Examining the Hearth or What Happens When Jesus Uses an Ovenmitt

•Monday, 15 June 2009 • Leave a Comment

In her book Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food, and Flavor Laura Esquivel talks about the sanctity of the hearth and the lessons that can be shared with the next generation there. This is a sentiment that resonates with me. I feel as if I could be used to share something with others while standing at the hearth.

I have, yet again, become acutely aware of the Lord’s hand in my life not only at the hearth but away from it as well.    Often as I look back on my journey I see His hand at work.  I see many people He has brought into my life to challenge my doubts and my beliefs, questioned my choices, and bless me with opportunities to learn and grow.

At times I find myself somewhat estranged from my Father.  I drift away from the prayer life or I become greatly disillusioned about something that He has put in front of me or allowed me to stumble over.  But I am always aware of His presence and His guidance. 

Sometime after church services yesterday had completed my three-year old son got lost.  But the greatness of our God was never absent from me.  The Spirit told me that everything was fine and after searching the path home from church the Spirit told me to go back to the church, that he was still there and had never left.  Sure enough not thirty seconds after reentering the building there he was.

This is not an isolated incident for me and though it doesn’t happen as often as I imagine it does for many of my spiritual role models, like Louis Giglio, Louis Palo, or Thomas S. Monson. It does happen, He does show me the goodness of His grace time and time again.

 I must admit, however, that as I go through these “connected” days and as I meditate on His hand in my life I find myself slipping into fear.  Is it possible that He can have plans to use such a seemingly useless tool as an average-quality chef to bless the lives of others?  One thing that I know about this Divine Mentor of mine is that He likes to see me out of my comfort zone and there are times when I see a picture or hear a story about something that I would be uncomfortable doing and gently He whispers in my mind, “this too will come to you.”  So yes, maybe He does intend to use such a lowly tool as this or maybe He is just guiding me to a place where He will use someone greater than I to change and inspire me.  It would not be there first time.


Jesus is a Locavore

•Saturday, 13 June 2009 • 8 Comments

This past week or two I have experienced some sort of circular kismet or revelation…something that I can already see changing my life forever (again).  In 1992 I cold turkey began eating a ovo-lacto vegetarian diet (meatless diet that includes eggs and dairy).  By 1994 I had pretty much stopped drinking alcohol (not that I was ever much of a drinker) and I was never a fan of tea or coffee.  However, in 1998 as I prepared to enter the former culinary arts program at Utah State University I reintroduced meat to my diet.  In 1999 I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Once again I have begun to seriously consider my dietary lifestyle and as I have struggled to make what are going to be radical changes (and changes that are proving more difficult to make than they were in 1992) I have found myself preparing a Sunday school lesson on the Word of Wisdom, a dietary and health code for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is not unlike Kosher restrictions for Jewish adherents or Islamic halal standards.  This code is housed within the pages of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) a book of scripture within the Latter-day Saint cannon.

The verse that tripped the light switch was D&C 89:11

Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

“…in the season thereof…”!

You do not have to be a culinary professional like myself to know that “seasonal” is one of the pillars of the local and sustainable food movements.  For me, professionally,  the sustainable and local food movements have proven more a thorn and a nuisance than anything.  In my market the majority of consumers don’t understand why I don’t want to sell asparagus in January or why their honeydew and watermelon taste bland in December.  

Also a problem is that I would love to be able to cook professionally in a manner that is in keeping with how I should and would like to be eating personally.  But the vegetarian, organic, sustainable, etc food market is not quite as lucrative in my neck of the woods (Central Utah) as in other parts of the country.  Or at least not from the employee view point.  The presence of national health food chains like Whole Foods and Sunflower and local markets like Good Earth show that there is a movement here it just seems less tapped into in comparison to nearby California, Oregon, or Washington.

And so the saga continues I am changing my lifestyle and it seems that I have divine support in the matter.  I guess it is time to, in the words of a fellow church member, “…ask in the name of Jesus Christ for the self-discipline to change [my] lifelong and vanity cherished habits.”

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

•Friday, 12 June 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m definitely starting to feel Kermit the frog’s life long pain.  It ain’t easy being green.  The more I concern myself with greening my life the more frustrated I become.  There is a reason that statistically so few Americans have made “major” changes in their homes to green their lifestyles.

Today in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco the film “Food, Inc.” will open with more openings in the coming weeks nation wide.  That will show some of the reasons for these slow changes.   But let’s face facts one of the biggest reason is money.  Fat is cheap and in today’s economy cheap is good.  Isn’t it?

