Pumpkin Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

A few weeks ago, I puréed my first pumpkin. Canned pumpkin doesn’t exist in Slovenia, so this presented me with the opportunity to learn something new. Though the process of cutting, baking, peeling, and puréeing the pumpkin took more than two hours, I’m proud that I actually did it. I’m also pretty sure that the fairytale pumpkin I bought for six euros, made the equivalent of eight cans of pumpkin. So, since I have more pumpkin than I know what to do with, I’ve been putting it in everything. But it’s okay, because I love pumpkin!

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Lentil Soup
(Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free)
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:
1 cup lentils (rinsed)
1 and 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
3 cups water
1 medium green pepper (diced)
1 medium white onion (diced)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon black pepper

1. In medium saucepan, combine water, lentils, pumpkin purée, coconut milk, and coconut oil. Stir thoroughly and bring to boil.

2. While the lentil mixture is heating, combine olive oil, onion, and green pepper in a medium skillet. Season with a pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper, and a pinch of curry. Sauté until slightly brown. This brings out the flavor of the veggies.

3. Stir the sautéed onion and green pepper into the lentil mixture. Add curry powder, salt, and black pepper. Stir.

4. Simmer on low-medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

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Balkan Adventure: A Journey to the “Motherland”

A few weeks ago, my teammates packed up our rented STINT mobile and began our Balkan tour with a  five-hour trek through the Croatian countryside to Split — an ancient city with a rich history and an exotic, Eastern-European feel.

Upon arrival that evening, the warm, salty sea air, palm trees, and old architecture greeted us like friends. We strolled along the stone streets, illuminated by street lanterns positioned along the buildings. Along the shore stood several cafes with seating that faced the sea. “This is beautiful,” I exclaimed, repeating this nearly every time I turned a corner. I was surprised at how nice the old city was.

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After spending the night at the Tchaikovsky Hostel, a few minutes’ walk to the shore, we ventured through town, passed the crowded fish market and narrow streets, to Diocletian’s Palace, the focal point of the city. The nearly two-hour walking tour of the palace was a great use of our time. Not only did we see the best preserved palace and walk along the original stone streets, but we also learned the history of the 4th century palace and of Diocletian, the only Roman emperor to retire.

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Jupiter’s Temple

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Diocletian’s Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few interesting facts I learned:

1. Diocletian’s Palace is so well preserved because people have been living inside the palace walls since it was built.
2. Diocletian worshipped Jupiter, and he believed he was the son of Jupiter. And there are 3,500 year old sphinxes from ancient Egypt that guard Jupiter’s Temple.
3. Diocletian chose to retire to Dalmatia (Split) because he believed the water had healing qualities for his arthritis. (The water in Split has a high amount of sulfur. He also grew his own cabbage, which also has a high amount of sulfur in it.)
4. The room of the palace pictured below is the vomitorium. The vomitorium was common in the Roman Empire because it was customary for privileged guests to make themselves vomit during and after a 27-course feast to show appreciation to the emperor. A 27-course meal is a little excessive, if you ask me.

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I found some beautiful flowers inside the palace.

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And I found the smallest street in Split.

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“Helena Pedina from Hercegovina”

There’s a story that’s been passed down in my family about my great maternal grandmother, Helena Pedina from Hercegovina. Actually, it’s not really a story so much as it’s a joke about her birth name. How often do you meet a Helena Pedina from Hercegovina? So naturally, it’s now a running joke with my team. (My mom’s family is from Croatia and Albania, as well.) Anyway, my mom, Helene, was actually named after her, so you understand why I was so excited to tour this region.

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After two nights in Split, our team continued our adventure to Mostar, Bosnia Hercegovina, a city with a mix of old and new. The newer part of the city surrounds the older part. The newer city still has remnants of the 18-month siege during the Bosnian War in the early nineties. Golfball-sized bullet holes blanket run-down buildings and abandoned parking garages. Though the city is striving to rebuild, these buildings serve as a dark reminder of the country’s past.

In the older part of the city stands the Old Bridge, a 16th century bridge built by the Ottomans. Although the bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian War, it has since been rebuilt. This landmark is symbolic of the connection between east and west. On both sides of the bridge is a maze of souvenir shops full of scarves, trinkets, paintings, copper pots, jewelry, and postcards. (I caved and bought a beautiful oil painting of the Old Bridge from a second-generation artist, pictured below.)

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As we made our way out of the city, we stopped at the Karadjoz-Beg Mosque, another 16th century landmark. The architecture boasts with intricate details. From the top of the minaret, we had the best view of the city. But the height was too much for me to handle, especially after climbing the steep and narrow 100 steps to get to the top. I couldn’t really enjoy the view because I was so close to hyperventilating. So within a minute, I had to go back down. I guess you could say that the view was “breathtaking.”

