Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Morning: Enter the Engineer

This was going to be a sweet and sentimental post about my lovely Mennonite mother who is at age 90, losing words and memories slowly and steadily. She remains beautiful, wise, and strong and cognizant of all the truly important things: faith, gentleness, boundless grace. But she seems to have forgotten how to make the “tea ring” that graced our table every morning for Christmas as long as I can remember. It’s a tradition we all hold dear and delicious so I decided that the baton had been passed and it was now going to be my job. This was bittersweet. I miss my mama as she used to be: great with words, confident, and my teacher in the kitchen. I grew up working alongside her always, the Mennonite equivalent of a sous chef.

So this afternoon I decided this was the time and my little galley kitchen was the place. I made the dough, it raised beautifully. I rolled the dough, it was an awkward oval. My husband, who brings to Christmas festivities the same enthusiasm most people have for Groundhog Day, was nearby. I called out to him, “The dough has risen but I’m not sure what to do.” He answered, “The jello is ruined and you are through?”   Clearly nobody is aging at the Awe household! “No,” I said, “I’m trying to make my mother’s tea ring and I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up.” This moment was laden with sentiments of Christmas Past for me and I was having trouble rising to the task.

Enter the Engineer husband, who fortuitously put aside his Scrooge tendencies because he loves me. “How hard can this be?” He spread butter, sprinkled cinnamons, spread brown sugar, and swaddled this yule log of yeasty dough into a perfect circle. He made the 2/3 cut and laid those pieces down like they were babies at nap time. My heart was 10 times lighter.  The tea ring rises, Christmas breakfast can go on and the lion will lie down with the lamb.

God Bless Us Everyone!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stammering Forth:Salad with Avocado Dressing

"...and in the meantime, this side of Paradise, it is our speak with our heart...and to bear witness to, and live out of, and live toward, and live by, the true word of his holy story as it seeks to stammer itself forth through the holy stories of us all." Frederick Buechner

Cooking alongside someone lends itself to sharing stories. You read, question, laugh, bump elbows and reflect as you seek to create something out of the avocado, the garlic clove, and the olive oil. Recently as we launched into a brand new recipe, my daughter Amber asked, "What if this turns out to be awful?" I said, "That's okay, what if it does? That's just part of the experience." As we are trying a new recipe we often speak our memories of times past in the kitchen, both the culinary mishaps and the flavorful masterpieces. However, when I answered this particular question last week, I knew and perhaps she did too, that I wasn't just talking about cooking.

It's a mystery but cooking and sharing stories helps me to stammer out what I believe in, regret, hope for, and love. The firmness of the wood floor, the coarseness of countertop and the smoothness of the heavy wooden spoon grounds my senses and brings me to the present. Attention is required as well as the ability to let go of the outcome. When I share the kitchen experience with friends and family, I find myself speaking with my heart and bearing witness to the much-larger-than-me holy story that wants to find its home in the world. I find myself listening to the stories of others who enter the space. Sometimes we stammer, sometimes we flow but a warm and cozy kitchen with wafting fragrances provides a space where we realize what needs to be said. We are, all of us it seems,seeking to speak with our hearts and make sense of our crazy holy stories.

This effort, the latest from my treasured collaboration with daughter Amber, didn't turn out awful. In fact, it was very good. The dressing needed more kick though because I added the spices and I ALWAYS tend to be too skimpy with them. I need to follow the example of my more adventurous daughter and toss them out with a generous hand. When we were eating and evaluating, I admitted this. "Mom," she sighed, "you're such a Mennonite."

The dressing is creamy and rich and pours like little waterfalls over the greens. The crisp bacon on the top was a wonderful addition. It is a great summer salad!

Salad with Avocado Dressing
4 small very ripe avocados
1 cup light sour cream
1 cup fat free half and half
1 T grated onion
1 dash (a big dash) cayenne
1 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 T lemon juice

mixed greens or romaine
grilled chicken pieces (I used leftover grilled chicken that I had marinated with southwestern spices)
strips of crisp bacon

Layer each plate with greens and chicken pieces.
Pour dressing over the salad and lay bacon strips on top.

Stammer forth and spice liberally,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Good Life: Chicken and Asparagus Stir Fry

Since losing my dad a couple of months ago, I have thought often of the lessons I learned from him over the years and most particularly those last days in the nursing care facility. We all knew he was dying and we had the gift of time to express our gratitude for the life we'd shared. Several times over those last weeks he'd say, "I've had a good life," without smile or frown, close his eyes and lay his head back in rest.

Struggle was a theme of my dad's life. He struggled with being an orphan, he struggled with depression at times, and he struggled because he was a visionary, called to do different things in different ways. It wasn't always easy or understood but he kept creating new paths in and to the Kingdom. To hear him say at the end that he'd had a good life was a wonderful thing because for most of my life, I was aware of him being a bit restless in his wrestling with his life's call. There was joy, humor, and love always but often this sense of restlessness as well. To see the knowing expression and to hear the words "I've had a good life" brought me comfort.

