Advent, first ’21

First weekend of Advent, 2021. Two family birthdays and Thanksgiving Day AND a family tradition of tree hunting & homemade donuts… it was all packed into a handful of days this year. It makes for a good kind of chaos and girding up of the loins for all the celebration. Of course, it was bookended with illness in my home, which just added to both the crazy and the exhaustion… but God’s grace was poured on like the best gravy. This life is a gift, and celebrating the start of a new Church Year is absolutely something to treasure. So we pursue this. We cultivate it. We dig in. And it is very good.

Saturday, 11.27
Family Advent Feast

Menu:
Started with Lindt chocolate truffles and a toast with merlot to King Jesus when we lit the Hope candle
Red Wine Tri Tip Steaks (used this for inspiration, but tweaked it like I always do…)
Mushroom risotto (my daughter loves to make this… but we don’t use a recipe… we just go by method, look, and taste)
Roasted veg (olive oil, s&p, garlic powder, Italian herbs; brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, beets, and red onion)
Garlic pull-apart bread (used this for inspiration, then made it monkey-bread-style using a butter-olive-oil-s&p-crushed-garlic-Italian-herbs mixture for dipping each piece of dough)
Salted Caramel Cheesecake (used this recipe for the most part, but used Nilla wafers for the crust. And added a fat pinch of sea salt to each layer of this, because DUH. Extra pink salt in the caramel as well.)

Readings:
Every Moment Holy, liturgy for the start of the Christmas season
Isaiah 9:2-7
Poem, Advent Calendar by Rowan Williams

Carols:
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Savior of the Nations, Come
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Kids’ Gift:
Stratego, 1986 version

Sunday, 11.28
First Sunday of Advent

Menu:
Creamy tomato soup (in my instant pot)
Grilled cheese sandwiches (36 of them, sliced into halves)
Green salad with balsamic vinaigrette
Sliced honeycrisp apples
Double chocolate brownies with toffee & sprinkles on top

Rested with:
Fellowship with friends
Honoring my husband’s birthday
Sharing a meal
Disposable dishes
Playing Fishbowl with all ages
Handel’s Messiah on CD
Singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel in harmony

Journey Bread

I have been baking bread for my family since I was pregnant with Gabriel… that’s a good nine years of healthy, delicious, economical goodness right there. I have come up with a couple different staple recipes that I can whip up easily and consistently. My typical loaf bread includes whole wheat (ground right in my mama’s basement), oats, cornmeal, honey, and extra goodies like flax and millet when I can manage it. I call this Family Bread and it’s basically our daily fare (not that we eat bread every day, but you get what I mean). Then I came up with something I call Canaan Bread which includes milk, honey, olive oil, sea salt, and potato flakes ~ it is our special occasion bread that makes light, fluffy loaves or rolls worthy of being related to the promised land!

This year for Christmas gifts, I have been baking up bread (three loaves at a time) to deliver to neighbors and friends. It is a little more practical than some options, and honestly it seems like folks are genuinely pleased to have a healthier alternative to cookie plates (although really, if you want to bring one to MY house, none of us would mind!). I made pretty labels for the loaves, including Scripture from John 6.

Jesus said, “This is the work of God;
that you believe in Him whom He has sent…
For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world…
I am the Bread of Life;
whoever comes to Me shall not hunger…
For this is the will of My Father,
that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him
shall have eternal life…

John 6:29, 33, 35, 40

Plus, for our neighbors (whether they have a relationship with Christ, we don’t know), I tied a copy of the current Our Daily Bread issue to the bottom of the loaf.

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I have had the kids each take turns helping me bake the bread on different days. Today was Evangeline’s day to help bake bread.We were going to make my Canaan Bread today, so we could deliver some loaves to friends tomorrow morning at a playdate… with a couple little tweaks, because I added some sourdough starter I’d had proofing and decided to toss in some whole wheat too…

Evangeline helped me put honey, milk, warm water, olive oil, sourdough starter, dry active yeast, and whole wheat flour in a bowl. We let it rest and proof while we ate breakfast (Mommy poured a cup of coffee, but only got one sip in… hmm… red flag anyone?) and read our Bible and Advent lessons for the day. Then Evangeline and I returned to our baking project. It may have looked like just a gloppy mess but oh! It bubbled beautifully and smelled so yeasty and sour and rich! I love that part of the process so much.

We added sea salt, quick oats, potato flakes, and high gluten bread flour, and got the dough hook working on the kneading process for us.
Everything was going smoothly, it seemed, while Evangeline manned the controls on the side of my KitchenAid mixer. Gabriel was practicing piano, Asher was working on a math page & singing at the top of his lungs, and Simeon was fussing at my feet so I picked him up & snuggled him on my hip. But the gluten didn’t seem to be developing properly because the texture of the dough was not getting stretchy and smooth. Evangeline wanted so badly to jump ahead to the part where she gets to punch down the dough and knead it into a loaf shape! I wanted so badly to gulp down my cup of coffee! But frustration was mounting, because clearly our bread was not verging on the bliss of Promised Land today.

