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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What To Do With Hot Temps & Winter Vegetables?

I haven't posted a recipe in a long while, not for lack of cooking. I have enjoyed many of my favorites lately, but was ready to try something new tonight. I ate it as I caught up on the latest episode of Downton Abbey... while I'm still not sure whether I like where this season is going (can we please remove the black cloud from Bates and Anna and get on with it!??), I am sure I will make this recipe again.

Winter Vegetable Medley
I followed most of this recipe, but had to substitute for orzo, since I'm gluten-free. It was still wonderfully full of flavor, and I'm confident it will taste even better tomorrow as all the seasonings deepen. A true keeper.

Serves 4
30 minutes or fewer

Good-quality saffron is the key to this dish. Shop at a reliable source such as a gourmet store or online spice purveyor, and choose brands that indicate where the saffron was harvested. Kashmiri, Persian, and Spanish saffrons are some of the best.

2 ¾ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
½ tsp. saffron threads
1 14.5-oz. can fire-roasted whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved, and tomatoes halved
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 16 pieces
1 cup orzo pasta (I used 1/2c arborio rice and 1/2c buckwheat groats)
¼ cup frozen peas (I used snap peas)
2 cups large cauliflower florets
8 green onions, each cut into thirds
1 cup large broccoli florets (I used brussels sprouts)

1. Bring broth to a simmer in saucepan. Stir in garlic, Italian seasoning, saffron, and tomato liquid. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, and keep hot. (This was my favorite part in cooking this dish... the broth was really fragrant.)

2. Coat large skillet or 8-qt. Dutch oven with cooking spray, add oil, and heat over high heat. Add tomatoes, sear 2 to 3 minutes, or until browned and dry, and transfer to plate. Add bell pepper, sear 2 to 3 minutes, and transfer to same plate.

3. Sprinkle orzo (grains) into skillet, and stir 30 seconds. Stir in broth and peas, and reduce heat to medium. Arrange cauliflower florets on top of orzo in pot. Arrange green onions, tomatoes, and bell pepper pieces around cauliflower; cover, and simmer without stirring, 11 minutes. Scatter broccoli over vegetables, remove pot from heat, and let stand, covered, 10 minutes, or until orzo has absorbed all liquid and broccoli is crisp-tender. (This took slightly longer because I used the arborio and buckwheat... it was worth the wait!)

I toasted some walnuts and chopped them up coarsely, sprinkling them on top as the final touch. Quite good.

November 2013 p.30, Vegetarian Times

Other favorites I've made lately
Butternut Squash Risotto
Polenta Pizza
Almost Alfredo
Broccoli Pesto
Thai Peanut Sauce over Noodles

Though hot temperatures in January have me confused, the drought has me worried and Downton is more of a downer than I would prefer, at least I'm eating well! Onward and upward. Happy 2014!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy

I find it to be a breathtaking gift when small things -- a phrase, a quote, words from a stranger, even a clipping from a news article -- come together and communicate a gentle word that can only be from the Spirit because of the effect they create.

This morning, these two passages came in from different sources:

Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, "How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?" There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let's rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away. Henri Nouwen (go to this link if you want to sign up to receive the daily readings)

Then I turn to scripture, and this is part of today's reading:

Matthew 6
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, I look for words from God in big, sweeping gestures. Instead, he often beckons with something subtle, to which I need to be always attentive in order to not miss it. He's not playing games with us; he simply will not work according to our own frantic demands and timelines. Do I want to live according to whatever is screaming at me, or focus on those important, constant things that ultimately matter?

Meanwhile, I will rejoice in what is right in front of me: the birth of a daughter to dear friends, the warmth of sun (a priceless commodity right now as much of our country is freezing), a full stomach, a sound mind. I will choose to "be happy," because in Christ, we can do so.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Long Walk to Freedom

I found myself watching many different things on the news as 2013 came to a close: reflections on the 1-year anniversary of Sandy Hook, the "Fast4Families" call for immigration reform, escalating tensions in Sudan and horrific attacks in Syria, all the buzz about Pope Francis as the Time Magazine "Person of the Year"... but the stories I found myself following the most closely were the commemoration events that marked the passing of Nelson Mandela.

