Perfect potato salad

I have tried many times throughout my life as an adult cook to replicate the big picnic comfort food of my childhood but I never came close. As far as I can remember all my mother ever did was toss potatoes, chopped celery, and hardboiled eggs with lots of Miracle Whip. I tried that once and hated it. I learned that ever since I tasted real mayonnaise and even sometimes made my own, I cannot stand the sweet/harsh acid taste of Miracle Whip. Continue reading

High priest of chocolate

Chocolate holy man Eladio Pop shows off a prize cacao tree to tourists.

Chocolate holy man Eladio Pop shows off a prize cacao tree to tourists.

The cacao farm was not our first choice for an excursion but Ian, our host at Hickatee Cottages in Punta Gorda, Belize, brought it up a few times on the evening we arrived, as we were planning our activities for the next three days, and so I finally asked him exactly what tours he recommended. He quickly said, “The cacao farm, Blue Creek Cave, the Mayan ruins of Lubaantum, and Rio Bianco waterfall. You can do all that in two days and I’ll get you the best guide. Then you can take a day to explore Punta Gorda itself.” Continue reading

Holy Communion at the Hibachi

“I guess this is our secret vice,” I said to my husband over our after-church lunch. “We’d never invite our friends to join us here, would we?” He chuckled and glanced at the not-too-clean couple at the table next to us, then down at his plate piled high with samplings from the bounteous buffet of the Hibachi Grill.

It is possible to eat healthy at Hibachi if you choose carefully. But we don’t always. And it is not the nice array of fruit right out front that draws the clientele of the Hibachi Grill, or even the to-order stirfrys in the back, which give the place its name. It is the price–$4.99 for seniors like us, $5.99 for other adults, $2.99 for kids for all you can eat of a hodgepodge array of vaguely Chinese/Japanese/American foods guaranteed to fill you up. Continue reading

Terrible Tuesdays

What is your hardest day of the week? Mine is Tuesday. My husband leaves early Tuesday morning for three days of work in the city and, if loneliness is going to hit me, it is always that day. It gnawed at me yesterday. I needed somebody else around to anchor me. Even my late cat would have helped. I found myself missing Lalo even more than my husband (sorry, Vic). Continue reading

The pipeline and the prairie


I followed the big digger being hauled down the country road that is the most direct route from the YMCA to our CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm. The combination of yoga and veggie pickup has made Tuesday morning the highlight of the week, but this was the last time I would be picking up vegetables. The truck was going 25 mph but I was in no hurry.

It was a symbolic end to the vegetable season. I was one of only 10 members in Farmer Theri’s CSA this year. Her season has been cut short and she couldn’t plant her back plots at all because they were marked to be dug up to lay the Enbridge replacement pipeline. The diggers have just now churned up her barnyard.

Last haul

Last haul

The digger was headed for another segment of the pipeline not far away. A dotted line of dirt piles marks the pipeline’s path across Michigan. Somehow I expected the tunneling to start in the west and proceed east, like the oil. Instead, the digging might start anywhere along the line and proceed in either direction. Here it moves mostly east to west but in a broken line. The dots will eventually be connected.

Meanwhile I work on my part of the story. I’m not doing anything heroic like getting arrested for sitting in a company driveway, like my friend Sandra Steingraber did to protest fracking in upstate New York. I am just trying to see that the small grant Enbridge is giving our township for “environmental restoration” gets used appropriately. This is in addition to direct compensation to landowners. It’s pure guilt money and not much: $15,000 for the long scar Enbridge is drawing across the belly of our rural township.


I wrote how the township committee responded enthusiastically to my proposal to do something for my favorite piece of wetland, the rare wet blooming prairie a mile from my house. I tossed that ball into the court of Chickaming Open Lands, the conservation group that manages the prairie. Yesterday the development director called back.

“We talked about it,” she said, “and what we’d like to propose is a boardwalk out into the prairie so people can see it better.”

