Thursday, September 27, 2012

To Nourish My Beloved

I don't know what the deal is, but I've been on a food high recently. Maybe it's from preserving the apples, plums, and tomatoes of mid-September. Maybe it's having all these delicious fruits and veg (as the British say) on hand, the tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, corn, peaches, plums, and apples of Green Bluff bounty. Whatever it is, I just LOVE food. My parents wonder who in the world Elizabeth Brink really is...did my mom really give birth to this crazy foodie?

But really, at the heart of my love for food is something intrinsically related to how God loves us. Food can be bland and stingy and unexciting. But the kind of food I'm trying to prepare, the kind of food I watch being prepared on the British TV show River Cottage, the kind of food I read about on various food blogs is incredibly like God's character. It bursts with generosity and goodness and hospitality. It's rooted in love. Love of the earth, sure, but most of all a deep love of the people who carry the Imago Dei.

Here's a quote I found thought-provoking. It was at the front of the cookbook The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."    ~M.K. Fisher

There are a number of things I love about this quote. But I'll start first with where it falls short. Mary Fisher mentions the brain and the hands creating meals to nourish, but she doesn't mention the heart. To me, cooking, and the rest of her quote, hinges on the heart. It's the love from our hearts that we pour into making food and giving it away, not just the cerebral knowledge or the muscle memory. That said, the rest of the quote is fabulous. We nourish people not just with a concocted stew, but with stories. Human beings are nourished by relationships, which happen over food and through stories.

The next part of the quote that I find so great is this: we nourish not just with rarities like perfectly cooked steaks and New York cheesecake, but also with plain dishes...with Kraft Mac and Cheese and home-canned peaches, after-a-long-day-of-work scrambled eggs and hasty blueberry muffins. We are nourished by the ordinary, every day stuff through which our lives of faith are built. Consistent and sacrificial decisions to be generous and to open the blocked caves of our hearts to the light and life of God's love that drives us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves.

So I invite you to join this wild ride called faith and let every deed you do rise up as a prayer of love to the God who is the giver of all good gifts.

And enjoy your next meal with gusto.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Plums, Tomatoes, and Apples, Oh My!

This is old news now, which you're really not supposed to post on a blog. Being current and up-to-date is important, but I worked so hard on canning a couple weeks ago that I couldn't not post this. After all, besides working, preserving food has occupied a good bit of my time in September. Here are some photos about my recent adventures in this food-intense time of year. 
Apples ready to be washed, chopped and cooked down into wonderful applesauce. These are red and green Gravensteins from Hansen's Farm on Green Bluff.

The water bath canner is steaming and the apples are cooking!

My wrists were literally sore that Saturday evening from all the chopping and coring I did. We are talking about 34 pounds of apples here!

That same day, I made tomato jam with eight pounds of Sun Gold tomatoes from my parents' house in Portland. I got the recipe here. Tomato jam is a little weird sounding, but it's actually delicious with toast, crackers, and, I've heard, with chicken. I'm excited to experiment with it.

Here's what I canned in two days' time: 10 jars of tomato jam, 8 jars of plum preserves (like in Anne of Green Gables), and 14 quarts of applesauce. Before you think I'm crazy for all the jam I'm making (and still need to make), I'll just say two words: Christmas presents.

I also got this flat of tomatoes from a lovely couple in my Sunday School class. I now have six quarts of lovely tomatoes in my freezer for winter soups and casseroles.
I've had a pretty good culinary run lately, too. After eating this veggie lasagna for a whole week, I took a break from cooking and ate many grilled cheese sandwiches. On Friday (9/21), I was suddenly inspired to make a pizza. I made half a recipe of whole wheat pizza dough and spread olive oil sauteed with rosemary and shallots on the crust as the sauce. I topped that with mozzarella cheese, sauteed zucchini, crumbled bacon, and three eggs. I stuck it in the oven for 20 minutes. Yum!
On Sunday, I cooked down the bones of a Costco rotesserie chicken. While it was cooking, I went to my garden at Dottie's house to cut some flowers and ended up having tea with Dottie for an hour and a half, meaning that the chicken was on the stove for three hours. So my stock was very concentrated and flavorful. With it, I made a Morroccan Chicken Cous Cous soup. It called for zucchini and a sweet potato. I didn't have a sweet potato, so I substituted Green Bluff carrots and Delicata squash. Delicious!

A final note: In my Sunday School class, we're studying a book called A Year of Plenty, which was written by a local Presbyterian pastor named Craig Goodwin. He writes about his family of four's adventures with eating and buying local for a year. We had a great discussion about chapter one on Sunday, and I plan to post every week about the topics that come up in our Sunday School discussions. I invite you to add your voice to the conversation in the comments.   
Thanks for reading! Hope your week is off to a great start!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

To Azusa and Back

Here's my long-awaited post about my family's trip to Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, to drop my sister Julie off at her first year of college. You've already seen a couple photos in this post, but here's the full story. I'm going to do this by posting pictures and putting the photo's description under the photo.

