Saturday, January 31, 2009

My husband is a... saint?

Have you seen Bren's character pieces, "The Madness of Common Saints"? His character is a poet-cum-street preacher-cum-homeless nut, driven only to perform his poetry no matter how people react to him.

It was part of the latest season of Hothouse Films. I shot it! It's worth watching a couple of times to catch Bren's rich poetry (which he wrote in one sitting one night; he is so ridiculously talented and I would say that even if he wasn't married to me). Also it's fun to see how people react to his loud ravings on the streets of Culver City.

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

Tell me what you think about it!



Thursday, January 29, 2009

I scream for ice-cream, I mean for Him!

It is with a surprising sense of fear that I announce: we finished the fast! Today, for the first time in 21 days, we can partake of meat, dairy, eggs, caffeine, herbal tea, alcohol and leavened bread.

I'm kinda scared of going back to normal though. Ironic, given that at the outset, I wasn't sure I could go three weeks without all those things. Do you find that as you get older you get more attached to your routine? I am, particularly to using the same conditioner, drinking a particular brand of water, drinking tea or coffee at certain times of the day, packing huge amounts of protein into every meal... the idea of doing it differently (particularly when we go out of town) strikes a little bolt of fear in my heart. Creature of habit, through and through.

My fear comes from how good I feel right now. Over the past three weeks, I haven't felt bloated once, my skin has cleared up a bit and I'm more alert. Cooking times are down to a minimum because I'm not spending hours cooking meat, and I've spent less time thinking about what I'm going to eat. I know you're surprised. I don't even recognize myself.

And none of the abstention was hard! In fact, it was so easy to refrain from eating things that aren't good for me (in terms of dairy, and unhealthy foods) because I wasn't giving it up for myself, or for my self-absorbed goals of slimmer waistlines... it's much easier to give things up for someone else rather than for yourself, don't you think? That's certainly true about mothers who often sacrifice their own needs for their children. In this case, I was giving it up for the One who created me, and knows all the horrible things about me, all the pettiness and selfishness... and yet still loves me. It's a silly gesture I know. But to me, it was huge.

And so, I've decided that I'm going to maintain a mostly-vegetarian diet, with lots of whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, farro, freekah...). I was thinking that eating red meat once a week, and fish once a week would suffice. What do you think? How much meat do you eat every week? How does that affect your veggie intake? Do you get the recommended 5 servings of fruit and veg every day?

I had envisioned this morning throughout the fast: waking up with a smile on my face, rays of sunshine in my hair, and a twinkle in my eye because I knew the coffeemaker was sitting on the counter ready for action. I imagined the smell wafting through the house, and curling itself up my nostrils like they do in cartoons. I would look out the window, see a hummingbird buzzing from one orange blossom to another, open up the paper, read a great uplifting story, and lift a hot mug of soy half-and-half laced coffee to my lips. Aaaaaaaah!


It was NOTHING like that! I woke up incredibly groggy, wiped the drool off my face, dragged my feet on the floor, walked toward the computer, and nearly forgot that the fast was over! Then I remembered that I could have coffee today, and my heart started beating just a little bit faster until I realised that the coffeemaker was still on top of the fridge. So I climbed up on a chair and reached for the dusty ol' thing, stretching out more than should be humanly possible first thing in the morning, washed it and set it up. THEN I remembered that the only decaf coffee grounds I had were in the freezer, where they should never be kept because the moisture gets to the oils in the coffee and makes them go stale quicker. I didn't get the paper, there were no hummingbirds buzzing outside and I ended up with a limp, stale and bitter cuppa this morning!

Agh! That's what I get for thinking about myself, and not Him, first thing in the morning!!

Nevermind. It's not a big deal. At least that's what I'm telling myself. Instead, I'm focusing on the next time I can have ice-cream.


Speaking of which, look at what my fellow icecream-addict friend Ross will suffer for the sake of an icecream bar.



p.s. I'm still going to brew another pot o' joe dang it all. Since I haven't brewed coffee in so long, I need help: what coffee do you like to drink?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Writer's Block Salad

I struggled to come up with a recipe this week.

Sometimes, I'm blessed with a flash of inspiration, say with last week's Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Pickled Mango Soup.