That was exactly what the township committee had proposed, but I hadn’t mentioned that detail to the Chickaming people. I was elated. Maybe it would be easier than I thought to get a politically conservative township and a liberal conservation group on the same page.

I called the township supervisor and reported the conversation. He seemed pleased but he said, “I was just down at the firehouse. You know, everybody has a project they’d like to get funded.”

Of course. Conversations will go on although our ad hoc committee was supposed to make this decision.

Still, he promised to link up with the conservation group. We’ll see. I’m not taking bets on where this project will stand by the time I get back from Congo in mid-October. But I’m voting for the prairie.


Food stress

Yikes. This is what happens when I let up just the least bit on the diet discipline. I am up 3 pounds from my goal weight, which, by the way, lasted only that one week. The weight comes back right to my midriff, a ballooning muffin top that I can feel growing by the day.

I just dumped into the trash the cinnamon rolls and Pringles that my latest houseguest didn’t finish. I didn’t even compost them. They would poison the animals that check out the garbage. What possessed me to buy bread, chips, ice cream? The stress of not knowing what to feed people.

The food thing is really the biggest stress of having houseguests. This is true even when it’s our kids, whether it’s their food restrictions or ours, or the changing tastes of the little one. We develop our own eating and food prep patterns. As a good hostess I am attentive to the tastes of my guests and I don’t feel quite right just making them eat the way I do day by day.

I just read an article about Bill Clinton going vegan. He entertained the reporter, who was expecting tasteless food. Of course, some wonderful chef had laid out a feast of all kinds of wonderful salads and dips and beany things–things I know how to prepare, and also how much time it takes to do so. Sure, it is wonderful to go vegan, and you can make things taste really good as long as the people you are serving have a sense of food adventure and you have time and you don’t mind missing the mark sometimes with a dish.

But my guest for much of the past two weeks was a teenager from Congo who was accustomed to an entirely predictable diet of rice, fufu, manioc greens, meat, and fish (not so much the fish). Back home she’d also had a chance to develop a taste for soft bread and chips of all kinds, as well as sweets, especially vanilla ice cream. So after I had watched her picking at my healthy vegetables and mostly leaving them on the plate and taking her slender self away from the table to chat with her 2,000 facebook friends on my iPad, I started giving in to her tastes and let her pick her diet off the grocery shelves, rather than trying to cook up, juice, and salad-i-fy my bounty of CSA produce. In the process, I got off track myself because I don’t like to prepare two or three different dinners.

I can’t blame Deborah for those 3 pounds. My body is just trying really hard to get fat again. There is no such thing as a weight-maintenance diet for me. It is lose or gain and I’m gaining, fast. Gotta go back to losing.

But first we are getting together with my brothers and spouses this weekend in North Dakota. Most of us struggle with the weight thing but I don’t see us getting together to go on long walks. We will eat together (all healthy food of course) and sit around talking and laughing and arguing. I’ll probably pack on another pound because that’s just the way it is. A good time will be had by all.

How to eat a lot of veggies

Today's haul

Today’s haul

What were we thinking, joining two CSAs this year?

I was thinking you can never have too many fresh vegetables, even if you are only two people and even if it is a bumper-crop year for the farmers who are growing your vegetables.

I was thinking I’d freeze or juice all those extra veggies.

We made this decision back in February, when we were hungry for vegetables and summer.

But now it is July and we are getting a big box of vegetables every Sunday and Tuesday and it is one mad scramble to keep up. My goal is to eat or preserve everything, wasting nothing grown by the labor of our farmer friends.

The scramble this year includes scrambling eggs. One CSA gives us eggs and I didn’t have the heart to tell the farmer we are pretty much vegan. They are really good eggs. I eat one every now and then. When we have guests I make a lot of eggs for breakfast. But right now I have 20 eggs in the fridge and one guest arriving for six days. Can she eat three a day? I will not force feed her.