I've wondered what it is that makes a "good life" and I sense that it is different for everyone. In mourning the loss of my father and concurrently celebrating his life, I have attempted to illuminate those things that made his a "good life". I have felt that his life fully lived and his death so closely observed shouldn't go by without reflection and even transformation. In my own definition of a "good life" we are given experiences to learn about truth and beauty and having a front row seat to so much of his life and to his passing gives me much to ponder.

Two things I came upon, written in his own hand, lead me close to understanding his thoughts on a good life:

On a small card, sitting on his desk, these words:
"Each one of us has an irrevocable vocation to be in Christ, and the Christ that I am supposed to be is irreplaceable. It has to be my vision of Christ and, if I do not fulfill that, there is going to be something missing forever and forever in the Kingdom of Heaven, and each of us know this and feels this. " Thomas Merton

And tucked in the back of a book, this quote from Peter Kreeft,
"Saints reproduce themselves simply be being who they are."

A good life? Learning who we are to be, in Christ, and courageously being that each day until we are no longer on this earth.

....And now something good to sustain you on the journey:

Chicken and Asparagus Stir Fry

3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp cornstarch
3/4 pound chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 tbsp canola oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 green onions cut into small pieces
1/2 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces

In a glass dish, stir together soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, and cornstarch. Add chicken pieces and coat well with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add garlic and fry until softened. Reserving the marinade, add chicken followed by the onions, asparagus and carrots. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink.

Add marinade and cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Serve over brown rice.

Lifting my glass to the good life,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Every Detail: Christmas Pie

Don't worry about anything;instead, pray about everything. Tell God every detail, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand." Philippians 4:6-7

This Christmas has been a difficult one as my sweet daddy is spending his last days with those who love him here on this earth. Recently, missing him, I went into his home office and looked around for pieces of my dad that I could cling to. On his desk were several things in his handwriting. One was the above verse. It brings me comfort and guidance for these days. My dad lived this in his life and is living it as he leaves us.

For the past 30 or so years my mom has made Christmas Pie for our family feast on the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. My dad always loved it and would look forward to that first bite. "Mmmm, Mmmmm, how sweet it is," he'd often say. "Mary, you've done it again." One year, rather than a cake on his May birthday, he asked for Christmas pie.

This year, with my mother spending her time by his bedside and with my hope to preserve some of the familiar traditions of our family, I made the Christmas pie. It wasn't the same, partly because my taste buds are dulled by sadness and grief but also because I forgot to ask my mom about every detail. It was still tasty and my family was kind enough to be enthusiastic about it. Mom shared her tips and next year's pie should be better and memories of my dad will hopefully sweeten the occasion.

These days by his bedside and in everything I am doing, I am recalling details of life with my dad. A big presence, my dad. Laughing, tearful, passionate, curious, intense, relaxed. All in the same day sometimes. Dad is dedicated to his faith, family and friends and all the small details in his life add up to one big picture of love. Dad knew the importance of showing up and being present. He was good at the details: handwritten notes to encourage us, times by our bedsides, prayers offered on behalf of many, trees watered and tended, books read and shared. Such seemingly small details make up his large life. I am truly blessed to be his daughter. My heart overflows with gratefulness for the holy details of an everyday life offered up by my amazing dad.

Christmas Pie
Make pastry shell for a 9 inch pie. Bake as directed.

For the filling:
Soften 1 T gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water.
Mix together in saucepan:
1/2 cup sugar
4 T flour
1/2 tsp salt
Gradually stir in 1 1/2 cups milk.

Cook over low heat, stirring until it boils. Boil one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in softened gelatin. Cool. When partially set, beat with rotary beater until smooth. Blend in 3/4 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp almond extract.

Gently fold in 1/2 cup whipping cream that has been whipped until stiff.

Make a meringue by add 1/4 tsp cream of tartar to 3 egg whites. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar until it peaks.
Stir in 1 cup moist shredded coconut.
Pour into cooled baked pie shell. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup coconut. Chill until firm.

This recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker cookbook.

"How sweet it is!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cinnamon Flop and Going Back

"We have to allow ourselves to be loved by the people who really love us, the people who really matter... "

C. Joybell C.

In the midst of a long, cold and weary winter earlier this year, I thought ahead to my 50th birthday which would fall in July. "What do I want to do" I asked myself, "that I haven't done?" It came to me that what I yearned for wasn't something new, but rather something old. I wanted to reconnect with some important people from my past. People who have loved me and whom I have loved. Friends and family that I have lost touch with but whose voices and faces still linger in my mind when something comes into the landscape that reminds me of them.

I decided to start to visit some of these important folks and get reacquainted. I wanted to celebrate what I held dear about them and to feel the love once again. So, I started with my college friend Rhoda and my closest relatives on my dad's side, the Hess family. It was as warm, cozy and comfortable as being wrappped in an old quilt being with them again. We laughed, cried and revisited old memories. We made some new ones as well. I came and left feeling blissfully blessed.

My Aunt Marion kindly followed this blog and made a list of her own favorite recipes from the Mennonite Community Cookbook. This is one she sent me. I tried it and it is delicious, sweet, and tasting of love like the many treats I ate so many years ago in her familiar kitchen in Lancaster County, PA. The name of this entry? Peculiar, I guess. I'd say it comes from the fact that it kind of rises while it bakes, then flops down again. It develops cinnamony valleys and subtle sugary peaks as it ascends and descends.

