Monday, November 10, 2008

Second-Class Citizen

It hit me hard to read this sentence on a friend’s Facebook profile last week:

“[friend’s name] is a second-class citizen.”

It hit me even harder to see variations of that same phrase trickle across the message boards, forums, and social networking sites that I frequent on a regular basis. In the aftermath of an election that breathed fresh hope into America, my friends were hurting. Many of them were those jubilant celebrators dancing in the streets, but their tears were only partially ones of joy.

Last week, people in three states across the country (Arizona, California, and Florida) lost the right to marry the companion of their choosing. It was California, however, that shocked so many people. Proposition 8 wasn’t expected to pass in the overtly Democratic state, but it did so by a narrow margin of 52%. A sense of betrayal washed over members of the gay community who wondered why their fervent support of Barack Obama’s plan for change meant so little to the 70% of African-Americans who voted for the ban in California. Why would those who know the painful sting of discrimination vote to thrust it upon another group?

Add to that the estimated $20 million donated by the Church of Latter Day Saints to support the ban and a clear picture presents itself. Again, why would a group that has historically faced so much prejudice want to place a similar burden on another? Religion, if not the entire reason why Proposition 8 passed, is most certainly at the forefront of excuses for intolerance.

Normally, when asked about my faith, I describe myself as “respectfully ambivalent.” I don’t claim to know who is right or wrong (or if anyone is even close!), but I admire those who truly live the concept of “walking by faith, and not by sight.” It takes deep commitment and an excruciating amount of trust to defend something that simply cannot be proven. There is beauty and value in that.

But there is also beauty and value in the principles men and women have fought to uphold in this country. The Constitution reminds us that the country is a land free for religious expression but free from it as well. The separation of church and state exists to protect the free expression of religious beliefs AND to prohibit the government from favoring or endorsing a particular religion. In a land referred to throughout history as a melting pot, citizens come from a variety of faiths. Allowing any one faith to become a ruling class with moral superiority skews the vision of the country.

Unfortunately, “Christian” values have recently been overwhelmingly presented as preferential. I put “Christian” in quotations because those values which are being pushed at the American citizens are only one interpretation of Christian beliefs. The Christian values I grew up with (as a result of a Catholic family and education) were things like “love one another,” “judge not, lest ye be judged,” and above all, “God is love.” If God is truly love personified, than he is likely disappointed that his teachings have been interpreted to promote intolerance and discrimination.

An interviewee on the news argued that many people just wanted to have marriage defined as a union between a man and a woman, and that she still supported civil rights for gay couples. Other proponents claimed that “civil unions” would provide the gay community with the very same benefits. A quote from the Orange County Register swiftly debunks that argument:

“[People in civil unions as opposed to marriages may not] File a "joint" tax return, Receive health benefits from a spouse's employer in states where civil unions are not recognized, Receive Social Security survivor benefits, Receive citizenship through relationship. Receive military veterans benefits, Receive service-related death benefits, Receive housing and burial benefits, Receive recognition of the relationship in event of transfer to a non civil union state, Receive stepped-up basis on property from inheritance, Receive optional tax deferral on IRA accounts.”

Other reasons for supporting the movement included the fear that children would be subjected to education about gay marriage or that it inhibited religious freedom. Michael Pulos in his letter to the OC Register writes, “First, if the proponents of Proposition 8 were actually concerned with education and religious freedom, they would have drafted a proposition that addressed those issues. The proposition would say ‘same-sex marriage will not be taught in schools’ or ‘churches won't be forced to marry same-sex couples.’ The fact that they didn't -- and that the text is silent on these issues -- strongly suggests that the motivation behind Proposition 8 lies elsewhere. Second, because Proposition 8 doesn't address the issues of education or religious freedom, even if it passes, Proposition 8 does nothing to advance the causes it claims to be advancing. In other words, Proposition 8 by its own language can't deliver on its campaign promises.”

In short, the argument for support the proposition doesn’t match the text. Unfortunately, the issue boils down to lingering misconceptions about gay lifestyles, fear of losing the “traditional family” (which, by the way does not and has not ever existed), and plain unadulterated bigotry. People at the polls were entrusted with the responsibility to vote based on an issue of the state and not one of religion.

The passing of Proposition 8 was not a victory for anyone—it was a slap in the face of civil rights.

Today, Governor Schwarzenegger rekindled the hope of its opponents when he said, “I think that we will again maybe undo [Prop 8], if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area.” He also expressed that it is unlikely that the proposition will have any effect on the 18,000 gay marriages already performed in the state.

Last week, I encouraged readers to come together regardless of what is different among us and embrace our bond as Americans. We cannot achieve solidarity as a nation while certain groups are still less equal than others. There is no moral authority to be gained by creating laws that fly in the face of the words “All men are created equal.”

That is not American.

Americans are the brave men and women who have fought for decades for civil rights. They are those who know that we have the potential to be the greatest nation in the world. They are the individuals who continue to build this country every day and believe that this is a land where anyone can live their dream.