Most of the time though, I'm not. I rack my brains on Monday and Tuesday. I think about it while I'm on the treadmill, while I'm in the shower, while Bren is talking to me about his bizarre dreams last night (sorry bren!). Elena and Karen, the other members that make up our accountability group, know this quandry well; we meet every weekend to plan our week ahead, and whenever I get to Wednesday, I say "I have to put a recipe up that day and I don't know what I'm going to do".

On cue, Elena then says, "You always say that, and then you figure it out a second later. Look, I can tell by your face that you've already figured it out." And I usually have.

But this week was tougher for some reason. I hadn't visited the farmers market since we got back, so I went yesterday in search of a little pick-me-up.

Oh what bounty! Look what I got for $25!

I got:
  • 2 celeriacs (ugly duckling salad anyone?),
  • a bunch of candy striped beets with greens attached,
  • two bunchs of cavalo nero (black kale),
  • some onions and shallots,
  • 2 grapefruits,
  • 2 blood oranges,
  • a butternut squash,
  • a bunch of carrots,
  • an asian pear,
  • a cherimoya (which I suspect is the same thing, or at least related to a custard apple),
  • and 4 small heads of purple and white cauliflower!

Phew! That should last me the entire week! If you're interested, I'll let you know what I end up doing with the rest of that stuff.

And so, after considering the contents of my fridge and the carefully washed bounty before me, I came up with this week's entry. I bring you the Writer's Block Salad, a tangy, cheerfully messy meeting of salad greens, avocado, grapefruit, blood orange (if you can get one), hearts of palm and toasted sunflower seeds. Mint would be a good addition to this salad, but I didn't have any, so there you go.

Have you ever tried hearts of palm? They're fresh, softly crunchy and just a little sweet. Best of all, they're a pretty dang cheap dollop of "oooh!" in your salads. You can either find them in a jar or in a can; either kind is fine.

Here's hoping this salad unlocks any part of your brain that has been sitting dormant for a while! It worked for me; I've already figured out what I'm making next week.

Writer's Block Salad: Hearts of Palm Salad with Winter Citrus, Avocado and Sunflower Seeds

You'll need this stuff:

1 bag of mache aka lamb's lettuce (or a head of any lettuce will do, tear into bite size pieces though), washed
1 grapefruit
1 blood orange (if you can't find one, use another half a grapefruit)
1 tbsp champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Handful of sunflower seeds
Salt and pepper

1) Segment your grapefruit and blood orange: slice off the top and bottom so it sits without rolling over. Then, using a paring knife, slice the peel off, slicing only as deep as the white pith. I remember this was the first cooking technique I ever saw Jacques Pepin teach on his show. Funny what sticks with you, huh?

NOTE: If you like, you can slice off the peel in stages, first just the outer oily peel, then the white pith; you can use the peel to infuse your olive oil. I didn't do that, and now I'm slapping my forehead over the lost opportunity. D'oh!

2) Ok now, over a bowl, hold the grapefruit in the palm of your left hand and slice on either side of the membrane to extract a perfectly membrane-free segment, like so:

Continue all the way around until all you have left are the membranes. Squeeze them over the bowl. Don't waste any of this precious juice! You should have at least 1/4 cup when you're done. Measure out the 1/4 cup, save the rest for another use (or if you feel comfortable making salad dressings, use all the juice and more olive oil for a dressing that will last all week!)

3) Add the minced shallot and a good pinch of salt. Let it sit for 5 minutes, while you cut up your avocado, and chop up the flesh into either slices or chunks, whatever you like. Drain the hearts of palm, and slice them on the bias.

4) Whisk in the olive oil slowly, until it all comes together.

5) Toast the sunflower seeds in a pan over low heat.

6) Compose your salad, placing avocado and citrus segments on top of the greens, drizzling with a little dressing, and then sprinkling the sunflower seeds over the top. Enjoy!



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Don't Cuss!

As part of the Daniel Fast, Bren and I have been giving up swearing too. While it hasn't been too difficult, every now and then, we catch ourselves usually when we hurt ourselves or we're irritated. Our substitutes tend toward the obvious: "mess" instead of sh*t, "fudge" instead of f**k. It's funny how even three weeks of forgoing the 'f' word makes it seem oh so vulgar now!

