It’s Time To Salsa, Baby

Since tomorrow is October 1, I suppose summer is more or less over. My garden however did not get that memo. It’s still full of juicy ripening tomatoes, hot habanero chiles, sweet green peppers and plump tomatillos. I’d say we’re going to harvest a few more bowlfuls before the weather gets too fall-ish.

Today’s gorgeous ripe vegetables make the perfect mix of salsa ingredients, so that’s what I’ve done. I scoured my cookbooks for ideas and then, using the techniques I found, came up with my own salsa version based on what I had from my garden’s bounty.

Here’s my Summer Salsa “recipe”:

Pile of tomatillos, paper husks removed
Pile of ripe tomatoes
2-4 hot chile peppers, depending on how hot you like your salsa, halved and with seeds/ cores removed
1-2 small white onions cut in quarters
1-2 bunches of cilantro
salt to taste

Put the tomatillos, tomatoes, chile peppers and onions on a cookie sheet. Place under a hot broiler on high and roast for about 10 minutes, until starting to blacken and juices are flowing. Remove from oven once appear somewhat “melted,” or roast another 5-10 minutes until the vegetables start to break down.

Allow the roasted veggies to cool slightly and peel off the tomato skins.  Put the roasted veggies and their juices in a food processor or blender along with as much cilantro as you like and some salt (start with less, you can always add more). Blend until as chunky or smooth as you like (I prefer slightly chunky) and voila, delicious summer salsa with all the fresh flavors of your garden!

I’ve now made the above recipe twice, once using more tomatoes than tomatillos, the second time using far more tomatillos. The latter makes more of a “salsa verde” whereas the former is more of your traditional salsa you might be served with chips in your neighborhood Mexican restaurant. Both are delicious.

Coming tomorrow: Chicken tortilla soup using your excess Summer Salsa

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Voting As A Christian – A Refreshing View

I received the email below from my mother-in-law, Florence, who attends the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio. I was inspired by this pastor’s perspective on how believers can approach voting with a unique perspective. I especially appreciated his thoughtful example working through the issue of illegal immigration. Voting is not black and white for anyone, regardless of faith, and I’m glad to hear this challenge to think before voting and to use the Bible as a springboard.

Voting as a Resident Alien

Rich Nathan
Congregational Email – October 2008

In the upcoming election, the question that ought to be on the hearts of all Christian believers is, “How should I approach my voting decision?” About 20 years ago, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote a book provocatively titled, Resident Aliens. Resident Aliens had to do with the way that we Christians understand our fundamental identity and our calling in contemporary America. The idea behind this title, Resident Aliens, came from a quote from the Apostle Paul: “But our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20-21). In other words, our primary identity is not as Ohioans or Americans. We Christians are, first and foremost, citizens of the kingdom of God.

Hauerwas and Willimon argue that we must regain our vision of being a distinct community with a calling to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians need to be different than people around us and have a distinctive way of looking at issues that affect our society.

Wearing Bible Spectacles
What is the peculiar way that we Christians should look at the issues affecting the upcoming election? John Calvin, the great Protestant Reformer and author of The Institutes of Christian Religion, said that we Christians look at the world through “Bible spectacles.” In other words, everyone looks at life through a set of lenses based upon our culture, our life experiences, our self-interests, etc. Calvin suggested that for the Christian, the Bible serves as the God-given set of lenses profoundly shaping our vision of life.

So what does this mean for the upcoming election?

Inadequate Bases for Voting
There are many inadequate bases upon which the majority of Americans (including Christians) vote. For example:

  • Voting by Heritage – My parents always voted Republican or Democrat, therefore, I will vote as they did.
  • Voting by Tribe – My tribe (white suburbanites, black city dwellers, evangelicals, Roman Catholics, etc.) always votes a certain way, so I will vote that way.
  • Voting by Voter Guides – Virtually all voting guides (including “Christian” ones) are by their selection of the issues designed to push the voter towards a certain candidate.
  • Voting by Campaign Advertising – Guess who the campaign advertiser wants you to vote for?
  • Voting by Media Interpretation – Do you think that CNN, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, or Michael Moore are wearing Bible spectacles as they interpret issues and candidates?
  • Voting by Purely Secular Concerns – Secular concerns may include cost-benefit calculations, security concerns, pandering to fears and prejudices, appeals to self-interests, etc.

