Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: Mystically Wired

I recently read the book "Mystically Wired" by Ken Wilson and was pleasantly surprised. It's not often that you are able to find a book that takes prayer and makes it something completely approachable. Prayer is something that most people are intimidated by, so by making it approachable Wilson does something powerful for millions of people looking to get closer to God.

Wilson breaks the book into what I think are two basic sections: how God wired us to pray and relate to him, and then how we can actually go about doing that. The way that he breaks this down is key I think - first understand how it works, then understand how to make it work. Since this is a basic approach to most things that we encounter and tackle in our daily lives, it makes coming to God in prayer a completely realistic thing for someone who may have previously been nervous, intimidated, or just avoided prayer thinking it's too hard. By demonstrating that we're all wired to pray, explaining that we're all uniquely wired, and giving several practical ways to step into the shallow end of the "prayer pool", Wilson removes the barriers that most people have to engaging with God in prayer.

I was truly amazed by how incredibly practical this book was. There were several points at which I agreed with the author, appreciated his challenges, and felt encouraged to take simple steps to come to God in prayer. As someone who found my faith relatively recently, prayer is not always something that comes naturally to me. What Wilson does that I really appreciated was recognize that a lot of people are coming from this position of discomfort and present ways to get past and challenge those barriers. The thing that Wilson does that I found really handy was that he not only give several steps and tools with which to approach God in prayer; at the end of the book he provides an appendix of 10 steps for the reader to use as an easy reference. A month from now I won't remember every single thing that he spelled out in the book, but having an appendix certainly helps with that issue.

Something that may turn a person off to this book is that in the first chapter or two he heavily references the mystics in his discussion of how we are wired to pray. A lot of people may be turned off by this, but I would encourage anyone deciding to read this book to be patient with Wilson as his points are incredibly relevant if you hear him out with an open mind. I personally don't have any problem with the concept of mystics and mysticism, but I understand where this may be a put-off to some.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for practical tools and understanding when it comes to prayer. Again - I caution that some may be turned off by the first chapter or two, but I encourage anyone who gets this book to seriously get past that and hear out the author. His points are valid, they make sense, and the fact he offers simple things that we can do to become more engaged in prayer on increasingly deep levels is great. The reviews on the back of the book all basically state that this was the best book on prayer that they had ever read - and on a lot of levels I would agree. If you struggle with prayer or are just looking to explore new/deeper areas of prayer - get your hands on this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Calm Your Fears - The Yogurt's Fine

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to notice that someone on Twitter had retweeted about a contest that Chobani was having where the winner(s) could get a case of free yogurt. All a person had to do was follow Chobani on Twitter and retweet the contest - and the person was entered. Simple enough. I clicked the "Follow" button on their profile and retweeted about the contest. Boom. Entered.

An hour or two later I got a direct message from the folks at Chobani letting me know that I had won and to please email them at the address provided with my mailing address and my favorite flavor of Chobani. Sweet!

Excited because that's about $12 worth of my favorite Greek-style yogurt for free - I immediately emailed them with my address, let them know that I love the pomegranate (which has full seeds in it, delicious) and that the blueberry is a close second favorite. Then I asked them a very important question... How the heck do you ship yogurt?

They emailed me back to let me know they'd send me a case of yogurt with both flavors (score!) and to rest easy - they ship yogurt all the time. It would ship out on January 5 and arrive at my house on January 6. I knew I would be working that day from home, so I felt better knowing that a case of yogurt wouldn't be hanging out on my front porch all day getting gross. What I didn't know is that there was no way in heck that yogurt would have gone bad. The box arrived today as promised... and what I found made me realize that yes, the fine folks at Chobani know exactly what they're doing when it comes to shipping yogurt.

The box that arrived on my doorstep was significantly larger than I was expecting and contained a styrofoam cooler that was equally as large.
Picture taken next to fridge for a bit of perspective on the size of the box.

