Saving the best for last: what’s been happening recently

A young friend dutifully praying on my guest room rug– “In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful…” –while above her were frames of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Visitors from the U.S., the first in several years. I love cross-cultural work, but relating to those with whom I share both culture and faith is uplifting. And, Lord willing, more visitors arrive in a few days!

A Mediterranean baptism on a beautiful–albeit chilly– November day.

Uncontrollable evening laughter. 

A bowlful of ripening avocados because I had mentioned to my student that if I had one food to live on, I would choose avocados. (She said she’d choose dates.) 

A neighbor who asked for my tikka masala recipe. 

Weather that begs for coffee. 

A young mother who thought she knew me… and didn’t, but ended up asking for my phone number anyway.

squid tapa plate

A day trip to the mountains where I sat on a hill and talked on the phone like the un-hiker that I am. It was one of those hills with loose rocks and thorns that put “brickles in my britches. But I stayed there anyway.” (For that quote, you’ll have to read “What Was I Scared Of?” by Dr. Seuss.) Afterwards, my teammate and I unintentionally had tapas in a casino.

Storekeepers who drop the price without my even asking.

A climate where fruit is in season all year round. Right now it’s the mandarins that pop between teeth and turn to sweet puddles on tongues. And the fat persimmons. And rosy pomegranates. And even the chirimoyas, which I’m not particularly fond of but can appreciate in season.

Sunshiney Mondays that dry sheets and towels in a jiffy. 

Unintentional late night discussions.

A landlady who opened the second bedroom of my apartment. (I rented the apartment as a one-bedroom flat, the second bedroom designated for the landlady’s storage.) With the prospect of multiple guests at once, I worked up the nerve and asked her if I might possibly please use the extra bedroom while my guests are around. She gave me an incredulous, “Mujer, it’s your house!” Nevermind the original agreement. I’ll nevermind anyway!

Workers at the print shop, startled to discover that they had indeed made my idea come true. And they ignored the customer behind me to admire their own handiwork.

A ticket quietly waiting for me to test negative for covid. And one suitcase bulging with eager Christmas gifts. 

A birthday to celebrate this week. As I valiantly blaze through my 30s, I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to consider having a midlife crisis. Although, I’m not sure that’s really the sort of thing one plans for… Maybe next year…

And the very best thing of what has been happening recently? A new nephew, Zayne Davis born November 8 to two very proud parents. And no wonder they’re proud, because he’s terribly cute.

baby boy

Zayne, as you start your life in this great big world, may you find the courage to be exactly who God created you to be, nothing more, nothing less.


Photo credit for last photo goes to my brother-in-law

Alone at the seaside

In the middle of a crazy week, I took a break. This time, I was was smart enough not to stay at home because staying home meant trying to relax while gritting my teeth at unfinished work. It was time to go to the beach.

I headed out before the sun (which admittedly isn’t that difficult if you live in Spain). On the dim streets of the early morning–Are people really out and about this time of day!? Who knew?— predawn workers hurried with backpacks and work clothes. With my backpack and grungy beach outfit, I felt like I fit in. No one pointed out that I was, in fact, an imposter, on holiday rather than heading to work. Plus, I was carrying a travel mug and, well, no one does that.

One street smelled like weed. Someone trying to make it through another day, I supposed as I wound through the prolonged construction. I took just a moment to fill my lungs with the pastry aroma panting through the supermarket vents. For not really liking sweets, there are these luscious braided pastries that taste like flaky pecan pie and…. well… I marched on.

At the bus stop, I waited with the crew of sullen morning people that all kind of looked alike in an Eastern European sort of way. They stood in a row in front of me, dark hair in a perfect line, round faces turned in the same direction. Trees that had all been planted the same day. And I wondered how they could tell themselves apart.

The sun rose while we waited for the late bus, eliminating some of the romance of the early morning escapade. But as we headed out of town, the sun was still just a yellow yolk resting on the bed of white plastic greenhouses. Suddenly, I was hungry for toast. I don’t even like toast.