Most of these things have nothing to do with looking at life through Biblical lenses.

The Limits of Biblical Thinking
Just because we read the Bible doesn’t mean that we will all arrive at the same conclusion. If we did, we wouldn’t have hundreds and thousands of different denominations. And just because we all read the Bible doesn’t mean we will all share the same political viewpoints. Why is that?

  1. Because we can’t point to any particular verse in the Bible that plainly tells us to vote Democrat or Republican.
  2. Because though the Bible is infallible, our interpretation of the Bible is not infallible. And our application of the Bible to contemporary issues is certainly not going to be infallible.
  3. Because reasonable Christians may differ on the prioritization of items upon which the Bible speaks.

And even when we agree on the specific issues on every Christian’s agenda (poverty, war, abortion, religious freedom, etc.) reasonable Christians may very much disagree on the best way to tackle these issues. In other words, we may agree with each other on the principles, but reasonably differ with each other on how to apply our principles.

Beginning with the Bible
My concern as a Christian pastor is to disciple our church to begin with the Bible in all of our thinking. While we may differ on working out the Bible into such complex issues as voting, I would be overjoyed to discover that members of Vineyard Columbus at least began with the Bible in thinking about voting.

Let me apply this to one real world issue, illegal immigration. Recently the Columbus Dispatch ran a series of articles on illegal immigration. Their secular analysis focused exclusively upon security concerns for Americans, economics (Do immigrants take jobs away from Americans, or simply take jobs that Americans would not take? Are illegal immigrants a burden on the American taxpayer, or do they pay back more in tax money and in unclaimed Social Security than they put in?), and issues of crime (are illegal immigrants more or less dangerous than American citizens?). Arguments for and against these secular concerns were marshaled.

While these issues are not unimportant, I would hope that attenders of Vineyard Columbus would first put on biblical spectacles when approaching the issue of illegal immigration. The biblical Christian would:

  1. Begin with the conviction that illegal immigrants are persons made in God’s image and are, therefore, worthy of respect and dignity. (Genesis 1:26,28).
  2. Appreciate the fact that many of our spiritual ancestors were themselves economic refugees. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob moved from the Promised Land on several occasions in search of food (Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 41:57; 42:6; 43:1-7). The story of Ruth is the story of an immigrant who continually crossed national borders in search of food. Other spiritual ancestors of ours were pushed out of their homeland because of war or persecution (Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, and the baby Jesus). So immigration because of economics, war, and asylum-seeking is not far from every Christian’s own heritage.
  3. Specifically apply the Second Commandment to illegal immigrants: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
  4. Care for immigrants since they had a central place in the laws and practices of ancient Israel. Israel was commanded to love immigrants because God loves immigrants. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
  5. Be hospitable according to New Testament teaching which literally means to “love the stranger” or the alien (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Jesus commanded his followers to welcome people who had no social standing such as the poor, the sick, and the outsider (Luke 14:12-14).

Now none of these Bible passages answer the question about whether we should build a wall covering the whole length of the border between the United States and Mexico, or whether we ought to educate the children of illegal immigrants here in the United States in our public schools. But these biblical considerations, in my mind at least, do shape a Christian’s heart so that we are more inclined to be tolerant, welcoming, and inclusive of immigrants who come to America seeking work or asylum.

My bottom line appeal to you, who read this letter, is this: We Christians must look at issues facing America differently than does the rest of society. We should not be motivated primarily by partisan rhetoric, economic expediency, or ingrained voting preferences. Rather, we Christians are to look at the world through the spectacles that God has provided for us – the lenses of biblical thinking. Our citizenship in heaven ought to be more important to us than any earthly nationality. And on any specific issue, the tack we take ought to correspond with our Lord’s heart revealed in the Bible.

