Friday, August 30, 2013

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconut Muffins

I had just come from a beautiful time at a wedding in another state, and was about to drive to someone else's wedding in another country. Jenn was excited. Jenn was inspired. Jenn was downright tired. And, you may not know this, but that means that Jenn was singing Disney songs...and getting the baking bug. 
So the night before her family packed up and drove to Canadia, Jenn started the soaking process for a lovely bunch of coconut muffins. 
And, in case you find yourself lodged in between three countries, two weddings, and less sleep than you can shake a stick at (nope, never understood that phrase), Jenn is sharing her recipe concoction with you so you can go coconut crazy, too. 

~1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~1/2 cup rolled oats
~2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar or Kombucha + 1 cup full-fat coconut milk. 

Mix above ingredients together, and let soak for about 12 hours in a bowl covered with a towel. I usually do this at night so that the muffins can be baked in the morning. But you can always soak it in the morning and then bake the muffins at night. You work with your schedule, deal?
But, whenever you do decide to bake your lovely bunch of coconut muffins, begin the baking session by turning your oven on Bake (imagine that) to 375 degrees F. 
Take a bit more than a half cup of coconut oil and melt it on the stove on medium. Save half a cup of the melted coconut oil for the next step, but, for now, grab a tablespoon or two of the melted oil to grease a muffin tin. Believe me, do this step at the beginning and you will thank me at the end. 


~2 local, pastured eggs
~1/2 cup evaporated cane juice or Sucanat or other solid natural sweetener (powder in food processor if coarse)
~1 teaspoon vanilla
~1/2 cup virgin, unrefined coconut oil (melted if solid at room temperature)

Mix the eggs, sweetener, and vanilla in a bowl, slowly pouring in the melted coconut oil as you stir. You are stirring in the coconut oil slowly in order to prevent its heat from pre-cooking the batter. 

~2 teaspoons cinnamon
~1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground cloves
~3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
~1 teaspoon sea salt
~2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder

Now you get to whisk the spices and thatthingthatmakesthemuffinsrise into the egg mixture. Whisk well! And smell but do not touch! Mmm. Yeah, you know this is going to be a lovely bunch of coconut muffins, for sure.
After you have enjoyed the fragrance of this merry concoction, and once the egg/spice mixture is thoroughly whisked, add said whisked mixture to your bowl of soaked wheat, oats, and coconut cream. Stir until you have a pretty homogeneous mixture, but take care not to over-stir. Good! Now you have yourself a muffin batter.

~1/2 cup dried cranberries
~1/2 cup chopped cashews, preferably soaked.
~1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Stir these last three yumminesses into your batter, and guess what? Thou hast just made a lovely bunch of coconut muffins! Almost.

Fill the greased muffin tin with your muffin batter and bake at 375 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. You know the drill: stick a toothpick in the center of the center muffin to see if the toothpick comes out clean. When it does, you know the muffins are done. But, you know what? I think you can tell by the smell and the colour of the muffins. When the kitchen has this delicious aroma wafting in the air and your muffins are this beautiful toasty golden brown colour, you know they are ready to pop out of the oven. 

Whenever the muffins are ready, remove muffin tin from the oven and let it cool for about ten minutes before eating or storing the muffins (yeah right!).

And now you have yourself a lovely bunch of coconut muffins, perfect for taking on road trips, eating as a part of breakfast, or turning them into a special snack while you nostalgically watch Disney's The Lion King!

*While the recipe is definitely customised, Wardeh from Gnowfglins gets the credit for the basic recipe

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dominican Republic 2013: Part Nine

This is a long one, friends! So much happened on (last) Friday that even though I left events out of the narrative, this post grew into a novel of its own. Grab some coffee and play some music, 'cause its going to be a while before you finish this, if you finish it. 

