Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Curried Chicken Salad Recipe

Lunch time at our place is simple and straightforward. Usually, the meal consists of something that can be put together in a flash, with very little work. I often find myself peering into the fridge around 11:30am, wondering what we can make from leftovers and pantry staples.

This curried chicken salad is very versatile, and makes a great summer lunch. It's quick and easy to throw together, especially if you use canned chicken. Typically, chicken salad involves mayonnaise, but I prefer using plain yogurt which adds a slight tang.

Chicken salad doesn't seem very exciting, but this one makes a frequent appearance at our family lunchtime to rave reviews. Serve it on a bed of salad greens, or as a sandwich or wrap. Add in a side of fruit smoothie or sweet pickles, and you've got yourself a pretty good meal.

Curried Chicken Salad

print this recipe

2 cups chicken meat, cooked and chopped 
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 cup diced onions
1/4 cup almonds, roasted and chopped
1/4 cup diced apples
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
salt & pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate for a few hours, and serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Waiting In the Darkness

Holy Saturday, sometimes called The Great Sabbath or Silent Saturday, is the day of Jesus resting silently in the tomb. 

Ultimately, Easter is about life. It’s about resurrection and revival and new life. It’s about hope in something so true and eternal, we’re still talking about it today, thousands of years later. It’s the story of a God who enters into our lives and in the face of death, gives way to eternal life. 

But before that, before the life and resurrection, there is a waiting period, a length of time when there is a body laying in a tomb, and there is disappointment and darkness. And there’s waiting. Anyone else feel like they’re waiting? 

Life is full of of these in-between, darkness moments. 

Maybe in some area of your life it feels like darkness. Like you are stuck between the pain of Friday and the not-yet-realized hope of Sunday, a place where you are waiting for God to do something. Maybe there is a place of disappointment, of having a dream die, or a relationship end, and you’re just waiting. 

Two years after having our son Aaron, Steve and I decided that we were ready to continue growing our family. 

In November 2010, we got pregnant. But there was a miscarriage. I experienced some bleeding around the 5th week of pregnancy, and a miscarriage was confirmed soon after. We were saddened, but knew that early-term miscarriages are common. We continued trying to get pregnant. 

In March of 2011, we were pregnant again. At our 7-week doctor’s check-up, we were prepared to see a visual of the baby and hear his or her heartbeat. As the doctor turned on the ultrasound equipment, she asked Steve if he wanted to record the moment on his camera. Several seconds later, as she looked at the ultrasound, her tone changed, “You may want to turn off the camera. This doesn’t look good.” She explained to us that there was no heartbeat, and that she couldn’t locate a fetus. The next week, we had a follow-up ultrasound with the same results, and that's when the doctor confirmed the miscarriage. We were told that my body still needed to expel the remaining tissue. That was a particularly difficult time of waiting. We had close friends and family praying with us, knowing that a miscarriage was pretty certain, but still holding on to some hope that there might be a miraculous turn of events. It took several weeks, but my body finally expelled the tissue from the miscarried baby. 

We felt a deep sense of grief and darkness. We both took several days off of work, and also reached out to our community of friends. Friends and family prayed and mourned with us. We cried over our unborn babies, cried over the hope of knowing them and seeing them in this life. 

When we live life long enough, we encounter moments of death and darkness. Doors close, relationships end, hopes die. And we’re stuck in darkness, longing for breakthrough that hasn’t yet happened. 

So what do we do in that moment? When we’re in that moment of darkness and in-between at the tomb, there are different responses we can have.

  1. We can despair - we can lose all hope, and blame God, and run from God. We can believe that death is the end, and lose hope in things, and just sort of stop expecting anything to change.

  1. We can be in denial - we fake that we’re okay, put on our strong face to mask the pain, we escape. We have these simplistic answers and forced optimism. Keep calm and carry on! Just trust in the Lord, but don’t do it in a way that’s messy or takes too long! Denial is the message that if you’re feeling disappointed or grief, you just need to have more faith and get over it.

  2. We can despair or be in denial, or there’s a third option. WAIT ON GOD. We hate that one. More specifically, I hate that one. Waiting is hard. Waiting is not glamorous. It takes away all our control, no guarantees, and puts us in a position of submission and vulnerability. 

