It took me several reads to notice that this poem ends in desolation. It doesn’t resolve.
But I live more Sabbaths like this than I care to admit, days that begin and end in turmoil for a hundred wicked reasons. Who among us is good at Sabbath-keeping? Even the Sabbath is touched by depravity’s fingers.
As I’ve been preparing a sermon on Genesis 1 and our care of the creation, as well as on God’s establishment of Sabbath rest, I’ve kept company with Norman Wirzba and Ellen Davis. They drive me back to good Sabbath practices, making me want to rest, for my sake and for the sake of my fellow creatures. So why do I so often fail?
I offer this poem to you as consolation if days like this pass as frequently in your household as they do in mine. And I offer it as one more reason to long for the coming of our Lord and not to give up at work and rest in the rhythm he has set for us. The spinning stars will thank us with their song.
Sabbath Poem V, 1980
Six days of work are spent
To make a Sunday quiet
That Sabbath may return.
It comes in unconcern;
We cannot earn or buy it.
Suppose rest is not sent
Or comes and goes unknown,
The light, unseen, unshown.
Suppose the day begins
In wrath at circumstance,
Or anger at one’s friends
In vain self-innocence
False to the very light,
Breaking the sun in half,
Or anger at oneself
Whose controverting will
Would have the sun stand still.
The world is lost in loss
Of patience; the old curse
Returns, and is made worse
As newly justified.
In hopeless fret and fuss,
In rage at worldly plight
Creation is defied,
All order is unpropped,
All light and singing stopped.
(This post is the final one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
The snow has been the primary light source in our apartment this past week. It reflects clean, cool light into the room, curbing my impulse to switch on all the lamps. All morning, I work in its diffuse glow, paying no attention to the flagging sunlight as the day wears on, continuing to read as the room dims and greys.
The snowlight is deceptive. Radiance is the wrong word for it—too warm, too firelike. Instead, it’s a thin grey-blue light, like a standoffish cat. Like the moon. It brightens but doesn’t blaze. Winterlight.
Generally, I resent my inability to persevere, to rally my weary spirits, to carry an extra measure of cheer. Why must I rely on the sun? I should be able to summon joy! vigor! I should be tough! I shouldn’t be so pitifully dependent.
Except maybe it makes me more aware of my dependence on the Light from True Light. I need light. I’m not independent, not able to rally, summon, toughen up. I am utterly dependent on the light. I cling to the light to live.
(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
Tamar Adler has to say about beets what I have to say about preaching the Word, more or less:
“Sprinkle the cut beets with a little red wine vinegar and some salt. Vinegar seems to bring out the very essence of the beet. It doesn’t make theoretical sense that they’d taste more like themselves after being dressed with vinegar, but this is not theoretical.”
As I’ve thought about what preaching is and what it ought to do, I keep returning to food preparation as a metaphor.
The Word is our bread, our drink. It alone feeds us, nourishes us, makes us live.
Yet this thing called preaching has been extended to us as a way of receiving that food. And it’s the preacher’s job to prepare that food as well as she can.
She ought to know the character of the food so she can treat it properly, dress it appropriately, present it winsomely.
The food is both wholesome and toothsome on its own, but a good glug of olive oil, a long roast in the oven, or a flourish of salt can call forth the food’s own essence. Beets, as Adler says in An Everlasting Meal, taste more like themselves when dressed with vinegar. A light touch is sufficient. Pasta is always boiled in well-salted water. And I’ve never met a roasted squash I didn’t like. These are the trustworthy ways of the masters.
Artificial flavorings and sweeteners should be avoided. They’re deceptive and lead nowhere good.
But a pot of water and a dash of salt, a knife in the hand of a capable chef, a hot oven and a clean platter—these things go a long way in moving a meal from the earth to the kitchen to the table to the belly. (And the belly is where a good meal is headed.) They do not lie; they tell the truth. They preserve the food’s integrity and bring out its spirit.
So preach like these beets.
inspired by Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal
all the beets you have
red wine vinegar
Turn your oven to 400ºF.
Chop the greens off your beets. Rinse the beets, but not meticulously; the peels will take the dirt with them later. Cozy them together in a pan, make a little puddle of water in a corner, and drizzle them with olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and slide it into the oven.
