Monday, January 26, 2015

Eat more vegetables at work: Easy, healthy portable snack ideas

A friend recently asked if I could post some ideas for plant-based snacks to take to work that ventured beyond the raw carrot stick genre.  While I tend to do better packing vegetables into my meals and base my snacks around nuts, fruits, and grains, I thought the challenge sounded fun.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to sneak more vegetables into your diet (Check out my Pinterest board for more ideas):

  • Soups

Take leftover soups to work.  If you have a microwave, then they're easy to reheat, but if not, many taste good cold (or you could bring them in a Thermos or Bento Box).  I love butternut squash soup this time of year.

  • Roasted vegetables

Roasting almost any vegetable brings out its sweetness, and these too are good cold.  Toss root vegetables or cruciferous vegetables in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast them at 375 until they are tender.  Add a vinaigrette if you want to get fancy.  A word of warning: your co-workers probably won't love if you bring broccoli, cauliflower, and other smelly vegetables into the office, so it may be best to stick with carrots, parsnips, and green beans.

  • Kale chips

Kale chips are delicious, both the ones you bake yourself with olive oil and the ones that are dehydrated after being coated in a nut-based sauce.  You can make your own and bring them in to work, but they don't stand up well to humidity.  I find that it's worth it to splurge on storebought kale chips every so often because they retain their crunch and feel like an indulgence.

  • Vegetable-infused hummus

Hummus can be made with so much more than chickpeas!  Vary the legume (edamame, black-eyed peas, and white beans are all good) and add in some vegetables.  Try pumpkin spiced or carrot hummus.

  • Green smoothies and cold-pressed juices

I make a green smoothie almost every morning for breakfast (and I promise you can't taste the bitterness of the greens when you add fruit too).  Trader Joe's now sells juices, and they are costly, but for the amount of vegetables you consume, the price really is not unreasonable.

  • Bars and nut butters

If you would rather eat something sweet than savory, try a vegetable accented energy bar (like this carrot cake Larabar copycat) or a lightened up sweet bread.  Apples dipped in this pumpkin almond butter is a fun alternative to the quintessential apple and peanut butter combo.

  • Sweet potatoes

Pack baked sweet potato halves topped with coconut butter and cinnamon or roast wedges with sweet spices (cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg) or, my favorite, savory spices (smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, and chili powder).

  • Roasted chickpeas

Okay, so this is not a vegetable, but I had to include this legume.  I love the crunchiness of roasted chickpeas, and for the fiber, protein, and convenience they offer, they can't be beat.  They are pretty easy to find nowadays, but you can always order them online too (or make your own).

What am I missing?  What are your favorite veggie-centric snacks?  Or other go-to snacks?

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Let's talk about money.

It's not a polite topic of conversation, but money has been on my mind lately.  Maybe it is because tax season is gearing up.  Maybe it is because workplaces have been adjusting their budgets and setting salaries for the new year.  Or maybe it is because Dan and I have been in the process of buying and selling houses, but whatever the reason, I have been keenly aware that my current attitude towards money seems to be bucking everything my divinity school education espoused.

Christian ideas about money are complicated.  Even religious ideas that are not Christian--Buddhist or humanist, for instance--struggle with what to do about consumerism and wealth.  Money is a necessary but not desirable evil.  It is part of living in the world but too easily can make us become of the world.  The gap between rich and poor reminds us that the world is not as it should be, and our attachment to goods and spending distracts us from what most matters.

We know all of this.  But the problems always come when we begin thinking concretely.  How much money is too much?  How am I disinterested towards my wealth?  Should I invest to take care of myself and my future at the expense of others?  Should I delight in turning a profit or feel guilty for taking advantage?  Do I try to play fairly within the system or abandon the system altogether?

When I was at Vanderbilt, we answered those questions in extremes.  Capitalism would never redeem us, so we needed to find an alternative. We would read writings from our Latin American neighbors and hear Jesus' message differently, understanding that Jesus came to transform not only people's spirits but their physical realities.  Our class discussions proved vital and rich (no pun intend) but we never except once ventured into the territory of talking about mortgages and retirement and equal pay.

