Meatless Monday – Spicy Coconut Noodles

Happy Halloween!pumpkins-1642289_960_720

Chili on Halloween has become something of a tradition for our family, mostly because it’s healthy comfort food to warm up your insides on a cool fall evening but also because you can make a BIG pot and share it with friends.

We have enjoyed Halloween parties with friends most of Tween’s school years. This year, however, Halloween is a Monday, a bummer day for a party. And Tween is in middle school, which comes with increased independence in our safe small town, and less need for parental gathering. Not to mention an important school project due tomorrow for Teen and a friend (both were at a smashing party last year–how time changes priorities! And what teacher assigns a big project due the day after Halloween? Seriously!).

So we’ll enjoy chili at home and actually be here to answer the doorbell and pass out candy to cute kiddos in costume. Not a bad option.

If you haven’t tried my veggie chili, please do: easy, quick, oil-and-salt free, healthy and, best of all, Delicious! AND I want to share with you a recipe that has become one of my weeknight go-to quick-fix meals. It’s super-easy and flexible, a good whatever’s-in-the-crisper recipe.

The genesis for this recipe came from Real Simple, an absolute gem of a magazine and a hit-or-miss recipe source, IMHO. If the recipe looks good I’m willing to try and, though the misses occur, the keepers seem always worth keeping.

I wasn’t sure the first time I made Spicy Coconut Noodles. But by the third time–having added my own twists–I knew this would stay in rotation.coconut-noodles

Spicy Coconut Noodles
Serves 4-6

8 oz whole wheat spaghetti (I prefer Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti)

Sauce
13.5 oz unsweetened coconut milk (I buy it by the box at Trader Joe’s)
3 Tbsp tomato paste (tomato sauce will do in a pinch)
1 tsp chili powder (or to taste – Guy always wants it hotter but, for the sake of others, sriracha…)
1 Tbsp chili-garlic paste

Add-ins (all optional – go with what you like//what you’ve got, but definitely GO for it!)
1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c unsalted peanuts/cashews (chopped if desired) or sesame seeds
1/2 c edamame
1/2 c peas
1/2 c diced carrot
1/2 c bell pepper, any color, diced (I always have mini red, orange, and yellow bell peppers)
1 package Trader Joe’s vegetarian gyoza, prepared according to directions
3 green onions, diced
other options: basil leaves, mint leaves, sprouts, celery (diced), zucchini…you name it!

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine coconut milk, tomato paste, chili powder, and chili paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

If using (please do!), saute coconut in a dry pan until toasted (take care – it goes slow at first and fast at the end); empty into a bowl and use the same pan to toast nuts/seeds (sassy turn: add a few drops of low-sodium soy sauce to the pan). Set aside for serving.

If using, prepare gyoza according to package directions.

Defrost vegetables (I always have frozen peas/edamame); chop vegetables (carrots/bell peppers). Toss add-ins to sauce as it simmers.

Add (gyoza, if using, and) noodles to sauce. Toss well in pan. Top with toasted coconut, nuts/seeds, and green onions. Serve immediately.

Thankful Thursday – Forced Detox

I’m back!

For the last few weeks my computer has either struggled to function or has been in the shop (don’t even get me started on the several internet technicians who spent hours at my house replacing brand-new modems with other brand-new modems or moving brand-new modems to different locations in my not-big-enough-for-this house; or the multiple techs sent by the manufacturer as my machine is still under warranty; or the fact that, once the company had the machine in their possession, their first pass was to repair the wrong part…).

As Communication Director, it becomes extremely difficult to get the job done when I’m traveling between computers with files on server, in the cloud, and on a thumb drive. Needless to say, and frustrating to deal with, a few balls dropped.

As a writer, I felt like a good portion of my brain had exited the building. I couldn’t think straight. And I didn’t want to write on another computer–almost like cheating–because I have enough files I need to retrieve and back-up again now that my machine has returned to me. I guess I could write on paper, but I didn’t.

Definitely not a vacation, no way a sabbatical, but in the “off work” hours, I had, for the most part, to be off work. I couldn’t check work email at home or do “a few quick tasks.” When I left the office, I had to be done.

Considering I work part-time, this shouldn’t have been so hard. Still, it was.

Being gentle to myself, it is hard to not have the equipment necessary to do your job efficiently. It is hard when your major creative outlet gets stunted. And as I’m trying my darnedest to also (mostly) stay off Facebook during this maddening political season, I had unanticipated time.

What did I do? I read. A lot. I walked or ran. I cooked. I helped Tween study for a test. I took pictures. I also watched more TV than normal, but TV that I recorded because I want to watch it, not just whatever’s on TV.

I made conscious choices throughout the moments and the days to be grateful. To remember that this is absolutely a first-world problem.

Meanwhile one of my work projects has been to compile and edit gift-in-kind donation items for local and global ministries to be available through our church Mission Market. For example, you can donate $7 to buy school books for kids in the Dominican Republic and then give your sister a card with a description of the group to which you donated in her name. Win-win, especially when most of us don’t need another Christmas sweater. Or anything, for that matter.