Check on the beets periodically after 40 minutes, lifting a corner of the foil and poking them with a knife. The knife should slice without force. I like Tamar’s advice: “If you’re not sure if they’re done, they’re not.”
When they are done, remove the foil and leave them out to cool. Once you can bear to touch them, work half with your fingers and half with a knife to slip them out of their skins. Cut out tough parts as you encounter them.
If you’re done for the day, leave the beets in the refrigerator for as long as a generous week (mine are closing in on 10 days and I think they’re doing fine), and then, when you’re ready to eat them, set them on the counter to come back to room temperature.
Here is the part where you get to slosh them with a little red wine vinegar and a few pinches of salt. Leave the dish alone so the vinegar can do its summoning work. When it’s time to eat, toss the whole thing with olive oil.
Taste the essence.
(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
It’s late, we’re watching old episodes of the West Wing and distracting ourselves with this amusing app, but it’s the final push of NaBloPoMo, and I’m determined, so here goes:
Forgive me. I know you are one of the most beloved food bloggers of all time. You’ve won awards, your pictures kill me with their gorgeous perfection, everyone loves you and your creativity with ingredients.
But I can’t do it.
I can’t keep making your recipes.
(We don’t like them.)
Is it me? Am I bad a replicating them? Do I not season enough? (Answer: probably not.)
Is it you? Do you have superhumanly-sensitive taste buds that pick up the most delicate hints of the most delicate flavors? Are you a magician in the kitchen?
Whatever the reason, we’ve mostly given up. We’ve had to come to grips with the fact that our renditions of your light-bathed photographs turn out bland or worse. I’ve begun to turn elsewhere for inspiration. (Although your desserts? Spot-on.)
But when two of my new favorites, Molly at Remedial Eating and Hannah at Inherit the Spoon, both suggested your pumpkin soup recipe and spoke glowingly about you, I decided to give you another shot. Can we rekindle our former love?
. . . And the jury’s out. The soup itself? So-so. Maybe I should’ve listened to Hannah and stuck to water rather than broth.
But the lemon rosemary ginger brown butter sauce knocked me dead. Made the soup something. Made me slurp its nectar off everything it touched: soup, spoon, serving spoon, bowl, pan.
You may not be entirely out of our good graces, Heidi.
(Any of these versions—Heidi’s, Molly’s, Hannah’s—would make a good soup, as long as you don’t skip the brown butter. Promise? Follow their leads. Links above. And if you want to see the rest of the posts for NaBloPoMo, you can find them here.)
Snow falls, and the craft bug bites.
I have visions of linocut Christmas ornaments for everyone on my list, a runner for the table, pillows for the sofa. While I create, I’ll turn on twinkling music and let the roasting squash fill the house with sweet warmth. I’ll make a little den here under the snow, a cheery, snow-lit den.
But it really is a bug. No matter what crafting looks like in my fantasy world, where mornings unfurl before me, clean and bright, and I have an endless supply of fabric, paint, lumber, hot cocoa, and talent—in my real world, I always get started late in the day and I don’t have the tools and sewing projects run into the night when the thread tension is never right and the only product of the project is tears.
Otherwise known as Sunday.
It started off on a strong foot: muffins, sturdy if squat, and a head full of ideas. A trip to the fabric store, and then an afternoon of figuring, measuring, figuring again, cutting, checking the figures once more, pinning, adjusting the tension—that alone took nearly an hour, with a little online tutorial, and it still wasn’t right—and sewing. Finally.
I was determined, and I had a good breakfast in my belly. So I persevered. Just a few stitches left now, and I will give some homemade gifts.
adapted from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book
Lemon blueberry muffins usually make me think pillowy, sugary, delicate. These ones are anything but. They’re dense and short (try half white flour next time?), almost tart, and hardy enough to get you through a long day of crafts. You can make them with lemon juice from a jar, but you’ll be glad you went out and bought the lemons. In fact, go do yourself a favor and buy a whole bunch of lemons. Whenever a recipe calls for the juice alone, zest the lemon first and freeze the zest in a bag. Then whenever you want to add another dimension of lemon to a recipe, you’ll have tablespoons and tablespoons of zest at the ready.
