Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spring Roll Empanadas

Do you know what one of the biggest perks to not cooking/baking with eggs is?

You get to lick the spoon... : )

I'm the neighbor who will freely give you anything out of her pantry, but hardly ever do I actually have the things my neighbors are requesting to borrow... No eggs. No vegetable oil. No milk. No butter.

But I have all of the substitutions!

Flax seed, coconut oil, palm fruit oil...

When we lived in Atlanta almost everything in our pantry and refrigerator came from Trader Joe's. And, I used to love their empanadas from the frozen food section. Oh my goodness, so good! With a little dollop of salsa on top and some shredded lettuce... Mmm mmm mmmmm. Many a dinners (and lunches) were just that.

The only empanadas I've had that were better come from the greatest State of all, Texas, in the greatest city of all the cities in Texas, San Antonio, at perhaps, my favorite restaurant in the city, La Hacienda. Their empanadas are amazing!

For a while now I've been wanting to try this recipe for empanadas from SkinnyTaste. But, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself for them to turn out because I knew that if I didn't pull it off, I'd be really disappointed.

But, finally, I just got over myself and added it to this week's menu. I missed the link she provides for making your own dough, so I was crossing my fingers that our Kroger would carry the Goya discs the recipe calls for.

Alas, no Goya discs could be found, even after I asked two very nice Kroger employees to search with me. One employee suggested I return to the organic aisle, because he thought he'd seen pre-cut dough there which might suffice as a substitute. I knew exactly what he was talking about.... The spring roll dough.

So, I made my way back across the store (feeling like a salmon swimming up stream) and passed the Pillsbury crescent rolls... "Those would work," I thought. But, somehow, I talked myself out of that idea and continued on towards the organic aisle.

I picked up the little package of pre-cut spring roll dough and checked out.

Thursday comes around. Not the day I was planning on making empanadas, but David's home for lunch, and I have some extra time, so I say, "Why not? Let's go for it."

Well, the filling is divine. The entire house smells authentically south of the border, in the best kind of way. And then I pull out this silly package of spring roll dough, and it hits me, "This is for spring rolls! Not empanadas!"

But it's too late. I'm hungry. The oven is pre-heated. The Cuban picadillo filling is all simmered. I consider the tv show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and think to myself, "This is something some restaurant in New Mexico would throw together and pull off, and it would be great, and the blonde guy with the backwards sunglasses would give the cook a fist bump and gobble down the whole thing and call it Asian-Cuban-Tex-Mex-FUSION...."

So, I fill the spring rolls with the empanada filling.

When they come out of the oven 10 minutes later, they look like adorable little spring rolls, like they belong next to a serving of cashew chicken and steamed broccoli. I top them with guacamole, shredded lettuce, a dollop of salsa and take a bite.

So good.

So very good.

But, to be honest, they weren't empanadas... They were spring rolls filled with empanada filling.

The spring roll dough was not a sufficient substitution for empanada dough.

In order for a substitution to work as a substitution, it has to be really similar to the original requirement. Like, really, really similar. Otherwise, it's not a substitution, it's just an adaptation.

It's kind of like being nice to other people, and giving things away to people in need, and standing up for really great causes, and being a good person, and curing diseases, or bringing water to impoverished people... Some of us think that those things will suffice when our days are up.

We think that even though we didn't buy into the whole Jesus thing or even really spend any time to talk to someone about eternity or even talk to God, we think that all of the good things we've done will outweigh the bad things, and that when we get to the end, when we die, and we're looking down the only two road towards where we'll be spending our eternity, God will say, "You were good enough."

But He won't.

Because being good enough isn't a sufficient substitution.

Your life might look really cool! It might be Asian-Cuban-Tex-Mex-Fusion, but it isn't an empanada which is what it was supposed to be. I could make the dough myself or I could use Goya dough- I only had two choices for the recipe to work. I couldn't get away with spring roll dough.

So, we can do death by ourselves. That is an option. We can do that. We can spend eternity separated from God (with all the pain and suffering).