But waiting on God is also courageous. Waiting on God in the darkness is saying, “Okay God, I don’t know what’s going on and how this is going to end. But I’m choosing to press into you with all that is in me.” It’s the place of crying out to him with our true selves, and not just putting on the fake happy facade. 

It’s not passive, it’s not escape, it’s not hopelessness. It’s connecting to God, listening to him, doing things with him, resting in him, grieving with him. And it’s a holding out hope that he’s the God of resurrection and new life, even if all we have is the tiniest seed of faith.

And God is with us always, even in the darkness and waiting. Some of the most significant moments in Jesus’ life took place in darkness: his birth, his arrest, his death. For us in the spiritual journey, waiting on God in the darkness can yield extraordinary events. 

In my own experience of waiting in darkness with the Lord, there are a few things that happened:

I learned that God endures with ss. 

Through his own death, Jesus enters into death with us. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? His cries echo the despair and lostness of the world’s pain. It is a cry of abandonment and agony. How incredible is that? We have a Lord who doesn’t just stand at a distance from pain, but he enters into it and suffers with us. 

When Steve and I had those miscarriages, I felt Jesus draw so close to us. It was counter-intuitive to me. I suppose I figured that in really painful moments, God would feel far away. But it was just the opposite. I remember the moment a few days after the second miscarriage. Steve and I were sitting in our living room with our friend and staff supervisor Jen. Jen had been our mentor since our earliest days on staff, she had led us through pre-marital counseling, had been at our wedding, and now she was praying and crying with us over our miscarried babies. And as she sat with us, I was overcome with the deepest sensation of safety, comfort, and awareness of Jesus with us.

In my journal, I wrote this: “I feel the power, goodness, and mercy of the Father now more than I have in the last few years. I am more certain than ever that God is the only thing worthy of our hope and confidence.” In many ways, God poured out his love and comfort into our family that was unique to this season of darkness and waiting.

Another thing that happens in the darkness is that God promises his presence.

There are times in life when we are in the dark and God feels far away. I’ve had moments when I am barely making it with the Lord, and really struggling to see him and hear him. I’m going to guess that many of us have had that experience. It feels like God is far or even absent. We feel abandoned. 

But Psalm 139 tells us that there is no place we can go to escape the presence of God. 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Here’s the thing that I find so comforting and reassuring: God’s presence does not depend on us. It does not depend on how we feel. It does not depend on how in tune we are with him. The grace of God is that he doesn’t let go of us, even when we are completely unable to even come to him or pray or feel hopeful. Nothing will separate us from him. Even in the hiddenness and darkness, he’s with us. 

God endures with us, he promises his presence, and third, God cultivates new life.

In a book called The Holy Longing, Ronald Rohlheiser says this about the spiritual journey: 

“It is a process of transformation within which we are given both new life and new spirit. It begins with suffering and death, moves onto the reception of new life, spends some time grieving the old and adjusting to the new, and finally, only after the old life has been truly let go of, is new spirit given for the life we are already living.” 

For the Israelites, there was Egypt, wilderness, and Promised Land. Or in the life cycle of a butterfly, there is larvae, cocoon, butterfly.

The darkness is a holding environment where transformation happens.  We may not feel different or be doing anything different, but God is working to bring forth something new. It’s like the 9 months of pregnancy before a baby is born, and it’s incubating in the womb. It’s Jesus in the tomb, before being resurrected. 

Oftentimes, in the darkness, the new life that God is cultivating is internal. He’s changing us. He’s freeing us from fear or shame. He’s breaking our bondage to idols. He’s gently coaxing in us the fruit of love, joy, and hope. He’s deepening our intimacy and dependence on him. 

After our two miscarriages, we continued trying to get pregnant again. Months and months went by, and nothing. 

On November 10th, we had significant time of prayer with a friend named Ann. Ann was the wife of one of Steve’s seminary professors, and they had a similar experience of miscarriages while trying to conceive their second child. They had a powerful prayer encounter with a friend, and right after that they got pregnant. When Ann heard about our journey, she had a sense that praying for us could have a similar outcome. After Ann prayed with us, both Steve and I believed that a breakthrough had occurred in the spiritual realm, and that we would get pregnant soon after. 

We were a bit perplexed (and disappointed) when December and January passed with no pregnancy.

