Monday, August 31, 2009

Holiday Photos

I'm about to settle into editing Aarti Paarti, but thought I'd put up a few pics from our holiday up the coast. Bren's brother Will, and his lovely lady Rachel, invited us on their trip to Yosemite, San Francisco and Big Sur. Can you believe we did all of this in 4 days? Driving?! It was crazy. But so much fun!

So, consider this part 1. On the drive up to Yosemite, we were enticed by the promise of delicious jerky at this truck stop looking place. It seemed like it was from another time altogether.

The jerky wasn't that great, but there were a few other surprises, such as the old west-lookin' building that housed the restroom:

And the chickens! So random! I have no idea why these chickens were here.

They weren't very happy, although I've rarely met a chicken who is. I'm totally in love with this photo -- click on it to see it full-size. I love how the face of the chicken on the left is so in focus, even though its body is a blur of motion.

Whilst Rachel is definitely the photographer of the family, Will manages to take some pretty cool shots too. Ah, Will, how do I love thee? I cannot count the ways!

Y'all know how much I love cast iron skillets. This state of this one brought a tear to my eye. I just wanted to grab it and take it to a good home (namely, mine). But I suppose there's something pretty about it, no?

I can't remember what this was about, but I'm sure it was Bren's fault.



Saturday, August 29, 2009

Station Fire

UPDATE: National Weather Service says that plume is 20,000 feet high!

After living in Los Angeles for a number of years, and covering a handful of wildfires, I'm kinda used to them. But I still gasped when I climbed out on our deck and took in an eyeful of this:

That's the "Station Fire", burning about 30 miles northeast of us. 30 miles away and not only can we see it, but that plume of smoke is ENORMOUS. I was reading that some of that brush hasn't burned in 60 years!

Throwing up a prayer for those firefighters who are battling not only a vicious 5,000 acre fire, but triple-digit temps and low humidity. So thankful for my quiet, safe, air-conditioned living room right now!



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 23: Bacon Wrapped Dates aka Happy Pig Dates

One Thanksgiving, I brought bacon-wrapped dates. When I got there, the poor, over-worked mum asked that I please not put the dates in the oven until dessert. At first, I was at a loss. These were the perfect appetizer, they were how I was going to win over a family I had never met before! But then I realised that these little puppies are good enough to eat as an appetizer, mains or dessert. And so, there they sat, alongside 3 different kinds of pie. At first, folks were a little reluctant to try something so odd. But one brave woman did, and as soon as her boyfriend (or brother, I can't remember! Ugh!) saw the ecstasy on her face, he quickly grabbed one. And so on, and so forth. Cue a whole host of people hovering around the plate of dates until they were all gone.

So if these sound a little odd to you, sally forth dear reader. I'm pretty sure you won't turn back, and you'll soon be fantasizing about how these would go with your eggs, your salad and your ice-cream.

These are a wonderful appetizer for your next gathering, ESPECIALLY if you don't feel comfortable in the kitchen. All you have to do is roll a date in a strip of bacon, secure it with a toothpick and throw 'em in the oven for 10 minutes. That's it!

Oh, and why's it called Happy Pig Dates? Watch the episode and you'll see.

Aarti Paarti Ep. 23: Bacon Wrapped Dates (aka Happy Pig Dates) from aarti on Vimeo.

Thanks as always, to my wonderful husband Brendan for helping make my weirdo ideas look good. Also, thanks to J. Anthony McCarthy for reading the book. He's a wonderful actor! Put him in your next project! And while you're at it, put my husband in it too!

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Bacon, each rasher cut in two
Dates, pitted

1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit
2) Roll a piece of bacon around a date. Secure with toothpick. Place on foil-lined baking sheet.
3) Bake dates in the oven for 5 minutes. Turn each one over. Bake another 5 minutes or until deep caramel brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then devour!

UPDATE: My friend Ryan reminded me that I only use Medjool dates for this recipe. They're my favourite, and the mushiest/sweetest ones I've encountered. Plus, they're the most common so chances are, if your supermarket stocks dates, they're Medjool. Thanks Ryan Caldwell!



Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Birthday Message

I'll shut up about my birthday eventually, but in all honesty, I'd like to hear this particular birthday message every day. And I figured that you all might like hearing it too.

