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Friday, May 8, 2020

A Discourse on Faith | Queenie Quynh Nguyen

Growing up in a Buddhist family in Vietnam, I never personally identified as a Buddhist, but rather as agnostic. I didn’t even know much about formal Buddhist philosophy until I took a class on Buddhist Ethics in my sophomore year of college in the United States. When I took the class, there were many familiar concepts that I had often heard people discuss at home. I just didn’t know that some of what I had assumed were cultural norms, actually stem from Buddhist philosophy. 
The word ‘faith’ feels a bit problematic for me in a changing and pluralistic world, especially between religious and atheistic individuals. I tend to think of my faith more as a matter of meaning. I love to connect the dots and make meaning out of my experiences, surrounded by the objects and events that happen in my life. Thus, perhaps, the word ‘faith’ should not be taken solely as a matter of religion and spirituality. Faith, to me, is where all the dots connect.
Despite this, I still gain great benefits from religious literacy. Religious literacy, in my meaning-making process, helps me find the home and community to which I belong. What decides the place that I call home depends on all of the aspects of myself as a Vietnamese person, a woman, an international student, an agnostic, a Human Development and Social Relations major, etc., which all shape my experiences. 
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I was able to affirm this wonderful aspect of religious literacy thanks to the Alternative Break Trip in March that I coordinated with Ithaca College. We went to different faith communities: including the Sikh community, the Ethical Society of Philadelphia, the Quaker community, the Baha’i community, the Episcopal Church, and more. It was amazing to see the students’ different reactions to the places we went. Was one person’s experience more valid than another’s? Not at all. They were all valid, because we are all multidimensional people.  I take that to be a crucial element of Interfaith Philadelphia’s mission, Dare to Understand.

We often struggle to understand people because we do not understand the reason why they behave, act, or think in certain way. When I realized how many different factors make up the multi-dimensional person I am, it helped me learn to pause and find out more about other people’s stories before making judgements about them. 
In the Alternative Break Trip I coordinated, we found a common theme among many of the faith communities we visited, which was service. Whichever way one likes to think, service is unquestionably an essential part of faith. Even when people do not believe that God exists, the idea of serving others and being good to our fellow people was common ground that connected all religions, including many agnostic and atheist individuals. 

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My journey has not finished, of course. As I start to understand the various aspects that shape the person I am, I am able to stand tall in my own beliefs. That will continue to take effort, and require me to be curious, to venture out, and to reflect and make meaning from what I see. The discourse that is the most challenging for me - faith, is, indeed, the one that helped me gain a better understanding of myself and others.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Đậu sốt cà chua (Fried Tofu & Tomato) | A Recipe from Queenie Quynh Nguyen

 This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from across the region. Today's vegetarian recipe comes from Queenie Quynh Nguyen. Do you have a recipe or a story you'd like to share? Email Liz Royer at

Here’s a dish I enjoyed a lot growing up. It’s a very simple fried tofu and tomato dish (đậu sốt cà chua) that is one of my favorite comfort foods! 

Coming from a Vietnamese Buddhist family, my mom and I usually cook vegetarian dishes together on the new moon and full moon each month. We offer these dishes first to the Buddha and our ancestors, who reside on the altar. This fried tofu and tomato dish is always our significant spiritual dish, and it is a good source of protein for a vegetarian diet. 