And I did not edit at all. Sorry, kind of. But here it is at long last:

'Tis now our second full day of staying in La Tinajita, and much has happened since we arrived. In my naïve take on providence, I had imagined that our time in the mountains surrounding Santiago would be one of quietude, a breather where not much that was blog-worthy would occur, even if our hearts would be stirred up the Word. Well, our hearts have been stirred up by the Word and I think all of us have much upon which to reflect, but that whole bit about it being quiet and not so very blog-worthy was all hogwash. God had...other plans.

On Thursday evening, Emily R. returned to our country home with a new, tailored, functioning retainer ~ completed in one afternoon! God fully and rapidly answered our orthodontic prayers in ways far beyond our expectations, as He often does, and I think enjoys doing. On top of that, Mumsie was able to get some dental accoutrements for herself, which was like throwing bonus points into the jackpot. We feel very blessed and well-cared for, but I suppose that is what happens when God is God. That night we went through our third study on Biblical Thinking and went to bed very tired but very thoughtful and very thankful. 

The plan for Friday morning was to get up at a decent time, eat, and leave by 9am in order to see a Haitian church with which Tomàs is working before going on to one of our only "touristy" stops of the trip, 27 Charcols (27 Waterfalls, or Puddles, or Pools, or just think Swiss Family Robinson again). You might be surprised, but we pulled off the schedule rather well, and, with the help of Emily K.'s "Yay!" music playlists, we made it safely to the Haitian village where the church is located.

But then plans started changing (for which I am just going to start planning). Daddy thought we would meet the Haitian pastors and see how Tomàs, a student of Daddy, is in turn teaching others, to demonstrate that discipleship is actually a vital component of healthy evangelism. We saw that truth, to be sure, but when we walked up to the church we discovered that they were holding a week-long conference and were hoping Daddy would speak. Surprise! Unfortunately, none of our group knew tuppence about this situation and thus Daddy did not come dressed for the occasion, and could not speak. 

Now, this might shock some people. He could not talk because He was not dressed correctly? Is that even Christian? It certainly is not American. But hold your individualistic horses and hear me out on this one. Something that the gospel brings to these impoverished and disheveled communities is a sense of respect and value for God, others, and themselves, which they communicate through a variety of ways including the clothes they wear. Before, they had nothing to value, nothing to strive for, nothing to live for, nothing to dress for, but now they have all of this purpose because of Christ. For these once-careless people, the hope found in Christ has brought them joy and order. If Daddy were to go up and preach in shorts and tennis shoes, the church members would not understand why this American doesn't get the new life in Christ. For them, it is not a legalist matter of "I have to wear this to look good" but a love matter of "I want to wear this because He has made me new." See where I am going? So, it might sound strange to us, but it makes perfect sense. Daddy did not preach, and everyone was the happier for it. Oh, and this was only one of the first cultural lessons we would learn that day. 

After Daddy discussed micro-loans (another post in itself) with the Haitian pastor and we had handed out some Christian books translated into Creole, the gang turned our sights upon the mountains, where the 27 Waterfalls were hid. Many foreigners come to this spot because it combines beauty with thrill. You wear sturdy shoes, grab a life-jacket, put on a helmet and hike up jungle-like paths until you reach a lovely little grotto into which rushes the beginnings of a mountain spring. You proceed to slide down that mountain spring, through 27 pools, until you get back to where you started. It is like a crazy-long water slide, except God made it, not man. None of us knew what to expect but we all were excited about it, nonetheless.

However, you have to pay for it first. And that is where cultural lesson number two pounced into our day. And I mean suddenly. Daddy and Tomás had squared away the price of our excursion while the rest of us were getting into our swimming outfits, and it had come out to be around nine dollars per ticket. Everything was good to go, and we were about to set off to the forests when, "Wait, wait, wait!" You see, they had caught a glimpse of the blondes (and the redhead, Jessie). 

"Wait, wait, wait, you need to pay for your crowd," the ticket-guy said. Um, we had agreed on the price already? "But those are foreigners, and their tickets cost more because we need to take care of them better, and because our community lives off of tourism." 