I have a hard time paying more for organic produce, Whole grain breads, and free range chicken when my monthly paycheck is barely covering the bills every month.  Proponents of green living are always talking about how much less expensive it is to buy organic because it doesn’t travel as far and it isn’t laced with harmful chemicals, therefore, cutting down on fuel costs and health care expenditures.  But guess what?  It costs me the same amount in fuel to drive to my local grocery store to buy non-organic as it does to buy organic and the non-organic removes less money from my bank account.  Also even though I have insurance through my job I can’t afford health care.  Despite the myth that having insurance makes it possible for more people to get health care if your paycheck isn’t making it to the end of the month paying for food, clothing, and shelter that extra $20 co-pay or $40 prescription is not affordable.

Who knows in the word’s of Kermit maybe someday “When green is all there is to be/It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why/Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful/And I think it’s what I want to be”  but right now I’m trying to eat healthier on the same money or less and organic doesn’t always fit the budget.

Sugar Free Chef

•Thursday, 11 June 2009 • 2 Comments

The announcement from the doctor that my health was in serious decline was not unexpected. I had been tip-toeing around the truth of the matter for years. Avoiding doctors’ offices and annual physicals with the hope that I would get into a daily routine that would reverse my poor health. Truth of the matter was, however, that I hadn’t been physically active and nutritionally sound in over a decade.

Once upon a time I was working out six days a week, I was on the ice six to seven times a week between teaching skating classes, coaching, working as an ice monitor, and playing hockey, and I was eating a plant based diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Like I said, the diagnosis wasn’t a surprise it was more of a disappointment. A myriad of health problems run deep into the gene pool of my family. Ailments like diabetes – my father has it, his mother and several of his siblings had it, my maternal grandmother has it – High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and others meant that I was practically fated to be diagnosed soon myself but the lifestyle of my twenties was a hope that I would be the one to break the mold.

However, at the time of the announcement I had, I believed, one thing in my favor – my education. I had taken a number of nutrition classes through college and not only did I have a Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Food Science with an emphasis in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management but I was a catering chef for a large private university and had years of practice cooking for special dietary needs including diabetics, celiacs, vegetarians, vegans, and more.

So the first decision was to switch to a sugar free lifestyle. This proved more difficult than I had anticipated. Using advice from various sources I began a fourteen day sugar detox. I eliminated all added sugar and simple carbohydrates from my diet. In his book, No Flour, No Sugar Dr. Gott says this, “As an added bonus, you may find you’ll automatically reduce the amount of fat you eat. Without bread and jelly, for instance, what fun is high-fat peanut butter? No flour means no cheesy pizza, no pasta in cream sauce, and no buttery cookies. Eliminating sugar means no more fat-laden ice cream or cake with buttercream frosting.” I am certain that he meant that to some how be inspiring but it wasn’t. Not for someone who as a youth did not see the problem with ordering biscuits as a side for pancakes.

If you have never had to suffer through trying to quit an addictive substance like nicotine, alcohol, or drugs try quitting sugar. You will soon get a taste of what these people go through. I experienced headaches, irritability, cravings and withdrawal and four days later it was back to the drawing board. In addition to that sugar, in one form or another, is in EVERYTHING. I dare you to start reading your food labels. Look for sugar, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, etc. Food manufacturers will put sugar in anything.

My mission is clear. I need to find, adapt, or develop recipes satisfying and full of flavor that will not leave me longing for bowls of pasta, stacks of bread, and mountains of rice. And so begins my journey to becoming a sugar-free chef. I hope you will come back from time to time, subscribe to the RSS feed (do I even have and RSS feed?), and leave a comment or two when the urge strikes you. But fair warning must be given I am still a chef and I still love the magic of great food. Which means not everything I post, write, create, or enjoy will be sugar-free, low in fat, carb free, or any other extreme dietary label. But since the stability of my children’s lifestyle is at stake there will be an undeniably healthier slant to my food in the coming months and hopefully years.

Why Do We Need Independence from a Weight-Obsessed World!

•Monday, 8 June 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Following post is from a note that my good friend Jane Ellsworth-Wedekind wrote.  I had the extreme blessing of working along side Jane and many others at the same Eating Disorder Treatment center and though I was only there a few short months the experience changed my life forever.  I hope we can all accept Jane’s challenge and reach out to someone who needs to have their divine heritage acknowledged.

