Friday, July 29, 2011

A Tale of Love and Chefs

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” 
(John 13:34-35, NLT)

Hi. My name is Danielle and I love competitive cooking shows on Food Network. 

No, really. My favorite is the show "Chopped" hosted by Ted Allen. If you've never seen it, the basic premise is that 4 chefs who are fantastic at what they do compete to win $10,000 by cooking 3 dishes (appetizer, entree, dessert) using mystery ingredients and the pantry & fridge that are in the kitchen. The producers do a fantastic job of making sure you get a good picture of the personalities of the chefs, which is great so that you can make a good decision of who to cheer for. 

Steve and I's all-time favorite "Chopped" champion was Madison Cowan, who actually ended up winning $50,000 on a massive "Chopped Champions" tournament. He's a Jamaican/British/American dude with a fantastic attitude towards food - he feels like it needs to speak to and come from your soul - and an amazing story of overcoming odds to do amazing things for himself and his young daughter. When he won the first time before progressing on to "Chopped Champions", he beat a Christian fellow named Lance who is the head chef for "Camp in the Woods" - a Christian camp in New York State. 

Madison Cowan in his first appearance on "Chopped". Start at about 6:00 to see his dessert battle with Chef Lance.

Chef Lance has also turned out to be another one of Steve & I's favorite chefs to have appeared on "Chopped" since we've been watching it because of his super-positive attitude and his boldness in professing his faith on a nationally televised cable program. This week we pulled up the latest & greatest episode of "Chopped" on our DVR to find ourselves greeted with a special edition of the show: "Chopped: Redemption". 

Food Network brought back some of their almost-winners to compete for a second chance at becoming a "Chopped" champion for one episode. As soon as I saw the lead-in bumper (is that the right phrase?), I said to Steve: "Oh! It's that Christian camp guy!"... and we knew immediately who we were cheering for to win (especially after one of the other dudes had a huge attitude problem... he got cut immediately). 

As the show progressed, the clips that highlighted Chef Lance always showed him talking about his faith. How he tries to show grace in everything he does because he's been given such beautiful, undeserved grace by God. How he used to be a huge jerk before he found his faith. How he draws on God for strength & inspiration in the kitchen. And in the last round - it came down to Chef Lance and Chef Yoanne; a sweet, French chef who was hoping to win the money to be able to go to France and spend some time with her grandmother who had basically raised her, taught her to cook, and was an important part of her life.

The two chefs whipped up their desserts and presented them to the judges for the final decision on the grand prize. Here's the end result:

I'll admit, I shed a couple of tears at this moving ending to a relatively ordinary cooking game show. It was so awesome to see genuine care and love in action... and there are two things that you don't see in this clip that make this even more moving:

1. Earlier in the show, Chef Lance comments to her about how he was moved to hear the story of how her grandmother had taken care of her.
2. During the second round, Chef Yoanne had slipped, fell, and dropped a pan of scalding hot potatoes on both her legs and one hand. This meant that she pushed through the dessert round in a lot of pain, but with a deep determination to push through and try to win so she could see her grandmother.

To be honest - even though Chef Lance was the guy we were cheering for, we were certain that he didn't win. But in the end - he not only won, but was able to publicly display unsolicited love and generosity towards this woman he had just met that day to help her get to see her grandmother. To not only do it, but to be bold enough to do it in a way that made it known that he was working so hard to live out his life in a way that honors the way that God calls us to live... it was an amazing, rare thing to see. 

Thank you, Chef Lance, for showing us that not all reality TV has to be terrible... sometimes it can show us the amazing hearts that God has designed us to have.

Friday, July 15, 2011

12 New Things - Sushi

Those of you who read my blog regularly might remember that I had joined the 12 New Things challenge last year and checked three things off of my list (covering chairs, making my own black bean burgers, and snorkeling). Those of you who are good at math are thinking right now that three does not equal twelve.

You're right - it equals three. Good job.

