Thursday, August 26, 2010

I've been thinking...

I was thinking about how much my perspective has changed from 3 years ago.  Back then, I never would have wondered about where sugar or coffee comes from.  I believed the pictures on the packages of the happy farmer, the pristine landscapes, and the overall good feelings that come from those thoughtful marketing execs and their misleading slogans/jingles.  In reality, so many products come from the hands of slaves and forced laborers.

I started thinking about how through time, man has enslaved others to get stuff done.  I've read about how the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians to get those pyramids built.  I have ancestors that were slaves here in America.  The British were in the slavery business as well as most European nations.  The thing is, I always thought of slavery as something that happened a long time ago, way before I was born.  Slavery was something that was archaic and was only to be read about in history books because no one would enslave others now, right?

Another thing that has changed from 3 years ago is buying organic food.  I wasn't really sure what the difference between conventional and organic products were back then.  Every time I bake cookies now, I make sure the sugar I buy is Fair Trade/organic sugar.  Children and adult slaves are used to harvest sugar, coffee, chocolate, and cotton, just to name a few.  Child slaves are used in fields to harvest food and in factories to make toys, clothes, and other textiles.  When I buy my children toys, I never used to think, hey maybe a child slave made that toy. Maybe a child worked 10 hours in one day, with little food, no safety procedures, on little to no pay so this toy could entertain my kids.

I've read all about how slaves were beaten and mistreated and either not paid or paid as little as possible, in the history books.  It's crazy to think that people are still being treated in this way so that I can bake some cookies or put toys under the tree at Christmas.  So, yes organic products are a little more expensive and yes cooking from scratch is time-consuming but cutting back on some things to help someone else in the world have a better life is worth the sacrifice.  My kids are learning that just because the package makes a product look wonderful, doesn't mean that it is.  The story behind the product is what is important.  I am teaching them how to care about the world around them, that things aren't always as they seem and not to judge a book by it's cover.  If organic shopping can do that much for my kids, imagine what changes can take place in the world if everyone decided to make a change and demand products free from slave labor.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Psalm 88 - A prayer for help in despondency

Today is August 21st.  The A21 Campaign asks those who want to help fight against the sex slave trade to fast on the the 21st of every month. is a group, from my church, that gets the message out about fasting. Along with fasting, prayer and reading the bible are important as well.  My fast today consists of drinking only liquids and smoothies and spending time praying and reading my bible.  My church has a daily devotional and Psalm 88 was the reading from a few days ago.  I didn't read it until today and it really goes along well with what we are fasting and praying for.

This is from

Psalm 88

 1 O LORD, God of my salvation,

         I have cried out day and night before You.
 2 Let my prayer come before You;
         Incline Your ear to my cry. 
 3 For my soul is full of troubles,
         And my life draws near to the grave.
 4 I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
         I am like a man who has no strength,
 5 Adrift among the dead,
         Like the slain who lie in the grave, 
         Whom You remember no more, 
         And who are cut off from Your hand. 
 6 You have laid me in the lowest pit,
         In darkness, in the depths.
 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
         And You have afflicted me with all Your waves.  Selah  
 8 You have put away my acquaintances far from me;
         You have made me an abomination to them; 
         I am shut up, and I cannot get out;
 9 My eye wastes away because of affliction.
         LORD, I have called daily upon You; 
         I have stretched out my hands to You.
 10 Will You work wonders for the dead?
         Shall the dead arise and praise You?  Selah  
 11 Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave?
         Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
 12 Shall Your wonders be known in the dark?
         And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? 
 13 But to You I have cried out, O LORD,
         And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
 14 LORD, why do You cast off my soul?
         Why do You hide Your face from me?
 15 I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth;
         I suffer Your terrors; 
         I am distraught.
 16 Your fierce wrath has gone over me;
         Your terrors have cut me off.
 17 They came around me all day long like water;
         They engulfed me altogether.
 18 Loved one and friend You have put far from me,
         And my acquaintances into darkness.