Why Do We Need Independence from a Weight-Obsessed World!
by Jane Ellsworth-Wedekind
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I had a visit from my friend Mary Ellen Claussen from Ophelia’s Place in Liverpool, NY, a nonprofit resource center for those struggling. Check out her website www.opheliasplace.org . This dear friend left me a copy of Andrea’s Voice a story about a girl who died from bulimia within months of beginning treatment. I haven’t read the story yet but just looking at the book this is what I observed.

Andrea, though beautiful, didn’t have a body type that even remotely resembles a barbie doll. When I perused through this striking young girl’s photos it became obvious very quickly that no amount of obsession with weight loss would allow her to look tall and thin with abs of steel, voluptuous “perfect” breasts, and the list goes on. BUT Andrea was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. All I could think about last night after I skimmed through the book was…this IS why we have to break this obsession. A young girl is dead her family forever living with the grief for what? An unattainable image that had likely been imprinted on her mind from infancy and led her to an deadly obsession.

When I meet new people these days and tell them what brought me to Utah – the opportunity to work at an ED treatment center 9.9 out of 10 times I hear…oh, my ____________ struggles with that. One pharmacy tech in Nebraska opened up in seconds and told me a horrific story about her SON’S bulimia! I left the store numb because there was not one thing I could do for her. Least of all offer her ANY hope. It’s only a matter of time and this young man will very likely die too – the cause of death won’t be bulimia because no one knows he has it but his parents. It’ll most likely be listed as cardiac arrest.

So…breaking this obsession is a very real passion for me. Andrea was gifted beyond her years according to the books back cover – passionate and gifted. I have many friends who will never ever look like a barbie but they are deep, wonderful and amazing people.

My request of you this week is to find someone who looks different from the pictures on the magazine covers and take the time to affirm their person – are the kind? Tell, them that you really appreciate their kindness. Are they insightful? Patient? The list goes on… let them know. Make a deposit in their emotional bank account – they may not even know how to respond to you but do it anyway.

I am so thankful for you!

 Thank you, Jane. Your Christlike love and compassion is an example to us all.

Heart, Might, Mind, and Strength

•Monday, 25 May 2009 • 2 Comments

Recently my wife and I had a fabulous little dinner at our own kitchen table.  This meal was meant to be our very first Fireside Dinner in the Fyresyde Kitchen but as fate would have it noone showed.  One family had sick children and since we have a little premie in our home trying to make it through his first year without serious illness they opted to stay home.  The other family tried to make it but I neglected to give them quality directions to our home and so the first fireside dinner that I hosted was attended by my good wife and myself.

My only regrets in how things turned out arise from the fact that I had intended on this dinner doubling as a Feeding America Dine In and having the opportunity to remind a few folks about the number of children who live at risk of hunger in our country.  I quite often see causes for the hungry in third world countries, for the persecuted and forgotten around the world and these are all good causes but I hope that we do not forget that there is still work to be done at home too. 

The menu this night was a simple one and was rather tasty.  (IMHO) I served a maple smoked pork steak with Sage Beurre Blanc and wild rice tamales.  I’m still trying to perfect my tamales and these could have been moister for my tastes but the steak was super yummy and since there were a number of no shows I dined happily on the leftovers for many days after.

Of course, the most edifying point of the week and the evening was the topic of conversation.  The theme for this dinner was “Heart, Might, Mind, and Strength”.  This is taken from the LDS book of scripture the Doctrine and Covenants Section 4 verse 2

Therefore, O ye that embark in the aservice of God, see that ye bserve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand cblameless before God at the last day.

We talk just a little bit about each one of these.  Three of the four points seemed quite straightforward.  Serving with your heart has to do with your attitude towards the service and your love of those you serve.  Serving with your mind could refer to always thinking of your Father in Heaven and his children and finding ways to serve.  Filling you mind with righetous knowledge and not filth and nonsense.  We all have a measure of physical strength which allows us to do things like help neighbors move in and out of their homes, shovel snow, mow yards, and deliver meals to the needy. 

But the hang up became might.  It was suggested the might was physical power.  But this seemed redundant since the scripture mentions strength just a few words after.  I began to scan through the scriptures trying to find out what was meant by the word might.  A couple of times might appeared with the word power and so I knew that with might the scriptures were not talking about physical strength.

