April 22, 2014

"Seek and You Will Find"

This is what I told my kids as we were preparing for our annual egg hunt on Easter Monday. Partly because I was trying to "spiritualize" :) this part of the Easter holiday, but also because it's a great reminder for us. I told them we must look for God around us.

As I was thinking about the dads in our compound hiding eggs all over the place and us watching excitedly as our kids would come nearer and nearer to the prizes, I wanted them to be reminded that it's similar with our Lord. The dads hid the eggs hoping that the children would be successful. And some were laid bare, within easy view and reach. And some took a bit more seeking to find; a bit more faith that there were still more eggs to discover.

And I was reminded that we must seek after Him, and when we seek, we are promised in the Word that we will find Him.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 
Mathew 7:8

And yet scripture also tells that the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands (Ps. 19:1)

God has not hidden himself from us so we cannot find Him, yet He also enjoys a good "egg hunt" if you don't mind the comparison. God wants us to seek after Him. He wants us to yearn after Him, to anticipate the prize. And our reward is great! We will find Him.

March 29, 2014

When You Holiday...Things Are Not Made Fine

We just returned from a fantastic 5-day getaway where we spent all day everyday doing nothing but swimming in crystal clear warm Indian Ocean and playing in gorgeous white sand. We ate delicious meals that I didn't have to prepare (a big plus when you holiday). We shared this time with my mother-in-law, during her second month-long stay in Madagascar since we moved here in 2012. March this year has been a memory-making month. :)

Our family has never put huge emphasis on vacations or holidays. Not because we don't like holidays, but because it costs money and time. Both of which we had previously spent on renovating our house during the first 6 years of our marriage, or even more recently, improving the current house we live in. Really, this is our 3rd official big getaway as a family in 10 years of marriage... and we enjoyed it! We were reminded once again, how special it is to get out of our normal environment and enjoy each other without the responsibilities of home.

I was also reminded that just because we're on holiday it doesn't mean that job stress, attitudes, and difficulties in life are eliminated.

Don't get me wrong, this particular holiday was probably the  most relaxing one I've ever been on, even with our four children 7 years old and under. But sibling rivalry and sulking when selfish desires weren't met were still our reality. It didn't, by any means, ruin our holiday, but it kept things real. :) It showed me that we can be in a surreal and beautiful place, but sin is still there (in all of our hearts of course, not just the children's).

Our holiday environment can be great and fun and relaxing--we can be removed from our current stresses "real" life has, but then, of course, all fun and relaxing holidays must end, and we return and face those things we wished to leave behind for a time.

Relaxing refreshing times are needed. They really are. And I don't want minimize their importance. But true refreshing and strengthening comes from Christ. The peace and strength He gives to us when we are trusting in Him can't compare to any holiday or vacation that we would desire to experience. That is all temporal. The highs of holidays pass away, yet I think I am rightfully anticipating many more wonderful family holidays away in our future. But I don't want us to be living from holiday to holiday, pining after new experiences in unexplored places. And tricking ourselves by thinking those "if only..." statements--how we are deceived into thinking we would just be happier, or life would be easier somehow if only we were (you fill in the blank).

March 6, 2014

Offer Hospitality to One Another Without Grumbling. ...

... Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:9-10

It's actually truly amazing and glorious the way God has gifted members of his body in unique ways. Firstly, so many different ministries develop and grow for His glory because of diverse talents and abilities people have, but also, in His wisdom and grace it reveals man's insecurity, pride.... sinfulness--our need for His transforming redemption.

What prevents us from offering hospitality to one another?

Often times, it's plain old selfishness. The desire to keep our time to ourselves. Or maybe worrying about our 'lack' of resources. Our house is too small. We have nothing fancy to serve. We are too tired. There's not enough time. But at other times, it's insecurity we battle while comparing ourselves with another brother or sister in Christ. (By the way, insecurity is another fancy word for selfishness when you really stop and think about it.) 

A few comparisons we might make, hindering us from walking in obedience when it comes to providing hospitality and service to others:
  • "I can't do that. It won't be as good as her.."
  • "But she does that so much better."
  • "I saw it done like this once, so we must continue to do it this way."
  • "What will they think?"

These are wrong thoughts. Comparison. It steals our joy when God calls us to do something for His glory. 

But there's another side to this comparison coin.
  • "We're doing this over here. What are they doing?" 

When we ask this question, it just judges others, and we puff ourselves up in pride. We are actually saying, "Look at me. Look at all that I am doing." or "Recognize me!"