For example, Amor Ministries, the home building ministry we work with in Mexico, for which hundreds of high school students and adults through our church have built hundreds of homes over 25+ years, finally has the opportunity to purchase land for their camp that hosts all the volunteers… Amor can finally have a home! If we donate…

Thanks to another group (nameless at their request and for their protection), Syrian refugees can machine wash their laundry, rather than hand wash. While the clothes tumble, women can make a pretty craft to take to their temporary “home.” Their children can do crafts or receive help with handwriting and spelling. There’s also a corner with second-hand clothes free to the right fit.

Keeping things in perspective: I had a few weeks of significant inconvenience. Others told me they would be banging on doors and demanding a better, faster solution. That’s not my style. I complained a bit and did my best while also trying to make the best of the situation.

On the other hand, some people have not just inconveniences but hardships. Frankly, I am abashed to have complained at all when I think of their life situations.

I am grateful to have my computer back. I am grateful for easier and quicker access to the work given me to do. I am grateful for this blog, this creative outlet that connects me to others in (I hope!) meaningful ways. I am thankful for technology that organizes my life in oh-so-necessary ways. I am grateful for perspective. I am thankful.

Play at Your Own Risk

I’ve written about this before, but most of my life I thought I could not be a runner. Once I hit puberty, running induced unbearable abdominal cramps. Later, as a college freshman, I tore my meniscus and running hurt my knee. Sports never floated my boat, so I had no reason to run. I was the indoorsy type, content with introspection while walking/hiking when the outdoors required my attention.

Until last spring, when I had a sudden impulse to run in the rain. And it didn’t hurt. And, surprisingly, I had fun. I kept it up, increasing the frequency and length of my runs.

Until I developed allergy-induced breathing issues. Six weeks of labored breathing and an inhaler later, I got back to running.

Until I sprained my ankle on a late-July run. Three weeks of limping, and a doctor told me to start walking on it. The harder I walked, I noticed, the better my ankle felt at night. So I began running on the treadmill at the gym, “safe” terrain to build up my stamina while my ankle healed.

I’m not a good runner. I don’t far or fast but, as my only competition, I have noticed improvement. I don’t think I’m losing weight either, but that wasn’t necessarily the point. I feel stronger, more confident in my own skin. Having made way on a path that once felt impenetrable, I have gained confidence to tackle other areas of life.

Over the last few weeks, I’m finally back on the road and varying my route. Today the dog tugged in the opposite direction of my “usual” run, or even the alternate route I took yesterday, so I followed her lead.

Until about half-way through when my toe hit an uneven stretch of sidewalk and I took a spectacular fall, one that felt like flying though probably looked like something on America’s Funniest Videos. My left (bad) knee hit first. My hands slid along the ground, thankfully keeping my face off the pavement. I landed flat out on my stomach, arms fully extended above my head. Thankfully I let go of the leash and the dog had the good sense to get out of my way.hands-ouch

Already winded, I knocked away any breath left in my lungs. I stayed flat out for a minute and then, slowly, curled to sit on my rear, knee bent before me. I took inventory: road rashed hands; I didn’t tear my yoga pants; knee with bright red individual pebble gravel indentations. But I’m okay.

A bicyclist didn’t stop, but asked if I was okay. I offered, “I think so.” He smiled understandingly; he’s probably taken a spill or two himself.

A neighbor pulled his truck over and got out. He grabbed the dog’s leash, and waited as I got to my feet. He offered a ride home. I considered but said, no, I needed to walk the stiff out. He said, “Good, good for you. Walk it off, as they say.”

Right. Walk it off. They do say that.

I did my best to laugh. “Before I fell, I was just realizing that I’ve been running for almost six months…”

He laughed, too. “Great! Keep running for six more. Maybe just take a different route.” The irony… This was the different route…

Before I fell, I had planned to keep going straight, to take the long loop back home. Instead I turned at the corner to take the more direct route. My knee throbbed, and I had to think about holding the leash so it wouldn’t touch the pools of blood forming on my palms.

I walked until I came to a side-street that loops around–I turned left and ran it. It took a little more effort, but I was okay. I walked a little and ran a little. I added an extra loop to the right as well, running and walking. I kept going. I didn’t give up.

Breathing issues didn’t stop me; I take a deep breath on an inhaler before I run. A sprained ankle didn’t stop me; I wrap my ankle before exercise (and occasionally take ibuprofen after). A fall won’t stop me, either.

As I type I’m sitting in a recliner with my feet up, an ice pack on my knee and bandages on my hands. It may be a good idea to take tomorrow off. And still, I’m proud of myself. Six months ago I couldn’t have imagined running regularly. Six months ago one or another of the obstacles I’ve faced would have derailed me. Six months ago, I would have accepted the ride home, giving up.

If you want to play, you might get hurt. Play at your own risk, right? I’ve gotten hurt, and I’ve gotten back up. So far, the risk has proven worth it.