In a Hail Mary fashion, I decide to crack an egg into the mixing bowl and let it get worked into the dough… but in the process of trying to stop the machine with a preschooler on a stool and a baby on my hip… attempting to crack the egg with one hand (because there are times, yes, where I can manage to pull off cool tricks like that… hah! thank you, Food Network and The Chew…)… my elbow knocks down a cup of flour and I accidentally crack the egg onto the floor.

Oops.
That’s right; I totally could have grabbed a fork and started whipping up a batch of egg noodles right on my kitchen floor…
You know, if it weren’t covered in dog hair and coffee grounds (and the bowl of Cheerios the baby threw on the ground).
Because in all honesty, my plan WAS to vacuum after the bread was in the oven!

For some reason, it seemed smart to plop the baby down on the floor so I could grab a spatula and a roll of paper towels… but of course the pile of flour and ooey gooey raw egg on the floor looked entirely enticing…
So yes, my 14 month old makes a bee line for the mess!
Meanwhile, imagine the loud piano combining with a kindergartener’s version of silly math songs pounding in your ears…
and just to top it off, my daughter jumps off the stool and tries to lend a hand with keeping her little brother away from the mess…

In one of my less glorious motherhood moments, I yell at the baby “no no! no touch!” and holler at my daughter to back away, and follow it up with a quick shout to the boys to be quiet so I can think straight about how to clean up this mess!
Yep.
That’s me.
Mom of the year.
Trying super hard to do my best at training my kids up in a Christ-centered, home-centered, family-centered, grace-centered home education.
Let’s just say, it’s a good thing I don’t have things like Pinterest and Instagram because you would not see a picture perfect snippet of me this morning.

I got the mess cleaned off the floor, shot off a few frenzied texts to my husband, and started to laugh at the whole situation.

I mean, really.
And all of a sudden I realize that my Canaan Bread is really much more like the 40 years in the wilderness today! It was punctuated with fussing, hunger, noise, frustration, faith to believe what I can not see, and me trying to take matters into my own hands when it’s not going exactly according to my picture-perfect-plans. That’s when I named today’s bread Journey Bread.

What I needed was grace. Saving grace. I needed cleansing waters and leaven for the lump.
I gulped down some coffee and took some deep breaths while I considered these things.
Then I had my daughter crack an egg into the bowl (yes, yolk & white successfully made it into the bowl this time) while I dissolved a bit more yeast into warm water, honey, and bread flour. Finally, we got it all kneading together and it was obvious that the glutens were developing properly now.

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We were beginning to see the fruit of our labors coming back together, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the previous antics.
I even had to text my grandma, asking her about her own memories from motherhood. I know the days can be long but the years are short. I know that babies don’t keep. And I want to know what a great-grandma recalls from her own motherhood journey decades later. What parts do I take pictures of? What snippets do I write down?
Do I just want to remember the weekly ritual of baking bread with my kids?
Do I want to remember the prettily packaged loaves we delivered to friends and neighbors while it snowed?
Do I want to remember the spilled flour and the egg I cracked onto the floor?
Do I want to remember the cacophony of crazy noise and the scramble to figure out how to clean the mess, protect the children (from the horrors of possible salmonella, of course, haha), regain my sanity, and rescue the dough before it completely flops?

All my grandma responded with was I wish I could remember more of those years!!
She didn’t say which parts she remembers. She simply shared her longing to remember what the years held.

I don’t only want to remember the picturesque moments. I want to remember living life.
I want to remember the journey. To remember God’s faithfulness even when I fussed (and when the children did too).
Something we love about Scripture, about the Gospel, is that we get to see the narrative including the tensions. It doesn’t let us just skip to the end and see how it all turns out in the New Jerusalem. Nope. It’s about the journey. Faith. Saving grace. Clinging to what we know and asking God to clean us up because we keep making messes out of things.

And you know what? It is good to laugh at myself. To revel in good things like noisy kids and a messy kitchen.
It is good to send frenzied texts to my husband… he needs snippets of what my days are like so he can more fully appreciate what he comes home to at the end of a day… right? :)

Oh my word – it’s a day! I may have been trying to bake bread with our daughter, while holding Simeon in one arm and cracking an egg with one hand… I just might have knocked a bunch of flour on the floor at the same time I cracked the egg onto to the floor instead of into the bowl…I might’ve totally tweaked my neck while trying to clean up the mess and keep the kids away from it…
This. Is. My. Life.

Bless him, my husband responded, “and I don’t know how you do it.”
To which I promptly admitted three little worlds: massage & coffee & wine.
And to top off the morning of laughing at myself, I added,
Oh. Probably should’ve been “Jesus” & “God” & “Grace” but you know… #realitycheck

Homemade Yogurt

I don’t remember exactly how long I have been making yogurt… but it’s been a couple of years now I think. We go through so much yogurt in our household each week that this is a really good way for me to save money for my family! Like with bread, this is something healthy & delicious I can make easily & economically from scratch as a way to bless my family. Recently, some dear friends of mine were asking how to make yogurt, and I thought it was a good opportunity to document it in pics and writing, rather than just in a spoken method. 🙂

Plain Easy Yogurt

Begin with a gallon of milk. I don’t buy organic, raw, or anything special.
I buy straight-up common milk (usually 2%) in a jug at the grocery store. That’s what makes this so economical:
I get 4 quarts of yogurt for about $2.80
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To start, dump the entire gallon of milk in a large pot.
Stick a candy thermometer in there to monitor the temperature for you.
With the stove on med-high, heat the milk to roughly 185*F.