Now... we've all eaten yogurt. 12 containers of yogurt is not that large. I went ahead and opened the cooler and inside that I discovered how exactly it is that Chobani keeps their yogurt cold when they ship it to you overnight. Every ounce of empty space was loaded with styrofoam packing peanuts, and there were 8 reusable long-lasting ice packs inside as well. I could definitely feel the cold air emanating from the cooler as I removed the packing material to get to the yogurt that I knew had to be buried in there somewhere.
I felt like the dad in "A Christmas Story" digging through this box. My very own "Major Award".
8 ice packs - totally reusable, I might add. These will come in handy.

Once I finally was able to dig through and remove all of the ice packs from the cooler, I laid my hands on the case of yogurt that was buried deep inside. The case contained 6 blueberry and 6 pomegranate yogurts - all nice and cold and waiting to be placed in their temporary home in my refrigerator. Temporary because at some point these are all going to end up in an Athanas stomach.
There were so many packing peanuts they got inside the case too. Packing peanuts everywhere.
So if you ever find yourself in a situation where a company is going to overnight ship you something rather perishable and they reassure you that they know what they're doing - there's a good chance that they do. I think that's the bottom line. That, and I have 12 of my favorite yogurts in my fridge that I'm super pumped about. Because they're going to be yummy. And they were free.

**Disclaimer: I was in no way compensated to write this post. I am writing this of my own volition because I was seriously impressed with the way Chobani shipped this yogurt. They are not paying me in any form - money, more free yogurt, lawn care, etc. - for writing this post. If they had shipped it terribly, I would have told you about that too. Consumer education and all.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Using Leftovers: "Boiled Dinner" Risotto

Growing up in New England, I am very familiar with the phrase "Boiled Dinner". This meal usually consists of a ham or corned beef boiled with potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage - at least that's what it was in my house growing up. It wasn't unusual for us to have boiled dinners a few times over the course of the winter growing up in my house, and some of my fondest Sunday dinner memories surround these meals.

Staring at a seemingly endless pile of leftover ham from Christmas, I decided that I would use some of it in a risotto dish. While wandering the produce section at my local grocery store yesterday, I came up with the idea of creating a "Boiled Dinner" risotto using some of my favorite ingredients from a typical New England boiled dinner. The results were absolutely delicious, so I will share them with you.

"Boiled Dinner" Risotto (Serves 8)

- 4 tablespoons of light olive oil, divided
- 1.5 medium or 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled & chopped
- 2 red potatoes, washed & chopped
- 1/2 small/medium head of cabbage, cut into 2" long x 0.5" wide strips (roughly)
- 1.5 tsp crushed garlic
- 2 cups leftover ham, chopped
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 6 cups stock (I used chicken)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1.5 oz (or 1/2 cup) shredded/grated Asiago Cheese
-  Cinnamon, sage, nutmeg, rosemary, and fresh ground pepper (about 2-3 dashes each... just enough, but not too much)

- In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil.
- Add in onions & carrots. Sauté for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add red potatoes & the other 2 tbsp olive oil. Sauté for about 2-3 more minutes.
- In a separate pot, combine stock, water, and cider vinegar. Put heat on medium to bring up to a warm temperature - liquid should be steaming but not bubbling. 
- Add cabbage & ham. Sauté for about 2-3 more minutes. (At this point, I also added about 1/4 cup water to help de-glaze the pan as there was some brown starting to appear at the bottom.)

- Add garlic & rice. Sauté for about 2 more minutes.
- Ladle enough of the liquid over the rice to cover it. Stir and bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

- As the liquid becomes absorbed, add 1-2 more ladles of liquid until the rice becomes al-dente and the risotto begins to appear to have a creamy texture/look.
- Before adding the last ladle or two of liquid, add the 2 tbsp of brown sugar and all spices to the mixture. Stir until combined.
- Once the last of the liquid has been added and has been absorbed, stir in the Asiago cheese until it is combined. Serve in bowls, feeds up to 8.
This is basically what the finished product should look like.

