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Showing posts from 2012

Feast of Saint Nicolas

Today is the feast of Saint Nicolas!

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas) and St Nicolas Center (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/):
"Saint Nicholas was born a Greek in Asia Minor during the third century in the city of Patara  which was a port on the Mediterranean Sea, and lived in Myra, Lycia (part of modern-day Demre, Turkey), at a time when the region was Greek in its heritage, culture, and outlook and politically part of the Roman diocese of Asia.  He was very religious from an early age and according to legend, Nicholas was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He d…

An autumn menu

For the first time in months, we will be home for a full week, giving me a chance to plan and execute a weekly menu. We’ve got quite the international range this week, and as usual, most recipes are those that are new to me. The menu items are rounded out with small snacks of fresh veggies or fruits daily. Recipe sources:www.epicurious.comArt of the Slow Cooker1000 Indian Recipes400 Soupsths.gardenweb.comdomesticfits.commylittleexpatkitchen.blogspot.comSunday:Breakfast: orange cardamom tea cake (epicurious.com)Lunch: Taos soup (Parks family recipe)Dinner: fresh naan, califlower pakoras, red lentil soup, cumin potatoes, grilled lamb, pistachio ice cream (all dinner items from 1000 Indian recipes)Monday:Breakfast: peach grits (p.115 slow cooker)Lunch: leftoversDinner: grilled tilapia with lemon pepper, rice, peasTuesday:Breakfast: cheerios, fresh fruit, juiceLunch: egg salad sandwich, pop chips, red pepper stripsDinner: pea and basil soup with parmesan crouton (p.66 soup), italian salad…

Negotiating with Terrorists

Note: I suppose that for those who struggle with self-discipline, this morning's post will provide a measure of empathy. For those who are masters of self-discipline, my comments will likely seem alien in nature and sad/entertaining/baffling.

Additional note: I don't suffer from tragic self-esteem *all* the time, I don't *really* hate myself (I just say hurtful things when I am mad), and yes I really do have these kinds of silent conversations with myself.

Actual internal dialogue that took place this morning at 6am in my head between "Good Me" and "Bad Me":

(alarm rings)
GM: Time to get up! Time to go running! Time to tackle the day!
BM: It's cold. Going back to bed.
GM: NO! We are going running. Let's go. (gets out of bed and turns off alarm)
BM: It's cold. I don't want to go. And I'm tired.
GM: I'm tired, yes, but we need to get up and get going.
BM: Why don't we just sleep in till 6:30am and then go running then? We will g…

Close Your Eyes and Tap Your Heels Together Three Times

Many years ago I read the following prose penned by an African pastor and was immediately convicted by the Holy Spirit. It embodies the life of the disciple I want to be for Christ and illustrates so clearly how wide the gap is between who I am and who I want to be: 

I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit …

Book Review: Captivating

This week during my daily commute I have been reading Captivating (Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul) by John and Stasi Eldredge. The book promises to reveal what it means to be a woman and how to live the life of a woman as God intended on a day to day basis.

The thesis of the work is a philosophy of gender reasoned as follows:
1. Gender is imprinted at the spiritual level on the soul and not just in our physical form and genes. 
According to the authors, this principle is suggested by the contextual language of the versus in Genesis describing creation. Specifically, the verse dictating that God made mankind, MALE AND FEMALE, in his image. The authors argue that based on this inclusive language, both men and women represent the spiritual image of God and so it follows both genders display/embody attributes of God at a spiritual level.

2. Women reflect the following attributes of God: romance, adventure, and beauty.
Using numerous scripture references, the authors do a good …

Kitchen Essentials: Herbs and Spices

The key to healthy, flavorful, and delicious cooking is having a variety of spices and herbs on hand at all times. Jonathan and I have put time and energy into building our spice and herb collection and it has paid off in spades. Rarely do we find a recipe (even the most exotic) that calls for a spice or herb we don’t have on hand. And we love delighting the palettes of our friends and family with seasonings they may not be familiar with. We prefer to stock all of our dried spices and herbs from Penzey’s, but many of those that we’ve listed below can be found at any grocery store. If there is a particular herb or spice you’re wondering about how you might use, I’d be happy to share some recipes if you send me an email with the seasoning in question. Herbs & Spices (A-H)
adobo
allspice, ground
almond extract
anise seed, whole
bangkok blend
basil
bay leaves
brady street cheese sprinkle
cajun seasoning
caraway seed
cardamon, ground
cayenne pepper, ground
celery flakes
celery seed, ground
chili piqu…

