Extending the Table

It happened again tonight. I was putting the finishing touches on a humble meal when one of my sons let me know he was bringing a friend along home for dinner. Funny how it’s always the simple meals that get the extra plates set out for. Tonight it was vegetarian pasta. Other times it has been pancakes and eggs, or rice and beans. Part of me always wants to say, “Not tonight. Bring them when I can make something special.”

Here’s the thing about me – I LOVE to cook! When time and money are not an issue, I will spend days planning and cooking elaborate meals for events and parties. And while that is all fun and good, I am learning to swallow my pride and set extra plates out when there is not a feast. Toss some more beans into the pot or put some more garlic bread into the oven. We think we need to share the best and perfect parts of our lives when those in front of us just want to share what we have in the moment.

Love is best given in the present. It cannot wait until everything is perfect but it gives as if the expiration date were tomorrow. Love invites others into the messy and the real-time moment of now. And, I promise you, it fills hungry bellies with a feeling that satisfies long after the food is gone.

Butternut Squash Curry

butternut squash chickpea curry I came up with this dish a few weeks ago and loved how the flavors of fall and the bounty of the earth came together in a heart-warming and belly-filling sort of way. It is both vegan and gluten free, an important aspect for certain dietary restrictions in our house.

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons oil
1 can Garbanzo beans
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Curry powder
1 chili or jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1-2 cups water
Salt, to taste

Heat the oil and add the onions, garlic and chili pepper. Stir fry for several minutes and add the tomatoes and curry powder. Stir well and add the cubed squash, 1 cup water and garbanzo beans. Cook over medium heat for 20 – 30 minutes, adding more water if needed. Check for tenderness – you don’t want to overcook the squash. So much depends on the size of your cubes and the heat of the pan. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve over rice.

The Power in Your Pocket

We don’t have to be wealthy to change the economy of our neighborhood.  A business degree isn’t necessary to lower the unemployment rate. If we have money in our pocket and buy things, we are job creators. That 1% at the top would like for us to believe that they are the job creators in this country and that to enable them to open up more jobs, they need more tax cuts and benefits. But think about it, even if they choose to expand and hire more workers instead of lining their pockets, it is not sustainable unless enough of us are purchasing those products. You can read more about this here. We hold incredible power in our hands.

Even if our budget is limited to the basic necessities of life, we can choose who we help create jobs for by choosing where we spend our money.

We can frequent your farmers market to ensure local farmers and bakers stay in business.

We can choose to eat at the taco truck or local diner to ensure that families in our home town can keep paying their bills.

We can meet our friends at a coffee shop run by a mom and pop nearby instead of lining the pockets of some CEO at the head of a large chain.

Hire the electrician who is just starting his own business.

Somebody’s got to cut our hair every now and then. Why not make sure it’s a local business owner?

Buy our bicycle directly from someone who actually cares about your neighborhood.

Order coffee beans from someone who knows the farmer who grew them.

Buy gifts from the quaint little shop in town where the owner loves to tell you stories of the people who crafted them.

We must stop waiting for someone at the top to make this country great, improve our neighborhood, make our lives better. It starts with us.

Let’s be thoughtful…be purposeful…spend with intent…love our neighborhood well.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.



Turning Strangers into Family

Bangladeshi BBQ MealToday is Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice. Muslims around the world gather in memory of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

I remember being a young exhausted mother of a wall-climbing toddler, with a second child on the way. We had just moved into a new apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh and barely had our boxes unpacked. The morning of Eid, our toddler had us up bright and early, as usual. It wasn’t long before we heard a knock on the door. Much to our surprise, seven gentlemen from seven other homes in our apartment building, were standing there, eager to invite us to each of their homes to celebrate the holiday with them.

We were humbled and honored to be their guests. And we did, indeed, visit every one of their seven homes that day. Each family shared their finest feast food with us. We were welcomed to their table, even though we were different. Foreigners of a different faith. Speakers of a different language. Welcomed as family.

I’m sitting here today with a lump in my throat that will not go away. I get goosebumps on my arms as I remember their kindness, their generosity, their welcome. I cannot help but contrast it to how my country is treating those who are foreign, those who are different.

