Quick and Clean Homemade Vegan Coffee Creamer

As I have admitted before on this blog, one of the hardest things about fasting for me is giving up milk in my coffee. The truth is, I just don’t like soy milk

Goooooood morning!

Goooooood morning!

or almond milk or any of the other “milks” I have tried in coffee, so I find myself adding too much sugar to cover up the taste. The ones that taste the best are Silk Very Vanilla or Dark Chocolate Almond Milk, but (gasp, shock, horror), they are also the ones that contain the most sugar. Non-dairy coffee creamers are out on two counts, since they are generally full of chemicals and usually contain casein, which is derived from milk and therefore off limits to anyone who interprets the rules with maximum strictness, is a committed vegan, or is actually allergic to milk. I realize that trying to find a better substitute for milk is not entirely in keeping with the spirit of simplicity and self-sacrifice, but I feel that this recipe is worth sharing in case there are others like myself who want to keep the Orthodox fasts (or are allergic to dairy or want to commit to a vegan lifestyle for any reason or length of time), but find the thought of a waking up to milk-less coffee to be a stumbling block in their way.

Truthfully, the ultimate vegan coffee creamer would probably be homemade nut milk, made stronger than usual with a bit of coconut milk added for creaminess. Soaking raw nuts, grinding, and straining them yourself does give you a “milk” that is cleaner and more pleasant tasting than any commercially prepared version I have tried. However, it is not a quick process, and it goes best if you have a large, powerful blender and a special bag for straining. Hence the need for a “quick and clean” version. Feel free to experiment with this recipe. You can try any nut or seed butter you like in place of the cashew butter. Raw butters with minimal “extra” ingredients will probably taste best, but the only cashew butter I could find was made from roasted cashews with some added palm oil, and it works just fine. You can add more water to make it more like milk, or less to make it more like half and half.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup regular (not lite) coconut milk (the kind from a can)
  • 2 TBSP cashew butter
  • 1 tsp sugar (optional – leave it out for a savory recipe, add more if you want to cream and sweeten your coffee at the same time, substitute other sweeteners as desired)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (also optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups water

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Method

1. Put all ingredients in a blender (a small, bullet-style one is perfect for this). Blend until thoroughly combined.

2. Enjoy! It should keep in the fridge for several days. If it separates just shake it up again before using.

Ice + strong coffee + vegan creamer + sugar + a few drops of peppermint extract = summer afternoon perfection.

Ice + strong coffee + vegan creamer + sugar + a few drops of peppermint extract = summer afternoon perfection.

It may not make your coffee bulletproof, but this creamer does have some healthy fats and trace minerals to combat the after-coffee crash and keep your morning good. 

A Prayer for Peace

I believe in whirled peas.

Childish fingers

send them

whirling, skittering, scattering,

off the table

across the floor

under the chair

out to the far corners of the room.

 

Again and again

the dancers repeat the steps.

Again and again

with the broom and the mop.

Again and again

help me clean up.

 

Again and again on bended knees*

reaching for peas.

 

Reach past the peas.

Feel the music

Live the grace

Touch the beating heart of this moment

Find the love that binds the fingers and the broom and the peas.

 

Sink down

Sink in

Let it rise

Let it roll

Send it whirling, skittering, scattering

to the far corners of the world.

 

It begins here.

 

* Before reading the Kneeling Prayers, which are a set of three penitential prayers read at vespers on Pentecost, the priest entreats, “Again and again on bended knee let us pray to the Lord.” During any other service the exclamation would be “Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord.”

Lazarus Saturday: Well Behaved Women Make History

On the eve of Palm Sunday, the Orthodox Church commemorates the raising of Lazarus. The weekend before Pascha is often so full of work and preparations for the coming week that little time is left for observing Lazarus Saturday liturgically, but it has been one of my favorite days for many years, ever since I lived at a monastery and was able to hear all of the services for the day. I love the fact that it is the only Saturday of the whole year when the special resurrectional hymns usually reserved for Sunday are sung (and Palm Sunday is the one Sunday of the year when they are not sung). I love the fact that caviar is allowed, although fish is not – little eggs to celebrate the little resurrection as a foreshadowing of the eggs we will eat next week to commemorate the big Resurrection. Best of all, I love the gospel reading for the day, from St. John, with it’s promise of resurrection for all who believe in Christ. And my very favorite part of the story is this one line: “Now Jesus loved Martha [!]” (John 11:5).

