On going “gluten” free

It seems as if several of my friends these days are being diagnosed with Celiac’s or some other dietary challenge, which has required them to begin a gluten free diet. Gratefully, there have been significant improvements in the quality of gluten free products that are available. An increasing number of companies are making their products as gluten free. While all that has been helpful for them, the hardest part has not been external, but internal. They each had to form new relationships with food. They had to develop new behaviors like learning to read the labels for hidden wheat products. They have had to learn how to carry a food card with them to restaurants to ensure that their food is gluten free and/or to look for restaurants that have gluten free options.
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Oh what we were missing!

When I would go to visit Zoe in Alexandria, Virginia, we would pass this restaurant on Route 1 that had a large yellow sign out front that said Korean BBQ and Sushi. With neither of us ever having had Korean BBQ, we had no idea what we were missing. We both assumed it was like American BBQ and as Zoe does not like Sushi, it wound up never being a restaurant we went to. Oh what we were missing. A few weeks ago, I saw this sign on Facebook about the countries in the world that had the lowest percentages of overweight people and the number 1 country was Korea, followed by Japan. So I began learning a bit more about Korean cuisine. The most common dish I kept finding were various forms of Korean BBQ. In some respects, it is similar to American BBQ in that it can be marinated and then grilled; however, that is where the similarity ends.
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Fusion Style: Goodness and Love

When I was in seminary, I found myself frustrated because there were theological writings, which approached various themes from a diversity of perspectives. There was Latina(o) liberation theology, African American liberation theology, liberation theology; womanist theology, feminist theology, systemic, process, historical, philosophical, biblical, and the list went on. Each of them came from a very clear standpoint; however, it seemed that each of them was based on a sense of homogeneous experience. I always struggled with that as a biracial and multicultural woman because my being and experience is more heterogeneous then homogeneous
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Herbal Essence: No, not the shampoo!

A former professor once told that the way to entice people to read your blog or peak their interest in your sermon was to come up with a catchy title. So if you are reading this, then hopefully that means my title worked. I was playing with the tile “parsley, sage, rosemary, and time”, but decided I liked Herbal Essence better because it really got at the essence of what I have been thinking about this week: herbal essence. There was a time (not thyme), when I never used fresh herbs and spent my entire cooking life using dried herbs and spices. Then I expanded my repertoire and began using fresh herbs. However, as a scripture says, “for everything there is a purpose under heaven.” This is true of herbs as well. There is a time for dry and a time for fresh. There is a thyme for every seasoning under heaven. (Hope you do not mind my humor). However, the essence of my herbal humor is true.
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Spirituality and Pasta Sauce

Many people I know had a food they did not like as children. However, over time their appreciation for, and experience of, that food changed over time. For me, this was especially true of pasta sauces. As a child, my favorite pasta preparations were boxed macaroni and cheese and Spaghettio’s. The latter being my favorite primarily because of the sauce. It tasted so much better then my mom’s sauce. She made hers by mixing catsup, cream cheese, and oregano together. I was in my teens when I first experienced I home made pasta sauce which exceeded my expectations and changed my relationship with pasta and with Spaghettio’s, which no longer were acceptable to my palette.
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Not Exactly a World Traveler.

So many of the chefs I have watched on television or read about in their cookbooks have spent a good part of their lives traveling around the world. My niece has just finished spending several months studying in Italy and after a brief reunion with my brother and her siblings will be traveling back to Switzerland. She has had an opportunity to travel to various regions and tasted some amazing food. She has been exposed to sauces, soups, spices, and ingredients I probably have never heard of.
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Satori and the Senses

There is this experience in Zen Buddhism called Satori. In its most simplistic terms, it is about seeing the self-nature. While this has traditionally been used to talk about the journey of one’s personal journey to enlightenment, it has also been an important concept for me in terms of my cooking. When I come to appreciate the true nature of the foods with which I am working, it changes the way I experience them sensorally. There is this moment when what I have created looks right, tastes right, smells right and as a whole dish makes sense.
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The door is open, enter.