Nuts, I know. At Disney World, everybody pays the same entry fee, no matter what their colouring is, but Dominicans have this odd mixture of admiration (we need to take care of them especially well) and scorn (they are not Dominican and therefore are gullible: let's charge them more!) for those of fair complexion. That racism gets Daddy rather upset, understandably. And it was racism. They were not charging the foreigners more, for everyone in the group was foreign except for Daddy and Tomás; they were only charging the non-dark people more. Zach passed as a Dominican because he has black hair and brown eyes, Josh passed as Dominican because he started rattling off in Dominican Spanish, and I, well, I don't have to explain why I passed as a native. Mumsie, Jessie, and the Emelii were singled out for the higher price. Coinkidink? I think not.

The expensive ladies

Daddy went at the ticket-guys (and now their manager) from the angle of honesty and doing right by your customers, saying he would be fine paying the higher price as long as everyone was charged the same amount, regardless of their features. While he did that, I went all girl on them. In as Dominican a Spanish as I could, I hounded them with, "So, their lives are worth more because they are blonde? I do not deserve the same amount of protection as they do, just because I have dark hair? I am not even from here, yet you value me less because I have brown eyes and beat you in your own vernacular. That's stupid." Judge me or judge me not, but I don't abide that sort of wheedling racism. Of course, we were nice, but, well, firm. Adamant? Yeah. 

The price-efficient gal
And we ended up all paying the same amount. Cultural lesson number two concluded well, and off to the falls we went. 

Cultural lesson number three came in the form of our tour guides: two young-ish men, one who looked like a bull and the other who looked like a wiry lizard. They were jokesters, to say the least. The kind of joking that makes girls cry, ya know? So all of us felt a bit...creeped at first and sang quietly to console ourselves (or at least some of us did). Then we started hearing a little girl wailing to her mum, just behind us, but when we turned to see her, nobody was there. Then we heard the clear screech of one of the DR's many birds, but when we looked to where the sound came bird. We heard owls and cows and donkeys and that wailing girl over and over again, just behind us but never present.That's right, we had ourselves a pranking ventriloquist for a tour guide. 

Can anyone say unnerving? I know the four of us girls can, after that first hour of hiking. But the tour guides whom we detested in the beginning of the trip, we ended up loving by the time our excursion down the waterfalls was done. See, we soon realised that these annoying, creepy, completely non-serious guys were actually very alert and aware of what their duties were. They needed to relax us because some of those jumps off the rocks into the pools were positively dizzying. I am not a dare-devil, so facing a twenty-five foot plunge into blue waters below could have been quite frightening, but the light-hearted ways of the tour guides distracted us so that our jumps became a reality. 

And not only did they relax us in a very roundabout way, but by the end of the day they had proved themselves heroes in the truest sense. Not only did our bird-calling guides know how to spot all signs of fear and illness, but they also exuded astounding patience when some of our group ended up being not quite up to the challenge of jumping and sliding down a mountain. Through a bewildering display of acrobatics and by wielding their chilling grip strength, these guys managed to safely put up with our team, and even turn themselves into a living slide for those who preferred them to a slide of stone. 

I guess the lesson I learned here was two-fold. One was cultural: Dominicans deal with hard and strenuous circumstance with jokes. It’s like the third stage of Oklahoman tornado recovery, right Jessie? Rather than cry about it, let’s laugh about it and get the problem solved! There are many aspects of that philosophy which I hope to adopt ~ even if I don’t borrow our tour-guides special kind of ventriloquism. Ahem. The other lesson was one in patience. From talking to our guides, we learned that they had been at this job for fifteen years, every other day of the year. As in, they had ascended this mountain and descended these pools approximately 2,700 times! And yet they were patient when we stalled at a jump for half an hour. Even though they had done this action literally thousands of times, they still sympathised with a novice’s fears, never made the beginner feel dumb for being scared, and gently though firmly worked to help the newbie get over his anxiety. I know that when I know something inside and out and backwards, it becomes very difficult for me to show patience to someone who does not understand the given concept or motion. These guys, who had not experienced the patience of Christ and His faithfulness to re-explain as have I, blew my tendency of impatience to smithereens, and blew away this recipient of Christ’s grace. I have no excuse to be overreaching and demanding and exasperated when our unsaved tour-guides made us feel like a million bucks despite our slowness to learn. Learning from the mouth babes is one thing; learning virtue from those who have not the greatest Teacher as their Father takes it to a whole new level of humbling. And I am glad of the humbling. Lord willing (and He does will it!), I will not forget this lesson in patience. 

