Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Story and a Recipe...

I learned to read in the fall of my Kindergarten year.
I baked my way through my first recipe immediately thereafter.

Fortunately, the words weren’t difficult to read- “Sugar”, “Flour”, “Cocoa” - and my mother was a diligent teacher, leaning slightly over the counter, watching me as I matched the fractions on the recipe to the fractions on the measuring cups, then poured them gingerly into the Pampered Chef mixing bowl. 30 minutes later, my mom pulled out a tray of brownies, beaming, and proudly repeated her mantra that first led me to believe that I could cook-
“If you can read a recipe, you can cook anything.”

I learned so much of my love for food and cooking by watching my parents interact over it. I loved watching my dad take the first bite of something my mom set in front of him- the routine was usually the same- he’d lean back, close his eyes and make some sound of complete adoration. Then he’d tell me that my mom made the best Whatever It Was We Were Eating. It didn’t matter what she made, hers was always the best.

I think I started cooking for that response.
The kitchen was always the heart of our home, with guests flowing down the arteries to the dining room, the living room, or the backyard with heavy laden plates, then returning for seconds, then dessert- everyone pulsing merrily throughout the house. I loved having a house full of people, eating and laughing and telling stories. I loved to watch my mom prepare trays of appetizers from my perch atop my step stool, and I studied her intently as she fanned the little colorful cocktail napkins out like the tails of pastel peacocks.

I always loved to be in the kitchen, it didn’t matter what I was doing there. Sometimes I moved my step stool over to the sink and stuck my hands in the suds, “helping” my mom with the dishes. Other times I’d crawl under the cabinets and wait for my dad to come in and find me, and sometimes I would just stand in front of the open pantry, surveying all the wonderful things to eat. When I was not in the kitchen cooking, I was in the garden in our backyard, eating tomatoes (ripe or not) and making up grassy salads to feed my baby dolls (and my cousin).
Now that I have my own home with my own guests in it, I still love to be in the kitchen the most, banging around pots and pans, throwing in pinches of this or that, stirring and smelling. I love to watch for Robin's response when he takes the first bite- he opens his eyes really wide, and then reaches for my hand and puts on this sincere, 5 year old face and says how good it is.
 I love the culture that food creates. Simply the act of cooking for someone seems to say- I care for you, I am glad you are here, and I want to nourish you. We have our band over for dinner every week, and it was there, around our table and in our kitchen, that that motley crew of musicians has become our family. My favorite thing is when one of the guys will discreetly pop his head in the kitchen for a sniff, and then when we catch him, guiltily ask, “Whatcha cookin?”

To those of you who don’t think you can cook, let me assure you, “If you can read a recipe, you can cook anything.” And maybe, like I did, you should start with these brownies.

Unquestionably the Best Brownies in the Universe


My Mom’s Brownies.

This is the first recipe I ever memorized.  I have taken them to parties, picnics, and parks. I have wooed boys with them and eaten them miserably after break-ups. There is NO occasion these brownies are not perfect for.


2 c. sugar
1 ½ c. flour
½. c. cocoa
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs
(optional: a little dash of cinnamon. But they honestly don’t need it.)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x13 baking pan with butter or Pam. In a large mixing bowl, combine  sugar, flour, cocoa and salt. Mix in vanilla extract, oil and eggs until mixture is smooth and you basically want to just eat that whole bowl raw.

Pour mixture into the prepared 9x13, reserving a spoonful for “taste testing.” Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
While they’re perfect on their own, they are also yummy topped with strawberries and blueberries, or with a dash of cinnamon, or powdered sugar, or with a bit of vanilla bean ice cream.

 Eat with the people you love.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Conflict and Hopscotch