Every year, the awesome folks at my awesome church sends me a card with these verses. I'm holding onto it this year, and putting in on my mirror, because for some reason, I still can't accept that God, whoever He is, loves lil' ol' me... and what that means exactly. THIS is how much He loves me:

"You may not know me, but I know everything about you... (Psalm 139:1)
I know when you sit down and when you rise up... (Psalm 139:2)
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered... (Matthew 10:29-31)
For you were made in my image... (Genesis 1:27)
In me you live and move and have your being... (Acts 17:28)
For you are my offspring... (Acts 17:28)
I knew you even before you were conceived... (Jeremiah 1:4-5)
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book... (Ps. 139:15-16)
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you... (1 John 3:1)
Simply because you are my child and I am your father... (1 John 3:1)
My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore... (Ps. 139:17-18)
And I rejoice over you with singing... (Zephaniah 3:17)
For you are my treasured possession... (Exodus 19:5)"

And then, just when you don't think your heart could soften any more, the church prints this after that love song:

your Dad, Almighty God."

Isn't that just the coolest? HE SINGS OVER ME!!!!!

I wish THIS had been the first I'd ever been taught about God, as opposed to the wrathful side (which is true, but not His only personality). Perhaps then I would not struggle so much today, with the seemingly inconceivable truth that He loves me. Hmmmm.



Monday, August 24, 2009

Unnecessary, but very welcomed, kindness.

They don't have to do this. And that's why I love Silk for printing this on their soy creamer:


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bren's Birthday Feet

I know you've been besides yourself waiting to see how Bren's first pedicure went. Here ya go:


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Birthday Feet

Last year, on my birthday, I painted my toes blue. I take it as a bit of metaphor that this year, I chose to paint my nails a bright, cheery yellow!

Yes friends, I turned 31. I am for real-zies in my 30s now. There's no frontin' about being in my "late" 20s anymore. And I'm (mostly) ok with that. My 20s were all over the place. I've spent the past 5 years wandering through the proverbial wilderness, wondering about my purpose and my career after the news one seemed to vanish without me really caring too much about it... looking back, I can see that my pillar of cloud and fire (Fire! He's so bad-ass!) was guiding me the whole way. Even though I couldn't see it. Ever, really. Finally, this year, I feel like the promised land is in sight. And that's worth getting yellow nail polish over! Woohoo!

My husby Brendan organized a lovely day for me, sneakily emailing my friends in secret, asking them to stop by and wish me a happy birthday, since I wasn't really up to organizing a big party or anything. I woke up to a chocolate croissant and a latte from my favourite place, Conservatory (LA folks, you must check this spot out! Washington and Motor, kinda, opposite Sony!), delivered by my man. Then Karen came over, bearing gorgeous lilies that I'm still staring at... she had dedicated the entire day to me! Isn't that sweet? Then, one after another, I was graced with surprise stop-bys -- and only after hours of these "surprises" did I realise that it wasn't a surprise at all! Haaahahahaa! I am so oblivious! It was such a great day -- just as one person left, another stopped by. I am starting to understand the term "grace", at least the way it's used biblically -- that there's no way I did anything for these friends to deserve this level of love and friendship, yet I still get to have them. It's pretty humbling.

I've been a bit obsessed as of late with this Australian blog called Definatalie. Not only is this woman a talented artist, she's also an inspiration in the love-thyself department; I love her style, the way she's not afraid to talk about how being big is being beautiful. I crave her wardrobe and her photographs. Sigh! Take a look at her art "reel". Those of you who know me will understand why I love her art so: beautiful henna-like designs, and nouveau-retro Rubenesque ladies. It's beautiful, dainty yet dangerously... "meaty".

I think I need to sweet-talk her into designing my tattoo. Seriously. Can't you just imagine a sacred heart surrounded by all those flowery paisleys? What WHAT?!

Anyway, she challenged her readers to come up with a list of things that we love about ourselves. Funng that even as I was writing that, I wanted to say "like" because I'm not sure I'm comfortable with "love" yet. So (deep breath), here's what I (eeeeeeeek) love about myself:

1) That I've been so bold: improv classes, Burning Man, cooking show, speaking openly about God stuff.
2) That cool people like me and call me their friend and tell me they love me.
3) My smile.
4) My eyebrows; they're thinning as I get older, so I'm trying to eat more fish and flax seed but I am so happy to have thick ones that frame my face!
5) My feet: I have my mum's feet. Mum says that Dad first fell in love with her feet, so my love for my feet is... multi-layered.
6) That I type really fast. Seriously. You should be in the room when I'm typing. Everyone says, "woah!".
7) I really love and am proud of my cooking show doods. I even love my recipes.
8) My hair. Curls. Rule. They don't rule when you're 12 and you don't know why your stick-straight hair is suddenly frizzy. But once you figure them out, they rule.
9) The colour of my skin. Especially after a day at the beach.
10) That I managed to hook a man like Brendan.