  • 1 package of extra firm tofu (or fried tofu if you have access to it)
  • Oil for frying (unless you have fried tofu)
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil 
  • 1 shallot, diced (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 heaping tbsp minced garlic (about 3-4 cloves)
  • 3 fresh tomatoes (cut into 6-8 even pieces each tomato) 
  • 1 tbsp Maggi seasoning (tamari is fine)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Green onion for garnish
  1. Cut tofu into your desired shapes. I chose triangles, which yielded about 16 pieces of tofu. You want them to be about ¾ inch thick (or ~2 cm) so that when you fry them, there’s still some tender tofu to bite into.
  2. Heat a pot of oil. Pat each slice of tofu as dry as you can before slipping them into the oil. Fry until a nice, uniform, golden crust is formed and let drain on some paper towel. Once all tofu is fried, set aside.
  3. In a pot, cook diced shallot with oil over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  4. Add tomatoes to the pot and add maggi seasoning and sugar. Lower heat to a steady simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down a bit and the excess water has evaporated. You’ll have some of the tomato juices, but you don’t want it to be soupy.
  5. Depending on how you like your tofu, you can pour this finished sauce over your fried tofu OR you can add the tofu to the pot, and cook the tofu in it to absorb some of the tomato flavour. Both are delicious; it just depends on your preference! 
We usually add a half cup of water, bring it all to boil, and simmer the tofu in the sauce for 5 – 7 minutes, since we like the taste of the sauce deep inside the tofu. 
  1. Serve with steamed rice and garnish with slivered green onions!
** Ingredients and Instructions are from with my personal notes and some adjustments.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Socially Distant Passover | Anneke Kat

This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from across the region. Today's post about making Passover recipes in the time of coronavirus comes from Anneke Kat. Do you have a recipe or a story you'd like to share? Email Liz Royer at

I often feel that there’s a myth that food needs to be homemade to be special. In my family we have a range of cooking abilities and patience for crafting everything from scratch. There are some foods that are sacred to our holiday gatherings which are homemade (cue my mom and aunt’s brisket recipes or my mom’s apple cake) and then there are things we get a little help with (frozen latkes or matzo ball mix from a box). I think those foods are just as important. They can still embody all of our positive memories and associations of togetherness, regardless of the fact that they weren’t created in our own kitchens. 

This year, while observing Passover during the COVID-19 pandemic, I made do with what I had available around the house and avoided going to the store to procure anything extra. I brought out the matzo ball mix and some canned veggie broth and made matzo ball soup. Next I moved on to making my favorite Passover dish, the charoset. This dish is meant represent the mortar used by the Jewish people when they were enslaved in Egypt. There are many ways to make this dish, but my family makes a version with apples, walnuts, sweet red wine, and spices. This year I set about making the charoset, and found I had a small amount of sweet red wine, a few apples, and some spices, but no walnuts! So I spend a great deal of time picking out some pistachios from a bag of trail mix I found in the back of the pantry. I made do, and it was delicious! Post ImagePost Image

This year, there was something particularly meaningful in the ritual of making and eating these goods. Although some of my family was able to gather on Zoom, we were not able to have our yearly family Seder at my aunt and uncle’s house in the beautiful farmland of Pennsylvania. Experiencing these foods made me feel close to everyone I couldn’t be near. I also reflected on the generations of Jews who came before me, who strove to observe their holidays under persecution or duress. I felt deeply connected to the past and proud of myself for having been able to create the familiar flavors of my family gatherings - something homemade and something from a box - and it was perfect! 

Here are some of our favorite non-homemade Jewish foods:
Here is an example of an apple and walnut charoset recipe: 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

From the Same Source | Margaret Somerville

This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from across the region. Today's post about sourdough bread comes from Rev. Margaret Somerville. Do you have a recipe or a story you'd like to share? Email Liz Royer at

I started to get anxious when there was no yeast left on the grocery store shelves. I had been to three stores. Sharing my panic that I would not be able to bake fresh bread in isolation, I received a message from a friend who had a sourdough starter. I could pick up a jar from her mailbox when she divided her starter the next day.

Kneading the bread dough is one of my spiritual practices, learned from a Jewish friend, who kneads her prayers into her challah. Into my first sourdough loaf, I kneaded gratitude for my friend who shared her starter, for the connection, for my children quarantined with me who would share this loaf, for my children quarantined in their own home, for those with whom I could not share this loaf today but with whom I would connect in the new world of virtual classrooms and worship services. The loaf rose with my concern for those without bread that day, for those without connection.

One of the youth in my congregation has become a baker as well. I offered to share my starter with her, and her mom drove her over to pick up the jar from my mailbox. And then the idea - what if we passed this starter around our congregation, leaving it on doorsteps, leaving baked loaves for those who don’t feel comfortable baking it themselves? Could we strengthen our connection by sharing of the same bread?