1 cup blueberries, rinsed
1/4 cup spelt flour
1 cup spelt flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup brown sugar
zest of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp. butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup lemon juice (from 2 small lemons)
sugar for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 375ºF, and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
Rinse your blueberries and pat them dry. If they’re frozen, bring them back to room temperature in a bowl of warm water, but no need to thaw them thoroughly. Then pat them dry and toss them with the 1/4 cup of flour.
In a small bowl, combine the one cup of flour, baking powder, salt, and wheat germ.
Into a medium bowl, measure the brown sugar. Rinse two lemons, dry them, and grate their zest over the bowl. Rub the zest and sugar between your fingers to impart the lemon oils to the sugar. Cream the butter and the sugar.
Beat in the egg, add the yogurt and lemon juice, and then stir in the flour mixture. Just before it has come together completely, add the blueberries.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups so each one is nearly full, then dust the tops with a sprinkling of sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. When a toothpick comes out clean and the house smells of heaven, they’re done.
(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
We all made dinner last night. All 35 of us women.
We gathered, nervous, in the basement of the church, not sure about the evening. Only two of the five of us had ever taught anyone to cook, at least formally. And the thirty students? I’d guess about half of them don’t cook, and didn’t know each other, and weren’t entirely sure what they were in for. (Neither were we.)
But the five of us who taught the class are convinced that preparing and eating a meal together is a Christian act. God extends hospitality to us; we extend it to one another. God offers us soul-food; we take our share and pass the dish.
So we made too much, because we didn’t know how many would show, and because abundance is the way of the kingdom. We made gallons too many of the squash soup, one too many apple tarts, and just enough pesto to send some home.
Five loaves and two fish isn’t a thing of the past.
“Is this what it’s like, I thought then, and think now: a little blood here, a chomp there, and still we live, trampling the grass? Must everything whole be nibbled? Here was a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world, the actual plot of the present moment in time after the fall: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling—not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.”
—from “The Horns of the Altar,” in Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Dried apples and Annie Dillard—along with Wendell Berry, Ellen Davis, and Norman Wirzba—these were my companions as I prepared to preach on Romans 8 and the groaning of creation. They did me well. (But mostly the Spirit.)
Pesto is simple and by nature flexible: herb, nut, cheese, oil, garlic, salt.
Because it’s so adaptable, there are a hundred different recipes with ingredients in various proportions. So take a deep breath and wander from a recipe. It’s pesto for goodness sake. It will taste good.
a very large bunch basil
a handful of pine nuts
a few cloves of garlic
a few good glugs of olive oil
a fist-sized pile of freshly grated parmesan cheese
a few pinches of salt, enough to bring out the flavor
Heat a heavy pan on the stove over low-medium heat. Toss in the pine nuts. Shake the pan back and forth over the heat to toast the nuts. Watch them closely; all nuts—but delicate pine nuts especially—burn quickly. When they turn fragrant and golden brown, pour them into a dish and set them aside.
Now turn up the heat to medium-high and add the garlic cloves with their skins still on. Give the pan a few good shakes to brown the cloves on all sides. They’ll probably sizzle and pop. That’s a good sign. When the skins have turned dark but not black, remove the pan from heat and let the cloves cool.
Grate a block of parmesan until you have a decently sized pile. Remove the stemmiest parts of the basil so you’re left with mostly leaves. When the garlic has cooled enough to touch, peel the cloves. It helps to set them, one at a time, under the flat side of the blade of a big knife. Use the heel of your hand to give it a hearty pound, which will smash the clove and split the skin.
Then, in a food processor, add the parmesan, nuts, garlic, a few pinches of salt, and several good pours of olive oil. Don’t skimp. Pile the basil in the top. It might not all fit, so you can add the basil in batches.
If you don’t have a food processor, a blender works too, although it will be chunkier. Immersion blenders also work, as does the tried-and-true method of chopping it all by hand, which will reward you with a very rustic pesto.