Finally, in February 2012, we took a pregnancy test, and it was positive! We were thrilled, but also hesitant to get too excited, given our history with miscarriages. At our 6-week doctor’s check-up, we were ready to have the doctor confirm the pregnancy. In the doctor’s office, our doctor told us that at 6 weeks, we could expect to see the yolk sac, and possibly a tiny dot-like image of a baby. The image of the ultrasound popped up on the screen, and we very clearly saw the form of a baby, with a head and limbs. I remember thinking, “Uh, that’s weird...it looks way more like an actual baby than a little dot.” The doctor was shocked. She measured the image baby’s head, did some calculations, and exclaimed, “You are definitely not just 6 weeks pregnant! You’re at least a full 13 weeks!” In an instant, we went from hoping to simply confirming the existence of a tiny, barely-there baby, to actually seeing our nearly second-trimester baby’s moving arms and legs. We then got to hear a strong, healthy heartbeat. 

Apparently, unknown to us, we actually had conceived a baby in early December (right after having that prayer time with Ann). For two full months we were pregnant and didn’t even know it. 

Our daughter Alexandra was born on August 7, 2012. 

She is our reminder of the resurrection power of Jesus. Our reminder that death and darkness isn’t the end. When I look at her, I remember God’s faithfulness as we wait in the darkness, and remember that he’s the bringer of new life.

Jesus has triumphed over death, has resurrected, and is making all things new. That’s what Easter is. Easter is Jesus. Easter means everything Jesus has been saying about God, about life, about death, about faith, about love, about forgiveness, about suffering, about giving over your life…it's all true. Easter means God, who created everything in the beginning, is now recreating everything.

Whatever death and disappointment and darkness you are in, it is not the end of the story. Jesus is the end. So in the midst of the unrealized dreams, unfulfilled hopes, rejection, shame, brokenness, depression, whatever your disappointment, believe me when I tell you it is not the end. Deliverance and resurrection and breakthrough is coming. New life is on the other side. 

Hold on. Wait on God. Welcome him in the longing and hoping and the darkness. Cling to him with all your might, and hold on to his promise in Isaiah 25: 

"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” 

In Jesus we have freedom and hope and renewal. In him we rise out from evil and death, and in him we have celebration and joy and new life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homemade Fig Newtons Recipe

As a kid, I grew up eating Fig Newtons. What are those things? Cake, cookie? Whatever category they fall into, they're strange but good. Fig paste wrapped in a soft, cake-y exterior.

I found a recipe for homemade fig newtons, and if you may have noticed, I get a strange high when faced with a DIY kitchen challenge.

So here they are, homemade fig newtons. These not only live up to the packaged version, but exceed them in taste. They are soft and slightly chewy, with a moist fig center. The cake exterior has a subtle pop of citrus zest, which adds a nice balance to the sweetness.

You need dried figs (which I found at Costco), a plastic bag to pipe the fig filling, and a little patience with the various baking steps.

The work is totally worth it, when the result is a happy childhood snack food! We packed these for a recent trip to Disneyland, and they got gobbled up by both the kids and adults.

Homemade Fig Newtons
Adapted from Food 52

print this recipe

Makes about thirty 2-inch cookies

For the cookie dough:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, softened
2/3 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of one orange

For the fig filling:
1 pound dried figs, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup water

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined.
Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. The dough will be very soft. Scoop it out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine the figs and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and allow the water to boil until the figs have absorbed it. If your figs are very dry and tough, you may need to use more water and simmer longer to get the figs to soften.

Transfer the figs to a food processor and pulse, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until the mixture is completely smooth. Allow the filling to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a large piece of parchment on your work surface and flour it liberally. The dough is very soft. Divide the chilled dough into 4 pieces. Place one piece of dough on the parchment and return the others to the refrigerator.

Shape the piece of dough into a rectangle by squaring it on the work surface (tap the 4 sides on the surface until they form a rectangle). Roll the dough, stopping frequently to make sure it isn't sticking to the parchment, into a long rectangle, about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long. Be vigilant about lifting up the dough and re-flouring it to prevent sticking. This will make life easier as you go.