The sea gave a glorious welcoming roar. I stretched out on my towel dug my toes in the sand and watched the handful of retirees paddling through the chilly water. I thought through my answers for a survey I needed to fill out as I sipped my coffee and ate my soggy granola. And then I read and thought– not about food prep for an event, not about who I needed to visit, not about English lesson plans, not about my dirty floors. Instead, I thought about who God created me to be and how I fit in my current world.

Really, someday I will try to write about introversion in my line of work, as long as you promise to help me out and then give me feedback. Meanwhile, don’t mind me while I disappear to the seaside for a few alone hours.

Recipe: chimichurri

After I had chimichurri at an Argentinian restaurant in Chicago, it kept coming to mind in the same powerful way as salt and vinegar chips, which make my saliva glands pop by just thinking about them.

Then I moved overseas. But I hunted down red wine vinegar and made myself a batch. My roommate and I grew a movie night tradition that revolved more around chimichurri than the movie. We toasted it on baguette slices. Sometimes I would catch my roommate eating spoonfuls out of the blender before I could slap it on the baguette.

I will say that if you try this recipe, make sure that everyone around you is trying it too. The power is not just in the taste, but also in the lingering garlic that oozes out of your very pores.

From what I understand, this is a sauce that is typically served with grilled meat. But I will eat it here or there, say! I will eat it anywhere! Also note, a little bit goes a long way… unless you’re me.

  • 2 c. packed fresh parsley leaves (chopped a little for your blender’s sake)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. olive oil
green chimichurri sauce spread on rye crackers

Place all of the ingredients except the olive oil in the blender. Pulse until ingredients are roughly combined. Slowly add olive oil. Blend until relatively smooth. Refrigerate for several hours before serving to allow flavors to meld.

Enjoy on meat or well, anything you choose. 🙂

Recipe: bissap

Ready to say goodbye to the summer heat? Well, maybe we can’t say goodbye quite yet, but that gives us an excuse to pull out this recipe for bissap, or hibiscus tea.

I first fell in love with this drink in Mexico where it came under the label “jamaica.” Now in Spain, the recipe has a bit of an African flair. Do you have access to dried hibiscus? Have you even looked for it? This recipe will make it worth your while…

Note: Bissap is meant to be a powerful burst of flavor, but you can water it down to taste.

  • 50 g (about 1 c.) dried red bissap (hibiscus)
  • 1 1/2 liter or quarts of water (Some will evaporate and you’ll end up with a little more than 1 liter)
  • 125 g (heaping 1/2 c.) sugar
  • 1 8g packet of vanilla sugar
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. orange blossom water (Orange blossom water adds a distinct taste. If you’re not sure you’ll like it, start with 1/2 tsp. or mix with fresh squeezed orange juice instead.)

Rinse bissap flowers in cold water and drain. Bring water to a boil then add flowers. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for another 10 minutes. Stir in sugar and vanilla sugar. When cooled, strain and add orange blossom water. Serve chilled.

Cuisine and pirates: what’s been happening recently

  • I decided it’s time to learn to cook the North African cuisine. I’ve put it off for years, learning things here and there, but always timid because of how unforgiving the culture can be with their own cuisine–“You used milk in your harcha?!” I don’t think like they do. I don’t grate my onions or peel my tomatoes. I don’t grab for the same spices. I don’t have the same cookware. But I’m trying. And my friends are delighted to train me. Although, truth be told, I still look up recipes, fusing my hands-on experience and American measurements. (Note: The photos below are of food made by friends who gave me cooking lessons.)
  • I finished editing Level 1, Units 1-2 of an English curriculum that I’ve been modifying for several years. I printed and bound the notebook (and now I feel positively published!), which will make for easy lesson prep in the future. Now, on to units 3-8…
  • One day, I asked my downstairs neighbor if I could pop in and play with her little boy. “I miss my nieces and nephews,” I explained. “Of course. Come.” Was her response. So we linked monkeys in a barrel and looked at books. He didn’t know what books were, supposing that they were just to be opened and closed. So I pulled him on my lap and pointed, “Blue hat, green hat…” Soon he was pointing too.
  • A teammate and I went to see a traveling pirate exhibit. It was interesting–horrifying, really. The barbarism was rooted in the understanding that a fight was a fight to the death. While eyeing the grubby wax figures, I couldn’t shake the realization that these people probably smelled worse than they looked. That oughta erase any of those romantic pirate notions for you! We topped off the day with saag and curry that is making my mouth water as I upload the picture.
  • We have been meeting new people as we pass out flyers in the settlements among the greenhouses. Way out there in the boonies, a man told me, “You’re from Immigrantville.” Apparently, we had both lived in the same town at one point. So maybe you can “dance like no one is watching” in the privacy of your own home, but never stroll down the street like no one is watching!