Creating & Making

I met today’s guest post author when my friend (her mother-in-law) hosted a gathering for people to learn about her family’s exciting new oversees adventure in Indonesia. Over the few times we’ve shared together since–at church, over meals, at St. Mary’s College basketball games–I have been impressed with how openly she shares her heart, her faith, her laughter, her tears. I can only imagine the creativity that comes into play daily as one lives, parents, and works in a foreign country. God is our Creator, yet we are all makers, and I am grateful Fawn shared her creativity with us.

Create Challenge #34: Fawn Stephens

Many times I’ve labeled myself as “not creative.” I don’t possess the talents usually associated with this adjective; my paintings really do look like something from 3rd grade art. I played music in the high school band, but fell into the ‘average’ category and never pursued it after. And relative to those friends of mine who can craft, sew, scrapbook, and decorate with ease, I’m left admiring their work.

In Genesis, the very first thing God said created everything. This is the first picture He wants us to have of Him, a (the) Creator. This Hebrew word for “create” is bara. This is the only way in which this word is used, when God makes something new of out of nothing. Contrary to popular belief, we are not creative just because we are made in God’s image. Well, respective of the bara kind of creating.

Only God can make stuff out of absolutely nothing.fstephens-baby

The kind of “creating” we humans do is actually more like “making” and is found in the Hebrew word asah. This is like when we buy paint and a canvas and make something beautiful out of it. Or when my mom plants flower starts in her garden and they grow in a perfectly staggered rainbow of heights and colors. When a realtor, lawyer, doctor, or teacher gets “creative” in making a contract, diagnosis, or lesson happen effectively, this is taking what he or she has and working with it. This is the kind of creating we make happen.

Something out of something.fstephens-lady

That doesn’t mean, however, that because we can’t bara, it doesn’t happen in our lives. It’s just not of our own doing. God works through His created children all the time to create new and beautiful things out of nothing. Friendships, love, trust, repentance, and wisdom are all things God builds in us, when none of those things are there to begin with. In fact, the spiritual gifts we are told by Paul to be eager for are some of God’s favorite works. Patience, discernment, and generosity are evidence of God doing His thing in our lives.

I’ve come to realize in the last year that I am actually very (asah) creative. Living and working as a cross-cultural missionary wife and mom in a remote, tribal, mountain town in a developing country requires nothing less. I now make my own yogurt, bake bread (without a bread machine!), come up with home-remedy-type pesticides for my garden, carry area rugs on a motorcycle, and figure out countless other ways in which to get things done for my family each day—all with no box stores for thousands of miles in every direction.fstephens-bug

At the same time, God is proving to be very (bara) creative in my life. One of the most spiritually-growing things I’ve ever faced, relationships with my missionary co-workers, prove to be both impossible and rewarding. There is no way that any of us, not having chosen each other to live beside, worship next to, and work closely with every day, could come together in love to do God’s work here without His creative hand involved.

This is because, by its very nature, creation is unnatural. Without God working around and in us, things wouldn’t even exist. And if they did, they would constantly be falling into a state of disarray.fstephens-butterfly fstephens-leaf

Where there is nothing, because we have no history together before coming from different corners of the world, God makes something in my teammates and me. He builds trust and common vision in the space between us, where there was literally nothing.

Can I make something out of nothing? No. Can I make something out of what God gives me to work with, trusting Him to make new things where there is nothing? You bet.

So, I guess I am a creative (and wonderfully created) person after all.fstephens

Fawn Stephens, along with her husband Michael and children Kalem and Adria, is a missionary serving in Papua Indonesia. Fawn and Michael are both helicopter pilots with Helimission; helicopter travel allows them to access remote or otherwise inaccessible areas to bring medical relief and humanitarian aid. They also assist in mass emergency situations. Routine treks include supporting jungle missionaries, who need aid to live among remote tribes in the mountains and spread the gospel. They also bring medical aid to the people they minister to, regardless of religious affiliation. Find out more and follow her blog: holyrotors.com.

Meatless Monday – Fruit Tart

Friends invited us for dinner at their house. When I asked what we could bring our hostess quipped, “Dessert. If my attempts to cook vegetables go south, at least we’ll have wine and dessert!”

So I wanted something easy, delish, and striking. Fruit tart!

This recipe is versatile–you can change it up with different fruit-and-jam combinations as seasons change. I’ve most often used apples and marmalade; this time I used two large end-of-summer farmers’ market peaches and peach jam. We purchased some lemon sorbet to serve on top. Sweet, tart, and one more reason to keep puff pastry in the freezer.

Fruit Tart
Each sheet makes one tart–go ahead and make two

1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted on the counter
2 large peaches, thinly sliced into half-moons
zest 1 lemon (+ 1 Tbsp juice)
1/4 c peach jam
1/4 tsp fresh diced ginger

Preheat oven to 400. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats and unfold one sheet of pastry on each. Roll sheets into a rectangle (erase the wrinkles). Use a fork to lightly poke random holes through the center of the sheet, leaving a fork-width edge.

Layer fruit in the center of the pastry and bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. While the pastry cools, heat the jam, ginger, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Lightly brush jam mixture on the fruit and top with lemon zest.

fruit-tart-before

Before

fruit-tart-after

After