 I have been Orthodox for a long time, and I cannot tell you how many sermons I have heard on the theme of Martha and Mary. I have heard them from women who, I suspect, deep in their hearts fear that they are themselves incurable “Marthas.” I have heard them from men whose meals are cooked, vestments are mended, and parishes are kept in working order by “Marthas.” I have heard over and over how, although Martha is all very well in her place, we must strive to be more like Mary, setting aside earthly cares in order to sit quietly at the feet of Jesus. “A perverse generation seeks a type,”¹ and we think we know Martha and Mary. And because we think we know who they are, we think we know what their story is about.

Martha is the quintessential “church lady.” She fusses and bustles, frets and nags. She is probably the older sister, taking charge and setting things in order with an air of divine right. She is old-fashioned in her views, a keeper of traditions and morals. She is efficient and reliable, and we respect her after a fashion, in the way we respect grandmothers and grade-school teachers, but we don’t take her terribly seriously. We might ask her opinion about the color of table cloths to use in the church hall, but not on matters of doctrine or theology. She is probably a little plump.

Mary, on the other hand, is contemplative, mystical. She is the virgin martyr or repentant harlot, aflame with spiritual love, casting aside all else in her pursuit of the “one thing needful.” She converts kings or flees to the desert. She hasn’t got time for snotty noses and dirty dishes. Although we know we ought to believe that God loves everyone equally, it rather appears that Mary is Jesus’ favorite.

That limited view of Martha and Mary, though it may contain some kernels of truth, is not the whole story. I don’t believe it is a complete or completely accurate interpretation of the “Martha and Mary” account in the gospel of Luke, and it is certainly not the story that is told today, in the gospel of John. Martha is still the busy, bustling, take-charge older sister in this story, but there is no hint of ridicule or chastisement towards her now. While Mary quietly mourns at home, Martha gets up and tries to do something about the situation. She goes out to meet Jesus on the road outside of town. She challenges Him, she questions Him, she argues theology with Him. To her are spoken the astounding words, the clearest statement up to that point of Who Jesus is and what His mission will be: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And he that lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Her confession of faith is in some sense the foundation for the miracle that follows.²

Sometimes I think we are all Calvanists at heart, endlessly comparing ourselves to one another, searching for signs that we are numbered among the elect. Actually, it is a fear that is far older and deeper than Calvin. The ancient pagan belief that God is arbitrary, that He plays favorites, and that we may have been created to be useful or amusing or for any purpose other than to be loved, still lurks in our interior shadows. We fear that the things that make us worthy (or unworthy) of love are things that are beyond our control. We forget that there is no “type” for holiness, or for love. Even in Luke, when Mary is praised for choosing the “one thing needful,” Jesus never tells Martha that she ought to be more like her sister. In fact, he only rebukes her when she asks, in effect, “Why can’t you make my sister be more like me?” If we only had the story from Luke we might think that Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to drop everything and sit at His feet with Mary because He doesn’t really care about Martha. We might think that Martha is a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God, good for cooking and cleaning, but not among the privileged few who are able to really grasp Jesus’ teachings and understand who He is. But Martha’s role in the raising of Lazarus dispels that notion. Second class citizens do not stand boldly before their Lord, asking questions, seeking understanding, demanding miracles.

If you have no interest in baking from scratch and hosting impromptu dinner parties for twelve, and thus feel that you will never make a good Martha (either the biblical one or her modern day namesake), have no fear. When Jesus defends the part Mary has chosen, stating that it “will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42), He makes a revolutionary statement that the proper place for a woman is not in the kitchen, but at His feet.³ Being a Christian woman does not mean being a mother or a handmaiden or a “Proverbs 31 woman.” It means being a woman who follows, listens to, and loves Jesus.