It’s been a while since I’ve told you a story, hasn’t it?
Not long enough?
Well here’s one for ya anyway...
Once upon a time, there was a girl and a boy and they were married. They were also in conflict. Not necessarily with each other, but kind of with the world at large. So they sat on the couch and made angry faces at each other for a while, and then the boy got called away to help a friend, and the girl went on a walk. When they both got home again, all was well with the world and the girl made sweet tea for the boy and the boy hung curtains for the girl without even being asked.
The End.
I love happy endings, don’t you?
This post is inadvertently about introversion and extraversion. It’s also inadvertently about conflict resolution and selflessness and hopscotch. 
But mostly, it's about marriage. 
Marriage is a really wonderful, fun, snuggly, hard, expensive thing. Sometimes those last two attributes fight to get the better of us, because they demand so much more than the fun snuggly parts. So when that happens, we usually talk it out as best as we can, pray together, and then either do something fun together, or take a break. 
{This is a pretty good system for us, and if you are a newlywed, or just have difficulty handling conflict in a healthy way, I suggest trying this approach.}
But back to the story- last night, just as I was winding up for a breakdown, one of Robin's friends called and needed help right at that minute. Since I'm really quite reasonable and selfless, I sprawled out on the couch, draped my arm over my forehead, and told him that I would just proceed to die of a panic attack while he was gone, but really, go on without me.
Honestly, as much as I disliked it at that moment, Robin being called away was probably the best thing that could have happened. God's funny with that whole "perfect timing" thing.
Robin is an extravert (understatement) and needed to be with people, to get his mind off of the situation and laugh a little. I am more on the introverted side, and just needed a little time to be alone, to take a walk and be silent.
While on my walk, I stumbled across the hopscotch my neighbor’s kids had drawn on the sidewalk. It was one of those things that made me long for childhood and heaven all at the same time.  It smelled like charcoal and orange peels and twilight outside, and the sun wasn’t too hot and there were lots of cats to stop and talk to. (You don’t talk to cats?) (You should.)

That was exactly what I needed. With all these crazy, "grown up" challenges, I just needed to do a little hopscotch, and to remember what being a child smelled like, felt like. I prayed some thankful prayers, and then I went home to make dinner. 
When Robin got home, we realized that we had both settled into a peace. The situation hadn’t necessarily changed, we were just both in more of a place to handle it gracefully.
He was only gone for about 45 minutes, but if we had stayed together we probably would have kept sulking and worrying the whole time. With just that little bit of distance, we had both gotten the escape we needed and now could enjoy each other for the rest of the night.
That’s not the solution every time, but it just worked last night, so naturally I had to share the victory.
Maybe the next time you're in conflict, you can try declaring a truce, and take a 30 minute to 1 hour break to unwind and process. Cook, go sit in the backyard, take a walk, journal, then come back in and talk. It might give you the level-headedness you'll need to resolve the conflict.
How do you handle conflict, with your family, spouse, roommates? 

Monday, July 14, 2014

I'm not Bitter... I Just Wish You'd Never Been Born.

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” Proverbs 10:18

These days I give a lot of thought to bitterness.

It’s mainly conviction, with just a hint of justification thrown in.

It’s also because I’m intrigued about what the common thread is, weaving all of us together, keeping us tied into this emotional response we feel so strongly, and also feel such shame about. What are the similarities between people who struggle with bitterness? Is there something in our character that we share that leads us to this response?

Robin and I were talking about this, and he asserted that maybe bitterness can be traced to a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God, because sometimes we believe that our secret punishment of an individual is making up for God’s apparent inactivity.  I agree that, for many, that’s at the heart of our response.

But what is the cause?

Why is bitterness so widely experienced and so rarely addressed in an honest way?

Before y’all panic and cling to your bitterness like it is the last cord tethering you to earth, rest assured that I’m not going to condemn you or try to give you more typical answers for you to ignore. I think we just need to honestly explore this together.

 I’ve heard it said that bitterness is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. If this is true (which I believe it is), bitterness support group would be mass suicide by rat poisoning, with everyone happily throwing back shots of Bromakil and toasting their new friends.

I think bitterness is rarely discussed in a productive way because people who struggle with bitterness have the uncanny ability to adopt other people’s bitterness, even affirm it. Sharing the struggle with bitterness could easily turn into a justifying session that only serves to spread the bitterness around.  

You know, like… hypothetically…

There is also that fear of frightening away all of our “not-bitter” friends by discussing this with them. Maybe there’s some fear of seeming like the stereotypical bitter person who is presumably destined to be the vicious old lady who curses amidst her random bitter musings and beats her grandkids with her cane. 

So, rather than talking to friends who might hold us accountable, we talk to other bitter people and that only serves to make us feel better about our bitterness. It’s a pretty intense cycle.

Part of what is so intriguing is the fact that some of the people I know who also struggle with bitterness are also some of the most compassionate people. Ever.

Many of them are the sort of people you’ve never even seen angry after knowing them for years.

They all have valid reasons for their feelings also- like husbands cheating their wives, pastors cheating God’s wife, and mean folks mistreating their loved ones. These are all injustices we should be angry about! Which leads to my next point…

Is it possible that bitterness is the fruit of our fallen sense of justice?

If you think of it, we acknowledge lust as the fallen sense of love, temporal happiness the fallen sense of joy, inactivity as the fallen sense of self control. What’s the fallen sense of justice?

