Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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 power.
My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.
I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear!


I couple this with Oswald Chambers's continuous call to give up everything for Christ, to live in utter humility, invisible to others but for the love of Christ they see through our words and actions and I feel so ashamed. I want to be the sort of woman who doesn't wilt when the limelight is turned off; who doesn't feel she would die from lack of validation and attention. Instead, I love the thrill of praise (whether it be for my intellectual abilities, my domestic skills or my desirability as a woman) As much as it pains me to admit it, to lay down my struggle before my readers and acknowledge that this is who I am,  I cannot deny it. This is who I am.

When I write here, for you, I like to wrap things up nicely with a summary or a call to action. But I'm at a loss. I'm not even quite sure the path forward to move from the person I am now, to the person I want to be. Pursuit of validation - is this just garden variety sin that can be prayed away or run from? Or is this a mental health issue that suggests therapy? I don't know. I know that in addition to blocking my effectiveness as a disciple of Christ the pursuit of validation harms others, turning them into pawns for my ego gratification and bringing disharmony into my circle of influence.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

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 job of demonstrating that romance (the call to pursuit; the quiet whisper that says I am here for you when you are ready, pursue me), adventure (intrinsically linked to grand, meaningful action), and beauty (the restful respite that takes your breath away and makes you feel at ease like a beautiful garden or gentle river or fresh cut flowers) are all attributes of God. However, I think John and Stasi fail to lead the readers through any well reasoned, logical proofs on why these three attributes are specifically tied to women. Instead, they merely provide examples of women who embody these attributes and use parenthetical questions such as "(don't you agree?)" to push the reader to accept their conclusions.

Do I agree with this premise? It does seem that I've been imprinted to the depths of *my* soul with a desire to be pursued, with a quest for adventure, and with a passion to be beautiful inside and out. But I'm not every woman, and I'm not sure I'm at all comfortable prescribing these desires for all women as ordained by God. It's especially hard at times to reconcile the desire to exemplify beauty and respite as Godly with the current push of the Western world for women to be harder and aggressive. When I was a younger woman and wanted to be pleasant and gentle and restful to others I accepted the desire as part of who I was. When I was in my 20s, business classes (and women's studies) taught me that being pleasant, gentle, and restful are qualities women are merely trained into by a sexist oppresive culture and that it would do us good to free ourselves from the shackle of these desires. Studies are often trotted out to show the #1 reason men succeed over women in the business world is because they aren't constrained with a desire to be pleasant, gentle, and restful to others and that when women adopt the posture and attitude of men they too outpace the rest of their female colleagues in rank and pay (but sadly they experience more marital and relationship discord and are not well liked). And now here comes John and Stasi asserting that being pleasant, gentle, and restful to others are the very embodiment of God within us. Are they right, or are they fools and tools of the patriarch?

3. Women are most fufilled and most useful in serving God's kingdom when they cultivate and embody these feminine attributes of God.
According to the authors, women are uniquely qualified to draw others into the kingdom and enrich the lives of others in discipleship when we cultivate these attributes I've detailed above. We can move hearts and mountains with our inviting hearts, our adventurous spirits, and our gentle and soothing beauty. Not only are we most effective when we focus on romance, adventure, and beauty but we are most joyful and fulfilled. Again, in lieu of providing reasoned arguments as to the validity of this premise, here the authors simply provide examples of women who are working life in line with this philosophy and suggest readers give it a try to see what fruit it bears. They also caution that by ignoring this principle and showing neglect in providing careful cultivation, these attributes will remain, as they are part of our souls, but they will grow weedy and untamed, resulting in a personality that is to either extreme of the attribute (aggressive and off putting/needy and clingy and desperate; reckless/listless and uninspiring; vain or harsh/frumpy or uninviting). 