Pulse the food processor in bursts until it all the parts start to converse with each other and talk like pesto: dense, green, wet, flecked with nuts. Pause and stick a spoon in. Taste the pesto. If it tastes flat, toss in a few more pinches of salt. If the consistency is off, add more nuts to thicken, more olive oil to thin, more cheese to make creamy, or more basil to boost, well, the basil. If it the texture is pleasant and the flavor intense and herby, you’ve mastered pesto.
NOTE: In the winter especially, basil can be expensive. And pine nuts always cost a fortune. I nearly always make pesto with walnuts instead, which are much more reasonably priced. It’s also perfectly acceptable to swap in spinach or some other sturdy green (chard or kale, for instance) for all or part of the basil. The good news is that pesto freezes well, especially in ice cube trays, so you can make a great big batch in the summer, freeze it, and enjoy it until the basil grows again next year.
one loaf chewy, crust bread, perhaps French
one 8-oz. ball mozzarella, or 4 oz. goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 450˚F, or turn on the broiler if your oven has one.
Cut the bread into 1-inch thick slices, and arrange them on a large cookie sheet. If you’re feeling extravagant, brush each piece with olive oil, slice a clove of garlic in half, and rub the garlic over the oil. Then slather each slice with a spoonful of pesto.
Slice the mozzarella into irregular pieces. Set a few on top of each slice of bread to mostly cover the pesto.
Slide the pan into the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until the cheese has begun to bubble and brown.
Serve immediately to a hungry crowd.
There’s no reason you should make this roasted chicken.
There are a thousand better roasted chicken recipes in the world, and most of them with better pictures. (Or, ahem, any pictures at all.)
And while I was chopping and stuffing and tying (and striding ahead in other ways, too), I tried to let Genesis 1 burrow deeper into me.
I usually do my memorizing when I run. There’s a pleasant overlap between the disciplines of running and Scripture memorization. But I’ve wanted a new routine lately. I’ve been running less, doing yoga more, and that has left me in need of a good time to learn Scripture. So I’ve turned to housework and cooking.
As I diced carrots: “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.”
Plucked rosemary: “And to every beast of the earth, and every bird of the air, and everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”
Plunged the chicken into the oven: “And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
Memorizing Genesis 1 has caused me to wonder whether God made us all to be herbivores. I mean, later, there are slaughtered doves and lambs and all the rest, but right now, right at the beginning, God only offers green plants with seeds and trees with fruit.
As of this past summer, Dan and I have been trying our best to eat only meat that was raised ethically. We’ve known it for a long time, but Michael Pollan’s essay “Power Steer” convinced us in a way we couldn’t ignore. We have been working from the assumption that it’s not wrong to eat meat, and that our economic vote (the one we make when we spend our money) will have a stronger effect if we support farmers who raise their animals well than if we boycott them all.
But now there’s a niggling question in my mind: should I eat meat? The images of the beginning and the end make me wonder. Genesis 1 has all creatures eating plants, and Isaiah 11, with its vision of the eschaton, has the cow and the bear grazing together, and the lion eating straw like the ox. No carnivores acting like carnivores there!
So, while you ponder that with me, go buy yourself an organic, free-range chicken from your local farmer, and roast it. Quick! before you decide to become vegetarian!
prompted by Meredith Reichmann
Be comfortable with approximations. Use what you have. Don’t fret.
1 whole chicken
1/2 c. salt
6 medium potatoes
1 c. broth
4 cloves garlic
4 stalks rosemary
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. flour
A day or two in advance, thaw your chicken in the refrigerator. The night before or the morning of, dissolve a lot of salt in a pot of warm water. Cut off the chicken’s neck and pull out the giblets, freezing them all for stock later. Submerge the chicken in the water, and add more water to cover it. Put the pot into the fridge for 6 to 24 hours, until you are ready to cook.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Prepare the carrots and potatoes by dicing them and spreading them in the bottom of a casserole dish or a 9×13 pan.
Quarter the lemon and the half-onion, and cut the garlic cloves in half. Set them aside.
Pull your chicken out of the refrigerator, and pat it dry with a paper towel. If its legs are sprawling every which way, use a piece of string to keep them close to the body. Set the chicken atop the bed of carrots and potatoes, breast side up (drumsticks in the air). Rub olive oil all over the exposed skin, and squeeze a good bit of lemon juice on the top. Stuff the lemon quarters, onion pieces, garlic, and rosemary into the cavity of the chicken.
