Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good-Bye, Year

Good-bye, 2008. We've had our ups and downs. A lot of darkness, but also a great deal of good, of health and wholeness. Thank you for the lessons, and for a bright hope for the days to come.

Hello, new year! Make yourself at home. Let me share some of my big plans for our future together. I'll give you a short preview: deeper intimacy with God . . . wider freedom from eating disordered behavior . . . increased unity with the Best Husband Ever . . . a greater appetite and joy for life . . . running my first 5k . . . higher cooking and baking summits . . .

Like I said, big plans. And they all boil down to this: love. For and from God, my husband, my family and friends, all people, myself.

Big plans.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gingerlicious Biscotti

Cookies! Cookies! Who likes cookies? I do! I mean, come on -- who doesn't like cookies?

It's interesting, though, because for me, my cookie preference is one of those peculiar tastes that continues to evolve as I grow older. Take brussels sprouts, for example. As a child, I had no idea what they were, but due to reputation you could not have paid me to touch them with a ten foot pole. Now, I have not only tried brussels sprouts, but I have fallen head-over-heels for them. The same with zucchini and cooked mushrooms. I wonder if I would find this principle in action with chicken pot pie. A long-detested food enemy of my childhood, I feel that I might be able to enjoy this glutinous mess of a dish. But then I remember how much the innards of a chicken pot pie resemble mucous, and I decide not to tempt fate.

Back to cookies. Growing up, my favorites included my grandmother's chocolate chip cookies as well as her cut-out shortbreads with tiny jimmies, sprinkled cookies from my family's Italian bakery of choice, and Samoas (chocolate, caramel, and coconut) and Tagalongs (peanut butter and chocolate) from the Girl Scouts. And although I did enjoy more sophisticated confections like pignoli (or pine, in English) nut cookies (hey, I'm an Italian-Polish Jersey girl!), I generally preferred my cookies stuffed with chocolate and sugar. We would have biscotti wander through our pantry with fair regularity since my mother liked (and still likes!) them, but I always found them too hard to enjoy.

That is not the case any longer. I have discovered the subtle and simple of joy of a biscotti paired with hot tea or coffee. Dipping a cookie with such wonderful texture and flavor and a delicate hint of sweetness and letting the warm drink infuse it further before taking a bite can be absolutely exquisite. And now, not only do I enjoy eating biscotti, but I also love to make them. Remember my Biscotti Feste of last year? Filled with freshly hulled pomegranate seeds and pistachios and drizzled with melted peppermint, these biscotti marked my premiere foray into the camaraderie and challenge that is the Royal Foodie Joust, as well as into foodie blog events in general. So when I heard about this December's Ginger People Holiday Cookie Recipe Contest hosted by the Leftover Queen, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

The task was simple. The contest challenged members of the Foodie Blogroll to create a holiday cookie that incorporated crystallized ginger by the end of the month. Being a fan of crystallized ginger (another evolved taste since childhood) as well as biscotti, the answer to my barely-entertained question of what kind of cookie to make was obvious. And so I present my entry for Ginger People's Holiday Cookie Recipe Contest: ginger biscotti, inspired by this recipe, with the subtle surprise of white chocolate.

Ginger 'n' Spice 'n' Everything Nice Biscotti

1 cup whole wheat flour
1.25 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup spiced cider
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cyrstallized ginger, diced
1/8 cup white chocolate chips

2 eggs, beaten (I used Egg Beaters)
1/3 cup butter, melted (I used Smart Balance)

Preheat the oven to 325* F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix the first 8 ingredients. In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs, butter, cider, and sugar. Hand mix thoroughly or blend for 10 seconds with an electric mixer or food processor. Pour about half of the wet mixture of the dry ingredients and mix. Add the remaining wet mixture and continue to stir until a soft, sticky dough forms and no loose flour is left in the bowl. Fold in the ginger and white chocolate chips.

Divide the dough into two pieces. With damp hands, form each section of dough into a log that is about three inches wide and less than an inch tall. Place each log on either end of the cookie sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until firm.

Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then, with a long, serrated knife, slice each love into 1/2-inch wide cookies, cutting diagonally. Turn the cookies onto a flat side and bake for another 10 minutes. Next, flip the cookies and bake for 10 minutes once again. Turn the oven off but leave the biscotti inside for another 5 minutes. Remove and continue to cool on a wire rack.

Store at room temperature for 3 days, or freeze for several weeks. These cookies taste especially delectable dunked in ginger tea, white tea, or another tea that is either spiced or delicate in flavor.

Makes 30-40 cookies.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Malaysia: Hitting the Streets

Our second day of ministry in Malaysia proved to be the most difficult for me. After joining a staff praise and prayer meeting at our host missionaries' home/ministry base, we had a crash course in street evangelizing. I know what you're thinking: an obnoxious, holier-than-thou, self-proclaimed blood-born-again Christian screaming fire and brimstone messages of doom from his soapbox on a busy city sidewalk. Not a pretty picture. And I don't blame you if that image comes to mind, because it does for me, too, when I hear the phrase "street preacher."

And yet, that's what our task of the day was. We learned about Islam (Malaysia's official religion) and how to chat with a Muslim about Jesus in a way that's informed and respectful. That's right -- respectful. All evangelism is, I would say, about meeting a person where they're at and sharing what I consider to be true about Jesus and the Bible. And if I believe that those who don't know Jesus will live an empty life of striving and ultimate despair before being forever separated from God's peace after death, isn't it an act of love to share those beliefs with others? I think it is, as long as I'm not trying to shove my religion down others' throats or force conversion or something ridiculous like that. That is not an act of love.

I learned a bunch of interesting things about Islam and the Koran during this evangelism pow-wow. Apparently, the Koran talks about how Allah (God) has a son born to a human woman (Mary) through his Spirit, and that that son is Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah). The Koran actually says , from my understanding, that this Isa is the messiah will redeem the world through his life, death, and resurrection! Amazing! Unfortunately, a lot of Muslims don't know this because they haven't read the entire Koran, and this information is not shared by Muslim leaders in the mosques. I learned some other intriguing facts. For example, the Prophet is only referred to by name five times in the Koran, while Jesus is referred to twenty-five times. Mary is honored as a "woman of all nations" and has an entire chapter of the Koran dedicated to her (chapter 3) while the Prophet's own mother is nowhere to be found. Something to think about, for sure.

Armed with this new knowledge, we took a bus downtown and split up into pairs. We were given a few hours to eat, wander, and try to share the Gospel with people that we met. How did this task make me feel? Terrified. I don't really feel comfortable striking up random conversations here at home about innocuous topics, much less sharing my beliefs about Jesus with strangers from a different religion and culture in a country where over evangelism is illegal. Still, my partner and I gave it our best shot.

We ate (I tried claypot chicken, which is a surprisingly tasty and nutritious broth-based soup that had noodles, some greens, fish balls, and an egg in it, all boiled in the titular claypot over an open flame), prayed, and then began to wander. We started in this vast mall -- and I do mean vast. I was born and raised in New Jersey, or "the mall state," and even I was blown away by the enormity of this place. We began chatting with two women working at a booth selling belts. One was from Indonesia, and the other was a Musliam Malay engaged to a Chinese Hindu who was preparing to convert to Islam. This type of a relationship mix is not too common in Malaysia, and I asked the girl what her parents thought. I don't think she understood, and she invited me to come clubbing with her. I think I made her laugh a little!

We also visited with a university business student waiting for a ride outside the mall, and then with a Chinese Hindu fabric shop clerk. Our interactions with the clerk were the most interesting of the day, to my mind. I told her that I was buying cloth for my mom, who loves to sew. Then the woman started talking all about her family, her faith, and how there are many different people and so many different ways to know God. But then she stopped and told me that I was a very happy person. I certainly didn't feel overly happy at the moment, more nervous, and I thanked her. She didn't stop there, though. The woman went on and on about how cheerful I was and how anyone who was my friend would surely be very happy. I told her that if I seem happy, it's got to be Jesus, because I certainly can't pull myself out of my own darkness or despair. I'm not sure if she understood, but I was intrigued. Our interaction made me think of this verse:
"You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house" (Matt. 5:14-15).
Was Jesus showing through with the woman in the fabric shop? Maybe! I certainly didn't say or do much that was especially miraculous or amazing. Any amazingness is all Jesus!

