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Seeds of Hope

Yesterday, I made butternut squash soup because sometimes when I don’t know what to do, I just have to create something, anything, participating in the creation process and begging Creator God to breathe life into the dustiness of humanity. It’s a recipe I’ve made over and over again over the past year fiddling and tweaking with just the right amount of half and half to add to make it creamy, but not so creamy it’s too rich.

As I went through the motions of peeling and chopping the butternut squash, I stopped myself from dumping the seeds into the trash because I remember one of my friends told me that she cleaned the seeds added a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted the seeds to add to the top of the soup or a salad or just to have on hand for a little snack. So, I went through the messy process of cleaning the seeds, washing and rinsing the innards of the butternut squash off the seeds. I dried them off and then tried unsuccessful to hold onto the slippery seeds wondering why she had made it sound so easy when it was really requiring a lot of effort to get those seeds to the point of being able to put in the oven.

And I then I thought, this is exactly what I feel like right now in the midst of the last week, the first week in a reality that I’m finding it hard to gain footing in. I feel like I chasing down slippery seeds of hope, trying to grasp them and catch them before they go down the drain or onto the floor.

Because what I know is that these seeds of hope can be planted or roasted to provide sprouts of change or nourishment or fellowship or something transformative that can ground us to community and to love. I know this can happen because I’ve seen it. I’ve tasted these seeds of hope and change and fellowship and communion and I know they are good.

But it’s going to take some wrestling to get the innards of hate and dissension washed off from these seeds of hope. It’s going to take getting our hands dirty. It’s going to take planting those in dirt and watering and waiting for them to sprout them or dousing them in olive oil and salt and pepper and enjoying the sustenance they provide around the table.

It’s going to take work, time, and energy. Don’t lose heart. Seeds of hope lead to seeds of change and new life.

Healing Through Cooking

“Well, you’re becoming quite the cook,” Sam’s grandmother said to me as she opened her Christmas present of homemade pasta sauce, cowboy caviar, and pickles.

“Just try it first before you say that so certainly,” I joked back.

It was a surreal conversation to me because for so many years, there has been no question that I am a bad cook, maybe bad isn’t the right adjective, but dangerous certainly would be an appropriate descriptor.

In an effort to try to impress Sam early in our relationship, I decided I wanted to cook for him. Chicken fajitas seemed like just the right meal because it was a step above regular tacos, but still seemed manageable. And it is, for most people. For me, it resulted in third degree burns on my left hand and arm and a trip to Urgent Care. Scars I still bear years later. I’m pretty sure he still has a wave of anxiety every time I declare I was thinking I would cook dinner.

When Ben went in for his four month check up, we found out that his weight had dropped significantly. This was surprising with his over eight pound birth weight and his 10 lbs 2 oz two week check up weight. We were exclusively breastfeeding, but it seemed with his activity level and his growth pattern that it was time to add solids into his diet. We started with baby oatmeal and decided to make our own baby food, so that we could be sure he was getting lots of vitamins and good fat to up his weight. Our days started to be ordered around how long a sweet potato took to cook, how many oatmeal bars were left, and whether it was time to make more applesauce. It became just a natural routine over the course of the year that making his birthday cake, the task was exciting rather than intimidating.

And so began a change in our daily schedule that included cooking, and a lot of it. I found myself engrossed in baby-led weaning websites and in the cookbook section of the library! Truly, motherhood had changed me.

Over the course of the year, I have had many more disasters (none resulting in a trip to the Urgent Care, thankfully), but I’ve gotten to the point where preparing and planning the time to make something homemade is relaxing as well as a spiritual. For surely, there is something mystical and divine about enjoying something created by someone else’s hands. Couldn’t homemade pimento cheese slathered on a piece of bread be the body of Christ? Couldn’t gathering around the table eating and fellowship rather than rushing through a meal to get to the next thing be something that transforms us as a society and as families? Couldn’t a good old-fashioned potluck be what our communities of faith need to discuss budgets and the changes in our society? It’s harder to be angry and defensive when there’s warm pound cake to be enjoyed, isn’t it?