Kitchen Essentials: Hardware

Many friends have asked me to pontificate on the kitchen gadgets and hardware that I find essential in everyday cooking. I’ve been preparing meals for my family for 16 years, and did a fair bit of cooking for myself before that. And in all those years, I’ve never had the pleasure of a large kitchen, so keeping things pared down to the absolute essential has been a priority. I am confident that anyone stocking their kitchen for the first time (or replenishing supplies after many years) will find these items useful. If you think I’ve left something out, speak up (email me!) and let your petition be heard.  PrepHigh quality knife set – can not be overstated how important this is. Dull knives are the enemy. wooden paddles- used for stirring most everything on the stove. Cheap and easy to replace.cooking spatulas – 1 short nonstick, 1 long nonstick (for turning fish and crepes), 1 short metal.baking spatulas of various sizes for getting the last bits of batters and sauces out of pans, for …

Onion Pie

I made this recipe a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. It came to me from a penpal in the Netherlands.5 onions2 T olive oil2 T butter1 clove garlic, minced3 t sage1 pie crust (use your favorite recipe)150 g goat cheesepepper and saltRoast onions in oil and butter. Add sage. Put the pie crust in a pie pan, sprinkle with goat cheese, salt, and pepper. Layer the onions atop the cheese. Bake 20 minutes at 200 degrees. Very good with a simple side salad for dinner.

Good Morning Starshine

Well after a month and a half of sharing one car in our family (hubby's car is in the shop till the end of Sept because a part we need is on backorder due to the SAAB bankruptcy), I am here to update you on the benefits of the arrangement. Yes, benefits. Can you believe you just read that? It didn't seem like it was going to provide any benefits at first and I spent the first week or two complaining and whining about the suffering I was forced to endure. But I've changed my tune and I'd like to sing it for you now.

1. I have always been a person lacking self-discipline who got up whenever I felt like it (i have flexible work hours).  This has caused problems for me because fitness regimens, breakfast schedules, making time to walk the dogs, and lunch making (to save $$) all depend on a reliable and consistent morning routine. And yet it's so hard for an undisciplined person to gain discipline unless it's imposed from the outside for a time (during which it even…

The Great Taste Testing Potluck

Sunday night Jonathan and I held a Taste Testing Potluck Party in lieu of our usual 3-4 course Sunday open house dinner. All guests were asked to bring four brands of a product for double blind taste test comparisons by the group.

To facilitate the double blind study, I had each guest bring their selections in identical containers with labels for each item denoting the brand. Once at my place, I moved the labels to the bottom of each container (so that they were now hidden), and then asked another guest to move the containers (without looking at the bottoms) to the dining room table. The guest helping with this task laid out the products in a neat row across the table and then we slapped down blank post it notes in front of each item for guests to record their name and rating (rated as compared to the other items of the same variety on the table).

Products we tested and brands are shown below. Results follow under the listing.

1. Kettle style potato chips, 'Salt and Vinegar' …

Farmhouse Vegetable Soup

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, we found this to be a fantastic weeknight dinner. It’s affordable, works for all seasons and easily adapted to a strict vegetarian (vegan) edition. Serve with fresh bread. Ingredients1/8 ounce dried porcini mushrooms 8 sprigs fresh parsley plus 3 tablespoons chopped 4 sprigs fresh thyme 1 bay leaf 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (use olive oil for vegan adaptation) 1 medium yellow onion, diced 2 carrots, peeled and diced 2 celery ribs, diced 1/3 cup white wine 2 teaspoons soy sauceSalt and pepper 6 cups water 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegan adaptation) 1/2 cup pearl barley 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces 1 1/2 cups chopped green cabbage 1 teaspoon lemon juice Instructions1. Grind porcini with spice grinder until they resemble fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds. Measure out 2 teaspoons porcini powder; reserve remainder for other use. Using kitchen …

So Much Data

In my quest to become better organized, I've tallied a master list of all the data I generate and where I log it. Upon review, it seems to be very haphazard - some things are tracked in analog systems while others are recorded in digital format. When I decide to record a new type of data I often struggle in deciding which format to store it in and also which particular product to use in the format category.

I'm REALLY interested to know what kind of data you personally record, whether your habits in recording have changed over the years, and what formats and products you use for your recording. Drop me an email in reply, comment on this blog entry on the website (http://songsofgratitude.blogspot.com), or comment on the facebook syndication.