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Stir it around occasionally (using the thermometer), but try not to scrape the bottom of the pot
because you will scrape around bits of milk that adhere to the pot during the heating process
which makes the end result of yogurt grainy.
But I do sometimes scoop off the film that forms on top of the milk, and toss it in the sink.
Generally speaking, I make yogurt in the morning while I’m feeding the kids breakfast,
doing Bible with them, and washing dishes; it’s very easy in that way
to simply stay nearby and keep my eye on things.
(But that’s not to say I’ve never lost track and let it boil over all. over. the. stove.)

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I don’t do anything special to prepare my jars.
I figure they have been sterilized well enough in the dishwasher…
so I simply line up my wide-mouth quart jars on the counter
along with screw on plastic lids (although you’ll see in these pics I used a metal rim on one).

You’ll also notice that on this particular day, I was making more than a gallon
so I have six quart jars lined up.
It just means that I adjusted proportions so my milk to yogurt ratio
was still appropriate.

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Once the milk reaches roughly 185*F, turn off the stove and remove the pot from the heat.
Now is the part that sometimes makes me impatient. 🙂
Wait for the milk to cool down to 120*F.
This waiting usually gives me ample time to do other housework,
homeschooling, or kitchen projects… I’ve never timed it though!
~…~…~

Upon reaching 120*F, once again lift the film off the top of the warm milk and toss it.
This is the point where you need yogurt starter: 8oz (a cup) of a previous batch.
When I made my first batch of yogurt, I used a single serving cup
of vanilla Tillamook yogurt.
I just wanted to use one that was as natural as possible
that was clearly labeled as having live active cultures.

Just dump your yogurt started into the warm milk and whisk it around,
without scraping the sides or bottom of the pot
(again, to avoid a grainy end result).

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Now you need to pour the yogurt-milk into the jars.
I have a steady enough arm to couple with a pot that doesn’t drip when I pour from it,
so I do not use any kind of funnel.
But you just figure out what works for you
to get it poured nicely into the jars.
Don’t cry over spilled milk! 😉

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Screw the lids on nice and tight.
You can see here that you don’t have to fill the jars to an exact science.
The one with the metal rim isn’t quite as full as the others.
It did just fine though.

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There is something so thrilling about jars full to the brim
of something delicious.
I feel this way about jam and pickles too.
Glass jars make me so happy!

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This is the fun part. 🙂
Put your jars in a cooler,
and run water from your tap until it reaches 120*F…

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…and then let the warm water fill the cooler
until it’s at least halfway up the sides of the jars.
It’s okay if it gets on top of the jars, too.
Sometimes I have a pint in there with some of the quarts,
so the water basically goes to the very top of the pint.

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Now while you let those happy little yogurt bugs take dominion
and reproduce in the warm milk,
just leave the cooler closed and left alone for at least 6 hours.
Go about your day!

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After 6 hours or so (I promise, it’s very flexible!),
take the jars out of the cooler,
dry them off,
empty the cooler,
dry it out…

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…and put the jars in the fridge.
By the next morning, it will all be solidified
and beautifully tangy & creamy.

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We eat it plain!
We eat it with a drizzle of honey!
We eat it with a dollop of homemade jam!

~…~…~
Here or there, on a train and in the rain, on a boat and with a goat…
we do so like our homemade yogurt, we would eat it anywhere!
We love it, and hope you do too.

Pi Day

For March 14th, I embraced my inner geek and surprised my hubby with pies.

It was, indeed, a happy Pi day. Turkey pot pie, followed by pecan pie. Delish.

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Another Round of Freezer Meal Bags

Once my freezer supply dwindles, we may try to make another round of those “dump bags” for freezer-to-crockpot cooking. Not sure if we will need it before baby is born, or if I will wait until after he arrives. But here are a few more recipes I plan to sift through and choose from, and if we particularly love any of the ones we did last week (which we have not delved into yet), we may revisit a couple as well. Just thought I would share some of these while it is fresh on my mind, in case it is a blessing to anyone who stumbles upon this conversation here. 🙂

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Chicken Potato Casserole

 In gallon Ziploc: 3 large chicken breasts, three large potatoes in big cubes, one sliced onion, 1 can mushroom soup, 1 tsp pepper, 1 chicken bouillon cube.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag into crockpot. Sprinkle one package of stuffing mix on top, and drizzle with ½ cup melted butter & 1 ½ cups water. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Lemon Pepper Chicken and Rice

In gallon Ziploc (in this order): 1 ½ cups brown rice, 2 cups frozen green beans, 1 cup baby carrots, 1 onion quartered, 4 large chicken breasts, 2 Tblsp butter, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp lemon pepper, 1 sliced lemon, 2 cups water, 1 chicken bouillon cube.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Slit the bottom of the bag and dump it in bottom-first for best results. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

 

Beans and Rice

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1 ½ cups wild or brown rice, ½ onion diced, 1 can pinto beans, 1 can kidney beans, 2 ½ cups chicken broth, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4 hours. Serve with green salad.

