Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Did you know you can celebrate Mardi Gras with a Pancake Feast?

I wanted to take the opportunity to think about Lent here. I wrote an article on my work’s blog entitled Why Lenten Discipline is a Good Thing, and it got me thinking about Lent.

I really had to live up Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) this year because I’m giving up sugar for Lent. I went to a church dessert potluck on Sunday night and came home with the leftovers of four people’s desserts! I took them all to work today and wished people a Happy Fat Tuesday. Farewell apple pie, chocolate cake, chocolate, and cookies (all of which I had today). We’ll not meet for 40 days. (The exception is, admittedly, the re-opening of Didiers on Feb. 28. If you have doubts about my choice to break my Lenten fast on this particular day, we can talk.)

As I was doing my research for my work blog article, I came across a BBC web page about English Lenten traditions that I’d never heard of before. Apparently, the English call Mardi Gras Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. Shrive (shrove) is the process of showing penitence for one’s sins, particularly before the start of the Lenten season. Pancake Day came about because some churches would encourage their parishioners to give up fatty ingredients for Lent. To use up the butter, eggs, and milk in church-goers’ pantries, they would make huge batches of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday before the start of Lent, a version of a Mardi Gras celebration.

Believe it or not, the English even inaugurated a Pancake Race in the late 1400s that is still a tradition today. (If you don’t believe me, check out River Cottage Family Cookbook from your local library.) Tradition goes that in 1445, a woman lost track of time while cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. She was taken by surprise when the church bells chimed to announce confession time, so she raced to the church with the skillet in her hand and apron around her middle. Pancake races in England were (and maybe still are) often followed by a church service. How crazy is that?! I knew I loved the English.

Enough history. Now to the practicalities of Lent. I was researching Spokane-area churches at work today and came across an awesome Lenten schedule that one church is offering its congregants. Take a look at it. I’m not going to do everything on the calendar, but I will certainly enjoy doing some of it. Even if you don’t choose to participate in any of it, I found the suggestions telling of what many in today’s churches feel is lacking in their own lives: silence, intentionality in relationships, rhythm. I have been lacking these qualities in my own life recently, so I look forward to following many of the suggestions.

As great as all the things on that calendar are, I’m hoping Lent will also be an intentional time of spending time with God in prayer, Bible study, service, and just plain ol’ silence. It’s hard to take time to slow down, but I want to slow down during Lent. And I’m hoping that abstinence from sugar will expose the human weakness in me so that I cling all the more to Christ and his sufficiency. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Lent in general or your own plan for Lenten discipline. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Blessings to each of you this week!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

A couple funny things happened at work today that I wanted to share with you. I had the grand idea to have treats in the office for Valentine’s Day. I was making cupcakes on Monday night for something else and had extra, so I packaged 11 frosting-less chocolate cupcakes for work. After baby-sitting in the morning, I stopped by Safeway with the intention of getting more cupcakes and the ingredients for raspberry Italian sodas (thanks for the idea, Lorry!).

Pathetic, I know, but I had no idea where anything was in Safeway! I always shop at Costco, Winco, or Fred Meyer. After wandering around and looking confused, I finally found the club soda, which I set in my basket. Then I picked out a tray of 12 vanilla cupcakes with towering pink frosting and a container of chocolate cookies with mint frosting. I put these in my basket, too, along with canned whip cream. Here’s where things started to break down.

They didn’t have any raspberry syrup. Reluctantly, I put back the club soda and whip cream in favor of three bottles of Martinelli’s apple cider, but then thought that we might not have anything to open the bottles with, so back on the shelf they went. I realized then that my arm was about to fall off from the weight of the club sodas, so I decided to buy two containers of raspberry lemonade out of desperation. As I was making a beeline for the lemonade, an employee asked “Are you finding everything?” I wasn’t about to tell him how I really felt, so I said politely, “Yes, thank you,” and grumbled to myself about why I couldn’t have just used a shopping cart. I’m sure this would have been the solution to my problem. By this time, the cupcakes were quite jumbled.

Praise God, I made it to work and got everything onto the counter in the kitchen. I pulled the cupcakes out of the bag and some of the frosting tops had come clean off! Two guys in the kitchen stared at the cupcakes. Frankly, I don’t blame them.

“Umm…what happened to the cupcakes?” One of them, David, asked.

I told the whole story, and David suggested that I just separate the frostings from the cupcakes.

“After all, some people really like the frosting but not the cake, and vice versa,” he reasoned.

So I did just that. I set out the rest of the spread, chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting, raspberry lemonade and ice, chocolate mint cookies, severed cupcakes and frosting on separate plates, and some vanilla cupcakes that still had frosting. Needless to say, the treats got rave reviews and everything had vanished by 4 p.m. except three blobs of pink frosting.

Around 3 p.m., I was working steadily at my computer, and David said, “Elizabeth! Look!”

He had placed a pink frosting top on a chocolate cupcake. I burst out laughing. Somehow that made all the trouble of the morning’s shopping trip worthwhile.

On a serious note, I wrote out a hymn about God’s love for both Partners and Olive Tree this morning. I’ve committed it to memory because I like it so much, so I’m going to share it with you. Here it is:

Could we with ink the ocean fill
and were the sky of parchment made;
If every stalk on earth a quill
and every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

O Love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
the saints’ and angels’ song.

I hope your Valentine’s Day has been full of the love of God, family and friends!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Valentine's Day is A-Coming

I’m making peanut butter cookies right now. I have no good reason to make them, nor was I planning on making cookies at all today. But I couldn’t help myself. I haven’t made plain-Jane peanut butter cookies in ages, and they’re so good right out of the oven and, conveniently, right out of the freezer. I asked my events planning committee at work if we should do anything to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. Surprisingly, I got an enthusiastic response from even the two men. So in the spirit of V-Day, my mind’s been full of sugar and red and pink and hearts. I’m not planning to share these cookies at work, but I’m trying to think of what would be a good store-bought treat. Any ideas? Anything besides the ubiquitous Safeway sugar cookie with too-thick red frosting is fair game.  

I'm in the process of writing a far longer post, but it's taking me some time. Thanks for your patience!