Although this last interaction allowed me to bring up Jesus, my partner and I didn't do any true evangelism. However, we did both feel that the day was valuable in terms of getting us out of our comfort zones and caring about and interacting with people who are different from us and as a result may seem scary to approach. This experience made me see the common humanity that we all share, no matter race, nationality, or creed.

I finished up the day with another visit to the night market. There, I ate dim sum for dinner, which is another Malaysian food favorite. Dim sum is a broad category of steamed Chinese appetizers. These particular dim sum were steamed buns made of pao flour and filled with savory meats. I had barbeque pork, and the team leader who I was eating and adventuring with that night had chicken. I also had a little ciapati bread with an Indian veggie dish.

Then we traveled back up to the top of the market -- via a rather terrifying but hilarious rickshaw ride with an exuberant driver! -- for a massage. Massages are super cheap in Malaysia. This was the first professional massage that I've ever had, and I was surprised at how rough it felt. Also, I felt so ridiculous that I didn't enjoy it all that much. Still, we got to know the man who owned the business fairly well, and ended up visiting once more before leaving. Tourism is down due to the economy, so he really appreciated us spreading the word about his business as well as our repeat patronage. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a touristy seafood restaurant that touts a cultural show and live fish that you can select from for your meal. A featured dish on the menu was live stir-fried eel. No, thanks. I like my food good and dead before its cooked.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Malaysia: The Mission Begins . . . and a Roti Recipe!

On my first Monday in Malaysia, our ministry began in earnest. We headed to a downtown feeding center for the poor and homeless that is very similar to American soup kitchens. At this house, those who are needy and/or living on the street (homelessness and poverty are rampant in Malaysia) can get a small breakfast with coffee or Milo (the Malaysian equivalent of hot chocolate), a shower, lunch, and an optional Bible study following the noon meal. My team went to help clean, prepare food, and visit with the people coming in.

It was quite an adventure for me, and one that brought me out of my comfort zone quite significantly. After getting our bearings, praying with the staff, and dealing out tasks, we all split up to perform our respective jobs. I worked in the kitchen, helping the house's wonderful master chef make an amazing-looking chicken and tofu stir-fry. I was quite pleased with my positioning since I love to cook, and also love to be busy. So I set about chopping onions (shedding quite a few tears over them in the process!) and garlic, washing dishes, and making the breakfast Milo. However, I soon found myself finished with my tasks and without much to do.

At this point, people were starting to come into the house's main area for breakfast biscuits with butter or showers (or both), and then hanging around until lunch. The house staff and volunteers suggested going out and visiting with the people, mostly homeless men. I wasn't too sure about this -- I'm never good at casual chatting and "small talk" even at home in the U.S. where the people I'm hanging out with speak the same language and inhabit the same culture and general demographic. It was with some trepidation, then, that I headed out into the main room, armed with the little photo album I had brought with me. I shared the album with a few people, mostly volunteers, and they seemed more interested than I expected in the pictures of my family, friends, and homeland.

A newcomer sat down next to me at the table where my album was getting passed around. I turned and introduced myself with a smile, now feeling a little more comfortable as I saw how well-received my album was and how cheerful most of the men were. This new man, however, was not so cheerful. He told me that his name is Kosnan, and after I asked him some questions about his life, he began telling me some truly sad stories. From what I could understand, he lost both of his parents during "the war" (Vietnam?) and has been searching for his mother ever since. (This man seemed to be about 40 or 50 years old, so it seems that he is still suffering some sort of PTSD-type of trauma from his youth.) His marriage is on the rocks, and he's having trouble at work due to poor eyesight (although, on the positive side, he was up for cataracts surgery at the time and might even have had the surgery since I met him). A sad story, to be sure.

