Clearness

I’m not really sure why this story is sticking in my head; but it has been ever since Ken and I read it. 

The story discussed the Quaker tradition to have a “clearness committee” whenever one has to make an important, life-altering decision. The committee is not there to discuss a decision or to give advice; it is there to ask questions.

A man was offered a new job. More money, more status, more influence – a seemingly no-brainer. Yet he couldn’t answer the question “Why do you want this job?” First, he started to list everything he didn’t like about it. After repeating the question several times, the committee members urged him more. Ashamed, he said he would like to see his picture in the paper. That was the only reason he really had for taking this job. And, of course, the fact that to everybody else this seemed like the greatest opportunity.

I feel like we should all have a clearness committee once in a while. Obvious answers are not necessarily right ones. And what’s right for everybody else doesn’t need to be right for you.

More importantly, I feel that we should sometimes consider ourselves to be a member of the committee. Asking the right questions is often harder than distributing advice.

Everybody deserves good questions. The answers often need some time to ripen… I’m still trying to figure out the exact answer to why this story stuck with me. I’ll let it ripen a little bit longer…

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Banana Chocolate Bread

Marlena asked me yesterday if she could have a piece of chocolate for dessert…. “Sorry”, I said, “but I don’t think we are going to have a lot of chocolate for the next few weeks. How about we make some banana bread?” –Pause- “How about some chocolate banana bread?” she responded.

So that’s what we did. And it turned out really yummy. (But not very sweet – just to warn those of you who like it rather sugary…)

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups of whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup mashed bananas
  • 1/3 cup soft butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup of honey
  • 2 t baking powder
  • ½ t baking soda
  • 2 T milk
  • pinch of salt

Mash bananas. Mix all the wet ingredients together in one bowl. Combine all the dry ingredients in a second bowl. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet mix. Blend for about 2 minutes. Pour in buttered loaf pan (8x4x2) and bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes.

Enjoy.

And So It Begins

Unspectacular. I have to say. I even waited to write this post until the morning to see if something “appropriate” for the beginning of our fast would happen. It didn’t. We ate good and healthy food. We had a good day. We didn’t really miss anything.

It makes me think about how most things really start very quietly. It makes me think of when I met my husband for the first time. We were standing at the copier. I sure didn’t see at that moment that we would be married a year later. It makes me look back on giving birth. It started quietly, it even slowed down. But it for sure changed the pace very quickly. Not that I expect any fast to have even a slight comparison to finding your soul mate or giving birth, but it just reminds me that things go a certain way. A way we don’t get to choose. Just wait and see.

The Last Supper

A while ago I heard an interview with Alicia Silverstone. She was talking about becoming a vegan. After she and her husband made the decision to change their diet they bought a huge steak and had a last, meaty meal. I remember that I thought this sounded pretty ridiculous. Now I start to understand…

You could think we are leaving the modern world and are going to spend the next 40 (make that 400) days in the desert with only a cup of water a day. That’s how we, and I have to say especially my dear husband, are acting today. It seems like we have to make sure we eat enough junk food today so that we can store it for the remainder of our upcoming journey. Which means we have to order pizza with sausage and double cheese. Seriously. Ken put that on the meal plan three weeks ago. We haven’t ordered pizza in ages and the very few times we did it was for a good reason; e.g. after painting the house and nobody wanted to move even one little finger to make dinner. But today we need to have it. Because who knows when these 40 (=400) days are going to be over…

And next to the pizza there is yogurt in the making, homemade granola in the oven and bread in the bread maker.

 Ahhhhhhh, the irony of transitions….

Sleep and Eat

I am so tired. I haven’t felt so tired since Marta was born 5 months ago. But it seems like her sleeping rhythm is back to the beginning.

What does the tiredness do to me? It makes me hypersensitive and … it makes me crave sweets. I generally don’t have a sweet tooth but I guess in the absence of caffeine my body craves sugar. I wish we could delay Lent. I wish I could say: Let’s just wait until this phase is over…

Obviously, I know that there is always a “phase”. And I know that what my body really needs is good food. But I don’t sound very convincing to myself when I’m trying to survive on 3-4 hours of sleep every night.

This seems to start out as a real challenge. But Lent is a time to let go of excuses for failings and shortcomings; even if they are really good ones …

First Reflections

Ken asked me today when I would write a reflective post. M y immediate answer was: “But we haven’t started yet. What should I reflect on?”

But this answer is, of course, not true. Even though we haven’t completely gone “pure food” yet, we have started. We plan, we cook, we wonder.

I wonder what this journey will do to me.

First, what it will do to me physically. What it will do to Ken and the kids. Are we going to feel better? Or, and that’s a real concern, are we going to feel just the same. We already eat pretty healthy – so what if this doesn’t make any difference? Wouldn’t that be disappointing? I truly think that would crush my spirit a little bit…

Second, spiritually. Fasting brings always new perspectives to my life. Not all are comfortable in the beginning. One aspect I have to realize very deeply every lent, is that we have a choice in almost everything we do. Starting with what we put in our mouth and how we talk to our neighbor and end with – well, I guess it only ends with death.

Third, family. We do this as a family. We make fundamental decisions not only for ourselves, or for us as a couple, but for two little girls who trust us wholeheartedly. My hope is that this puts this family even more in the center. That the focus truly must be God and family and that this journey will reemphasize just that.

I hope the reflection pieces are going to be easier to write. I assume they won’t. And they probably shouldn’t be.