Or we can use the one sufficient substitution- Jesus.

I chose Jesus. How about you?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Flip of a Switch

I have this switch in my brain. Sometimes it's turned on, and sometimes it's turned off. It's my Kenya switch. When it's off, I forget I've ever been there. When it's on, I remember.

If it's off, people can have whole conversations about Africa without a single reaction of familiarity.

If it's on, I do remember. And, thankfully, during the past few years, it's just that. I just remember. And it's like they're talking about New York City - a place I visited once, so I recognize and understand whatever it is they're talking about through the lens of one who's experienced the place.

Since my trip to Guatemala in 2007, I've had fewer triggers related to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I came home with after my trip to Kenya, but none of those triggers during the past few years were due to the mention of the country or continent. They were triggered by other things: something I saw in a movie, a burglary that happened at the hospital where I worked here in Little Rock, a woman's testimony about her experiences in the sex trade.

I guess that's why what happened on Sunday disturbed me so much. It was just this really nice, blonde lady sharing about ministry opportunities our church could be a part of in Kenya. There were no pictures, no stories, no threat. But, you would have thought I was in Calculus senior year of high school again the way my heart was racing. Afterwards, I knew that trigger wasn't right. I knew I needed to work something out. That shouldn't have happened.

Five days later on Friday morning, I'm having a conversation with a friend who tells me about this book she's reading written by a missionary about when he lived there. No trigger. No problem. I didn't remember what had happened Sunday morning. The switch was turned off.

Friday night. At the beginning of the Women's Conference at FBC Little Rock, two very young, younger than I was when I went there, teenage girls share their experiences and hearts for the people of Kenya. The photos on the screen looked like they could have come directly out of my photo album from 2005. Those beautiful smiles. The piles of trash. The switch turns on.

A giant knot forms in my throat, and I realize this is it's third mention in six days.

I hadn't even heard Sochi mentioned three times in the last six days.

God, are You trying to tell me something? ... I close my eyes. The very depth of my soul hopes I'm not about to be called back there... Don't call me back there, God. I'll never go back there.

"You'll never go back?"

No. Never. Don't call me back there. I won't go.

"Even if I called you there?"

I won't go. I won't. No.

The worship team starts to sing "Oceans" by Hillsong United.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Fists clenched. Jaw tight. Tears welling up. I won't go. Don't call me there.

"Every time someone asks you 'Where are you and David going to go after law school?', you answer, 'Wherever the job is. Wherever God takes us.' But, if I asked you to go there, to Kenya, you won't go.  You won't go wherever I'll take you, Lindsay. You didn't even come here to Little Rock when I told you to. You came here only when I didn't give you any other option. Have I not provided for you? Have I not exceeded to meet your every need? Is your husband not thriving? Did I not spare you in that van? Did I not bring you back to your family? Do you know how many times I've spared you since then? Do you not realize that you could have been subjected to worse than a car-jacking right here in Little Rock? You are not in control, Lindsay. I Am."

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

The tears begin to fall. And I realize how much of a hypocrite I've been. How naive. How completely and utterly undeserving. And how blessed beyond measure my life is no thanks to me.

I stand to my feet, fists still clenched, and force myself to sing the words I know my heart needs to take in...

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise 
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Slowly, I open my clenched hands and lift them to my Creator as I sing a prayer my flesh is scared to sing...

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

"It's not about Kenya, Lindsay. It's about trust and control."

...

I've known for awhile that eventually, when David and I have children, I would have to address this trust issue that I sort of knew existed, but didn't want to admit to.

After all, He's in control of everything, not me. As much as I sometimes like to think I've got it, I really don't.

I'll admit, for me, fully embracing this kind of trust isn't as easy as flipping a switch. Right now, it's a daily prayer that God would unclench my fists and that my feet would willingly walk in the direction He has for me, no matter where the destination might be.

...

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine.