Brendan, who by the way, had his first pedicure on my birthday. And got his nails painted... gold. Pic will be up tomorrow!



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Speidi" Spirituality

I'm slowly getting back into civilization -- I promise a post on my little holiday jaunt up the California coast is coming, complete with hundreds of pictures! In the meantime, perhaps a little chuckle will distract you.

Are you familiar with Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt? The well-heeled, matching blonde couple of The Hills and "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" fame? I can never work out whether they're really as superficial as they appear, or if it's an act. Or if it's both -- and if it is, where does reality stop and acting begin?! And while I suspect the whole born-again Christian thing is part of the act, part of me hopes that it isn't and that we get to see a real transformation happen in these two, possibly the (staged?) epitome of most everything wrong with us these days.

Check out my husby Brendan and my bestie Karen imagining what really deep thoughts Heidi and Spencer share in their private moments, in a segment Bren's called: "Speidi Sense". Oh and just a reminder that this entire episode was IMPROVISED!

(Forgive some of the fuzzy shots -- that was me, and the auto focus was on, which I didn't know.)

Want more? Voila!

Episode 1: "Jaguar"
Episode 2: "Discipleship Branding"
Episode 3: "Life is so Hard"

And there are more coming! Watch this space!



Friday, August 14, 2009

Which One's Better?

I'm watching Monsoon Wedding right now.

I think it's way better than Slumdog.

What do you think?



Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lisa Hannigan

I already loved Lisa Hannigan -- she's the woman who sang with Damien Rice on his angst-ridden, heart-wrenching ballads that were ubiquitous a few years ago when "Closer" came out. She was always my favourite part about those songs because her voice is so gorgeous: husky, strong, feminine. I didn't think I could love her any more than I already did, but then I heard her solo stuff and THEN this morning, I watched her videos! Be still my beating heart! Not only does this woman have an amazing voice and spirit-lifting songwriting skills, she's also a captivating crafster!

Check out the video for Lille, in which she flips through some of the most amazing pop-up books you've ever seen (that I believe she made)... then watch the video for I Don't Know where, with a flick of a skilled wrist, she makes beautiful, intricate papercuts while singing a cute, old-fashioned romantic song. For some reason, she won't let us embed the videos, but take a minute to watch 'em and let yourself be waltzed into a romantic, fairy-tale land where everything is pretty and precious and made of paper.



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Aarti Paarti Ep. 22: Best Grilled Cheese with Tomato Chutney

I've never met anyone who didn't smile at the thought of a grilled cheese sandwich. Just one bite and you're back to being in that magical place where sandwiches cut into triangles tasted better, where Mum could kiss all your boo-boos away, where boys had cooties...


The only thing that makes a grilled cheese sandwich better? Dipping it in a bowl of creamy tomato soup! In this summer heat though, the very notion of hot soup sets my anti-perspirant working double-time.

And so, I present you the tomato chutney: whole grape tomatoes cooked in a little vinegar, onions, garlic, ginger, cilantro and brown sugar, finished with a mustard seed-infused oil. Drop a dollop in your grilled cheese, and prepare yourself for explosions of savory tomato flavour every time you bite into a whole tomato. It's great when you're in the mood for something a little different.

Not in the mood for grilled cheese? This chutney is a great one to have on hand for these grill-happy days. Make a batch, and keep it in the fridge for your cookout days: smush some of this chutney on grilled chicken, pork, veggies or even a burger!

Oh, and don't miss a funny little trick to make grilled cheese sandwiches taste even better, that I learned at Burning Man from my friend Graham. It's an odd one, but try it once and see if you like it... it'll make it crispy but not greasy!