As the classroom becomes more and more distant, structural change becomes harder and harder to fathom.  Sermons will not usually entertain such drastic ideas because the stakes are higher, the implications more real.  Disruptions to the goodness and inevitability of money and financial security come to me every so often: in the form of scripture, certainly, and through a few minimalist blogs I follow which challenge the belief that we need more--more stuff, more money, more content to fill our lives.

But I want there to be an "in-between" space that does not seem to receive much attention or vocalization.  In the here-and-now, I cannot simply despise money.  While I do not want to take on the values of Wall Street or grow my own bank account to the detriment of others (although I would be remiss if I did not note that tragically, with the way we source our goods, that happens sometimes, often without our knowledge and awareness), I must recognize that money is our conduit to much of creation.  And creation, according to my view of the world and our Creator, should be savored.

I give thanks for our home, which allows us to gather with ones whom we love and refresh ourselves after long days of work.  I give thanks for the food we buy and for which we allocate a large portion of our budget because it fuels us and delights us.  I even find it right to give thanks for those things which bear little resemblance to creation in its most natural, unaltered state,  like bicycles and computers and flashlights, which come about because of human creativity and ingenuity, which keep us connected and safe and productive and make our lives easier and more full.

There is a huge problem on the macroscopic level with money.  But on the microscopic level right now, I need to practice gratitude.  I find myself wanting to give more when I think about how much I have been given, to share the joy that a good meal or stylish jacket or affordable home bestowed upon me.  Gratitude accomplishes more than guilt or greed can.  It does not create excuses or justifications, but it, at its best, allows us to hold stuff loosely and yet with reverence in the hopes that no hand remains empty.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Three important letters

Photo credit: Jack via Flickr, CC

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day.  Next month we'll celebrate our presidents.  I live in a country that has many important government agencies that delight in forming acronyms.  The common thread underpinning all of these: three important letters.

MLK, FDR, JFK, CIA, FBI, NSA, CEO, USA...What is it with the three little letters?  I find myself doing it with everyone and everything.  In college a professor took to calling biblical theologian Elisabeth Shussler Fiorenza ESF, and I sign my emails ERB.  Dan now works for the NGA, or the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which named itself so that it would be among the prestigious three letter agencies, breaking rules of English grammar by adding a hypen so that heaven forbid, it would not be NGIA.  On a conscious or subconscious level, we know that abbreviations of the three letter variety connote importance and prominence.

I will listen and agree to the rationale: Full names (first, middle, and last) are more distinctive than first names, or last names, or first and last name combinations yet still memorable.  As the complexity of our naming has expanded, and as our bureaucracies and organizations have increased, so have our abbreviations.  Shortening takes up less space.  And so on and so forth.

For the three letter combination really to stick, though, one must leave a legacy.  Otherwise the three letters are forever relegated to monogrammed towels, email signatures, and tiny websites.  I suppose the reason that the designation of the NGA as such fascinates me so is that the creators deliberately shaped its identity.  The CIA and FBI came along too early to appreciate what they were doing (indeed, they gave rise to the prestige of three letter acronyms), and I doubt that MLK and JFK spent their initial years in public service branding themselves as three letter figures.

All this leads me to a larger question, one that cuts far deeper than initials and acronyms: To what extent can we shape public perception and to what extent is it imposed upon us?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On my nightstand: January edition

Here's a look at what I've been reading this month. To see more of what I've been reading or to trade book recommendations, follow me on Goodreads. I'd love to hear about any recent literary gems you've found (or books that I shouldn't waste my time reading)!

Heart-wrenching, sweet, and thought-provoking.  This novel about child sexual abuse kept me up into the early hours of the morning and broke my heart.  But it also made me cry and smile.  Activism absolutely happens through art and entertainment because this book certainly got me thinking more about just how real and tragic a problem sexual exploitation is.  Don't shy away from reading just because of the difficult topic--it's worth it.

This book was written years ago and it is showing its age.  While the authors made some good points about the importance of learning that happens outside of worksheets and books (like learning to do laundry or taking a family walk), I found that it inadequately addressed the issue of public versus private.  Schools straddle this line: to what extent do we rely on our public schools to educate, and to what extent do we leave teaching responsibilities to the parents or caregivers?