 

Sweet Cashew Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1 ½ cups brown rice, 2 cups broccoli crowns, ½ onion diced, ¾ cup cashews, 4 chicken breasts, 1 can diced pineapple.
Label: Thaw in fridge overnight. Dump into crockpot. Add 2 cups water. Cook on low for 6 hours.

 

Cheesy Chicken and Rice

1 ½ cups rice, 3 cups water, 2 bouillon cubes, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 16oz frozen broccoli, 3 chicken breasts, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp pepper, 1 cup grated cheddar cheese.
Label: Thaw in fridge overnight. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

 

Sweet and Sour Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: ½ cup tomato sauce, 2 Tblsp brown sugar 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 bouillon cube, 1 can pineapple chunks, 1lb chopped chicken, 2 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. grated ginger, 1 onion chopped, 1 bag frozen peppers, 1 bag frozen snap peas.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 8 hours. Serve over rice.

 

Mongolian Beef

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb stew meat, 3 tsp oil, 1 onion sliced, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ½ cup soy sauce, ½ cup water, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ tsp fresh grated ginger, ½ cup hoisin sauce.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with green onions and rice.

 

Chicken Cacciatore

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb chopped chicken, 1 chopped bell pepper, 1 cup sliced mushrooms, ½ chopped onion, 2 tsp minced garlic, 28oz crushed tomatoes, ½ cup chicken brother, 1 tsp oregano, ¼ cup chopped basil leaves, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6 hours. Serve over egg noodles.

 

Lemon Garlic Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts, 3 Tblsp lemon juice, 3 Tblsp parsley flakes, ¼ cup olive oil, 3 tsp minced garlic.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with potatoes or pasta, and a nice salad.

 

Broccoli Beef

In gallon Ziploc: 1 ½ lb flank steak thinly sliced, 1 cup beef broth, 2/3 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 Tblsp sesame oil, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ¼ tsp red pepper flakes.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 5 hours. Add 4 cups broccoli florets and a slurry of 2 Tblsp cornstarch + 2 Tblsp cold water. Cook another 30 minutes. Serve over rice.

 

Cilantro Lime Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts, 1/3 cup lime juice, 1 bunch chopped cilantro, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, ½ red onion chopped, 1 can black beans, 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred meat and serve on warmed tortillas.

 

Easy Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts cut in strips, 16oz frozen broccoli, 1 large green pepper chopped, 32oz jarred alfredo sauce.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Serve over pasta.

 

Hawaiian Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 chicken breasts, ½ cup sugar, ½ cup vinegar, 2 Tblsp minced garlic, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 can pineapple chunks + juice.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-7 hours. Shred. Serve over rice, topped with mandarin oranges and cashews.

 

Creamy Italian Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts, 8oz softened cream cheese, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 packet dry Italian seasoning.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Serve with pasta and salad.

 

Honey Rosemary Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 4 chicken breasts cubed, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, 4 Tblsp chopped rosemary, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans.

 

Thai Peanut Pork

In gallon Ziploc bag: 2 lb pork tenderloin cubed, ½ cup salsa, ¼ cup peanut butter, 3 Tblsp lime juice, 3 Tblsp soy sauce, 3 Tblsp water, 2 Tblsp ginger, ¼ cup sugar, 3 tsp minced garlic.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6 hours. Serve over rice noodles or rice, topped with green onions and crushed nuts.

 

Beer Orange Chicken

In gallon Ziploc bag: 1lb chicken breasts, 12oz beer, 12oz OJ concentrate, 3Tblsp minced garlic, 1 ½ tsp basil, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper.
Label: Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump into crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with salad and potatoes.

 

Potato Soup

Note: this potato soup is not a very freezer-friendly meal (texture breaks down), so I would do this as a fridge-or-fresh meal.
In gallon Ziploc bag: 3 ½ cups peeled & diced potatoes, 1/3 cup diced celery, 1/3 cup chopped onion, 1 cup diced cooked ham, 3 ½ cups water, 2 bouillon cubes, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 2 cups milk, 1 cup cheddar cheese.
Label: Keep in fridge up to a week. Dump in crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir in 1 cup sour cream before serving. Delish topped with chives, cheese, bacon crumbles, etc.

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Pregnant with a Rainbow, Part IV

Let me preface this by saying with my physical, medical, immunological problems, we have learned that we have to be proactive about either pursuing or preventing pregnancy. (This is obviously a big can of worms to open up in such a public place as a blog on the worldwide web. But I guess I’m feeling no holds barred these days or something.) We have had to learn this the hard way, and there is a big part of me that has long wished I could just be one of those women who could “have a surprise” ~ I did have a surprise once, with my very first little darling, and it was truly magnificent. I will always be thankful that God gave me that gift.