And now for one last lesson. By now I have completely muddled whether the lesson is cultural or not. But whatever. It is a fun story to end this entirely too long post. 

At the second to last slide/jump down the mountain, we came across a group of Canadians. Amongst them rowdy, restless, and rather reckless folks (and I can say that because I am Canadian), we noticed a young woman sitting mournfully at the top of the slide and we also noticed that her ankle was bright red and swollen. After a third glance, we confirmed she was crying. Jessie and Musmie, being the compassionate ones of our group, rushed to her side to see what was wrong. Me, being the compassionate-wanna-be, followed in suit. There we were, the three of us huddled around this 12-year-old Canadian girl named Erin, who had twisted her ankle on the hime after she wilfully demanded to wear her flip-flops instead of recommended tennis shoes. Silly or not, this poor girl was completely alone and abandoned on a rock without anyone caring who could speak her language around ~ except for us. 

Erin would absolutely not go any further down the mountain with that hurt ankle. She was alone and scared and, might I add, stubborn. She was crying. And a woman who is wild and weeping won’t do whatever it is she doesn’t want to do. Believe me. We talked with her, and pitied her for her striking solitary state, but she needed to get that down that mountain! Her tour-guides, who were different than ours, had lost patience with her about twenty pools ago, and she had lost grip on herself about an hour ago. That part was obvious. So it seems as though God placed the three of us, Mumsie, Jessie, and I, to get her to slide down those last two pools to her disconnected aunt and medical help waiting below. So we did. We prayed aloud for her multiple times, although she had firmly stated she was not into church. We encouraged her, although she refused to be comforted. We reasoned with her (I mean, no slide, no help), although she was far past the state of rationality. So finally, with much love, we nudged her. And gravity and grace were on our side. Down down down she went! Thankfully, my Daddy was waiting for us at the bottom, too. Little did he know that he would be putting his doctoring skills to work that day, but that he did. It turns out Erin was not seriously hurt, and definitely over-reacting. But, to be honest, how would I behave if I were in a strange country with strange people with an aunt who seemed to be oblivious to such basic things as the colour of the sky (that aunt was seriously clueless). And had I not just seen a tremendous example of patience? This was my first chance to put it into practice. 

And you know what I learned? I learned that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to speak truth, and deal with the realities of a situation whether the person involved wants to or not. In short, sometimes you need to nudge. And that is okay. Be kind, be gracious, be gentle, be compassionate, but be firm ~ and do not expect thanks. Was not Jesus that way? Was that not how He loved? So combine patience with purpose. That is love. And that is what I learned on the trip down the mountain. Alright, alright. So much more happened on the way home, and we ate spectacular food after our day-fast, but I am sick of typing and you are sick of reading, and knowing about the moro we ate shall not change your life one intsy bit.

I would recommend you not refill on coffee, because by the time you reach this point in the narrative, you shall have drained at least ten cups. That’s enough for two hours. Go out and jump down 27 waterfalls or something. And do not wear flip-flops.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dominican Republic 2013: Part Eight

White light filtered through the greenery and streamed through the old-world windows. I got out of bed and bounded up the stairs to the veranda, only to find a few rather naughty and determined faces. They greeted me with a challenge. “The green door on the beach exploded in a volcano and transformed into a purple closet floating in space. Can ______ enter this purple closet in space?” Yes, the boys had cooked up their revenge overnight and this word puzzle was the result. Good morning to you, too!

