Apr 30, 2014

Cooking with Elle // Avocado Kale Salad

Welcome to the first recipe of the Cooking with Elle series [see intro post]. Let me first disclose my disclaimer: I am not a Martha Stewart in-the-making. Cooking does not come naturally to me and I do not know all there is to know about the culinary world. That said, I have been having a lot of fun exploring new recipes this year and most recently have dived into the wide world of paleo.

My recipe today is my new favorite salad, the Avocado Kale Salad from Elana Amsterdam's Paleo Cooking from Elana's Cooking (p. 46). I am hooked. I've been making this salad a few times each week and have ventured out to add different ingredients as well.
I was once repulsed by kale's strong, bitter taste compared to the more enjoyable romaine or iceberg. But when paired with avocado and lemon juice, you get some sparks and magic!  And it is loaded with health benefits, which makes it a great leafy green to add to a variety of salads and entrees. Kale is an excellent source of vitamins (A, C, K), calcium, potassium, and iron. In addition, its a great source of fiber and antioxidants. Due to all of these nutrients, kale has been attributed to eye health, decreasing cholesterol, decreasing risk of heart disease, as well as anti-cancer benefits (1).

Are you convinced yet about diving into the crunch world of kale? I hope so, because here is my favorite kale recipe:

Avocado Kale Salad

1 bunch kale, sliced crosswise onto 1/4-inch strips (roughly 4 cups)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 very ripe avocado, diced into 1-inch cubes
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients and massage avocado cubes into the salad, 
mixing it to coat the kale evenly. 

Feel free to experiment with add different ingredients, using this recipe as your base. I have added pan-friend halibut, roasted almonds and pistachios, tomatoes, and cucumbers. 

Let me know if you end up trying this easy salad recipe!

Liked this recipe? Check out more on the Cooking with Elle series!

Apr 29, 2014

Travel Tuesday // Seattle [pt. 1]

Oh, Seattle, how I love thee. 

I lived in Seattle for two years while attending grad school and fell in love with the city. I learned so much about myself while living there, plus I challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone and explore my new home. This developed a deep love of adventure and traveling that took me on all sorts of memorable trips these last few years. 

Seattle is a mixed bag of architecture, landscapes, and attractions. You can stick around Belltown and catch the iconic skyline from the Space Needle, walk through the seafood-aroma and fresh flower-filled stands of Pike Place in central downtown, relax in Ballard's Golden Gardens and Shilshole Bay, eat at the myriad of award-winning restaurants, jog or bike around Greenlake Park, or picnic on the hills of Gasworks Park. And I am only beginning! The possibilities are endless in the Emerald City!

I visited my home-away-from-home in March to attend the wedding of a roomie from my Seattle days.
It was only a short weekend trip, yet I managed to catch a lot of my favorite sites.

My first stop was in the University District. I attended University of Washington while up in Seattle, so this was my stomping grounds. My favorite Mexican restaurant in this part of town is Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club, which is right alongside Portage Bay. I had the Bacalao taco (Alaskan cod, shredded cabbage, creamy avocado sauce). I enjoyed reading while eating lunch, then walking around this area and enjoying the gorgeous view of the boats in the bay.
Around five minutes of driving along Northlake Way will get you to one of my favorite Seattle parks: Gas Works Park. Formerly the Seattle Gas Lights Company's gasification plant, Gas Works is on the north shore of Lake Union. Cool fact: It is the only former coal gasification plant that still stands (though not functional anymore) in the U.S. 
 Just look at that view of the Space Needle and downtown! What a beauty!
 University Bridge
 I walked up the hill and got this beautiful view
 I was trying to work on my reflective water angling in this one:
 Continuing down Northlake Way for another three minutes and taking a few sharp turns, you'll come face to face with a beloved resident of Seattle, our very own Troll!
The Fremont Troll resides in the quirky, artsy Fremont neighborhood, under the Aurora Bridge. Can you spot the real VW Beetle? Below is the Trolls view under the bridge. 

 The day was far from over, but I want to share the second part (in my most beloved park, Greenlake, next week! Stay tuned!) 

Apr 25, 2014

praising through pain // all the way my saviour leads me

All The Way My Saviour Leads Me
Fanny Crosby

 Blinded by an incompetent medical treatment for an eye irritation, Fanny Crosby was blinded in her childhood. Yet, her heart and mind saw more than many with clear vision. Throughout her life, she penned many favorite hymns including "Blessed Assurance", "To God Be The Glory", and my favorite, "All The Way My Saviour Leads Me". 