I wish I'd heard of this kid before though; 15-year old McKay Hatch started a no-cussing club (NCC) at his high-school here in Pasadena, after his friends started asserting their teen angst-ridden independence by sprinkling curse words through their vernacular. He told them to either cool it with the cussing... or hang out with someone else. Surprisingly, they chose to turn their backs on the spicy language. His friends now say that cussing is "verbal abuse" and it provokes violence. Interesting, huh?

And it's catching on. The kid told Jay Leno that he's got 30,000 members worldwide! I am so f'in inspired.




Culinary Olympics

I'm not sure what to write about today. I'm at a loss!

So I thought I'd mention that the Bocuse d'Or, the so-called gold medal of Olympic cooking competitions, began today in Paris. 24 chefs from all over the world will cook a meat dish for 12, and a seafood for 12, in 5 hours and 35 minutes. That time includes butchering a side of beef, and an 11lb Norwegian cod from scratch. The US has never won the competition, in fact, hasn't even placed in the top three, so this year, the team has bulked up Phelps-style, with an all-star coaching team of Thomas Keller, Daniel Boloud and Paul Bocuse, the man who started the competition. The stars: 28-year Timothy Hollingsworth, the sous-chef at Keller's French Laundry, often called the best restaurant in America, and his commis, Adina Guest.

His menu includes a scallop sausage, which sounds intriguing. And in case you think he's all fancy food and no humility, Food & Wine challenged him to create a simple menu, channeling mom. I channel mum whenever I can, so I knew that would work! His butternut squash soup with maple-glazed banana sounds oddly delicious.

Anyway, that's where I am today.



Monday, January 26, 2009

Slow Motion

Isn't my husband cute?



Friday, January 23, 2009

Wuss I am.

Sorry for the late post! Today has been... a lot to take, good stuff, but a struggle nonetheless; whoever led me to believe that life would be easy as long as you were a good person was totally full of it! Aside from that, I've been feeling a bit wiped out I confess, because I am quite weak when it comes to debating. I'm actually horrible at confrontation, even if it's through a computer screen; I get emotionally involved which is why Bren always wins when we debate because he knows how to balance his emotions with his reasoning. Meh!

So I confess that while I am really, really, really happy that so many people have taken part in the "Life" debate (over 28 comments so far! Good Lord! You guys are amazing!), it's a bit overwhelming to be the only voice, apart from Bren's, in the face of so many who don't agree; I'm not asking for pity, I know I asked for it for goodness' sake. And I haven't changed my mind. It's just... exhausting, and maybe a little... deflating? Does that make sense? I don't know if you guys have ever been through that feeling, being the absolute minority opinion about something you feel strongly about. I'm sure you have. Anyway. Woe is me, right?!!!! I need to get over myself! I will keep commenting of course. I just thought I'd share a little honesty with you since that's what people seem to like best about this lil' blog o' mine ("I'm gonna let it shiiiine... this lil' blog o' miiiiine...)

For now, I am relishing in the Fleet Foxes' performance of "Mykonos" on SNL last week, hands down one of the best performances I have ever seen on SNL. Remember them? I posted their gorgeous stop-motion video for White Winter Hymnal last year. Watch this performance soon before the powers that be at NBC yank it off YouTube. I guarantee you'll watch it again and again!



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stumbled Upon Snack

We're still on the Daniel Fast, which will wrap up next Wednesday. All in all, the weeks have flown by, and the biggest cravings I've had were for coffee while reading the paper, and ... huh, I can't really think of anything else. It's actually been surprisingly do-able. One of the benefits has been that we can't eat out much at all, so we've been eating at home 98% of the time, which is both cheaper and more fun for me. And the spiritual gifts have been awesome.

Another benefit (which you might see as a downside depending on whether you live to eat or eat to live) is that I'm constantly hungry! My body processes all this natural, unprocessed food so quickly.

Here's a snack that I stumbled upon last week, when I looked in the fridge, and the combination called to me. That, and the three components were all that were left in the fridge, apart from condiments. Lots and lots of condiments. Sometimes I think I buy food like a bachelor.

Anyway, I heated up the lavash (better in a pan than a toaster oven, which makes it more like a cracker).

