Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent, not Christmas (yet)

This Sunday marked the first Sunday of Advent, one of my favorite church seasons (though I feel like I say that about all of them). Gone are the perpetually green vestments and the repetitive tediousness of the Sundays after Pentecost. Enter Sarum blue and the twinkling of the candles on the Advent wreath against the darkness of the shortening days. Enter, stage left, John the Baptist and the nativity without the baby Jesus.

American culture doesn’t do Advent. We don’t do waiting, silently preparing in our hearts for Christmas. And I’m not going to pretend that I wait until Christmas eve to put up my tree or listen to Christmas music. I live in two worlds – one where I sit quietly and focus on my Advent devotion and the other where I hustle and bustle with the best of them, going from shopping to holiday parties.


Advent seems particularly relevant for me this year as I’m ministering in a childrens’ hospital. There are so many times when I’m ready to throw up my hands, to admit that darkness has won. How long, Lord, how long must parents bewail a fatal diagnosis or sit anxiously in the surgery waiting room as a brain tumor is removed? How do people not just give up? How do I not give up? Coming back to the hospital, day after day, holding hands, saying prayers, trying to be a small light in the overwhelming darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Along with the literal darkness of the sun starting its descent before 4 pm, there is so much darkness in the world. I see the individual darkness in people’s lives – cancer, sick and dying children, child abuse. But there’s societal darkness as well – economic injustice, hunger and starvation, unemployment, racism, sexism, etc. It’s so overwhelming that I can see why people give up and resign themselves to cynicism or apathy.


In the darkness, the light shines even brighter. As Sam Portaro said, the lights on the Advent wreath are not talismans against darkness but testaments to the light. The light is here, incarnate among us. The light is the strength within the human soul that fights against giving into the darkness. The light is as simple as getting out of bed to live another day in the face of devastating loss. The light is a group of people’s insistence that their voices matter because they are people, because they are children of God.

The light is incarnate among us if we only look for it around us and let it illuminate our souls.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Allegedly, this is a food blog, and yet I haven’t said a word about Thanksgiving. Last year, Joe and I opted for vacation in Sonoma and the most expensive Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever had at Madrona Manor. This year, I was hoping for a big family shindig. I joke that when Joe has a bit too much to drink, he gets very hospitable, which is partly how we ended up combining families this year. We discovered a little over a year ago that Joe’s paternal grandmother’s sister and two of his father’s cousins live in Nashville. We’ve become close to one of the cousins, Mary, and Joe proposed that we combine Thanksgivings. My parents are currently trying to sell their house, so they were relieved that Mary offered to host. Mary’s deck offered a great family photo opportunity!


Joe and I provided our “famous” bourbon slush. Every time I make it, I think a double batch looks like far too much, but then it’s obliterated. I also cut the sugar in half. It was still plenty sweet, but we could taste the bourbon better.

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We really had a wonderful time. It was everything that Thanksgiving should be – lots of family and food and football, for those who wanted it. There were 10 of us in total, and we all got cozy around this beautiful table.

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And the food, of course! From 12 o’clock – a little bit of “happy” (free-range, organic) turkey with gravy, stuffing, some really fantastic green beans, the butternut squash, kale, and cheddar bread pudding I made (which will have its own post), sweet potatoes, a deviled egg, and my mom’s cranberry salad in the middle.

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There was chocolate chip bourbon pecan pie for dessert, as well as cheesecakes shipped from Junior’s in Brooklyn.

I have so, so, so much to be thankful for this year. I’m thrilled with my life, my jobs, my husband, my family, my health, living in a great city, etc. And I know I don’t deserve any of it. It’s all grace.

Hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Italian Slow-Cooker Eggplant Casserole

Vegan and slow-cooker are not two words that I usually here in the same sentence. Sure, I used to love my slow-cooker for cooking tougher cuts of meat all day long and leaving them fork-tender, but now that I’m not eating (much) meat, the slow-cooker is primarily reserved for soup and stew-making. Not that there’s anything wrong with soups or stews, but there’s only so much of that you can eat before you crave some solid food.

Not only is this meal vegan and made in the slow-cooker, but it also contains eggplant, which is not my most favorite food item in the world. I’ll eat it, but I never get terribly excited about it. But this was good. And easy. And delicious on a giant bed of noodles. The “ricotta” was surprisingly simple to make, and I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand since I had bought cashews the last time I was at Trader Joe’s.

BTDubs, if anyone wanted to get me just one cookbook for Christmas, the book this recipe originally came from, The Vegan Slow-Cooker, would be a great present.


Italian Slow-Cooker Eggplant Casserole
originally from The Vegan Slow-Cooker
as seen on Cara’s Cravings
Yields 4-6 servings


For the Cashew-Tofu Ricotta:
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
3 cloves of garlic
1 15oz package of firm tofu
1/2 cup unsweetened nondairy milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Remaining Ingredients:
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/4lb), thinly sliced (
1 jar (25oz, or 700gm) marinara sauce, store-bought or homemade
Cooked pasta, for serving


The Night Before:
Make the ricotta by blending all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

In the Morning:
Oil the crock of your slow cooker. Pour in 1/3 of the marinara sauce. Top with half of the eggplant slices, half of the ricotta, and another 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat the layers once more, then top with the remaining sauce. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve with pasta.
If your slow cooker does not run hot and the dish seems water, remove the lid and turn the slow cooker to high. The liquid should evaporate in 30-60 minutes.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Baked Oatmeal with Fruit

I’m a really big fan of breakfast, but I’ve gotten into a rut. And now that the mornings have turned colder, smoothies and overnight oats just don’t have the same appeal. But something like a baked oatmeal casserole that I can bake on the weekends and heat up throughout the week sounded like a great idea. Until I got horribly, horribly sick.

It wasn’t the baked oatmeal’s fault, but after running a 102-degree fever for three days a few weeks ago (um, I’m a little behind on blogging), I developed some strange food aversions. It took me several weeks to be able to drink coffee again. Something about the bitterness just turned my stomach. And cooked bananas were high on the list of things I couldn’t handle. Plain carbs were about all I really had a craving for. Not a pleasant scenario.

Fortunately, Kelsey pointed out that you could do any number of substitutes with this to make it seasonal, and a layer of pumpkin puree on the bottom might inspire me to try again. This time we’ll hope I can finish it off instead of leaving it to languish in lieu of Gatorade and Diet Sprite.


Baked Oatmeal with Fruit
as seen on An Apple a Day


1 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 c. chopped walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted, divided
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 c. milk, almond milk, or coconut milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 TBSP unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2-3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced 1/2-in. thick
1 c. assorted fruit (fresh or frozen), divided


1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.   Lightly grease or spray a 2-qt. baking dish. 
2.  In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together oats, half of the nuts, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. 
3.  In a liquid measuring cup, combine maple syrup, milk, egg, butter, and vanilla. 
4.  Spread the sliced bananas in a single layer over the bottom of the baking dish.  Top with half of the berries.  Sprinkle the dry oat mixture over the fruit in an even layer.  Pour the liquid ingredients evenly over the oats.  Sprinkle the remaining nuts and berries over the top.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the oats have set.  Let cool 10 minutes before serving.  Serves 4-6.