If, however, your inclinations, aptitude, or circumstances have left you feeling that you a very much a Martha, accept your place without shame. Organize bake sales, attend parish council meetings, home-school your kids. Do whatever it is that keeps you busy doing “good things.” But be a whole Martha. Remember that, when the need arises, Martha’s footsteps also lead to the quiet places outside the gates, where Jesus is waiting. Your heart and mind matter. What you believe matters. It is part of your birthright to speak to the Lord face to face, seeking enlightenment, asking for miracles.

And if you do not see yourself reflected in either of the sisters, then rejoice. The truth is, there are no types, only people, each of them made and loved endlessly by their crucified, death-destroying God.

 

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1: From my favorite O. Henry story, The Trimmed Lamp.

2: In the context of the gospel of John, the fact that she doesn’t understand Jesus right away is not a sign of stupidity or stubbornness, but simply a sign of humanity. No one who encounters Jesus at a pivotal moment understands Him right away (Nicodemus and the woman at the well are good examples, as are the apostles in general). It is through this gradual process of question and answer, statement and counterstatement, that the soul gains understanding. In many cases full knowledge does not come until much later, as true understanding is only possible through the light of the crucifixion, resurrection, and coming of the Holy Spirit.

3: The authors of this book point out that ancient banquets followed a specific structure and order of events, ending with entertainment in more lighthearted contexts, or teaching and discussion with a philosopher or spiritual leader at more serious times. Women would not have eaten with men at a banquet in the Near East at the time of Jesus, and it is likely that they would have been excluded from the entertainment and/or teaching portion as well. We don’t know for certain if that was the case in the specific place and culture to which the family of Martha belonged, but it is quite possible that the subtext of Martha’s complaint against Mary was that Mary was inserting herself into a situation where a woman would not normally be welcome. Whether or not this is true, I still think it is reasonable to see Jesus’ defense of Mary, not as a criticism of Martha’s work (this story is after all in the gospel of Luke, which is the the gospel with the heaviest emphasis on practical hospitality and service to the poor, as well as the one which counts the women who “ministered to Jesus out of their substance” in the list of the disciples), but as a defense of women’s right to be part of philosophical and religious life.

Lovely Lobiani: Georgian Bean Bread

If using the words bean and bread together does not get you excited, have no fear. The word Georgian in front of them makes all the difference. Georgia is one of those border regions between East and West that, rather than taking a bit of both, is itself a tertium quid. Its language is unique, its culture ancient, and its culinary tradition so impressive that, according to Darra Goldstein, the poet Alexander Pushkin declared that “Every Georgian dish is a poem.”

There is nothing especially poetic about beans or bread, but when you put them together to make savory, satisfying lobiani you get something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is great kid food, party food, picnic food, potluck food, or take-your-lunch to work food. The only problem? Despite the fact that it showcases beans and comes from a country where over 80% of the population is Orthodox, lobiani is not traditionally vegan. Most of the recipes I found called for cooking the beans with Racha ham (a Georgian ham that is said to be quite salty and looks more like American salt pork than honey baked ham), mashing them with butter, and adding anything from an egg or two to sour cream and two whole sticks of butter to the bread dough. Obviously I have made a few changes to make this version vegan, while still trying to preserve some of the richness of the original. There are quite a few imitation ham and bacon substitutes available, and you are welcome to add some in if you like. I find, however that they are a) expensive, b) full of ingredients that I would not normally eat, c) not widely available, and d) rarely as subtle or richly flavored as the real thing. I used just a pinch of smoked paprika to give the tiniest hint of smokey flavor, but otherwise relied on caramelized onion, garlic, herbs, and lots of olive oil to replace the flavor from the ham. I first made this using a foccacia recipe for the bread, but have since found that my basic pita recipe is just as good, if not better, and is slightly less work.

As a last note, lobiani would traditionally be baked in tone, or circular clay ovens. The closest you can come in an average kitchen is to preheat a pizza stone in a very hot oven for at least half an hour before baking. Also, lobiani can come in a variety of shapes. I made mine large and round, but feel free to try log shaped or individual sized ones. Just shorten the cooking time if you make them smaller. Click here for step by step photographic instructions for shaping the dough and here for an alternate way of shaping them and pictures of a traditional oven in a real Georgian bakery.