This is ALL of Julie's stuff in the car. We couldn't believe it. I was like, "What in the world did I take to college?" Because I assure you, the car was much more full five years ago. The best answer we could come up with was that it snows in Spokane and not in L.A., therefore I had to pack more clothes.
Outside the house in Portland, ready to pick up Dad and hit the road!
The first day (Wednesday) we drove to Redding and stayed overnight. On Thursday, we powered through CA to Azusa. We had a lunch at a rest stop somewhere (can't remember where!) and had these lettuce wraps with chicken salad in them. This was Julie's last-minute idea when we were packing the cooler on Wednesday and it was delicious! 
Finally!! A sign for Azusa!!
That's right, we had In-N-Out Burger for dinner on Thursday night! We ended up getting it again at an Azusa Family/Student Carnival on Saturday night. I had In-N-Out burger for the first time when I was 16, but I honestly don't remember anything about the food. I only remember wanting a t-shirt. (No surprise if you knew me at that time.) So I was eager actually to taste the food, and it was delicious!! The burger was flavorful and not greasy, the fries were salty and crispy, and the vanilla milkshake was sweet and cold. A treat!

After dinner, we toured the campus with Julie as our guide. The signs appeared in the lawn outside Julie's dorm on Friday morning to welcome new students. Fun, huh? Here's Julie and Mom peeking in the window of Julie's dorm room.

After a less-than-satisfactory hotel experience on Thursday night, we were eager to spend the whole day at Azusa. As we drove in, we were greeted by this welcoming committee. It was so fun! As RAs rushed over to help us unload the car, several people assumed that I was the college student. I couldn't tell if this was a compliment or not. :) It didn't take us long to unload the car and bring it all into Julie's room. Julie is in an all-girls dorm with two other roommates. We had a chance to meet and spend a little time with both roommates and their families. It was fun!

We ate breakfast on Friday morning at a little Mexican bakery by our hotel. Here's my breakfast with the beginnings of a Target list. As usual, we had to make a pilgrimage to Target for odds and ends and to Costco for a mini fridge. This is a vitally important part of a parent's job. (My parents still take me to Costco when they're here in Spokane.)

The rest of Friday was spent organizing Julie's room, attending an outside fair in the campus center, meeting roommates and RAs, enjoying a dinner picnic with a band, and listening to several speakers in the big event center. On Saturday, the students and families split up and went to separate workshops. My parents and I enjoyed the workshop we attended, which talked mostly about the Azusa's strengths-based approach to learning. In the afternoon, Mom and Julie organized Julie's room, so Dad and I went to Trader Joe's!! We were 10 or so miles from Monrovia at this Trader Joe's, which is the headquarters for Trader Joe's. How cool is that?!
We bought Julie this beautiful bouquet of flowers at Trader Joe's and got her some snacks (chips and guacamole). We had a lot of down time on Friday and Saturday in which we got to spend time together as a family. It was wonderful to meet fellow students, get to know the campus a little, and enjoy the unique excitement of the freshman experience.

The top photo was taken at the Carnival on Saturday night. We ate with several of Julie's friends that she met on her Mexico mission trip with Azusa this summer. The picture with Mom and me is the main plaza of Azusa's West Campus (Julie lives on the East Campus...about a 10 minute walk away). It's a beautiful campus with lots of palm trees and big flowers. On the walk to and from the east and west campuses, we noticed grapefruit trees! How crazy is that?! We ended up going to an Azusa men's soccer game after the carnival; that was fun!

After a lovely worship service on Sunday morning, the president and campus pastor gave every family a piece of chalk and told us to find a place on either campus where we could leave a little drawing to signify the start of our daughter/sister's college career. Julie chose a spot near the academic building where many of her social work classes will be held. I drew this picture and then we prayed for Julie. I tried to get a picture with all four of us, but I obviously had some trouble. :)
Throughout the weekend, I was encouraged by how Christ-centered Azusa is. Dad and I spent an hour on Sunday morning praying with other parents and the Chapel staff for this new freshman class. For peace. For calling. For love of God and neighbor.