Zucchini is always a losing battle but I was doing really well. I was down to only three until today, when I got three more. Time to freeze again.

There is a trick to eating a lot of vegetables: make them smaller.

Juicing is one way to do this. You can cram a lot of vegetables into your juicer and they trickle out as pure nutrition, minus the filler.

However, because of excess supply I have skewed my juice recipes toward greens and cucumbers without the balancing sweetness of apples and pears, which are not yet in season, so my juices taste like they are really good for you but … not really good.

Cooking is still the easiest way to make greens smaller. Stirfry, stirfry, stirfry.

My favorite way to make kale smaller is to tear it up for a raw salad and then massage a dressing into it until it wilts down and turns really dark green. A sweet balsamic vinegar, salt, and olive oil work well. The massage reduces the bitterness of raw kale as well as its volume. I can eat a lot of kale this way.

Both our farmers are having really good cucumber years. You can’t cook cucumbers. You can’t freeze them. I don’t like pickles all that much and I really don’t like making them.

Today I got a fresh supply of cucumbers. I thought we had been eating a lot of cucumbers in our salads and using them in juice but I dug 10 cucumbers out of my fridge from previous weeks. Sadly, one was ready for the compost bucket.

I juiced a cucumber and tasted the juice plain. Yuck. I juiced another with an orange. Not bad. Eight to go. Oh. Plus four that I got today. Twelve cucumbers to use before Sunday, when we will no doubt get more.

The principle of making vegetables smaller applies in a technique that is opposite from juicing: extracting the water from them. This works especially well for cucumbers. It also can apply to cabbage and zucchini.

So I sliced up a lot of those cucumbers and a red onion in my food processor and mixed them with a little salt. After a half hour I squeezed out the water. They’d wilted down by about half. I tossed them with a little sugar, cider vinegar, and oil. This salad will keep for days in the fridge.

My husband and I grew up on this salad, a staple of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. I guess our ancestors had a lot of cucumbers to deal with.

Vintage salad in vintage bowl

Vintage salad in vintage bowl



3D render of a gold starI shouted this to my husband this morning and he didn’t know what I was referring to at first. Oh. You reached your goal weight. Good.

I’ll admit it was a bit anticlimactic because I’ve been hovering close to 145.8 for two months and actually reached it several times but never on Weigh-in Saturday until today.

My reward on Weight Watchers online was a star that was larger than other milestone stars and it bounced. I was offered the option of setting a new goal and reminded that my healthy weight was 109 to 137. Yes I know but I’m not going there yet, if ever.

So I chose the option of maintaining the current weight and then checked my food tracker and saw that I was now allotted 32 points for the day instead of 26—a 23 percent increase. I spent three extra points on a slice of rice millet toast with coconut butter and honey, along with my usual small bowl of cereal and fruit. (I have been craving sweet recently and ate several spoonfuls of that Trader Joe’s organic honey from India yesterday.) I am now feeling quite full.

I think I would gain weight on 32 points a day to say nothing of the 49 extra allotted each week for indulgences, which I seldom dip into very far. So basically I have to keep doing what I have been doing recently. Pretty boring.

Slow weight loss is good but 8 months to take off 22 pounds is ridiculous. However, I was already eating healthily and exercising quite a lot when I started so it took extra discipline. Plus I am 68 and I really do think it is harder to lose weight as you get older.

I was within a pound of goal at the 6-month mark, when I bought all my new clothes. It just took me two months to take off the last pound.

I don’t think buying the new clothes prematurely is why the last pound took so long to come off. My body and spirit were just needing to let up a little on the discipline. When you start eating maple syrup by the spoonful and heading straight to the olive bar at Whole Foods, you know you need something you haven’t been getting.

(We now have a Whole Foods in the nether reaches of Michiana though not yet a Trader Joe’s. When TJ arrives we will have at last joined the United States of Couth. Plenty of uncouthness here to go around still—every brand of all-you-can-eat excess fried fast cheap gloppy yummy to-go supersize self-destruction available, by car no sidewalks.)