I didn't know what to do, and that bothered me. I like to be busy, to be able to do something, but what could I do for this man? More to the point, what could anybody do to help him? His mother, whom Kosnan is so desperate to find, is probably dead, and even if he could locate her, would that fully heal all his emotional wounds? And what about his marriage and job? What band-aid could I put on those circumstances that would fix the problems there? I offered, feeling more than a little silly, the only thing I could aside from a listening ear. "So . . . would you like to pray about all that?" I heard myself asking.

I don't know how I expected Kosnan to respond. Perhaps I thought he might laugh, or get offended, or feel let-down. But he didn't react in any of those ways. Instead, he accepted my offer with obvious gratitude. And so -- we prayed. This is something that I hardly ever do in public, much less offer to do with complete strangers. I don't know how much it helped the problematic circumstances in his life. That's all up to God. But I do know that it strengthened him that day -- and it strengthened my own faith. It gave me courage to really live my faith, to not be ashamed of Jesus. When I saw Kosnan two days later, he was a changed man. He'd had a haircut, seemed cleaner, and his depressed mood was vastly improved. Was it the prayer? Was it God, working more fully in Kosnan's life after we invited Him in? I don't know for sure . . . but maybe!

After finishing up at the feeding center, we headed back to our hotel to rest, wash the sweat off our bodies (it is hot at the equator -- go figure!), and then head out for dinner. Our team leader, who has previously visited Malaysia, had a personal mission that had nothing to do with our ministry. She was on the prowl for an authentic banana pancake. She promised that this banana-stuffed rendition of roti canai (pronounced "CHA-nai"), a flatbread suitable for either breakfast or as a dessert, is not to be missed. On this particular night, the restaurant we ate at had something on the menu that she thought might be the banana roti, so we all ordered one. Unfortunately, what we got was a fried banana (mine was drizzled with honey). It was a tasty treat, but not what we were looking for. On our last night in Malaysia, the leader and I managed to finally find our banana pancakes.

Since returning to the United States, I have found my enjoyment of the foods I used to love diminshed. I miss the intense spices and flavors of the Malay, Chinese and -- my favorite -- Indian foods. I determined to try my spatula at recreating some of the Malaysian dishes. Two nights ago, I made my first foray into this mission. I bet you've already guessed it -- for the final Royal Foodie Joust of the year, I made banana roti canai, inspired by this recipe! Although it was a little more dense and less sweet than I would have liked, it wasn't bad for an inaugural attempt at Indian. Served hot with vanilla ice cream and some maple syrup, it made for a tasty after-dinner treat.

I-Miss-Malaysia Banana Roti

1 cup brown rice flour
1 large ripe banana
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1/4 cup water
Sprinkle of salt

Optional toppings: Ghee/butter, dried coconut, ice cream, maple syrup, honey, peanut butter, jam.

Dice or mash the banana. Grease a flat skillet with cooking spray or oil, ghee, or butter. Set the skillet over medium high heat.

In a small saucepan, cook the water, sugar, banana, and coconut milk over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the rice flour while the contents are still hot. Form the dough into two pancake shapes, and either brush with oil or cover with cooking spray. Fry both sides until browned and firm.

Serve hot with your favorite toppings.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Malaysia: Church Day

On our first Sunday in Malaysia, we attended to the local church that the missionaries we worked with were familiar. Trooping in, we sat right up front and waited for worship to begin. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the worship and preaching and overall structure of the service were not all that unfamiliar. They had a longer time of worship than we tend to have at my home church in Montana, and it was sweet. Then our missionary friend preached.

The church service was foundational in laying out my attitude for the next two weeks. Initially, I had some deep concerns about going to Malaysia that centered around my having to give up some control over my choices, especially regarding food and my eating disorder. In fact, if you had asked me if I wanted to back out of going, I might have said yes. Thankfully, that didn't happen. But still, even though I was in-country, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to "let go and let God," as the saying goes.