The authors acknowledged that cultivating these feminine attributes can be a challenge. First, since such cultivation will further God's kingdom, evil forces will actively oppose our progress. Additionally, as mentioned above, there is currently a counter-cultural backlash pushing women to abandon these attributes and cultivate a more masculine attitude to get ahead. Finally, there is a very real fear and danger that offering these qualities to the world (and displaying vulnerability) will get you stomped on and abused. Try telling sexual assault victims that to be fulfilled they need to cultivate allure (not sexual, but personality), respite, and gentleness. There are some brief words on proper context (the author's aren't suggesting while being beaten a woman smiles and radiates beauty) but otherwise the readers are challenged to find a way to embody these attributes no matter the evil that should oppose them, no matter the western world social or business consequences, and despite the vulnerable risk it comes packaged with.

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An additional idea the authors offer is that Lucifer has a special hatred of women, stemming from his envy of her beauty and his opposition to her relationship building, that fuels much of the historical oppression and degradation of women in our world. The authors detail the scripture references to Lucifer's beauty as they construct the foundation for this conclusion. There isn't really a call to action suggested by this theory; the authors simply want to make women aware of the greater context of women's issues with regard to spiritual warfare. I like conspiracy theories so this premise appealed to me. Is it possible that women have been oppressed from time eternal not just because we are, on average, physically weaker but because there is a demonic plot working against us? Interesting to ponder.

Outside of the content of the book, the writing itself is average. It's written in an easy, conversational format.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

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 piquin (mexican)
chives
cilantro
cinnamon, ground
cinnamon, sticks
citrus grill seasoning
cloves, ground
cloves, whole
coriander, ground
coriander, whole
cream of tartar
cumin seed, ground
cumin seed, whole
curry powder, sweet
dill seed
dill weed
epazote
fennel seed, ground
fennel seed, whole
fenugreek seed, ground
galangal, ground
galangal, whole
galena street rub
garlic, ground
garlic salt
ginger, ground
ginger, crystallized
greek seasoning
green chile blend
ham glaze
herbs de provence

Herbs & Spices (J-Z)
jalepeno, dried
jerk seasoning
kaffir lime leaves, whole
kalajeera (indian herb)
lamb seasoning
lavender
lemon extract
lemongrass
lemon peel, ground
lemon pepper
mahlab, ground
marjoram
mint
mustard seed, brown, whole
mustard seed, yellow, ground
mustard seed, yellow, whole
nutmeg, ground
nutmeg, whole
old bay seasoning
orange peel, ground
oregano
paprika, sweet, ground
peppercorn, ground
peppercorn, whole
pizza seasoning
pickling spice
poppy seed
poultry seasoning
pumpkin pie spice
red pepper flakes
saffron, whole
sage, ground
sandwich sprinkle
savory
star anise, whole
steak seasoning
tarragon
thyme
tumeric root, ground
turkish seasoning
tuscan sunset italian seasoning
vanilla beans, whole
wasabi, ground
white pepper, ground
zatar seasoning

Fresh Herbs and Spices (from the garden):
basil, sweet
basil, boxwood
basil, thai
chives
marjoram
mint
oregano
parsley
rosemary
thyme
chocolate mint
orange mint
dill
basil, purple
ginger root
lemongrass

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. 

Prep

High 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 cooking omelets, and for folding batter.

graters -  1 microplane (for spices, for zesting citrus), 1 handheld (for grating small amounts of cheese or chocolate).

metal pounder – for tenderizing or thinning out meats, for crushing ice and garlic.

wooden citrus reamer – another workhorse of our kitchen as so many recipes call for fresh lemon or lime juice.

apple corer – used frequently to core apples and pears for cooking and eating.

handheld cheese slicer –nothing else gets perfectly thin slices of cheese at the dinner table.

mandolin – pretty much required for paper thin vegetable slicing.

large round metal spoon with holes – for scooping things out of the deep fryer.