Spread some hummus on it...

Sprinkled some pomegranate gems on it...

Rolled it up and stuffed my face! YUM!


Healthy Debate

Thanks to those of you who were bold enough to say what you think about abortion in response to my "Life?" post.  There's a healthy debate going in the comment section there if you want to read it or take part.  Thanks guys!  


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Yorron's Soul-Singer Soup

I envy those of you buried under a foot of snow; I doubt you feel like you're in an enviable position but, there's something unnatural about the weather here: 80 degrees in January. Even in Dubai, it wasn't that hot at the beginning of the year.

Out of solidarity with you or stubborn rebellion against the LA weather gods (not sure which!), I can't help piling my grocery basket up with root veggies: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots. Perhaps it's the colour. I was going through my closet the other day and I realised that most of my clothes are either yellow, orange, red or black. Not so much of the blue or green. What can I say? I'm a fire sign.

Speaking of sweet potatoes, Bren reminded me of this clip:

Aaaaghghghgghghghgh! You're welcome!

Anyway, I decided to make an old cooking school staple, butternut squash and sweet potato soup. But, I wanted to add something else to the soup recipe, put a little trademark aarti in there. While at Elat Market, I spied a jar of amba, a tangy pickled mango sauce that my friend Yorron had introduced me to when we were shopping for Burning Man. He is such an inspiration to me because that man was not afraid to try anything. I still remember how he made spinach with mangos and prickly pears!

According to Wiki, amba comes from the Iraqi Jews, who brought it to Israel, but the name sounds suspiciously like "aam", which is how we say mango in Hindi. In fact, we grew up on unbelievably good mango pickle that my grandmother makes from unripe green (aka "raw") mangos. So I don't know whether the Iraqis got it from the Indians (do mangos grow in Iraq?!), or vice versa, or whether the Indian Jews took it with them to Israel as well... who knows?

Whatever the case, this Israeli version is delicious: tangy, spicy in that way that tingles the roof of your mouth but doesn't make you run for a glass of water, slightly sweet... it's apparently drizzled over falafel and sabikh sandwiches, sometimes made fresh on the premises. This jar didn't have any chunks of mango in it though, which disappointed me. I'll have to try another brand.

It's hardly a surpise that I like amba; it it made from mangoes, turmeric and fenugreek. And you already know about my obsession with fenugreek. I decided to be brave and add it to the butternut squash, and it's a tasty, if not a slightly assertive combination. Be sure to add the pecans. They temper the sour stream of flavour that the amba adds.

Bren thought that this would make a good first course soup, rather than a main course. He said this as he ate three helpings of it.


I love this soup. I place myself in your shoes, shoveling pounds of snow, shaking your head at how your nose hairs have frozen together. Even in the empty abyss of a grey day, you can take some visual, nasal and oral comfort in a pot of bright, mustard-yellow coloured soup. Add some toasted pecans for a hint of Thanksgiving and fireplaces, and voila, your nose hairs are emancipated, your insides melted and your spirit in a state of song... which is appropriate because Yorron means "he who sings of joy" in Hebrew.

I found amba at the Jewish/Middle Eastern market. If you can't find it there, you can order it off Kalustyans.

This one's for you, Yorron!

Yorron's Soul-Singer Soup: Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Pickled Mango Soup with Pecans

You'll need this stuff:

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
2lbs butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 medium or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups vegetable stock
5 cups water
2 bay leaves
6-7 tablespoons amba
Handful pecans, toasted in a pan over a low flame

1) Heat some olive oil in a big soup pot over a medium flame. Add onions, season with some salt and saute for a minute or so.

2) Add the carrots and garlic. Saute for another couple of minutes, and add the squash, sweet potato, stock, water and bay leaves. Season with some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down until the soup is simmering, throw a lid on it and cook for 45 minutes.

3) Check the veggies after 45 minutes. If they're nice and soft, they're ready to go. If a knife doesn't go through 'em like butter, then let them boil for another 10 minutes. That way, your soup will be nice and smooth.

4) Remove soup from heat. DON'T FORGET (as I often do!) to pull the bay leaves out! Hold down the lid with a dish towel, and blend the soup in batches until smooth, either with your trusty counter-top blender, or if you're fancy, your immersion blender. If you have the latter, lock it up buddy, or else I'm stealing it from you.