Makes three 10-12″ loaves, each of which will serve 4 people as a meal, or 8-12 people as a snack or party food. It will keep in an air tight container or wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap for a day at room temperature, several days in the fridge, and several weeks in the freezer. Leftovers can be eaten at room temperature or warmed in a 350° oven before serving.

Ingredients:

IMG_3762

for the filling

  • 1 lb kidney beans (or 3-4 cans)
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 5 cloves garlic, slightly crushed with the side of a knife
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp summer savory (savory is not traditional in lobiani, but is used in many other Georgian dishes – if you can’t find it you can use something else – Georgians also love tarragon, cilantro, dried coriander, and dill)
  • a pinch of smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt (plus more, to taste)
  • 3-6 TBSP olive oil

for the bread

  • 4 1/2 cups (1 lb 6.5 oz) flour (I used white whole wheat, but you can use all-purpose or a combination of all purpose and regular whole wheat)
  • 2 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 TBSP sugar or honey
  • 3 tsp yeast (I use instant or bread yeast, but regular should work just fine with a slightly increased rising time)
  • 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 3 TBSP olive oil

Method:

1. Soak the beans overnight if using dried beans. If using canned beans, drain and rinse them. Cover the beans with several inches of water in a large pot. Add crushed garlic cloves and bay leaves (Georgians use enough bay leaves to really flavor a dish, not just as a background hum). Cook at a low simmer until the beans are very soft and beginning to fall apart. I recommend cooking even canned beans for a little while, just to make them really soft and infuse a little bay flavor.

2. Measure water for bread into a large glass measuring cup or medium sized bowl. Add yeast, honey, and oil. Measure flour and salt into the bowl of a standing mixer (or other large mixing bowl if kneading by hand). Whisk liquid ingredients to combine, then slowly pour into dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed (or while stirring with a wooden spoon). Once the ingredients come together to form a dough, turn the mixer speed to medium low and knead for about 10 minutes. You may need to add more flour after a few minutes. Ideally the dough should clear the sides but still stick to the bottom of the mixing bowl. Don’t add more than a half a cup of extra flour, though. This dough should be somewhat soft and sticky. If you are kneading by hand, just keep adding a little bit of flour at a time, just enough so you can keep kneading without it sticking to your hands. Knead until the dough is soft and smooth, also about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, put in a warm spot, and allow to rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.

3. While the dough is rising, chop your onions and remaining garlic. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and a IMG_3768teaspoon of salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft and starting to turn golden-brown. Keep the heat fairly low, turning it down if the onions brown too fast. You want them to get really soft and sweet so they will melt into the filling. It should take at least 15 minutes.

4. When the onions are soft and beginning to brown, add the garlic, savory, and smoked paprika. Stir and cook for another minute or two. Drain the beans, picking out the bay leaves and garlic cloves. Add the onion mixture to the beans. At this point you have several options for mashing the beans. You could try a wooden spoon and lots of elbow grease, a potato masher, or a food processor. I put mine in the bowl of my electric mixer (no need to wash it after making the bread dough) and used the paddle attachment. While you are mashing the beans, add anywhere from 1-4 more TBSP of olive oil or vegan IMG_3772margarine, depending on how rich you want it (don’t add the oil right at the beginning unless you are using a food processor – it will make the beans slippery and hard to mash). You will probably want to add more salt. I started with 1/2 a teaspoon, but ended up adding about another whole teaspoon. The filling should be just a little salty and have plenty of flavor. You can also add more savory or paprika at this point.

 5. Put your pizza stone on a rack in the bottom half of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°. When the dough has doubled in size, divide it into three equal portions. Roll the portions into balls and place on a floured surface, covered with a clean, damp towel or loosely draped with plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 20-30 minutes.

6. Roll your first ball of dough into a circle about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. (Some tips for getting dough to roll easily: use a silicone mat if possible; imagine the dough as a clock and roll from 5 o’clock to 10 o’clock, turn the dough a quarter turn, and repeat – it makes it rounder than rolling back and forth; pick it up and flip it over occasionally, adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking; cover it and let it rest a few minutes longer if it resists stretching or bounces back.)