That first Sunday's church service helped me to do just that. One woman, after giving announcements, was talking about how morning is coming for the city, that corruption and sin and depression are going to be washed away by God's redeeming freedom. I believed it for the city, for the country and the world, but most of all, I believed it for me. I felt the Holy Spirit talking to me, saying that morning isn't just coming -- morning is here. Right now. Freedom from food worries, from relational issues, is already come into my life. God isn't just going to win the victory over my sickness, but he already has. Done and done! I'm not a crier, usually, but I definitely shed tears that morning.

After church, we continued our weekend of rest. We hung out with our missionary friends all day. First we got some lunch at a nearby food court. This is very typical of how prepared meals are sold in Malaysia. There's a big area filled with small stalls. Each stall might sell only one dish, but can prepare more. At this particular food court I ordered some sort of spicy Thai dish with mango and red chillies. I didn't quite realize how spicy it was, even though our missionary friends kept asking me if I wanted some water. It wasn't until after I finished my lunch and drank a big honeydew Icee-style drink that I understood the power of the chillies -- my mouth was still on fire! One thing I noticed over the course of my trip was that, even though I tend to avoid spicy foods here in the States, in Malaysia I not only tried hot dishes but also enjoyed them.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Snowmuffiny Christmas . . .

I think that one of the most satisfying comfort breads during cold weather is cornbread, fresh from the oven. Subtly sweet with a pleasantly coarse texture, cornbread is always fun to eat. And the fun doubled when I broke out the snazzy silicone snowflake mold I found at Target! Around Halloween they carried pumpkin-shaped molds that I sadly passed on, but this six-cup snowflake mold was only a dollar so I went for it, muffin fan that I am.

I overfilled each cup with batter, though, so the bottoms of the muffins (which were the tops while baking, if you can follow that) are rounded from a slight rise during baking. As a result, the snowmuffins don't sit flat as they should. Still, the edges of the snowflakes lent a crispiness to the final products that made this already proven recipe truly shine. And now, to put my money and my muffins where my mouth is (I think that makes sense . . .), a recipe for you!

Cranberry Cornmeal Snowmuffins

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

1 cup yogurt (I used fat-free maple)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup skim milk
3/4 cup whole berry cranberry sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a muffin tin of your choosing (either for 6 jumbo muffins or 12 regular muffins) with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the milk, yogurt, and egg, stirring until just blended without over-mixing. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are a golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack to complete the process, or devour immediately!

These muffins taste great plain, or try them topped with pumpkin or apple butter, honey, butter, sour cream and your favorite salsa, or maple syrup. Keep any leftover muffins (as if there would be! pshaw!) in a airtight storage container for 1-2 days, or put some up for the future in the freezer.

Makes 12 regular muffins, or 6 jumbo muffins.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Malaysia: Settling In

Once I stepped off the airplane in Malaysia, I immediately felt that I was no longer in familiar territory. Whereas in Hong Kong it seemed as if I could have simply been visiting New York City's Chinatown, my first Malaysian breath even seemed steeped in "otherness." It made me a little nervous while making my way through the airport that first evening, but being in the minority culturally, linguistically, racially, and spiritually proved to be a enjoyable and instructive experience.

Our first day in-country was one of rest. The plane tickets came packaged with a three-day stint in a hotel, so we were able to gradually ease into the transition to different culture. (Strangely, the plane tickets were cheaper with the hotel package than without them!) It felt a little odd, being on a missions trip in an emerging nation and staying in such a nice hotel. We were spoiled with a pool, internet, beach access, and -- my favorite -- the most elaborate and delicious breakfast buffet I'd ever eaten at. It was amazing -- they had tons of fresh fruit like papaya (great for helping to digest all the flatbreads I would soon be eating!) and pineapple, exotic fruit juices including kiwi and mango, curries, dried fruit, pastries, a huge selection of artisan breads for toast, noodles, western breakfast options (which I stayed away from -- why eat what I can get at home?), yogurt, muesli, and Chinese finger food-sized pastries. This was where I had my first taste of dim sum, a steamed bread made from pao flour and stuffed with sweet or savory fillings.