So, we had a few more rounds of the Magazine and “This Is a Very Simple” games (thank you, CP Gathering!) until we gratefully heard the breakfast call. Today Tomás served up mashed plantains, salami, fried cheese, and orange juice to hold us over until suppertime, for we were going to set out to the town of Constanza and would not be back until evening. However, the roads to Constanza curve and bump and slither through absolutely charming and equally disenchanting scenery, so we decided it would be best to have our 1 Peter study before our assay into windy paths; you don’t want to lose your breakfast in a leather-lined Suburban, ya know.

The especially lightbulb-moment-filled study closed and we scurried around to pack some ham and cheese sandwiches for the road, on which we set out at our usual slightly late hour. The girls drove with Daddy, who started a 20 Questions session, grown-up version (What is your favourite doctrine in the Bible? What are the two books which have impacted you most? What is one thing that seriously irks you?). The two-hour drive, needless to say, did not seem that long and, praise God, nobody felt too queasy. 

Constanza is an agricultural centre, with a fertile valley and sizeable mountain town combining to make a thriving community. The weather does not seem tropical at all, and even frost can appear in the winter. As in, pears grow there. All of us liked it a lot, but we did not come to see its pretty flowers and mounds of garlic and quaint plaza complete with doves, gazebo, and cute little bridges crossing cute little streams. We were there to see the church that Daddy and his daddy (and Daddy’s brothers) built with their own hands, as well as the house in which they lived when Grandpa pastored there, which was attached to the back of the church. 

Because it was siesta time, we could not enter the building, but we were able to snap a few photos as Daddy told us a bit of what my grandpa did when the Raimundos lived in Constanza. Then we went to the plaza to eat a quick sandwich and drink coconut soda, pick flowers, and sing a few songs in the nice gazebo acoustics. It was so strange feeling like a Dominican and a tourist all at the same time, but I decided to look at it as though I were tasting the best of both worlds rather than feeling like a belonged to neither of them (there is always a choice, no?). I personally had a splendid time of it, and I think the others did, too. 

Once we wrapped up our doo-wops and hymns, we participated in a three-car runaround the city, losing one vehicle of the caravan, then finding it, then losing the other one. After about an hour, we finally left the town all in one piece. 

When we reached the house, Tomás and Evelyn began supper preparations, and soon the homey smell of rice and beans mingled with the tantalising smell of pork chops caramelising in Dominican coke (remember Jenn’s thing for pork? Exactly). Admittedly, it was a really late supper, but the aroma was worth it. And, hey, my lemon-marinated chicken and garlic veggies was very yummy as well. While dinner was cooking, I finally got the Magazine game and tried my best to help others see the light, with moderate success. Druing the meal, our very long and full table rang with shouts and laughs and boos and cheers as we discussed the Biblical principles behind...what does one call them? pre-marital relationships? I guess that. in good old Dominican fashion. Imagine Vikings talking about their most recent exploits in battle but add a healthy dose of familial country affection, and you will have an approximate idea of what regular Dominican discussion is like. That was fun to translate, let me tell you. 

We closed out the day with our third study on Biblical Thinking, which introduced the way the souls of believers and non-believers interact with reality. We talked about whether or not reality and its description, truth, could be relative and how an understanding of the Bible affects what we believe about it. What do you think?

The study ended around 11:30pm, after which the night owls played a few more rounds of Speed Uno. Then the girls headed to bed, but were kept awake by the boys who sounded like they were playing Master and Commander with their walkie-talkies upstairs. Mhm. Hilarious. But we got our rest, because the next day we would be packing our bags once again to go to another part of the mountains, La Tinajita (Jessie translates it as The Little Brown Jar; we called it The Little Vessel). I went to La Tinajita last year and was positively delighted with the place, so it was with much anticipation and sweet rest that I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep....