As I read this psalm, the most obvious things about the psalm are the sad tone and the way it ends.  Usually psalms that begin sad or despondent are resolved on a happier ending.  The Psalmist is crying out to God to rescue him from the depths of his despair and the Lord is not coming to help.  As evidenced in the bible, the Lord hears the cries of those in need, so I thought, why isn't help coming?  Maybe, God has sent out a cry to His followers to help but no one is listening or paying attention to God's calling and therefore, there isn't anyone to help the Psalmist out of trouble.  This made me think of a story that Christine Caine shared with us during one of her messages at Shine 2010.  A girl that was rescued from the slave trade had been on a tragic journey.  She was put into a shipping container with about 30 girls, some of the girls died in the container.  They were then placed in dinghies to sail illegally into another country and some of the girls drowned.  I think out of the 30 girls, only 6 survived, which they were then beaten and raped repeatedly and forced to service tons of men.  Once this particular girl was rescued, Christine told her of the work that her and countless others were doing to help people just like her and the girl's response was "why didn't you come sooner?"

While reading this psalm, I was imagining that these are the cries that God hears from the women and children that are sex slaves right now.  This is the focus of my fast, that we respond to God's call for warriors who are willing to stand and fight against the brutality, the depravity, and senseless violence against human beings.  God needs us.  We are His hands and His feet in this world.  We are His heart and His body.  We are His soul and His face.
"All nations surrounded me,
But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
They surrounded me,
Yes, they surrounded me; 
But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
They surrounded me like bees;
They were quenched like a fire of thorns; 
For in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
You pushed me violently, that I might fall,
But the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation."  Psalm 118:10-14

Friday, August 13, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Better Than Bisquick Pancakes

I came up with the name for this recipe because I  used to love Bisquick pancake mix.  When I would prepare pancakes from scratch, they never tasted as good.  I used to buy the kind that you add oil and an egg to because I thought that was a little bit healthier, right?  Probably not.  Now that I found that I am allergic to soy and I gave up processed  food, I have created a yummy pancake recipe that tastes better than any pancake mix.  Maybe it tastes so much better because I know what is in them and there are no chemicals or toxins involved.  I make these maybe once a month because they are so rich.  So here is the recipe, my kids love them and you won't need much syrup because they are already sweet.  Instead of pouring maple syrup over them, we dip the pancakes in syrup so we use less syrup (real maple syrup is not cheap).

Whole wheat pancakes

Better Than Bisquick Pancakes (not a low-fat meal)

2 cups all-purpose flour (use 1 cup organic whole wheat flour to add fiber)
2 Tablespoons sugar (I use Fair Trade raw cane sugar)
2 teaspoons baking powder (Rumford brand states on the label that the corn starch is non-gmo)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 dashes sea salt
2 ½ cups organic buttermilk (it's the buttermilk that makes these taste so good)
2 organic eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons melted organic butter
1 tablespoon flax meal (optional, for added fiber)
Cooking oil (almond oil or organic canola oil work well)
Real Maple syrup (avoid the chemical laden pancake syrups, they are awful)

In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Mix together.  Set aside.
In another bowl, mix buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla.
Melt butter in the microwave, 30 seconds.  Stir to melt it.
Pour wet ingredients into dry.  Mix until combined, do not over mix.  Add melted butter and mix together, lightly.  Heat a skillet or griddle, brush lightly with oil.  Once the pan is hot, using a large spoon, scoop batter into pan and let one side brown lightly.  Using a spatula, carefully turn pancake over and lightly brown the other side.  Once cooked, place on a plate in a warm oven to keep the pancakes warm while they all cook.
Serve with maple syrup or fresh fruit and whipped cream*(good for dessert).
Makes enough 4-inch pancakes for 6 people, about 24 pancakes.  You can ½ the recipe for 12 pancakes.  Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated in a skillet or on a griddle.
Add 1 cup blueberries to batter, serve by itself, no syrup.
Add 1 cup chocolate chips, to batter, serve by itself, no syrup.
Sift confectioners sugar over pancakes, with fresh berries or bananas.
Use whatever combination that you like.
*For whipped cream:  1 cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, whip with a wire whisk or with a mixer until light a fluffy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How I got to where I am journey, part 3...

