Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cooking Comparisons: Making a meal my own

My favorite way to cook is to read a recipe, get inspired, and then make it my own.

With the following recipes I did just that:

Oven-fried Chicken Sandwich 

John's sandwich, inspired from Bon Appetit and Cooking for Isaiah
My chicken tenders without the bun, served with slaw and a kale salad
John wanted the Fried Chicken Sandwich with Slaw and Spicy Mayo on the cover of April's Bon Appetit, but since the first piece of equipment that you need is a deep fry thermometer (which I obviously do not own), I altered it a bit. Plus, I wanted to make it somewhat healthy and gluten free. Instead of frying the chicken, I used Cooking for Isaiah's oven-fried chicken recipe and sauce, and I changed the coleslaw recipe for what I had on hand. Here's what I ended up making:

Serves 4
4 cups corn tortilla chips, crushed (I used Trader Joe's no salt added ones)
Salt and pepper
2 eggs
1 pound chicken tenders (I used Trader Joe's tenderloins which were thin. I recommend pounding your chicken first if it isn't thin, so then it stays moist.)
Sandwich rolls
1/4 cup canola mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups broccoli slaw
1 jalapeno sliced thin
1/2 red onion sliced thin
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray. Combine crushed tortilla chips with salt and pepper to taste. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Coat chicken with chips, then dip into eggs, and coat with chips again. Repeat this process with all of chicken and put on a baking sheet. Bake chicken for 15 minutes or until done. (If your chicken is not as thin it may need 20 minutes).
  2. While chicken cooks, prepare the slaw by tossing all of the slaw ingredients together and let marinate.
  3. Mix sauce ingredients together.
  4. Spread sauce on both sides of sandwich rolls and top with chicken and slaw. (Yes the slaw goes on the sandwich.) Or, serve the sauce on the side for dipping the chicken tenders in if not making a sandwich.

Black Bean Tacos with Bacon and Feta

My tacos as compared to Cooking Light
John's taco 
My tacos without the cheese and on corn tortillas

For this meal, I followed Cooking Light's recipe pretty closely. You can read the recipe here.

Here were the changes I made:

  • I didn't cook the onion, garlic, and jalapeno together in the bacon drippings. Instead, I let the onion caramelize in a separate pan while the beans cooked, and I added in the garlic and jalapeno towards the end.
  • I didn't have seasoned black beans, so instead I mixed in cumin, sea salt, and pepper and let them simmer with some chicken broth for about 10 minutes. I occasionally stirred them, mashing up some of the beans while they simmered.  
  • I also made my homemade guacamole to put on top of my tacos (since I didn't use feta) and as a nice side with chips.

Thai Basil Beef

My rice bowl as compared to Bon Appetit's

For this Bon Appetit recipe (which you can read here) I followed it almost exactly. Here are the few changes that I made:

  • I didn't have fish sauce, so for the sauce I used Tamari (gluten free soy sauce), lime juice, and about half of the amount of sugar that the recipe calls for.
  • We happened to have gone to the farmer's market and had red chiles, but when I make this again I would probably use jalapenos since I always have those in the fridge.
  • I used brown rice instead of white.

Here are some other cooking comparisons that I've made in past posts:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Spiritual

My favorite spiritual themed books of 2013 are not what you may typically think of when it comes to this category. Instead, all three authors weave in spiritual themes throughout engaging stories or powerful premises. So even if you don't normally read books in this genre, I highly recommend these:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller

All of my tabs show how great this book is!
If you read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz then you'll know he's not your typical "spiritual" writer. In fact this book is about the depression he faced after Blue Like Jazz's wild success. When movie producers approach him about turning that book into a movie, he has the chance to reexamine his life and learn what makes a story compelling. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is about him writing a new story for himself that is filled with risk and adventure.

To read my thoughts on how this book applies to John and I seeking to live adventurously in our marriage, read my post Living An Adventure. If you want to live an adventurous 2014, this book is a must read.

"People fear change, she said. Though their situations may be terrible, at least they have a sense of control; at least they know what to expect. Change presents a world of variables that are largely out of their control." 

"A good storyteller speaks something into nothing. Where there is an absence of a story, or perhaps a bad story, a good storyteller walks in and changes reality. He doesn't critique the existing story, or lament about his boredom, like a critic. He just tells something different and invites other people into the new story he is telling."

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist

I flagged about every recipe!
I couldn't put this book down. Shauna Niequist tells honest, vulnerable stories while being hilarious and thoughtful. Plus at the end of every chapter is a recipe, and as you can see from the all of the corners that I tabbed, I want to make almost all of them.

This book is about the connection with others when we gather around the table and enjoy "bread and wine" together. It is not overly religious; instead she discusses the profound meaning, restoration, and connection that results from a life spent around the table with others.

"Some of my most sacred meals have been eaten out of travel mugs on camping trips or on benches on the street in Europe. Many of them have been at our own table or around our coffee table, leaning back against the couch. They've been high food and low food, fresh and frozen, extravagant and right out of the pizza box. It's about the table, and about all the other places we find ourselves eating. It's about a spirit or quality of living that rises up when we offer one another life itself, in the form of dinner or soup or breakfast, or bread and wine."