Enough about the buffet, as good as it was. On my first day in Malaysia, I went with most of the group to visit the local butterfly farm. It was a very beautiful place. A netted enclosure was filled with exotic plants and flowers, little waterfalls and a koi pond, and, of course, innumerable varieties of butterflies. I've never seen such colors! The butterfly farm also had some interestingly camoflagued stick bugs, a scorpion pit (I definitely shuddered at that one!), and both local and exotic beetles, snakes, and insects.

After the butterfly farm, we walked to catch the public bus back to our hotel. It was on this short walk that I first truly realized -- Malaysia is hot. Doubly so, having just traveled from a Montana winter. When I was in Malaysia, it was the country's cold season, if you can believe that the phrase "cold season" can be used in conjunction with ninety degree (F) weather.

When we reached the hotel, we were all famished, so we headed across the street to an Indian restaurant. This was my first time eating true Indian food, and I wasn't sure of what to order or what to expect. I ended up ordering some ciapati (tortilla-like bread, pronounced cha-PA-ti) which came with dahl that reminded me of spicier split pea soup, some kind of okra masala, and an order of chicken satay kebabs with peanut dipping sauce that I split with a team member. I also had an iced ginger tea that had actual slices of fresh ginger in it. The verdict on this Indian lunch feast? Amazing! This initial brush with Indian food quickly developed into two weeks of exuberant indulging in every kind of curry, masala, and naan bread I could get my fork into. How do you say "yum" in Tamil, which is the language spoken in northern India?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWD: Buttery Bread -- Er, Jam Cookies

Although I'm eager to share more of my Malaysia trip, today is Tuesday. And that means . . . Tuesday's with Dorie! This week's recipe challenged me to make Ms. Greenspan's buttery jam cookies (page 80). Scanning the recipe, these cookies appeared simple, calling for basic ingredients that most any kitchen would have on hand such as all-purpose flour, sugar, and, as the name suggests, butter (I used Smart Balance since that's what I had on hand). Also, there was none of that fancy-shmancy dough refrigeration like sugar cookies require, which dampens this baker's immediate gratification-seeking spirit. Nope, I just had to mix all of the ingredients (I used a food processor, which worked fairly well), plop the dough on parchment-lined cookie sheets, and bake away for 1o or so minutes.

The star ingredient of this recipe was, I would wager, the jam. However, I decided to put my own little spin on the fruit idea and use apple butter instead. I really enjoy both apple and pumpkin butter, and thought a fruit butter might add a unique twist to this recipe. Besides, Dorie's recipe calls for ginger, which really complements apples in my own opinion, especially during the winter. Unfortunately, as often happens in my baking adventures, my intuition did not lead to an unequivocal success. I did not account for the decrease in sugar by substituting apple butter for jam, so the cookies tasted a little more savory than sweet. They don't taste bad, though, and would go wonderfully with tea.

I don't think Dorie meant the fully jam-ified cookies to be tooth-rotting sugar traps, anyway. As the Best Husband Ever commented after eating a few, they taste like "really good bread." I'll take that compliment, thank you! These cookies will make a great little surprise for my Secret Santa gift exchange partner tomorrow, as well as some less sugar high-inducing treat for my students during our holiday movie afternoon on Friday.

While we're on the topic of cookies, my neice and respective sister-in-law baked the cutest peppermint cookies for us! They are peppermint-flavored sugar cookies, I think, rolled with two tones of dough and then baked onto the end of sticks to look like roses. Aren't they lovely? And tasty to boot!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Malaysia: Hong Kong Tourist for a Day

My adventure began in earnest before I even set foot on Malaysian soil. Our travel route included a long layover in Hong Kong after crossing the Pacific, so we decided to take advantage of this time. We had already arranged for a private tour guide to pick us up, and he met us on the other side of customs for my very first non-western cultural experience.