As Holy Week approaches, I am facing the loss of the familiar setting of my favorite service of the church year, Maundy Thursday. This is a service that is literally about communion with others, the celebration of the last supper of Jesus, when he broke bread at table with his disciples, in preparation for passing his ministry onto them, that they would find ways to connect with people the way he had.

What will it be like to celebrate by breaking bread at the table when the table is not there, when we can’t pass the loaf to one another? But perhaps with our shared sourdough starter, what we can do is eat of the same bread. Our loaves in our individual homes will have come from the same source. And perhaps as we daily divide our starters in our own homes and leave them in jars, in mailboxes, and on doorsteps, this bread will be shared from congregation to congregation as well, from one faith tradition to another. Perhaps this sourdough starter will be a reminder that we are all fed from the same source.

We do this is remembrance of one who came in the name of love and light to honor all those who have been created from the same source of love and light.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Shakey-Shakes and Popcorn | A Recipe from Milan Kunz

This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from around our region. Today's recipe for Shaky-Shakes and Popcorn comes from one of our 2020 Dare To Understand Awardees, Milan Kunz. If you want to try making this recipe yourself, take a photo and share it with us on Facebook

Shaky-shakes and Popcorn for Family Night

Since 1915, our Church has encouraged members to hold a weekly Family Home Evening (FHE) on Monday evening, or whenever possible. There are no scheduled Church meetings on Monday evening because it is reserved for Family Home Evening. The purpose of FHE is to help families strengthen bonds of love with each other, as well as provide an atmosphere where parents can teach their children principles of the gospel. 

For most families, FHE includes music, prayer, a short lesson, a game or fun activity, and treats. Our family’s favorite treat was “shaky-shakes” and popcorn. Now, you might ask, what is a “shaky-shake?” A “shaky-shake” is a chocolate milkshake with a twist. Instead of mixing the ingredients (ice cream, chocolate powder and milk) in a blender for all to enjoy, the ingredients are put into a separate plastic 16 oz cup with a lid and each person shakes their cup rigorously until it is blended together – thus the name - “shaky-shake!” It was quite a sight to see the five children jumping up and down while running around the kitchen shaking their “shaky-shakes” with great excitement and laughter. 

Each child’s “shaky-shake” was done to their specific informal, unwritten, and secret recipe; some liked more ice cream with little milk, while others added extra chocolate powder. Each acquired their own special blend of ingredients. There are two critical steps in making a “shaky-shake”: first, ensure the lid is on completely, and second, make sure the straw hole is covered by either a thumb or finger - otherwise disastrous things can happen … and have happened in the Kunz home. 

My wife or I usually made the popcorn, but over the years as the children grew older, we delegated that to them. When the children made the popcorn, you could be sure that a lot more butter was added than when Mom or Dad made it. Why popcorn? Well, it’s cheap, fun to make, and goes perfectly with “shaky-shakes.”

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Darn Good Lemon Cake | A Recipe from Rev. Steven Lawrence

This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from around our region. Today's recipe for Darn Good Lemon Cake comes from one of our 2020 Dare To Understand Awardees, Rev. Steven Lawrence. If you want to try baking this recipe yourself, take a photo and share it with us on Facebook

"My mother gave me a bread making machine and later a book called The Cake Doctor. It provides simple instructions for great cakes. As I used the book, I discovered that I am a baker, not a cook, at heart. 

Cooking is an art. Cooking is a world of a "pinch" and "salt to taste" and other instructions that change from person to person. Baking is a science. A cup of this and teaspoon of that; it's about precise measurements, not approximations.

I bake cakes for classes I teach, and for church members on request. Cake helps the student have a pleasant memory of a tough class. I make a lemon cake and a chocolate cake. Ironically, I have a food allergy to caffeine, so I have never tasted the chocolate cake."

Rev. L's Darn Good Lemon Cake 

Cake Ingredients

One box Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix
One box Jell-O lemon Pudding Mix
One box Jell-O lemon Gelatin Mix
Four large eggs
One stick unsalted butter (or one-half cup vegetable oil)
One cup (8oz) sour cream
One half cup water (room temperature)
The zest of one large lemon

Lime Butter Cream Frosting Ingredients

One stick unsalted butter
One lime
3 & ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar

One bundt cake pan
One baking sheet

Cake Directions
Place baking sheet in oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Most ovens have “hot spots”;  the baking sheet allows for even baking.

