodles, an old favorite - Aloo Palak (spinach and potatoes), and even Mahi Mahi in a proven├žal sauce (I haven't posted it here). Yesterday for lunch I tried this lentils recipe from my latest issue of Vegetarian Times. I would never have put lentils and raisins together, but they totally worked! The original recipe calls for rhubarb, but I didn't have any, so I used a mango chutney instead and that was downright fantastic.

Try this and you will find a super flavorful dish that brings vegetables, indian spices, salty and sweet together in a surprising way. I've already seen it online with garbanzos substituted for lentils.

INDIAN SPICED LENTILS WITH RHUBARB AND SPINACH RECIPE
Serves 4, Vegetarian Times June 2011

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
3 tbsp minced fresh ginger (I use minced ginger in a jar)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed & drained (or 1 cup dried garbanzos, soaked overnight, or two cans garbanzos)
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth, divided
1/2 lb fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I topped the dish with mango chutney instead)
6 cups spinach leaves
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the skillet, cover, and cook for about 2 minutes or until the mustard seeds start popping. (This makes the house smell so good!) Cook 1-2 minutes after that, or until they stop popping, shaking the skillet frequently so that they don’t burn. Remove from the heat, stir in the ginger and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and set aside.

2. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and raisins and saute for 10 minutes or until the onion begins to brown. (That's right, onions and raisins together!)

3. Add the lentils (or garbanzos) and 3 cups broth. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium low and simmer for 25 minutes, covering for the last 15 minutes so that the lentils / garbanzos cook through. Start the rice now too.

4. Stir in the rhubarb and the remaining 1/2 cup broth. Cook for 6 minutes. Add the spinach, cover, and cook for minutes more. Stir the mixture to incorporate the rhubarb and the spinach. Stir in the spice mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro and serve over rice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thai Peanut Sauce on Rice Noodles

I am enjoying so much good food these days... I'm eating strawberries and oranges nearly every day, making all sorts of dishes with seasonal vegetables like leeks, zucchini, arugula, garlic... revving up for even more fun stuff this summer!

Last night I pulled out every vegetable in my crisper: kale, celery, spinach, leek, carrot, garlic. I diced them all up, sauteed them in some sesame oil while I cooked some Trader Joe's Rice Sticks. I also diced up some tofu. Chicken would have been quite tasty as well.

Meanwhile, I quickly combined these ingredients on low heat in a saucepan:
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced and crushed
2 tbsp rice vinegar

Once the sauce had thickened and the peanutbutter melted, I whisked the sauce and let it cool a bit. Then I tossed the cooked noodles, the vegetables and the sauce, topped it all with some diced cashews, and was very, very content. Try it - you 'll like it! (P.S. I'm sure this sauce would be great on rice, or even with regular pasta... it was so good, not too sweet, but very flavorful)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Just Keep Swimming...

I received a nice little text message today...
Noticed you haven't blogged in awhile... Just making sure everything is ok??? :) Miss you.
How great. One of my five blog followers poked her head in, and I appreciate it (thank you, MA!).

So for the other 4 of you, I want you to know that I'm fine. Pretty darn great, in fact. But April and May have kept me on my toes, that's for sure...

Since I returned from my glorious spring break in Italy, I have gotten to be a part of so many cool things!
  • Led a retreat for Single Ministry Leaders within the Free Methodist Conference of Southern California (FMCSC);
  • Presented a seminar on "sustainable youth ministry" to the "Northern Lites" district of the Coastal Region (again, FMCSC);
  • Taught a month-long series on ancient world civilizations that I titled "The 'Isms" at Providence Hall;
  • Took a lovely day trip to San Luis Obispo with 3 amazing high school girls I've loved and met with regularly for three years ~ before they graduate and head out to Great Beyond;
  • Consulted with a wonderful church in Seattle about their youth ministry, entering a 17-month project with them (and got to visit with some friends whom I love dearly after the consultation!);
  • Published an article with YMToday on ministry and parenting with 5th/6th graders;
  • Started a new coaching project with a 102-year old Free Methodist church in LA;
  • Finished the Ism's with high school students and then taught the same series at church to adults, ranging in age from 20 to 75;
  • Started another series with Providence Hall, this one framed around John Stott's final book, The Radical Disciple (pick it up ~ I really like it!);
  • Saw my beloved Lakers completely muff this year's path to the playoffs (grrrrrrrrr!)
  • Celebrated my best friend's birthday with a great dinner with her family and an incredible concert in Hollywood, seeing Slow Runner and William Fitzsimmons (do not pass up the opportunity if he appears near you);
  • Picked up two more youth ministry consulting projects through Youth Ministry Architects (when it rains it pours!)
  • Met with a pair of Cantonese Free Methodist pastors who are guiding a summer camp for neighborhood children;
  • Just finished leading a retreat with this year's inaugural round of Summer Interns for FMCSC ~ I'm already in love with this bunch of talented and earnest young leaders.
PHEW. There it is. I cannot deny that I am ready for the 3 days of Memorial Weekend to recuperate, garden, read, sleep and relax. But these things have all been fulfilling, challenging and I consider each one a great privilege. Thanks for reading and caring.

