Friday, May 3, 2013

Cooking Days...

…should definitely happen more often around here!

I love a good challenge – the thrill of the unknown, the fun of gaining new experiences, and the satisfaction of building confidence.  And there is something absolutely fixating about elaborate recipes.  I love the fancy, beautiful creations - and my newest challenge has been using Tart Pans and Silpat mats.
Caramel goodness in the making
I finally let myself purchase a rectangle tart pan, a round tart pan, and a Silpat mat because I found them at a fantastic price, so what else was there to do but bake three pastries at once?  So I did.

Actually, I usually cram a lot of cooking into a short amount of time.  On workdays, I get home around 7:00pm, which is a bit late to do some serious chef-ery.  To remedy this lack, I’ve started dedicating entire Saturdays to cooking and baking. 

My first ever Cooking Day was inspired by researching elaborate French dinners, and I began very ambitiously for an inexperienced cook.  I cooked two chickens (one roasted, one boiled to make stock with mirepoix – pronounced “meer pwah”), mashed potatoes, steamed green beans garnished with almonds, orange carrot pineapple jell-o, rolls, Dad’s Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies, and salted caramel coconut thumbprint cookies.  That sufficiently wore me out, but the family had a great time sharing dinner that night. 

The second Cooking Day included the return of the mouthwatering salted caramel coconut thumbprint cookies (seriously fantastic!  Thank you, Martha!), but most recipes were inspired by my new favorite cooking website,  In this blog, there are a lot of strong flavors and also some strong language – but the rock-your-world flavors are what will keep you reading!  I made “Romaine Salad with Bacon, 5-Minute Eggs, and Creamy Garlic Anchovy Dressing” (no lie – I wimped out and did not include anchovies – but it was still extraordinarily zippy and delicious!). I also made Potato, Tomato, Caramelized Onion, & Bacon Tart, Puff Pastry Brie with apricot jam and walnuts, and Hannah Keeley’s Science of Soup recipe, which pretty much explains that Mirepoix (there it is again!) and a flexible grouping of meats, vegetables, liquids, and spices is the base for almost every soup.  Sara called it the Once in a Lifetime Soup, which I rather liked! The family was out of town, so I set up a candlelight picnic of sorts, and invited a few friends over for a fancy food tasting with a little wine. 

Do you begin to see the enchantment of investing time like this to create extravagant little dinner parties? 

This past Saturday became Cooking Day number three.

As you may have guessed, these have become a serious and strategic pursuit – which may be why it only happens once every 3-4 months.  I usually gear up with a list of new recipes, shop for ingredients in the morning, and then crank up the music or start a movie marathon – and last weekend, I was joined by the wonderful and amazing Daniella Silkwood, who has been my friend for almost two decades.

Seven hours and two loaded dishwashers later, the house smelled amazing but my feet were reminding me why I should always wear padded slippers when having to stand on a tile floor all day long.  However, it was totally worth it.
Tomato and Cheese Tart

Daniella and I made:
  1. Tomato and Cheese Tart, with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, smoked gruyere, fresh basil & oregano, and homemade shortcrust dough;
  2. Plum Galette with nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and homemade sweet pastry dough;
  3. Salted Caramel Ganache Tart with Walnuts – which had homemade everything, including milk chocolate glaze, caramel, sweet whip cream, ganache, and sweet pastry dough.

Plum Galette
Oh, delight!

The general consensus was that the Plum Galette is the all-around winner.  My brother described it as tasting like apple pie, until the plum gets you – zing!  Thank you Martha, again!

These days are so special to me!  I love everything about cooking.  It’s the smells, the tastes, the anticipation, and the way everything comes together. However, you may have begun wondering why there is suddenly a post about cooking on a blog that is focused on writing and art.  But let me ask you: have you ever tried to cook French food?  Or tarts?  Or anything that got you excited? 

I believe the process of cooking is just like art.  It involves heart, mind, and skill.  It takes listening to the Masters. It takes great vision and precision, with a little bit of intuition thrown in the mix.  It’s about the tactical interaction with delightful materials, smells, and color, which produces something that is (hopefully!) beautiful and attractive to the senses. 