2 veggie peelers – so you and a friend can work together in the kitchen.

tongs of various sizes – so useful for flipping and grabbing things while cooking.

kitchen scissors- for cutting bags open, for cutting herbs.

soup ladles – 1 large for soups and stews and 1 small for sauces.

cheesecloth – for bundling herbs in stocks and sauces, for draining ridiculously small grains like red quinoa.

kitchen twine – for tying up roasts and a host of other uses.

measuring cups and spoons – for the obvious.

prep bowls – we have a nested set of glass and another of metal and they both get frequent use.

tiny prep bowls- when you get good at having mise en piece (chopping everything up that the recipe calls for before you start cooking) you need a place to put it. These bowls also double well for serving salsa and other condiments at the table.

pastry scraper – for cutting dough, for scraping dough, for scraping off my baking stone and glass top cooktop.

whisks of all sizes – for the obvious.

kitchen scale – SO important for accurate measurements in baking.

pepper grinder – if you are a good cook you are going to frequently use freshly ground pepper. Make it easy on yourself and buy a handheld pepper grinder. Battery operated is a plus!

handheld can opener – don’t bother with a small appliance when they cost more and take up counter space. A next generation handheld (the kind that cuts the top off without jagged edges) will do just fine.

crumpet rings – used for making homemade crumpets (basically english muffins), but also for keeping fried eggs and batters in perfect circles while cooking.

biscuit cutters – for the obvious.

strainers of various sizes (including a colander for pasta) – for draining everything from beans, to straining sauces, to holding berries for rinsing. Very important for any kitchen.

pastry board – for rolling out pizza and other dough.

cutting boards – 1 for meats, 1 for everything else.

Bakeware

2 loaf pans – for baking breads, including quickbreads. Also for meatloaf and terrines. You want at least 2 so that you can put one in the oven right after the other around the holidays. Go for ceramic or glass and skip the metal.

2 aluminum sheet pans – get the large commercial grade sheet pans that you will use for everything from cookie baking to roasting vegetables.

At least 2 round nonstick Wilton cake pans – for cakes of course.

1 nonstick mini muffin tin – I find the mini muffin tin to be much more practical then the large muffin tins as it’s easier to make portion controlled treats and it’s lovely for making appetizer sized quiches and tarts.

Bundt pan – for Bundt cakes and angel food cakes. Also for layered jello molds.

glass casserole baking pans – 1 small, 1 medium, 1 large, all for baking casseroles, roasting cuts of meat, or baking sheet cakes and other desserts.

1 springform pan – essential for cheesecakes and other desserts.

1 tart pan with removable bottom – for savory and sweet tarts of course, but also for quiche and desserts.

pie pans – 1 glass (for fruit or other pies), 1 ceramic deep dish (for pot pies and such).

1 baking stone – cheap and easy from Wal-Mart for making pizzas, and cooking most of your breads in the oven.

cooking racks

Cookware

stainless steel pans – 2 small, 1 medium, 1 large for everyday use. Always get stainless steel because they are affordable, easy to clean, last forever, and can go from stovetop to oven/broiler without issue.

stainess steel pots -  1 tiny, for melting butter and chocolate or steeping herbs in hot oil; 2 medium for the bulk of everyday cooking; 1 very large with steamer/strainer insert for making stocks, cooking large amounts of pasta, steaming tamales, lobster boils, etc.

nonstick pans- 1 small for omelets; 1 large for low fat sautéing (particularly perfect for cooking non-fatty fishes like tilapia or sole); 1 large square flat griddle for crepes and pancakes.

1 cast iron large pan for cornbread, blackening fish and chicken, and other southern cuisine. Also perfect for making Dutch babies.

At least 1 enameled Dutch oven – size you need will depend on your family. There are just two of us so we have the 5 quart le Creuset. This thing is the workhorse of our kitchen. Stews, braises, chili, soups, and anything deep fried are all done in this beloved pot that is used on top of the stove or inside the oven.

