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.

Food for Thought

After undergoing treatment for heavy metals these past 10.5 months, my way of thinking about food has drastically changed. I never realized how much diet plays into your overall health, especially foods with sugar, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and preservatives. After all, food was probably the major cause of my metal toxicity. As a result of nearly a year on a sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, low-sulfur, mostly organic and antibiotic/hormone-free diet, I can honestly say that I don’t want to go back to a “normal” diet, especially now that I’m feeling so much better! (You’re probably wondering what on earth I have been eating for the past year. You can view the original diet plan here. Some other foods have been added back in because my food allergies went away!!) And all those who were around me at any point in this process know that I still have a weakness of Kettle Brand potato chips. I don’t think that will ever go away.

But, despite all that God taught (and has been teaching) me spiritually, I’ve also learned how to make wiser decisions in food choices. I’ve learned that fruit and honey are naturally sweet as they are, and I’ve learned that food in the simplest of forms actually tastes best. Who would’ve thought that minimally processing foods would actually bring out more of the simple, natural flavors? And even more, who would’ve thought that this once sugar-and-chocolate-addict would actually prefer homemade desserts without added sugar? Amazing, isn’t it? And I bet some of you are cringing at the idea of not having sugar in desserts, but trust me, with the right ingredients, you can totally do it!

Though I could talk for days about food and what I’ve learned through this process, I decided to spare you all the scientific and technical jargon, get off my soapbox, and actually post my recipes. These recipes are pretty easy, and most of the ingredients can be found at a normal grocery store. (If I’m able to do these recipes in Slovenia, I’m sure you can do this elsewhere!)

Without further ado, here’s my version of Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo, inspired by one of my favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, Eden.

Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo Sauce
(Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)IMG_3233

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 medium red peppers
1 medium zucchini (sliced)
1/8 cup water
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon basil (I used dried, but fresh works, too.)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (fresh ground pepper works best)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.

2. Cut red peppers in half. Clean out seeds. Place face-down on baking sheet. (I put parchment paper on the baking sheet first.) Bake for 15 minutes, or until the peppers begin to turn dark brown on the outside.

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3. Purée cashews, coconut milk, and water in a good blender. (The blender worked better than a food processor for this dish.) Blend until smooth.

4. Add garlic powder, basil, red pepper flakes, pepper, and salt. Blend thoroughly.

5. Add roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth.

6. In medium skillet, pour olive oil and sauté zucchini until golden brown. Pour Alfredo over zucchini and simmer until hot.

Serve with grilled chicken over your favorite pasta! (My favorite is brown rice pasta.)

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Here’s to clean eating! Dober tek!

Farmers Market Juha

I’ve always had a hard time resting well. Until last year, I thought rest meant being a vegetable, relaxing on the couch and watching movies, hanging out with friends, or reading. And I really didn’t understand the concept of spiritual rest or resting in the Lord. At the beginning of last year, during my first year of full-time ministry, I spent the first few Saturdays doing movie marathons. But then, when it came to Sunday, I was still tired, stressed, and worried about the week to come. I didn’t feel mentally, physically, or spiritually rested; I just felt dread over my lack of preparedness for the next week. Thankfully, my good friend and ministry coach pointed that out to me right away. “I don’t think you’re resting well,” she said, concerned about my well-being. When I asked what that really meant, she replied with a question, “What brings you life?” She said that I can glorify God by doing activities that bring me joy and refreshment. So, I asked God to reveal the activities that give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him.

Flash forward to the present. Though I feel like I’ve adjusted to a new city and back into ministry pretty well, especially after a summer of ministry partner development, I’ve realized in the last few days that I haven’t exactly been resting well. And this made me think, What can I do that will give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him? I’ve decided that the things that currently bring rest are having “me” time, taking walks, exploring new places (at my own pace), shopping at outdoor markets (or just grocery shopping in general), budgeting (It’s like a game for me.), exercising, reading books that capture my affection for God, cooking and baking, writing, and spending time with friends in small group settings or one-on-one.

So today, I decided to do a good majority of these things. But rather than giving you a play-by-play of my day so far, I wanted to share a few snippets.

First, I explored a new part of the city, the Saturday Farmers Market. (It really made me miss the Athens farmers market, especially because I just love fall in Athens. And it’s such a happy place.) The Ljubljana Farmers Market is probably about 5x bigger, though. And although it’s a dreary, rainy October day here in Ljubljana, the market was alive with color, live traditional Slovene music (complete with accordions!), and the joyful chatter of fellow food-lovers. In fact, Melissa, one of my friends/teammates who met me there, said, “It’s just so happy here.”

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To get to the market, I had to walk through souvenir vendors with their Ljubljana snow globes, jewelry boxes, hand-painted pottery, clocks, and wooden toys. I was surprised by the number of tourists still in town at this time of year! I then emerged into another part of the market, the “Bio” section. Everything in this area is certified organic and fresh. There were rows of seasonal produce — apples, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, peppers, and zucchini — rows of cheeses, grains, dried meats and salamis. I even found a raw, organic, and vegan stall that sold pumpkin and sunflower seed crackers. (I splurged and bought some, of course!)

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On the other side of “Bio,” my nose led me through what I call the “Alley of Flowers.” The fresh scents, as well as the pinks, purples, and reds, brought a smile to my face. They illuminated the gray day. Not to mention, those who were selling the flowers constantly greeted me with a friendly “Dober dan” or “Dan,” which means “good day” or “hello” in Slovene.

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At the opposite end of the Alley of Flowers, I came upon the conventionally grown produce, the biggest part of the market. It takes up the entire square. There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls of apples, apple cider, pumpkins, peppers, lettuces, grapes, pears, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and much more. Best purchase of the day: a kilo of green beans for €1 from a sweet, elderly female farmer with a warm smile.

I finished my time by swinging through the grains and baked goods, and then through the fish and meat markets. (For you Pittsburghers, the fish market is a lot like Wholey’s in the Strip, especially the smell! Mmm mmm.)

After two hours of meandering through the markets, I lugged my multiple kilos of goodies back to my flat, in the rain. I was cold and my feet were soaked. I decided the best remedy was to make potato soup. But potato soup quickly turned into, “let’s throw all my veggies in and see what it tastes like” soup. (The recipe is below.) And let me tell you, that soup was good for my soul. So delicious!

I’m so thankful for a day to rest and be refreshed. (It’s not even over yet!) And I’m thankful that I serve a God who wants me to rest from my work and also provides rest in Him.

So let me ask you, what brings you rest, joy and refreshment? Have you taken time to do that lately?

Recipe: Farmers Market Juha (Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: About 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes about 5 servings.

Ingredients:

7 small potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 dozen cherry tomatoes (halved)
2 medium green peppers (diced)
1/2 small cabbage (chopped)
1 large carrot (peeled and shredded)
1 medium zucchini (shredded)
1 cup of fresh green beans (chopped)
1/2 cup millet (or rice)
Olive oil, salt, pepper, curry, garlic powder, coriander

1. In a large pot, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat on medium. Sauté the potatoes for a few minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Once the potatoes start browning, add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and stir.

2. Add the cabbage, beans, carrot, zucchini, green peppers, and tomatoes. Stir. Turn heat down to medium-low. (You want the veggies to cook down but not get too soft.)

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3. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. (Fresh cracked pepper tastes better, in my opinion.) Add 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder, and a pinch of coriander. Stir thoroughly. (For a very low-sulfur diet, omit the curry, garlic, and coriander. Rosemary is a great alternative.)

4. Allow mixture to cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. (Add salt and pepper to taste.)

5. Add 1/2 cup of millet or rice. (Brown rice will take longer to cook.) Adding millet or rice will thicken the soup because it absorbs a lot of moisture. If you like your soup thinner, you may need to add a little water.

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Serve hot. And enjoy!

“In order that we may bear fruit for God.”

After meeting to worship with my teammates last Friday morning (9/27), I walked through the chilly autumn air to Zvezda, a café with wall-to-wall windows showcasing the main street of Ljubljana. I sat towards the corner of the room, still able to see the street and the entrance at a distance. I began taking out my journal, Bible, devotional, and iPad, eager to start my “Day with the Lord.” I ordered my lemon and honey-infused rooibos tea. I adjusted my chair and sat up straight. I took a deep breath. This is my day with the Lord, I thought.

Sipping the hot, sweet, lemony tea, I prayed with expectation. Lord, teach me what you want me to know. Open my eyes and heart to see what You want me to see. I want to know you better today. It’s just You and me.

As I scribbled prayers in my journal, more and more people began to come in. The once quiet room slowly grew noisy. One man started to laugh very audibly. Why is it so noisy in here? I thought. It was just silent and peaceful. My frustration increased with the noise level. This is supposed to be my time.

And then my selfishness smacked me in the face. Whoa, I actually think that my relationship with God is all about me. But that is a personal relationship, isn’t it?

When I share the Gospel, I always talk about what it means to know God personally or have a personal relationship with God through Jesus. It wasn’t until that moment in Zvezda that I truly thought about the deeper implications of the phrase “personal relationship with God.”

As I thought my about this phrase, my devotional Comforts from the Cross, took me to Romans 7:4. Paul writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

Those who are in Christ have died to the law. The law no longer has power over us. Jesus conquered the law of sin and death, so we could have freedom in Christ. What a beautiful thought that we are no longer enslaved to the law as a means to earn God’s favor. We have this favor, because Jesus paid our debt. And now, we belong to Jesus, the only One who gives life and fulfillment.

While this part struck me, God put a greater emphasis on the second part of the verse.

“… So that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” I stared at those words. In order that we may bear fruit for God. The more I stared at those words, the more I realized that I was created specifically to bring God glory by bearing fruit for Him.

By God’s grace, I now have a relationship with Him through Jesus. For some reason, I took pride in that, when in reality, I should be humbled. Having a relationship with God is not only for my good, but it’s ultimately for His glory to be displayed and for the purpose of bearing fruit for Him.  How selfish I am to think that it’s all about me! God uses those who believe in Jesus as a trophy of His grace to show that He makes dead things come alive, to show His power in being able to change lives and His power over Satan and death, and also to bring others to Himself. This is bearing fruit for God.

This was a wake up call to me. My purpose in life is to bring God glory, not simply to have a relationship with Him through Jesus. So often, my focus is on myself. I constantly obsess about how my relationship with God is doing or how much/how little I’m growing. (I think it’s good to be aware of how you are doing with God, but obsessing over this shifts focus from God to self.) Too often my prayers focus on my needs, as opposed to those around me or those of the world. Ultimately, my eyes are often set on what I can get from God, instead of how I can most glorify Him or share Him with others.

What God revealed to me during my Day with the Lord, which is a day I take once per month to refocus on God, is still an ongoing process. With His help, I’ve noticed a change in my thinking, but I still have to fight against my selfishness constantly. Through this, God has also been opening my eyes to see what He’s doing in people’s lives around me.

A few days after my Day with the Lord, I began to attend a Slovene church. It was amazing to hear Slovene believers singing praises to God in their language. (I even recognized some of the songs!) And it was humbling for me to think that God doesn’t only speak English. It was fitting that the pastor spoke about the difference between living for your decisions now and living for eternity. (We had a someone translating the message into English.) Then the pastor asked a few significant questions to get us thinking.

Are you living for now or eternity? Does your life display the joy, truth, and mercy of Jesus? Are you sharing what God has done in your life?

Jesus tells us in John 15, that as we abide in Him and as we fix our eyes on Him and not on ourselves, that He will bear fruit in our lives. This fruit comes in the form of allowing Jesus to uproot sin from our lives, emanating His love and grace to those around us, and sharing about what He’s done in our lives. This brings Him glory.

So, here’s a prayer of mine this week, that I would shift my focus from myself to God, that I would fix my eyes on Him and what He’s accomplished for me, and that my decisions and actions would bring Him glory.

Homecoming to Ljubljana

It’s hard to believe that I first arrived in my beautiful new home of Ljubljana, Slovenia already 15 days ago. It’s also hard for me to articulate all the emotions I experienced or even to capture all the things I’ve already seen or done. But I’ll at least try to give you an idea. Let’s flash back a few weeks to the day I was supposed to leave.

Thursday, September 12 was an odd day emotionally. That morning, I finished packing last-minute items in my two, 50-pound suitcases, loaded up the car, said “bye” to my Aunt Michelle, and made the drive with my parents to the airport. I remember feeling a mix of excitement, anticipation, fear, sadness, anxiety. The day for which I had been preparing for the past four months (or four years if you want to get technical) had finally arrived.

At the airport, I met one of my teammates Hilary (pictured below). After checking in our bags, we said our tearful goodbyes to our parents, which I must say was hard, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hug them until April of next year. (I’m getting choked up now just thinking about it. *Wipes away tears*). And as usual, Mom and Dad waited to leave until I waved once through security.

Dad, Mom, and Me at the airport. Teary goodbyes... I'm so thankful for them.

But at this point, Hilary and I were ready for the long day of travel to finally get to a place we’d only heard about for years. The outpour of prayers, love, encouragement, and support on Facebook, Instagram, and through text messages was incredible.

We found our gate, and shortly after heard the news that our flight to Newark was delayed. First for an hour. Then for two hours. There was a groundstop in Newark, JFK, LaGuardia, Boston, and Washington Dulles because of an approaching storm. We were back and forth on the phone with our teammates, who were waiting for us in Newark, and our location director, trying to figure out what to do.

Eventually, we boarded the plane (three hours after we were supposed to have taken off). But we didn’t go anywhere. We taxied on the runway for more than an hour waiting for the OK to take off. That OK never came. Eventually, we went back to the terminal. At this point, our other teammates were boarded on our flight to Munich.

I was confused. Frustrated. I was upset with God. So many people are praying for us, why won’t You let us go? But God reminded me that this wasn’t a surprise to Him. It’s obvious He didn’t want us on that plane, just based on the fact that so many people were praying, and it still didn’t happen.

We scrambled to find other flights out that night. But nothing happened. Lloyd, an airport employee, was working with us to try and book flights for us. When he went into the computer, flight itineraries were booked for us for the next day. We got the last seats on the flight to Dulles, then to Munich. I still don’t know who booked the tickets, or how we got the last seats. But I do know the Lord provided in this way for us. And in the midst of everything, I still had deep-seated peace knowing that God always does what is best for me and what brings Him the most glory. Though I didn’t understand, I knew Hilary and I would be OK.

After 9 hours in the airport, my mom picked Hilary and me up from the airport and took us to a hotel, where Hilary and I spent the night. I was so nice getting to spend another few hours with my mom and getting to hug her again, especially after the day we had. I’m so thankful for that.

The next day, we gave it another go. This time went a little more smoothly. When we finally made it to Munich on Saturday morning, the rest of the team greeted us with smiles and hugs, which were very much needed on our end. There was overall a sense of relief when we got there. And the drive from Munich to Ljubljana was breathtaking, which helped a lot, too. What an awesome reminder of God and His creation!

Since then, we’ve been adjusting to life in the city, learning how the buses work and our way around the grocery stores, preparing as team for our start on campus, catching on to some Slovene words, and figuring out how to work the washing machine and dishwasher in our apartment, just to name a few things.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana!

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the fun has been exploring Ljubljana and some nearby villages. Last weekend, as a team we hiked through one of Slovenia’s national parks and spent the night at the weekend home of Uroš (oo-rōsh), one of the student volunteers in our campus ministry Vsak Študent.

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John. Photo by Uroš

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Did I mention how beautiful this country is? Because it is.

I’m just constantly amazed at how the Lord has provided in the last few weeks, and throughout the last year to bring me here. It’s incredible to think of all the little ways He has made this year possible — physical healing, prayer and financial partners to send me, food that I can eat here (including rice milk gelato!!), and encouraging teammates, who are also a lot of fun!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

I’ve also been blessed to see some of fruit that God is producing in the ministry in Ljubljana. (In my next post later this week, I’ll share more about the spiritual climate in Ljubljana and share stories about some of the students I’ve met.)

P.S. To follow our ministry in Ljubljana and what our team is doing, check out our blog, Sent To Slovenia.