In this election, vote as a resident alien, someone whose loyalty is first and foremost to the kingdom of God.

One More Bag From Afghanistan

This Kuchi bag didn’t make it up on my blog the other day but here it is. The Kuchis are a semi-nomadic minority group in Afghanistan and these clutch bags use their traditional style of exuberant detailed embroidery.  Sewn into the border are tiny little mirrors which dance and sparkle when they catch light. Afghanistan might well be the hardest country in the world to be a woman.  The highly-skilled women who make these bags live tough lives to be sure.  By getting a fair wage for their work hopefully their burdens are made just a tiny bit lighter.

Healthcare Is A Human Right And Our Nation Is Violating It

Watching last night’s presidential debate with our good friends, Jeff and Becky, sparked many interesting discussions. Although it was not the central topic of the debate, of particular interest was our conversation about universal healthcare. Is it a right or a privilege?

I believe it’s a basic right and our nation violates it every single day. The Declaration of Independence starts with:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalieanble rights, that among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We have declared since the foundation of our nation that all our citizens have the right to life, and yet everyday someone goes bankrupt who can’t pay his healthcare bills or somebody dies because she couldn’t pay for her prescription medicine.  Our market-based system has allowed costs to sky-rocket to the point that we are all just one illness away from catastrophe, regardless of our coverage. My husband is a physician and we have excellent health insurance but even it has limits on what it will cover for us.

We universally cover everyone in our country with police and fire protection. The fire department would never put out a fire at someone’s house and then a few days later send them a bill so astronomical they had to sell what was left of that house to pay for it. We would be shocked and outraged if that happened. But that happens all the time to people who go to the hospital in our country without health insurance. They are treated in the emergency room or even admitted for care. They go home once they are stable and then the bills start trickling in, bills that can take everything they have.

No other developed nation does this! From Taiwan (see clip above) to Canada to Switzerland to Germany and Japan, every other developed nations and even some developing, like Thailand, have figured out ways to make sure everyone has healthcare.

And it’s not all “socialized,” that is, it’s not all government delivered. Ten years Switzerland had a privatized healthcare system similar to ours. Their citizens decided they were sick (literally) of some people slipping through the cracks. They kept their private insurance companies but made sure no one could be denied by an insurance company and put a few rules in place to make sure everyone could afford it as well.

It’s also a false rumor that if you have universal healthcare, the quality slips.  PBS created an excellent documentary, Frontline’s Sick Around The World (see clips above), which you can watch in full online in addition to the clips I’ve posted here.  In it the witty host, T.R. Reid, visits multiple developed nations and asks them how they do healthcare. He finds that not only does nobody in any of those nations ever go bankrupt from healthcare bills, he finds that in general people are satisfied with their care and it’s still high-quality.

Healthcare outcomes tracked by organizations like the World Health Organization back up the quality of care in other developed nations. The U.S. falls embarrassingly low in health measures compared to other countries of equal or even lesser wealth, even though we spend more per capita than any other nation in the world! For infant mortality rates, we rank 32nd among the world’s nations, on par with countries like Poland and Slovakia. More than 5 of every 1000 babies born die in our country. In Japan that number is under 2 per 1000.

Our two presidential candidates both have plans of some sort. McCain’s plan will cause just as many people to lose health insurance as will gain it. His plan is a wash. Obama’s plan will leave our private system in place but adjust it so it works for us, adding a government buy-in plan for people whose employers do not offer healthcare, among many facets. His plan is not perfect by any stretch but it’s a huge leap in the right direction.

Obama has a decent plan. McCain essentially has no plan. For me, the choice is clear.

See my previous post about healthcare, including a link to a table comparing the two candidate’s plans.

Look What Afghan Women Can Do!

Yesterday DHL pulled up just as I arrived home. I love it when DHL pulls up! It means a big box of goodies has arrived from somewhere exotic. This time that exotic land was Afghanistan and the products were purses, totes and Christmas ornaments.

