La Dolce Vida and the Examined Life

“I feel like I have a hangover,” my girlfriend said the next morning, although she’d had no alcohol to drink the night before. Instead, we attended a “bring a dessert” dance. We drank coffee and ate as much dessert as we wanted and danced the night away. Her sluggishness and headache the next morning were due to a high sugar intake the night before.

A life of sweets, candies, sugary drinks, white flour breads and cakes can add pounds quicker than any other ingredient. Sugar turns to fat, sugar feeds cancer, sugar is addictive, and sugar is a killer. It doesn’t really matter how you take your sugar: honey, agave, white refined sugar, fructose, fruit juice, white rice, just to name a few, sugar should be eaten sparingly. Lately, I’ve allowed a little slippage and that is not good. I will need to reign in my sugar monster and put her back in her cage.

A good way to begin cutting back on sugar is replacing it with fruit. Fruit has a lot of natural sugar in it but it also has a lot of fiber which slows the process of sugar absorption, and that reduces the likelihood of the body storing the sugar as fat. Smoothies made from frozen fruit and almond milk with a little nut butter can be a healthy substitute for ice cream. Healthy Girl’s Kitchen blog has a cookie recipe made from bananas, dried fruit, and rolled oats. These healthier choices taste great and will not put weight on us like sugary drinks and desserts.

When we discover a few extra pounds, we examine what we’ve been eating that might have contributed to the weight gain, and then we revise our diets. Our spiritual health can be the same. When we find ourselves thinking negatively, it may be time to revise our spiritual diets.  Anxiety, worry, fear, and other negative thoughts are combated by prayer and scripture. The New Testament is not called the Good News for no reason. The message of Christ is so beautiful, so uplifting, so incredibly full of loving kindness from God to us, that fears and worries melt away. We are reassured by the loving words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and reading the epistles or some of the Psalms helps to bring perspective to our thoughts. Giving praise to God in our prayers for all we have been blessed with turns us away from negative thoughts and into people of gratitude who find joy and contentment in life. Christ encourages us to examine our ways, our thoughts, and our relationships and consider whether they give glory to God. There are many concerns throughout the day, but rest assured that God can help with each and every one of them.

Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

 

Power Salad and Power Prayers

Maybe Santa will bring me some salad scissors.

Maybe Santa will bring me some salad scissors.

“She drinks seven sodas a day,” my friend told me, shaking his head at this overindulgence. He had recently decided to eat more healthy foods and less sugar, fat, and salt. He had educated himself on the dangers of too much sugar which now he saw was so prevalent in the diets of the people around him. What was really great was that once my friend decided to change his eating habits, he never looked back. That’s the way it was for me, too.

A great way to combat unhealthy food addictions is to start filling up on healthy foods instead. It is important to eat regularly so that we don’t grow so hungry that we have no time to prepare healthy food and begin grazing through our kitchen pantries for snack foods. If this sounds familiar, try stocking your pantry with nuts and healthy whole grain crackers. Get rid of the chips and cookies. Another great trick to avoiding hunger grazing is to have a salad in the fridge already made. My husband and I prepare a large salad every week that lasts for five days. That way it is always available for lunch. I often make extra cooked greens and roasted vegetables to have something in the fridge that will serve as a quick hot meal too, and every week I buy several kinds of fruit for snacks and smoothies. Replacing healthy foods for unhealthy foods is the first step in beating food addictions.

I love the new salad I am making and I want to share the recipe with you. It starts with coarsely chopped kale, somewhat smaller than bite-size. Kale is a fabulous green. It gets the highest ANDI rating, 1000, and is packed with energy-supporting phytonutrients. Kale is probably one of the best foods to eat and recently  I discovered how great raw kale is. Kale has a tough leaf so that most recipes call for cooking it to soften the leaf, but chopped small enough, Kale is very tasty and palatable raw. To the kale I add arugula. Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable and as such has cancer-fighting properties. I put arugula in all my salads. It is slightly bitter but I like the taste. I often think that the healthy foods we crave are the ones our bodies need and arugula is like that for me. After I have those two greens mixed, I add cilantro, marinated mushrooms, artichokes, olives, sweet red peppers, and red lentils with bulgur that I buy ready-made. Really, whatever foods you like can be added to your taste. The real secret to the deliciousness of this salad is that I use lemon humus as a dressing. I also add a tablespoon of ground flax seed and some sesame seeds. Nuts and seeds give a salad some healthy fats and flax seed is a powerful antioxidant. Dr. Fuhrman recommends eating a tablespoon a day of either flax seeds or chia seeds.