I had planned on reading his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, during the Christmas Break, but when he died on December 5, I immediately got started. I was about halfway through the book when I went with a friend to see the film of the same name that came out at Christmas. I was nervous that I would stop reading once I saw the movie, but a 2 1/2 hour movie cannot begin to capture the massive swath of history covered in the book, so I returned to reading with renewed interest. (My own review: it's a really good movie... but no surprise, the book is even better!)

Digging into a thick biography is nothing new for me. I usually try to pick up one per year; in the past I have studied the lives of Theodore Roosevelt, John Steinbeck, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Lewis & Clark, Lou Gehrig, Mother Teresa, Eric Liddell, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther, James McBride, Lauren Winner, C.S. Lewis... My appetite is never really satisfied! I immediately made a mental note for my next one when I saw a preview for a new movie coming out this April on the life of César Chávez.

I am currently in the section of Mandela's book that the movie did not portray in deep enough detail: his 27 years spent in captivity as a political prisoner. He spent 18 of those years on Robben Island, a desolate former leper colony. I finally have to make myself go to bed as I read these chapters; they are so gripping that I do not want them to end, but at the same time I don't feel like I can read fast enough to take it all in.

One of the main reasons I enjoy reading biographies is that I am profoundly fascinated by people's capacity to endure and move on past hardship. I learn from each person's journey, and if you know anything about the people listed above, you will see that the majority of them persevered through unimaginable suffering, remarkable challenges and heart-breaking misfortune.

With this is in mind, I am truly being schooled when it comes to the life of Nelson Mandela. Here's a sampling of some of the things he describes:

  • At that time of year, the cells were so cold and the blankets provided so little warmth that we always slept fully dressed.
  • The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute: there were no black warders, and no white prisoners.
  • Prison is designed to break one's spirit and destroy one's resolve. To do this, the authorities attempt to exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality -- all with the idea of stamping out that spark that makes each of us human and each of us who we are.
  • I never seriously considered the possibility that I would not emerge from prison one day.
  • The authorities liked to say that we received a balanced diet; it was indeed balanced -- between the unpalatable and the inedible. 
  • As a D Group prisoner [the lowest grade], I was entitled to have only one visitor, and to write and receive only one letter every six months. I found this one of the most inhumane restrictions of the prison system.
  • We fought injustice wherever we found it, no matter how large, or how small, and we fought injustice to preserve our own humanity.
  • [After describing his bouts of solitary confinement] But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one's spirits strong even when one's body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty.
I won't begin to compare anything in my experience with the expansive saga of Mandela. But for the last several months I have been part of a group that is seeking after lives of shalom and solidarity on the Westside here in Santa Barbara, an underserved community with the majority living at poverty level. So the story of Long Walk to Freedom is compelling and instructive. There are about 20 of us who are building friendships there week after week, and I am grateful that there are many small victories to celebrate.

Nevertheless, we have very, very far to go to truly join in the lives of those we have met. But if Nelson Mandela can live through 27 years of imprisonment, I cannot find any of the challenges I am facing to be insuperable. Rather, as he counsels, I will seek to live by "strong convictions" and the invigorating strength of the Holy Spirit, seeking to work with others to fight injustice and be messengers of peace and hope. 

As you begin this year, what road are you on? Has it been a long odyssey? Do you feel like you are nearing the goal, or are you wandering? Are your spirits flagging? Be reminded that the journey is the destination. Redouble your efforts and dig in for the long haul. Personally, I can only do that with the grace and revival of the Spirit's work in my life daily... and reading good books like Long Walk to Freedom!

So as 2014 commences, I rejoice that I have truly, finally, found freedom (Galatians 5:1) through the honesty and beauty of the gospel. It was a long walk, and I will continue on that journey so that others may know that freedom as well.