And they are the people who will never rest until no one feels like “a second-class citizen.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

A New Day

Hi all! I haven't been able to write in awhile due to a massive overload of schoolwork. Today, however, I wanted to share with all of you an excerpt from my journal written earlier this week. I hope everyone out there is doing well and I promise some pictures from a trip to Pittsburgh, an anniversary trip to Baltimore, and a Monday Night Football game very soon!

My best to all of you,

November 5, 2008

Nearly my whole life, I have been told that I am naive. I concede that I prefer to seek out the good in people, but refute wholeheartedly that it blinds me from reality. Yesterday, I saw my country come together in a way that I've never witnessed before. I remember distinctly how we clung to one another fearfully following the events of September 11, 2001, but I have never seen so many of us unite in jubilation.

Across the nation, I saw videos of citizens dancing in the street with tears streaming down their faces. I saw men and women of every race, many of whom who realized for the first time that the American dream can be real for them. Future history books will remember this election as one where the American people denounced the politics of fear and voted instead for hope.

Yes we can.

I do not deny that the road ahead is rocky, but a step has been taken in a positive direction. One day at a time, we must rebuild our economy and repair our relations with the rest of the global community. We awake today to new responsibility. We must not become complacent. It is time to hold our elected officials accountable, remembering that these civil servants represent all of us.

In a speech earlier this year, now President-elect Obama said, "We are the change we have been waiting for." Our moment has at last come, and we look toward the future with a new kind of hope--one that is almost tangible. I have confidence in our newly elected leader and hope that our nation can come together regardless of party affiliation, creed, sexual orientation, or gender. We are ONE country, and can no longer define ourselves by what divides us. Instead, we must choose to remember what unifies us. We are all Americans and we are all in this together. We can either fight that and crumble from within, or we can decide to embrace it and make this nation stronger than it has ever been.

In his speech last night, Obama encouraged the American people to "summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other."

I truly believe it's possible. Let's face this new day together. Let's be a better future.

Let's be that change that we've been waiting for.

Yes we can.

Yes, we will.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Warm and Wonderful

Fall is in the air! I actually needed a sweater yesterday and this morning. My office is always a little icy, so I keep a cardigan there, but today called for one right out of the door. I’m certainly not complaining. The days are pleasant here and I’m looking forward to a temperate autumn.

The crisp air did, however inspire me to make a very cozy Roasted Cauliflower, Leek, and Garlic Soup that came out rich, creamy, and at a mere 70 calories per cup. Read on…

Cast of Characters

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 head of garlic, cut so that the cloves are exposed
3 leeks, (white/light green part only) sliced thick
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
3 bay leaves
A few grinds of black pepper
1/2 tbsp. sea salt
1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Fresh parsley, basil, or basil puree for garnishing

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place a baking sheet (lined with aluminum foil if you have it) on the middle rack.

While the oven/baking sheet are heating up, toss the cauliflower, leeks, and garlic with the oil, salt, and pepper. Once the oven is preheated, spread the mixture onto the baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and set the garlic aside. Pour the other vegetables into a large saucepan (this is where that aluminum foil comes in handy!) and add the chicken broth and bay leaves.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, (about 5 minutes) squeeze the garlic out of its paper and add it to the soup. Discard the paper. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the leeks and cauliflower are very tender.

The next step has several options. You can use either an immersion blender, countertop blender, or a food processor to puree the soup. I used my countertop blender and did it in two batches. Once pureed smooth, return the soup to the saucepan and stir in the milk. Taste and add seasoning if necessary.

Serve warm with a basil or parsley garnish. I can’t emphasize enough how much more flavor those vegetables have just from the roasting. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month. My batch is frozen into 5 small containers for afternoon snacks or as a side dish alongside roast chicken breast or pork chops.

What popped into my head upon tasting this was that you could make this a healthier substitute for mashed potatoes by using a lot less liquid, (say 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup milk) and then processing to your personal desired consistency.

This recipe was adapted from Clean Eating Magazine’s most recent edition. Since they only publish 6 times a year, it included a special section on how to make a clean, healthy Thanksgiving meal. I was a bit doubtful at first, but after tasting that soup I can honestly say it would compliment a roast turkey excellently. Maybe I’ll bring some to Thanksgiving dinner this year…

I’ve been making so much soup lately that my freezer is absolutely packed to the brim. Consequently, I’ve been eyeing pressure canners on Amazon and waiting for a good sale. I have a hot water canner (great for tomatoes and fruits), but without pressure the water can’t get hot enough ensure the destruction of scary bacteria that could spoil low-acidic foods. I have nearly two cases of mason jars waiting to be filled and it would be a shame if they were left so lonely.

Plus, who doesn’t want a cupboard full of homemade soup? Living in Boston made me realize the importance of having a well-stocked pantry. I don’t know about you, but going to the store when the temperature is in the negatives isn’t my idea of a fun time. I think I’d rather curl up on the couch with some warm soup/stew, Joe, and Dioji. That sounds much better.

Okay, enough out of me for today. I hope everyone is having a great week—it’s almost the weekend! Joe and I have errands to run on Saturday (and I have schoolwork), but Sunday will hopefully be full of football and relaxation. Hooray!