There has been much, much more that has been happening, but “time would fail me to tell” all that I could say, or what I should say on a public platform. So, I will end here and get back to work. 🙂

Recipe: chocolate-coconut granola

With the descent of summer, do you need a recipe for cold breakfasts? I’ve been faithfully using this granola recipe for the last several years. Granted, it has evolved over the last several years and feel free to keep it evolving to fit your preferences. 🙂

  • 5 c. Old-Fashioned oats
  • 1 c. unsweetened coconut
  • 1 c. walnuts
  • 1/2 c. unsalted sunflower seeds (if you use salted seeds, omit salt from the ingredient list)
  • 1/3 c. ground flax
  • 3 Tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 generous tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Stir dry ingredients. In a separate bowl combine:

  • 1/3-1/2 c. honey (I use 1/3 but, as a rule, I don’t like things very sweet)
  • 1/2 c. coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla

Stir and then pour over dry ingredients. Stir granola until well mixed. Bake on cookie sheet at 325° F. (160° C) for 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway through. Aim for golden brown. After the granola has cooled, add:

  • 200g (approximately 1 1/2 c.) dark chocolate, chunked
granola on baking tray
Note: double recipe pictured above

Recipe fail: mousse au chocolat

We tried. Twice. And then I tried by myself a third time. I am still determined. Every time I think of mousse I had in France, I begin stockpiling chocolate and cream.

The first failure was completely my fault. My roommate and I had even purchased precious raspberries to garnish the mousse. But then I tried to whip the egg whites in the same mixer that I had just whipped the cream… without cleaning the bowl.

Yah, so I didn’t know.

We tried again. In the meantime, we watched the cream and chocolate mixture slowly sinking. What should we do? We decided to stick the chocolate mixture in the refrigerator to preserve it. Wrong choice. When we finally folded in the egg whites, we discovered that the chocolate had chilled into ribbons.

We still ate it and it was still amazing especially with luscious raspberries, but we knew we could do better.

So we tried again about two months later. This time, it would be perfect! Instead, we over-whipped the egg whites so that they settled into little pools in the bottoms of the ramekin dishes while we ate dinner. Plus, the chocolate had sat too long and so, although it was warm, it wasn’t warm enough, and beaded as we folded it into the cream. So the mousse was grainy and watery. But somehow still amazing.

small dish of chocolate mousse with chocolate shavings

But I knew we could do better. So one afternoon, I had a guest and decided to try a third time. I felt fairly confident even though I was on my own this time. I would whip the whites into perfect elf hats and whisk the yolks into the chocolate while the chocolate was still warm enough.

Instead, the chocolate stiffened when I whisked in the egg yolks. I tried heating it again, but you probably know how that goes. In the meantime, the egg whites began to sink.

With nothing to lose because it all was a failure anyway and I would just have to serve my guest snack mix and pretend I had never tried, I whisked the globby chocolate mixture into the cream until it was 100% incorporated (forget the 10 folds limit!). Then I folded the sagging whites into the chocolate and cream, poured rather than spooned it into ramekin dishes, grated some chocolate on the top and stuck it in the fridge for time out.

I pulled it out before my guest arrived, just to sample it. Heavy instead of fluffy. A little like mousse meets fudge. Before I realized it, I had eaten the entire dish, but don’t worry, there were 3 more dishes to share with my guest. 😉

If anyone has a mousse au chocolat recipe that is easier than what I’ve tried, I would love to have it! (Note: none of the chocolate pudding and cool whip stuff. I love that too, but it will never transport my taste buds to France.)

Or maybe you have your own mousse story…

Trying dieting

I’ve never been the person watching what she ate, until I came to Spain. Then it was simple: overdose on protein and stay away from sugar and caffeine. Until I got back from the States this fall and my blood test revealed shocking cholesterol numbers. 

