The mosaic of God

0 No tags Permalink

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but: there is no wrong way to have a body.

I know that social media and culture and sometimes even the voice in our own heads tells us that there’s a “right” body, an “ideal” body – and that we must be damaged goods if we’re unable to conform to it. That our body must be a mistake if it’s not the same as what the world deems as “good.”

But can I tell you an ancient and beautiful story? In the beginning, there was nothingness, and in the beginning, God said to one another, “Let us make humans in our image.” And then God envisioned and imagined and created bodies. There were bodies with skin the color of clay and the color of fresh milk and the color of rose petals and the color of an inky midnight sky. There were bodies with dimpled buttocks and doughy bellies; bodies with taut thighs and bulging biceps; bodies with angled cheekbones and jutting ribs. There were bodies that loved women and bodies that loved men and bodies that loved both and bodies that loved neither. There were bodies with extra chromosomes, and bodies with missing limbs, and bodies with two seeing eyes; or maybe one or maybe none. There were bodies tall as tree trunks and bodies short and squat like mushrooms. There were bodies that felt at home being female, and bodies that felt at home being male, and some bodies felt at home being both, or neither, or somewhere in between. There were bodies with eyes like rich cocoa and icy glaciers and deep forests, bodies with hair like fine straw and bodies with hair like the swell of a wave, and bodies with lots of hair and bodies with very little.

And God saw them all, and God declared them very, very good.

Our bodies were purpose-fully, wonder-fully made by a God who dreamed them exactly as they are as a direct representation of who God is. Body diversity is a glorious gift that gives us glimpses of the divine in every single person’s flesh and bone. God didn’t just make white, thin, abled, cishet bodies because the image of God is a beautiful mosaic and not a uniform pencil-sketch. Black bodies, brown bodies, disabled bodies, trans bodies, nonbinary bodies, fat bodies – these bodies all bear the image of God who made them in God’s own image. And so when we reject them, we’re rejecting God.

There is no wrong way to have a body, no matter what anyone else – or sometimes even yourself – tells you.
You are very, very good, friend. God says so.

// A word of God for the people of God.

(Photo is a selfie taken by my beautifully, wonderfully made daughter – a closeup of her one seeing eye with a glimpse of her blind eye in the peripheral.)

The lesson of Palm Sunday

0 No tags Permalink

She pressed a cross made from her palm branch into my hand before we parted ways. Her fingers had been folding, creasing, twisting as we spoke. It’s been almost a year, I remember thinking. She’s never wanted to talk before. How could I possibly have known everything she’s been going through?

And I got to thinking about this Palm Sunday, when the crowds gathered in expectation of a warrior king seated upon a mighty steed. They got a rabbi from Galilee on a donkey instead — him, and his rag-tag group of followers: unemployed fishermen. A despised tax collector. Women of questionable (at best) reputation.

And I wonder how often we might miss God because She comes to us in ways that we’re not expecting? How often do we overlook the divine because it doesn’t look like what we’re used to?

Maybe that’s the whole point that rabbi on the donkey was trying to make. God likes to show us that things are not always what they seem. He reminds us over and over and over again that he’s not here to keep the status quo, that he’s unconcerned with peace-keeping but, instead, peace-making, that the empire was never meant to free us — which is exactly why he upends it.

Maybe freedom comes in disguise, in subtle ways we aren’t always accustomed to looking for.

But freedom comes nonetheless — for all of us, yes, but for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized first.

And that can be uncomfortable for those of us with privilege to acknowledge. Because we’re not always good at laying down what we have so the last can be first.

But as Jesus reminds us — even if we choose to turn our backs, shut our eyes, stop up our ears, the stones themselves would cry out in this liberation song. Because freedom is coming. And it’s inviting us along.

How to dye Easter eggs using all natural ingredients!

0 No tags Permalink

If you know me, you know that in the past few years I’ve been more intentional in trying to live a toxin-free lifestyle. Once I realized how many chemicals are found in so many products I used to use every day, I’ve made it my mission to make as many natural swaps as possible. So, when it came time to dye eggs this year, I really wanted to try making my own dyes from food scraps. I am so pleased with how the colors turned out, and I’m excited to share with you what I did so you can try it, too!