Anyways, in full disclosure the challenge fizzled out across the board. The originator openly admitted her life was incredibly crazy and she couldn't keep up; truth be told, I just lost track. So now my "12 New Things" list is still in action, it's just significantly slower going than was originally intended.

Now that the confessions are out of the way... I am pleased to announce that I can finally check one off the list (that I had actually been putting off for a lot longer than the existence of the list): I tried sushi.

When Steve and I went to Martha's Vineyard, we had originally wanted to have dinner our first night at the Offshore Ale Company because the idea of a fun, pub dinner appealed to us. We arrived, discovered they had a 45-minute wait, put our name in - and looked elsewhere to see if we could find something else. After a check on Yelp, we decided to walk a couple of blocks over to the Lookout Tavern. They got great reviews... including rave reviews about their sushi.

I looked at Steve. We agreed. It was time for me to try the raw slimy stuff.

To start, I have to say that I loved the atmosphere of Lookout Tavern. It's seat yourself, super laid back, has a chill bar-ish atmosphere without being loud & obnoxious. The place breeds friendly, social contact among its patrons; we sat next to a group of women who were out for dinner & drinks that were pleasant to talk with. Not only that - but the waitstaff were fantastic. Our waiter was personable, offered up great suggestions, was prompt and attentive. We really enjoyed our visit and all the food was great. Plus, they served Magner's Hard Cider which is an automatic win in my book.

Mmmmm... Magners...
But enough about that. I know you're chomping at the bit, wondering about my first foray into the world of sushi.

After perusing their relatively extensive sushi menu and resisting the temptation to fall back upon tempura (which is fried and therefore not entirely sushi in my opinion), we decided to get two rolls to share. We ordered a spicy tuna roll and a yellowfin crunchy roll; somewhere in the back of my head I heard an old college friend's voice telling me that tuna was probably the right way to go when I finally did try sushi, so that was part of what drove the decision. It came out quickly, I took a deep breath, and followed the soy-sauce dipping instructions of my handsome companion. Without further delay... I popped the first spicy tuna roll in my mouth and took my first taste of raw-fish sushi.

Open wide! And don't mock my terrible chopsticks technique.

What happened next was almost like a scene out of a 1980's Life cereal commercial with me as the Mikey character: I liked it! Danielle liked it!

I really, really enjoyed every bite of the sushi that we got. The spicy tuna was quite good, but the yellowfin crunchy roll was my favorite. What made it crunchy were breadcrumbs around the outside and a small bite of apple rolled in with the fish & avocado. The flavors were so good that I had to resist the temptation to steal some of Steve's 4 pieces that he had for himself. The most impressive part in my opinion? I was enjoying the sushi so much that I didn't want to taint the taste of it with anymore soy sauce. I ate it in its raw, naked state until the last piece of my share of the sushi was gone.

And I wanted more... but we had a chicken sandwich coming that we were going to share and we also had our excursion to Back Door Donuts to take into consideration. Alas, no more sushi for me that night. The good news though - especially for Steve who loves food adventures - is that I've opened up a whole new level of the game of food for myself. With so many friends that love to go out for sushi, I no longer have to be the wet blanket who whines and says "waaah... but I don't liiiike sushi..."

Because I do. I like sushi, and want to try more of it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


"Dentists tell you not to pick at your teeth with any sharp, metal objects. Then you sit in their chair... and the first thing they pick up is a sharp, metal hook." - Bill Cosby

I once heard a statistic that among professions, the highest suicide rate was with those who are dentists. Now, I have no idea how true that is - but I suppose it makes some sense when you think about it. How many other professions do people say they have to go to an appointment for with such audible groans, heavy complaints, and verbal hatred? There are very few; even a major mechanical issue with your car or an emergency doctor's visit produces an eye roll or heavy sigh at worst with most people.

Me? There are definitely places I'd rather be than in the dentist's chair. At least until something happened to my perspective and thinking yesterday.