Counting on Beans

I was inspired by a post on www.keeperofthehome.org that talked about how to use beans to manage the food budget. I have to confess that I tend to shy away from cooking with beans – so far. I love lentils but I generally use beans only to make chili.

My hesitation with beans might be slightly based on my first experience – about four years ago – when Ken and I decided to cook chili with dry beans. We soaked them for maybe an hour and then added way too much chili powder to the mix. The dinner ended with us trying to politely eat around the beans and at the same time consuming enormous amounts of milk to cope with the extreme spiciness of the dish…

So I decided that a good way to begin my “second” bean discovery would be to modify my chili recipe – making the bean more a center piece… and hopefully a little more tender.

Lenten chili:

  • 3 cups of mixed beans and lentils.  – I never really paid enough attention to how beautiful and colorful beans are. So I tried to make the nicest looking blend possible.
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 can tomato sauce

Sauk bean/lentil mix over night. Than simmer for two hours.

Heat some olive oil in large pot. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until soft. Add spices. Mix in tomato sauce and cooked beans. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Garnish with whatever you like. Delicious.

Snack Time

I’m not quite sure why toddler crackers (or any crackers, for that matter) need to have 20 ingredients. Even though half of them are organic and none of them sounds too scary. But still, these are supposed to be simple, plain crackers. And, of course, they are not going to work for this fast. And probably not afterwards, either. I’m feeling a little bit silly that I never read through the whole list before. But that’s what “organic” sometimes does to you. It tricks you into thinking that it’s automatically good for you. But that needs to be the content of a post dedicated to just that topic.

Another problem we had was baking powder. Our original one contained aluminum – so we had to switch to an aluminum free version.

So here’s what we did. After looking at tons of cracker recipes and trying to take bits of pieces from each of them, we ended up with our first batch of homemade crackers yesterday…

Lenten sweet potato crackers:

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1 big sweet potato
  • 1 Tsp of baking powder
  • 3 Tsp of butter
  • A little bit of salt

Mix flour, salt and baking powder together. Put in food processor with dough hook and setting if available. Add semi melted butter. Mix until it’s kind of coarse.

Put sweet potato in microwave and bake under “baked potato setting” – twice. Puree sweet potato. Add the puree to the rest of the dough. Mix until you have one big clump. (You might have to add some water to get enough liquids.)

Divide dough in 3 or 4 parts. Wrap in plastic wrap. Let cool in refrigerator for about an hour.

Roll out really thin. I used a pasta maker which did a wonderful job.

Cut out small crackers with cookie cutters. Make sure you or your kids like the shapes you use J

Place on baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn over and bake for 10 more minutes. Let cool. The crackers are really crispy once they are cool – they seemed to be a little chewy while they were still hot which made me nervous first…

Scary discoveries #1: What’s this?

Ingredients: salt, sugar, partially hydrogenated palm oil, cornstarch, dried leek, garlic powder, spices, artificial and natural flavors, turmeric, disodium inosinate, caramel color, TBHQ

This is one of my favorite kitchen helpers: veggie bouillon cubes. I used to think that every soup and sauce would be better if you would throw one of those in there… better definitely doesn’t mean good for you if you take all these ingredients into account.  (I had no idea what TBHQ actually was. After reading about it, I’m sure I don’t want this to be part of our daily diet: http://www.naturalnews.com/031318_TBHQ_food_preservatives.html )

So I’m busy cooking and freezing real beef and chicken stock. I imagine that should work even better when it comes to preparing tasty healthy soups, stews and sauces. But I have to say that the hardest thing about this is really to actually handle all these bones and meat pieces. Yuck! I understand that it’s important to know what you eat. I might need a few more cooking sprees to be completely convinced…

How I make stock:

Chicken stock:

  • 1 whole organic chicken
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 cup of chopped carrots
  • 1 cup of chopped celery sticks
  • 1 handful of parsley
  • ¼ cup of vinegar
  • Fill up pot with water

Bring water with chicken to a boil. Skim off the scum. Add everything else and cook in slow cooker for 16 hours.

Beef stock:

  • 2 pounds of soup bones
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 cup of chopped carrots
  • 1 cup of chopped celery sticks
  • 1 handful of parsley
  • ¼ cup of vinegar
  • Fill up pot with water

Cook in slow cooker for 16-20 hours. ( I know that some people recommend using parts like calves foot to the mix… so far, I can’t get myself to do that…)

Preparing …

This is the beginning of a journey. Right now we start getting ready. A lot needs to be prepared to travel smoothly. Our journey will start with Ash Wednesday and end with Easter. Some would call it a fast. I think it is something bigger than that. We are going to only eat pure foods. I wrote up the rules under The Fast. The reasons why we do it are complex and simple at the same time (Check out Why We Do It). It’s spring time. Our bodies and minds should be clear and fresh.

However, before we can see what experiences are waiting for us, a lot of practical things need to be prepared. Cutting out everything processed isn’t easy. We are used to a lot of convenient helpers when we cook. And even though we tend to think that we already eat pretty healthy, we have to face the truth that there are a lot of things we use on a daily basis that are really not pure and not healthy.

Here are a few things we really like. We are going to spend the next couple of weeks to a) make them ourselves or b) find alternatives.

  • Mustard
  • Broth (boxed or in cubes)
  • Hot chocolate
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Soy sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Flavored coffee (decaf)
  • Granola

 And probably about 155 other things we can’t even think about now…

I invite you to be part of this journey. The preparations start now. We start traveling on February 22.

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