Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Favorites

Whenever the family and I go to a restaurant, I look for something different to try. I do have my favorites, but I also go out of my way to find a dish that is unique in taste and original in presentation. Sometimes, I won’t know what I’ll be getting until the server places it in front of me.

For today’s feature Freedom Friday, I would like to give you a sampling of what I’ve had the pleasure of eating. I wish there was a way to transform the photos into real dishes in order for you to smell the aromas and savor the sweet flavors, but this is not the Starship Enterprise where I can say, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot,” and the replicator will create the item for you. Wouldn’t that be something? Instead, I’ll give you some background to the shot, and relate my thoughts about the experience.

My goal is to make you hungry.

Prime Rib Burger
Prime Rib Burger

Prime Rib Burger—For Mother’s Day, I thought I’d treat my amazing wife to one of our favorite restaurants here in Canada. They have a delicious gluten-free menu she can enjoy while the kids and I can gorge on the pizza and burgers. For this time around, I chose to order a Prime Rib Burger. Since I love mushrooms so much, I added them as a topping for a buck. I can only describe the meal as an explosion to the taste buds. The chef cooked the meat to perfection and the mushrooms added an extra level of flavor. The side Greek Salad complimented the meal, making it all the more enjoyable.

Curry Beef
Curry Beef

Curry Beef—During one of our Thursday night dinner dates, my wife recommended the Curry Beef. I’ve never liked beef unless prepared on a burger. This time, she was right. I had one taste of her dish, and I quickly ordered one for myself. The plate comes with tender sirloin drowning in curry sauce. Added in the mix is a sprinkling of onions and green pepper. A surprising finish to a morsel is the heat delivered by the sauce. Not overly strong, but having a kick, the dish leaves a satisfying aftertaste.

Salmon Sushi Combo
Salmon Sushi Combo

Salmon Sushi ComboThis year’s Canada Day festivities included a trip to our favorite sushi restaurant here in town. While the rest of my family was ordering Vegetable Maki, Chicken Fried Rice and Miso Soup, I order a Salmon Sushi Combo. I gotta tell you, of all my favorite dishes I’m writing about today, this is my absolute favorite. The meal comes with six salmon maki, three sushi and one salmon hand roll. Like all sushi meals, it also comes with a generous helping of soy sauce and wasabi. I have to tell you something. Sushi is the only meal that feels like home to me. I don’t feel stuffed, sick or bloated when eating sushi, and the next day, I’m gearing up for more. I wish the whole world was made of sushi because then I wouldn’t have to wait so long before eating it again.

Grilled Chicken Salad
Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled Chicken Salad—As part of an extended celebration my family and I had for my youngest, recently having performed in the drama troupe’s rendition of Beauty and the Beast at a Ribfest, we stopped by the Greek restaurant down the street. I typically order a lamb dish, but that night I had already eaten a bit at the Ribfest, I needed to go for something light. The Grilled Chicken Salad was perfect for this occasion. A Greek Salad topped with the moistest grilled chicken I’ve ever tasted made this meal a treat to enjoy. Every single ingredient was fresh. Every single bite had a perfect finish. One day, I hope to learn to cook chicken this way.

That’s it, folks. Are you hungry yet?

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What was the last thing you had that made your latest trip to a restaurant special?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Photography

Taking pictures of food has become a hobby of mine. For a long time, I took the photos not knowing what to do with them until one day it’d dawned on me. I didn’t need to do anything with them. The photos of the food not only represent edibles, but of times gone by. A single image floods my mind of all the good times associated with those meals. Let’s have a look at some of those photos and of what they mean to me for Freedom Friday.

Mamma's Penne Pasta
Mamma’s Penne Pasta

My mom’s pasta is to die for. I don’t know how she makes the sauce, and believe me, my wife’s tried to replicate it, I’ve tried, yet to no avail, we have never been able to duplicate it from scratch. In its place, my wife has her own recipe, which I love with a passion, but it’s not mamma’s sauce. Don’t worry, my wife knows how I feel, it’s no secret. The point being, this photo of my mom’s penne pasta coated with her delicious sauce represents a typical Sunday meal at my parents place. Whenever I look at this picture, memories of all those good time family gatherings come back to me. Every so often, we also have the typical Sunday meal here at my house.

Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant
Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant

Every Saturday afternoon I cook something special for the family. It’s my time when I treat everyone to a culinary creation of my choosing. One of my favorite dishes I enjoy making is chicken. I think I’ve cooked chicken in every way possible, yet, I’m sure someone will say to me, “Have you tried it this way?” I’m sure of it. This photo has all the fall colors wrapped in a delicious assortment of vegetables and chicken. For anyone curious, those are marinate eggplants. I enjoy this photo because it reminds me of our Saturday family time together.

Sushi
Sushi

Sushi reminds me of special occasions, long weekends and my absolute love for Japanese food. For those who don’t know, I make my own sushi. It took a long time to understand how all the ingredients worked together, their names and their distinct flavors. Nowadays, it’s second nature making this stuff. This photo is of one of the long weekends here at Casa Flacco, and of how I spent my afternoon. Salmon, avocado, sticky rice, all wrapped with nori. The other dish I made with cucumber, sticky rice and nori. I love long weekends because of our sushi binges.

Salad
Salad

Nothing quite tops a good ol’ fashioned salad in my family. Salads remind me of summer and fall. We make our salads from the choicest, freshest ingredients. All of it organic and most of it comes from our backyard. This photo captures the essence of what our meals are like in the summer. Every day is salad day with olive oil, feta cheese, Greek olives and onions as extra ingredients. What this photo does not capture is the hard work involved with tilling the soil, watering, babying it every single day to allow it to bring forth an incredible bounty for all of us to enjoy.

Now do you see why I take photos of food?

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Are you one of those folks who also take photos of food? What is your favorite food to shoot?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Tips

I enjoy food as much as the next guy. In fact, I would venture to say, I eat for the shear pleasure. I never used to be this way. Most of my meals years ago had trouble staying in my mouth more than a few seconds before they hit the bottom of my stomach. I ate fast. I played hard. And lived for no tomorrow. Of course, I don’t do that anymore, and I’m happier and healthier for it.

A full pantry (Photo Credit: theperfectpantry.com)
A full pantry (Photo Credit: theperfectpantry.com)

I thought for Freedom Friday you’d appreciate a few tricks I have up my sleeve whenever I’m in the kitchen cooking a meal. I’ve always wanted to write these tips in a notebook, but how can that happen if I’m either in the kitchen cooking for the family or at my laptop writing other stuff? And don’t worry, although I write about zombies it doesn’t mean I am one. I’ll leave the undead to worry about eating brains.

Let me start by saying every kitchen needs a few basic ingredients. Salt, pepper, and olive oil make it almost into every meal. That’s why our family buys those ingredients in bulk. If you have a cold room or pantry, you can store the basics in there for a long time before you need to stock the shelves again. I suppose you can do the same thing with toilet paper, but I’d recommend not eating toilet paper.

Here’s something I’ve learned when I went on a one-year viewing binge of Food Network Canada. Chances are I picked up a thing or two here and there as I watched, however, one of the coolest tips I got from them has to do with knowing when the oil in the pan is hot enough for frying. All you do is wet your finger with water and allow a drop to fall to the pan. If the water snaps in the pan, then you know it’s perfect for frying.

Which reminds me, if you’re going to try this trick, make sure you stand well back from the pan. You don’t want to make your meal to-go, as in going to the hospital ‘cause your eye was an inch away from the pan.

How to hold a chef's knife (Photo Credit: stellaculinary.com)
How to hold a chef’s knife (Photo Credit: stellaculinary.com)

You’d think holding a knife is easy. Not at Casa Flacco. When I’m cutting vegetables, I grasp the knife by the handle, curling my index finger to the side of the blade while my thumb leans on the other side, half on the blade and half of the handle. Not only is it safe, but you have better control of the cutting. With the other hand, I curl my fingers so as my fingernails fall at a ninety-degree angle on the vegetable. Then, I cut with a rhythm, rocking the knife on its tip as I bring the blade down on the vegetable. I learned this technique from one of these fancy-shmancy chefs in order to prevent a premature amputation of a digit.

The proper cut (Photo Credit: besthomechef.com.au)
The proper cut (Photo Credit: besthomechef.com.au)

Not so much a tip as it is a recommendation, but enjoying your food ranks up there with turning off the stove when you’re done with it. It involves not rushing through your meal so you can spend countless of senseless hours in front of a screen. I’ve done it many times and it doesn’t do justice to the digestive tract. Eating your food at a leisurely pace invokes a relaxed atmosphere conducive to pleasure. The food settles better, too. I know, it’s hard to do in this day and age where we’re rushing everywhere. But it beats ravaging a side of steer and washing it down with a gallon of gin.

