Thursday, March 29, 2012

What Did YOU Give Up for Lent?

“What did YOU give up for Lent?” school friends would ask in the month before Easter.  As their resident Jesus freak, I surely would have given up something big—like all food and water.
“Nothing.”  I would say,   “My church doesn’t do that.”
In fact, growing up in my PC-USA church, I somehow missed out on Lent.  Instead, we had “One Great Hour of Sharing” where I took home a plastic bread shaped bank in which I was supposed to put small change every night.  Of course, I never did because I had no money, so Easter morning my parents emptied their change purses into the banks, and there, in a plastic breadbox, lay the whole of my Lenten spiritual practice.

As an adult, despite attending an Episcopal church, for the first six years I still didn’t fast for Lent.  I wanted to assert my freedom in Christ. . . and I was just lazy and intimidated by the prospect of depriving myself for 46 days (the dirty little secret being that it’s not 40 days, it’s 40 days plus Holy Week!).
My friends gave up all sorts of things.  Swearing, complaining, criticizing, and worrying, along with the more typical chocolate, fast food, chips, and dessert.  Come to think of it, I think I tried giving up complaining, but failed so spectacularly the first day that I gave up by the end of the first week.
It was only after bearing my first child, when my already spotty spiritual practices became virtually nonexistent, that I decided to try fasting during Lent.  And I went for the doozy.
If I hadn’t been praying before, there was nothing like giving up dessert to start me praying then.  Each time I wanted something sweet, I prayed, “Jesus, let me desire you more than I desire dessert.”
I found myself praying that prayer 10-25 times a day.  That’s a lot more relating to Jesus than before.
One night we went to dinner at a friend’s house.  The husband baked a flourless chocolate almond torte in our honor.
“That looks so amazing. . . and I can’t have any,” I blurted.
“What?” said our host, “Well how about some peppermint ice cream?”
Talk about being led into temptation. . .
“Ice cream’s a dessert too.”
He looked puzzled, then laughed, “I assumed you gave up chocolate, but all DESSERT???”
My husband said he had just witnessed my most supreme exhibition of self-control he’d ever seen.  And to break my fast that Easter, I baked my own flourless chocolate almond torte.  Sweet.
Since my first Lenten dessert fast, I’ve tried many other fasts including:
  • Reading novels (excruciatingly difficult—found myself avidly reading magazines and newspapers instead–sort of beside the point)
  • Listening to NPR in the car (even more excruciatingly difficult—I hoped to either pray or engage with the kids, instead I just felt enraged all the time that I couldn’t listen to my daily fix and had to listen to the kids’ shenanigans)
  • TV (the easiest by far—so easy I barely noticed I gave anything up)
Over the years, I’ve tried adding disciplines instead of fasting, but too often found that the energy it took to do something additional was just too daunting.
A few years ago, I never got around to deciding on a fast, so I skipped it, again proclaiming my freedom in Christ.  But when Holy Week came, I felt like I’d missed out —celebrating the awesome good news of Jesus risen from the dead and new life for all just isn’t as awesome without the spiritual preparation and (minor) suffering beforehand.
This year I’m pseudo vegetarian for Lent, only cooking vegetarian, but eating flexibly when others feed me.  I also decided I can eat seafood when eating out.  My 15 year-old daughter has joined me in the fast, and the rest of my family is forced to partake every night since I’m the cook.
Fasting from meat falls somewhere between fasting from TV and dessert, but closer to TV.  I certainly haven’t found myself praying, “Jesus let me desire you more than meat” even once.
My daughter says she thinks it’s too easy.  I think that’s because she isn’t cooking.  Frankly, the greatest suffering comes from the complaining two kids forced into vegetarianism every dinner—especially last night when I served Vegetable “meat” (aka as mushroom) loaf.
But it’s still been good.  Fasting from meat makes me pause and think about Jesus, sacrifice, whole-world ecology and health each time I eat.  I hope it helps the family do the same.
Already I’m wondering what I’ll fast from next year.  Dessert again?  Wine?  Whining? The daunting Daniel fast?  Or maybe I’ll have the courage to try the most feared of all again—NPR.
Do you fast during Lent?  Why or why not?
What are you fasting from?  How has that worked for you?
This first appeared on What She Said

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


On Monday, in an attempt to make lemonade out of my pre-diabetes lemons, I bought MacGourmet, a recipe/nutrition computer program.  Because of my new low carb pre-diabetic diet, I decided I needed something to help me calculate the carbs in the foods I cook. 

