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Fresh Start


I’ve been thinking about fresh starts a lot lately. The snow has finally melted, and I believe spring might actually be right around the corner; a new season, a fresh start.

Because my brain tends to work in a food-centric way, all this talk of fresh starts leads me to ponder breakfast. Now that’s a start that (when it happens) is often anything but fresh. Sugary cereals or packaged bars, inhaled while running out to door, breakfast seems to be a meal we have trouble prioritizing.

But it’s our daily start. Shouldn’t it be fresh?

Sitting with loved ones for a hearty, healthful meal at the beginning of each day is something more likely seen on TV than at many of our own kitchen tables, but I wonder if there is an option somewhere between that, and a bagel in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. Maybe there’s a simpler way to do breakfast that doesn’t give up its freshness factor.

  • Frozen berries, orange juice, and bananas pureed together can be four breakfasts in one blender. Toss in slivered almonds and flax seeds and you’ve got fiber, protein, and omega 3’s mixed in with all those vitamins.
  • Hard boiled eggs can be simmered and shelled on Monday for the whole week. Pair with multigrain toast and an apple and you’re out the door and off to a solid start.
  • Steel-cut oats can soak while your sleep, and be ready when you wake. Make a big pot of any kind of oatmeal, flavor with maple syrup or raw sugar, add pecans and serve with orange slices and there you go: whole grains to fuel your brain from your first project until lunch. Bonus tip: make one big pot on Sunday and portion it into 8 oz. jars for grab and go breakfast all week.

These options might take more time than just coffee to go, but those few extra minutes buy a nutrient-rich beginning for all the other minutes in the morning (plus the cost savings of buying whole foods instead of individually portioned, highly processed items). Every morning is a new opportunity for a fresh start.

Now here’s a really crazy idea: what if our first meal of the day wasn’t an afterthought, but an intentional time to remember how blessed we are to be able to break our nightly fast? It’s miraculous that God provides our juice and cereal alongside mercies new every morning and a love that endures our frantic starts. Maybe it’s silly that a small meal at the dawn of a new day could be a reminder of something sacred, but maybe that’s all we need to fuel our hearts and minds—at least until lunch.

When you can take your time with breakfast, this is a great way to use up oatmeal leftover from the week. Serve with poached eggs and fresh fruit for a delicious and balanced beginning.

Nutty Oat Pancakes

Beat one large egg.
Stir in 1 cup of cooked oatmeal, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and ½ cup of milk.
Add 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/3 cup pecan pieces, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir until just mixed.
Heat a lightly greased skillet over medium high heat.
Use a quarter cup measure to spoon batter into pan, three at a time. Cook until golden brown and bubbles begin to form, then flip, about 90 seconds each side.
Top with maple syrup, more nuts, and/or fresh berries.
Makes 12 pancakes.

This article was originally published in the April, 2014 issue of Messenger magazine. http://www.brethren.org/messenger

Daily Bread

Bread
Few things are as comforting as the aroma of fresh baked bread drifting through the kitchen. Even better is slicing through its crunchy crust and breathing in the steam. Add butter. Bliss.

But it seems that these days, homemade bread is something of a novelty. It’s a specialty item for a special meal, or the perfect gift to deliver to a sick friend. One of my pals bakes bread in between jobs, because being home all day allows for the waiting, the punching down, the waiting, the baking, the waiting.

That’s probably why homemade bread is a rarity. Too much waiting. Who has the time or attention span? Even my retired grandmother is too busy with her volunteer schedule, church duties, and daily routine to consider baking bread. What a luxury that would be!

And yet we pray that God would be so generous as to give us our daily bread

My parents are extreme hobbyists. When they find a new one, they research every square inch before diving in with complete dedication. Bread is the perfect example. Well, flour, to be exact.

