Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I pray today, Thomas Merton finding words for my broken tongue:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
(Via Rachel Held Evans.)
I hope those of you on the East Coast will forgive me, but I am trying to think spring.
My sense of the seasons has been turned topsy-turvy. Daffodils in February? Local asparagus at the market already? Those who have been in the area longer than I say that this is unusual, even for California.
I’ll take it as a blessing. I’m in sore need of some beauty, and some warmth.
But for those of you still caught in the jaws of winter, I have a small something to warm and cheer you: a Dutch Apple Pancake. While we Dutch certainly take our pancakes seriously—one of my most vivid memories of my one visit to Holland was sailing through Rotterdam on a Pannenkoekenboot, a pancake boat—this is not one we can claim for our own. The Dutch in the title is more of a Deutsch, and the credit must go to the Germans.
Und die Pfannkuchen sind sehr lecker—zum Fruhstück, Mittagessen, Abendessen, oder wann immer Sie möchten.
It’s raining here today.
The trees are dripping, the pavement slick outside my window. My umbrella hangs from the doorknob, still drying from this morning’s trip into the wet wind. I sit with a cup of tea. It doesn’t help to know that it’s probably twenty degrees colder and icy in Montreal.
It’s cold outside. And I’m cold inside.
When uncertainty looms, it is a blessing to take a bowl and a whisk and stir flours together.
When the sky seems always grey, and loneliness unending, it is a beauty to remember that such homely things as sugar, eggs, oil, can come together, pass through the oven’s heat, and emerge transformed. It is a reminder of order in the midst of chaos. A hand reaching out to you in the slough of despond and reassuring you that there is far more than your worries and fears.
Breathe. Do you remember how you love the smell of vanilla?
Listen. There is an unplanned rhythm to the sigh of your knife through the pecans scattered across your cutting board.
Look. Is there anything quite the colour of dark chocolate? It’s brown almost-blackness, its not-quite shine, its gleam as it melts in the heat of the oven.
It’s been a long sabbath.
Humans must be the only creatures on God’s green earth who need to be reminded to rest.
We race through our days, working at our various tasks. Hydra-like, they multiply, two to-do’s rearing up to take the place of their slain predecessor. We race furiously to the point of exhaustion. I doubt I’m the only one who finds herself mulling on problems of the day long after I’ve told myself to quit. I should have read another article today. Which lines do I have to translate for tomorrow? Maybe I should get up and send that email now, before I forget.
Once in a while, an 18-hour sprint day can be helpful. But for me at least—others may be blessed (or cursed) with hardier constitutions than my own—overworking more than once in a while is a bad, bad idea. I’ll stop doing the things I love. Cooking, reading, making beautiful things, all fall by the wayside. I get too little done, and can’t stop chiding myself.
And then I remember the sabbath.
The mountain’s asleep: its dingle, and rise;
creeping things that the black earth bore,
hillbred beasts, and the hum of the bees.
Strange creatures dream deep in the salt purple sea,
the wide-winged birds slumbering above.
Time to be slow.
You can’t predict the baking itch.
It might hit you in the morning. You open your eyes in the pre-dawn dimness, groggy from sleep and odd dreams involving Latin composition. You can hardly tell which way is up, which down, but you are certain that you should—nay, must get up, turn the oven on, and start making a mess with flour.
It might strike you in the afternoon, as you sit with a cup of tea and a pile of work. Suddenly you realize that something is missing from the arrangement, and that you can only fix the problem with a pan of brownies.
Or it might hit late in the evening, as you stagger home on a Friday from a week of long days and short nights. Suddenly the only thing keeping you from collapsing into a heap of overwork and nerves is the prospect of the aroma of melted chocolate filling your apartment as you curl up on the sofa with a novel.
Whenever the itch descends, brownies are the cure.
I know butternut squash get a lot of the limelight this time of year, but there is such a wide world of winter squash out there. Kabocha, hubbard, acorn, spaghetti, kuri, turban…an astonishing variety of shapes, tastes, textures, all of them worth making friends with. I must say, though, that I was especially excited to find delicata at the the market this week. Dainty and a cheery yellow, delicata squash are so beautiful I am tempted to scatter them around my apartment as seasonal decoration. But then I remember how lovely they taste, and earmark every squash for a recipe.
After a two-week project reorganizing the living room and kitchen, I have my cookbook collection on hand near the galley, rather than hidden away on a shelf in my room. This has prompted me to go on one of my periodic recipe sprees: instead of my normal habit of throwing together a bunch of vegetables in whatever way comes to mind, I’ve been letting other, wiser cooks guide me out of my ruts.
As usual, Heidi Swanson does an excellent job of this, putting together tastes I don’t normally associate in wonderful and inventive ways. Delicata squash, miso, and Thai curry paste? It doesn’t sound as though it would work, but it does, beautifully.
I think everyone must have at least one food that they tend to buy out of a sense of duty. I never need to say to myself, “I ought to eat kale,” or “I really should have mushrooms sometime,” or “Those local strawberries are probably full of antioxidants—I should eat some.”
Beets, now—that’s another story.
I feel I ought, as someone who’s spent a good deal of time on organic farms, and as someone who believes strongly in natural, healthy, veggie-filled food, to like beets. And so I buy them, and they linger in my refrigerator like unconfessed sins. Guilt seeps out of the refrigerator and into the kitchen until I either manage to forget about the beets or throw them into a righteous salad.
Weigh on my conscience no more, ye vibrant root vegetables!
For I have found a way I truly relish beets.To wit: beet hummus.
I will now preach the good news of beets with a new convert’s zeal. Sinners, repent, and spread your beets on crackers!