This passage rebukes idleness and pride, it glorifies unique gifts and abilities from God, and commands action.

February 27, 2014

Growing Sourdough

My sourdough is literally growing... to the point of having too much bread in the house! Because of my initial reluctance to discard my multiplying starter, we aren't keeping up with the consumption of beautiful bread emerging from the oven. :)

I have made sourdough biscuits, sourdough crepes.. (yum)

How did it all begin?

The most basic and uncomplicated way to begin a sourdough a starter culture is a mixture of flour and water. My first attempt used filtered city water, but I think that contributed to my first fail. Some claim that chlorine in the water may kill any culture you grow. The chlorine is supposed to gas off if the water is left to sit over a 24 hour period, but there was no guarantee the water sitting in my filter was that old.

1. So my second attempt started with 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (Best to use unbleached, however I'm guessing mine isn't since it doesn't say on the package, and I don't know if unbleached is even available to me here in Madagascar) and a scant 1/4 cup store bought spring water.

2. Leave container on the counter and "Feed" starter every 24 hours. I stirred my starter whenever I thought about it with a wooden spoon. Again, there are claims that touching your starter with metal might inhibit growth. Stirring it incorporates air it, supposedly helping capture yeasts. Every 24 hours I fed the starter with 1/8 Cup water, and 1/4 Cup of flour every 24 hours for approximately 10 days or until it looked like these pictures:

You will see large air bubbles forming, plus it smells a bit yeasty and sour, like sourdough.

I read that the starter is ready when it starts rising considerably (or doubling) within 4 to 8 hours of a feeding. Mine never did this.

3. Build up the starter and bake. 
A basic sourdough recipe calls for 2 and 1/3 cups of starter. So if you are taking a starter out of hibernation from the fridge, you may only begin with 1/4 cup. Feed the starter every 4 to 8 hours, with the ratio of 1/4 cup starter:1/4 Cup Water:1/2 Cup Flour.  Or if you have a kitchen scale (the best) 50g starter: 50g water: 50g flour. Keep in mind that with each feeding, you will be increasing amounts but keeping the same ratio. I messed up on this the first time, but it still worked out in the end. However, this means 1/4 cup of starter can lead to a large amount over the course of 3 feedings in 24 hours!

Click here for the recipe post. When baking with sourdough starter, you must allow for a long rise after you knead the dough: 8-24 hours. The longer you let it rise, the better. I have been kneading in the evening, and then letting it rise overnight. This works out perfectly, because then I can bake in the morning and our bread for lunch is good to go!

I also prefer to use a cake pan, so as the bread spreads (it is a very wet and elastic dough) and rises, it doesn't spread out all of the way like a pancake through the night. I find the cake pan helps it keep the bowl shape perfectly.

4. Starter Maintenance. If you won't be baking every day, or even every couple of days, keep your starter in the fridge. Of course this will require more planning since it will take a couple of days from pulling your starter out, to replenishing it, to baking with it. I just keep mine on the counter and feed each evening before I go to bed. That way I always have active fresh starter to work with. If it's kept in the fridge, it should be fed one time per week with the ratios above. You can discard all but a 1/4 cup of starter to keep things from growing out of control, which requires huge feedings.

Many of the tips and recipes I found on www.culturesforhealth.com

February 24, 2014

Sourdough Success

If you know me in person, then you might better understand the passion behind this post and bread-making. I love making bread. I always make bread! I also love making cinnamon buns, burger buns, hotdog buns, french baguettes... It would really be very sad for me if I was told I had to go without bread.

I had a whole-wheat bread recipe down to an exact science in Canada, and it worked beautifully every time. No white flour needed. This was amazing! If you have any experience in bread making, than you know the challenge in obtaining a nice light, fluffy, and large 100% whole wheat loaf of bread.

Since moving to Madagascar, my no-fail whole wheat recipe has failed me repeatedly. I don't know if it is altitude.. quality of ingredients, climate? Kind of bizarre, since bread rises remarkably well in warm humid climates, which we have here in the city. But all of my attempts at my whole wheat recipe have mostly ended up with heavy bricks, barely resembling light and fluffy bread I would want to serve my family, nevermind consume myself!

Thus my quest to find a more healthful option than a plain basic white loaf. I figured, if my whole wheat recipe isn't working, the next best thing is sourdough. Actually, some websites claim that sourdough is even superior to whole wheat bread because of the healthy bacteria in the bread and the lengthy time for making--breaking down phytic acids etc. This bread is claimed easier to digest, and better for intestinal health.