Last year, Mom and Dad decided they wanted to make their own bread from scratch–and I mean, scratch. They found a farmer who would sell them wheat berries in bulk. They invested in a hand operated wheat grinder. They experimented with recipes, and now, they have perfected a recipe for a delectable whole wheat loaf.

During their research my folks learned an interesting thing: flour doesn’t last very long. Wheat berries can stay sealed in a cool, dry place for months, but as soon as they’re ground, the little jewels start loosing nutritional value. In fact, fresh flour is at its nutritional peak for just about one day.

Give us our daily bread.

I realize that being able to grind flour and bake bread on a daily basis is a long shot for many of us. In fact, insisting on it would probably complicate our lives, rather than simplify. But I wonder what other benefits we might reap by regularly engaging in the ritual of mixing, waiting, punching, waiting, baking, waiting… What rewards might we find beyond the satisfaction a thick, warm slice of bread? Perhaps an better exercise in simplicity is to be intentional with the time. To pay attention during the waiting, spend it in prayer, or meditation, and ultimately being grateful for a generous God who supplies our so many needs, every day.

Realistically, baking bread requires more time than many of us have to offer on a regular basis. Still, there is a way to mix rich, delicious, whole grain bread into your routine if you have five minutes to spare before bedtime.

Mix together in your largest mixing bowl (I use a 2 gallon bucket):

3 cups of warm water
1 Tablespoon of salt
1 Tablespoon of active dry yeast
1.5 cups of whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 cup millet
4 cups bread flour

Cover the mixture with a towel and leave on your counter over night. While you’re sleeping, the bread dough will rise and fall. In the morning, (or whenever you’re ready for fresh bread), oil two standard bread pans and fill each with half the dough. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you knock on it. TIP: I often bake one loaf on Sunday afternoon and leave the other in the fridge covered in plastic wrap to be baked later in the week. Of course, baking both loaves and giving one away could be a whole new layer of this practice of daily bread baking.

Published in the March, 2014 edition of Messenger magazine.

Songs of hope

How do the leaves look so alive when they’re dying?

And how are you so beautiful when you’re crying?

These lyrics written by a friend of mine never fail to remind me that some things are most spectacular when nearing their end, and sadness can surprise you with beauty. 

Changing seasons is one of those things for me, and makes me both restless and comforted. I get excited by the movement of temperature, moisture in the air, and color of plants and produce. I also find assurance in the regularity of such movement—in remembering that there is normalcy in the ongoing change. 

But I have to confess that I haven’t always been as aware of these changes, or as effected by them. It’s so easy to barrel through days, running to keep up with schedules without a thought to what the weather is doing. It’s difficult to pay attention to the movement of the globe when everything is so accessible all year long. I’ve had to practice being aware of certain changes, and every year I notice something new.

I’m not an expert in keeping a leisurely schedule, but I am trying to slow down enough to acknowledge the beauty in the dying leaves, and appreciate the hidden blessings in situations beyond my control. Paying attention to the seasons has even made me aware that my heart moves in a cycle, too: introspection in winter, anticipation in spring, exhaustion in summer, and inspiration in autumn. And throughout it all there is always gratitude—more and more each year—for time to rest, for new life, for abundant produce, and opportunities to start again. 

Seasons come and seasons go 

We keep standing, singing songs of hope

***

One of my favorite ways to appreciate the waning abundance of summer and the new food available in fall is to make this delicious chili—a perfect seasonal segue. 

Pumpkin Chili
(Adapted from here)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small pie pumpkin (acorn or butternut squash are fine substitutes)
3.5 cups chopped tomatoes
2 cans (19 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
2 individual chipotle peppers (not two cans), finely minced

16 oz. veggie stock, chicken broth, or water
2 tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp each cinnamon and oregano

4 tsp salt (add more to taste)
1 bell pepper (any color), diced
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

Pierce pumpkin a few times with a fork and microwave on high for 1 minute. Once cool enough to handle, cut in half, remove seeds, and cut each half into 6 wedges. Peel and cube each wedge.