5) Return the blended soup to the pot. Stir in amba. Taste and season accordingly. Serve with a few pecans on top.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Day

I am excited about the 44th president's inauguration; it's the culmination of many dreams, those of the African American community, and of those who worked so hard to get him into office. More importantly though, I'm excited about the MENU!

Yes, friends, I read with delight last week's LA Times article about the "first supper" of this and previous inaugural luncheons. Did you know that for his fourth inauguration, during World War II, FDR and his wife shared a ration-conscious supper of cold chicken salad, rolls with no butter, cake with no frosting and coffee, with no sugar? How austere!

Similarly, I wondered, with the rest of the country tightening their belts around the dinner table, would this First Supper reflect our collective humbling in the kitchen? The meal is given by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which has chosen as its theme, "A New Birth of Freedom", celebrating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth on Feb 12. Appropriate, given the way Obama emulates the 16th president.

Lincoln's midnight dinner was a lavish affair, serving
"terrapin stew, leg of veal, beef à l'anglais, foie gras, pâté, cream candies, fruit ices, tarts, cakes and more." The LA Times even has an image of the original menu!

By comparison, Obama's meal consists of just three courses:
  • Seafood stew (scallops, shrimp, lobster), served in puff pastry
  • Brace of American birds: duck with sour cherry chutney and pheasant with wild rice stuffing, molasses sweet potatoes
  • Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake and Sweet Cream Glace
It's actually a pretty simple dinner, don't you think? Simple, whilst recognising the magnitude of what this meal commemorates. Soup, fowl & potatoes (where's the veg?!), cake and ice cream. Again, the menu is a nod to Lincoln, who loved oysters, sweet potatoes and apples. If you're looking for your own way to commemorate this day in the kitchen, the recipes are available on the official inaugural website too. Personally, I want to taste that stew; it will be served on a replica of the china Lincoln used.

The first course will be served with a Sauvignon Blanc from the first vineyard Bren and I visited on our honeymoon: Duckhorn. I can't say enough about this vineyard.

Not only did they comp our "estate tasting" ($50 each at the time!) because we were newly-weds, they also greeted us at the door with champagne and cheered, "Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. McNamara!". That was the first time we'd heard that, having not had a wedding per se, and I'll never forget it. In fact, we will remember that day with great fondness on our 10th wedding anniversary, when we'll pop open a reserve bottle of Duckhorn Cabernet I believe, bought and saved for just that purpose.

Now, if I could only find out the LAST meal of Mr. and Mrs. Bush at the White House...



Monday, January 19, 2009


This morning, I felt led to write about one of the most polarizing topics out there: abortion. I am among the ranks of those who believe in a moral and Constitutional right to life, ie. that abortion is wrong. And yes, I believe it should be illegal. I'll admit, I'm nervous to broach the subject with you all, but I hope you'll take a second to hear me out.

I bring this up because yesterday was Sanctity of Life Sunday, today is MLK day and tomorrow is a day that to some, means the beginning of a bettering of our quality of life. Since this has been an issue burning a hole in my brain/heart for a few months, what better day than today to talk about it? Indeed, I believe that one of the worst things about the subject is that no one talks about it, at least not outside their own circles. Why is this such a taboo subject if this is something that is legal? Sure, it makes people uncomfortable to get into "confrontational" spaces, but if you believe in something so strongly, shouldn't you be able to back up your beliefs? I was the same way for years, a proud (as long as no one confronted me about it!) believer in the right of women to choose. It took actually talking about it to change my mind. Talking about it doesn't mean our voices need to be raised, or that we need to resort to pompous rhetoric to get our point across, two things which have sadly, marked much of the discussion I've ever witnessed on the topic.

Once I learned about what abortion is, what it looks like, whom it affects and who's doing it, I realised that there is no way that I could oppose the war in Iraq, oppose the genocide in Darfur, oppose the violence against women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, without also opposing abortion. In all of these cases, someone is deciding whether a life is significant enough, worthy enough, convenient enough to exist.