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 The last four pictures are from an earlier batch, which I made using the focaccia dough. The pita dough is not quite as soft and does not squish together quite as easily. When I made it with pita dough I left the pinwheel shape made by folding the dough together and did not try to flatten it out or score it, more because I was in a hurry than for any other reason. It works and looks nice either way.

7. Put a third of the filling in the center of the dough. Fold the dough around it, pinching to seal in the center and pressing with the flat of your hand to make sure the filling goes all the way out to the edges. You can gently score it into wedges if you want, but be  careful not to cut through the dough. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Place on heated pizza stone in the oven (or an upside-down cookie sheet covered with parchment paper). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling. (You can bake more than one at a time if you can fit them. Otherwise roll the second one out while the first is baking). Enjoy as a snack, or serve with a salad for an easy meal. Try it with charkhlis chogi (beets with sour cherry sauce) and spinach pkhali for a real Georgian supra (an hours-long eating event, complete with intricate toasts and a master of ceremonies).

There is just no way to make this look as good as it tastes.

There is just no way to make this look as good as it tastes.

Indian Food For Beginners: Chana Masala

On the Friday before our wedding my husband and I thought it would be nice to get together with some of our friends and family who had come to town early to sight-see, visit other friends, or help us with wedding preparations. Since several of our friends and family members are also Orthodox, Bru suggested we visit Udipi Cafe, an Atlanta restaurant that serves exclusively vegetarian food from Southern India. Dinner turned out to be perhaps more of an adventure than a resounding success. The menu was a bit difficult to decode for folks who were trying Indian food for the first time. Most people ended up with some type of curried vegetables served alongside a giant, crispy, cone-shaped pancake, with no instructions for how to eat it. There is a picture somewhere of my petite godmother looking quizzical and slightly amused, dwarfed by the giant crepe in front of her. I, however, was perfectly satisfied with my meal. I had the advantage of having eaten Indian food before (though not frequently), and, being in the midst of multiple major life changes, I stuck with the one thing I knew I liked. My chana bhature came as a bowl of flavorful-but-not-too-foreign-tasting chickpeas, a hot, golden-brown pillow of fried bread, and a generous slice of raw vidalia onion (we were, after all, in Georgia).

Indian food can be for everyone, but I think it helps to have some idea of what you are eating before you start. India, like China and France, takes food seriously, and its complex and varied culinary tradition has influenced what people eat far beyond its borders. (And best of all for Orthodox Christians, some parts of India have a rich, longstanding tradition of vegetarian and even vegan cooking.) Indian food is not difficult to make, and many recipes are available in English. Indian food blogs, however (of which there are many), can take a little while to navigate. There are so many ingredients to look up, and many recipes take for granted techniques or equipment that may be unfamiliar to an American cook. Adding to the complexity, since many languages and dialects are spoken in India, multiple words can be used in a single blog post to refer to the same food. For example, chana (channa), chole, gram, and kedala all refer to chickpeas. At the other end of the spectrum, a single word can have multiple meanings. Masala means both a mixture of spices and a dish that is flavored with a mixture of spices. So a recipe might call for adding some chana masala (spice mixture intended for flavoring chickpeas) to your pot of chana masala (spiced chickpea stew). For anyone who would like to try their hand at Indian food, what follows is a simple but authentic recipe, a good place to get your feet wet before you start searching ethnic grocery stores for exotic spices.

A quick internet search reveals that I was on to something when I kept ordering chana bhature. Chana bhature is apparently a favorite with many lovers of Indian food, and is a popular street food in India. The chickpea part of the meal is chana masala, a spicy chickpea stew or curry. The bhature is a kind of puffy, deep fried flat bread. The chana masala can also be served with Hot, Hot, Roti, any other type of Indian flat bread, or rice. There are many types of chana masala. I made the Punjabi version, with tomato and onion as the base of the sauce. Most chana masala recipes call for lots of spices (lots meaning lots, like anywhere from five to a dozen separate spices). I took my cues from this recipe, however, and used one main spice as the flavoring. It makes it easier for a beginner, but it is also fun to see what what an amazingly rich and complex flavor can be created using minimal and relatively familiar ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb dried chickpeas (or about 3 cans, although cooking from scratch will create a better flavor and texture)
  • 3-4 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated or finely chopped ginger
  • 2 heaping teaspoons fennel seeds (you can substitute garam masala if you can’t find fennel)
  • 3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp paprika + cayenne to taste (this is optional – most recipes call for Indian red chili powder, which, as far as I can tell, is hotter than paprika but not as hot as cayenne)
  • 1/4 cup finely ground fresh coconut or full fat coconut milk (also optional – only one recipe I saw called for the addition of coconut, so I don’t think it is a common ingredient in this dish, but if you are making it oil free then the fat in the coconut does add a little extra richness and flavor, without really making it taste like coconut)
  • salt