Friday, February 14, 2014

No Greater Love



After observing 25 Valentine's Days, I've concluded that on February 14th, four (basic) types of people that exist:

- The haters
- The hopefully optimistic
- The lovers
- And those who have loved and lost

The haters want nothing to do with Feb. 14th and blame the advertising people for creating such a mean holiday which either reminds them of the love they've yet to find or the love they experienced once but were cheated away from.

The hopefully optimistic realize that although they might not be considered as someone else's romantic love right now, one day they might be.

The lovers have found their Valentine and enjoy the simplest of Valentine's Day exchanges.

And there are those who have tasted love in it's truest and purest earthly form, but death now separates them from that person.

I'd argue that love is easily one of the most powerful driving forces on earth. 

Love will change you. Love will comfort you. Love will empower you. Love will make you do crazy things. Love is blind, but it also gives you the ability to see through even the roughest exteriors. Love takes your breath away, and other times it hurts like a knife right through your heart.

Love is dynamic and simple. 

To quote the Wedding Planner, "Love is just love." 

You can love a friend, you can love romantically, you can love an inanimate object like a home or a country, or you can love doing something like a sport or your job. 

But no matter what kind of love you have for anything or anyone, there is one kind of love that surpasses all of the rest of them. It's greater than romantic love, friendship, and enjoyment... 

It's sacrificial love... It's the kind of love a person has that compels them to give up their life for another person. 

David and I currently live in a military city, and I hope I never get used to seeing the Air Force and Army uniforms around town. Those men and women and their families, they exhibit sacrificial love for me every day, and they don't even know me. Honestly, I don't deserve that kind of love from them... 

On a day like Valentine's Day, isn't it humbling when you let yourself remember and recognize the kind of love we do receive every day from complete strangers? (It looks like you're not "unloved" after all.)

Furthermore, every second of my life, I am a recipient of Christ's sacrificial love which allows me to be in relationship with my Maker and will give me comfort should I find myself in the 4th category above. 

This love I choose to receive, and it identifies me to the world. 

It isn't how many Valentine's Day cards you get, if any, or the date tonight, or lack of... It isn't the adoration from others or the isolation you feel... It isn't the divorce papers or the wedding ring that screams to the world whether or not you're loved. 

It's the scars in His hands, the old rugged cross, and the sun coming up morning after morning giving you another day and thus another opportunity to choose to receive the greatest form of love we could ever experience. 

"There is NO GREATER LOVE than to lay down one's life for one's friends." John 15:13

"For God SO LOVED the WORLD that HE GAVE His ONLY Son, so that EVERYONE who BELIEVES will not perish but have ETERNAL life." John 3:16

Happy Valentine's Day. May your day be more than chocolates, pink and red, and little heart shaped everything- May it be filled with experiencing the greatest form of love that has and ever will exist. 

In Him,
Lindsay

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Homemade Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Snow days are becoming a bit of a routine here in Little Rock this year. We woke up to 3 inches of snow this morning! And while neither one of us were necessarily excited about it because it meant both of our Saturday plans were now cancelled, we've taken the forced home-bound time to enjoy some coverage of the Olympics and accomplish a few productive tasks we wouldn't have done if we'd been out and about today.

For example, I baked a batch of cookies while David updated his resume.

There are a few foods we try to keep out of our diet (egg, dairy, corn, and soy being the top four). Why? In short, our bodies just don't respond well to them. 

I have this delicious cookie recipe by Giada De Laurentiis for Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies. But, it calls for an egg and a stick of butter (dairy). I've never attempted to make these cookies with substitutes before, but on this cold, wintery day, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies sounded really, really good. 

So, I went for it. Here is the recipe and my substitutions to make these cookies dairy free, soy free, and egg free. 