I take a lot of inspiration from Nat Hentoff, the legendary journalist and author, whose fierce columns and books protecting the First Amendment have made him a hero to those who believe in free speech. He's a Fulbright scholar, winner of numerous journalism awards, whose work has been published in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and from 1958 until just the end of 2008, the Village Voice. He's Jewish, civil liberatarian, aethiest, left-leaning... a model Democrat except... he's pro-life. His 1992 article is a cogent dissertation on why he thinks abortion is wrong, how it isn't that rare to be liberal and pro-life, and what happened to his career after he declared himself a pro-lifer. I highly recommend it.

So, here are the two main reasons I oppose abortion:
1) Life & conception.
This is the most fundamental point, as I'm sure you know, so this one is a bit long. Some pro-lifers believe life begins at conception. Hentoff says this:

"Nor, biologically, does it make any sense to draw life-or-death lines at viability. Once implantation takes place, this being has all the genetic information within that makes each human being unique. And he or she embodies continually developing human life from that point on. It misses a crucial point to say that the extermination can take place because the brain has not yet functioned or because that thing is not yet a "person." Whether the life is cut off in the fourth week or the fourteenth, the victim is one of our species, and has been from the start."

I, being a believer in God, believe that life begins BEFORE conception. In the Bible, God says to the prophet Jeremiah,

"Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you..." (The Message version).

I believe God had those plans for each one of us before we were conceived. Therefore I believe, that even if it appears to just be a blob of tissue, that blob has human potential! I see it as a classic case of believing that we, as humans, know better: who are we to decide that just because we can't find something "human" in that blob right now, that it isn't? Everyday, we're getting better medical technology that helps us see more of what happens in the womb: babies laughing, playing with thier noses, yawning... who's to say what technology will help us see in that "blob of tissue" in the future?

Don't even get me started on late-term abortions, when the baby looks like a baby for Goodness' sake, on its way out of the womb. (Shudder). If you don't know what I'm talking about, take a look at this, although I would turn the sound down because the music is distracting. Bear in mind that this is probably a baby at only 20 weeks, not the full 38-weeks; this baby is only midway through development, at the moment when the mum is really starting to show (so people can't mistake you for being fat anymore!). It's graphic folks. Eat your lunch first. This is what it really looks like, and if you support it, then you shouldn't be afraid to see what it is that you're supporting. It's the same thing as showing photos of all the mutilated bodies of victims in the Congo or in Darfur.

If you can agree with me that life does (or even if you can bring yourself to say "may") begin at conception, then aborting that life is nothing short of homicide.

2) Choice.
For a long time, I counted myself as the pro-choice pro-lifer; I believed that abortion was wrong, but that it wasn't up to me to make a woman's decision for her. That was until Bren said to me, "Yes, but what about the baby? Shouldn't someone be making a decision for him or her? If that baby could talk, wouldn't he or she choose to live?". Similarly, we don't allow someone to murder someone else just because it's his choice. We don't say, oh well Jeffery Dahmer was just following his gut on that one. When women kill their children, we don't say, well that was her choice. Why is it easier to outlaw those people's choices?

Hentoff points out that the first thing white slaveowners did was dehumanize black slaves by calling them "n***ers". The Nazis dehumanized the Jews too, calling them an inferior race and blaming them for Germany's economic woes. The Janjaweed call the Darfuris, "black" (laughable since the Janjaweed themselves are black too). I think we've done the same thing by calling the unborn baby a "fetus"; suddenly, he/she has lost all human characteristics, so that it doesn't feel like murder when that life is eliminated.


We've been really lucky to be around so many pregnant bellies in past months, ones so huge that there's no mistaking what's inside, and ones who are so delicately small, that you could be mistaken for thinking they have gas (!). In both circumstances the mothers and fathers have been equally excited. Their joy gave me pause: we have allowed ourselves to believe in a relative truth, that whether we think of it as a baby or a fetus is determined by our excitement at its imminent arrival... take two babies, of the exact same gestation. If you aren't excited about it, if it's a product of rape or incest, if you don't think you can afford it, it's a fetus. If you and your husband planned it, if you have the money for it, if you tried with fertility drugs for months, then it's a baby, a human being. The truth is the truth is the truth! It's either a baby or it isn't.