When I went to my intake appointment at our new dentist, my stomach sank when she told me that I had 13 surfaces that needed to be filled or watched. My last dentist had already done 9, and so these were either repeat offenders or new ones. I'm a known case of needing either high-dosage novocaine or multiple shots of the stuff, so not only would the drilling need to commence but so would the hours of facial numbness.


After my first round of fillings I fought the urge to put off making the second appointment for the next round. I was a good girl and went ahead to make it. Besides, there was a spot in between two teeth that was bothering me when I flossed that my dentist promised would be involved in the next round of fillings.

A few weeks passed, and the time came for me to head in for round two of the drill and fill. I left work at 3:45 and for the first time in a while didn't feel anywhere near as nervous as I had in the past. When I arrived at the dentist and the secretary told me that my secondary insurance (through Steve's work) had covered the balance of my last round of fillings, my nervousness completely dissipated. As I sat in the waiting room staring at the news before it was my turn in the chair, I pondered on where that well-known nervousness had gone.

As I watched on the news about a car fire that happened on my route home not long after I had driven by (which would have made me late for my appointment), God spoke to my heart: "I took it. You don't need that nervousness, you are blessed with this opportunity."

Now... I know what you're thinking. Blessed with the opportunity to go to the dentist and get drills and needles stuck into my face? Yeah, right.

But just think about this for a moment: there are people all over the world who have no means to prevent cavities, gingivitis, or other oral ailments. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, tongue scrapers are all foreign objects to hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries. When their teeth inevitably begin to decay there aren't any means of treatment readily accessible to them which means that either the teeth they have will rot and fall out of their head OR they could develop an infection that if it spread or went untreated could become lethal.

Can you imagine getting a simple cavity that could kill you?

Our students just got back on Saturday from a 6-day missions trip to Nassau, Bahamas where they served alongside 35-ish other students & leaders from other area churches to help fix-up an HIV/AIDS residential camp. While they were able to use the gifts of their health, strength, resources, and abilities to help rebuild this camp for the residents, they received a wonderful gift from God of being able to see what true, unabashed faith in Him really looks like. One of our leaders and a dear friend of mine Elyse who went on the trip has been posting a daily journal of their experience, and she put it this way:

All of the residents have a unbreakable faith and a spiritual wealth amidst their conditions, maybe even because of their conditions. And I fear I will never know it. The worst part is, I wouldn’t trade what I have for what they have, and it makes me feel like I am missing the mark. In many ways they have a richness that I will never know.

Let me just tell you that even though I did not go on the trip and very likely was not even close to affected by the trip as the way those who DID go were, I can tell you that hearing the stories of how people were moved by God's work there has been a forceful perspective and great inspiration for me over the last few days. This dental business has been just one of those ways that I've seen this take shape.

I am a woman in a country where I can basically do and be whatever I want to do and be. I live in a part of the world where I can work hard, draw a paycheck, receive access to incredible medical care AND insurance where I actually pay for very little of it. I can have access to food whenever I want it - and oh, by the way, I pay to belong to a part of a farm where someone else does all the work and I reap the benefits. I don't need to walk for miles to get water that I only HOPE is clean - I merely have to turn on my faucet.

Forget what my paycheck says - I am ridiculously blessed just by virtue of being an American citizen with all the opportunity that comes along with that.

Blessings are gifts from God because He loves us and none of the resources that I have are mine because I deserve them: they are mine because they are a gift. Dental Insurance is a GIFT. Access to clean dental care to prevent rot & infection is a GIFT. Everything that God has provided me with is a gift - if I don't use it with a joyful heart and make the best of it... that probably breaks his heart knowing that there are other children of His who do not have what I have who would not take any of it for granted.

And so, yesterday as the numbness wore off in my face and I began to feel a dull ache in the three back teeth where I had been drilled, filled, and sent on my way - my heart became chock-full of gratefulness. For God has blessed me with more than I ever could have asked for and definitely more than I can ever possibly need... and for some reason, He decided that a gentle reminder about going to the dentist was going to be how He reminded me of this.