Last September I wrote that I would be ecstatic to get back to what I weighed 7 years ago when I was feeling fat in Japan. And I am! Who-hoo! But this morning I am also thinking there are a few things I don’t like about weight loss. (Discipline isn’t one of them. I enjoy being disciplined. It brings its own rewards.)

1. It comes off where you don’t need it to. Like my face and hands. One friend who hadn’t seen me for months said she missed my round cheeks. I do too. They made me look like my sweet mother. Now I look more like my thin-chinned Aunt Irene.

Thus losing weight does not solve all my appearance problems. I must keep working on my posture. I am still an older woman and look like one though truly I feel much younger than I did a year ago.

2. I become judgmental. I feel superior to and sorry for all the obese people who are walking around the track and huffing and puffing on the machines at the Y. I am smug about having nipped my weight problem in the bud before it got that bad. And I feel a tinge of scorn for the other obese people who are sitting around watching their kids swim or do gymnastics rather than moving themselves.

Reminder: Even 22 extra pounds sapped my energy and made it really hard for me get my butt moving. Those who are working out are heroes. Those who are sitting represent what I felt like doing 8 months ago.

3. It can make you want to give advice to others. Everybody who loses weight wants to do this and I am no exception, though I try to rein myself in and talk only about my own experience. During this personal campaign I came to the stunning realization that I am responsible only for myself. I am not responsible for the way other people eat except those who eat at my table.

In fact, the more I talk about it the more I may turn people off. I may inspire guilt rather than courage. But writing about my effort has been good. It has helped to keep me focused and accountable just a bit beyond myself.

So thank you for reading and cheering me on.



I guess I have found my weight maintenance, as opposed to weight loss formula: stick with the plan except have seconds every now and then, or a few evening snacks. I have been doing this for several weeks because the strict discipline I need to actually lose weight is flagging. Obeying my body and indulging my spirits, I am letting up a little. And indeed, I am holding steady.

But I am hovering half or three-quarters of a pound above my goal, which is 145.8. (I did see it once but it disappeared by my weekly weigh-in day.)

Why that odd number for a goal? It is 10 percent below the weight at which I signed on to Weight Watchers. It is actually more than 10 percent below my starting weight, because I lost more than 5 pounds on my own before WW. But I read somewhere that losing more than 10 percent at a time isn’t good because it encourages rebounding. Maybe my body is saying, you already lost more than your 10 percent, let’s just keep it there for a while.

But this is very boring. I want to reach a milestone. I want to see what bells and whistles WW online offers when I reach goal and 10 percent at the same time. (Those little stars and words of cyber praise bring a silly kind of satisfaction.)

What I really want to do is throw the discipline out the window.

However, what this low hovering is teaching me is that if I think losing 22 pounds is hard, guess what. Keeping them off is even harder. Because I’ll have to keep up the discipline without the reward of seeing weekly progress.

I’ll have to keep up the three miles a day or equivalent.

I’ll have to keep counting points and stick close to the minimum.

I’ll have to keep drowning the evening snacking urges in herbal tea.

One six-ounce glass of wine, weekends only.


All of this will have to continue after I reach that magical, mythical 145.8. Reaching my goal changes nothing. I may be able to let up a little, like I have been doing recently, but not a lot.

What has to change is my mentality. Setting a goal tricks you into adopting discipline. Eventually you will reach the goal and, unless you can immediately set another goal,  you have to concentrate on the intrinsic rewards of that discipline. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

The fact is, my tummy feels much better going to bed on chamomile tea rather than Trader Joe’s Sesame Sticks. I can’t even drink two glasses of wine anymore without getting a headache. The thought of cheesecake turns my stomach. If I crave anything it’s veggies and brown rice and some sweet, ripe papaya.

My daily exercise makes me feel good and sleep well. My energy level is at a new normal, much higher than before. Even though the midriff bulge isn’t gone, it’s hideable. I like looking in the mirror and I like trying on clothes.