The people who love us are a great gift. They smile when they see us, they laugh at our stories, they cry over our sorrows. They share themselves with us. They lovingly remind us of unfortunate haircuts, bad boyfriends and childhood imaginary friends. As they age, the become all the more dear to us and we smile as we get to hold them close once again. It's a wonderful gift, being able to go back.

Here is the recipe as I made it this afternoon.

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients together. Using two knives cut into shortening until the mixture is in fine crumbs.
Beat egg and add milk.
Add milk and egg gradually to dry ingredients until thoroughly mixed.
Put mixture into a greased 9 or 10 inch pie late.
Mix 1/3 cup melted butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tsp of cinnamon. Sprinkle this mixture on top of the batter.
Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).
Cinnamon flop. Sweet, cinnamon topped, densely delicious.

Urging you to reconnect with the love in your past,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some final thoughts: Sand Tarts or Saint Hearts

Well, this is it! The final blog. It is a few weeks shy of a year but with over 52 entries, I am feeling it is time to turn my attention to some other things. The jar of scramble(pictured above) was something produced on each end of this project, December 2009 and December 2010.

The sand tarts are nice little uncomplicated Christmas cookies. Rolled thinly, brushed with rich milk, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar they are the perfect sweet treat for the cookie minimalist. Which I am. I love to look at those pretty, dripping, stone-studded cookies offered at a local bakery, but they are too much for my palate. I also love the alternative name the cookbook records for this cookie. Saint Hearts. It reminds me of a teaching colleague at the Catholic school. She told me recently about sitting at the school Mass with one of her very challenging students. She was praying for him and asking for patience to deal with his behavioral needs. He was nudging her all the while, saying her name. She asked him to wait so she could pray for more patience for yet another request. When she was done with her final desperate petition, the student whispered to her, "Mrs. W___, what do you have to do to be a saint?" When she relayed this experience to me, I laughed and laughed. Talk about a speedy reply.

I would like to have the heart of a saint. I want a heart that seeks to love in extraordinary ways, contains patience for troubles, has a need for little besides the opportunity to serve humanity. Sometimes, cooking in the kitchen with reverence for the women that created this beautiful book, as well as memories of the offered love by my mother and grandmother and finally with absolute gratefulness for the heritage of my faith community, I felt closer to acquiring the heart of a saint than ever before. I felt still in my kitchen even as my hands were busy. I felt content, even as I created a huge mess of flour covered counter tops and sticky dishes which would need attention. I felt hunger for goodness, even as I ate the solid foods from the hallowed pages of the Mennonite Community Cookbook. I don't do quiet and reflective well out in the big busy world. I react and overreact too much. In the warm place that is my kitchen, with memories of the only grandmother I ever knew, I found some peace of mind. I liked it.

Thank you for reading this blog and for sharing your own thoughts and memories. That was one of the great bonuses for me. Many of these recipes will continue to be made and served in my home. I loved the surprises I found along the way and am pleased to say that pie dough no longer intimidates me. The simple pleasures of cooking for those I love is always a gift. I count myself blessed that my grandmother and mother modeled that for me and that they let me help before I could do it myself.

I offer you now, and finally, the recipe for Sand Tarts or Saint Hearts adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

1 cup shortening (I used one stick of butter, 1 stick of margarine)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 to 4 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
Cream shortening and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add flour, salt and baking powder and mix well. Add enough flour to make a medium-soft dough (whatever this means). Chill several hours in the refrigerator. Roll the dough very thin and cut in fancy shapes. Brush top with half and half and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Place on greased cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

Thank you so much for reading.
I wish you peace,
~Ellen ~

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Sweet It Is: Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

"How sweet it is!" I have heard this exclamation from the lips of my father countless times whe he savors the sight, smell and taste of a favorite dessert. Savor is the word. Never have I seen my dad gobble, he can make a slice of pie last 15 minutes. Enjoying each bite, celebrating each tasty morsel and the company of those around him. In this, and in many things, my dad shows us how to live the journey.

Tomorrow we will gather around the table with some new things. New family members, new jobs, and for my father a new diagnosis: brain cancer. Sporting a serious scar and 24 staples in his cranium, Dad is still embracing the moments and savoring the gifts therein. So much is unknown about what lies ahead. Sitting at the head of the table, digesting the information from websites and doctors' reports, Dad suggests we take it one phase at a time. So we will. Celebrating the sweetness to be found in each moment: love, warm hugs, good doctors, soup from friends, prayers offered and a most holy presence lying deep within the soul. Glory Be.

Here is a recipe I want to share for a variation of pumpkin pie. It was found in the margins of Grandma's cookbook. I had to assume or make up some of it as Grandma's instructions were somewhat abbreviated. I hope whatever desserts you enjoy for your Thanksgiving feast taste are thoroughly enjoyed, one bite at a time.

Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

1 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 qt ice cream

Mix above ingredients and pour into graham cracker crust. Freeze until 20 minutes before serving.

With a grateful heart,