I finally got a chance to sit down and start typing again!   I wanted to post a blog everyday or at least every other day but my kids keep me very busy. Here is a link to part 1 and part 2.

DISCLAIMER:  Read at your own risk.  Contains graphic descriptions that may ruin your appetite.

 To pick up from where I left off last time, I had just started back to work and I was under a lot of stress.  I had fallen back into my old pattern of eating, not for health but for emotional satisfaction.  I've always felt a connection to happy memories from certain foods and also some foods just make me happy. Instant gratification actually makes me feel worse in the long run.  I was eating out everyday, eating junk food, desserts, candy, and fast food.  I was just trying to make it through the day and I wasn't watching what I was eating.    I'd always had digestive problems and I would experience episodes every once in a while.  About once a year, I would have a really bad episode and would be out of work for a few days.  Usually I would experience watery stools, an upset stomach, mild stomach cramps, gas, and bloating.  Over the counter medication, like Immodium AD would not work so I would go to my doctor and he always prescribed the same things every year.  I would have watery bowels for 4-5 days until I took the medication and started to eat again.  I would always put myself on the B.R.A.T. diet, which is bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast/bread.  I was never sure what caused the episodes but they usually happened after eating a lot of fried food and spicy food.  I was told about 10 years ago that I had irritable bowel syndrome or IBS but there were never any tests done to confirm it. In February my troubles were just beginning.

This particular episode, in February, was really bad.  I woke up in the middle of the night, vomiting.  My stomach emptied itself and at the same time I was having diarrhea.  I was having intestinal cramping which rivaled child birth pains and I thought I was dying!  I ended up laying in bed with a trash can by my head and I think I woke up every hour to run to the toilet. It was a Friday night because I remember the next day when I called my doctor the office was closed and he didn't have an after hours call service.  Every time I tried to sip water, I vomited.  I couldn't keep down the Immodium AD and all I had was some expired prescription medication.  I wanted to go to the hospital because I couldn't eat or drink anything all day.  I finally decided to try the expired pills but I had to keep it down for at least 20 minutes to give it chance to dissolve and get into my system.   I chose to dry swallow the pills and they didn't come right back out so I just laid down and waited.  Thankfully, it worked!  By dinnertime the cramping had subsided and I was able to sip Gatorade to try to replenish all the fluid I lost.  It was a good thing that it was Saturday because my husband was home and he was able to take care of the kids.  I was not in the condition to take care of anyone that day.  I continued to take the expired meds because they were helping and I was able to eat and drink the next day.  It took about one week to fully recuperate from that episode although I did go to work on Monday and I never went to see the doctor.  I was mad at him because I couldn't get in touch with him over the weekend.

The next month, March, I got sick again. It wasn't as bad as the first time as far as the vomiting, but the cramping was just as bad.  Again I had watery stools that kept me up all night, I vomited the contents of my stomach, and the cramping was so painful. I had some more symptoms that I didn't have last time.  I developed a fever, a cough, and congestion.  I went to the doctor this time and he said I had bronchitis.  I'd never had that before and I was wondering how I had gotten so sick!  He gave me new prescriptions for the cramping and diarrhea medication as well as antibiotics and cough syrup for the bronchitis.  I told him about what happened the previous month and that I had wanted to go the hospital from the pain and nonstop vomiting.  He just looked at me like I was crazy and told me I had a stomach flu/virus.  Funny thing was that no one at work or at my house had any stomach bugs.  I was wondering why I was the only one sick when usually those things spread through family members and co-workers.  So, I took a few days off from work to rest.