This is what MacGourmet looks like on the screen
I’ve been obsessed ever since...

Day One:  Ren and I spend 3 hours making vegetarian White Vegetable Lasagne (compiling the best of 4 separate recipes) because the kids and I mourn how Stouffer's no longer seems to make it anymore.  I enter my version and learn there are 352 calories and 29.46 grams of carb/serving. 

After dinner, Scott:  Do you want to watch the new Kiefer Sutherland TV show with me?

Me:  No thanks, I want to enter my recipes.

I enter 3 recipes—takes me until bedtime.

Day Two: 
Morning:  I learn how to import recipes from certain select websites, most of which I’ve never used.  I import 10 recipes.

Afternoon:   I figure out how to import recipes from Word documents.  I import 10 more recipes.

Scott:  Do you want me to run you a bath so you can relax?

Me:  No thanks, I want to import recipes.

I lie in bed, install the new update for my 1 day old program and lo and behold, it now imports recipes from! 

I’m a huge Cooks Illustrated fan.  Despite subscribing to several other cooking magazines, I only cook from Cook’s because I love their premise of  trying to make the perfect “whatever” using science and testing.  Every now and then I don’t love their definition of perfection, i.e. as New Englanders, they like their fruit desserts tarter than I do.  But I just add more sugar and voila—deliciousness.

I own every issue of the magazine.  AND, when they offered 50% off a year’s subscription to the website, I signed up with the goal of copying more recipes for easy access from my computer.

Now that I can import them???  I’m a maniac.

I still have to work, cook, take care of kids and fulfill all my other working mom/wife/friend/volunteer coordinator for Beauty and the Beast responsibilities, but you know what I’ll be doing every free minute for who knows how long. . .


Send me your favorite recipes/urls and I'll import them into MacGourmet and try them sometime!

White Vegetable Lasagne

Our goal was to taste like Stouffers, only more healthy.  Ren says he wishes there was more sauce so it'd be more creamy.  

  • White Sauce
    • 3 ouncesParmesan, grated
    • 4 ouncesRomano Cheese, grated
    • 4 tablespoonsButter
    • 7 tablespoonsFlour
    • 4 cups Milk, 1%
    • 6 teaspoonGarlic cloves, minced
  • 9 oz. No-Boil Lasagne Noodles
  • Cheese Filling
    • ¼ cup Basil, minced
    • 1 cup Red Pepper, diced
    • 8 ouncesNeufchatel Cheese
    • 15 oz. Low fat Ricotta Cheese
  • Vegetable Filling
    • 1 tbsp. Canola Oil
    • 2 cup onions, diced small
    • 1 cup carrots, shredded
    • 10 ounceschopped broccoli, frozen, defrosted and squeezed
    • 10 ounceschopped spinach, frozen, defrosted and squeezed
    • 8 ouncesCremini Mushroom, sliced
    • 3 tsp. Garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 8 ounces Part Skim Mozarella Cheese, shredded
  • Topping
    • ½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
    • ½ cup Parmesan, grated
1.Ricotta Filling: 1. Mix Ricotta, cream cheese until cream cheese is smooth and incorporated.
2. Add red pepper, basil
3. Salt and pepper to taste.
2.Vegetable Filling: 1. Saute Mushrooms in 2 tsp of salted canola oil over medium high heat. Do not stir, let brown on one side before stirring.
2. When mushrooms are browned, add onion, saute until soft ad browned,
3. Add carrots, broccoli and spinach.
4. Press 3 cloves garlic into vegetables
5. Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: If your kids hate mushrooms--can saute them and remove, put over half the lasagne.
3.White Sauce: 1. Melt Butter over medium heat, add flour, stir until bubbly
2. Add milk and stir until thickened.
3. Add minced garlic, romano and parmesan.
4. Salt and pepper to taste
4.Panko Topping: 1. Mix panko and parmesan together
5.Assembling the Lasagne: 1. Spoon a cup of sauce on bottom of an 11X15 inch pan. Lay lasagne noodles on top.
2. Spread half the vegetables on top of noodles
3. Spread half the ricotta cheese mixture on top of veggies
4. Sprinkle half the mozzarella cheese on top of ricotta
5. Spoon a cup of sauce on top
6. Repeat
7. Lay last lasagne layer on top
8. Spoon last cup of sauce on top
9. Cover with foil
10. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes
11. Uncover, sprinkle panko/parmesan topping, bake another 10 minutes.
12. If not browned, broil until top is golden brown
13. Let cool 10 minutes, cut and serve