Garnishes:

  • thinly sliced raw onion
  • lemon or lime wedges
  • fresh cilantro
  • mango

Method:

IMG_36621. Soak the chickpeas overnight (or for at least 6 hours). Cook at a low heat until they are soft but not falling apart. Or drain and rinse canned chickpeas, if using.

IMG_36682. Chop onions. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add oil if desired, or add onions straight to the pot with 1/2 tsp salt. Cook until onions are nice and brown (you may have to add a little bit of water every now and then if you are cooking them without oil). Add garlic, ginger, paprika/chili powder, and fennel seeds. Cook, stirring frequently, for a minute or two, until you can smell the garlic.

3. Stir in chopped tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes start to break down (about 10 minutes). Add coconut, if using. If your tomatoes are not super juicy you can add about a cup of water.

4. At this point you have a choice. Some recipes call for letting the sauce cool a bit, and putting it through a food grinder (I use my food processor, or you could try an immersion blender) before returning it to the pot. Other recipes call for cooking the mixture a little longer, stirring with a wooden spoon to help everything break down and form a sauce. I like the smooth, almost fluffy, texture that comes from putting it in the food processor, but if you don’t have one or don’t want to bother with it, you can simply cook the onions and tomatoes for another 5-10 minutes.

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5. Taste your sauce. You will probably want to add more salt at this point. You may also want to add more water. The sauce should be like a thick gravy. Add the chickpeas to the pot. Stir everything together and cook until evenly heated, about 5 minutes.

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6. Serve with Indian flatbread or rice, and lots of raw onion, cilantro, and lemon or lime juice. Don’t skimp on the garnishes, they definitely add to the experience. Enjoy!

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I have made vegan bhature twice, but my recipe definitely needs more testing before I share it. Most recipes call for yogurt, so you can try a regular recipe using cultured soy or coconut, like this one. A little extra work, but a delicious way to celebrate the weekend! I also made Aloo Gobi Masala (Spiced Potato and Cauliflower) as a side dish. You can try this recipe or this one. I looked at several and then made up my own.

Hot, Hot, Roti

Last year during Lent we found this book at the library. My husband read it to our little girl every single night for weeks. They both loved the bright pictures, the sweet and funny story about a little boy helping his grandfather recover the “power of the tiger,” and the smattering of Hindi words and phrases that make the book perfect for reading aloud. As for me, my spice grinder and wooden spoons started turning turmeric-yellow after a few weeks of trying out Indian recipes.

I wouldn’t dare post my own recipe for roti. It isn’t hard to make, but it does take a little practice and I don’t have the time to test recipes side by side and tell you whether boiling water really is better than lukewarm, or whether resting the dough for an hour is better than a quick 5-10 minute rest. I will share these few tips I have learned, however, along with the recommendation that you try making your own flatbread of some sort at least a few times (more than once, since the first time can be tricky and it really will be easier once you get the hang of it). Sure, you can serve your curry with rice. But hand made flatbread does add a special something to the meal. After all, who wouldn’t like to feel “the power of the tiger” now and then?

  • Make sure you roll your roti nice and thin and let your pan get nice and hot. Otherwise it won’t puff. A silicone mat for rolling is nice, although certainly not necessary.
  • You don’t have to use ghee. For an oil-free fast day you can just leave the roti dry, or you can brush them with a little coconut oil. It may not be authentic, but it is still good.
  • I really want a big, flat, cast-iron pan for making roti and tortillas. They hold heat evenly and don’t stick. If you are like me and do not have one, however, try a big frying pan (you want room to get your spatula under the roti to flip it), or an electric skillet.
  • Purists will tell you that tortillas and roti are not the same thing and should never be substituted for one another. They are right. Sort of. Self respecting Mexican mamas usually use lard, and wouldn’t dream of brushing their tortillas with ghee. On the other hand, vegan, whole-wheat tortillas are awfully similar to vegan roti. In a pinch, use the freshest tortillas with the shortest ingredient list you can find and heat them up right before serving. I won’t tell.