I have to remind myself of these things and be grateful and pat myself on the back. That’s a good shoulder stretch, too.

Goals, objectives, and God

In my professional life I learned to sling the jargon of strategic planning. I know the difference between goals and objectives. And I know how to write reports and proposals that make it sound like the life of an organization or a person can be arranged in a logical hierarchy: the overarching mission, then the goal, then the objectives that serve as milestones toward the goal.

Generally, however, I don’t believe it. I think life is much more organic, less predictable, and both more difficult and fun than that. Life is not logical. Life happens in the unpredicted cracks in the sidewalk of your consciousness. This is true for organizations as well as people.

But recently my life has surprised me by sorting itself into goals and objectives. True, it has done this in an upside-down way. The objectives have come first and the goal has emerged more slowly, but now that the goal has emerged the objectives make sense, they hang together. They clearly lead to the goal and are necessary if I am to accomplish it.

The goal is to write a book about Congo through the lens of the joy of worship music–écrire un livre sur Congo à travers le prisme de la joie de la musique d’adoration (I am running everything through a mental or Google translator these days).

I was not able to articulate this goal until very recently, although versions of it popped up now and then over the past year. I have only sensed the need for a Next Big Thing, a major writing project, without being able to define it.

Instead, certain objectives presented themselves one by one. I have been acting on these objectives without knowing the goal, in fact, because I didn’t know the goal. I didn’t know what the Next Big Thing was but I could do each of these smaller things that presented themselves and captured my attention. (I have blogged about all of these but won’t pepper this post with links.)

1. Learn. I edited a book about the Congo Mennonite Church in late 2011 to early 2012 and in the process learned the church’s fascinating history, something I hadn’t learned in my three years in Congo back in the seventies.

2. Go. But my involvement with Congo Cloth Connection predated that, and I went to Congo last May with that project. I had a great time and my love of Congo Cloth expanded to include Congolese church music.

3. Network. Following up on both of these things, I decided to go to Congo again for the centennial celebration in July. Thus in the space of a few months I was drawn into a network of warm relationships with Congolese Mennonites.

4. Deepen. Last fall I began working with a spiritual director and established a meditation practice.

5. Publish. I decided I couldn’t move on to a Next Big Thing until I decided what to do with a manuscript that had been languishing for several years in the “what am I going to do with this” pile. In the course of a few months I revised and published it as The Dream Matrix.

6. Energize. The July Congo trip had worn me out. I decided I needed to lose weight and adopt a diet and fitness regime for maximum energy. I have done this over the course of the past eight months: Weight Watchers, gluten-free, mostly vegan, 3 miles a day. Two-tenths of a pound to go as of today to reach my goal (objective!) weight.

7. Flow. My daughter-in-law gave me a Christmas gift prompt that led me to adopt the word “flow” as my theme this year, to keep all these streams flowing and moving in the same direction. It worked when I needed it most, in the first quarter of this year.

8. Dream. Publishing The Dream Matrix prompted me to lead a dream class in church and pay attention once again to my own dreams. Some of this sequence has emerged through those dreams.

9. Partner. The Congo relationships have continued to blossom as I work on a partnership between my church and a congregation in Kinshasa, host visitors, and address cross-cultural challenges.

10. Write. Writing this blog has catalyzed each of these developments because I write my life—I write about it and I write my life into being if that makes sense. But in addition, just as I was beginning to dare to articulate my goal, an opportunity came up to write—to travel to Congo in September and October of this year to report on the ordination of the first women in the last branch of the Congo Mennonite Church that had been holding out on ordaining women. Choirs will be there. I know some of these women. My husband and I are beginning to plan our trip.

All of these objectives just happen to lead toward this newly articulated goal. This, my friends, is how I experience God. God is in the gift of the goal, God is in the timing of each of these so-called objectives. Maybe God is the great Strategic Planner.