I’ve been reading a book, Supper of the Lamb (which I first heard of at Hutchmoot!), by Robert Farrar Capon, who does a fascinating job of presenting cooking as not only an art, but as a spiritual discipline, if it is approached correctly. He introduces himself by saying the following:

First, I am an amateur. If that strikes you as disappointing, consider how much in error you are, and how the error is entirely of your own devising. At its root lies an objection to cookbooks written by non-professionals (an objection, by the way, which I consider perfectly valid, and congratulate you upon). It does not, however, apply here. Amateur and nonprofessional are not synonyms. The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers – amateurs – it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral – it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.

I, too, am definitely an amateur; but I, too, am also a lover.  And it is love mixed with a thankful and wakeful heart that can turn even menial tasks into worship.

It is a truth I’ve had to acknowledge that once I’ve decided a project doesn’t matter, the excellence and beauty of my output almost immediately plummets.  How often do I let boredom drain my enthusiasm and rob me of the pursuit of beauty?

Like art, cooking cannot be rushed, and beauty does not come easily.  I’ve come to think that success (when cooking) is a product of experience, but also of an intrigued imagination and fearless enthusiasm.  These are things that almost never happen when we are rushed, or stressed.  They seem born of time, of investment, and of stoking the fires of creativity by choosing to gaze upon loveliness.  Maybe your imagination and enthusiasm don’t take you toward cooking, but maybe they lead to dancing.  To physics.  To film making.  To music.  To mechanical engineering.  Where is it that you feel drawn to go the extra mile, not because you were told to, but because you have become captivated?  What makes you feel alive?  What makes worship well up within your heart, because you are so thankful?

I enjoy Him while I create.  While I cook.  While I savor the flavor of successful outcomes. And this is what I pray: may you each be blessed with alive hearts, sensitivity to beauty, and an enthusiasm that guards you against lackluster living produced by boredom.

And seriously, I pray you are also blessed with elaborate food, every once in a while.  It’s quite a treat! 

Salted Caramel Ganache Tart with Walnuts

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Upon the Achievement of a Long-Anticipated Event

Tonight, I finished a project that has lasted over 7 years. 

When I was in early high school, I thought it would be brilliant to order a tablecloth for the Petry kitchen, but the tablecloth I chose was no ordinary tablecloth. This came with a do-it-yourself cross-stitch pattern, just like the ones my Granny and Great Grandmother had made, which gave the idea a certain charm. It only involved 2 colors, and the pattern was already stamped onto the cloth, so what could go wrong, right?! 

Now I know that cross-stitching 4 napkins and a circular weave around an entire cloth is a tedious discipline, requiring hours upon hours to complete. It is a very fine feeling to finally say, "I'm done!" And, even though a tablecloth itself is not a very significant thing, this one is, because of all the love and effort I had to invest in it. We have a history, that tablecloth and I! I could have bought a pre-cross-stitched tablecloth, but I didn't, and I like it all the better because of my labor.  I'm so glad I refused to give up!

It reminds me of how God might feel - instead of making instantly perfect humans, he made people who, through His own radical sacrifice and love, can become His very own, and who can, through the slow process of learning to love Him and surrender to Him, become more and more glorious over time. Our very brokenness and weakness becomes precious, because He meets us there and gets to show off His strength, making us whole and new. It is so good to be loved and treasured and owned by Him. 

So tonight, I'm praising God for His goodness, for the end of very long projects, and for Seven Year Tablecloths. 

I do believe it is time for a party.

“The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands.” 
– Psalm 138:8

“Know that the LORD is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” 
– Psalm 100:3

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” 
– Philippians 1:6

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fire Lights a Still Wick

“Anticipation is half the joy.” – My Granny, Margaret Sharkey

When I began the official Countdown to Hutchmoot 2012, I had over 200 days to go.  Now, finally, in 2 days, the countdown will be complete, and I and two of my closest friends will start the drive to Nashville, Tennessee.
Painting by Jan Jagoor, 17th Century
In truth, we have anticipated this trip for over 8 months, ever since Sara proposed the idea.  Now that the time has come, I feel such an energy, peace, and readiness to go!  Like Proverbs13:12b says, “A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  Its very sweetness has been propelling me through these last few days, in a dreamy flow of purchases, packing, and last minute details.