I had tried to grow a starter from scratch in Canada without success. So I was hesitant to grow one here. But after much much much reading others' experiences online, I felt it was worth another go.

My first attempt at growing a starter DID fail - and turned into a yucky smelly gluey thing...


My second attempt ended up with these beautiful loaves!

Basic Sourdough (makes 2 bowl loaves, 8" diameter)
2 Cup Starter
3  1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1/2 to 3/4 Cups warm water
3/4 Tablespoon Salt

Combine ingredients, adding water gradually, to make a very elastic dough. You will knead the dough by hand for at least 15 minutes, or until it passes the "window-pane" test. This is when you can stretch the dough and see light passing through without it breaking. I do this in my KitchenAid mixer to avoid fatigue. :) But you can do the kneading in two separate sessions if you want.

Shape into 2 round balls, and place each in a deep round baking pan, I use a round cake pan, lined with parchment. Cover and rise in a warm place until doubled in size. I rise mine overnight, or for 10 hours at least. The longer it's left to rise the more the sourness flavour is developed and better rising.
Bake in a preheated oven at 400F degrees for 30-60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer when inserted in the loaf registers above 190C. Cool for at least 20 minutes on a rack before slicing. This bread is much easier to slice once completely cooled.

Check back for pictures of my starter and a little more detail of the process.

February 22, 2014

Two Are Better Than One

Relationships in my life have been such a blessing to me. When I reflect back I can see how in different seasons of my life God has provided special friendships offering encouragement and instruction.

Often it's easy to think about what we would like to gain from a friendship with somebody else. Or rather, we think about how much work it is to maintain a friendship with so-and-so.

What can we gain? This might sound harsh at first... but really think on it. How often do we consider what we could give in a friendship with another.

God wants to use us in our relationships with other people, and He's gifted us in unique individual ways to bless others.

In a relationship that is focused on blessing another person:
  • we don't wait to be invited out
  • we are the first to initiate, and that's ok
  • we don't expect back
  • we bear the others' burdens alongside
  • we are excited for the other's blessings in life and rejoice along with
  • we seek the good for them
But what if you are on the receiving end of a relationship? Ladies please be humble and graciously receive the gift from the other with a heart of thanks. When she offers to pay for your coffee, let her without putting up a fuss. Say "Thank-You." Affirm to her, the blessing she is to you as your friend.

Let others help and give as they are led by God: They are trying to obey God too, so give them that freedom and let them.

I am convinced that we truly can't know the extent of our influence in somebody's life. (This could be a frightening thought also) We may never be privileged to find out how we blessed another person. That is part of the great faith-walk. As we step out and obey, serving women around us, as God leads us to, we may only see one tiny corner of the huge painting He is crafting. And that's ok. There are literally countless things in this life we won't fully know. It's part of the beauty and mystery of walking with Him.

February 6, 2014

Chicken Stock (Twice Over)

There really isn't any reason we should be running to the store and grabbing boxes of chicken oxo cubes, or cans/boxes of chicken stock.
1. It is expensive
2. It is full of added ingredients you should really limit! (msg, SALT, for some well-known products see here for their list of ingredients)

Making home made stock couldn't be easier:
1. Save chicken bones from any whole you chickens you consume (even rotisserie from the store)
2. Save chicken bones from any meal that features bone-in chicken
3. Save carrot peels, tops and ends, celery ends (if you like celery)
4. Keep a ziplock bag in your freezer for leftover carrot peels, bits of onions and celery
5. Keep another bag in the freezer to collect any chicken bones

When I have accumulated about 2 cups of bones and 2 cups of peelings and vegetable bits, I combine everything in my slow-cooker and cook it overnight on low, or for at least 12 hours.

Re-Use Those Bones!

Cook those things until they're crumbling between your fingers. But be sure to use cheesecloth or a nut-bag or something similar to strain your cooled stock. In re-using the bones, your second and third batches won't be as rich, however there's plenty of vitamins and minerals left to make it worth it! This ("twice over") broth can be used to cook rice, boil pasta with, or in other dishes where the stock isn't the main feature.

For a great frugal bone-broth resource see the Nourishing Gourmet

Storing Your Stock:

Cool the stock completely in the fridge, even for a few days, before skimming the fat. And keep that fat in a jar! I use it to sautee onions, or really any vegetable. I like to freeze the stock in 2-cup portions, and also a tray or 2 of ice cubes. This way I can pull out small amounts if I only need 1/4 of a cup for a sauce or something like that.
You can keep the stock in the fridge for up to 5 days, and if you don't use it before then, just bring it to a boil again and it's safe to store for an additional five.