For the last year or so, I have been blogging about the lessons I have learned while preparing foods and working with various ingredients in my kitchen, a place where I experience Zen as I prepare food made with love to serve to those whom I love. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the Zen of cooking. The other day, however, I had this epiphany that there are not only spiritual lessons to be learned from the preparation of the food, but about the choices about what we eat. A Chinese proverb says, “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.” somebody can cook whatever they want for me, but I am the one who makes the decision to eat the food. A different type of food can be prepared, but if I do not eat it then I will never know if I like it or not. I will never know what I am not experiencing.
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Making a way out of no way.

I had started writing this reflection a few days ago, but something kept me from posting it to my website. Perhaps, it was because I needed to go to Zoë’s last chemotherapy session first. A conversation with one of the husband’s there touched my heart. His wife was going through her third bout with cancer, this time in her throat. It was hard to get her to eat because nothing tasted good. He was beating himself up because he could not find a way to make food taste good to her. When you are on chemotherapy it affects your taste buds in ways you cannot describe to anyone else. For those preparing the food, it is a constant guessing game because what tasted good on Monday does not taste good on Tuesday. It can take the Zen out of cooking even for those who experience Zen while cooking. Learning how to make things taste good for Zoe has challenged me to really listen to why something does not taste good, so I can think about what will make it taste good. This is what I had asked this gentleman. What are her complaints?
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Keep it simple

The last week has been a challenging one, as Zoë’s taste buds have seemed to go on vacation one more time. It is hard to find the motivation to eat when you cannot taste what you are eating. It is also a challenge to cook for someone whose taste buds are temporarily on vacation. However, through it all I have learned an important lesson. Sometimes simple is best. It really hit home for me tonight as I was watching a rerun of Rachel vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-off where Taylor Dayne simple tomato basil sauce beat out Joey Fatone. The reason she won was the simplicity of her sauce. They could taste the tomato, the cheese, and the basil. Sometimes simple is better. After trying a wide diversity of things this last week to tantalize Zoë’s taste buds, the one thing that tasted good for her was chicken salad.
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We all have gifts to bring to the party!

So last week, I told you about how I have fallen in love with my basic vegetable broth. It really is all about what you do with it. The other day, I made this amazing asparagus soup, which I discovered in Deborah Madison’s, book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. One of the things I appreciated about this recipe was that it allowed me to use the entire stalk of asparagus. Given that asparagus is not one of your lesser expensive vegetable, being able to use the whole spear, but maintaining the integrity of each part at the same time was a blessing. Like so many, I used to hate asparagus.
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How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Back in the 70’s, two of my favorite singers, Meg Christian and Chris Williamson, had a line in one of their albums. They asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was, “practice, practice, practice.” When I first started my reflections here, it was because of a series of dreams I had about being The Next Food Network Star. In my dreams, I kept advancing to the next round until I ultimately won. Having the confidence to apply to the show would be my getting to Carnegie Hall. So how am I going to get to that place, the same answer, “practice, practice, practice.” Watching the show the last few seasons, I have come to realize that one of my strengths would be that I have this clear point of view to my cooking.
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Seasonings in the Kitchen and for the Soul

I was starting to read the next chapter in Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, when I found myself unable to move past the first page of her chapter The Foundations of Flavor. It was not that the rest of the chapter had nothing to offer, it did. However, it was a comment she made about herbs and spices that resonated with my spirit. She wrote “Even more then vegetables themselves, it’s these small intensely flavored ingredients and how they’re combined, that give a culture’s food it’s unique stamp” (p. 27). It is these small intensely flavored ingredients, these herbs and spices, which in combination with other ingredients can transport me to another place and time. I began to think about how lemon and oregano when used to marinate my tempeh, along with some garlic, olive oil, and soy sauce allow me to experience the flavors of Greek in my vegetarian Greek Tempeh Salad or in my Greek Tempeh Pita Wraps. I think about how it is the fresh dill when combined with some Greek yogurt and cucumbers creates an amazing Tzatiki. Or I can think about ancho chili powder, cumin, and coriander and how in combination with just about anything they enable you to experience the flavors of Mexico.
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