But you may be wondering, “What on earth is a Hutch-what?”

Well, I’ve never been to one, but I know it is a conglomeration of artists – painters, writers, singers, actors, dreamers – all captivated by the vibrant truth and glory of God, and all of whom are dedicated to expressing this truth and glory in the arts.  The community formed only a few years ago around a blog dubbed The Rabbit Room, named after the corner in The Eagle and Child, the pub where C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings met weekly to share and discuss their current work.  These artists will be meeting for 4 days at Church of the Redeemer in Nashville for discussion, fellowship, concerts, and sessions with a few honored guest speakers.  Hutchmoot exists because these artists found such life and community through the blog that they decided online interaction wasn’t enough – they determined to convene in the first long weekend of fellowship and discussion in Fall 2010.

Little did I know two years ago in 2010 that this blog or group of people even existed!  I had just been out of college a few months, and had no idea engaging in anything bookish for at least a few more months.  If fact, I feel a little bit like a trespasser even now, for I have not participated in the online community, and did not even know it existed until last January.  I’ve spend the last few months catching up, however, and reading what feels like a wealth of poignant essays on life, art, joy, holiness, God, the maturing process, worldview, storytelling, and deep friendships – with a little bit of healthy whimsy thrown into the mix.  It has been phenomenally refreshing!  The blog displays such a kinship of people who share the vision of art in its truest form, radiant and sanctified.

I do not even know if I can express my tremendous anticipation of this time to be quiet, be among good fellowship, to soak in the glorious views of nature (I hear there will be hiking, woods, and wildlife around the home where we will stay, about 20 minutes outside of Nashville!), to dwell on art and learning, and to set aside time from my unpredictable schedule to spend some long, quiet hours with the Lord.  Additionally, Sara wisely proposed that after Hutchmoot, we drive a little further into Tennessee, into the heart of the beautiful mountains and forests, to spend a few days in a mountain home.  Once there, we will have no agenda, and no rush. 

Can I just say…I CAN’T WAIT!  I am so excited for this time of getting away!  So excited, I almost want to start planning and dreaming and making to-do lists for these days away – but I realize that is exactly what I don’t want to do.  Not this time.  This is a time for un-planned, lovely hours of quietness with the Lord, with my journal, and with my two dear friends.  So often, I am charged with the energies of efficiency, productivity, activities, deadlines, and timelines, that I find it hard to still my heart before the Lord.  And it is in that still place where I hear His voice, and where I find my own.  So much of art, for me, flows out of my soul only when it stills and softens, becoming quiet and receptive.

I was talking with the Lord earlier today about Hutchmoot, and I felt like He was gently filling me with this vision for the trip, saying:

     Be quiet. 
     Be still. 
     Nothing has to happen. 
     Just us.
     Feel my presence.
     Ask for revelation of what to do.
     Love the land. 
     Soak it up. 
     This will become a part of your memory cache. 
     Go slowly. 
     Take in time, textures, color, and words.

Candlelight Study by Ozias Leduc
That thought captured my attention!  I love the flickering, warm light of a candle, and when I light the ones around my home, I find that I have great trouble getting the wick to catch the flame if I have forgotten to turn off the ceiling fans.  Even guarding the candle with my palm is often not enough to coax the little thing to catch.  So I turn off the fans, re-light the match, and the candle will finally do what it was made to do: shine.  In my own life, I am sometimes busy with a full schedule, but other times, when my calendar is more balanced, I often have a heart that is still busy with thoughts and plans and tasks and impressions.  How much like a wind it all is, keeping me going and moving and fluttery and even insensitive, sometimes, to the needs of others or the gentle voice of the Spirit – almost like a candle that won’t light.  I felt God gently encouraging me to cultivate a quiet soul, and the ability to turn off the “internal wind” like I turn off the fan switch, so He can light a new fire within me during this week.
So I have no idea what this weekend will be like, but I’m ready to embrace every moment, and drink it all in!  I know, first and foremost, that my own Maker goes before me, beside me, and behind me, and I’m listening to His voice within me.  And that is always the best part.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Bold Resolution