As far as ingredients, you’ll need

  • hardboiled eggs
  • water
  • vinegar
  • tumeric (approximately 3 tbsp)
  • purple cabbage (4 cups chopped)
  • beets (do NOT use canned; fresh is best. You’ll need 4 cups chopped)
  • onion skins (4 cups; that’s skins from about 12 onions)

To make each dye, you’ll add to a pot

  • main ingredient – tumeric OR cabbage OR beets OR onion skins. Put this in first, then add
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for 45 minutes. Then strain the dye solution into a bowl and let it cool completely. Once cooled, you can start dyeing your eggs! Use a slotted spoon to immerse/remove eggs. Here are some color combinations you can try!

  • yellow: soak eggs in tumeric solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
  • orange: soak eggs in onion skin solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
  • pink: soak eggs in beets solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
  • blue: soak eggs in purple cabbage solution. Check after 30 minutes but continue to soak until desired color is achieved.
  • lavender: soak eggs in beet solution for 30-45 minutes to get a good base pink color. Then soak in the cabbage solution for about 15 minutes or longer until you get the desired color.
  • chartreuse (green): soak eggs in tumeric solution for approximately 30 minutes. Then soak in the cabbage solution for 15 minutes or longer until you get the desired shade of green.

That’s it! Super easy, right? Let me know if you give these a try!

Springtime Nest Cookies

0 No tags Permalink

If you’re looking for an easy sweet treat to celebrate spring or Easter, I’ve got you! These only take a handful of ingredients and come together in no time. You can also play with the recipe a bit to find out what you like best!

You’ll need

  • a bag of butterscotch chips OR a bag of regular chocolate chips OR 1/2 bag of each (feel free to use a bag of each if you like it extra sweet!)
  • 2/3 c. of smooth peanut butter
  • a bag of chow mein noodles OR 1 c. crushed cornflakes OR 1 c. crushed rice krispies
  • 1/3 c. quick oats OR 1/3 c. shredded coconut (unsweetened is best)
  • candy eggs

Combine the butterscotch/chocolate chips with peanut butter in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 second increments until everything is melted. Stir together.

Stir in all other ingredients EXCEPT for candy eggs until well combined. Line 2 cookie trays with wax or parchment paper. Spoon out dollops of the mixture and immediately press candy eggs into the top. Let cool on the counter or chill in fridge. Makes approximately 24 nests.

Enjoy!

The Table of My Ancestors: Week 24 (Portugal)

0 No tags Permalink

I can’t believe this the last week of this project. Honestly, the last six months have flown by! It’s been fascinating to explore my heritage through cooking recipes from the lands my ancestors came from: Scotland; North Africa; Egypt; Spain; Senegambia; and Portugal. Most of those regions were a complete surprise to me when they showed up in my 23 and Me DNA results. But I discovered the most beautiful thing when I dove in and started researching them: an unexpected sense of connection. Connection to beautiful places and fascinating people and celebrated recipes and complicated histories. Connection to something bigger than myself. I write in my book that not knowing where I came from has always left me feeling untethered, like it was me all alone out here in this big world, not knowing what my place was or where I belonged. This project, combined taking the ancestry test, has resolved that for me. I am Scottish. I am Moroccan. I am Egyptian. I am Spanish. These are new identities for me, ones that I tried timidly at first, unsure of how they’d fit — like trying on a coat in a boutique’s fitting room. But over the past six months, they have become a part of me, etched themselves into my blood and bones. I know who I am. I know where I came from. It’s an incredible, beautiful feeling.

To celebrate, I chose to end this project by baking a cake. Since it needed to be a Portuguese recipe, I wanted something that Portuguese hosts would serve for family or friends. Enter caramelized apple cake. It’s essentially an upside down apple cake with dark, homemade caramel and sliced apple on the bottom, topped with a rich and fluffy vanilla and lemon cake.

Assembling the base

Apples have an interesting history of being used in literature and art to convey symbolism. Typically, they’re meant to communicate ideas of love, beauty, and sentimentality. In the Christian religion, the apple is thought of to be the fruit that Adam and Eve ate of in the Garden of Eden (though the biblical text does not actually specify what type of fruit it is!), giving it a bit of a bad rap. However, it also symbolizes knowledge, since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In some artist depictions of Jesus, he has an apple in his hand, denoting the redemption he brings to the brokenness originating in the garden. For all those reasons and more, an apple cake seemed like the perfect ending for this journey I have been on for the last six months.