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Do you have any food tips you’d like to share? Are you a fast eater?

Posted in My Journey

How Great Is Our God?

Out of nothingness came life. Out of the emptiness and the void, came we. God formed us out of the dust of the ground, breathed into us the breath of life and made us living beings. How great is our God?

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalms 8:3)

We mere humans are dust. Yet God loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice his only son Jesus so that we may live, live free from the penalty of sin, and live forever. How great is our God?

From edge to edge of this deep vastness called the universe, God has set the foundations of our firmament. He gave us dominion over all things on the earth. He provided us food with which to feed ourselves, and clothes to keep our fleshly bodies warm. How great is our God?

We are but bones, sinews, flesh and skin covering it all. We have seventy years given to us, eighty by reason of strength. Our lives are like a vapor, but even King David asked: Who are we that God should be so mindful of us? How great is our God?

Out of the emptiness, God made us, and through Jesus, he fills us with the Holy Spirit and saves us. God is great.

Posted in My Journey

God Does Not Abandon His Children

God is wonderful, amazing and patient with us. He knows what we need, when we need it and how. He surely keeps his promises to those who believe Christ is his son, but even more so, he will bless those who need it the most in their time of need.

I had something happen to me this week that I will tell you because I think it is important that everyone knows that when God acts, he acts swiftly, with purpose and with compassion. He definitely does not abandon his children, and this is one of those occasions I felt closer to God. I knew he was there, and he was looking out for me, taking away any insecurity I had during those moments I was feeling alone.

I had attended an event last week with a group of friends that I was looking forward to all year. We had the opportunity to share in food, fun and festivities. The event featured a potluck meal and a flexible seating arrangement, which I thought was great. It certainly promoted mingling. When we arrived, we dispersed, found the food, plated everything and proceeded to find a table. Only, when we did find an empty table, it could fit six and no more. There were seven of us. I was the last man standing, so to speak. So there I was, plate in hand filled with food without a seat. That sudden feeling of abandonment gripped my tummy, and for a while, it would not let go.

I decided to look for another place to sit, even though all the other tables seemed full. As I walked through the crowd, praying to God for restoration, I eventually did find a seat along the sidelines. Individual chairs were available and I took one. And once I had settled in, one of my friends who had taken a seat with the others, left the group, came and sat with me. God knew what I needed.

Now, I am relating this story to tell you that God does not abandon his people. At times we may feel alone and seemingly without support, but God knows above all else, how to resolve our situation in order to make it work for good. I am remembering the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost when he said:

“He foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:31)

If God could raise his son Jesus from the dead, imagine what more he could do when we face something infinitely smaller in scale and we call on his name.

God has proven time and again his mercy for us Christians will never fail (Psalms 28:6). His love for us abounds (Romans 8:38-39) and his grace upon our lives goes beyond this lifetime and into the next (Ephesians 2:8). We have his spirit to encourage us (John 14:16), we have his joy to carry us through trials (James 1:2-3), and we have peace to settle us when weariness hits our bones (Psalms 4:8). He is the great redeemer (Psalms 78:35) and counselor (Isaiah 9:6). He will always be there for us.

God will never abandon us.

Posted in Bible Studies, Other Things

I Hate the Prosperity Gospel

Hate is a strong word. I rarely use it. When I do use it, I make it clear that I do not use it in jest, or without reason. When I say I hate something, I mean I abhor it, I detest it, and I wish it were not in existence.

Therefore, saying that I hate the prosperity gospel, I still feel I am putting it mildly. Frankly, I wish it would disappear never to deceive another Christian again.

What is the prosperity gospel?

Without giving you a long, drawn-out definition, I will make it simple: the prosperity gospel convinces Christians that God wants them to be wealthy, that he does not want his children to suffer, and that he wants them to enjoy every moment of this life, because he promised he would bless those who have faith enough to believe he would do just that.

In effect, the prosperity gospel does more than hurt Christian growth. The prosperity gospel attempts to deceive us into believing that with enough faith, we will inherit the blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and by extension, the nation of Israel in this lifetime, which is simply not true.