Genetics? Yes. Well, partly. Also, my love affair with cheese. After visiting France a couple of years ago, I thought it would be nice for God to call me to a country where one can eat a different kind of cheese every day of the year. Now I’m thankful I’m in Spain, where cheeses are outstanding, but numbered. 

The doctor gave me a “to eat and not to eat” list. I did my own research, plugged a basic menu into a nutrition calculator and stuck to it for the most part. I’ve been eating well, make no mistake, but food prep takes longer than it used to. Plus, I spent a couple of months enduring my roommates snickers when I weighed almost everything I ate. I also had to endure my sister’s judgment when I feasted on a rosy salmon fillet, roasted brussel sprouts, rye crackers with homemade hummus, with a mango and 85% chocolate for dessert. 

I love baking. I would probably bake every day if it weren’t for the piles of dishes. Or the piles of sweets. When I had a roommate, it was easier to dispose of my leftover baked goods. Granted, she was not always pleased to see another plateful of a sugary something with an attached note: “EAT!” 

Honestly, I am a healthy eater by discipline, not naturally. If you’re going to trip me up, set out a cracker variety and a luscious cheeseball, chips and salsa, or just mounds of greasy potato chips. I don’t even like bread, but once and a while, I pig out on bread, especially if it’s loaded with heart-stopping slabs of cold butter.  It hasn’t been all that long ago since I ate an entire bag of chips in one day. Or one day, I was walking down the street and smelled hot dogs. Hot dogs! And I could taste them, roasted over a fire, overloaded with tangy mustard and a heap of shredded cheddar. I admitted this craving to my roommate who, after watching me carefully blend kale smoothies, was amused. Rightfully so. 

For us first-worlders, food, like so many other things in life, is a choice. What we choose today may affect our tomorrow. 

Do you have a food plan? What do you do? Do you make allowances or take days off? Wedge in a bit of space for that mousse au chocolat? Speaking of which…


Photo by Cody Pulliam on Unsplash

The Hammer Holds

May you have a blessed Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Even though we live on the Spanish coast, this year we don’t plan to watch the sunrise on the beach… perhaps because we have approximately one morning person on our team (and it’s not me). We still plan to celebrate Christ’s resurrection for most of the day through worship, fellowship, and food. What are your plans?

This week, I have been buried in research and I’m not taking time to write anything original. Still, I wanted to share a piece of the song “The Hammer Holds” from Bebo Norman, a deep, poetic work that tells the story of a piece of steel as it is shaped into a nail to be driven into the Savior’s hand. You can listen to the full song here.

The hammer pounds again, but flames I do not feel. 
This force that drives me, helplessly, through flesh, and wood reveals 
A burn that burns much deeper, it's more than I can stand: 
The reason for my life was to take the life of a guiltless man. 
So dream a little, dream for me in hopes that I'll remain, 
And cry a little, cry for me so I can bear the pain. 
And hurt a little, hurt for me, my future is so bold, 
But my dreams are not the issue here, for they, the hammer holds. 
This task before me may seem unclear 
But it, my Maker holds

from Ten Thousand Days 1999, Watershed Records.


Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Recipe: dahl

This is one of my “go-to” recipes. I eat this every week because I like it that much. Wanna know why? Try it! (And then let me know if you like it.) I typically make a double batch, but I left the calculations for the single batch just in case you don’t like it as much as I do.

stacked cans of coconut milk and tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced or sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, or more to taste. (This amount is mild.)
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 c. (200g) lentils, soaked
  • 400 ml can of pureed tomatoes
  • 400ml coconut milk (I use light, but don’t. Full fat is better.)
  • 2 cups chicken or beef broth
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2-3 handfuls fresh spinach

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently until golden brown. (This takes a while, but the trick to amazing flavor is patience. My Pakistani friend told me, “It’s better just to forget about them for awhile.”)

Add the garlic, ginger and red pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add remaining spices and cook for another minute. 

Add the lentils, pureed tomatoes, coconut milk, and broth, and stir to combine the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes until lentils are soft (the liquid will reduce during this stage). Remove from heat.

Stir in the lemon juice and spinach, or simply serve spinach as a side for everyone to add themselves. Delicious with basmati rice (and delicious without, really).