And I can’t help but think back to the times the kids have helped prepare our meal as we were all gathered in the kitchen and remember hearing their moans of how difficult it is to peel potatoes and then how good the potato soup was because they had helped make it. Or how they didn’t think they liked broccoli and cheddar soup, but because they tasted it along the way, they wanted a mug full.

There’s something about the divine and mystical process of creation that we can capture and hold onto in the kitchen. When we invite our children and families into that creation process, the Divine whispers gently to their hearts and hands that they, too, can create something new, something that sustains both the body and the spirit. When we invite others to come and fellowship around the table, we can’t help but wonder if this isn’t exactly what Jesus was doing as he ate and drank with people he wasn’t suppose to talk to much less share a table and meal with.

My resolution last year started simply: I’m going to learn to hard boil an egg, but it whispered of a much deeper need in my life. I’m going to learn to practice even when I fail again and again. I’m going to learn to wait until things are fully cooked and then fully enjoy them instead of trying to hurry up the process. I’m going to learn to be aware of people who are in need around me.

Because sometimes pumpkin bread left on someone’s doorstep says, “You are not alone. I see you,” in a way that words and good intentions can’t.

Making Grits and Celebrating Eucharist

This Sunday was the first Sunday since January that I haven’t preached or been a part of a morning worship service. I wasn’t preaching because I was in Asheville celebrating an almost 6-year old’s birthday and trying to wrestle an almost 7-month-old through a dance recital.

Before the dance recital, we gathered at the girls’ mom and stepdad’s house and decided to make brunch. I thought about how strange it was to not be preparing to preach as I wandered around an unknown grocery store trying to find some last minute ingredients. I wondered how about the people of New Hope who I’ve been journeying with for the last 10 weeks were doing. I wondered how the people at Emmanuel were doing as they gathered to worship in wake of the loss of one of our members. I wondered about my friends and colleagues in ministry and when the last time they had taken a Sunday off was.

And when we got back from the grocery store, I lost myself standing by a stove in the sacred art of making grits and pulling popping bacon from hot grease when it was just a little past brown on the edges. And I thought, this is a holy calling. And I wondered if the last supper that we have turned into a symbol of solemnity was actually friends who believed that the world could be different who were sharing bread and wine just as we were sharing grits, bacon, and coffee.

On Baking Pound Cakes

I have never been much of a cook or a baker. I found my speciality is appetizers…you know the kind that take three ingredients and at tops 10 minutes to make? That was more my speed.

But during Christmas and around the holidays, I find that I can slow down enough to not have a panic attack at recipe that reads Prep Time: 1 hour Total Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes. In my regularly scheduled life, at least for now, there’s not any time for a recipe that takes more than 25 minutes, but this week there has been.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t have a lot still going on, but with the stress of school and the time I spend commuting to school out of my weekly schedule, there is some wiggle room to add some home cooked meals.

In particular, I have been baking pound cakes. The first was for my ordination service. While I thought my husband and I had received a pound cake pan (which is why I chose to make a pound cake), I found that it was actually a springform cheesecake pan with recipe attached…did I mention I don’t bake much? He set off on a three store 45 minute expedition to find the pan for me and when he returned, I discovered we still had a pan that we had borrowed from a friend…no really I don’t bake at all.

I found this recipe and got to work. It turned out great. In fact, I might even say that it was indeed the perfect pound cake as the recipe suggested. It’s interesting how doing something that you don’t do often and you know you don’t do all that well and succeeding can change your demeanor and your interactions with other people, isn’t it?

The pound cake was for our church’s 10 year anniversary. For me, walking into the church having contributed something edible to the feast was wonderful. Seeing that people were actually choosing it over some of the other desserts was even more amazing.

If I’m honest with myself, I don’t really try things or engage in activities in which I know I am not successful, but part of my thinking is that if you don’t try something more and more, then you can’t get better ever. If I avoid cooking and baking, then there’s no way that I can get in the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell suggests someone needs in order to be an expert in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. And the same is true for my writing. I can’t hope to be a good writer or to have people who actually read my thoughts here without sitting down and doing that every day. No matter how long. No matter how bad.