Data Item Recorded, Format (analog/digital), Products

medical records, digital, google docs (Excel Spreadsheet)
nutrition, digital, sparkpeople.com
exercise--cardio, digital, dailymile.com
exercise--strength, analog, Eat Clean Workout Journa…

People Doing Bad, People Doing Good

Never underestimate the power of an individual to make a difference! 
You guys, get ready to cry. 
Please stop and take a moment to read this- it will brighten your day (after you cry first). 
Karen is a bus monitor in a small town in NY- whose frequent bullies (mid school boys ugh) were caught on camera tormenting her. A twenty-something aged gentleman in Canada stumbled across the video (it had been uploaded to YouTube by a student) and wanted to do something for Karen to show her how much she is loved. He created a funding campaign on one of those microfunding sites with a goal to raise $5k to send her on a nice vacation. He raised over $120k (and the campaign is still active), brought the national spotlight on Karen (who has since made an appearance on the Today show) and bullying. It's been an amazing spectacle to watch.
Read the complete story, see the video, and track the fundraising campaign

Becoming an Effective Person: Sharpen the Saw

Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The final habit for effective living offered by Covey is one of renewal, or what he refers to as ‘sharpening the saw’. In essence this means taking care of ourselves from a holistic perspective:
physical health: stewardship of our body including physical fitness, nutrition, proper rest, etc.mental health: stewardship of our mind and talents including continuing education and training, reading, writing.spiritual health: stewardship of our spiritual life including prayer, meditation, worship, and study.social health: stewardship of our social relationships including civic duties, service to others, practicing habits four through six. According to Covey we should ensure that we carve out time in our weekly schedules for each of these stewardship areas alongside our Quadrant II activities.
Since my mission statement (again, here for reference) already incorporates these four areas of stewardship as subset point…

Becoming an Effective Person: The Path to Interdependence

Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Having put forth three habits that comprise personality responsibility and independence, Covey turns to address interdependence (cooperative action).
Building interdependent relationships:
seek to understand people, their thoughts, and their motivations so that we can empathize and know what matters to themattend to details; small kindnesses and courtesies are importantkeep commitmentsclarify expectations in relationships to avoid confusionalways strive to demonstrate personal integrity (first three habits)apologize whenever it is warranted Habits four, five, and six build on these concepts:
Habit Four: Think Win/Winseek mutually beneficial outcomes whenever possibleWin/Win or no deal strategy for collaborating with those we do not hold commitments toWin/Win or compromise strategy for collaborating with those we hold commitments to this habit takes tremendous integrity because it requires choosing the best …

Becoming an Effective Person: Put First Things First

Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Habit three of effective living can be summarized as life management.
Remember that habit one was recognizing our agency, habit two was demonstrating the leadership to chart our course and now here we are at habit three- active management on a day to day basis in line with our chartered course.
From a computer/IT perspective this is running the program we’ve written. The most important part of running our program is keeping our commitments; is adhering to the features we’ve documented in writing the program. Doing this is a show of self-discipline.
We have to master self-discipline in order to succeed in running the program as written. Integrity is having the discipline to submit our will to our principles we’ve centered our life on.
Here Covey introduces his organizational paradigm of Quadrant management. Quadrant I activities under our management are those which are urgent in nature and important (furth…

Becoming an Effective Person: Begin With the End in Mind

Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
Covey states that the second habit of a highly effective person is to organize life around a vision of what we value most, or in his words, to ‘begin with the end in mind’. Along these lines we should document what matters to us with a personal mission statement or statement of purpose. This is leadership; this is setting a vision of what we want to accomplish.
From an IT/computer perspective this habit is writing the program for our system.
The best programs we could write per Covey focus on solid principles (again, unchanging deep truths) and we must be careful not to center life on anything but those principles lest we make them little idols in our life. He cautions against a life that prioritizes marriage, family, money, work, possessions, pleasure, friends, enemies, church, or ourselves at the exclusion of everything else.
I went through this exercise many years ago – creating a statement of purpose- …

Becoming an Effective Person: Be Proactive

Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
According to Covey, the first habit we must cultivate for success is that of proactivity. This means abandoning the paradigm of strict determinism:
stimulus------>response
Instead we must embrace a paradigm that includes the interjection of man’s free will:
stimulus---->thought/will---->response
We are not mere robots led around by our noses; we can choose to stop and think before acting. We must take initiative to act in our circle of influence. Note that this is not simply superficial positive thinking or an attitude adjustment but addressing realities and thoughtfully choosing the best course of action.
Our circle of influence:
that which we have direct control over – our actions and characterthat which we have indirect control over – our collaborative work with others From a computer/IT perspective this habit is simply the embrace of the reality that we have a hand in programming our own syste…