I wanted to change whatever I was doing to cause these episodes.  I was still under tremendous stress at work and at home.  I had to make some changes.  I made some decisions that were very hard and not everyone agreed with or understood why I did what I did. Sometimes God requires us to make tough decisions, we have to rely on His guidance and wisdom and not on our own.  I put in my notice at work, my last day would be June 5th, which was the end of the school year.  My husband and I decided that it would be best if I stayed at home.  I tried to eat healthier, like I had back in 2007 but the added fiber only made things worse.  Everything seemed to upset my stomach and sure enough, in April, I had another episode.  I woke up in the middle of the night vomiting, cramping, and having diarrhea.  I took my new medicine as soon as the vomiting stopped and the episode didn't last as long.  I thought, maybe if I start exercising again I'll feel better.  I'd been wanting to start running, so I bought a pair of running sneakers and my friend Christine and I jogged together a couple of times.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to exercise for long because I found out I was pregnant and I was experiencing a miscarriage. What normally should have taken 6 weeks ended up being a 13 week ordeal.  I ended up in emergency surgery for a suspected ectopic pregnanacy.  I ended up missing more work and I returned 1 week before graduation.  2009 was turning out to be the worst year ever!  I was an emotional wreck and I had to say goodbye to my students and co-workers at the end of graduation night.  My strength came from God, I had nothing left by this point.  The day after graduation was an immense relief!  Even though I had my 4 kids home with me, it was still better than being at work and I was able to de-stress over the next 2 months.

I had a trip scheduled at the end of July for my birthday.  I was going to NJ to see my two best friends for a four day weekend with no children!  I managed to keep from getting sick in June and July, which was great!  I got on the plane and flew to Philly.  My best friend, Heidi, picked me up from Philadelphia International Airport but my joy in being in Philly was short-lived.  Before we got to the Walt Whitman Bridge, I had found out that my grandmother died in the night.  I named my daughter Eva after her.  Katherleen Eva Rowswell was 96 when she died.  My mom and I cried on the phone, she had just gotten back from visiting Grandma, in England and now she had to go back for the funeral.  Since I was in NJ, I ate everything that I couldn't get in Florida, all the things that reminded me of happier times.  I am an emotional eater and I love to eat bad food.  I ate cheesesteaks, Wawa hoagies, panzarottis, and pizza.  It all tasted so good.  Little did I know that this would be the last time I would enjoy these foods.  After the four days were over, I flew back home.  Sure enough, by the end of the week I was sick.  This time was different.  It was bad.  The stomach cramps, the vomiting, the diarrhea, were 10x worse than before.  All I could do was lay face-down on the bathroom floor.  It was 3am, everyone was asleep and I wanted to go to the emergency room.  I couldn't move.  I couldn't call out to my husband.  I couldn't reach my medication, which was downstairs in the kitchen.  So I just laid there.  I forced myself up to vomit or sit on the toilet and then laid right back down.  I was sweating and I felt like I was burning up.  I think the pain lasted for 3 hours, time was a blur but I remember that pain like it happened last night.  I knew that this was not normal, it was not IBS, this was something like I had never experienced before and I never wanted to experience it ever again. When I  was finally able to get up off of the floor, I crawled into bed.  It was around 6am.

I called my doctor as soon as his office opened that morning and I went in to see him.  He told me that it was a stomach virus.  Again, no one in the house was sick.  He assured me that I would feel better in 3 days.  I asked him to refer me to a GI specialist.  I called the GI specialist and could only get an appointment 6 weeks away.  When I finally went to go see her, I was still sick!  I had lost 10 pounds, my stomach was still a mess.  I was hardly able to eat and I was having abdominal pain.  I don't know of any stomach virus that lasts indefinitely.  She agreed that it was not a virus and immediately scheduled me for blood work and a ct scan.  I was relieved that she believed me when I said something was wrong.  I had the ct scan a few days later and I had the blood work done,too.  When I went back to see her for the results, she told me that I did not have any inflammation of the bowels which ruled out several diseases.  The blood work however showed that I could have Celiac Disease.