Now that we know some of the intricacies and eccentricities of my body, and particularly how it connects to my womb, we know that part of what the Lord has entrusted to us is a responsibility to be particularly proactive about hedging our procreation with wisdom & diligence. My husband is called to be our protector, and God has given him some unique places where he needs to protect his wife and his children, and we continue to seek the Lord’s wisdom in how to follow Him in this.

But this all does actually tie back into where I was planning to go… which is to my freezer. Funny but true.

When I know there is pregnancy as a possibility on the horizon, I go out of my way to pack my freezer full of freezer meals. (I do like to have 6 to 12 freezer meals in there regardless, though, because it is always nice to have a buffer for myself or also in case someone I know suddenly needs a meal. But since this is a PAL post, I will leave my focus there.) I figure one way or the other, the Lord will be giving me an opportunity to stay away from the kitchen ~ either I will miscarry, and the heavy burden of grief and the physical ramifications of that will keep me from cooking for a few weeks, or I will be facing morning sickness, and the glories of that blessing will keep me from cooking well for a few weeks or months as well.

I can’t really explain what a gift it was to have filled my freezer last winter, and to drain its supply this year due to months of morning sickness. What a humbling gift and amazing blessing!

This time, my thick blanket of morning sickness lifted by about 17 weeks or so, and I was able to be back in the kitchen much of the time. But then restricted activity was prescribed at 19 weeks, and now well into my third trimester I have had to remain on partial bedrest. This has been quite the journey. A couple weeks ago we even stocked up on premade freezer meals from Costco! Which says a lot about how far God has brought me on the tough journey of letting go and lowering my usual standard of things that are so majorly tied into my line of work ~ cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, showing hospitality… wow, the Lord has given me some great challenges, and I have kicked at the goads of letting go, but He is so wise and tender and has really shown me just how sweet it is to actually do what He is asking of me.

But using fresh ingredients and making meals from scratch has long been a huge part of my career as well as my passion & love.
So a couple days ago, I found some recipes online geared specifically toward ziploc-to-freezer-to-crockpot meals, and just after I had chosen half a dozen or so recipes and was about to put together a grocery list to fill in some gaps (although I mostly did try to find recipes that would utilize things already in my pantry and freezer stashes of staple ingredients), I checked my email… and there was a note from a sweet friend of mine who wanted to know if she could stop by for a visit after work one day this week ~ including an offer to help with something practical around my home… and my heart swelled & my eyes filled with happy tears. It was the perfect timing, and an obvious gift from God.

Tuesday evening brought some additional ingredients which were piled onto the kitchen island, and Wednesday afternoon brought a delightful visit from a friend who shared in encouraging conversation and put her hands to diligent work to bless my family. I stayed mostly parked on a stool in the kitchen while she did the hard work on her feet of doing the chopping, the washing, the brunt of it all ~ I did the little piddly parts like labeling, measuring spices, etc.

And now my freezer has 14 new freezer meals packed onto a shelf!

What a gift that God works out details in such sweet ways. Food is one of the best ways we serve our families and love one another. Feeding my husband and my children well is a passion of mine. And feeding myself is one way that I am feeding Sweet Teen, and one of the best ways to help him grow. Having all the prep for these meals done without physically demanding anything of my body during a time where my feet need to be up for the majority of the days is such a blessing.

So let me share the seven recipes with you that my friend Laura and I put together yesterday in about 2 1/2 hours while we talked and laughed together. I just might have to rope her into coming and doing it again with me in another month, if my family goes through this shelf of freezer meals before the baby comes. Or maybe we’ll do it again after he’s born, because honestly I don’t plan on doing much of anything except snuggling my rainbow baby for two months after he is in my arms!!

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Veggie Beef Stew

1lb cubed stew meat 1 diced onion, 1 cup sliced carrots, 1 can green beans, 1 cup frozen peas, 1 sliced parsnip, 1 cubed rutabaga, 1 cup red wine, 2 beef bouillon cubes.
Combine all ingredients in gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes and/or with rolls.”

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Asian Orange Beef

2 1/2lb chuck roast, zest & juice from one large orange, 2 Tblsp brown sugar, 3 Tblsp rice wine vinegar, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp grated ginger root, 1/4 cup chopped green onion.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice with broccoli.”

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Cranberry Mustard Pork

2 1/2lb pork butt, 2 cups cranberries, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 Tblsp dijon mustard 1 diced onion, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, zest & juice from one large orange.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve with roasted potatoes and veg.”

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Ginger Peach Chicken

1lb chicken thighs, 1 cup peach jam, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 inch ginger freshly grated, 1 1/2 tsps minced garlic.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over brown rice with salad or snow peas.”

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Honey Sesame Chicken

1 1/2lb chicken thighs, 1 diced onion, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp oil, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice & peas.
Top with chopped green onions, sesame seeds, and sliced almonds.”

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BBQ Chicken

1lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, 1 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp brown sugar, 1 Tblsp chili powder, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp yellow mustard, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp curry powder.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over rolls or rice with green salad and fruit.”

~…~…~…~

Chicken Chili

1lb diced chicken, 1 chopped onion, 1 can black beans, 1 can white beans, 1 can Rotel, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 cup sliced frozen peppers, 2 cups frozen corn, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp paprika, 2 Tblsp chili powder, 1 Tblsp cumin, 2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, and tortilla chips.”