Here is a nice video with instructions for making roti:

And here is a link for a slightly more detailed recipe I tried last week.

How to Make Soft Roti

I’ll be back soon with a recipe for chickpea curry to serve with your roti!

“If I Happen to Waste a Day…”

I was bringing my seedlings in for the night while my husband read bedtime stories to the children, contemplating the day that had passed with dissatisfaction. My two-year-old was still cranky in the wake of a recent illness, so for the first half of the three short hours his sister spends at pre-school, we played Operation and read stories. Thinking I might finally get started on “real work” for the day, I turned on a movie for him. He asked me to watch it with him. It was a Pixar movie I had never seen so, I confess, I didn’t need much convincing. So much for pre-school. At least I still had nap time to get something done. We picked up my daughter, ate lunch, got the little brother down for a nap and the big sister settled in front of a tv show, and I took a shower all by myself. “Now,” I thought, “now I am ready to settle in and get something done.” Except I didn’t. I thought about writing a blog post and tried to do some online tasks, but the internet was down. The tv show ended, so I read my five year old a story. The two year old woke up. I tried to do some gardening, but I couldn’t find my clippers, so I never got farther than watering. I tried to paint some trim for the home repair project we’ve been working on. My son insisted on “helping,” so I only got one small piece painted and had to clean up. And so the afternoon went, until my husband came home to a messy house and leftovers for dinner. Not a particularly satisfying day.

On my third or fourth trip out to the garden for seedlings, a line from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers floated to the forefront of my consciousness. An abba asked one of the brothers how he was fairing, to which the brother replied “‘I am wasting my time, father.’ The old man said, ‘If I happen to waste a day, I am grateful for it.’” Grateful? Grateful for what? Why? Like so many sayings of the desert monks, I really don’t know what this means. Sometimes I can blame my lack of understanding on the huge gap of time and culture that exists between me and those ancient fathers. In this case, however, I think the idea of “wasted time” was nearly as anathema (though for different reasons) in the world of the desert as it is in our productivity-obsessed culture. What could be good about a wasted day?

“If I happen to waste a day, I am thankful for it.” To begin, I suppose I should be thankful that I had the leisure to waste a day. It is rarely possible to waste time in the midst of catastrophe. Today was peaceful enough that there was time to waste. Good. I am thankful that I was here to waste a day. I am alive. I am healthy. I have the freedom to choose whether to be busy or to be lazy. I am thankful for the good things that happened today in spite and even because of my lack of focus and motivation. The fact that I was unable to settle down and “get things done” meant that I was available to read and play with my children. I didn’t resent their demands for attention because I wasn’t really doing anything anyway.

I am thankful for the chance to be humbled. Who do I think I am, anyway? What have I got to do that is so terribly important? The fate of the world does not hang on my weeding the garden, folding the laundry, or balancing the books. And here, I think, is the crux of the matter. My value as a human being does not hang on those things either. There is important work to be done in the world. Even small tasks are important, since it is largely through small, daily acts of care that we show love for those around us. An attitude of alertness, mindfulness, and readiness to work are important, too. Scripture and the fathers both are clear on this point: we do not have all the time in the world, and it does matter how we use what we have. But nothing, absolutely nothing I could accomplish today would alter my worth in God’s eyes. He first loved us, and while we were yet sinners He died for us. The most important work has been done for us, because we were unable to do it for ourselves.

We were created out of love, and by love we are saved. How we spend our time matters because we want to use it in a way that frees us to receive that divine love and share it with our fellow human beings. But I am thankful for the reminder that God, Who redeems even our worst sufferings and darkest sins, is the source of that love. Without that love, even the greatest of good works are pointless. With it, everything, even the most pointless of wasted days, can be redeemed.