I have to end right here for today.  Reliving all of that has tired me out!  I need a break and hopefully I'll be able to continue in a few days.  I've learned that through our trials and tribulations we become stronger.  God has been by my side through the worst and He is the only reason why I made it through to the other side to be able to share my story with you.
"The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
  My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; shield and the horn of my   salvation, my stronghold.  I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies."  Psalm 18:2-3

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Wild Caught fish fillet with potatoes and asparagus. An organic, soy-free, and GMO-free recipe.


Recently I have been trying to become more aware of where my food comes from and I have learned two things: wild-caught fish is better for the environment, and farmed fish are given antibiotics, which can be harmful to humans.  I am allergic to soy so I cannot eat fried food from restaurants anymore since most eateries use vegetable(soybean) oil for frying food.  That means no more french fries or any of those delightful fried goodies for me.  It works out to be much healthier for me though, which is a good thing.  I occasionally splurge and make fries from scratch and they are worth the effort!

My mom always made fish like this when I was growing up.  I love fish cooked this way!

12 ounces of wild-caught fish.  I used frozen Whole Market Sole from Whole Foods but you can use whitefish, flounder, talapia, or a similar fish.
1 cup of soy-free bread crumbs.  You can use panko bread crumbs or 365 brand of bread crumbs from Whole Foods Market.
1 organic egg
1 tablespoon organic milk
Organic canola oil or almond oil
1/4 tsp Seasoned Salt (without MSG)
1/4 tsp Old Bay seasoning.  If you need to avoid sodium use garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper instead.
Organic Russet or Idaho potatoes.  2 small potatoes per person or 1 large potato per person.
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
One bag frozen organic asparagus or 1/2 pound fresh organic asparagus.
1 garlic clove
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Wash and peel the potatoes.  Chop them into steak fries, shoestring, or cubes.  Place the potatoes in a large pot and fill the pot with water until the potatoes are just covered.  Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-high and simmer until the potatoes start to soften.  You should be able to pierce a piece with a fork but you don't want them to get too soft.  After about 5-8 minutes, drain the water and keep the potatoes in the pot.  Heat a frying pan or skillet with 1/4 - 1/2 cup of oil on medium heat. You may need to turn the heat down if they cook to fast or the oil gets too hot. Once the oil is hot, place as many pieces as will fit in a single layer.  The goal is not to deep fry your food.  Lightly cooking at a lower temperature is much better than deep frying food.  The potatoes shouldn't be covered with oil, you need just enough to cook one side of the french fry.  The potatoes may stick when you put them in the oil so gently move them around a little when you put them in.  Flip the fries to cook evenly once one side begins to brown. It can take up to 10 minutes per each batch of potatoes but keep an eye on them because over-cooking makes them crunchy and hard - you want them lightly browned.  As each batch of fries are cooked, remove them from the oil into a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up the oil.  Immediately upon removing them from the oil, lightly toss them with some sea salt and black pepper, or any other seasoning that you wish.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the egg and milk in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork, until mixed.  In another bowl, place the bread crumbs and seasonings.  Remove the fish from the packaging and using one piece at a time, dip completely in the egg and then place in the bread crumbs.  Make sure each piece is covered well and set aside.  Heat the 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Turn the heat down a bit and place the fish in the pan.  You may need to cook it in batches depending on how big the pan is.  It only takes 2-3 minutes per side, once the bottom starts to brown, flip the fish and cook the other side.  If it gets too dark too quickly, turn the heat down. Once the fish is cooked, remove it from the pan and place on paper towels to soak up the oil.