I tried Amazon's Kindle Unlimited (and have a few opinions on the service), and this book was one that caught my eye.  I'm not sure that I would have shelled out my own cash for it, but Miller does offer gripping insight into what it is like to live with hoarders when you're "normal."  I finished the book feeling like a had a more comprehensive and sympathetic understanding of hoarding tendencies, so the book fulfilled on its educational aspirations.

Another GOE goody.  The book is more academic and heady than others by Markham, so unless you have a burning desire to dive into philosophical ethics, I would stick with his other books.

And for a completely different kind of book, blogger Gina Harney delivers a workout guide with some beloved recipes. Many of the resources in the book you can find online, but I wanted to support her work since I sometimes find workouts on her blog.  I also wanted her top-secret macaroon recipe (and the book in its entirety might be worth it just for her method)!

It's no secret that I'm trying to up my writing game, so I figured checking this book out couldn't hurt.  Most of the advice is geared to fiction writers--which I most definitely am not--but I took away a few tips.  Most helpful for me (even if obvious): find the time each day when you are most in your "writing zone" and, whenever possible, work then.

Another freebie, which I would never dream of paying for.  I am a bit of an app junkie, so I was excited to learn about a few tools that may help boost my productivity and organization.  I made a few notes of services and apps to try, but I was not blown away.  The book was crowd-sourced and then edited by the ringerleader, which is a cool concept but read as haphazard and sloppy.

Could this month's reading list look any more diverse or disjointed?  I read this at a recommendation of a friend of Dan's.  We're anticipating being landlords soon, so we're trying to brush up on our money management.  Let me say straight away: this book is not well written, and Kiyosaki will tell you as much.  His bottom line--understand the difference between assets and liabilities (hint: assets make money, liabilities cost money)--is a good one, but, not surprisingly there are many parts of this book and Kiyosaki's attitude I found off-putting.

Barbara Brown Taylor is my favorite (no qualifier needed; she's that good).  This book was her best, in my opinion, where she talks about the importance of exploring the dark places in our lives and not simply seeking out the light.  Her writing is rich and poetic and moving, and she describes images of her farmland so vividly that you will feel as though you are there with her.  I even wrote a blog post this month for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington riffing on this theme.

I'm linking up to Modern Mrs Darcy's Quick Lit (a monthly book review linkup). To see more book reviews, head over to the site!

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pretty numbers

I wrote the full date for the first time in the new year, and as I finished forming the "5" with my pen, I was inordinately happy.  This is a good year, I thought.  A good number.

I have a touch of neuroticism, and these tendencies come out every so often, like when I notice that the spice jars are facing different directions in the kitchen and most stop immediately to straighten them, or when I change the arrangement of unfluffed pillows on the couch so that they will be symmetrical.  When I was in fourth grade, I even changed how I wrote my fours because I thought that the way that my new teacher wrote hers looked more balanced and less clunky than the way I had learned to write my fours back in preschool.

All that is to say, a number is not just a number.  There is a reason people get excited about golden birthdays and why we find it newsworthy to talk about the baby who was born at 10:11 on 11/12/13.  Numbers lend order and organization to the complex data and information that comprises our days; they allow us to capture and maintain some semblance of control over our lives.

While I'm not superstitious (I absolutely would have a thirteenth floor on my hypothetical building because it bothers me more to skip from 12 to 14 than it does to look at the number 13), I must admit that I find myself wanting to manipulate my encounters with numbers.  When it turned out that Dan and I would be married in 2011, I felt slightly deflated, because an anniversary date of May 14, 2011 was just not as round and even and beautiful as a date in 2010 or 2012.  May 14th was a pretty number, but May 14, 2011?  Not so much.  I would never have delayed our wedding in order to have the perfect anniversary date, but it surprised me how easily my irrational impulses took over my usually practical, reason-oriented self.  I have inherited my mother's inclination to set the thermostat only to even temperatures, and when I run, I cannot end my stopwatch at 37 or 43 minutes.

Twenty fourteen was not a bad year--certainly better than 2013--but 2015 is better.  Everything I can stamp with "2015," I will.  Major purchases, milestones, and achievements, here we come.

Just kidding.  Sort of.


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