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After a few hours in Mostar, we once again hit the road, traveling to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Hercegovina. Sarajevo also has an interesting past, which is particularly evident in the architecture and overall look of the city. The capital has a mix of modern shops and parks, concrete buildings from the Communist era, along with old Austro-Hungarian and ancient Ottoman influences.

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Avaz Twist Tower

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An Old Market

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The balcony where Tito would speak.

I love history and seeing historic landmarks (I get that from my dad), so the one thing I really wanted to see was the Latin Bridge, where WWI began. If you remember from history class in high school, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. This was the spark that started the war. A museum now sits at the corner to show the history of the time period,  and it also displays the pistol that Princip used, as well as his pants (pictured below).

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Tourism aside, I think the best part of the trip, though, was spending time with the Sarajevo STINT team (a team who is laboring for the Gospel, like we are in Slovenia) and meeting other Bosnian believers who have a heart for their country. And I’m so thankful for the hospitality of the local church that welcomed us and cared for us while we were there. What a blessing it was to be encouraged by this team, spend time sharing stories, eat some čevapčiči (chay-vap-che-chee) together, and just get to see their lives and ministry in Sarajevo. Because of this, I came home with a greater heart for the world and a greater perspective on perseverance for the Gospel in Slovenia. And for that, I am thankful.

Guilt-Free Mélange Muffins

One of my roommates recently tried a healthy muffin recipe from Pinterest. She and my other roommates raved about them. When I heard the ingredients, I immediately thought, How can that taste good? But because 3 dozen muffins disappeared within a matter of days, I figured I’d try this recipe for myself (with a few adaptations, of course). And I must say, this recipe is addicting. You don’t even know you’re eating veggies!

You can view the original recipe here. But, honestly, I challenge you to try my version. 

Yes, these muffins are vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free. I know what you probably think when you hear those words, because I used to think the same things. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.

Guilt-Free Mélange Muffins
(Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Low-Sulfur)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes
Makes 18 muffins

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Ingredients:

2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 large apple (peeled and chopped)
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped almonds (or nut of choice)
1 cup pumpkin purée
1 ripe banana (if on a low-sulfur diet, omit banana and use an extra cup of pumpkin purée)
2 cups gluten-free oat flour (I also tried the recipe with brown rice flour and also chickpea flour.)
1/2 cup raw honey
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine carrot, zucchini, apple, coconut, and almonds in large bowl.

3. In another large bowl, combine pumpkin, flour, honey, coconut milk, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, baking soda, salt. Add ripe banana, and mash into the mixture.

4. Combine both mixtures. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. (I used coconut oil to grease the tin, but you can also use muffin cups.)

5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. After cooling for about 10 minutes, remove from pan to avoid excess moisture at the bottom of the muffin.

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Just make sure you use some self-control when eating these, because they’re that good!

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To read about how my diet has changed, check out these previous posts: Fighting for Joy: DiscouragementFighting for Joy: AttitudeFighting for Joy: It Continues (Part 1 and 2)Farmers Market JuhaFood for Thought.

Coconut Curry Soup

I don’t know what it is about the weather in Ljubljana, but I’ve had the constant craving for soup. It must be the cloudy and chilly days. And if this is the case now, I’m in for a long winter, and my stomach is in for a lot of juha.

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Cloudy Ljubljana, but with a rainbow!

In honor of my juha (soup in Slovene) cravings, here is my latest concoction: Coconut Curry Soup. I love the flavors of smooth, creamy coconut and the kick of curry together. Hence this new recipe!

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(Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free)

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dried lentils (sorted and rinsed)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coconut oil (olive oil works, too)
1/2 cup corn
1 zucchini (diced)
1 dozen cherry tomatoes (halved)
1/2 cup carrots (diced)
1/2 cup broccoli (diced)
1 small onion (diced)
1/4 cup peas
1/4 cup green beans (chopped)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes (if you like a little heat)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1. In medium saucepan, combine dried lentils, water, coconut milk, coconut oil, and curry. Bring to a boil.

2. Once boiling, stir in corn, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, onion, peas, and green beans. Add salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Mix thoroughly, then cover.

3. Allow the mixture to simmer on low-medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked.* (You will know when the lentils are done when you don’t notice a crunch when you bite into them.) Stir occasionally.

*Note: Lentils can turn mushy when overcooked, so make sure you check in occasionally.

Serve hot and enjoy the kick! (And let me know what you think when you try it!)

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To read the backstory of how my diet has changed, check out these previous posts: Fighting for Joy: Discouragement; Fighting for Joy: Attitude; Fighting for Joy: It Continues (Part 1 and 2); Farmers Market JuhaFood for Thought.

Frustrations

“I’m not touching you,” says the mischievous little brother, pointing his finger as his older sister. “I’m not touching you,” he mocks. “I’m not touching you.”

I remember that commercial well. You empathize with the sister, wishing that the teasing would just stop already.