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Timothy Keller 

Tim Keller wrote two of my favorite spiritual books from last year, and he's back with another home run. Every Good Endeavor explores the design and dignity of work and how we can begin to write a new story for work in our lives. Keller shows how the Christian view of work is used to serve others and is an act of worship when done with excellence, integrity, passion, discipline, and creativity. Many churches neglect talking about work even though we spend the majority of week there, and it's often seen as a necessary function to support those doing "God's work." Instead, Keller shows that your job is and of itself God's work and an opportunity to bring God glory.

If you struggle with finding passion in your work, not knowing how to find meaning in your job, or how to reconcile advancing in your career with your faith or values, then this book is for you.

"The book of Genesis leaves us with a striking truth - work was a part of paradise. One biblical scholar summed it up: 'It is perfectly clear that God's good plan always included human beings working, or, more specifically, living in the constant cycle of work and rest.'"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Nonfiction

In addition to my favorite book of the year being included in the top nonfiction reads of 2013, here are other nonfiction books worth picking up:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip & Dan Heath

The title basically sums up the book, which discusses all of the flaws in our decision-making processes. While this topic may sound dry, if you've read any other Heath brothers' books you'll know it's not. The Heath brothers weave engaging stories and very interesting studies on decision-making into their 4 step process to make better decisions in your own life.

This book was especially appropriate for my work with helping students make decisions about their futures. For my thoughts on this, read my posts How to Choose a College, Major, or Career Part I and Part II.

"Sometimes the hardest part of making a good decision is knowing there's one to be made. In life, we spend most of our days on autopilot, going through our usual routines."

The Defining Decade: Why your Twenties matter - and how to make the most of them now by Meg Jay

I came across this book after watching Meg Jay's Ted Talk, Why 30 is not the New 20. I highly recommend watching this 15 minute video for Jay's reasons about why the 20s shouldn't be considered a throwaway decade. This book dives deeper in this topic, explaining how waiting until your 30s to take life decisions seriously is holding many back from living the life that they want. Work, relationships, personality, and identity have the potential to be shaped more during your 20s than any other point in life.

Again, this book was a great read for my line of work. Although I don't necessarily agree with everything that Jay proposes, it's a very interesting look into what our culture says about twenty-somethings. It's a short read and one that I recommend if you're in your twenties or have a family member in their twenties.

"The one thing I have learned is that you can't think your way through life. The only way to figure out what to do is to do - something." 

"We know that, of any time in life, our twenties are our best chance for change."

It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change your Life in Unexpected Ways by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig 

I read this quick book at the beach this year, when we were resting from John's illness. At this same time, I was feeling sick from extreme anemia (though I didn't know it at the time). This book was enlightening on how the food we put in our bodies affects us. Although I know this in principle, it was helpful to understand exactly how and why this happens. It was also encouraging that I wasn't crazy for having so many symptoms that I've had most of my life go away once I went gluten free.

Although I haven't followed the strict Whole30 eating plan that they recommend, I found the knowledge of how we digest food and why we need certain nutrients to be very interesting. There are also some recipes at the end. It'd be a perfect read for the new year if you want to start eating healthier.

"The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options."

"Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger."

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks, & Build an Incredible Career by Jocelyn K. Glei  

This less than $5 Kindle book is written by contributors to 99U, an excellent blog that I daily read articles about "insights on making ideas happen." Maximize Your Potential is about how to live into your full potential. It is written in a series of short essays on topics such as creating opportunities, building expertise, cultivating relationships, and taking risks. Although I haven't finished reading it yet, it's a great book (again) for my line of work with coaching. Yet I recommend it to anyone wanting to reawaken their sense of purpose in their work or life. With short essays, it's an easy book to pick up and read throughout the day or week.

Also, Cal Newport, an author of a nonfiction book from last year's BeEmbraced book guide, writes one of the first essays in Maximize Your Potential.

"Your ability to realize your potential will depend upon your willingness to hone your skills, to take bold risks, and to put your ego on the line in pursuit of something greater."

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

This memoir recounts Cheryl Strayed's broken life and her bold decision to hike over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail... despite no training or backpacking experience. The organized and prepared side of me was on edge most the book as she hiked in the wilderness alone and without adequate food, water, or supplies. Her journey will keep you wanting to read more, though parts of her life and decisions are gut-wrenching. 

The Pacific Crest Trail goes from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon, and Washington State, and Strayed's depictions of the scenery make you almost want to hike it too... aside from the whole living in the wilderness for months part. What captivated me about her story was the healing power of an adventurous journey.

"It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. IT seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way."

Although I started reading this book awhile ago, I am not quite finished. However, that is not because it isn't a good read. Instead it's about 900 pages long, and I've been reading other books at the same time. 