Pour the broth onto the carrots and potatoes, avoiding the chicken, and sprinkle salt and pepper over the whole thing.
Slide the dish into the oven, and set a timer for 60 minutes. When the time is up, stick a thermometer into the chicken’s thigh (parallel to the body, pointing back toward the drumstick) and check the chicken’s internal temperature. It should be at least 165ºF. Stick it back in the oven if it needs more time.
When it has finished, remove the dish from the oven, and set the chicken on a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to put the carrots and potatoes into a serving dish, and pour the liquid into a pan. Over medium-high heat, whisk flour into the liquid and stir until the sauce thickens to gravy.
Search “how to carve a chicken” on YouTube and carve like a pro. Arrange the chicken pieces on a platter, pour the gravy into something with a spout, and serve with the carrots and potatoes and yesterday’s rolls. Easy peasy.
And don’t forget to save your bones! Freeze the chicken back, and all the bones as you eat them, with meaty bits attached, for stock later.
Saturday and Sunday were striding days, in Tamar Adler‘s language. Days where I not only caught up on the vegetables languishing in the fridge but actually marched ahead: roasted things, dried things, prepared the beginnings of the week’s meals.
Beets: roasted them, and rubbed their calloused little skins off.
Squash seeds: curried, sugared and spiced, and toasted them.
Apples: sliced and dried them, in a just-warm oven, till they curled and turned limp and chewy.
Chicken: brined, oiled, stuffed, and roasted, atop carrots and potatoes.
And I baked rolls. We make plenty of bread around here, but rarely rolls. They feel so extravagant (why? because they’re tiny?), especially smeared with butter and honey. So, I give you rolls, from my favorite bread book.
Hear it straight from Laurel’s mouth: “This is one of our most beloved recipes. Tender, featherlight, bright-tasting bread that it somehow perfect with any sandwich filling, and devastating (in its subtle way) as toast.” And I add: makes chewy, delicious rolls, too.
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 c. warm water
3/4 c. hot water
1/4 c. honey
1 1/4 c. buttermilk (or, as I did, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice + 1 scant cup milk + 1/4 c. yogurt)
5 1/2 c. whole wheat flour**
2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
[**Note: Laurel's Kitchen suggests 5 1/2 cups flour or 830 grams. I measured the flour in grams, but the dough felt awfully stiff, and I'm not sure whose measurements are off. But I'd try closer to 4 1/2 or 5 cups next time, adding flour as necessary.]
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and let stand 5 to 10 minutes, or until the yeast foams.
Stir together the honey and the hot water. Mix up your buttermilk-in-a-pinch or measure your buttermilk, and add to the honey water. Make sure it’s tepid, or you’ll kill the yeast.
Stir together the flour and salt in a big bowl, making a divot in the center. Pour the yeast water and the honey-buttermilk mixture into the divot. Combine from the center outwards until all the flour is incorporated.
If you’re kneading by hand, go for about 20 minutes. If with a stand mixer and dough hook, only about 5. Just before finishing, knead in bits of cold butter. Don’t worry about incorporating them fully; they’ll melt in as the dough rises.
Form the dough into a ball and let it sit in a greased bowl with a cloth on top. Find it a cozy corner of your kitchen and let it rest for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it has doubled. If you press a finger into it and the indentation doesn’t fill in, move onto the next step.
Press the air out of the dough, shape it into a ball, and let it rise again. It will only need about half the time.
After the second rise, press it flat, and divide it in two. Set one half aside. Cut the other into quarters, and then each of those into thirds, for a total of 12. Shape each into a small ball with the seam on the bottom, and set them onto a greased cookie sheet. Do the same with the other half of the dough on a second cookie sheet. (You should have 24.)
Cover both sheets with a cloth and let the rolls rise for another half hour or so. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400ºF. (You can let the rolls rise on the stove top if you want–they’ll appreciate the heat!) When they’ve risen, bake them for 15 to 20 minutes. Brush butter on their crowns when they finish baking.
Serve with soup, roasted chicken, or whatever vegetables have strode ahead this week. Or slice some cheese and eat while watching football.