Pour oil into a large pot set over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and squash, continue cooking 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans, chipotle peppers, broth, brown sugar, and seasoning.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes or until pumpkin is tender. Stir in bell pepper and corn, simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until corn is bright yellow and peppers are soft. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve piping hot with your favorite chili garnishes.

Growers in winter

Growers

After raising our baby tomato and eggplant seeds on a heating pad in February, they started growing nice big leaves that needed overhead light in March. So this UV light was attached to a homemade table-top stand to get them through the last few weeks of wintery days.

Worked like a charm–even if the neighbors were suspicious.

Fifty plants are currently growing, but we plan to keep just 24. If everything goes smoothly in the transition outside, we will give the remainder away.

Fifty plants are currently growing, but we plan to keep just 24. If everything goes smoothly in the transition outside, we will give the remainder away.

We were much better about labeling this year. Each of our seven varieties of heirloom tomatoes have been marked with a plastic tag using a wax pencil.

We were much better about labeling this year. Each of our seven varieties of heirloom tomatoes have been marked with a plastic tag using a wax pencil.

2008-04-24 08.52.07

For a rainy day

Much of the country has been suffering a major drought this summer. I’m only an urban gardener and if feels as though the heat has been out to get me, like it has some personal vendetta against my helpless little cabbage patch. I can only imagine the terror of depending on weather as much as the men and women who grow things for a living do.

But right now, at 4:09 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, a loud, wet, stunning, torrential downpour is washing all over my backyard, and it is glorious.

You know that line in that movie when that guy says to that girl, “you’re awful pretty when you’re angry, little lady”? This storm is so beautiful that I think I might cry. She sounds so mad, and she’s spouting off in all directions, but temper or no, she is gorgeous and I have missed her.

The last few months have made the sky out to be a tight-fisted Scrooge, hanging on to all the moisture up there for his own useless reasons—selfish bastard. But now, this storm in all her dark and dangerous beauty, has busted out of his grasp, flipping him the bird on her way down.

And what a welcome she has received. Some of my younger neighbors were so glad to see her that they whooped and hollered as they ran and splashed their way down our street. (That was at least 20 minutes ago and I haven’t seen them come back yet.) I’m confident that there are farmers close by, whispering sweet nothings to her, and park rangers who are timidly reaching up to touch her, emboldened by the draw of her life-giving flow. And I’m sitting here, at my kitchen table, sniffling like a fool because I haven’t seen my old friend in such a very long time.

Where you been, girl!? It is so good to see you.

It’s funny how the longer you pay attention to this planet, the more it develops a personality. It’s not just a hunk of dirt when you realize how generous it is, pushing food out of itself for you to eat. It’s not just space to build things when you respect that it will move and shake and huff and puff, whether you want it to or not. And the weather no longer remains in the background of your days, occasionally coming to the forefront by inconveniencing you or taking center stage of your small talk.

Instead, the movement of the earth around the sun, and the patters of the sea and moon all converge to take on a leading role. When you depend on all of these hot-headed, unpredictable characters to cooperate with each other, and you have to trust them to not bully the youngsters you’re trying to raise in their little beds out back, you can’t just sit back and watch. You might even find yourself engaging them, reprimanding them, and loving them. They take on personalities, and they have the power to show you things about the world, and about yourself, that you wouldn’t have noticed if you never paid attention.

This might all seem kind of dramatic, and it probably is, but give me a break—I’m writing in an empty house, in the middle of a very dark afternoon, during the first rain storm we’ve had all summer. I’m bound to be a bit over the top.

Dramatization notwithstanding, it’s true that we miss more than we realize in this world. It’s true that we depend on the earth to keep working like it always has, in spite of our actions. It’s even true that if we paid better attention we might find surprising relationships in unlikely places.

It is also true that this storm is gorgeous.

“He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” – St Francis of Assisi

 

 

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.Those who profess to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder or lightning.”