Fanny was a humble woman who worked as a hymn writer and spent any extra time seeking to bring others to hear about Jesus. She travelled with evangelists such as D.L. Moody to bring the gospel to New York of the mid-to-late 1800s. And though she was known throughout the country for her hymns, she lived in near poverty because she insisted on giving away most of her wages and only kept what was needed for her basic needs. She leaned on Jesus, which was obvious in beautiful lyrics she composed that were birthed from a deep reliance on her Provider.

In 1874, Fanny found herself wondering how she would pay rent one day. She knelt down and prayed. Soon there was a knock on her door and a man she had never met before insisted on giving her ten dollars, which just happened to be exactly how much she owed for rent. Jesus had shown faithful to provide for her pressing basic need of paying rent. That night, these words were penned:

All the way my Saviour leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy
Who through life has been my guide?

What truth in these words. Jesus has led me all the way. Down the deep pit of inadequacy, shame, and fear. Through the valley of discontent and loneliness. Up the grassy hilltop of joy, peace, and redemption. Oh, yes. Jesus led me all the way. What a blessed truth! When I am in seasons of confusion and restless, His hand is there to lead me through. And in beautiful, joy-filled seasons such as I have entered the past few months, He leads me in His peace and wisdom. 

Yes, oh yes! All the way my Saviour leads me. 

"And the LORD went before them by day 
in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way
and by night in a pillar of fire, 
to give them light; to go by day and night: "
[ Exodus 13:21 ] 
* * *
"Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: 
for thou art the God of my salvation; 
on thee do I wait all the day."
Psalm 25:5

[source: Ruffin, Bernard. Fanny Crosby: The Hymn Writer. Pilgrim Press, 1976]

Apr 24, 2014

Cooking with Elle // an introduction

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” 
- Julia Child in her book,  My Life in France.

I have never loved cooking. I was not the little girl that jumped at the chance of helping my mom bake culinary wonders. I did not learn any secret family recipes. I did not dream of new baking sheets and pans as I prepared for life on my own during grad school. Nope. Instead, I secretly thought of myself as  a failure to the perpetually culinary-apt Romanian culture I was born into. I would joke about being a horrible Romanian girl; I did not know a single Romanian recipe. I liked all sorts of other cultural foods and cooked easy recipes, but did not jump at the chance to find the inner Julia Child in me.

That said, I find it humorous as well slightly shocking that I have been challenging myself to venture into a whole new (well, new for me!) arena of cooking: paleo and gluten-free. I'll start off and say I am no expert, nor will I pretend to be. Let me also say, I still love my breads. Crispy french bread is my kryptonite alongside some salami, cheese, and veggies. That said (pardon me as I delicately wipe my mouth from thinking of the aforementioned dream meal), I have been learning more about this low-carb/high protein way of eating and am quite intrigued. What started as curiosity when someone close to me explained their experience with GF and paleo began a fun experiment cooking recipes from a book I bought as a gift and ended up buying an extra copy to keep. First off, it has great recipes that are not too complicated. Second off, my name (misspelled though it is!) is on the cover. Not too shabby! And third, I am meeting one of my new year goals to cook more! 

Paleo Cooking from Elana's Pantry (by Elana Amsterdam) has dairy, grain, and gluten-free recipes that will make your taste buds jump for joy. Gluten substitutes such as almond and coconut flours, arrowroot powder, flax meal, and chia seeds add flavor and all sorts of nutritional value. And cooking with coconut oil has kinda rocked my world lately (not to mention it does wonders for dry skin, but that's another story!). I found myself buying a few paleo pantry basics early on and getting excited (yes, me! Excited about cooking!). I even started cooking with raw meat (I was, and still tend to be, grossed out by raw meat, yet I am fine with eating it once cooked. It was the prep work that made me queasy).  Soon enough, the inevitable happened: I started to really enjoy cooking!

Let me also say that I am no expert in paleo. Far from it. I will let you rely on the experts for that. But for a short definition, paleo cooking relies heavily on plant-based foods and moderate amounts of lean meats. Studies and anecdotal evidence abounds on the positive affects on inflammation, energy, and healthy weight loss (p.3). 

Here are the recipes I have tried so far from Paleo Cooking from Elana's Pantry. I'll slowly be sharing some of them within this series, though forgive me if I do not add step-by-step photo instructions. I tend to either get my iPhone super oily while trying to capture each step, or more likely, become very concentrated and forget to snap some shots until I have scarfed down half the meal :)

Apricot muffins
Banana bread
Avocado Kale Salad [this has become my favorite salad EVER]
Roasted broccoli
Honey Lemon Chicken
Chicken Salad
Mustard Salmon Fillet
Beef with Broccoli
Caesar Dressing
Paleo Mayo
Cauliflower Rice

Which of these would you like to see on the blog? 