Dominican Republic 2013: Part Seven

Roosters sound different here from what they do in the Unites States, and they sound even more different in the DR’s countryside. But they are a great way to start your day. And that is how we started ours. Up with the rooster to snatch the last glimpse of sunrise and beat the first stirrings of the house to see the views, then catch the whiff of peppers and onions and eggs and mashed yuca playing with the aroma of hot chocolate in the kitchen and terrace (we Dominicans love us some hot chocolate). Tomás kindly chose to be with us on this trip to serve as cook and driver and friend, and makes food smell delicious. What is more, he has this knack for playing Bach and Chopin and Beethoven on his speakers whenever he cooks, so that   not only does he fill our house with the fragrance of food, but with the fragrance of music, too. Needless to say, meals are practically a royal, albeit humble affair. 

After breakfast, we went through our next study in 1 Peter, which, speaking of food, drove us into some great insight on eating in general. But this is narrative, Jenn, narrative. Right. Once the study concluded, the gang of sixteen people piled into three four-wheel drives and headed out to La Vega (The Field) to see the conference center which my grandfather helped start and sustain. It now serves as a Christian retreat center, but when my grandpa and my dad lived there, it also was a seminary and the center of most missionary work in the country. The idea behind the seminary was to produce pastors who knew how to farm and how to plant churches. The seminary was basically self-sustaining, for the students needed to help grow their own food and raise their own livestock whenever they were not formally studying. To become a pastor, each student needed to leave the conference center and plant a viable church. Only then would they “graduate.” How neat is that? Especially considering the fact that it actually worked.

My parents, brother and I had lived in the conference center for four months a while back, so going back felt like returning to a childhood home. Even more so was this true for Daddy, however, who proudly showed us the room where he was born and told us about the nurse midwife who delivered him, and about ninety percent of the missionary kids of that time. 

The grounds are luscious, full of trees loaded with mango and pineapple and avocado and pan de fruta (fruit bread?). We all enjoyed listening to some of the history of the gospel in the DR, as well as seeing such a lovely place. Of course, I personally liked it because this conference center is just so rich in my family history. 

Our crew trekked the journey home in the late afternoon, and we stopped to get some Dominican pizza on the way. Five huge pizzas they ate, but considering its smell and our lunchlessness, I can totally see why that happened. Of course, we engaged in the cheese versus pepperoni versus interesting flavour debate. And, of course, I am not sure who won.
 Once at home, I hurriedly ate some leftover meat and spinach because half of us had long been looking forward to watching the sunset on a mountain near our villa, and I was one of this party. The other half of us went with Daddy and Mumsie to a church in the village where Daddy preached. But I only know about the sunset crowd. We went over a few hills and reached this lovely open spot that had a perfect view of some further mountains behind which the sun was slowly descending in soft colours of pink, orange, and grey. It was beautiful. 

Of course, Jessie Bear found some very interesting rocks to look at, and attracted a small circle around her figure as she explained how the shells and fossils and rock layers all proclaimed the power of God in creation and catastrophe. She demonstrated homeschooling very well, which I believe was an encouragement to our hosts, who want to homeschool but are rather nervous. Evelyn read aloud Psalm 104 and we discussed hydro-tectonic theory and the way the Bible beats scientists in explaining our world. So, imagine. We are watching a gorgeous sunset on a breathtaking mountain, and half of us are sitting on the ground staring at rocks. 

The other half of us were talking hard-core photography because, as we all know, the world is better seen through a camera lens. I stood in the middle and actually watched the sunset while eavesdropping on both conversations. It was astounding to me to note the different ways we were all glorifying God; some were exclaiming over stones, some were marvelling at the star flaunting its brilliant colours, and others were sharing really cool knowledge about how to best attempt to digitally record this memory. As previously mentioned, I did nothing and I did it all. 

The sun faded away and the stars appeared one by one as Jessie’s voice hummed on and on with fascinating creation wisdom, but it quickly became too dark and chilly to stay out, plus we had forgotten chairs for those who chose to sat on the ground. So back the house we went, where more flood conversation occurred. I eventually slipped down to bed and sleep, but for a while I could hear hot chocolate bubbling and people laughing and some very tired boys getting stumped by some very simple games. That was fun, and better than a lullaby (sorry). 

Of course, they hatched revenge in the morning.