Indulging in sugary foods and drinks can be a response to emotional upheaval. Emotional eating is quite common. Comfort foods are eaten as a way of pampering ourselves when we are downhearted.  Because of their addictive nature, however, they can quickly become habitual. For example, My husband and I became empty-nesters this year. I found myself recalling the past when my kids were young and how happy I was with them, but I know that joy of being a young mother is gone now. My sweet dog also died last March and the joy I received from her is also gone and I will never get to pet and hold her again no matter how many times I dream of her. Wandering around the house with these sad thoughts usually leads me to the pantry.

The struggle to readjust to this new more solitary lifestyle has given me a lot more time for prayer. In my longing for the happiness of days gone by, God has shown me His desire to fill that empty time in my life. Practicing the presence of God brings a better comfort than food, and helps me to notice the beauty of each moment. If you find that you are downhearted and need some comfort, God can fill that need as nothing else can. Go to Him without words, without formality, come just as you are as the song says, and be still and know that He is God. He has plan for each stage of our lives. He does not leave us as children must, or die like our beloved pets who live such short lives. Emmanuel, God With Us, is available 24/7 and rather than add extra pounds or cause headaches like comfort does, God reveals in us a glorious nature like His own. Just spending time with God is a powerful way of praying that can bring us peace and comfort, and hope for new joys to come.

 Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! –Psalm 139:23-24

Cauliflower Prayers

Romanesco Cauliflower

Romanesco Cauliflower

“It looks like something out of the sea,” my husband picked up the vegetable displayed on the farmer’s stand. I had seen romanesco cauliflower only once before when my daughter brought one home from Mom’s Market. “Yeah, like coral.” The green spiral cone shapes of the romanesco cauliflower make it beautiful to look at as well as eat.

Even though my cauliflower mash recipe completely smashes out the fractal beauty of the vegetable, at least it keeps its pretty Chartreuse color. It’s delicious. In fact, I think it will be on my Thanksgiving Day table. Here’s how you cook it: cut off a whole head of cauliflower buds. Throw away the core center. Dump the buds in a steamer with sliced onions or shallots and cook till soft. (Use your own judgement on how much onion or shallots you want–I put in just one shallot bulb.) Mash it up with a potato masher and some roasted garlic cloves (I added about four cloves), about an 1/8th cup of cashew butter, and 1/4 C coconut manna. That simple and incredibly delicious.

Cauliflower is a pretty bland vegetable but boy can it fight. It is a powerhouse of vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. Sometimes our prayers for others can seem pretty bland, too. Not every prayer is a spirit-filled literary masterpiece but  they sure do have a lot of power. Praying for people is a good way of loving them from afar. Many times people’s names just pop into my thoughts while I am praying, and later on I find that the impulse to pray for that person was a timely one. So many times this has happened to me, that if I think of someone who I haven’t thought of for a long time, I take it as clue to pray for them. I think many of the people I have known throughout my life will be surprised in heaven when they find out how often I have prayed for them. In my own opinion, I think that God knows who has feelings of true love for whom, and that He uses the powerful love we feel for those special people in our lives to bring blessings to them. In this way we can truly say, no love is lost.

I have a friend who was actually awakened from her sleep with the urge to pray for her son! The next morning she got news of his perilous situation and that he had thankfully, survived it. We don’t have to say a lot of words, or even any words. All we have to do is lift the person up to God, thanking Christ for His amazing love and for that love to surround him/her. How great and grand is our glorious God who counts the prayers of people like us worthy to be received by Him. We are honored and privileged above all to be included in His loving blessings to other people. Nothing makes me feel more like a child of God than to hear that my bland cauliflower prayers have been received and answered by the almighty God. God takes our simple prayers and adds the beauty and flavors of His blessings to pour out upon those for whom we have prayed.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. — James 5:16(b)

Butternut Squash and The Beatitudes

Soup blender turns chunky soups into creamy soups.