When we lived in a Muslim country, we never spent a holiday by ourselves. We were always treated as family. Here in our “Christian” country, many immigrants never see the inside of an American home. Here we too often treat them as the “less than” and automatically assume they have broken laws to be here. Our “Christian” nation is in a frenzy, trying to rid ourself of those we believe do not belong here, stooping to unspeakable violence and indecency.  Last week in Mississippi alone, nearly 700 people were rounded up by ICE, leaving many children without parents to come home to on their first day of school.

Most of us agree that the system is broken. But any system, broken or not, can only go so far to make or break a country because a country is made up of individuals. As individuals, we can open our doors wide.  We can practice hospitality and turn strangers into family.  My Muslim friends taught me that family is any human being who is near you. So let’s keep an eye out for our family. Let’s make sure they are safe and that they know we see and value their humanity. We don’t have to wait for the system to change to become the change that our country desperately needs right now.

Eid Mubarak. Happy Festival!


National Avocado Day

It’s National Avocado Day!

Here are some things we have learned about avocados.

  1. The Avocado Tree is a tropical evergreen and never goes dormant.
  2. Avocados are loaded with vitamins, healthy fat, more potassium than bananas and no cholesterol and can actually help lower cholesterol.
  3. 86% of avocados are grown in Mexico. This equals 1.52 million tons. That number is so big I can’t even picture it. 3,000,000,000 pounds.
  4. Avocados are grown in California, Florida and a few other states, but on a much lower scale. If the border were to close, we would run out of avocados in three weeks.
  5. Americans eat an average of 7 pounds of avocados per person per year. Not so long ago, it was 1 pound per person.
  6. This surge in American consumption has made avocados more valuable than cannabis in Mexico. On one hand, this has created many jobs. On the other, it has caught the eye of cartels. Many farms are forced to pay exorbitant fees to cartels for “protection”.
  7. Avocados need a lot of water to grow. It takes around 70 gallons of irrigated water to produce one pound of avocados in the US. In Chile, it takes 97 gallons and in  Mexico, it takes about 32 gallons of irrigated water.  In contrast, it takes 10 gallons of water to produce one pound of strawberries (in California).
  8. California’s avocado peak season is May through August. If you buy an avocado during a different season, you can be sure it is imported.
  9. 1out of 5 avocados carry bacteria. Always wash the avocado before cutting and peeling. If you need it to ripen faster, put inside of a brown paper bag for a few days.
  10. The seed of an avocado can be use to grow a cute houseplant.

Avocados, to put it in a nutshell, are so good for us and create a lot of jobs, yet take a lot of resources and, in some places, people’s lives are daily in danger for the love of this fruit. If any of these things concern you, you can eat less, buy as local as possible, buy fair trade if possible and, as always, eat mindfully. Remember the hands that planted, watered and harvested your fruit.

The Taste of Love

It was a simple meal of rice, fish curry, vegetable, lentils and salad, but I could feel the love that had been poured into it. We had just left the beautiful women and children at Pobitra and were hungry and a little emotionally drained. There is something about entering raw places with other souls that is both exhilarating and exhausting, and sometimes you need to step away for a moment and nourish your body.

The cook who prepared this meal was a dear friend, well-loved by our family. Seeing his happy smile again nearly undid me. As my eyes took in the spread before us I could feel the love with which he had created each dish.

I sat in the company of my brave female travelers, and our driver. We broke protocol here, as men and women traditionally do not eat together, and drivers most certainly do not eat with their passengers. (I will introduce him later, though I can hardly wait. He deserves his own post!) It was the first rice meal that some of our group had ever eaten with their fingers, and they dug right in. Our driver became the teacher, showing our youngest member exactly how to do it.

Cross Cultural Lesson 101 – Enter into each new environment as a learner. Any culture that is different from ours, has so much wisdom to teach us and beauty to share with us. It is  humbling to have to start with something so basic as learning how to eat, but it put us exactly where we needed to be. We went as learners and came home richer for it.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography