Pretty Little Snippets

Refreshing the eye, the heart, and the imagination.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spicy Grilled Peaches with Lentils

I know, it's about time for another Reading Room, and I promise I'll get June's up before July is over. I'm just being really lazy about writing it. How's that for honesty? In the meantime, here's a recipe to tide you over. This is another one of those "wander through Whole Foods and come up with a hare-brained idea that is surprisingly good" recipes. Yes, there is such a thing. Apparently.

This seasonal recipe includes fresh peaches, figs, and basil, three of my favorite summer offerings. Nothing in this recipe really seems to go together, but somehow they do. It got the husband's approval, anyway. So here goes.

1 lb Black Lentils
2 Peaches
1 Serrano Pepper (or Jalapeno, if you prefer), seeded and diced
1 Onion, chopped
4 Figs (fresh or dried), sliced into quarters
Olive Oil
1 oz Crumbled Goat Cheese
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
Fresh Basil Leaves, sliced

Cook the lentils according to package instructions. Meanwhile, halve the peaches and grill them until slightly charred (or have your husband do it). Let the halves cool. Heat about a Tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and sautee the onions and pepper until the onions are translucent and the pepper is fragrant. Add the figs, sea salt, and black pepper. Mix the onion blend into the cooked lentils and stir in the fresh basil leaves. Spoon into shallow bowls. Slice the peaches and arrange them on top of the lentil mixture. Crumble goat cheese on top.

You will have some lentil mixture left over for lunch later. (Yum.) I recommend serving this dish with Basil Bourbon: muddle fresh basil in a glass, add ice, and pour bourbon over it, garnishing with basil leaves. So much summer goodness!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Stop the Comparison Game and to Start Encouraging Ourselves and Others

Photo by Henri Cartier Bresson, Via

"Comparison is the thief of joy." Theodore Roosevelt may have said it, but thousands of women are reminding themselves of it in an age of isolation and social media windows into each others' lives. I've been there. And I would bet that you have, too - probably more often than you'd like to admit. It's so easy to pop onto Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and see how everyone's lives are picture-perfect. We know deep down, of course, they are not, but we give in to the status update or the smiling photo and let ourselves think, "if only...." And thus we rob ourselves of the joy and the beauty in our own lives, in our own moments.

Or perhaps you have the twin problem: the judgment problem. Maybe you follow people's lives and feel better about yourself by putting people down. "I can't believe she did that!"  "Well, at least I'm not like that!" When we compare, we either put ourselves down or put other people down. Neither is "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or praiseworthy."

How do we stop this? The quick, trite answer is to stay off social media. But that doesn't really solve the problem, does it? We just as easily transfer our comparison/judgment game to what we can see in real life. We compare our homes, our appearance, our job performance, our families, and each time we come up short somewhere, or we best the other and feel superior. The next level of answer, minding our own business, doesn't work either. It parades as a great solution, but it isn't. Isolation is never the answer. It makes our hearts hard and proud, and does no one any good. In fact, it makes things worse.

So what is the solution? If you want to stop comparing yourself to others, you must know them. Get out of isolation. Invite them in to your life, and ask them to share theirs with you. Don't just "friend;" be friends. Get to know their story; tell them yours. Everyone has a story to tell, and stories are powerful things. They break down barriers of our imagination and open wide a world of meaning.

You didn't want that to be the answer, did you? It's hard. It means vulnerability. It means both learning to listen without judgment and learning to share without fear. It means stepping forward and owning the ugly, dirty parts of your story, and accepting the ugly, dirty parts of other peoples' stories as well. Everyone has something: family illness, insecurity, secret vices, crippling debt, loneliness, fear, bad relationships.

We can own the ugly and the hard and follow up with, "And yet..." And yet this part is good, or that part is beautiful. We can do this for ourselves, but more importantly we can do this for others. We can build each other up. We can meet each other at the weak points in each others' lives and breathe life, beauty, and encouragement into them. We can remind each other of the good parts when the bad parts threaten to overwhelm.

"But wait," you say. "I have 500 friends on Facebook. I simply can't get to know them that deeply. And what's more, I don't want to. And in real life, I don't want to know what's going on in her life, and I don't want her to know what's going on in mine." I get it. We aren't meant to be best friends with everyone; we have to have some boundaries. On Facebook, that might look like utilizing filters and feeds. In real life, it might look like cultivating healthy respect by remembering that each person has a story, no matter how they come across, and by breathing a blessing over them when we find ourselves starting to compare or judge. It sounds simple, silly, but it makes a world of difference.

Have you struggled with the comparison/judgment game? When did you truly realize what was going on, and how did you overcome it?

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Reading Room - May Edition

Welcome to The Reading Room, where I review the books I read each month. Here's May's round up: a selection of books I would put on everyone's "Must Read" list.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat off the land alone? To not go to grocery stores or to fast food joints, but to eat off the land you and your neighbors live on? Barbara Kingsolver and her family did just that for a full year, and this book is her chronicle of that year. The ground rules? 1. Eat only food that is in season (ie. growing in the garden). 2. Eat local (minus coffee, chocolate, and a couple other goods that they sourced from eco-friendly and fair-trade businesses).

Kingsolver takes us on a hilarious and educational tour of life on a Virginia farm:  her family's farm. We learn that there are lean times when fresh fruit would be amazing, and overflowing times when looking at another tomato or squash might make one go crazy. We learn that no, bananas are not local, but cherries can be wonderfully delightful. We learn that raising chickens and turkeys brings the food chain home in a very gruesome yet satisfying way. We learn that digging potatoes can be wondrously exhilarating. We learn that vacations while farming are rare, but can happen with careful planning in the right season. We learn that making one's own cheese is not hard or time-consuming.

We also learn that the food economy in the United States is based not on the seasons, or on health, but on money. We learn about GMO and Monsanto's quest to monopolize the food economy. We learn about heirloom varieties of vegetables and livestock (did you know there is such a thing as an heirloom turkey?), and how they are better tasting and evolved, but are being replaced with generic plants and animals that can be mass-produced, often in large, unsanitary plants. We learn about the up-swing in the rate of obesity, about the large number of children with diabetes, about how the next generation is the first one expected to have a shorter life span than our own because of the effects of what we feed them.

We learn that the seasons are meant to provide balance to our lives and our cravings. There is a season for asparagus, and just as we get sick of the thin green stalks, the season is over. And we wait for the next year with anticipation as the season (after a winter of little fresh greens) approaches. We learn that this is part of a rhythm of seed, shoot, fruit, root, and each season feeds our bodies what they need when they need it most.

I can't recommend this book enough. It ingrains a longing, if not already lodged in your heart, for a seasonal life lived close to the earth, with lots of hard work, sure, but also a deeper appreciation for what feeds us, body and soul. Of especial usefulness is the series of recipes scattered throughout, which you can also find on the author's website. If they don't make your mouth water, I don't know what will.


An Altar in the World - Barbara Brown Taylor. Have you ever heard someone say they are "spiritual, but not religious?" Or have you ever left church feeling up-lifted, but immediately feel an ache for something "more?" How do you carry over the spiritual into the mundane? Barbara Brown Taylor tackles this beautifully in this little book. The answer isn't in mysticism or states of ecstasy. Neither is the answer in doing more, but in doing with more intention.

In the introduction, she writes, "What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world." Her answer to the desire for "more" is "live in your skin, and pay attention to each experience." Nothing is not sacred. Every breath, every blade of grass, every touch is an altar of worship. Our lives are living, breathing connections to God. It's the way we live them and pay attention to them that determines whether we live in communion with God or not.

Everything is holy: the dirt under our nails, going for a walk, bowing in prayer (really bowing the body, forehead to ground - feel it!), meeting someone from another culture and recognizing them as beautiful, washing the dishes - again, hanging laundry on the line. Everything is a prayer, an extension of spirituality: "Whether, then, you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31), marries, " Pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17). Prayer does not have to be words. Worship does not have to be confined to a church, temple, or synagogue. They can be a way of life. This book puts it beautifully.


Goodnight June - Sarah Jio. Sarah Jio's newest release (May 27) is one of her best novels yet. Who doesn't remember growing up with the children's book Goodnight Moon? Or has been introduced to it through their own children? And how many people have wondered where the story might have originated? Jio takes on this origination story and entwines it with her trademark mystery blending the past with today.

June is a financier in New York City who is really good at what she does, which is foreclose on small businesses who can't keep up. But she's burnt out, and not being true to who she really is. Where did her heart go? When a series of panic attacks align with news of her Aunt Ruby's death in Seattle, June faces a decision to close her Aunt's bookstore for children and keep up the fast-paced life she's come to rely on or to keep the bookstore running.

When she arrives in Seattle to manage Ruby's estate, she has her mind made up: sell the bookstore, reap a profit, move on. But when she learns that Ruby has left her a series of letters between herself and the renowned children's author Margaret Wise Brown, and that there is a big secret that could impact not only the bookshop and literary circles, but also her own life, she begins to remember her love of a good story, and her true heart. But is that enough?

This story weaves literature, sisterhood, and friendship into a not-to-be-missed tale that will leave the reader's heart yearning to pull out childhood books and remember a simpler time, to go back to writing real letters to girlfriends, to call a sister to catch up - or forgive.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Taking Chance (2009)


"Without a witness, they just disappear."

Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon) has held a desk job for some time, and feels guilty about the number of young men and women who come back from combat in body bags. When the opportunity to accompany the body of  Chance Phelps to Wyoming arises, Strobl takes it. Along the way, he observes how U.S. citizens react to him, to the fallen young man, to the military, to life. The journey and interactions across country deeply move him and provide meaning and context for his own service.

Sometimes the witnesses to the lives of the fallen may feel like they aren't enough, that they haven't done enough. But the heroes need witnesses to honor them.

This weekend, my thanks goes out to all the service men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We see. We bear witness. Thank you!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Reading Room - April Edition

Welcome to The Reading Room. The Reading Room is where I review the books I've read for the month. Even with everything that happened in April, I still made time to read. Here's a look at the line-up.


The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband. - David Finch.  David knew something was wrong with his marriage. His wife, Kristen, knew something was wrong, too. Instead of giving up, they set about solving the problem. Kristen figured out her husband has Asperger Syndrome, which means that he relates to the world a little differently: not very empathetic; obsessive compulsive about non-essential things and glib about essentials; rather self-absorbed; without what most would consider common sense. This freed her to accept David for who he is. David, however, decided to become a better husband by learning a bit more about NTs, or neuro-typicals, as those without Aspergers are called, and how to at least copy them.
This book is his journal about his efforts. It's humorous, honest, and inspiring. Here is a man who cannot relate to the world the way most people can, but his love for his wife propels him to do better for her. At the same time, his wife loves and accepts him for who and how he is, but gently and lovingly pushes him to be a better man. She doesn't accept less than what she deserves. The path for both of them is hard, but they keep at it. They don't break up. They work hard at their marriage. 
This may be a book about Asperger Syndrome, but it's more a book about love, marriage, and commitment, and well worth any married couple's time. 


The Language of Flowers. - Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Victoria has grown up in foster care, and has a really, really hard time trusting people. She doesn't love anyone, and has convinced herself that no one can ever love her. She's not worth it; she messes it up each time it's offered - sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not. When she ages out of foster care, she has nowhere to go, and the only skill she has is flower arranging and flower care. She gets a job at a local florist, and introduces the neighborhood to the language of flowers, once popular in the Victorian era, but lately out-of-favor. She is amused to see how the suggestion of a flower's meaning can change people's lives, but what she doesn't know is how a flower's meaning can change hers as well. 
As the story develops, we get glimpses into Victoria's past. We learn why she loves flowers so much, and why she believes she is not worthy of love. We begin to hope that she blooms like her beloved flowers. 
This book is one of my favorites this year so far. It's a tender look at mental health, the foster care system, and real love - not the mushy, storybook kind of love, but real, hard work love. I don't go out and buy many books anymore, but I'll be adding this one to my bookshelf. Also, this book will forever change how you look at flowers. 


The Goldfinch. - Donna Tartt. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year, so I was super curious to read it. Let me start by saying that the best thing about this book is the cover; I could sit and stare at it for days. The next best thing about the book is the beginning. 
Theodore (Theo) Decker is a 13 year old boy who is on his way to a school meeting with his mother for a discussion about his recent suspension. With time to spare, they visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but his mother never comes out alive. Just before they are about to leave the museum, bombs go off, killing many. Theo survives. Kind of. 
He manages to sneak out of the museum, a painting (Fabritius' "The Goldfinch") in tow, not realizing that his mother is dead. By the time reality sets in, he is frantic, held together only by the allure the painting, his mother's favorite, has for him. Like the bird in the painting, Theo is chained, but to this tragic event. He cannot fly away to live a free life. He finds himself on the Upper East Side of New York, taken in by wealthy friends. When his deadbeat, alcoholic dad shows up, however, his world is once more turned upside down as he leaves the city for Las Vegas, a wide open, empty and lonely desert where his only friend is a Russian teen who introduces him to drugs of all kinds. By the time Theo makes it back to New York to take up residence with a kindly antiques restorer many years later, he is almost unrecognizable: an addict with a secret. For of course he never returned the painting to the museum, and it haunts him. 
The Goldfinch starts out brilliantly. The bombing of the Met is beautifully written. The reader can feel and see the horror, can taste the metallic blood, can feel the panic and the shock. But then, perhaps like Theo himself, the story drags on through almost random, meaningless whirlwinds of events, leaving the reader feeling detached and hopeful for some good end. The people, except for the antiques restorer, are not at all lovable, and their characters do not develop. Life seems to just happen to Theo; he is pushed and pulled along the torrent of events without much intentional interaction on his part. The scenarios Theo finds himself in, particularly in Vegas and in Amsterdam later in the book, are fantastical at best. It's rather like one long drugged trip. The reader wants to get out, but can't, because the end: there has to be a good end. 
But the end is not good. The end of the actual story is ok, in and of itself, and if the novel had stopped there, it would have been passable. But the end of the novel is terrible. It becomes a philosophical sermon, spelling out what readers used to be trusted to figure out without a "P.S. This is what my book is about." The ideas are great, don't get me wrong. There are some fine points and questions to consider. But the last chapter changes voice slightly and assumes the reader's reluctance or inability to understand what has just been read. A great novel - even a good novel - would have simply ended, lingering in the reader's mind, bringing up these questions and considerations without having them spelled out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Red Potato and Asparagus Gratin

Last weekend we were wandering through the Farmer's Market with no list and no meal plan, which meant that we were open to whatever struck our fancy. For whatever reason, red potatoes, onion, and asparagus were what happened to strike my fancy, so that's what came home with us. This red potato and asparagus gratin was what came out of that. It's really good. I love scalloped potatoes anyway, but the thyme in this is addictive. Don't skimp on the thyme; it's a match made in heaven with the mozzarella. Just trust me on that. Oh, and the amount of cheese is a starting point. Because who doesn't like more cheese?

Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4 (or 6 as a side)

3 Red Potatoes
1 small Onion
1 bunch of Asparagus
4 oz. Mozzarella Cheese, grated
Olive Oil
2 TBS Butter
1 Cup Heavy Cream
2 TBS Flour
1 TBS Thyme

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Dice the onion and sautee in olive oil until translucent. Spray a pie dish with non-stick cooking spray. Slice the red potatoes into thin slices and line the bottom of the pie dish with one layer of potatoes. Spread the onion over the potatoes, then sprinkle the thyme and half the cheese over both. Add the second layer of potato slices.
2. Heat the butter in a saucepan until melted. Whisk in the flour and the heavy cream until the mixture starts to thicken and resist slightly. Pour the bechamel sauce over the top layer of potatoes, and top with the remaining cheese.
3. Bake the potato dish in the oven for 25 minutes, covered with foil.
4. Meanwhile, brush the asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and grill until tender.
5. Remove the foil from the pie dish and bake another 5 minutes, or until the cheese turns slightly brown around the edges. Top the potatoes with the asparagus (either whole or chopped, as above). Slice and serve!

Friday, April 18, 2014

When Easter Comes but You Don't Feel Like Rejoicing


Sometimes your journey through Lent is harder than usual. You look forward to Easter throughout those barren, soul-searching 40 days, but the closer you get, the less you feel like it will actually be a day of rejoicing. Because now you feel your humanity more keenly. You know how broken you really and truly are. Sometimes it's easier to be broken when everyone else is coming to terms with their own brokenness.

Redemption. New life. Rebirth. This is cause for celebration. But you don't feel it. You feel lost in brokenness. You understand that being born the first time was hard enough. Being born a second time? Sometimes, that's the hardest part. And going back to revisit that rebirth can be really painful.

What they don't tell you is that it's ok to cry all the cries that result. That it's ok to drain yourself, to weep until your tear wells run dry. Because you've been walking along with a weary, down-laden head these 40 days. Your soul has been seeking sustenance and finding emptiness. You have not been enough. You've finally reached the end of your strength in the desert, and that looks like collapse. And so you do. Sometimes you have to grow completely weary and head heavy before you are able to rest. And once you rest, it's much easier to lift up your head. You have to, you know, to see. To really see.

Mary's head was down when she was approached outside the tomb. She thought it was the kindly gardener who spoke to her. But one word from his lips and she felt understood, rested, refreshed. "Mary." And she lifted up her head and saw.

Your inner voice has to be stilled for you to hear that you are understood, loved, and enough. That's why you cry all the tears and exhaust yourself. You have to come to the end of yourself because you are stubborn, wanting to do it all alone. Only at the end can you hear, lift up your head, and see. Only then can rejoicing be a part of your Easter.

But it's ok if your rejoicing starts with a fresh batch of tears.