Well, that's what I think. If you disagree with me, I highly encourage you to write to me! I am happy, if not eager, to hear what you think.



Friday, January 16, 2009

White Christmas

We were hoping for snow while we were in the mountains. We ache for it every year we go up there, as if the view isn't gorgeous enough. We got so excited when it fell below freezing one night, resulting in a thicky, icy shelf on the surface of the (gulp) never-used hot tub:

In a way though, we DID get a white Christmas. That morning, we woke up to this:

Those are the clouds filling in the valley below us. The blanket was so thick, I wanted to jump in it!

It was a gift better than the one we had wanted. Those are the best gifts ever, aren't they?


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Aarti & Crafti

Wanna hug?

C'mon... come a little closer!

That's better. Let's rub noses now.

Isn't he cute? It's for my friend Lika's little one, Beckett!

This bear took way too long to make, thanks to a bad bout of perfectionism (oh ok, procrastination). I labored over the colors and textures while Beckett was in utero, started stiching, allowed it to sit unfinished in a basket for months, realised that his birth was just around the corner, decided the colours and texture were yucky, frogged the whole thing, started again, ripped apart my pillow to pilfer stuffing material, and finally finished it a few days after he was born! Phew!

I secretly hope that the bear is bigger than Beckett -- isn't it comforting to have something bigger than you to cuddle? Once I witness the two of them side by side, I will be sure to put a photo up.

While my time away was very relaxing, it was also pretty productive; the cabin in the mountains provides hours of guilt-free "what's your pleasure"... reading, chatting, crocheting, writing. I finished "A Million Little Pieces" and a Frederick Douglass book, in addition to finishing one crochet project, one knitted one, and starting yet another knitted one!

Crochet is fantastic when you want instant gratification. Knitting scares the bejeezum out of crocheters, at least this one... all the specific needles, the counting, and oh the dreaded dropped stitch!

Fear not, lace knitting to the rescue. It's pretty easy, as long as you have the luxury of focus. And the results are splendid! After finishing one lace-knit scarf, I'm making another one! Here's the scarf I made; I didn't block it very well so it's not maintaining its shape as well as I want it to. I might have to block it again:

I had a ton of leftover yarn from the sweater I made so many moons ago; I used it to make the scarf and this beret:

I'm not sure if you can see it very well here. Hang on.

(Whispering to herself: I knew that polystyrene head would come in handy!) Don't you love the bow? Sarah and decided to make the same beret whilst we were in the mountains. Hers was red too. How did it turn Sass?

Full disclosure: the patterns are not mine! The bear came from the Happy Hooker, the scarf from knitty, and the beret from CreativeYarn.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Aarti Cooks: Lions' Den Methi


I'm back! Happy New Year everybody. We just got back from our very relaxing holiday in Orlando and Andrews, NC last week, and it's taken about a week to get fully back into the system of things: the gym, the emailing and yes, the blog. Bren, overachieving blighter that he is, still managed to vlog everyday that we were away. I am using the fact that I forgot my camera cord as my excuse for not being as ambitious. I'll post some pictures later this week though.

BTW, if you haven't watched Bren's vlog in a while, I would encourage you to watch this one, mostly because of the muppet-type opening. It's hilarious!

We are ringing in the New Year by following the Daniel Fast, a 21-day abstension from all meat, alcohol, sugar/sweetners, dairy, eggs, refined white flour and leavened bread... in an effort to draw closer to the Lord. OH! And no caffiene! That's been the hardest one to give up! Man! We drank so much coffee whilst we were away that, on the first day back in LA, I dusted off my coffee machine, made Bren walk 4 blocks to the convenience store so that I could get some half and half, and brewed a pot to accompany our pizza and Battlestar viewing. Ah, bliss.

Anyway, this fast is inspired by the prophet Daniel. Do you know the story of Daniel? It's kind of complex: an Israelite, taken in by the Babylonian king against his will, becomes the only member of the court who can correctly interpret the King's dreams. All the while, Daniel remains true to his God, without bending to the Babylonians' god, even withstanding trials of fire and lion.

A lot of our daily parlance comes from the book of Daniel: "writing on the wall", "the lion's den", "the fiery furnaces"... and of course, the awesome-st named folks in the Bible, Meshach (ME-shack), Shadrach (SHAD-rack) and Abednego (a-BED-nee-go). Say those name 10 times fast, I dare ya!