Scoop the fig filling into a pastry bag or a plastic zip-top bag with one corner cut off. Pipe the filling in a 1-inch strip down the center of the dough rectangle. You may need to flatten the filling a bit -- it's easier to do this if you dip your fingers into some water first. Fold one side of the dough over the filling, then the other. Press down on the seam to close it. Using the parchment, flip the cookie roll over, seam-side down. Brush any excess flour off the parchment and transfer it gingerly to a baking sheet and refrigerate while you repeat this step with the other 3 pieces of dough.

Bake for about 16 minutes or until the dough is no longer tacky and has begun to brown around the edges.

While the cookie rolls are still warm, either transfer them to a cutting board (a large spatula helps) or cut them directly on the baking sheet. Cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch cookies. You may need to wipe off your knife every so often -- the filling is rather sticky at this point.

Immediately place the cookies in a single layer inside a plastic zip-top bag and close the bag. This seems counterintuitive, but in order to keep the cookies soft, like the real thing, they need to steam. Cool the cookies completely. Remove them from the bags and place in an airtight container.

They can be kept, at room temperature, for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Signs You've Acquired a Toddler

A new creature has entered into our household. 

If I didn't know better, I'd say it was an untrained pet from the store, or an alien life form that arrived from a different planet. But I do know better because this has happened to us before. We now have a toddler. 

Our daughter, once a peaceful infant, is now a full-blown wild ball of energy and crazy packaged in 2-ft. of chubby. For all those who think they've possibly acquired one of these mysterious creatures, here are some signs:
  1. Your carpet is covered in graham cracker crumbs and Play-Doh. 
  2. Laundry day used to be once a week. Now it is daily.
  3. You hear the word "no" an average of 200 times per day.
  4. You are commanded to read Moo, Baa, La La La over and over and over. And so you hide it, and pray it'll never be found again. 
  5. If you ever leave the house without reserves of goldfish crackers or string cheese, you'll be sorry.
  6. The word "gah-gah" has multiple different meanings (sock, milk, coffee, glasses, cracker, and sometimes oatmeal), and if you don't understand its particular use within three tries, and respond appropriately, all Hades breaks loose.
  7. You've yelled the phrases, "Stop eating dirt!" and "Don't touch your poop!"
  8. If you lie down on the ground, a smallish but hefty person will think you want to wrestle or get pounced on.
  9. Pampering yourself means shutting the bathroom door and taking a three-minute shower every other day. If you're really going for glamour, you change into clothes that aren't yoga pants and a stained t-shirt.
  10. You fall asleep with the Caillou theme song on repeat in your head.
  11. Every board game in the house is missing pieces or has bite marks. No one can play a real game of checkers anymore.
  12. While searching for a lost ball under the couch, you've discovered the source of "that mysterious weird smell" is a months-old partially full sippy cup of milk. 
  13. Dance parties consist of Ring-Around-the-Rosie. 
  14. The bottom third of your television screen is covered in little fingerprints. 
  15. You've strained your back while trying to carry your squirming kid, a diaper bag, and 3 bags of groceries from the car to the house. 
  16. If someone forgets to close the bathroom door, the roll of toilet paper will quickly be unraveled, non-flushable objects will be thrown in the toilet, and toothpaste tubes will be emptied of their contents.
How about you? Have you joined the toddler party?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Japanese Chicken Curry

Growing up in Hawaii, Japanese curry was a standard meal at home.

Japanese curry, sweeter than Thai or Indian curries, is usually made with instant roux blocks like this S & B Curry Sauce Mix. It is an easy dish to make with meat and vegetables, and served over steaming white rice.

After years of making curry with instant mix, it occurred to me that I could probably make my own homemade version, without the need for the instant mix. As I flipped through the March 2014 issue of Saveur magazine, I came across this recipe for Japanese curry that sounded like it had a similar taste profile to what I was looking for.

It was perfect. Subtly sweet, with just the right blend of curry and garlic. For the curry powder, I used some non-fancy, very basic powder that was in my spice collection. I generally followed the recipe, using chicken thighs, and the addition of some Sriracha sauce for heat.

My brother, Steve and I (three people who have relatively high  discerning palates for good curry) all agreed that this curry should be made again.

It tastes as good as (if not better than) the kind made from instant mix. If you're searching for a truly homemade version of Japanese curry, this is the one.