For the asparagus:  If you are using fresh asparagus, fill a pot halfway with fresh water and bring to a boil.  Snap or cut the bottoms of the asparagus and then place the asparagus in the boiling water.  Blanch them for 1 minute.  If you are using frozen asparagus, boil them until no longer frozen - you don't need to cut the bottoms.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet the fish was cooked in and place 1 minced clove of garlic in the oil for 30 seconds before adding the asparagus.  Sauté until lightly browned and tender. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.  Serve with the fish and fries.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Smoothies: Post-Workout Treat

Smoothie, originally uploaded by The Cooking Activist.
On Saturday mornings I train with a group of people for the upcoming fundraising race, The Be Her Freedom Run. This run benefits the A21Campaign organization that fights human trafficking on the ground. They rescue girls and children from the sex slave trade in Europe. The BHFR is hosted by Celebration Church and last year was the first year for the run.

This group of people, who are fellow members of Celebration Church, call themselves The Malinka Project. My friend Laura is the reason this project exists, it's her heart and her project. Basically, she wanted to get a group of people together that were passionate about the A21 Campaign's cause and train together and motivate each other to run the 4.7 miles of the BHFR. I joined the Malinka Project because I want to run the race and I want to train with people that are just as passionate about ending human trafficking as I. Becoming a part of this group has been an incredible blessing and I am thankful to have met Laura and experienced her passion and fire for this project.

Now that I am officially "in training", I need to make sure that I am eating properly to support my body so that it can operate at it's best. It is hard to run if you don't give your body the right fuel. Smoothies are an excellent way to recover after a tough workout. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight, a smoothie is a really good option. I am reminded of the movie Rocky every time I have a smoothie. Just once, I want to add a raw egg to the blender and to see how it tastes! I think it would be pretty gross:-) Be mindful if you buy a smoothie from a store because they add sugar, sometimes a lot of sugar . The new McDonald's smoothies have 44 - 70 grams of sugar! That is about the same as soda!

So here are 2 recipes, one is my favorite and the other is for my husband. He is training for a 150 mile bike race and he burns tons of calories while riding. Today he burned 1800 calories during a 40 mile bike ride! He doesn't need to lose weight so I made him a Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie to replenish those calories. The easiest way to add or subtract calories is with nut and seed butters, peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower, etc.
I buy my organic frozen fruit at Whole Foods Market.

If you want to lose weight:
Strawberry Banana Smoothie(my favorite)
Makes 32 ounces, approx 500 calories - 2 servings
½ frozen banana
5 frozen organic strawberries
10 pieces of frozen organic fruit - pick 2: strawberries, peaches, pineapples, mangos, handful(½ cup equals 5 pieces of fruit) of berries(blueberries, raspberries, etc)
1 tablespoon cashew butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup of whole milk
1 cup of 100% cranberry raspberry juice, no added sweeteners or replacement sweeteners
5 pieces of ice

Put all of the ingredients into the blender. Blend until smooth. Add more juice if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time to reach desired consistency. Pour into a cup and enjoy. You can place half in the freezer for about 30 minutes so it stays frozen while you drink the rest. My kids love this smoothie.

If you want to maintain or gain weight:
Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
Makes 48 ounces, approx. 1230 calories
2 frozen bananas
2 cups of frozen fruit: peaches and strawberries or any combo you want
3 heaping spoonfuls (6 standard tablespoons) of peanut butter or your favorite nut butter adjust the peanut butter to taste.
1 cup of whole milk or alternate form of dairy: almond, coconut, hemp milk
2 cups of 100% juice, no added sweeteners…
Ice if you want
Add 1 tsp of vanilla for flavor if you want

Add everything to blender except 1 cup of the juice. Blend and add juice as necessary until smoothie is at the desired consistency. Pour in a cup and drink after a long run, bike ride, or when large amounts of calories are burned. This has a lot of peanut butter because of the protein and calories.

Be careful when buying fruits. You should know which to buy organic and which don't have to be organic. Here is a link to a slide-show for more information.