I think I’ll probably be a little bored with my same old recipes going forward, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones, particularly if they’re meaningful to your family or culture! What are your favorites? Comment below and let me know. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for embarking on this project with me. So many of you have let me know how interesting it’s been and that you love seeing the things I made. It’s been a gift to have you along for the ride. Thank you.

Introducing…Until the Bones Shine!

0 No tags Permalink

After nearly five years of working on this book, it was released into the world this week! I am equal parts proud and terrified and excited and exhausted and relieved and overjoyed. Basically, as per usual, I am feeling allll the feelings. All of them.

The idea for a memoir had been floating around in my brain for a long time. I know that I’ve lived an awful lot of life in my 38 years, and though many chapters of my story were brutally painful, I can also look back and see how much I learned and grew during those times. It’s no secret that I believe wholeheartedly in the power of stories. Prior to the written word, history was passed from generation to generation through oral narrative. Visual storytelling, using rudimentary drawings on cave walls, dates back 30,000 years at least. It is human nature to use the power of story to inform, instruct, and inspire. And every single one of us has our own story: things we’ve experienced or learned, things we can share with the world to help others feel less alone. If there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s that being brave with our own stories gives others permission to be brave with theirs, too. That’s what this book is for me: a gift, an offering, a way to help others find the light in their darkness and understand that the world needs their stories, too.

I spent Launch Day at our family cabin in the Adirondack Mountains with my husband, children, and in-laws. I was a bundle of nerves the whole day, but the good kind of nerves; it was thrilling to see orders coming in, share reviews from my launch team, and hear about the impact this little book-baby of mine has had on those who’ve read it. I got to see it on shelves of a real, live bookstore, and in less than 48 hours, the Book House had already sold out!

The thing that has meant the most, I think, is seeing my children react to this book. In many ways, I wrote it for them. It’s the story of journeys: my journey before them, and how our journeys entwined to make a new one. My daughter, who is quiet and typically scarce with her praise (hello, teenage years!) wants to read it for her English class. My son, while watching me print labels for shipping, had the sweetest conversation with my husband in the other room, one that I don’t think he knew I was listening to.

Atticus: “Dada, Mama is doing a good job with her book!”
Kyle: “She sure is, buddy!
Atticus, after a pause: “And she never, ever gave up. Even when it was hard.”
Kyle, smiling: “Yeah. I’m pretty proud of her.”
Atticus: “I’m proud of her, too.”

Cue the sobs. My kids are watching, and they’ve heard me talk about this book for actual years now, and they know how important it is to me. It’s been such a gift to have them witness this process and that they know they are in integral part of this whole story.

Until the Bones Shine is available on elenadelhagen.com with free shipping, on Amazon, and in the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, New York.

The Table of My Ancestors: Week 23 (Portugal)

0 No tags Permalink

I wanted an easy recipe this week since I was heavily preoccupied with the launch of Until the Bones Shine, so you can imagine my little happy dance when I found out about brigadeiro. Only two ingredients? Homemade chocolate? Squeeeeeal!

These are essentially caramelized chocolates, so the trickiest part is making sure that the chocolate is the right consistency and nothing burns. You combine cocoa powder and condensed milk in a pan and stir continuously. This is key. You’re looking for something that is called ponte de brigadeiro, which is when the mixture is thick enough to kind of pull away from the pan when you scrape it with your spatula.

After that, it’s just a matter of letting it cool, rolling the brigadeiro into little balls, adding toppings, and chilling! We left some plain chocolate and did crushed peanuts and shredded coconut on the others. I’ve seen more traditional recipes that have you roll them in chocolate sprinkles. The bottom line is that however you eat it, brigadeiro is delicious!

Over the edge

0 No tags Permalink

The lectionary text from a few Sundays ago was the one where Jesus preaches in his hometown of Nazareth, and what he says enrages the crowd so greatly that they try to push him off a cliff. It’s a strange story, one that has long puzzled me. But my husband’s sermon illuminated some parts of it I had never really noticed before.