Soup blender turns chunky soups into creamy soups.

“Well, they both start with the letter B,” my husband suggested the title and gave me the segue I needed. Then he said, “My work here is done,” and left me with a blank page. Sometimes I just need a little push to get started.

Butternut squash is everywhere. The harvest is on and there is nothing more tasty than butternut squash soup. My girlfriend gave me a wonderful recipe that I will share with you. “The secret,” she said and immediately my attention was hers–I love secrets, “is to roast the squash first.” So, I peeled it, chopped it into one inch squares, and sprinkled it with some garam masala and a little extra cinnamon (or whatever you like). I also added an onion and, per my girlfriend’s second secret, an apple.  I roasted all three for about 30-40 minutes until everything was soft, and then I dumped it all into a pot with some chicken broth (or vegetable if you like). I used my handy-dandy soup mixer tool that I just can’t live without to make a smooth and creamy mixture. It was pretty thick, so I added some coconut milk to make it less stewy and more soupy. I heated it all up to just about boiling and then served it with pepper and salt on the table. It was great. The apple gave it a very nice flavor. I used a red apple but my girlfriend suggested that a green one might be best. I will have to try that next time.

Something else that seems to be everywhere these days is breast cancer. October is breast cancer awareness month, so everyone is wearing pink, even our football players. Dr. Fuhrman has a bone to pick with the breast cancer awareness folks. He seems to think that it should be breast cancer prevention, as almost everyone is already “aware” of how the incidents of breast cancer are growing. He says this increase is due to our poor diet and, as you probably know, I agree with him. A high nutrient diet can help prevent breast cancer and many other cancers and diseases as well. He has said this and now the Nutritional Research Foundation is conducting a ten-year test to prove it. You can be part of the test if you are following his diet. The test hopes to prove that a high nutrient diet will indeed prevent breast cancer for many people. Let’s hope that he is right!

This cause and effect way of eating for good health is not new. What is new is all the processed foods. The cause and effect of eating heavily processed foods is poor health. The Beatitudes offer another cause and effect for the health of our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ gave us these blessings in the Sermon on the Mount, which is just another way of saying that he was giving a sermon on a hilltop. This is what He said in the Book of Matthew:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The cause and effect of pursuing these divine blessings is the way to happiness. Of course, it is not easy to admit we are spiritually bankrupt without Christ, or to be compassionate, meek, righteous, merciful, pure in heart, peaceful, or courageous enough to stand against the evil in this world as he did, just as it is not easy to stay on Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. But, at least now we know the two secrets to good health and spiritual well-being.

 

A Little Oil and A Little Faith

“I never fry with oil. I use broth or a little water.” My girlfriend recently declared war against her bathroom scale and her growing wardrobe, growing in size that is, from an 8 to a 12. She had it with the disappointing reflection in her mirror, with her decreasing health and declining feeling of wellbeing, and she was sharing with me one of her secrets to her success: no more oil.

Imagine a tablespoon of oil. Now imagine a tablespoon of oil in a fry pan and compare it to the amount we really use. Imagine a tablespoon of salad dressing. Now compare that to the amount we use on our salads. Most likely what we actually use is more like two tablespoons, maybe even three. Oil is calorie dense and one of the most likely contributors to our increasing weight gain. Get rid of the oil and lose weight, gain health, and feel better.

Cuisines across all nations use oil. I recently experimented with a cookie recipe using teff flour, a North African cereal grain, and a half a cup of oil, among other ingredients. I just wanted the benefit of the calcium in the teff flour so I left out the sugar but I never considered the oil. The recipe turned out nicely and I started eating it for breakfast. After a few days, I noticed I had gained weight and, knowing the only thing I changed in my diet was the teff flour recipe, I realized that the oil in it was the most likely culprit.

Like salt, oil can enhance the flavors in a recipe. Oil is also one of the tools used to enhance the flavors in processed foods. The more oil, the more taste and the more fat. Dr. Furhman has a neat little diagram of a stomach filled with 400 calories of oil compared with 400 calories of greens and vegetables. The difference is striking as the stomach is quite empty on 400 calories of oil, while quite full with 400 calories of vegetables. The point is that we are still hungry after eating 400 calories of oil because our stomach are still empty, while they are completely full after eating 400 calories of greens and vegetables.