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Yesterday, we made two of each of the above recipes. I also have two dinners’ worth of beef chili, one pan of enchiladas, one gluten free cheese pizza, and a couple other “surprise” dishes (that apparently I forgot to label…) on my freezer meal shelf. My sister in law gave us a freezer meal of pulled pork sandwiches, half of which is still in there.

Never underestimate the power of food, and the blessing it is to a family in need to surprise them with something for their freezer for that “rainy day.” Sometimes even rainbow pregnancies have their own host of rainy days where nothing blesses quite like a meal ~ whether hot or in the freezer.

If you have recipes (or links to recipes) that would fit the easy-freezer-meal bill, please share them in the comments!

It’s about what works for your guests, your family,
the people you love and have welcomed around your table.
It’s not about what will look great on Pinterest or Instagram later.
It’s about loving the people in your life
by gathering them close into the private space of your home,
about giving them soft places to land in hard seasons,
about meeting their needs for food, for listening, for peace, for rest.

~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p278~

Easter Lessons

This year, we went out of our way to do a few more hands-on lessons and Easter preparations with the children. The older they get, of course the more they grasp ~ and it is delightful to hear their own 6, 3, and 2 year old sized insights into why we do the things we do.

On Good Friday, rather than doing our normal homeschooling routine, while the little ones had individual room time (learning to play on their own for a solid hour is a good skill to learn), Gabriel helped me clean the house. We washed windows, cleaned bathrooms, swept floors, mopped floors, did laundry, washed dishes, wiped down cupboards. And while we worked together, we talked about why we were working so hard, and why is this what we chose to do on Good Friday. When I asked Gabriel what he thought, he paused in thought, then profoundly said, “Well, today is the day we remember the whole reason why Jesus came. He came to clean our hearts. So I guess that’s why we should clean our home.” I wanted to just stop the conversation right there, and leave it at that ~ because my kid gets SO much of the Gospel story, and I love hearing his perspective on it. It’s beautiful. But we went on to talk about how Jesus served others, even though He was King of all. We talked about “our people” ~ and who are our neighbors. Gabriel even asked if he could wash my feet when we were done cleaning, because he wanted to bless me and serve me like Jesus.

But I hate to admit, I forgot about the feet-washing, because by the time we were done cleaning the house, the little ones were ready to be done with solitary playtime, and we needed to move on to the phase of dirtying things back up again. Funny how we do that in my line of work: we clean things up so we can make them dirty again!

So after a little lunch, Evangeline was ready for a nap, and the boys & I got out supplies for some crafts that would hold more lessons.

We had already dyed Easter eggs with Grandmama, Auntie, and cousins, complete with super sweet and thoughtful conversations about the metaphors, symbolism, and just plain fun of the tradition. My children and I have talked numerous times this week about the symbolism we can see in the eggs… how they symbolize the rock which closed the tomb, but new life can spring forth from it… how we can take plain eggs and give them new clothing, as we do when we take on new life in Christ… how the yolk in a cracked egg can symbolize the glorious light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dark tomb when He burst forth in glorious array…
Click here to read about Easter Egg traditions throughout the life of the Church, following the Lenten season. Even plain old Wikipedia had some great thought-provoking things about Easter Eggs, or Paschal Eggs. And for some fun nuances on Easter Egg traditions, click here and have some fun with the kids in your life.

Romans 6:4
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death,
in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might walk in newness of life.

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Thanks to Ann Voskamp’s diligent sharing each and every year, I finally felt like my boys were old enough this year to really grasp & enjoy a couple more unique & detailed hands-on projects.

First we had a snack of nuts and figs, while we made a crown of thorns (using a small grapevine wreath and a few dozen coffee-stained toothpicks) and talked a lot about the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Three year old Asher was nearly in tears (I love how his forehead crinkles and his chin quivers when he feels genuine sorrow), talking about Jesus being tortured, bleeding, and dying. He finally smiled again when I reminded Him that this was why Jesus came, and this is how He worked to save US from OUR sins. And in his sweet little voice, Asher proclaimed, “I sure love Jesus, Mommy.”

Matthew 27:29
…twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head…

Mark 15:17
…twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on Him.

John 19:2, 5
And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe. So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.

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Next we went out on to the back porch and put together our own little Gethsemane. Using a small moss planter (I used this, and don’t let the word “large” fool you!), we filled it with soil. Then we set our tomb carved in the rock in the corner of the garden (I found that aquarium accessories could offer some neat options, like this cichlid stone), before filling the rest of the garden with plants. We used some little succulents we got at a local store along with some pretty decorative moss, and then Gabriel used small smooth stones to make a little pathway through the garden to the tomb. Last of all, the boys went on a stone hunt outside to find something that would serve as a tomb cover.

John 19:41
Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

Luke 23:55-56
The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid.Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

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On Good Friday, we used last week’s palm branches and our homemade crown of thorns to decorate our dinner table, when we ate lamb and roasted vegetables and matzo ball soup, along with the Seder plate with all  its elements and plenty of wine.