What is worse is that Christian ministries throughout North America are now exporting this health and wealth gospel to poorer nations, such as Africa, and walking away with millions of dollars in donations for what in reality is a lie.

Problems with the prosperity gospel

Several inherent problems exist with the prosperity gospel that Christians ought to understand:

1. The prosperity gospel negates Christ’s sacrifice.

Jesus sacrificed his life in order to reconcile us with God (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:14). Up until Christ’s death, there was a need for a blood offering as a means to approach God’s throne (Exodus 30:10). Without that sin offering, which typically came in the form of an animal sacrifice performed by a representative of the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 4:1-7), no one could request an audience with God directly.

All that changed once Jesus died on the cross. No longer do we need to worry about our sins getting in the way of our relationship with God. Instead, we have Jesus, who bore the penalty of our sins, who now acts on our behalf as intercessor, drawing us nearer to God in a communion based on repentance and forgiveness (1 Timothy 2:5-6). In turn, God refers to us as sons, of whom the creation is eagerly waiting for the revealing of our inheritance (Romans 8:18-19).

The prosperity gospel throws that all aside for the temporary hope of gaining riches now. Christ’s shed blood is meaningless in the context of our desire to petition God to grant wishes, as if he were some kind of genie. God is only there to serve, and if he does not give us what we want, then we did not ask him with enough faith, which cheapens what Jesus did for us because there would be no need for redemption if all we are looking for is a comfortable life without sickness.

2. The prosperity gospel does not recognize Christian suffering.

When God began working with Job, one of the richest men of the Old Testament (Job 1:1-3, 8), he began doing so by allowing Job to lose everything (verses 13-19). God not only used Satan to permit Job’s suffering (verse 12), but he also used Job’s sense of loss to act as a contributing factor to bring about his repentance. Job came to realize just how awesome and wonderful God is, such that he accepted God’s greatness regardless if he understood, or not, why God did what he did (Job 42:1-6).

Contrast this example with how the prosperity gospel interprets scripture.

The prosperity gospel renders Job’s suffering as an example of the doubling-up principle detailed in Exodus, “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double” (Exodus 22:7 ESV throughout). In Job’s case, the thief was Satan; and since Satan took all that Job had, Job’s compensation would be double his loss (Job 42:10).

Saying it another way, Job’s suffering had nothing to do with repentance, but had everything to do with claiming a reward from a long-forgotten civil statute enacted in ancient Israel to discourage thievery.

A couple of things are wrong with this thinking. First, when Job went through everything he did, the nation of Israel did not exist, therefore, the thievery statute, being part of the Law of Moses, did not exist. Second, and more importantly, it would be presumptuous to assume God’s intention when he allows people to suffer. It would be even a bigger mistake for others to deny that God allows suffering.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke many times about this life’s riches and the futility of trying to accumulate wealth (Luke 12:15-21). He even made it clear that the rich would have a hard time entering the kingdom of God, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). In all that Jesus said, he guaranteed one thing: his followers would suffer for his name’s sake (John 15:20) and his apostles confirmed this understanding (1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12). He did not promise material wealth, but actually encouraged followers to sell everything to give to the poor (Matthew 19:21).

3. The prosperity gospel blames poverty on a lack of faith.

People are poor because they want to be poor. In essence, that is the prosperity gospel message.

We do not have because we do not ask. If we asked, we would have and we would not have any reason to disbelieve God’s promises made to Abraham. Of course, this reasoning does not take into account what the apostle Paul said:

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

People become sick and stay sick because they lack faith in God to heal them. After all, did not Jesus say, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34)? Yet when someone dies of cancer, is it because of a lack of faith that he or she died, or was it that God allowed it to happen for a greater purpose?

The prosperity gospel answers this question by hinging its entire theology on faith. With enough faith, God will bless us Christians with health, wealth and happiness. If we hope for whatever we ask, we will receive it; and if we do not receive it, we did not hope for it enough.

The problem with this type of thinking is that we make what we hope for our goal instead of asking God what his will is for us (Matthew 6:33). In fact, God’s will soon takes a backseat to our desires, which could run contrary to what he wants (James 4:2-3). For this reason, many Christians wonder why God allows things to happen the way they do, rather than trusting God’s ability to resolve things according to his will.

There is nothing wrong with having faith, so long as we do not mistake it for materialistic faith, which leads nowhere other than against God’s plan.