Ciao for now, friends!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Catch a Falling Star (Cookie)

I’ve been thinking a lot about a concept called “clean eating” lately. Clean eating simply means consuming food in its most whole or natural state, or as close to that as you can get. It dedicates itself to the idea of mindfully planning healthy meals that satiate the body with nutrients, rejecting over-processed and refined foods. The result is a nourished body that maintains the glycemic balance I mentioned in my earlier post, “Are You Addicted?”

Some simple ways to head in the right direction:

-Replace refined white sugar or artificial sweeteners (Splenda, this means you!) with natural sweeteners like agave nectar, raw honey, grade-b maple syrup, 100% fruit juice, fruit pulp, stevia, or sucanat.

-Replace white flour with whole wheat flour (whole wheat pastry flour for more tender baked goods), or other milled whole grains. This not only benefits you nutrition-wise, but there are so many flavors to discover! Try nut flours, buckwheat, brown rice flour, spelt..etc..etc. The list goes on and on. Many of these are available in local organic markets, but if you can’t find them locally try Amazon or

-Replace soda and sugar-laden juices with 100% fruit juices and (more importantly) water. Not a fan of plain water? Try sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice for a fizzy drink fix.

-Enjoy the whole produce section. Seriously, how many times have you passed up some different leafy greens in the produce section because you didn’t know what they were or how to cook them? I know I’ve done it. Visit a website like for some unique recipes on how to incorporate a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits into your diet. (I particularly like the format of their magazine because they denote which recipes freeze well—great for those of us with limited time during the week!)

I’ve come to a point in my journey where I’d like to try not to focus on numbers so much and instead listen more to my body. Do I feel full? If I feel hungry, is it head hunger or real hunger in my stomach? I’m still logging my food because I need to keep tabs on protein/vitamins. Also, reaching that kind of intuitive state is going to be difficult for me, and frankly I have a lot on my plate right now with school and work. It’s a goal I’ll reach someday, but I think it will be a slow transition. Who knows, though? Maybe meditating on it and learning to center myself will benefit me all around.

Now, you can’t possibly think that I would dare show you a picture of delicious star cookies without sharing the recipe! (I’d never be so cruel.) Those tasty morsels are my new treat. I’d advise freezing them in bags of 4-5 cookies each for easier portion control. I call them Whole Wheat Pie Crust Stars because they taste more like a lightly sweetened buttery pie crust than a sugar cookie. All I know is that they go great with cup of hot chocolate almond milk.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust Stars

1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
3 tbsp. blue agave nectar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tbsp. fructose
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Mix the fructose and teaspoon of cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the flour, oats, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Using a pastry cutter or the tines of 2 forks, cut in the butter until the mixture reaches the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Some pea-sized pieces are fine. Add the agave nectar, extracts, and buttermilk and mix until a stiff dough forms. If it’s too sticky, add a small amount of flour. Roll the dough into a ball and chill in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

Roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thick on a lightly-floured board and cut into desired shapes with cookie or biscuit cutters. Lay the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle the fructose/cinnamon mixture over them. NOTE: Fructose is nearly twice as sweet as sugar, so use it very lightly. A tablespoon was enough for 40 star cookies.

Bake the cookies for 9-10 minutes or until the edges are just golden. Move immediately to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variation: Instead of cinnamon/fructose, try heating some all-fruit preserves until somewhat liquefied and drizzling them over the baked cookies. This works really well with spiced-apple preserves. It becomes an apple pie cookie!

The yield depends on the size of your cookie cutters. My small star cutter made about 40 cookies at 28 calories a piece. Not bad for a little treat! I bet crumbling 3-4 of them and adding them during the last 2-3 minutes of churning some protein ice cream would make a killer cookie ice cream.

Well that’s all from me today. I’ve got a lot of schoolwork, but I’m really glad I had some time to share my thoughts here. I really enjoy writing and hearing from all of you who try the recipes. Thanks for continuing to inspire me. Ciao for now, friends!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I wanted to take up some space on my blog today to get the word out about an event I feel is extremely important. Considering the impact that the upcoming presidential election could have on censorship, it’s crucial to remember the principles of freedom guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution.

The books listed above represent a tiny sample of the books that have been challenged or banned in the United States from 2007-2008. Other titles challenged in the past have included Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Shel Silverstein’s poetry volumes, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Every year since 1982 the American Library Association, the Office of Intellectual Freedom, and countless publishing and bookselling organizations have sponsored Banned Books Week. This event takes place from September 27 to October 4th this year and reminds Americans not to take our freedom to read for granted.

“Banned books week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.” (ALA Website)

Although hundreds of books are challenged every year, most are not banned due to the efforts of librarians and concerned citizens who recognize the importance of upholding this essential freedom of choice. The ALA reminds us, “Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

There are many ways to support banned books week, such as checking out a favorite challenged or banned book from your local library or supporting local librarians if you hear about a challenge in your area. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper reminding readers to support the free exchange of ideas and materials. For other ways to celebrate your freedom, click on the image below.

Remember, “closing books shuts out ideas.” Support Banned Books Week!