First, Jesus is preaching about the work of God, that of ministering to widows, setting the oppressed free, healing the sick. And at first, the people are amazed. The passage says Jesus admits he knows the crowd want him to do this right there in Nazareth, for his own people.

But then he flips everything around. He says that while there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elisha, he was sent instead to one in Zarephath. She was a foreigner. And though there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet, it was only Naaman the Syrian — again a foreigner — who was cleansed.

This is what makes the crowd furious. They’re angry that “those people” got the blessing, got the miracle, got the goodness instead. What about me? What about mine? I deserve it more, you can almost hear them saying.

And sadly, it’s still the refrain of so many in today’s world. Why should we help refugees from other countries instead of taking care of our own? Why do the poor get handouts when I had to climb my own way to the top? It isn’t fair! It’s not right! We look at human rights as a pie, and we think if someone gets a bigger slice, then there’s going to be less for us.

I’ve heard people say these things. I’ve seen how angry they get. And it’s a tale as old as time, narrated right here in our ancient scriptures.

Jesus, remember, came to reveal what God looks like, acts like, thinks like to the world. So this passage makes it pretty clear from the get-go that the very heart of God, his care and concern and primary focus is the groups of people that we tend to other. The ones on the outskirts of our society. Liberation theology calls this God’s preferential option for the poor. In the words of Gustavo Gutiérrez, regarded as the movement’s founder, “God demonstrates a special predilection toward those who have been excluded from the banquet of life.” Does this mean God cares less about other people? No! But it does show his special consideration for those on the margins. People say, “God helps those who help themselves” and that’s just not true. The marginalized cannot help themselves. But it is to them that God goes first.

This is the Good News. This is hope. This is how we are meant to live, looking to others first — not me first, or mine first, or even America first. If we really claim to follow Jesus, we cannot simply ignore this story because it makes us too uncomfortable. We can’t just read and interpret the parts of the Bible that make us feel good. Paul tells us in II Timothy that scripture is for instruction and doctrine, yes, but also for correction.

God, it would seem, is speaking. Do we have ears to hear?

THE TABLE OF MY ANCESTORS: WEEK 22 (PORTUGAL)

0 No tags Permalink

I’ve always dreamed of visiting Portugal, especially now that I know a large chunk of my DNA can be traced back to it. I envisioned walking the streets, stopping in little cafes for a cup of coffee and a bifana, or something equally tasty. Alas, it may be a while until I can get there, but luckily, cooking Portuguese recipes can help bring a taste of the country into my own home.

Enter rojões. Portuguese rojões is a traditional recipe from the Minho region. It used to be served only during winter, when fresh meat was available. It’s essentially fried pork bits that are served over crispy potatoes, and it is sooooo good. I’ve heard you can also serve the pork over rice, but I wanted to do it the traditional way, and I’m glad I did! This was delicious with some sriracha and cilantro on top, and leftovers are easily reheated by crisping everything up in a pan again. Saboroso!

THE TABLE OF MY ANCESTORS: WEEK 21 (PORTUGAL)

0 No tags Permalink

I quickly discovered that many of the recipes I came across during my month of cooking from Spain are similar to the ones from Portugal (which of course makes sense, given the closeness of the two countries). The focus is on fresh, quality ingredients, and there is a lot of seafood. The only problem is that neither of my kids eat seafood, so I tried to stick to recipes that avoided it.

I came across a simple recipe for a dessert called serradura that is quite popular in Portugal. It’s also known as “sawdust pudding,” a nod to the crushed cookie layers that resemble…well, sawdust. The cream layer is made from whipping heavy cream and condensed milk, and then you simply layer the cookie/cream/cookie/cream to fill the glass. It’s best to let this chill in the fridge because it helps firm up the cream and turn it into a delicious custard. And you can top it any way you like! We’ve actually made these a few times, and we’ve used blueberries, strawberries, and chocolate chips.

For the cookies, I used Goya’s Marie biscuits, but I’ve seen variations of serradura using Oreos and shortbread, so you can definitely be creative with it. Let me know if you try the recipe; it is so, so good!