I read these verses yesterday, and they sum it all up perfectly. Life is good.
1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! (Psalm 103:1-5)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Car(e)-Free Update May 2011

I recognize two fun milestones today... This morning, as I scooted to church, I passed the 9,000 mile mark on my scooter (pictured at the right, and yes, have no fear, I always wear a HELMET when I ride).

Secondly, I bought the Buddy 125 in May 2007, so this month marks 4 years of "living the dream." I've noted here previously that I sold my car last October and have been living "car(e)-free" ever since.

Since I haven't made any updates since February, I'm pleased to report that I "weathered" this past winter without a car rather easily. Yes, there were a couple of drenchings on my bike (this was a rather wet winter for So Cal), and I even had to rent a car two different times when I flat-out just needed a car for work stuff.

But 99% of the time it works well for me to either drive my scooter, take the bus, ride my bike, walk, hitch a ride with friends, take the train... or even just stay home!

I will also readily admit that I decided (and thankfully, she agreed!) to get added to my roommate's auto insurance so I can borrow her car ~ which she will confirm I do only about once every 2-3 weeks. I decided to do this for two reasons:
  • To legally be able to drive her car if needed to.
  • To have auto insurance for when I rent a car. Do you know you cannot have car insurance without it being attached to a specific car?
So I cannot claim to be fully car-free, I suppose. But pretty darn close. And as gas prices have coasted upward, I am sad to report that filling the Buddy's tank has increased 25%... from $4 to $5!

I will stop my gloating. I am grateful to live in a town and climate where it's possible to do this. I hope to have many more years with the Buddy, and encourage you to consider ways that you can be a good steward of the environment (plus your wallet and your health) by finding greener transportation alternatives. Over and out. (For now!)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gone Fishing


As can really only happen in spiritual reading, several different things I meditated upon this morning struck deep chords in me...

From my Nouwen daily reading:
[The disciples] had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, 'It is I. Do not be afraid'. (John 6)

You can go out and you will live. You will live eternally because Jesus is the Lord of life. That is the ecstasy. You can start participating in it every time you step out of your fear and out of the sameness. It doesn't require big jumps, but simply small steps.
My own fears do not need to be named here. But I definitely have them, and they run deep. Far deeper than I realize.

Then I read Luke 5:1-11... even if you have read this passage countless times, read it slowly and carefully now (I have to remind myself of that regularly):
1 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

I am like Peter. With my mouth I declare obedience, but internally I am skeptical, and keep myself at arm's length. After all, if my expectations remain small, I won't be disappointed, right?

I love Peter's response when the great catch of fish happens... his first reaction is not "Yippee! It's payday!" because now he'll make a ton of money on the haul of fish. Instead, his soul is pierced and the true state of his fearful, willful spirit is revealed. In embarrassment he tells Jesus to leave.

Then I read this quote by Richard Foster, who wrote Celebration of Discipline, among other outstanding books:

We have real difficulty here because everyone thinks of changing the world, but where, oh where, are those who think of changing themselves? People may genuinely want to be good, but seldom are they prepared to do what it takes to produce the inward life of goodness that can form the soul. Personal formation into the likeness of Christ is arduous and lifelong.

This morning I am reminded of so many things...


...that personal growth comes through consistent and small steps more than giant mountaintop experiences;


...that unconsciously I always hold back ~ my fears are ever present, and must be uncovered constantly;


...that I will be chipping away at these things, with God's great grace and endless power, for the rest of my days.


A prayer from St. Benedict states it beautifully:

Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies

to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands;

and let us ask God

that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace

for anything which our nature finds hardly possible.

Amen.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Perfectly Pleasing Pupusas

Perhaps you have not had "pupusas" before. They are a traditional dish from El Salvador... restaurants that sell them are called pupuserias (say that out loud... it's a great word!) For gringos, I guess I would call them "stuffed tortillas." Whatever you call them, they are muy deliciosas.

And surprisingly easy to make. I have made them twice, just to make sure I got it right. You can really have some fun with the fillings... the first time I filled them with a mix of sauteed chopped vegetables and black beans topped with some white cheese, and tonight I filled them with black beans, green chiles and cheddar. Both times I topped them with a creamy sauce made out of one part pico de gallo and one part sour cream. Nummy nummy! I'm already thinking about future filling ingredients... corn, diced tomatoes, zucchini, cilantro, pinto beans, just cheese...

P.S. I got this recipe from Vegetarian Times. They come through once again! This is gluten-free eating with no sacrifice whatsoever.