1 or 2 stainless steel small broiler trays – flat, usually with ridges to let fat drain, these are used in our home to broil steaks and roast/toast nuts.

1 roasting pan with rack- we have a large one we use for turkey, chicken, beef, lamb, etc.

Small Appliances

coffee grinder – use for grinding spices. Any brand should do.

food processor – workhorse of the kitchen for grinding/pureeing solids, grating larger quantities of cheese and vegetables, making pie dough. Cuisinart is the industry leader.

immersion blender – key for smooth pan sauces and pureeing soups in the saucepot. Any brand should do, we have a Cuisinart and are quite pleased with it.

high quality commercial blender  – the only appliance that can juice root vegetables like carrots; also great for crushing ice, smoothies, Frappuccino's, and batters such as for crepes. Blendtec or Vitamix are your best choices here.

stand mixer – absolutely essential for making bread, whipping cream, creaming dough for cookies and cakes. I used to recommend KitchenAid for this but they’ve gone downhill in the past decade (plastic gears- you have GOT to be kidding me!) and I now recommend Cuisinart, unless you are rolling in money and can afford a Hobart.

electric frypan – larger size and controlled temperature make this appliance perfect for shallow frying (chicken, chile rellenos, etc) or sautéing for a crowd. Any brand should do.

ice cream maker – ok, so this is really more of a splurge but fresh homemade ice cream makes life pleasurable. Get the Cuisinart electric and you’ll be so glad you did.

at least 1 electric fondue pot – if fondue is not part of your life, that’s no way to live! Seriously much cheaper to make your own then going to the Melting Pot or other pricey fondue joint.

waffle iron – for the obvious.

The frypan, ice cream maker, waffle iron, fondue pot, and immersion blender get stored in our cabinets while the rest of the appliances live on our kitchen countertops for daily access.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

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 onions

2 T olive oil

2 T butter

1 clove garlic, minced

3 t sage

1 pie crust (use your favorite recipe)

150 g goat cheese

pepper and salt

Roast 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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

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 eventually internalizes). True, technically no one is holding a gun to my head and making me get up at 4am but if I don't get up early enough to ride to the train station with hubby, I have to either call in sick to work or walk a couple miles to the train station. So there's that pressure to get up on time and it's been good for me as I've now got a consistent morning routine going and my health, our pets, and our finances are benefiting from it. 

2. Gone is the decades long argument between hubby and I about when to go to bed. I have always enjoyed going to bed later while he has preferred to get his head on a pillow no later than 9 pm. I would stay up till 11pm or midnight or later, but even if I went to another room to keep from disturbing him I would inadvertently wake him up when I eventually crawled into bed (he's a light sleeper). I pointed out that likewise he would wake me inadvertently in the early a.m. when he got out of bed. So we were both disturbed by each other's habits. And round and round we've gone in this argument for SIXTEEN years with no easy resolution for two stubborn people. Now that I'm getting up at 4am each morning I have no interest in or ability to stay up past 9pm on weeknights. So just like that *poof* the infighting is over on this thorny subject.

3. I am slowly turning into a morning person. I thought this morning vs night person thing was a fixed trait, but it seems to be mold-able with enough effort. And this is a benefit because being awake in the wee hours is truly awesome! I get to watch the sunrise every morning. I get to run in the streets when it is cool and breezy and deserted, which so peaceful. I have time to prep casseroles or the crockpot for the day's dinner if needed. And I get to do those things with energy and joy, no longer feeling irritable when getting up early. I am still suffering under the side effects - namely afternoon fatigue between 3 and 5pm- but I think they will fade over time (hopefully).

4. We are saving money on gas. Jon disputes whether we are really driving less just because we are down to one car but I am certain it is so. Knowing that we only have one car makes me more reluctant to schedule a lot of extra activities because I don't want to leave hubby stranded without vehicle. So I try to limit my driving trips and when I do go out I try to combine a lot of errands into one trip.