How do I get bags shipped to me from Afghanistan, you ask? Here’s the scoop. My in-laws went to Afghanistan earlier this year for a month to volunteer at a hospital. My mother-in-law, Florence, returned with a contact for me, an organization called Zardozi. I looked them up and was enamored with their products, not to mention their story. Zardozi has been around since the 80’s, when they started a sewing center to train Afghan women how to use their skills to make marketable products. Now they work mainly with Afghan refugee women who live in Pakistan or in eastern Afghanistan. Many are starting to return home and they’re able to bring their new skills with them, continuing to work and therefore provide schooling and healthcare for their kids. This is incredible in a country with a history of confining women to the house, let alone allowing them to work. Working with Zardozi allows the women to work from home, while they’re with their children, and still have an income.

The bags blew me away when I opened them yesterday. Only a few up are up on my site so far but more will be up soon. I love the Glitter Bag (above). It’s big enough for me with all the toddler gear I haul around and so pretty but sturdy too. My friend Katie was ooing and aaing over the Pomegrante Tote (below) when she saw it yesterday. And I can’t wait to show you the Kuchi bag, which I don’t have a good photo of yet. It has literally thousands of colorful stitches in this exuberant traditional style from a semi-nomadic people of Aghanistan plus those cute little mirrors you see sewn into South Asian textiles.

All in all, I’m thrilled to introduce Zardozi to the Bambootique family! Watch for more Zardozi products on my site in the next few days!

Hi I’m Vinegar And I Do Floors And Windows

OK, so I know I said a few weeks ago I’d let you in on my “secret” formulas for making my own cleaning products. The real secret is that they’re not at all secrets. Today I’ll tell you how I’ve discovered the wonders of vinegar for cleaning floors and windows.

I’ve been using vinegar and water to clean my hickory hardwood floors since our house was built 3 years ago. The guys who installed the floors are actually the ones who recommended it. They told me the store-bought floor cleaners are a waste of money, not to mention contain chemicals bad for hardwood floors when used over the years.

Here’s the recipe, which I mix in a spray bottle I bought at Target for about $3:

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 gallon water

You never want to get hardwood floors very wet (eg. don’t soak and then mop) or else the water can soak in and cause damage. Instead I spray a small portion of the floor and then go over it with Swiffer type mop, the kind with the soft fabric head that pulls off and can be thrown in the wash. For spot cleaning I just spray the dirty area and wipe it with a cloth on my hands and knees. My floors are gorgeous and my wallet’s happy.

For windows I use the same mixture but with a slightly different ratio of vinegar to water (slightly more vinegar). The recipe I use is:

1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups of water

I keep a separate spray bottle marked “glass cleaner” so I know which is which. I use a soft cloth followed by newspaper to keep the windows streak-free. If you find your windows get streaky from this mixture, it’s not the mixture itself but a build-up of product left behind by the Windex you were using. Care2 recommends adding a drop of dishwashing liquid to the above recipe to cut through the residue. By the way, Windex contains ammonia which is harsh on your lungs, hence the warning to have plenty of ventilation while using it. Vinegar smells strong for a few moments but it won’t hurt you, ever.

For both of these recipes, I love how well they work, I love how cheap and easy they are, and I especially love that when Grace (my 19-month old) decides to lick the floor or a window (yes, it happens), I don’t have to worry a bit…unless I haven’t cleaned for a while!

If you have another green recipe for floors and windows, fill me in by leaving a comment here! I haven’t tried any of the “green” store-bought brands but if you have a favorite, let us know here for those readers who don’t feel like making their own but want to clean up their act too.

Confessions Of A Eco-Coupon Fanatic

I’m a bit neurotic when it comes to coupons. I get a buzz at the check-out line when my total drops drastically from $94.89 to $79.42, thanks to a few coupons. I shamed my husband tonight when he ordered a pizza and didn’t use the $3 off coupon I painstakingly saved. I guess I’m a little desperate for some kind of rush other than caffeine…

As I’ve gone greener though, I find fewer coupons I want to clip in Sunday’s paper. My main source now for great coupons on eco-friendly products is the Chinook Book, produced by Eco-Metro. I buy two copies each year and use probably half of the coupons, at least in the grocery/ health section. I got a little tingly a few days ago when, in line at Whole Foods, I saw that the 2009 copies are now available! Naturally I bought two.