Japanese Curry
Adapted from Saveur
print this recipe
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 lb. meat (either boneless beef chuck or chicken), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoons garam masala
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, cut into 2″ pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1″ wedges
1 (1 1/2") piece ginger, grated
1/3 cup flour
6 cups beef stock
3 tablespoons honey
1 bay leaf
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Sriracha sauce, optional
Cooked white rice, for serving

Melt butter in 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Season meat with salt and cook until browned, 8–10 minutes; using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl. Add curry, garam masala, garlic, carrots, onion, and ginger; cook until soft, 8–10 minutes. Add flour; cook 2 minutes. Add meat, stock, honey, and bay leaf; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until beef is tender, 1 hour. Add potatoes; cook until tender, 30 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and Sriracha; serve with rice. Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

10 Things I Learned in March

At the end of each month, I write a post about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in March:

1. Having an ice cream machine is great in that it produces amazing ice cream. It is not so great in that we're trying to cut down on our sugar intake. Steve made vanilla custard ice cream, and I swear I can hear it wooing me from the freezer.

2. Aaron's preschool teacher is a wise woman. While discussing whether or not to seek out speech therapy resources for him, she reminded me to let our hearts (rather than our fears) dictate the decision. When she said that, it really resonated with me. I'm grateful for amazing people like her who are so invested in our kids.

3. How to use the triple nod in conversation as an effective communication tool.

4. I really love my brothers. I mean, I sort of knew that before, but I'm realizing just how thankful I am for these two guys. Stuart is currently in Thailand producing a film about Bangkok's slums, poverty and sex trafficking. Adrian is a parent, husband, and campus minister at Stanford University (changing the lives of world changers). Both are pretty great men.

5. I cannot seem to remember how old I am. Every once in a while, I'll draw a serious blank, and think, "Wait, am I 33 or 34?" Steve will gently remind me that I'm 33. And that, folks, is why having a husband in my elderly years will be a good thing.

6. Starbucks wins for effective branding. Alex (19-months) was looking at my iPhone, and excitedly exclaimed, "ca-ca!" (her word for coffee) over and over while pointing at the Starbucks app.  This really says something about the power of the Starbucks logo. Or it says something about how much coffee I drink. Either way, scary.

7. When I am given full freedom to teach a group of people about any topic, I gravitate toward big ideas. I'm working on a 30-minute sermon (my last one as a campus minister at USC), and decided to teach on life and death. You know, minor concepts. It might be compelling, it might be crazy. We'll see.

8. Nothing is so simultaneously horrifying and hilarious having an elderly Asian man calling you a f*cker for almost rear ending his car in a parking lot. Hopefully he heard my apology despite my attempt to stifle laughter. Do not piss off elderly Asians.

9. Even though I have experienced significant change and healing, my fears and insecurities still exist. I was reminded of this last week when I reacted to a rather straightforward comment from my husband with anger, defensiveness, fear, and shame. And so the journey toward wholeness continues. I'm grateful for a gracious husband and generous God.

10. That a simple hug and "I love you" can create connection and safety. This reality seems to be true for any people of age, from my young kids to my mid-30's husband.

Friday, March 28, 2014

My Life in Verbs

Realizing... that my thirties are the time to take really good care of my body. Everything is aging, and exercise, doctor check ups, wearing glasses, and eating healthily are important right now (not later).

Trying... to not cross my legs when I sit. Did you know that it's terrible for your back and posture? My chiropractor told me that many people's body aches would be eliminated if they were to simply sit up straight, with both legs on the floor. 

Loving... this Maybelline gel eyeliner. It's so much better than other eyeliners I've used, and only $8!

Reading... Journey to the Cross (a really great Lent devotional), Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes 
by William Bridges, and A Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.

Anticipating... pausing work to be at home with our kids more. I am really excited to make this shift, and to have more space and energy to focus on parenting. It feels very much like the right change for our family and me, and I am so grateful that we can make it work.

Listening... to the Frozen soundtrack. I realize that I'm months late to the party, but we just saw the movie last week and fell in love. Even my 19-month old daughter is into the music: Alex Sings "Let It Go."

Creating... a new website. Thanks, Weebly, for your free, easy-to-use platform. Because of you, an average person like me can build a pretty good website in one day.

Wondering... how Aaron is about to turn 5. I mean, I know that we're all aging at the exact same rate, but what the heck? How is my kid nearly 5 already? 

What have you been up to recently? Share a verb or two of your own in the comments.