This book makes my top nonfiction reads of the year because it's a very well-written biography on Lincoln's life. What amazes me the most is Lincoln's patience. Time and again there is a crisis or he's being misrepresented by others, and yet he doesn't act rashly. His calm demeanor in decision-making (see a theme here in the nonfiction picks?) makes him a "political genius." It's also fascinating to read about the politics of the time as well as the politicians' - and their wives' - personalities. Team of Rivals is as much about Lincoln as it is about his political rivals, which later became a part of his cabinet. It's worth the time investment, especially if you enjoy history.

"...The Chicago Tribune asked Lincoln why he has chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents... Lincoln's answer was simple, straightforward, and shrewd, 'We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.' ...But in the end it was the prairie lawyer from Springfield who would emerge as the strongest of them all."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Fiction

In case you missed it on Friday, this book was my favorite that I read in 2013.

This year I seemed to read more nonfiction than fiction books perhaps because I abandoned a couple novels halfway through that were either too boring or depressing to waste my time reading. Life is too short to waste time with a bad book, right?

So here are the fiction books that I read this year that did make it to the top of the list. (Check back to 2012's best fiction books for more great novels.)

This series was a childhood favorite of mine, and since John had never read all seven books we read them together this year. Although it's a children series, Lewis weaves in deep themes, metaphors, and allegories that led to rich conversations. Whether you read them aloud to your kids, discuss them with a spouse, or enjoy the books by yourself, the story will take you in and captivate your imagination.

Read this post, Wisdom from Narnia on Difficult Decisions, for a peek at my takeaways from one of the books.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

This book is the perfect beach read and a page-turner, yet it has surprisingly deeper themes that you're still thinking about once you've finished reading it. 

The last that Alice remembers is being 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child. Yet after hitting her head and coming to, she is suddenly 39, getting divorced, and has three children.

As she puts the pieces of her life together, you see the pain and struggle of daily decisions that add up to a lifetime. It leaves you considering your own life and what trajectory you're heading down. 

"She said that sometimes you have to be brave enough to 'point your life in a new direction.'"

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

This beautifully written historical fiction novel will draw you into a story of family, immigration, war, and love. To quote the Amazon summary, it's "a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again." The novel spans from the 1910s to the end of World War II, centering around the lives of Ciro and Enza, who immigrate from the Italian Alps to New York. 

" must dig constantly for meaning in the sorrow of this life, and this sorrow must galvanize you, not define you."

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

We read this book for Book Club, and the novel's complexity and interwoven characters led to an engaging discussion about the meaning of our connections with others. 

Hosseini is the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but unlike those books, this novel is not as graphic or shocking. Instead, it spans generations and shows the ripples from the choices that we make in life. It is set in Kabul, Paris, San Francisco, and the Greek island of Tinos, including loosely intertwined stories but related themes.  

"They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind."

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is a suspenseful mystery story that grabs you from the first page. It's strange and twisted yet you can't put it down. It's a tad bit creepy with a lot of plot twists, which made it another great Book Club discussion. I won't give any of the plot away except to say that a wife goes missing on her 5th wedding anniversary. 

"We are all working from the same dog-eared script."

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

I remember first reading this book in high school and being drawn in by Fitzgerald's writing and descriptions of the Jazz Age. As I re-read the book this year, in preparation of seeing the new movie with my Book Club, I again soaked up the way Fitzgerald moved the plot along with engaging dialogue and captivating descriptions. 

It's worth a re-read if you haven't read it in a few years mainly because of the beautiful writing. Yet the themes, however hopeless, are also worth reflecting on, and read my post, A Not So Hopeless Hope, for my thoughts on the book.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Best Books of 2013 Series

Last year, I wrote a series on the best books that I read in 2012... and this year it's time for more! I love to read so it's only fitting that I sum up my favorite books that I read this past year. 

This series won't necessarily be books that were written this year. Instead, they'll be books that I have read in 2013 and that shaped my perspective in one way or another. Similar to last year, I'll write a series of posts based on books in the categories that I typically read, such as fiction, nonfiction, spiritual, and the best for gift-giving.

To kick off the series, here is the #1 book that has become one of my all-time favorite books. 

The best book that I read in 2013 was... drumroll... Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Our friends are probably tired of hearing John and me talk about this book, but it made a huge impact on us and the way that we think about being vulnerable. It challenged us to confront the way that we were (or were not) vulnerable with each other and how we could start showing up and being seen. 

In Brown's words: "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."

You may be familiar with author Brene Brown's extremely popular Ted talk, The Power of Vulnerability. If not, go watch this 20 minute video now and then go order the book.

Daring Greatly is such a powerful read because Brown confronts societal and cultural stereotypes head-on and discusses how instead of living into shame, you can embrace vulnerability. She argues that only through taking the risk of being vulnerable can you live wholeheartedly. Otherwise, you'll be the one standing on the outside of the arena looking in and missing the true adventure of living fully. 

To hear more of my thoughts on why Daring Greatly made such an impact on me, you can read my post Are We There Yet?.

Reading this book would be a perfect way to kick off your 2014 and dare to live greatly...