Here's Chagall's rendition of Daniel in the lion's den:

Cool, huh?

Anyway, Daniel was young, handsome and intelligent, sadly for him, exactly fitting the qualifications of new additions to the King's court. Not wanting to bend to King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel decided:

"In those days, I, Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled."
- Daniel 10:2,3

So clearly, this isn't a fast in the strict sense, rather a "partial" fast. And there's nothing special about the foods you're eating; they don't hold any special powers. Rather, it's the intention behind it, the attitude with which you give things up.

I have no self-control, so I didn't think I could do it, especially since I'm so obsessed with food. However, every time a craving rears it head, say, for a sweet, sweet cup o' joe, I remember Who I'm giving it up for. The craving disappears. Literally. Fo'. Real.

Personally, I felt like God was hiding His face from me a good deal over the past few weeks, and while I don't want to assert any undue power to the fast (and away from God), He sure is close today. It's... really amazing! If you follow Christ, and you don't know what that feels like (having Him close to you), then give it a try. Heck, if you DON'T follow Christ, and you don't know what it feels like to have God's presence fall on you, give it a try. Can't hurt, right? How 'bout it? The creator of the universe? And you? Hanging out together? Huh? Huh?!

We went to the neighborhood Middle Eastern/Jewish market the other day, to stock up on cheap veggies (Elat Market, for those of you here in LA. It's on Pico, just east of Robertson), and I gasped with delight when I saw bunches of a straggly looking weed:

It's fresh fenugreek (we called it methi)! You might have heard of fenugreek if you make any Indian food from scratch: the seeds and dried leaves are used quite often, especially in North Indian food, if I'm not mistaken (Mum?!). Their distinctive aroma is often the base of that "curry" smell that seeps the worn-out carpet of every Indian restaurant you've frequented. It's also used to give a maple-like flavor to syrup. Weird, huh?

They're wicked good for you too. The leaves ease digestion, reduce blood sugar levels (great for diabetics), boost milk production in nursing mums, and clearing your sinuses. Apparently, they're from the same family as the peanut and the chickpea, so if you're allergic to either of those, you might want to skip this one.

Their flavor is bold, bitter, fiesty, even! Both Indians and Persians adore them. Mum plants fenugreek seeds in pots on her balcony so that they can have fresh leaves in their chapati dough (yum!). Growing up, we'd have fresh methi with potatoes. I decided to make it with sweet potato, hoping that the sweetness of the potato would balance out the bitterness of the methi. I LOVE how it turned out.

The only annoying part is that fenugreek is very muddy, so make sure you wash it at least twice, and remove any foreign stems that might be in there. Also, you'll have to trim the roots off, which I find much easier with a pair of scissors. You can find methi at most Indian stores, and as I just discovered, Middle Eastern stores. Alternatively, you could make this with spinach or kale.

Served with some brown rice, it's a really satisfying dinner. Given that I made this on the first day of our fast, I'm calling it "Lions' Den Methi".

Lions's Den Methi: Fresh Fenugreek Leaves with Sweet Potatoes and Mustard Oil

You'll need this stuff:

3 tablespoons mustard oil (or regular canola if you don't have mustard)
2 medium shallots, sliced 1/4" thin
1 medium sweet potato (about 10 oz), peeled, and cut into 1/2" cubes
2-3 bunches fresh fenugreek, washed very well (like, 2 or 3 times, they're so muddy!), woody roots trimmed off
1/4 tsp (rounded) turmeric powder
Salt and Pepper

1) Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and potatoes. Saute and allow to pick up some color.

2) Meanwhile, chop the methi finely. You can throw it in a food processor if you like.

3) Once the sweet potato/shallot mixture has caramelized a bit, remove from the pan and set aside.

4) Turn heat up to medium high. Return pan to heat and add remaining 2 tbsp of oil. When it's shimmering, add the methi. Stir often, and saute about 10 minutes until the methi has turned dark green.

5) Add the potato mixture and turmeric to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Add water and turn heat to medium-low. Cook, covered for 10-15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are soft. Taste for seasonings and serve!

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