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Our kitchen island was cleared of all other decorations, and that is where we laid our own little Gethsemane. On Friday evening we closed up the tomb. On Saturday morning we found a little soldier to keep guard outside the tomb. And the children looked forward to seeing what would come of it on Sunday morning.

Matthew 27:59-60, 66
And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. … So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

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Come Sunday morning, the children came downstairs to find the guard fallen down, the stone moved away, and a piece of linen folded inside the tomb.

Matthew 28:2-8
And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.”So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.

Luke 24:1-12
…On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”And they remembered His words,and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

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They found a table set for a beautiful little breakfast. Fruit salad, hard boiled eggs with sea salt, mimosas, Easter story cookies, and Easter tomb rolls (the kids had helped me make those all on Saturday, which was really wonderful). Candles and music and the excited rush of gathering and eating and praising God together, singing Christ The Lord Is Risen Today. Gifts for each one at their place ~ books and chocolates.

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Once the morning feasting was done, it came time to don our Easter clothing (clothing is hugely metaphorical and meaningful in Scripture and the history of the Church) ~ even the Easter sermon mentioned this, because we had three baptisms during the service and these Scriptures were emphasized.

Ephesians 4:17-24
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self,which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:12-17
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Galatians 3:27
 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

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And so we got dressed in new matchy-matchy clothes (and my heart ached in all the heaviest and bestest of ways, because I have been given a family to clothe, and children who can wear sickeningly matchy outfits!), and talked about putting on Christ, putting off our old selves, putting on the new self in newness of life and the beauty of holiness, putting on love above all other things.

And then? Then the party really started. Gabriel pointed out, “there sure is a lot of joy around church and everywhere today!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. Because isn’t that just exactly, precisely the way it should be?! May the joy of the gospel, and of the Resurrected Christ, and of the hope He has given His people, shed forth from your homes, your families, your churches, and your wanderings until He comes again and everything is made new and all is set right.

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To the glory of the Father, amen. Allelulia!

Sharp Regard

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At the root of many a woman’s failure to become a great cook
lies her failure to develop of a workmanlike regard for knives.
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p56~

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Properly edged and skillfully used,
a cleaver will prepare whole meals without the assistance of another knife.
But it does more.
It bolsters your ego as a cook.
Parting chickens with aplomb, you begin to believe you really might make it.
And so does everyone else.
A woman with cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman.
She breaks upon the eye of the beholder as an epiphany of power,
as mistress of a house in which only trifles may be trifled with—
and in which she defines the trifles.
A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers
has not seen all that women have to offer.
Unsuspected majesties await him.
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p61~

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Blessed is the woman whose husband surreptitiously touches up her knives
It may cost her a few surprise cuts now and then, but they are a small price for perfection.
Thrice blessed, though, is the woman who does the job herself.
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p61~

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Goodness Rising & Multiplying

Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness,
ordained for a continual remembrance that
the world will always be more delicious than it is useful.
Necessity is the mother only of clichés.
It takes playfulness to make poetry.

~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p40~

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Courtesy of one of my hubby’s coworkers a couple weeks ago, that’s a little peek at some of the yummy goodness that I sent to Steven’s office to cheer the hard laborers there. I like to send goodies every so often (I would like to do it at least monthly, but my brain & my follow-through is not always up to par with my desire!) But I am kind of well known there for my cinnamon rolls. A few years ago, I tried this recipe and now I just have my own sort of recipe (guidelines, really…) in my head, and I just make them from my own memory, and with my own intuition, using my own five senses. And honestly, while I did not grow up liking cinnamon rolls all that well (even though my mother totally rocks at them!!), I do miss these cinnamon rolls on my low-sugar, gluten-free diet. It is the sugar, the gluten, and the way the yeast rises in glorious goodness that makes these the cinnamony delights that they are.

Don’t go easy on the butter, don’t forget to use a heavy hand with sugar and cinnamon, and don’t mess with the flour ~ gluten free or freshly ground whole wheat, for instance? Umm NOPE. Don’t even bother. Don’t waste your time. If you aren’t going to indulge in the best cinnamon rolls in the world, then don’t even try to ease in around the edges. Some things have to be full fat, full sugar, full gluten. And these are definitely a solid case in point.

I had signed up to bring coffee hour snacks following yesterday morning’s worship service. It’s funny how different groups of folks can be. (Yes, little rabbit trail: oblige me, please.) At our old church, it was practically like pulling teeth & twisting people’s arms to bring enough food for stuff, or to bring generous quantity to supply all the grumbly bellies & grabby hands. At our new church? People might not necessarily sign up in advance, but they show up with abandon! There are always leftovers. There is always enough for seconds, thirds, and sending leftovers home with people who might need extra food in their hands later. The way these folks bring to life real examples of loaves & fishes multiplying in real tangible ways, with joy and humility and thankfulness… cups overflowing… brings tears to my eyes. It is life-giving.