Well, recently, I’ve felt much like the older sister. In the last few weeks, I’ve dealt with quite a few minor annoyances — exhaustion and frustration over my health, confusion over not knowing what more I can do to get better, chaos over the month-long period it has taken to simply order supplements, figuring out how to get blood tests, lack of motivation, confusion over my future after this year, and a random assortment of things popping up on my never-ending to-do list. But one thing I’ve noticed in all of these oh-so-enjoyable occurrences is my immediate reaction. It’s like clockwork. First comes annoyance, then comes discouragement. Then come the tears and the pity party I throw for myself.

For example, one night a few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my doctor’s nurse about not feeling well. It felt like my physical health was reverting to its previous state before treatment, and that did not feel good at all. She asked about my diet and if I was eating too much sulfur. That question triggered discouragement and tears. I’ve been trying so hard, I’ve been doing everything I was told. I’ve been faithful, what more can I do? I thought. As I battled my cracking voice, I managed to tell her that I’ve been doing everything I’m supposed to do. Within the minute, she concluded it wasn’t my diet, but that I’ve been taking too much medicine. This turned out to be excellent news! I can now lower my dose of medication because I don’t need as much.

Not even 15 minutes later, I was on the phone with FedEx trying to arrange a pick-up for my supplements from the doctor to be shipped to Slovenia. And then FedEx broke the news that I need an import license from the Slovene government to be able to receive medication via FedEx. And what was my response? Discouragement and more tears.

This week, I called my mom crying because I thought the US Postal Service stole my Friends DVDs out of the package they shipped to me. (They actually didn’t steal anything, the outside box was just damaged.) In a fit of over-dramatization, I sobbed into the phone, “Why did I ever think STINT was a good idea? Everything just feels so difficult. I’m just so frustrated with the world.” Then I proceeded to laugh at my dramatic, woe-is-me attitude. “I take that back, I know STINT was a good idea.”

In this constant roller coaster of emotion, I’m thankful that God is constant. I’m thankful that He’s in control and that none of these occurrences is a surprise to Him. And I’m thankful that in the midst of this, He’s showed me my sinful heart that idolizes a comfortable and easy life. God has even revealed a truly ugly part of my heart that is bitter toward Him because I’ve felt like He constantly calls me to do difficult things.

Remember how 10 months ago I told you about my fight to find joy in Jesus despite my circumstances? Let’s just say I haven’t mastered that area yet. I think that’s obvious. I regularly have to fight resentment over not getting my way and the attitude of entitlement. My heart still needs the Gospel and God’s grace, and will until I die. But I’m thankful that His grace stretches farther than my sin.

And I’m thankful that God has used these frustrations to cause me to seek Him so He can encourage me again. And I’ve found peace in His words in the New Testament book of Philippians and also encouragement through music.

In Philippians, it is amazing to see Paul’s attitude and faith in the midst of imprisonment. He says that now counts any earthly gain as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. He says, “For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul rejoices in suffering because through it, He is sharing in the suffering of Christ. Paul longs to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection, and we share in this power when we die to ourselves for the sake Jesus.

(If I could, I would just type out the entire book of Philippians and give you that as a post. Since I’m not going to do that, I encourage you to do that for yourself. God’s words don’t disappoint.)

The Lord has been showing me that though things won’t always go my way (and they normally don’t), I can rejoice — rejoice in knowing that Jesus is shaping my heart to be like His, that He is removing idols from my heart, and that I get to share in the resurrection and power of Jesus because it is causing me to die to myself constantly. I can rejoice because although it feels like chaos and confusion are persistently surrounding me, Jesus is my rock and refuge. I’m not doing this alone. He is stable, and He is peace. When life pokes at me like the little brother, I know that Jesus leads my soul to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. His peace that transcends all understanding is guarding my heart and mind in Him. My future and eternity is secure in Him, because He alone is my living hope and He works all things for my good and His glory. And ultimately, He is sovereign, and He is good. This brings me joy.

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Because God has showed me all this about my heart and about who He is, I’ve been praying that instead of responding with discouragement when things come my way, that I would respond with joy in knowing that Jesus has it under control.

So, I’ll leave you with one final story from today, a story of how God has been transforming this area of my heart. This morning, I went to get bloodwork for my doctor’s appointment in a few weeks. My bloodwork is complicated for labs in the US, so I had no idea what to expect trying to figure out how to do all these tests in Slovenia. I went in for an appointment with a clinic here at 9. I was tired and hungry. (It was a fasting blood test.) After waiting, some discussion with the nurses, and more waiting, I was nearly in tears because I didn’t know if I would actually be able to do the tests. But in those moments, and this time before tears fell, the Lord prompted me to pray and to renew my mind with His words in Philippians. His peace calmed my heart, and my attitude shifted.

Eventually, they sent me to another clinic on the other side of town to get the blood tests. But all went smoothly from there. Praise God that everything worked out. Every little detail. Amazing.

How has God been working in your heart lately? Where have you found encouragement in Him and His words recently?