Oil is rich and eating fried or oil-laden foods causes us to overeat. Too much of this type of eating can sicken us, give us stomach aches, and over a period of a lifetime, create some pretty serious illnesses for our heart and arteries. Oil is fat and though some are more healthful than others, a little oil goes a long way. Think one tablespoon; not three.

A little faith can go a long way too. Faith, like oil, enhances the flavors in life. But how do we begin to have faith in our scientific world? People often scoff at religion for its fairytale-like stories of miracles and heaven where angels sing in the clouds. How do we take the historical Jesus seriously? Just wondering if he really existed has stumped some folks. However, virtually all historians agree that he did exist. The historical events in the New Testament line up with other historical texts, and references to Jesus can be found in texts other than the Bible. Making the assumption that Jesus actually lived is not much of a leap. A lot of experts agree that he did walk the earth once upon a time.

But what a walk. Accounts of Jesus in the Bible have him walking on water, feeding thousands with only a couple of loaves of bread and two fish, and even raising people from the dead. And healing? It seems like that’s all Jesus did wherever he went. Is believing all that accredited to faith?

I’d say faith begins with believing that Jesus lived and then died specifically as a sacrifice for sinful man. That’s not much of a leap either since crucifixion in Roman times was a common punishment for crimes, and in Jesus’ case, for blasphemy–claiming to be God.

So imagine Jesus who was a good man by anyone’s standards, letting himself be punished for crimes he did not commit, the crime of hatred toward him, and declaring right up to the end that he was dying for the very folks who were killing him. Now imagine Jesus embodied the soul of God who willingly endured a physically cruel and ultimately fatal punishment to save us from an equally cruel and fatal spiritual punishment so that He could love us forever, even while we were hating him. Going from the first image to the second is the first leap of faith, a fairly large one because it requires the acknowledgement that we are prone to evil and deserve punishment.

The belief that the historical death of Jesus met all the requirements for God’s justice against the evil in this world will flavor our lives with joy and comfort because we can approach God in peace and speak to Him as our own dear Father. Acting out that tiny bit of faith does enormous things to our lives, but getting there requires a good look in the mirror.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11

Teff Loves You and So Does God

Teff“Have you heard of teff?” I asked my brother-in-law. He’s one of my favorite foodies. I can always count on Joe to serve up something I’ve never tasted before. “It’s a grain from Africa that has lots of calcium.”

Teff is new to me but is actually an ancient grain that has been around for thousands of years. It’s a food-hottie of late not only because one serving provides ten percent of our daily needs for calcium, 7 percent for protein, and 14 percent for iron, but it is naturally gluten free. For someone on a wheat-free diet, teff is real find.

Teff is versatile too. It comes as a whole grain that can be cooked as a hot breakfast or added to stews and breads. As a flour it can be used for almost anything: veggie burgers, pancakes, cookies, breads, muffins, etc. It is often coupled with cinnamon and maple sugar to give it a nutty sweet taste. One drawback is the price. It is a few dollars more than our more familiar grains and flours, but the expense is worth it.

Our bodies love healthy foods and once we begin to eat more healthfully, it is easy to tell this. We feel energized, full but not bloated, and the extra pounds start pouring off. It is easy to lose extra weight by making a diet of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. When we first begin eating like this our vision of what it can do for us and how much better we can feel is limited by our lack of experience. However, the way we eat is a habit and habits can be changed. The better we feel after a healthful meal often compels us to make our next meal a healthful one, too. Concentrate less on giving up unhealthy foods and more on adding healthful foods into our meals. Is it hard to give up soda? Try drinking more fruit smoothies instead of denying all sodas. Is it hard to give up chips and snack food? Eat more beans which are much more satisfying and the hunger for snack food will diminish.

God loves us in much the same way. It is hard to begin trusting God because we lack experience and our realization of God’s love for us is so small. Even when we read the wonderful promises and hope for the future written in scripture, we skim right over it and concentrate more on the do’s and don’ts. Like diet rules, the do’s and don’ts are easier for us to grasp a hold of and control. We are more comfortable with structure like this and at the end of the day we can judge our successes.