When I served this up to Steve and our friend John, it was better received than I had anticipated. Steve is not much of a cabbage person so I wasn't sure how he'd like the cabbage in the mix, but he went for seconds - so it wasn't bad to be in there! We have about 4 servings left so I'm looking forward to having this for another meal or two.

One variation on this that I will throw out there. The cider vinegar combined with the brown sugar & cinnamon lend this dish to have a slightly tart & sweet flavor. If you're not a fan of vinegar tastes, I would recommend not adding the vinegar to the liquid and instead substituting in 1/2 cup of apple juice or apple cider. I think that it would keep that sweetness to the flavor but take away the tartness of the vinegar.

If you try this out, leave a comment and let me know. I will say this for anyone who's never made risotto - I think that it can be intimidating because you don't want to overcook it. However, it is incredibly easy to do once you know what you're doing. The key - I've found - is to make sure you're ready to stand over the pot, stirring in the liquid and keeping a watchful eye for when it has been absorbed by the rice so you know when to add more. Risotto is an interactive meal to prepare and can be fun to watch it transform into a pile of sauteed stuff into a delicious creamy rice dish.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Setting the Bar for 2011

Today is the first day of the new year, and I am excited to say that I spent it with Steve setting up our budget and then having a day-date pilgrimage to Foxboro to hang out at Patriot Place. It was indeed a great start to the year.

The last few days I've been wondering what exactly it is that I want to accomplish this year, and truthfully I've been a bit stumped. This morning as I stood in my office I realized that there are 4 things that I want to do and getting them down in a written form is a good first step in getting going with them. In no particular order of importance, here are the things that I want to accomplish sometime in the next 365 days.

1. Finish the "Afghan of Doom". I taught myself to crochet about 8 or 9 years ago and it was right about that time that I bought a bunch of yarn and decided I was going to make myself an afghan using nothing but double crochet stitches and an "H" hook. To this day I have still not finished that blasted afghan and I'm pretty sure I haven't set a stitch into the thing in over a year. Rather than have an unfinished project continue to take up space in my closet, I'm going to finish the thing before the year is out. Period. This goal is non-negotiable. I'm tired of the doubt I have in my heart and mind that the blasted thing will ever be done - it must happen.

You're mine this year, Afghan of Doom. Be prepared to be completed.

2. Study at least one book of the Bible per month start to finish. As I mentioned in my post re-capping my 2010 goals, I did not complete this goal this year. I did end the year having spent more time in God's word than ever before and really enjoyed the time I spent studying scripture. What I did learn through this (besides not having a plan and not setting aside time being key factors to incompletion), is that there are several books of the Bible that I definitely want to dive into and spend time in. Among these are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Acts, Revelation (to name a few)... I really think that if I plot out at least one book to read and study per month, that will be significantly more attainable for me than trying to read the whole book in a year on my own. I know my own limits, I know how I spend my time, it's best to take a moderate step on this and surprise myself later rather than a huge leap.

3. Read at least 15 books before the year is through. Last year I set out to read more than I did in 2009, and I increased my total from 4 books read in 2009 to 13 books read in 2010. This year I'd like to read at least 15 books; considering I used to be an absolutely voracious reader and I love reading - this one is one I think I can achieve.

These poor books just want to be read... don't they look sad and lonely?

4. Run in two 5K races and achieve progressively better times. I ran in my first 5K race in 2010, and I loved it. I have grown to really enjoy running and can feel myself getting stronger and being able to run longer. Having said that, this year I'd love to be able to run in at least 2 races and improve my time with each one. My first time was 37:48, so I think that's something I can definitely succeed in as well.

Four seems to be a good number for me, so I'm going to keep it to this list for things that I want to accomplish this year. I'm excited about them. Now if you'll excuse me... I have a cup of tea, a pile of yarn and a crochet hook in the other room waiting to be paid attention to. Might as well get right down to work!

Happy New Year, Everyone!