Pupusas
serves 4-6

Ingredients:

4 cups masa harina (I use Maseca brand)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cooked black beans
small can diced green chiles
cheese: cheddar, monterey jack or cotija
vegetables oil

1. Combine masa harina, cumin, baking powder and salt in bowl. Stir in 3 cups warm water and form soft dough. Cover with a damp paper towel and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

2. Pull out a heavy flat-bottom skillet. (I use my cast iron skillet). Put in 2 tsp of oil and turn on medium heat (not too hot). Keep an eye on this. Don't let the oil smoke.

3. Tear off two large sheets of wax paper. Roll up a golf-ball sized lump of masa dough, then squeeze between a folded sheet of wax paper. Mash it with the flat of your hand until the masa is about 4-5 inches across. (Be patient ~ this might take a little practice).

4. Spoon in about a tablespoon of beans, a teaspoon of chiles, and sprinkle with some grated cheese. (Add a few drops of hot sauce if you want a little fire). I also sprinkled some garlic salt over the filling.

5. Repeat the process with the golf-ball sized lump of dough with the other sheet of wax paper. Pick it up and gently place it on top of the first tortilla with filling. Peel off the wax paper. Pinch the edges, gently squeezing out the air pockets. (Again, this might take a little practice. Be patient ~ it is worth it!!)

6. Place completed pupusa in skillet, cooking it 5-6 minutes, turning it over a couple of times. You can cook 3 at a time. Place cooked pupusas in a warm towel on a plate until you're done cooking all of them.

Top pupusas with crema salsa or pico de gallo. If you want to be truly legit, google "curtido," a slaw type of side dish that they are served with in pupuserias. Regardless, they are so-o-o-o-o-o good you will need to remind yourself to chew slowly and enjoy the flavor.



Monday, May 2, 2011

Italia Travel Buddies

Some have asked me about the things I brought on this trip, both in terms of eating gluten-free and in terms of going for 10 days with only a rolly suitcase (and a purse).

These are my Top Six Glad-I-Didn't-Have-To-Live-Without-These List:
  1. Flip Video Camera: This item simply rocks. True, I counted on my friend to be the photographer for the trip, but there were so many things I wanted to videotape... Emiliano the Archaeologist Tour Guide at Pompeii, the phenomenal ocean views from our hotel rooms, the funny moments at certain meals (when what we received didn't quite line up with the poor English translation on the menus), beautiful church sanctuaries, gorgeous paintings in museums or cathedrals, lovely sounds of church singing, or just those goofy little moments on the trip... whatever. It was a fun, different way to record memories. I have the most basic model that only records 1 hour, but most of my clips were 30 seconds to 1 minute, so I was able to record a ton of stuff.
  2. Sunscreen Stick: The spring break was lovely and warm most days, and I did not want to get burned. I also did not want to deal with the potential for a leaky bottle in my purse or problems with one more 3 oz bottle to deal with, so I brought a stick instead. Super easy, worked great.
  3. Frommer's Travel Guide: I have come to the conclusion that SO MUCH can be figured out before and during a trip if you have a really good travel guide. Last time I went to Italy in 2006 we used one by Rick Steve's and it was amazing. I didn't care how much I looked like a tourist when I pulled it out... first of all, I WAS a tourist, so why pretend, and secondly, Rick always pointed out the best gelato spots! So I was sorta bummed when I could not locate a Rick Steve's edition for the Amalfi Coast. However, I can say that I was not at all disappointed by this book ~ plus, it was a bit smaller than my old Rick Steve's edition for Rome and Florence. Frommer's had great maps, excellent tips for train travel, and outstanding restaurant recommendations. It also included those cool little tidbits about local history and sights off the beaten track.
  4. Dover Italian Phrase Guide: My second favorite book for this trip was this one. It was super thin (about a 1/4 inch) and well-organized. And when I was stumbling through a menu and needed to know what the word was for eggplant, or the phrase for "Where is the bathroom?" BAM, my Dover book was there for me.
  5. Dramamine: One of the best parts of this trip was that once we took the long plane flight, very little travel was involved on a daily basis... we never had to go more than 30-50 minutes to get to the next town. However, those short little trips often involved a boat ride across a somewhat choppy channel or a winding bus ride along that treacherous (but utterly beautiful and breath-taking) cliff that is the Amalfi Coast. I just so happened to have a travel bottle of dramamine pills with me and I was one happy girl (as was my friend) that I had them. Other than making me a wittle sweepy every afternoon I took them, they worked like a charm.
  6. Trader Joe's Organic Fruit Leathers: I was so grateful for the gluten-free bread options I found in the farmacias in Italy, but I needed an additional little snack sometimes as we were walking through a cathedral in the late afternoon or heading back to the hotel on the bus, and these babies came through for me every day. The fruit leathers packed up well (so thin!) and were all gone by the time we headed home. (I also packed a jar of peanutbutter so I could have some protein options, but that got confiscated in LAX, dang it.)
I'm still digging through my trip journal, the Flip video clips and various momentos... what a fantastic trip. Yeah.