Well, I’ve decided to begin battle with my perfectionistic tendencies immediately, by christening this blog with a very simple, un-edited post.
Let’s begin with the facts: I want to be a writer.  I want to proclaim the good news of the Lord, Jesus Christ, by telling His story, as seen in the Word, as seen in my life, and as seen in the thousand little glories He reveals to me each day through creation, relationships, and all sorts of methods.
Now, I’ve wanted to be a writer for a good long time, and I’ve had my successful essays, stories, and journal entries, but not a whole lot of progress to show for the last decade or so.  I guess one of the things I treasure most about these past years has been that I have invested my time in acquiring technical skill, I’ve received experiences and stories through trials and joys that are now a part of who I am and the story I have to tell, and I’ve been able to spend long hours immersing myself in good teaching and I've been “expanding the soul” by reading the more dignified writings of scholars and poets alongside the fantastical and childlike adventures of characters in all sorts of stories.

And yet – what a safe thing it is, to criticize, but never submit my own work for critique.  It is like reading of adventures without ever feeling that wild stirring of joy that moves us to become more bold, more crazy, more noble, and to leave our own homes to meet the unknown and have our own adventures.

I’ve spent so much time reading good books and essays, treasuring high ideals, and learning to recognize good writing when I see it, that now that I myself am trying to write, my work appears to me like a piddling, ostentatious, little scrawling thing, and I shy away from publishing each of my successive potential-blog-post-essays, thinking, “Oh, a little edit here, a little edit there, and maybe it will be good enough” – which of course turns into major edits, major additions, and major subtractions, until I realize I’m not even using the original idea at all anymore, and have pretty much started the whole process from scratch with a new idea.  Rinse and repeat.

I now have almost a dozen potential-blog-post-essays, each one a little better, a little longer, and no more finished than the last.  But today is September 6.  And today, on this day, I am typing this piece.  This is my first draft, and I declare here and now that I SHALL indeed post it today, without letting myself edit that date to September 8, 9, December 1, etc.

I have determined to lift my heart by remembering that every runner starts with a baby’s weak steps, and that every writer starts by actually writing, not just thinking of all the great ways to write.  But oh – how hard it is to begin!

I do not mean to say that learning and reading are not highly valuable.  They are!  But I think that maybe, by focusing on growing in truth, and reasoning out what makes life good and worthwhile, that I’ve missed out on the freedom of letting every season of life be grand and wonderful to my heart.  I’ve forgotten to rejoice in little triumphs because I think they are no good until I’ve reached the big triumphs.  Maybe I’ve even forgotten that trials and busy days are days to purposefully find His glory, instead of just waiting for the day to be done.  How humbling it is, to really look at myself and discover that I’ve been happy enough to dream big dreams, while continually postponing the effort it requires to attain those big dreams.

Even if I spend my time on this blog posting bullet lists and stilted prose, I’m going to hit “publish” anyway.

Because that is my dream.  And more than that, I’m beginning to realize more and more that writing is a significant part of who I am made to be – not because I think I’m about to write anything radically valuable, but because in my writing, I meet myself, and I meet my Creator, and I discover things to ponder and treasure, to surrender and to celebrate.  In writing, I find peace.  It is my quiet place.  It is the attainment of one of those BIG UNKNOWN SOMETHINGS that always feels like it is around the bend, if only I can get to it.  All this striving, and all along, it was right here.  I can hear Him saying, “Just surrender the work, Beloved, and write.  Leave it all to me.  Just enjoy this gift I have given to you, and I will meet you there.  I always do more than you ask or imagine.  Isn’t that what you want most, anyway?  That your writing be Mine?  Let go.”

So this is my resolution.  It is time to dream.  It is time to ponder.  But more than that, it is time to actually leave the safety of “home” and begin the adventure.  It is time to become.

So be it!  Amen!
"Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” - Zachariah 4:10