Becoming an Effective Person: Overview

I’ve been reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It’s my second reading of the work - my first reading was early last year but with the stress of my father’s death I didn’t absorb any of the material. There’s a lot to review and comment on so I’ll be writing my notes in sections. According to Covey, the field of success literature began with an emphasis on building character (fidelity, integrity, humility, etc). However post WWI the field turned toward a cult of personality and most modern success literature addresses the superficial of social relations like how to get people to like you and how to build your “brand”. Covey criticizes this new paradigm and reminds us that social ethics are secondary success factors; we can only experience true success and enduring happiness if we have a foundation of underlying character. “Search your heart with all diligence for out of it flows the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I …

Sweet Potato Casserole

Made this for dinner tonight as a side for baked ham. Very good. Source: Cook’s IllustratedServes 5-6 Bake the casserole in an 8-inch-square baking dish for 35 to 40 minutes. IngredientsSweet Potatoes3.5 pounds sweet potatoes (3-4 medium) Streusel2.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened, plus additional for greasing pan 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (1 1/4 ounces) 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces) 1/8 teaspoon table salt1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces) Filling2.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 1 teaspoons table salt1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract 2 teaspoons lemon juice Granulated sugar to taste 2 large egg yolks 3/4 cups half-and-half InstructionsFOR THE STREUSEL: While potatoes are baking, butter 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Pulse flour, brown sugar, and salt in food processor until blended, about four 1-second pulses. Sprinkle butter pieces over flour mixture and pulse until crumbly mass fo…

Fried Yuca

Tonight’s experimental dinner consisted of Peruvian roast chicken and fried yuca with spicy mayo. The chicken was unremarkable, but the fried yuca was fabulous. I was very nervous preparing it for dinner as the tuber contains hydrogen cyanide and it must be prepared carefully and correctly to avoid poisoning (Yuca must be boiled to release cyanide into the cooking water). It’s been an hour since we sat down at the table and I’m not feeling any cyanide side effects so I think I did alright. Recipe below, adapted from Gourmet Magazine. Serves 2For sauce1 T feta cheese, crumbled fine 1/2 cup mayo 1/2 jalepeno, pureed in food processor 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1/4 lime1/2 tsp Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming seasoning
For yuca1 large fresh yuca (cassava) About 2 cups vegetable oil 1/4 teaspoon salt Make sauce:
Mix together sauce ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Fry yuca:
Trim ends of yuca and cut crosswise half, then peel, removing waxy brown skin and pinkish la…

Caribbean Rice and Beans

This is a favorite recipe in our house, adapted from the rice and beans dish served all over Belize. Menu suggestion: serve with Jerk chicken or stewed chicken and fried plantains.IngredientsServes: 8olive oil1 onion, chopped2 garlic cloves, crushed1 red pepper, seeded and finely choppedwhite wine (to taste)2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme2 cups uncooked long-grain rice (jasmine works well)1 can can coconut milk1 can black beans, drained and rinsed1 can white bean variety (small white, navy beans, etc), drained and rinsed salt and freshly ground black pepperfresh thyme leaves to garnishhot sauce (I prefer Marie Sharp's)Preparation methodPrep: 10 mins | Cook: 20 mins1. Cook the rice with your usual preferred method (I like cooking in microwave on 50% power for 15 minutes with a 5 minute rest after: one part rice to two parts water and a T of oil), but substitute the coconut milk (stir before emptying can btw) for part of the water. So instead of 4 cups of water for our two cups of uncook…

Time Management

Summary Notes from Time Management for System Administratorsby Thomas Limoncelli:1. Keep all your time management stuff in one place - your work and personal appointments, to do list, calendar, goals, etc.2. Focus on the current task; use external storage to record/remember everything else. 3. Develop routines for things so there are no oopsies or important items left undone or forgotten. A good routine is to start each day with our to do list, estimate duration to complete each task, prioritize the tasks, schedule them to be completed, and work the schedule. 4. Pre-compile decisions by developing habits and mantras. Habits such as using the first quiet hour of the day to work projects, or to put gas in your car on the same day every week. 5. Maintain focus during work tasks- do not allow distractions like email, internet surfing, IM, etc to derail you. Study in a quiet environment whenever possible.

