Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I never thought I'd say that I'd have a revelation about my faith while baking. But that's exactly what happened while making alfajores a few weeks ago.

Alfajores are incredibly delicious little Peruvian cookies. They are basically a shortbread type cookie with a cooked caramel type filling. I say "type" as I had to swear not to divulge the contents of this family recipe.

Alfajores are special occasion cookies. I cannot remember a Baptism, First Holy Communion, graduation, Easter, or any other holiday with my family without these little cookies. I sometimes call them a labor of love, as they do require some effort to make. The complete opposite of slice 'n bake cookies so readily available these days. While making my most recent batch, I realized how much one could learn from alfajores and thought I would share my revelations.

The filling.

It takes a few hours to make. And it's not the kind of few hours where you can set it to go and just walk away. This is no slow cooker filling. It requires vigilance to ensure it doesn't burn. Just as our prayer life needs vigilance. We can't just check in on Sundays. We need to be mindful of our thoughts, words, and actions at all times. And there are consequences if we get lazy about it. After the filling has cooked, you still never know for sure what you're gonna get. You only hope that once it's cool, that it's the right consistency. That you won't end up with a runny, goopy mess. But you just have to have faith. As in real life, one has to have faith in those moments where we have trouble seeing God's plan for us. But just follow His recipe, and you will be rewarded.

The cookie.

Firstly, you cannot substitute ingredients or methods. You just can't. I've tried and/or forgotten and the cookie just doesn't come out the right way. It's not the right texture, doesn't have the right taste. It's just not the same. You can't skip praying. You can't skip the Sacraments. As someone who only started praying the Rosary on a regular basis in the past year, I can tell you the days I skip a day are not the same. I can tell the difference.

While mixing the cookie dough, I start second guessing if I've measured stuff correctly. That the recipe just can't be right, it needs more this, or it needs more that. Every time. I've been making these cookies for years and EVERY time I make them I think to myself that it can't be right. How many times in life do you think that to yourself? That this can't be God's plan. That He must be wrong or doesn't know what He's doing. You question and doubt Him. But just in the same way that the cookie dough comes together in an almost magical way, just at the point you want to give up and add more flour, in life, God grants us a little extra grace to help us understand. He grants us wisdom. He grants us peace. Working full time this year has been very, very difficult for me and for my family. We all felt the side effects, consequences, whatever you want to call it. The first half of the year was difficult enough leaving 2 little ones. I absolutely dreaded going back when it was 3 kids after my maternity leave was over in March. Just like the cookies, I couldn't see how it would come together. But my first day back, the Lord gave me such a gift, an opportunity to see why I was needed outside of my home at this point in my life. The students I work with did a presentation showcasing their abilities and how exceptional they truly are, and instead of tears of sadness over missing my own children, I cried tears of joy and gratitude.

So when things get tough, and seem futile, just hang in there a little longer. Stay on His path. Knead the dough a little longer and it will all come together.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

$40 a week

many friends on facebook often post their couponing steals. mounds of food for sometimes only mere pennies. it's very tempting. almost makes me want to give couponing another chance, taking it more seriously this time.


my attempts at couponing usually resulted in frustration and wasted time. i would spend all this time finding coupons just to find a better deal on a different brand when i got to the store. and for most of the stuff on my grocery list, there were never coupons anyways.

so i quit. don't get me wrong. i don't think there is anything wrong with clipping coupons and i am excited for my friends to save money and find great deals. it's just not for me. i admit, i can get lazy, and clipping coupon just seems like too much work. i'd rather knit or sew in the evenings than clip coupons.

at the same time, i can still feed my family of 4 (technically 5, but martín doesn't eat solids yet) for as little as $40 a week. $40 a week. that's often less than what people spend with all their couponing. and i still manage to avoid most of the prepackaged and highly process foods for which coupons are so often readily available (i say most because i do keep chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese on hand in case of "emergencies"). we include a lot of whole foods that are actually often higher in price (like organic yogurt, raw milk, and farm fresh eggs). it's all about restructuring how you eat.

here's how we do it (sometimes i think i could start a whole other blog for this, but these are the basics):
- use cash for groceries. even if you end up going over in the beginning, it really challenges you to stay within the budget.
- plan a menu and write it down. take inventory of what you have in the house and plan your menu based off that. you would probaby be shocked at how much food you actually have in your house.
- cook from scratch. fresh, whole, raw ingredients.
- cook once, eat twice. don't be afraid of leftovers. sometimes we plan to eat leftovers the same week, sometimes i freeze it to eat another time. or plan multiple meals using the same protein as it can save you money(such as when chicken is buy one get one free)
- eat less meat. we sometimes share a large chicken breast between the 4 of us, filling in with extra veggies and grains.
- whole grains. make up for less meat with whole wheat pastas and brown rice. i vowed never to switch to brown rice, but i finally gave in when even my closest ally in my devotion to white rice (my dad) made the switch (except for cuban black beans. it would be blasphemous not to eat those with white rice). quinoa is another great source of protein.
- make more of the basics instead of buying them: bread, jam, waffles, stock, spaghetti sauce, biscuits, tortillas, etc. makes batches of them at one time and freeze/can the excess for future use.
- chicken on the bone. it's always on sale and much more versatile.
- buy in season. we are looking forward to the start of the farmer's market so we can get fresh, local produce for the rest of the summer.
- start a garden. andrés has quite a vegetable garden going. i never have to buy fresh herbs. i haven't had to buy lettuce for our salads this spring. not to mention, the kids LOVE vegetable gardening.

this week i spent $40 on groceries and this is our menu:
garlic chicken with asparagus and toasted quinoa, spinach stuffed shells, chicken enchiladas with avocado-quinoa salad,  broccoli pesto pasta, chicken fried rice, and minestrone with a garden salad.

yes, our meals are a little bit more humble than when it was just andres and i. and my son did tell me he was sad that i did not buy donuts this week (i do make donuts but i hate how they make the house smell like a deep fryer so i sometimes get them on clearance). but i am hoping my children are  learning the value of getting by with a little less, even if it means having to work a little harder.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

peeps be with you

as antonio has gotten older, i've loved watching how he participates more in the Mass.

he sings the alleluia. he kneels during the consecration. he shakes hands with people around us during the sign of peace.

the one part we still struggle with is the liturgy of the word. we cannot get him to sit still. even printing out the www.catholicmom.com coloring page for the week, so that he has a coloring page pertaining to the gospe reading, he prefers to turn over the page and draw rocket ships on the blank side.

until today.

i couldn't believe how well he was paying attention during fr. zahuta's homily. as father spoke about jesus wishing us to find peace within us, antonio sat and listened. i was so proud.

and then, 5 minutes later, antonio turns to andrés with a smile, and asked if fr. zahuta was talking about peeps. as in marshmallow peeps.