These books quickly pay for themselves. Right there in Whole Foods I pulled out a $10 off coupon and used it in the same transaction, so I paid for half a book before I’d even bought it. I spend an hour or so each year going through each book and tearing out all the coupons I think I’ll use, then sorting them into my nifty yellow coupon filer. There’s coupons for everything from Tom’s of Maine toothpaste to Biokleen laundry soap not to mention carpet cleaning and some great restaurants, including Mint and Redwing Bakery.

If you’re in Seattle, you’ll find a coupon for Bambootique (for the second year in a row, the Portland book didn’t have room for us!). If you live in any of the cities that prints these books (full list on http://www.ecometro.com) and you’re trying to live greener AND cheaper, you’ve got to get one, no wait, make that two of these books.

I’m In Love With Burgerville

If I had a top ten list of things I love about Oregon, Burgerville would make the list. I visit my fave drive-thru at least once a week, sometimes more. I’ve been known to drive miles out of my way to get there, which I suppose isn’t exactly “sustainable” but it tastes soooo good.

My favorite thing to order these days is a kids’ meal. I can do that now that I have a child without getting funny looks. Grace and I have an arrangement that works well for both of us. She gets the apple slices (instead of fries) and the toy, I get the small hamburger and chocolate smoothie (substituted for a soda). As soon as we even approach the drive-thru Grace starts to yell “Apo, apo!” (translation – Apple! Apple!). My child actually has no idea she could get french fries from a drive-thru, and I love that she gets excited about fast-food-fruit.

Everything about Burgerville is sustainable. Today I noticed my straw is compostable. On the rare occasions when I do break down and get fries or a Walla-Walla onion ring, I don’t feel too guilty since they recycle all the oil to make biofuels. Their all-natural turkey burger is a favorite of mine when I’m really hungry (hold the mayo, add extra pickle, on a nine-grain bun). Just about every item on the menu comes from the Northwest and is sustainably raised. They even buy wind energy and they are now composting at many of their stores. I love this place!

My only complaint about Burgerville is their coffee. They serve fair trade coffee, which is a huge plus but whatever brand they are using, it tastes TERRIBLE. There are so many delicious fair trade coffees out there, I’m hoping they’ll switch to one soon. How about Stumptown served at Burgerville? Now THAT would be something.

Burgerville only exists in Oregon and Washington. I feel so sorry for the other 48 states!

Cafe Feminino Coffee Festival – What Fun!

October is Fair Trade Month in the USA, if you didn’t know, and I just learned about this way cool event at the Baghdad Theater on October 16th. I’ll be there and hope to see some of you there as well!

From Transfair USA’s website:

Thursday, October 16
Cafe Femenino Foundation presents
STRONG COFFEE
A fundraiser for the foundation
5 p.m. ’til 8:30 p.m. | $20; tickets can be purchased at cafefemeninofondation.org | All ages welcome

Bagdad Theater and Pub
3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR 97214

“Strong Coffee” tells the story of Peruvian women coffee producers who, by creating their own coffee “Café Femenino,” are changing a culture that marginalizes and subordinates women. The women grow, harvest and process their own organic and fair trade coffee; their efforts have inspired women in Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemale, Mexico, Brazil and Nicaragua to begin their own Café Femenino programs.

This fundraising event, put on by the Café Femenino Foundation, helps to fund grants that benefit women and their families in coffee communities around the world.

McMenamins is proud to announce that our coffee roasters will support these Café Femenino coffee producers by serving their Peruvian coffees in all our espresso beverages. It is a lightly roasted coffee with a sweet caramel flavor and hints of sea salt and crema.

Join us in supporting this cause at the Bagdad, where you can also sample café Femenino coffees.

Tickets are available at cafefemeninofoundation.org or at coffeecan.org.

I Couldn’t Agree More

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26

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