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In a tiny room on the island of Ebeye, without chairs, couches, a dining room or a window, Tiffany dos Santos enjoyed the best Sabbath lunches of her life. Scrambled eggs were served on a small coffee table with lumpia (similar to fried spring rolls), a large fish, and other edible offerings every week. A single open door provided the only light, as dos Santos rubbed elbows and knees with the seven friends that became like family that year.
“Those lunches connected us beyond our cultural and food histories,” reflects dos Santos on her time as a missionary teacher. Although she grew up vegetarian, she gave it up while previously a student missionary in Palau. Without an official church potluck, dos Santos and her friends improvised their own unique meal. “We brought the best we had, and we were OK with that,” says dos Santos.
Back in the United States, dos Santos’ Sabbath table now includes places to sit, and still feeds friendships. And with “A Clove of Garlic, A Pinch of Salt,” her food blog, dos Santos has joined an international community drawn together for a virtual feast. The blog, with about 11,000 visits each month, was originally a way to “record her journey of learning how to cook,” which she began at age 27. Before marrying her Brazilian husband, she might not wanted to have begun the trip. dos Santos hated cooking, and planned to wed someone who would cook, while she did the dishes. When life changed her plans, she decided that if she was going to provide most of the food, she wanted it to be truly good food, and shortly afterward, began to blog about it. Now, her recipes (example pictured) connect her with readers around the world.
An 18-year-old girl in Wisconsin is a devoted reader. An atheist American expatriate in Brazil who stumbled upon her blog is now a good friend; dos Santos and her husband visited her on a recent international trip. The blog is also how she and fellow bloggers raised $1,300 in one day, through an online bake sale to support a girl with Crohn’s disease (dos Santos also has Crohn’s disease). Connected by a shared food philosophy—to eat well, at home—dos Santos says that “real friendships have formed that might not have happened in the real world.”
But eating healthfully called for a hard look at the “healthy” vegetarian diet of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Rice-a-Roni, TV dinners and lots of cookies, the usual at dos Santos’ childhood table. “We thought, ‘We don’t eat meat, we don’t eat a lot of dairy, therefore we are healthy,’” says dos Santos. Visit her blog, and none of these processed items are in sight. Instead, you’ll find dishes from avocado pizza to strawberry chocolate French toast, in a new take on a healthy diet. And although many of the dishes that dos Santos prepares are vegetarian, she doesn’t “open cans or buy veggie meat,” preferring to cook from scratch—normally in 20 minutes or less.
Dos Santos terms this “real food.” Girl Scouts bearing gifts are still welcome at her door, but simple foods, like veggie burgers made out of beans and rice, are more often on her table. “I enjoy cooking, but want to do other things with my time," says the California elementary school teacher. "I make dinner every night anyway.”
"Food is a pillar of community, and that is what the Adventist church is," notes dos Santos. “We use food to help us connect.” Whether friendships are nourished online or over Sabbath lunch, a sense of community is the main dish.
This week’s recipe is for Sweet Potato Tacos (pictured), adapted by dos Santos from Jess Dang at Cooksmarts.com. Dos Santos writes, “They are fast, easy, and vegan unless you add yogurt or sour cream, and a complete meal in a tortilla.”
Sweet Potato Tacos
Prep time: 10 min.
Total time: 25 min.
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into ½ inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 ½ cup fresh black beans OR 1 can of black beans, drained
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
12 tortillas, corn or “soft taco”
½ cup low-fat Greek yogurt, to top
2 avocados, sliced, to top
1 lemon or 2 limes
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1. Heat oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once oil is heated, add garlic, red onion, and a dash of salt to heated oil. Sauté until softened, about three minutes.
2. Add sweet potatoes to the pan with a generous pinch of salt and the spices. Add 1/3 cup of water to the pan, cover with a lid, and lower heat to a simmer. Cook about 8 to 12 minutes, until sweet potatoes are softened.
3. Add beans to the pan and toss everything together until beans are heated through.
4. Warm tortillas according to package instructions. Fill with sweet potatoes, a dollop of yogurt (if you want), avocado, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.
Total Cost: $9 (approximately)