Finally after some more research I came up with the idea that might is referring to our capacity or potential.  This works quite well if you change the scripture to read: “see that ye bserve him with all your heart, [potential], mind and strength.”  This idea was reinforced for me later when preparing a Sunday school lesson on the plan of salvation and came across this quote: 

Throughout your premortal life, you developed your identity and increased your spiritual capabilities.

 “Your spiritual capabilities” or your might.  I think my wife and I came away from the meal physically and spiritually full and I look  forward to our next fireside dinner and hope that we have more people in attendance this time.

In His Name

Mimi’s Review

•Monday, 20 April 2009 • Leave a Comment

Recently the wife and I ventured out with the family for dinner. Though we live in a midsize city there is not a lot of non-chain offerings to choose from. In addition to this we needed someplace we knew would have something for our three picky eaters to enjoy. So we chose Mimi’s Café located in Orem, Utah. For those unfamiliar with the chain the restaurant is housed in a “French themed cottage” edifice that is brightly painted that invites images of fun and whimsy. The restaurant touts itself with claims of fresh handmade food that will be delicious and satisfying. It is a general rule of thumb not to review a restaurant until you have eaten there three times. So I will begin by qualifying this review by saying I have eaten at Mimi’s only twice and at this particular location only once. Previously I dined at the Sandy, Utah location to a somewhat better result. It has also been suggested, by the great Ruth Reichl, that it’s easy to write a scathing review of a restaurant. However, my experience at this restaurant was so amazingly poor that it begs to be shared. We arrived and found ourselves faced with a possible ten minute wait. Given that it was a Friday night I thought that was a remarkably short time to wait. But with four kids in tow I had to find a way to keep them occupied. So I took the two oldest boys and we crossed the parking lot to Barnes & Noble where we briefly perused magazines before returning. Once we returned the real fun began. Another belief of Ruth Reichl is that children don’t belong in restaurants. This is quickly becoming my belief as well and I did proclaim this our last sit-down dinner outing for quite some time to come. I have been so persistent about it because I want to teach my kids that there is a nice, quiet, polite way to act in public and a family friendly chain restaurant seems the best place to do that. Just not with four kids. Perhaps in the coming months (and possibly years) outings with one or two of the children rather that the entire brood will be more in line with my mission. In spite of several trips to the bathroom, fights over the three crayons in only two different shades, and one kids obstinate refusal to choose something on the kids menu because there were just too many choices and it was “too hard” to decide, we determined what we would eat. The night’s fare consisted of mini burgers for two of the children, one with fries and one with fruit, and chocolate chip pancakes for the third who later remembered he had also been interested in the mini corndogs and nearly had a fit three quarters of the way through his meal insisting that we order him the corndogs. For the adults slightly more sophisticated fare was selected. A current promotion at the restaurant is there Fresh Spring Special Three Course Meal for $12.99. The offerings are from their smaller portioned “Just Right” selections. The smaller portions trend is finding it’s way into more and more establishments and his a positive turn in menu design in comparison to the mountains of food we’ve grown accustomed to in this country. My wife chose to feast upon French Onion soup, Crispy Parmesan Chicken, and the Petite Apple Crisp. My selections were the Dinner Salad, the Maple Glazed Pork Chop, and I finished up with the Petite Triple Chocolate Brownie served ala mode. Unfortunately the meal in writing promises more than it ultimately delivered. Our service was fair and the food was worse. Our server’s area of the dining room was, I fear, drastically over seated. She never seemed to be quite caught up with the crowd. As a result everyone suffered even to the point that we were overcharged for our abysmal meal and I had to return the next day for a refund. The worst part about that is by not catching the overcharge at the table I over tipped our waitress. There is not much to say about the food so I keep the agony short. The soup tasted like something akin to bath water after the bathing of dirty children. The chicken it self was good, however, paired with the tasteless sauce, and bland overcooked pasta it wasn’t worth the effort. The dinner salad did have Spring mix in it which nearly made the iceberg forgivable. The maple glazed pork was overcooked and covered in cheap imitation maple syrup. The vegetable that accompanied the pork was even worse. In case you ever wondered it is apparently possible to have carrots so old they actually have a sort of gray color to them. Never fear the meal was not a total loss. The Apple crisp was wonderful (but then after a meal that bad what wouldn’t be) and the brownie was a warm tasty experience that I would repeat. Overall stay away from Mimi’s or at least the one in Orem, UT. It is not an experience you will be eager to repeat.