The tour guide took us on a tram ride up Victoria Peak. The tram was insane because it slowly crawled straight up the very steep mountain, making all of us Americans nervous. It was worth it, though, because the summit offered amazing views of the city and harbors. It's amazing how many people and skyscrapers they pack into Hong Kong! It wasn't all that astounding to me, having grown up thirty minutes outside of New York City in New Jersey, but I think some of our team's native Montanans felt a little overwhelmed.

After visiting Victoria Peak (and feeling lame after paying thirty-four Hong Kong dollars for an iced latte from Starbucks -- the last time I bought western food on this trip!), we headed back down into the city. There, we visited a market, where I had my first experience bartering. I felt so proud of myself for lowering the price on the earrings I bought. Afterward, I felt like the seller expected me to bargain lower, but I didn't mind! Feeling hungry, I purchased a little bun filled with red bean paste. It was so sweet! My team leader later informed me that I'd eaten a dessert instead of a sandwich substitute as I'd thought. However, the pastry seemed much safer than the meat that was being cooked and then showcased by street vendors.

It is very interesting to me that I didn't feel as if I was in a different country and culture while in Hong Kong. Instead, I felt like I was in New York City's Chinatown. Looking back at photos, howevever, it looks very not-American. Maybe I was simply zonked from the plane ride. All I know is that when I stepped off the plane in Malaysia, I immediately felt like I was very much not in Montana, or even America, anymore.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Malaysia: Take-Off!

I feel overwhelmed at the idea of trying to encapsulate my recent two-week trip to Malaysia in a single blog post. How could I ever express the countless ways my eyes and heart -- and truly, my life! -- were opened spiritually, culturally, emotionally, and relationally? It seems impossible! So I decided to give a day-by-day recap of my experience. Instead of one mondo post, you will get a fortnight of Malaysia stories!

Our missions trip to Malaysia was a long time in the making. We bake sale-d, garage sale-d, crafted, sold coupon books, and cooked in order to raise money to go. And not only were all of our expenses met, but we ended up with far extra than we ever expected or hoped for! I love that about God -- not only does He meet our needs, but He does so extravagantly and abundantly. In John 16:23-24, Jesus promises, "I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. . . . Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." I always knew in my head that this was true, but never experienced it or believed it for myself. Now I've seen it in action, financially and otherwise, through this trip.

The flight to Malaysia was, in a word, long. We got on a plane here in Montana, flew through Salt Lake to Los Angeles, then on to Hong Kong, where we had a long enough layover to escape the airport and take in some of the city. Before we even set foot on foreign soil, however, I was already being challenged. Our first meal on the airplane crossing the Pacific included a squid salad. Oh, boy. But, determined to have an open mind, I tried it -- and it wasn't bad! Not my favorite thing, perhaps, but not horrible either. I felt both silly and proud of myself at the time, although I would become much more daring with food later in the trip. Still, my fellow missionary who sat next to me on the plane and I congratulated ourselves on successful first [small] steps into unknown territory.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I'm back in the United States! I'm also not quite ready to process my Malaysia trip, or at least blog about it. A lot happened! However, there are a few things that I can share. Like how traveling across the globe to a new country was an exciting challenge that I grew from spiritually, emotionally, and culturally. I grew in my relationship with God, learning to trust that His grace really is sufficient for all situations, needs, and celebrations. I have a better idea of how a great percentage of the world's population lives and struggles. I met people with different cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds, and found in these individuals brothers and sisters. I tried and enjoyed a vast range of food from squid (which I'm eating in this photo, with red chillies -- spicy but tasty!) to dim sum to roti to (my favorite!) garlic naan bread. I found freedom and victory over my eating disorder. And I discovereda desperate but beautiful nation with a beautiful people!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I'm in Hong Kong, en route from an amazing adventure with God on the other side of the world. He's opened my eyes, heart, and stomach to a new way of living and loving. I can't wait to share more. Stand by!