It seems like most of the people who struggle with bitterness are the ones who have opened their hearts the widest, and then were shocked to find that what they were loving was fallible.

This is probably the biggest reason people leave the Church. It’s because they opened their hearts wide, received adoption into God’s family, and then discovered that the family was dysfunctional. It wasn’t what they had expected, so they left, wounded.

{If you struggle with bitterness against the Church, I’ll be posting about that in the future so please come on back.}  .

While I can speculate all I want about what God is up to, working justice on earth, I still have to obey God’s revealed will: namely, that hating people is wrong and that Love covers a multitude of sins. (Proverbs 10:12)

The fact is: JUSTICE. IS. GOD’S.

Justice is something we can feel our spirits yearning for, but it is not ours to administer. The justice we are to administer is righteous living- it's to pray for those who persecute us, to love our enemies, and to turn the other cheek. 

Personally, that makes me feel a little less zealous about justice.

I have to be honest, this post makes me feel pretty bummed. In order for me to post on this and not be a hypocrite, I have to actually take my own advice. I have to pray for the people who hurt me and my family, and I have to try to love them.

So, as a challenge to those of you who may experience bitterness, let’s take some baby steps together. (Don’t panic.)

Do something kind, something that you don’t even slightly want to do for the person you’re feeling this bitterness for. If you can’t do it simply because it’s the right thing, do it for that whole idea of heaping coals on your enemies’ head (Romans 12:20).

It’ll make you feel better either way.

Grace and peace. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On Patriotism and Eating your Vegetables...

Happy Fourth of July Week!

This weekend, we celebrate independence, patriotism, explosives, America, and the art of Grilling.

Below are a few of my favorite summer eats. They’re quick to prepare and you can also get friends and family in on chopping, mixing, and sampling.

But first- a story.
Once upon a time, my husband and I went to the grocery store. I piddled around in the produce section, while he proceeded straight to the meat section, got pork chops, steaks, and a pound of turkey, and then returned and asked me if he should get a place in line at checkout.

We were shopping for the week, people.
He had three things in the basket. And they were all meat products.

I fell to my knees in the middle of the aisle, wailing and gnashing my teeth because the man does not understand that MAN DOES NOT LIVE ON MEAT ALONE.
So, while turkey is still in fact, meat, here are some alternatives for those of you who like a little green in your 4th of July spread.

Zucchini Turkey Burgers
Adapted from “Family Circle Magazine”

1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 large zucchini, grated

¼ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. dried basil

¼ tsp. black pepper

1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Multigrain sandwich thins

Combine the ground turkey, grated zucchini, spices and cheese in a large mixing bowl. Mix well and form turkey mixture into 6-8 medium sized patties.
For the grill:
Heat grill to 350-400. Grill each patty for an average of 8 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

In a broiler pan:
Heat broiler. Place burgers on broiler pan and broil for 8 minutes. Flip and continue to broil on other side for 8 more minutes, or until burgers are cooked through.

Nestle the burgers snuggly in these healthy little sandwich thins and top with lettuce, tomato, whatever your heart desires.
Serves about 4.

Grilled Green Beans
Very slightly adapted from “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”

I love these because they cook right alongside the turkey burgers and finish in about the same amount of time. And because they're just amazing.  
Fresh green beans (I must warn you, you'll want to make a lot of these.)
A few good glugs of olive oil

Dried basil

Dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste (coarsely ground is preferable.)

Snap your green beans. This just means pinch off both ends. It’s probably not mandatory, but it makes the most heavenly, ozone smell and it’s great to do with a friend J
There are no real measurements for this, so I suggest pouring a good bit of olive oil and tossing until the green beans are coated. Add more if needed. Next, sprinkle on a little bit of the oregano and basil. Give that mixture a little sniff. Not strong enough? Add more of each. Continue adding and sniffing until it smells like you want it to! (This is very scientific stuff.) I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it’d also be delicious with a little bit of lemon zest.

Then give a few good grinds of salt and pepper and take them out to the grill master.
Unless you are the grill master, in which case, just… take them outside.  

Dump them into a grill basket and cook until they have a nice charred look to them and they shrivel up a bit. It’s especially fun if you give guests the option to eat them with their fingers.
Dip them into little ramekins of parmesan cheese and good balsamic vinegar.

Be sure to hop over to our new recipes page for more yummy recipes and for Shauna Niequist’s blueberry crisp recipe, which you’ll probably want to make for dessert!