Best Grilled Cheese with Tomato Chutney

2 cups grape tomatoes
a little more than 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup red onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tbsp brown sugar
Handful cilantro, minced
2 tbsp vegetable/canola oil
1 tsp urad dal (optional)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
White bread
Cheese of your choice, freshly grated (I used cheddar)

1) Throw tomatoes, vinegar and onions in a pot over high heat. Season with salt, boil for 5 minutes.
2) Add garlic, ginger, cilantro and brown sugar plus a splash of water if it's too dry. Stir and boil for another 5 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, in a small skillet, warm oil until shimmering. Add urad dal and red chili flakes. When dal has turned a little darker, add mustard seeds, and stand back! They'll splutter! Once they're done spluttering, pour into the tomato mixture (which should be done boiling).
4) Turn the heat down, simmer 20 minutes until the tomato mixture takes on a jam consistency. Try to keep some of the tomatoes whole.
5) Allow chutney to cool. Then make grilled cheese.
6) Heat nonstick or cast iron skillet over moderately low heat. Make sandwich with cheese and tomato chutney. Slather some mayonnaise on the outside of one side of the sandwich. Place it mayo-side down in the skillet. Slather mayo on the other side. Wait a couple of minutes, until it's browned, then flip and brown the other side.
7) Cut into triangles and serve!



Monday, August 3, 2009

Look up, dammit!

Ah the ups and downs... I know we're meant to love the downs as much as the ups, but seriously, I don't think I've ever met anyone who does. Can I get a witness?!

One of the hardest things about going through a valley is that it obstructs your vision; maybe you can see the peak off in the distance, but the sun might be in your eyes, or the shadows might drape over it so it's partially hidden, you can't see what it looks like up there, or what lies beyond it... you certainly can't see how to get there.

When you cry, you literally can't see.

Pain forces you inside yourself. That can be helpful in some situations (especially if you're trying to escape something that you simply must face), but if it's not one of those situations... it just exacerbates our ingrained self-centeredness. "Whyyyyyyy meeeeeeeee?" we wail. Incessantly.

Or maybe that's just me. :)

I dragged my butt through a bit of a downer in the past couple of weeks, as you may have guessed. Things were uber-tight money-wise, and I was flummoxed about the whole thing. How could this be happening to us?
Didn't Jesus promise that we only needed to ask, and that we would receive? Doesn't God constantly promise to provide for us, when we surrender to being His children? Weren't we good, obedient servants? Weren't we having conversations about God with those around us? Weren't we surrendering ourselves to Him as He asks us to? So... what's all this about? How come other people who don't do any of this stuff get the nice house, and enough money and and and...?

I spent a lot of time in prayer, begging Him for just a little bit of His presence, for a little answer, for a just a little sense that I wasn't talking to myself. My brain waved her naggy little finger at me, reminding me of some Scripture about how God hears all our prayers, and because He hears them, He answers them... but my heart cried out: "but, but... well then, why won't He say anything to me?"

God's (apparent) silence is one of the hardest things for me to cope with. He's told me to do some pretty difficult things in the past but, whenever I did them, I never felt like I was walking through the fire on my own. This time, the fire was drawing toward me, so close that I could feel my eyebrows singeing, but I couldn't feel God's cool breath on my shoulder. I was petrified.

Bren kept telling me that God loved me, and that He hadn't abandoned me. Huh, I thought. Easy for YOU to say. He keeps talking to YOU. Lucky &$@%#&)(!

No, Bren said. He's blessing you all over the place, but you're so busy whining to Him, talking at Him on your own terms, that you can't see it.

Oh, really?

Then he pointed out how just that week, I had finally had tea with two cool ladies at church who I'd been eyeing for years at our church gathering. I had envied their connection on both a spiritual and a "normal" real world level. "Wow!" I had whispered to myself. "I wish I could have that."

Cut to Tuesday of that week: having tea with the two of them, cutting through the bullhonky small talk, and getting to the stuff that you can only get to that quickly with people who understand your spiritual underpinnings; I mean, I would normally never share the intricacies of my pain with people I had just met!

Organically, we talked about our struggles and our pain, shedding a tear, wiping it away with a piece of pumpkin bread (heehee!), and ending in the most precious gift: we grabbed each other's hands, bowed our heads, and started praying for each other. Every now and then, one of them would stroke the knuckles of my hand with her thumb, and I would choke up. I choke up even now at the memory. Sometimes it's the smallest things that get you through. I'll never forget that little thumb stroke.