The very next time I made a pound cake, half of the cake stuck in the pan while the other slid out. (I’m going to blame the borrowed pan that I used instead of the nice shiny one my husband hunted down for me!) But that’s how it’s going to go when you start out. Sometimes it’s going to turn out perfect and sometimes it’s going to stick in the pan, but you’ll never know unless you try.

Excuse me, my re-do pound cake is ready to take out of the oven!

Thursday Visitation

When we were young, my grandfather was the chaplain at a retirement home and so there were many Sunday lunches shared in the cafeteria and many people whose rooms or tables we stopped by as the grandchildren of the chaplain. What I didn’t know at the time is those Sunday afternoons were part of my training as a minister.

Yesterday, I visited two different retirement communities to visit with some very dear people to our church. As I was walking in, I thought wow, I think making visits means I really am a pastor, but I also thought about how the environment wasn’t intimidating or uninviting because in many ways a retirement center was my grandparents’ home for many years. Instead, I felt comfortable and excited to check in on our people and to say that I was their pastor as I checked in.

And in the midst of getting turned around, I remembered my grandparents and how I wish during this time of the year that I was able to see them again. I wish that Thanksgiving would include my grandmother coming over to my mom’s house to tell us that the dressing didn’t have enough poultry seasoning or celery salt and reminding me to keep stirring.

Although I had to reorder my day when one visit took longer than I had expected, checking in on those who have paved the way for us as a church is a way of sharing fellowship and thanksgiving for the vision they had and the foundation they laid and in the same way as we are making my grandmother’s dressing, I will tell my girls to add more celery salt and to keep stirring remembering the foundation for ministry my grandparents laid for me by giving their lives to ministering and serving others.

Collards and Family

There wasn’t any doubt as to what we would be eating on New Year’s Day. It had to be collard greens and black-eyed peas. I certainly wasn’t the only one at the grocery store who was buying these essentials. In fact, around the meat section of the grocery store, a little group gathered to discuss how best to cook the unusual vegetables.

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But where does this tradition stem from?

In the most common version, the collards represent paper money, and the peas represent coins. Some add sweet potatoes to represent gold.

Others say you eat greens and beans — a poor man’s food — on New Year’s, to eat rich for the rest of the year.

For me, it is a family tradition and as I cooked the collards and black-eyed peas, I was reminded of the family gatherings at my grandparents’ house. I was reminded that there were things that my family did, who had been in the same city for four generations, that friends’ families didn’t do. For me, it was reminder that I was rich in family heritage and that heritage is as comforting as good southern cooking.

Cooking Challenges

It isn’t easy when you realize that you are an adult and if you want to carry on some of your favorite traditions, it’s up to you, especially if you are a forgetful cook like I am! But there’s nothing that will make me preserve through even the hardest cooking challenges like the pressure of preserving my heritage!

And so, my Christmas “break” has been filled with cooking and experimenting and failing. I thought you might like my stories.

First of all, I must have given myself away in the grocery store because almost every woman who I passed gave me advice about how to cook a turkey breast and how to make dressing and what the best type of gravy was. I like to think it was because their daughters who were my age weren’t able to make it home for Christmas and so they needed to help someone else out. I am going to choose to not think about the fact that it was probably more about the fact that I looked completely helpless and that my cart looked a bit haphazard!

Although, I quite successfully cooked a full turkey in Germany, I desperately failed at cooking a turkey in America (turns out the grocery store women were right after all!). Maybe it just all seemed to easy or maybe it was the choice to buy a turkey breast rather than a full turkey. Let’s just say, I got confused and cooked the turkey upside down. What happens when you cook a turkey upside down you might ask?

  • The juices actually don’t flow out of the turkey and create the good base for gravy and to add to the dressing.
  • The turkey sticks to the pan and the turkey doesn’t cook thoroughly through!
  • I have to admit that I am still not sure which way is up on a turkey breast and think I will just stick to buying the whole turkey even if it means infinite leftovers because at least then you have a red button that pops to let you know it’s cooked all the way thorugh!

I did manage to make my grandmother’s homemade dressing from scratch, but maybe that task was a little easier since there really is no recipe to follow!

And today to start out the New Year, what’s better than collards, cornbread, black-eyed peas and pork tenderloin?

At least, they’re off to a good start!

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