For best results, all ingredients (especially softened butter, eggs, and sour cream) should be at room temperature.

If you make the cake with butter, place the softened butter in mixing bowl. Sift the cake mix over the softened butter.

If you are using vegetable oil instead of butter, place the eggs in the mixing bowl and beat thoroughly. Add the oil, water, and sour cream and mix until blended.

Sift the cake mix and gelatin into a mixing bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix until blended (about one minute). Add the lemon pudding and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix thoroughly (about a minute and a half?)

Grease and flour your bundt pan. (I use Pam with flour. It gets into the detailed spaces of a fancy bundt pan and doesn’t affect the taste of the cake.) Pour the cake batter into the pan and even it out by shaking or rotating the pan (your preference). Let the cake set for 10 minutes, then place the pan in a 350-degree oven on the baking sheet and bake for 50 minutes. Let the cake cool for 20 minutes, then invert the rack and turn the cake out on to a plate.

Directions for Butter Cream Frosting
Place the softened stick of butter in mixing bowl and mix until creamed. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually until incorporated, but hold back 1/2 cup. The mix will become too dry to continue mixing, so now add the zest and the juice of one lime. Add the last ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar until frosting is creamy. You can frost your cake in any way you wish. I like to refrigerate the frosting for a few hours, then put it in the microwave for one minute and pour over the cake


Friday, December 6, 2019

"The Voice of the Stranger" | by Pat Cody

The news, television, and movie industry sometimes focus on the chaos in the world, and they often point toward religious differences as a primary reason for the world's troubles. At times, I too found myself wondering, "maybe a world without religion is the solution."

But Thomas Merton once said: "God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart, but in the voice of the stranger."

So what I've chosen to do instead, is to stop listening to the media and start listening to my neighbors.

Encouraged by Merton and others, I began to seek opportunities to listen to the voices of those who thus far have been strangers to me. After all, the world is not as big as it once was, but my neighborhood is bigger now than it ever was.

While seeking these opportunities, I was soon led to Interfaith Philadelphia and their "Gateways to Religious Communities" series. Since 2009, this program has given many an opportunity to learn firsthand the histories, beliefs and practices of many of the world's faith traditions.

Throughout the series, the enthusiasm of our diverse group of visitors, representing many religions, was infectious.

At the Sikh Society of Philadelphia we learned of the Sikhs' commitment to selfless service and standing up for the rights of others.

At the Islamic Society of Chester County, we learned that one of the five pillars of Islam is Charity. In this spirit ICC created "Youth Connecting with Communities", an organization that helps Muslim youth provide clothing and meals to people in their community, as well as engaging in interfaith activities with youth from neighboring churches and synagogues.

At the Mantra Lounge, where bhakti yoga is practiced, a core belief is: when we are able to see others not for their external coverings, but for the indwelling soul, and act according to that understanding, then we can achieve real unity.

Upon entering the meeting space at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, we were greeted with these words high up in the wall "The place where people meet to seek the highest is Holy Ground." We learned that one of the guiding principles of Ethical Culture is to "always act to elicit the best in others and thereby yourself."

At the Baha'i Center, we learned that the Baha'i faith seeks to foster the unification of all nations and people, "honoring all, and benefiting from the unique cultural and religious heritage each brings to the whole". The Baha'i Center actively nurtures the spiritual needs of youth through their Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program.

We also visited Reformation Lutheran Church in Media, a representative of my own faith of Christianity. We were made to feel welcome. I wondered what to say of our visit, but after checking out their website--well, why would I want to say more than that? The greeting on their homepage uses the word "Welcome" five times.

What more straightforward a message would I want my faith to convey than: WELCOME

So, far from being a problem, I have heard in the voices of these strangers a solution. A message of welcome, of love, of compassion, and respect for all life. A solution rooted in the teaching and practices of hundreds and thousands of years.

I am deeply grateful for this experience, and for the work of the interns at Interfaith Philadelphia who organized these visits, particularly Arisha and Hannah.