It was hard to leave Julie at the end, but we all felt encouraged that we are entrusting her to a good institution and a great God. I pray for Julie every day and trust that college will be as wonderful for her as it was for me.
Mom, Dad, and I left Azusa at 1:15 PM on Sunday afternoon and made it home at 4:45 AM on Monday morning. The whole drive was fine for me except for the last two-ish hours. I was so tired I literally could hardly keep my eyes open. My mom was the real hero--she drove most of the night. We did listen to All Creatures Great and Small on the way back, which was a delight, but boy were we glad to fall into bed on Monday morning. My poor dad had to go to work at 7 AM while my mom and I were sound asleep. We were all dragging Monday evening, but I am happy to report that we are fully recovered and the time spent with Julie was worth every long minute of driving. :)
P.S. This (below) might have been a little bit of what we looked like on the drive back. Get us out of here! Hehe.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Call Me Crazy (Maybe)*

I went to Green Bluff today after church and got a ton of fruits and veggies. It's that time of year, and I love it! Using eggplant and summer squash, I made a Veggie Lasagna that I've wanted to try all summer. The food blogs I follow often post pictures alongside the steps of a recipe, so I thought I'd try it with this lasagna.

First, though, pictures of my Green Bluff bounty. I couldn't help but get another box of peaches--only 99 cents a pound!--to use for pies, cobblers, and the like. I froze every single peach from the previous two boxes I bought and couldn't let peach season pass by without at least one pie. From my favorite farm, Eleven Acres, I bought Gypsy and Bell peppers, green beans, Honey Crisp apples, a Snow Leopard melon (like a Honeydew), a Tuscan Cantaloupe, and more.

My other favorite Green Bluff farm is Hansen's, owned by a couple from my church. I came into the barn lugging this box of Red and Green Gravensteins (destined for quarts of applesauce!) and Rod, the owner, winked at me and said, "Been a while since I saw you." We'd both been at the 8:15 service at church and it was now noon. He eyed my overflowing box and asked, "Are you sure you want all those?" The big scale registered nearly 34 pounds. "I'll take 'em," I told Rod. "I'm a working woman." With applesauce, it's all or nothing. Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive since I hadn't paid attention to the price per pound. He looked at the scale and said, "Hmm. 34 pounds, we'll call that 33," and rung me up for $28.05. A bargain when you're expecting $60!
At 3pm, I started to make the lasagna, the recipe of which came from a website called Annie's Eats. I started by mixing up a tomato sauce (with fresh basil), stirring together a cream sauce (with heavy cream, cottage cheese, parmesan, etc.), and microwaving cubes of eggplant.
Then I cut up 8 cups of summer squash including one of my own scalloped squash.


After sauteing the squash and eggplant with garlic, olive oil, and fresh thyme, I wilted some spinach and mixed all the vegetables together. Next, I layered: tomato sauce, whole wheat lasagna noodles, half the veggie mixture, cream sauce, etc. For a little while I was afraid my pan wasn't deep enough!

Here it is, ready to go in the oven!

Here it is out of the oven! The hardest part is letting it sit 25 minutes before diving in.

And here's the first piece, ready to be eaten! It kinda fell apart, but it still tasted great!!

With it, I enjoyed this Snow Leopard melon. I had no idea I could get local melons (more local than Hermiston, that is), so I was stoked to try this. I also had a piece of corn. Delicious.

Now I hope I like this lasagna enough to eat it all week.
And yes, you have permission to call my obsession with fruits and vegetables crazy. :)
*Just a note to say that I changed this title to reflect a rather silly pop culture reference. Anyone get it?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Mennonite Cooking Blog?

You bet! It's AWESOME! If you're a nerd like me and peruse cooking blogs more than you probably should, you really need to check it out. Here it is.

Also, the Oregonian's Food Day section recently had an entire day's edition devoted to Julia Child and her influence in the cooking world. Below are a couple quotes they shared that I liked.

"This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook - try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!"

"Remember, no one's more important than people! In other words, friendship is the most important thing - not career or housework, or one's fatigue - and it needs to be tended and nurtured."

"The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It's doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least 28 times before I finally conquered it."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Three Weekend Photos

I will post more about my family trip to take my younger sister to college soon, but I wanted to get in a couple photos just to give you a taste of what it was like.

We drove down to California on two different days.
We may or may not have been going crazy by the end!

 On Thursday night, we spent time walking around Azusa Pacific's east
and west campuses. It was a beautiful California summer evening.
 This is an instagram picture from the Candela service on Friday night,
a traditional part of Azusa's Freshman Orientation.We held our lit candles aloft
and proclaimed that the light and love of God faithfully penetrates a dark world.
This time of September is, without fail, a time of change and transition. Even if you're not in school or connected with those who are, there's still the subtle shift from summer to autumn. I was baking cookies this afternoon and stepped out on my deck for a moment. I was struck by the cool warmness (or warm coolness) of the air and how the sun had changed from hot and penetrating to golden and mellow. I'm excited for fall, but sad to see summer come to an end.
How about you? Are you excited for fall? Are there changes in your life that are bittersweet?