Not my lasagne--but it looks similar

Friday, March 23, 2012

Feeling Woeful about Pre-Diabetes

In December I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic.  My doctor tends to be hyper-conservative, chasing every possible abnormality, so I chalked it up to her being over-reactive--after all I wasn’t fasting before the appointment.

But then I talked to my physician brother-in-law, and he told me that these days the test measures your blood sugar over the past 3 months and doesn’t need to be a fasting measure, so it’s much more accurate.  My numbers mean I’m definitely pre-diabetic.


I’ve spent the last 12 years working my butt off trying to avoid this diagnosis—I’ve tried to keep my weight down, I’ve exercised between 4-7 times every week, I eat a healthy diet, and here I am, still on the verge. 

Looking up what I could learn on the internet, most articles said something like 95% of diabetics can measurably improve their health by losing weight and exercise unless they have these other factors:
  • Being Asian (check)
  • Having a family history (father, uncle, grandfather--check)
  • Having had gestational diabetes (check again)

As I whined to my new nutritionist on Monday, she said, “But at your age everyone has something going on—they’re overweight, they have high blood pressure, something starts going—you just have a weak pancreas. . . and kidneys.”  (I’ve also had an auto-immune kidney disease these past 20 years—thank God that’s been in remission!)

“Will it help if I lose 10 pounds?” After all, my male relatives were all chubby.

“No, not really.”

So in order to give my pancreas a break, I’ve started the diabetic diet which means low-carb.  45 grams at breakfast and lunch, 15 for an afternoon snack, 65 at dinner, and 25 an hour after dinner.   Here are the amounts of certain foods that count as 1 carb exchange (15 grams):
  • Milk (1/2 cup)
  • Beans, peas, legumes (1/3-1/2 cup)
  • 3 Tbs. flour
  • Raw veggies (1 cup)
  • Cooked veggies (1/2 cup)

·         Because we don’t want to overtax my kidneys, I also need to eat low-protein diet, which means 5-6 oz. of protein/day max.

Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, was the one
food in the world I couldn't stand growing up--literally
had to pick it out of dumplings and stir fry.  I've been
training myself to eat the stuff because it's in so many
delicious cuisines--East Asian, Indian, South American,
Mexican, Middle Eastern, etc.  
What do I get to eat?  Well according to my new diabetes handbook, “free foods” that I can eat in whatever quantity I want include:
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Cilantro

Cilantro?  You've got to be kidding.  Cilantro's an herb, not a food.  And I'm one of those who genetically has an aversion to this pungent green.

A couple weeks ago, even though I knew my new diagnosis, in CA for the Multiethnic Conference I begged a colleague with a car to take me to the closest See’s Candy where I stocked up until the next West Coast trip. 

Monday night, I couldn’t find carb numbers for my favorite candies, so I emailed customer service.  Within 2.5 hours, they responded:
  • Dark Almond (3 pieces):  16 grams
  • Dark California brittle (2 pieces):  19 grams
  • Dark Marzipan (2 pieces):  18 grams

I guess I can splurge on a chocolate or 2 at dinner if I eat a dinner with 3 oz. chicken breast and 1 1/2 cups of cooked vegetables (45 grams).