So as far as I knew, I was the only one who had signed up to bring food for the coffee hour yesterday, and I wanted to be a blessing. My mother has long blessed people with food, and that is one way I delight in following closely in her footsteps. (Someone needs a meal? We’re having a potluck? People are coming over? I’m there!) I was raised in that you always bring twice as much food as you think you might need, because there is no blessing like the blessing of superabundant delicious food. So I made six dozen cinnamon rolls on Saturday. (That’s a double batch, in my book, in case you’re wondering.) I bought two big bags of gala apples to slice, and six pounds of easy-peel mandarin oranges. I put together a plate of sliced cheese with spirals of crackers. I had a package of rice crackers and a small gluten free coffee cake, to boot, because I am not the only one at our church who needs to eat gluten free out of necessity (you know, rather than fad).

Even just what I brought could have fed one hundred people, easily. But then other people showed up, arms full of edible blessings. Someone brought two dozen more freshly baked cinnamon rolls! Someone brought a few dozen Easter cookies fresh from a bakery, just the way the kids dream of. There were donuts and pastries that someone dropped off. And all of a sudden, coffee hour became a festive party. Afterward, we were able to package some things up for the freezer so that in other weeks we will once again have lots of goodies at church over which to have conversations about everything from the weather to Bible studies to childrearing to book collecting. And a few people went home with bags of leftover apples and oranges, handfuls of cookies, and cinnamon rolls to stash away for an afternoon snack. I’m pretty sure nobody needed to go eat lunch after that.

I was thinking back, upon looking at all that multiplication of food, how it just showed up naturally without anyone twisting arms or begging for people to provide it, and what a metaphor of God’s grace and miraculous handiwork it is. He may have provided it through fairly predictable, human means… but He still provided it, and He still showed His grace & handiwork through it. It reminds us of other times when His provision was not predictable, and when His handiwork was miraculous & physically inexplicable rather than common or ordinary.

Mark 6:41-43
And taking the five loaves and the two fish,
[Jesus] looked up to heaven and said a blessing
and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people.
And He divided the two fish among them all.
And they all ate and were satisfied.
And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.

As I look back on the baking of my cinnamon rolls, which was a very ordinary way God worked to provide food for people ~ through a woman’s hands working common ingredients together in a formulaic manner ~ I can also see another metaphor of God’s goodness and work. I think of the beauty and the wonder of leavening. Of little tiny yeasts (which are single-celled fungi, isn’t that delightful? read more here) that grow and produce bubbles, by eating sugar and producing carbon dioxide, and cause many wonderful changes in the lump they use for life. Scripture talks a lot about bad leaven (the leaven of the Pharisees, for instance), but Jesus also taught us about good leaven (in the parable of Matthew 13).

Matthew 13:33
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven
that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour,
till it was all leavened.”

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Watching my dough double and rise until it flopped over the edge of the bowls in the warming oven… rolling it out, smothering it with buttery & sugary & spicy goodness, rolling it again & slicing it up into pretty little round pinwheels… then watching it puff and rise again… oh! It is such an encouraging thing, and reminds me so much of God’s good works. In the dark, in the moist places, when the dough has been pounded and kneaded hard, and left for a while to rest and be on its own… amazing things happen not because I can follow recipes and not because I did things right, but because God is gracious. And even when God in His terrifying holiness seems so categorically unpredictable, He is yet predictable!! He is always gracious, always good, always benevolent and magnanimous! And those of you who know me, know that I don’t say that through rosy colored glasses or eyes of ignorant bliss. I have felt the terrible hand of the Lord. I have been pounded hard, kneaded long, and left in dark places. But this is precisely where so much beautiful rising and multiplying happens. Because the Lord is gracious, He continues to further His kingdom in me, through me, and even in spite of myself.

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What mercy!

A man’s daily meal ought to be
an exultation over the smack of desirability
which lies at the roots of creation.
To break real bread is to break the loveless hold of hell upon the world,
and, by just that much, to set the secular free.

~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p115~

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So next time you too put together water, milk, fat, honey, salt, flour, and yeast ~ when you smother it with the fatness of creamy butter and the deliciousness of sweet sugar and pungent cinnamon ~ think about the work God accomplishes even in you. I imagine that you, like me, can see how we fit into the description of even a humble cinnamon roll meant to be ripped apart and enjoyed and shared and prayed over and devoured. I am mixed, kneaded, pounded, left, punched down, smothered in goodness, rolled tightly, sliced into pieces, left again, and heated by an uncontrollable fire, and at last slathered with a thick layer of even more fatty sugary goodness simply because God likes to pour grace on top of grace… and why? Because it blesses my King, gives delight to my Creator, and feeds others around me.

Because God is glorious.

Because sometimes He works through ordinary, common, daily means.

Because sometimes He wants us to smile, and simply see Him in things like rising dough and multiplying food.

Because this is where the Gospel meets the edible.

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And it’s good.

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Sous Chefs

Gabriel made muffins by himself for the first time last week, complete with doubling the recipe which meant adding fractions.
I love how he wears my childhood apron, and how he made himself a chef’s hat to complete the uniform.

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Asher and Evangeline continue to delight in chopping veggies and herbs for dinner prep, measuring grains and water into pots, and wiping counters & setting tables.

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These little people are positively a delight. And goodness! they are becoming downright helpful, too. 🙂 Have I mentioned how all three of them clamor for a turn at emptying the dishwasher?! 😀