"Oh, alright," I said. "But Bren, that's not what I was asking for!" As I said that, a little voice said, yes, but perhaps that's what I needed.

Then, that week, I got a precious email from a friend who has been examining her relationship with God in small part because (gasp!) of things I write on here. I cried. This was so much more rewarding than a paycheck. Then, wait for it, the next week, ANOTHER friend wrote me a similar email (she has no relation to the other friend) saying the same thing, how reading what I go through makes her wonder how she can get a piece of that peace. How humbling! How rewarding! How my heart still sings over it!

(And yes, of COURSE I wrote them back!)

And yet, STILL, every morning, I'd wake up thinking, "Yes, well, those things are irrelevant to the problem at hand. We need that check!"

I'd wake up and walk to the mailbox wondering why that check hadn't arrived yet.

Now, during these weeks, what I think was a phoebe, or maybe a mockingbird, had taken up residence outside our windows, singing the most drop-dead gorgeous song I've ever heard a bird sing.

A chirp here, and I would drop my spoon into my cereal bowl and look outside and listen.

A trill there, and I would tear myself away from Facebook (WHAT?!) to catch to his song.

He sang so loud, so proudly, never ceasing. His song would lift my spirits a tad, and I wondered, did He send me that little phoebe? To remind me that He hasn't left me? It comforted me for about a second before I told myself that I was mad and I needed to get back to work.

Then, then... oh, this is the longest build-up ever, but it's so worth it. What happened the next morning made me cry in my driveway! I wish I'd had my camera with me!

It was early. I had resolved NOT to check the mailbox on the way out to the gym. I walked around to the driver's side of the Jeep, and just as I was about to get in the car, I heard that sweet bird sing again. I looked up, and there he was, singing at me from the arm of the telephone arm. He was jumping up and down, almost frantically, up and down, spreading his wings as he did so, his little legs akimbo, singing at the top of his little lungs. I was so sure that he was looking directly at me. The sun was shining from behind the telephone pole, shooting solar flares at my eyes, and that's when I gasped... then cried. Because all these 6 years I've lived here, I had never noticed this:

It's a cross, people. A huge fiddlestickin' cross. Sure, maybe a Greek orthodox version. But there's no mistaking it. And it's right over our house. And, it stands facing our bedroom (to the left of the cross, right side of the house). The little bird was sitting on that arm closest to the camera, jumping nearly 3 feet into the air, and then falling back down. That cross has been there the whole time: every night I went to sleep, and every morning I woke up over the past 6 years. And I'd never even noticed. I'd never looked up.

I stood there in my driveway, in my ugly workout clothes, doing the ugly cry, gasping for air in between, licking the delicious, salty tears as they ran into the corners of my mouth.

You might scoff, might think it's a coincidence, might think I'm reading too much into things... but in that moment, and even now, I know with the same certainty that I know that I'm alive, that little message was meant for me. That was my Father reaching down and gently tugging at my shoulder, saying, Hey! I haven't forgotten you. In fact, I've been watching over you for so long, and you hadn't even noticed. Don't worry. I've got your back.

A few days later, we got the check. And then, we got another one. And then, yet another (unexpected but highly appreciated!) one.

(We also had wonderful friends who took care of us in the meantime, who bought us burgers and offered to write us checks and hugged us. We love you guys. You know who you are, and that meant a LOT.)

I think God wanted to really shake my attachment to money, and instead show me the kinds of things He's really interested in, the things He values -- relationship with fellow Christians (aka my new favourite, "Jesus freaks". I can just imagine the tshirts: I'm a freak for Jesus! I freak out for Jesus! hahahahaahaha), relationship with friends who are wondering, relationship with Him. Money is important, yes, but not to the point where it eclipses the real value of those person-to-person or person-to-Creator bonds. Getting those paychecks was not nearly as satisfying as cool-christian-chica tea time or getting those awesome emails or seeing that bird jumping up and down to get my attention.

I'm not saying that God will always answer your prayers exactly the way you want Him to. And I'm not saying that the next time I'm in a valley I won't be whining to Him about what we need (as if He doesn't know already!). What I *think* I'm trying to say is that the next time you're in pain, look up. Look outside of your valley. I'm pretty sure He'll be blessing you in ways you didn't think you wanted, but they might just be what you need.


p.s. and just in case you think I'm getting too serious, here's some phun with photobooth for ya:

all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.