4. The prosperity gospel guarantees a payback for anything Christians give.

Imagine investing $100 and receiving $10,000 back. That is what the prosperity gospel will have us believe. Whatever money we give will come back to us a hundredfold: “Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Mark 10:29-30).

Other than the apostle John, historical evidence suggests all the apostles died by the hands of persecutors. What happened to their reward? Whatever became of their hundreds of houses they owned?

The prosperity gospel twists the meaning of these verses to suit an invalid premise: if we Christians give, we will receive a hundredfold reward now in the form of money and property. But, that is not what it says. Jesus is talking about prosperity in relationships and families. Jesus explains this at the beginning of the book of Mark:

“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’.” (Mark 3:31-35)

As regarding to the mention of houses and lands, these verses are referring to families, much like how other parts of scripture refer to families by a patriarch’s name; such as the House of David (1 Samuel 20:16; 2 Samuel 3:1), the House of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4; 1 Kings 12:21), and the House of Jacob and Israel (Jeremiah 3:18; Hebrews 8:10).

And should there be any confusion as to what Jesus was preaching, we need to read Mark 10:29-30 in context with the other verses surrounding the passage, starting from verse 17 all the way to verse 31. Jesus was saying that for the rich and wealthy, it would be difficult, almost impossible, for them to enter the kingdom of God, “And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” (verse 23). Before that, he made it even clearer to a rich, young man what his stance was regarding riches, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’” (verse 21).

Other proponents of the prosperity gospel camp turn to the Old Testament to convince Christians to give generously: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).

Again, should what Malachi say apply to Christians today, it does not refer to blessings now, although we may receive blessings but it may have more to do with God’s spontaneous generosity than with the verses written in Malachi (Matthew 6:3-4).

God wants generous and cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). He does not want Christians giving with the expectation of getting something back in return (Proverbs 11:7). He does not want to limit us to give only a tithe, or rather, 10% of our increase either. Everything is his (Psalm 24:1). He wants to see just how much of what he gives to us do we dare keep.

What is the true gospel?

Jesus came as God in the flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), lived, died, and rose from the dead. He sits at the right hand of the father (Romans 8:34), waiting for the time when he will return as a conquering king (Hebrews 10:12-13). During his time on earth, Jesus taught about loving God and loving others more than himself (Mark 12:28-31; John 15:13). He healed the sick (Mark 1:34), taught forgiveness (Matthew 6:14) and instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of his death and resurrection (Luke 22:17-20).

Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross (Matthew 26:39), to save from the penalty of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23), all those who believe in him (John 3:17-18).

Everyone who believes now has salvation through Christ’s sacrifice (John 3:16).

This is the true gospel.

Posted in My Journey

Trust in God

Anxiety is a big hurdle for many. With my son, it had put him in the hospital for over a month. As I am learning about the effects of anxiety, I am also learning about coping techniques in order to recognize the condition. Most importantly, I now understand the difference between stress and anxiety, knowledge I previously did not possess had my family not experience what we did last November and December.

Stress is the feeling one gets when events happen all at once and need immediate resolution. Stress is not necessarily bad. Without stress, life would lack a certain amount of excitement. However, too much stress can cause all sorts of problems, including physical injury to the heart. In such a case, it would be a good idea to step away for a while as a short-term means to stem the effects of stress on the body.

On the other hand, anxiety is having a feeling that something bad might happen if a certain action does not take place. Anxiety works to saturate the mind with thoughts of “what if.” What if I did not turn off the burner to the stove after I cooked? What if I missed my rent/mortgage payment this month? What if I left the lights on to my car when I parked it for the evening? These types of scenarios could prove endless and could quench the light of an otherwise joyful life, turning it into a life of bondage filled with worry and fear.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Mat. 6:25 ESV throughout). As a society, we tend to worry about everything, especially with social media being as pervasive as it is, leading young girls to compare themselves with waif-thin models, holding them up as standard-bearers to what girls ought to look like at that age. And young men having it in their mind that once they are out of college, their lives will be set with a high salary and job security.

Instead, as a way to alleviate the effects of anxiety, Jesus tells us to place our trust in God, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v. 33-34).

With God on our side, we do not need to worry about a thing. If we place our trust in God, seeking first his will in all things, he will provide for everything we need, including food, drink, clothing and anything else we might lack, because ultimately, our lives should be a reflection of our relationship with him and how he is deeply working to mold us into his image.