Apr 23, 2014

book review // Open Your Eyes

Open Your Eyes:
10 Uncommon Lessons to Discover a Happier Life
[ Jake Olson and McKay Christensen, PhD]

Most twelve year olds are still stuck in concrete, self-absorbed mentality, focusing on things that are fun and benefits them. Not so for Jake Olson. At twelve, he was thoughtfully planning how to spend his last days with sight before a life-altering surgery would take away this gift I take for granted all to often. Jake was soaking in every opportunity to see with his physical eyes before he would wake up blind, yet after reading his honest and courageous story that is grounded in an unshakable faith in God, I think he is one of the few who actually sees after all. 

Open Your Eyes is co-written by McKay Christensen, who teaches on servant leadership and life-altering change. He brings fresh, uplifting stories (many of which are sports-related) of courage, perseverance, and legacy. In addition, he writes practical lessons to make positive changes that will allow eyes to be opened to the plentiful blessed opportunities around you. A great blend with testimonies by Jake and his family help to make the book less like a motivational pick-me-up and more like a usable guide to living a life of purpose. 

Jake was diagnosed with a rare malignant cancer of the eye, retinoblastoma, as an infant. After multiple surgeries and attempts to conserve his sight, his medical team and parents were left with the excruciating decision: Jake would lose his sight to save his life. But rather than sinking in self-pity and depression [and honestly, would you blame him if he had?], he chose a life of hope, determination, and courage. He inspired countless people, from fellow students who saw him continue his favorite sports [golf and football] to professional athletes and coaches [Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll] who were impacted by this lionhearted teenager. 

What encouraged me the most about the book was Jake and his family's statements that were sprinkled throughout the chapters. Their faith in their Father God during such painful seasons of life were a great lesson for me. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes and excerpts from the book:

Art, a quadriplegic who completed a 325 mile wheelchair marathon in record-setting time, was mentioned due to his "amazing spirit and uncommon faith" [p. 27]. He beautifully explains the blessings in struggles: "Struggle and pain . . . were not put here to torment or mock men, but to lift and build them . . . Adversity, pain, and struggle do not challenge the Lord's love for us, they prove it.  To those who love God, the stony, rough way becomes a blessing and an opportunity for miracle after miracle. The rewards are sweeter and the panorama before them more beautiful than the way of ease and instantaneous  miracles. When we are denied immediate relief from our heartache, tears, or tragedy, it is because there is a better way that will teach us more and work for our ultimate good. Some miracles take time." [p. 28].

Jake's parents recall the love that held them together while watching their son go through countless painful treatments and procedures: "Since the moment the doctors told us our infant son had malignant cancer in both eyes and that his left eye needed to be removed to save his life, we have felt the power of God's love. When we heard that, at age twelve, after battling cancer for seven more years, he was going to lose his right eye and would be blind, God's love got us through. Every moment of every surgery required God's love. Every shot, every treatment, the delivery of every chemo drug required God's love. God's love also reached Jake. It was Jake's acceptance of God's love that gave him strength to endure and battle cancer so courageously." [p. 31]

C.S. Lewis is  quoted after Jake shared his belief that God has a great plan for each of us. Lewis once said, "Imagine yourself a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the houses about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -- throwing out a new wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace" [p35].

What amazing words from sixteen year old Jake: "I trust in God's Word. He has a plan for me. I may not know what it is, but I know it is the best plan" [p. 107].

Open Your Eyes is a great book full of reminders of God's faithfulness even through suffering and trials. His grace does not end when our tough times start. Instead, His grace is sufficient for our darkest days and His love is deeper than our deepest worries and fears. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through BookLookBloggers in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own

Apr 21, 2014

Travel Tuesday // Montage on Laguna

I missed Travel Tuesday for a few weeks now, so I am excited to scroll through photos from my February trip to Orange County and reminisce on time with my BFF and the sunny skies and sandy surf. I am a few hours shy of actually being counted as a Tuesday, but I figure it's Tuesday somewhere, so it will count. Plus, I work tomorrow and find it hard to post in the mornings. 

Today I wanted to share some of the beautiful views from the boardwalk of Laguna Beach's prestigious Montage Resort & Hotel. Several friends recommended watching the sunset from alongside the paved pathway, and we are so glad we heeded their advice! It was a perfect way to say adieu to sunny California and return to the chilly, rainy forecast awaiting me in the Northwest. 

See more photos from my trip!

And stay tuned for next week's Travel Tuesday on one of my favorite cities: Seattle!