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg (or substitute 1 T ground flaxseed and 3 T water)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 stick unsalted butter @ room temperature (or substitute 8 T Earth Balance soy free/dairy free spread or 8T coconut oil - I used Earth Balance with this batch)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract*
2 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup dried cranberries* 
1 4 oz. 60-72% chocolate bar, chopped into chunks (or substitute 1/2 cup Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate chips if you can't find a chocolate bar that is both dairy and soy free)

*Optional

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In stand mixer, beat butter and sugars together till light and fluffy, about 1 minute. (It took mine more like a minute and a half to get light and fluffy.) And egg and vanilla beat till smooth. With machine running, gradually add flour mixture. Add oats, cranberries, and chocolate chunks. Mix. Using a 4 oz cookie scoop, scoop slightly rounded mounds of dough into 12 balls. Put 6 balls each on a cookie sheet. Use the back of a spoon to flatten the tops slightly and bake 13-15 min. (If you choose to use my substitutions, I recommend not baking longer than 13 minutes unless you like your cookies more on the crunchy side, in which case, bake for 15 minutes.)

So, how did my substitutions pan out? (Pan.. chuckle, chuckle...)

Really well! I can't honestly claim that my modified cookies are as good as Giada's originals, but for dairy free/soy free/egg free, they're really good!! Let me know if you have any other tried and true substitutes by commenting below! 



Sunday, February 2, 2014

401-420

The white icing is sliding a little bit on the chocolate covered strawberries I'd dipped earlier. I'm painting stitching on them with icing to make the strawberries look like little footballs - you know, that cute idea that's floated around Pinterest since Pinterest began.

"Did you hear that one, Lindsay?" David calls from the living room.

I lift my head and call back, "Yes, I did hear that one." It had been faint, but I had heard the rumble of thunder outside.

I had missed a big one earlier, and I think it worried David a little that I hadn't heard the thunder clap so near to our house.

An hour earlier, we had quickly made our way through Kroger (with all of the other SuperBowl, winter weather advisory, and like us, typical Sunday afternoon shoppers). I couldn't hear David right next to me as we moved through the store. I was so relieved when we finally got back to the car where it was quiet, and I could hear his voice clearly again.

One of the strawberry's stitching was sliding way too much - it didn't look like a football anymore. I took a knife and cut the top off. Mmmmm... The icing was decadent, even though it had come out of a tube.

Faintly, I hear Sperry's dog tags jingle from the living room. They sound like music.

I thought back on the last month. So many ups and downs... The last 5 days being the most intense.

The ear pain, still recovering from the flu, the antibiotic reactions, the unexpected expenses, the terrible bedside manner of health care professionals, the uncertainty...

But the gifts, so many gifts... The exceedingly abundant amount of gifts that poured out on us not only this month but in the last five days...

I remember the list I'd started almost a year ago... The list of God-gifts inspired by Ann Voskamp's book "One Thousand Gifts". I made my way back to our bedroom and pulled out my blue notebook. I grabbed a pen and jotted down a few more...

401. Being able to hear David's voice
402. Modern medicine
403. Being able to see the rain (even though I can't hear the thunder)
404. Faintly hearing the rain hit the metal on our roof
405. Watching David have fun organize his new car
406. Approved financing for the new car that was well within our budget
407. The smell of chocolate
408. Football strawberries with funny looking stitching
409. Temperature still above 32 degrees
410. Hearing the jingle of Sperry's dog tags
411. Beautiful flowers from my parents in the living room
412. Everyone who offered to help us this week
413. A phone call every day from my Grandpa Wayne
414. Chick-Fil-A, Taco Bell, Jason's Deli, Progresso Canned Soup, Lemon Cakes, Pei Wei ... All the people who prepared food for us when we just didn't have the time or energy
415. Central heating
416. Amazing neighbors
417. Being able to cancel my flight to D.C. and keep the fare value
418. Special quiet visits/phone calls with sweet friends/family
419. Having Aunt Karla at my ENT appointment
420. Prayers lifted up by so many for healing

To some people, some of these things might not seem like they're a big deal. But recognizing the gifts, even the small ones, help us realize that January, with all of it's upheaval, uncertainty, unmet goals, disappointment, and suffering was a richly blessed month.