Smoked Pork and Spicy Grilled Potato Salad with Corn and NM Green Chiles

Memorial Day MenuSpinach and Arugula Salad with TomatoesBaked BeansPotato RollsSmoked Pulled Pork with Spicy BBQ SauceSpicy Grilled Potato Salad with Corn and NM Green ChilesHibiscus Iced TeaRecipes Adapted from Cook’s IllustratedSpicy Grilled Potato Salad with Corn and NM Green ChilesIngredients  1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, 2 to 3 inches long, scrubbed and unpeeled, cut into eighths 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt2 tablespoons olive oil1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper   Table salt1 cup corn kernels, cooked 4 NM green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and minced 4 tablespoons lime juice 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar 5 tablespoons olive oil2 scallions, green parts only, sliced thin InstructionsIn large Dutch oven or stockpot, bring 4 quarts water to boil over high heat; add 1 teaspoon salt.Skewer potato pieces. Drop skewers into boiling water and boil until paring knife slips in and out of potato easily, about 10 minutes.While potatoes boil, line rimmed …

Salmon Cakes

Made these for dinner tonight, accompanied by roasted corn on the cob (trim loose husks from corn and roast at 425 for 40 minutes), and roasted asparagus (drizzle with olive oil, salt, lemon juice and roast at 45 for 10-15 minutes). The hubby rated them very highly and it’s a great way to get in your healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Adapted from Cook’s illustrated.Serves 4If buying a skin-on salmon fillet, purchase 1 1/3 pounds of fish. This will yield 1 1/4 pounds of fish after skinning.Serve the salmon cakes with lemon wedges. Ingredients3 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or arugula 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 4 teaspoons lemon juice 1 scallion, sliced thin 1 small shallot, minced 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper pinch cayenne pepper 1 (1 1/4 pound) skinless salmon fillet , cut into 1-inch pieces 3 T olive oilInstructions1. Combine 3 tablespoons panko, parsley, mayonnaise, lemon juice, scallion, shallot, m…

The Art of Critical Thinking

Just finished reading The Art of Critical Thinking by Vincent Ruggiero. Summary Notes follow.Thinking is production of ideas and judgment of ideas.Read problems fully then decide how to begin attacking them.Check assumptions for validity.Think on paper for clarity: freewrite, brainstorm.Good thinkers accept the following foundational beliefs:1. Strict determinism and strict free-will are both false. Our ideas and actions are heavily influenced and constrained by nature/nuture but we have a strong measure of free will that we exercise to determine our course of actions.2.There is objective truth, although we may not always be able to discern it.3. We approach truth from direct experience, from directly observing others’ experiences, and from report by others. We are biased by our own senses, our attitudes and beliefs and the reliability of reporting.4. Memory recall is frequently flawed. 5. Opinions can be expressions of taste/preference (which are not based on reason and cannot be arg…

Recent Readings

I finished The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman as well as The Year of Fog  by Michelle Richmond last week. In The Imperfectionists Rachman devotes each chapter to an episodic portrait of a different character. In doing so, the author slowly reveals a timeline and interdependent setting for all of the characters. By the end of the novel the cohesive storyline of the newspaper and its history is fully developed and I was able to look back over what I had already read and marvel at the way Rachman had effortlessly tied all his characters together so smoothly while I wasn’t paying close attention. The background plot centers on a small family owned newspaper agency in Rome and the character portraits are of the owners and staff. Because the characters are introduced so slowly, one chapter at a time, and because those chapters focus exclusively on that character, the reader is never left confused or overwhelmed in the moment trying to untangle characters from one another (a problem I frequ…

Thai Menu

Enjoyed a fantastic Thai dinner tonight at our favorite restaurant – Chez Parks. 5/5 stars! Grilled Beef SatayCucumber SaladRicePeanut Dipping SauceMango Sticky Ricephoto credit: Cook’s Illustrated---------------------------------------------------------------------------------Grilled Beef Satay (Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)IngredientsBasting Sauce   3/4 cup coconut milk3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar 3 tablespoons fish sauce2 tablespoons vegetable oil 3 shallots, minced 2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed to bottom 6 inches and minced 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon saltBeef   2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar 1 tablespoon fish sauce1 1/2 pounds NY Strip steak, sliced on slight angle against grain into 1/4- inch thick slices Disposable aluminum roasting pan Instructions1. FOR THE BASTING SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Reserve one…