Unfortunately, perfection is the goal of the do’s and don’ts and sets us up as a failure because we rarely achieve it. Try putting more God into your day just as you put more vegetables into it. Simply spending time with God will open our eyes to the amazing love He has for us. It is God’s love that we feel when we pray to Him and which compels us to spend more and more time with Him. After a while, we begin to cherish His presence in our lives and because we love Him, we begin to seek ways to please Him. We will never achieve perfection, not in our spiritual lives or in our physical lives, but we will achieve a transformation that will lead us to a greater vision of both.

[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

How to Make A Smoothie and Smooth Religion

Smoothies are easy to make

Smoothies are easy to make

“I’ll have a green smoothie for breakfast,” my weekend guests ordered the night before. “What about eggs? Don’t you want eggs for breakfast?” I just bought a dozen fresh from a local farmer at the market and I was excited about cheating a little, not that eggs are particularly “cheating,” but the butter and cheese I was planning to add to them would definitely land them in that category. Eggs for breakfast sounded great to me. “No, no, we want a green smoothie,” they insisted. They all wanted to try it and even though my sister later acquiesced to an egg or two, I let her off the hook the next morning and gave her what she really wanted–the green smoothie.

Smoothies are a cinch to make if you have a good blender. Throw in some bananas and other fruit with some almond milk (or soy, or cow’s milk) and power up the blender. If you want a thick smoothie, use less milk, Kefir, or plain yogurt. If you want a thinner textured smoothie use coconut water or fruit juice (maybe dilute it with water to lower the sugar content). That’s really all there is to it and to make it green, just throw in some kale, or spinach, or even romaine will work–or use a mixture of greens to get even more nutrients. I also add some ginger, flax-seed, turmeric, and matcha powdered green tea for a more healthful variety. Using frozen fruit will make the smoothie more refreshing in the hot summer months, and beware that some fruits like blueberries will turn your green smoothie brown. For my guests I made a healthful variety with flax seeds and ginger, bananas, mango, spinach and almond milk. Both mango and bananas have a high sugar content which I thought my guests would enjoy. Smoothies made with low sugar content tend to reveal more of the flavor of the greens which is not bad but may not be the best bet for folks who are trying it for the first time.

Having a green smoothie for breakfast is really like eating a small salad and some fruit, something that is unusual for an American breakfast. I continue to hang onto about a quarter of a cup of granola first thing in the morning. It helps sweeten the coffee I also drink. If I am going to have a green smoothie, I usually drink it mid-morning. One day I plan on giving up that coffee and granola but it’s been a real struggle for me.

Religion is also a struggle for me. There are so many different theologies in the Christian religion and I have been exposed to many churches: Catholic, Church of Christ, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Reformed. It is not easy but God in many ways will remain a mystery since He is not like men or women, He does not think like we do, and He is more loving and greater than anything we can imagine. So, of course we will always struggle to know Him. Add to that other two religions about Him, Jewish and Muslim, and all their factions, and we’ve got a real mix of understanding of who the great I AM really is. However, it is interesting to note that in all the religions, and even pagan religions, most will agree that we are to love one another, certainly this is true in the Christian religion. The fact that we so often fall short of this is proof that we all struggle in our faith. The road of faith and trust is not smooth. We struggle to understand what God wants from us and we are tormented by the fact that trying to put the Almighty Creator of the Universe into our small brain of understanding is never really going to happen.

Love, however, can happen. God’s loving presence is always there for us. It can be so overpowering that we tell ourselves that God couldn’t possibly love us quite that much. He would not favor us over others. Why would God give us so many material blessing and almost nothing to someone else? And so we struggle even with His show of love.

But this is a skewed understanding because God’s presence is worth more than any material blessing. When I visit with those who have barely a home to live in, I see that joy does not come from material things but from the love of God and that He is quite generous in providing that love. People who are rich in material things often assume it is these “things” that bring joy and that without them no one can be happy. And so we can feel guilty and confused by what we see as God’s favoritism.

In fact, God’s favor is shown by His presence in our lives, our trust in Him, and the joy that comes from faith. If we have material wealth, God has given it to us to share with our children, our families, our neighbors, and our friends. Opportunities to offer hospitality and charitable giving abound in church ministries and missions. Though we may always struggle to fully know our God, His love for us and our love for others will make all our faith journeys a little smoother.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9