Plus all the cilantro I can chew!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some Reflections on Raising Hapa-Haole Kids

Under this portrait in the book "Part Asian, 100% Hapa"
 is handwritten "Who am I? I am exactly the same as
every other person in 2500."
“Would I be considered an Asian-American actor?” asked my stage-struck thespian son after we listened to an NPR story on a Filipino play—notable for how few Asian-American plays (and roles) are out there.

“Probably—do you consider yourself Asian-American?”

“No, not really.”

“Do you consider yourself White?”


“What do you consider yourself?”

He smiled a little sheepishly, “Hapa-Haole.”

In Hawaii, folks of mixed ancestry are called “Hapa.”  “Hapa” means half.  “Haole” means “without breath,” what Hawaiians called Whites because they didn’t seem to have a soul.
OK, that doesn’t sound good, but at this point in Hawaii, it’s just what Whites are called. . . Haole.  99.9% of Haoles call themselves Haole.  And I suspect the .1% who don’t just moved from the Mainland and may be struggling with the fact that they have to call themselves anything at all.
While IMHO there’s no positive or negative spin to the label “Haole,” there’s an exceedingly positive spin to the label “Hapa.”  In Hawaii, the more mixed your ancestry, the better you’re seen – probably because there’s a high chance you’re more beautiful than pure-bloods.  In school kids would brag, “I’m part Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Scottish, French, Dutch. . .”  The more nationalities mentioned, the more impressed their listeners.  (I tried to make my Han ancestry more interesting, “I’m a quarter Pekinese, Fukienese, Cantonese and Shanhainese with perhaps a touch of Mongolian.”  But that never seemed to impress anyone.)
Hapa is so cool that I’ve had friends tell me I’m lucky I’ve borne Hapa kids, as if they’re qualitatively better than pure-bloods.
So when my son identified himself as Hapa-Haole, my heart felt both a pang and joy at the same time.
A pang because he didn’t pronounce “Hapa-Haole” correctly.  Mainland born and bred, his Hawaiian pronunciation was atrocious.  Yet there’s no better term in Boston for who he is, and so he owns a really positive term from the islands where his mother grew up.
Joy because I’m relieved that thus far, he doesn’t feel like he needs to reject either side of his ancestry.  So far at least, he seems content to be both Chinese and Scottish/English, and that feels like a good thing.
Years ago, when I should have been researching interracial friendships for my dissertation, for a break I decided to look up studies on bi-racial ethnic identity.  One study I found was sobering—it claimed that there were 5 ways bi-racial kids responded to their bi-racial identity, and 4 were extremely negative.  The only positive response wasn’t really a response—it was growing up in Hawaii, the only place where bi-racial or multi-racial identity is positive.
My Haole brother-in-law, with 3 hapa kids of his own, also researched bi-racial identity and found that part of the challenge for bi-racial kids is that both parents are mono-ethnic and therefore don’t know how to help their kids negotiate their bi-racial reality.
Already, my daughters have expressed frustration that certain forms force them to choose between Asian and White.  How do they choose and why should they?   My son is just realizing that being Asian-American, or even more, Hapa, may shrink his already negligible chance of making it to Broadway.
But these past days I’m struck by how safe the racial identity question is for my kids.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but most probably no one will attack them because of who they perceive them to be.  At times, they might even “pass” as White.  Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen killed for “walking while Black” carrying only Skittles and iced tea, didn’t have the same option.
Most Blacks are also Hapa, their ancestry mixed with White and Native blood, yet for most of American history they couldn’t claim a multi-racial identity–in some states one drop of African blood meant you couldn’t be anything but Black.
How can we train our eyes to see beyond the outside and let folks be who they are on the inside?  Can young Hapa-Haole boys aspire to be Broadway actors?  Or even more importantly, can all young Black men someday know they’ll walk home safely, armed only with a pack of Skittles?
This first appeared on What She Said