Apr 17, 2014

praising through pain // old rugged cross

"The Old Rugged Cross"
George Bennard

It seems only fitting -- and so good for the heart -- to dwell on a hymn about the Cross the night before Good Friday. For what else brings more hope than that old rugged cross that held the Savior as He was pierced for our sins? What greater joy than the redemption found in the great exchange of His pure innocence for our faults and failures? What greater peace than the assurance of our future under the pierced hands that gave it all so that we can live?

"The Old Rugged Cross" was a hymn birthed from the heart of a traveling preacher and so, fittingly, three different towns claim it was written in their town since Bennard slowly wrote the song over a period of time. A half century later after writing it {he supposedly started it Christmastime 1912} he explained its roots:

"I was going through a great travail. I needed help. Then I remembered an old wooden cross I had once seen. The first ten words came to me: 'On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross.' It must have been two weeks later before I went back and finished it'"
*  *  *  *  *  
  1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
    The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
    And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
    For a world of lost sinners was slain.
    • Refrain:
      So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
      Till my trophies at last I lay down;
      I will cling to the old rugged cross,
      And exchange it some day for a crown.
  2. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see,
    For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me.
  4. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
    Where His glory forever I’ll share.

* * * 

What is your favorite song(s) about the Cross? Whether contemporary or an old, timeless 
hymn, what lyrics help bring your heart and mind to a place of being in wonder of the price Jesus paid to bear all of our sin on His blameless shoulders and give us joy and peace? 

Apr 4, 2014

praising through the pain // oh the deep, deep love of jesus

Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
Samuel Travis Francis, 1875

“There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still.” 
Corrie ten Boom

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, 
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17b-19

One cold night in London, a young, troubled man walked across the edge of Thames River,  crossed a bridge and considered ending it all. As he looked at the deep, deep waters below him, he wrestled with his faith that led to a realization of God's mercy and a decision to trust in Him fully. The young man later became a merchant by trade, but a hymn writer and preacher by passion. His beautiful hymn, Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus draws many parallels to the  deep oceans.

Jesus' love is deep. 
Deeper than the grime and slime of our sin. Deeper than our shame and guilt. Deeper than our disappointments. Deeper than our pride and self-righteousness. Deeper than our painful memories. Deeper than our regrets. 
Deeper than our despair and anxiety.
Jesus' love is deep

Whatever depths you are walking through, remember that His love is deeper still.

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,  
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” 
Lamentations 3:22-23

 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, 
in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current
Of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to
Thy glorious rest above!

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth
never, nevermore!
How He watches o'er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own
how for them He intercedeth, watcheth
o'er them from the throne!

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus,
'Tis a heav'n of heav'ns to me
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

Sources here, here, and here

Apr 2, 2014

goodbye march // hello april {goals]

I am very excited for this month! Spring weather is still inching it's way forward and I am loving the cherry blossoms blooming in the city. 

It's time to say "goodbye" to March. Overall, it was a very productive month! February was a bit chaotic and went by too fast, but I seemed to get my feet back on steady ground in March and was able to get through almost all of my goals! 
+   +   +  +  +
March Goals
++ Read 1-2 books: I am 2/3 done with Desiring God [by John Piper] and have just started Open Your Eyes [Jake Olson].
++ Finish taxes
++ Meet with my "little sister" that I mentor.
++ Plant flowers on my balcony
++ Take my sewing machine out of the box and actually use it!
++ Learn at least 2 new crock-pot recipes
++ Start a new series on stories behind well-known hymns
++ Get back into posting at least twice a week. I slacked last month.
April Goals
++ spend 1/2 hour each week reviewing journal articles and notes on nursing-related education
++ learn 3 new recipes this month
++ finish Open Your Eyes, start (and finish??) a new book (thinking of The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler), and read 2 chapters of Desiring God by John Piper
++  Take my sewing machine out of the box and actually use it!
++ memorize 3 verses in the next month using this plan  {5 down, 19 to go}
++ get off phone and computer by 11pm & no electronics in bed
++ journal at least 3 gifts/blessings every night
++ meet with the "little sister" I mentor
++ choose a day each week to pray for the clinic I work at.

Apr 1, 2014

travel tuesday // corona del mar

Travel Tuesday: Corona del Mar [Newport Beach, Ca]
"The Crown of the Sea"

What's better than taking a relaxing stroll on the promenade of a beautifully-kept beach? Taking that stroll with your soon-to-be-a-mama BFF! I had a blast beach-hopping with her that weekend and especially loved our time at this beautiful beach. Truth be told, I did not even hear of Corona del Mar until that weekend in February! I have obviously missed out on a gem of a beach town.
BFF time is extra sweet when surrounded by wonders like the rolling surf and sand.