(68) baking in a storm

While it thundered and poured rain and hail on Saturday night, I made cake. Three cakes, to be exact, along with a really great dinner. It was nice to know that I haven’t lost my knack and that I actually do still enjoy being in the kitchen. I often wonder is this food-loving Anna an authentic part of my identity? Or have I just put it on as a crowd-pleasing persona? Maybe a bit of both. But I baked and hoped the power wouldn’t go out while the cakes were in the oven and it didn’t and they were golden and smelled sweet and warm and like cardamom.

plum torte

If you ever need a cake recipe that is both easy and awesome, the purple plum torte from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Amanda Hesser) is the perfect solution. I made it with tiny squishy yellow plums that surprised us on a tree in our own backyard this time, but I’ve made it with purple plums before with equally amazing results.

***

Every class session of life lately has been about trusting Jesus more. Even going to church is that same class, again and again. I hear the refrain everywhere, about everything. I am not exaggerating. Will I entrust this loved one to Jesus? Will I trust Him with finances? Will I trust Him when I see the places where we need to grow, but we’re just in the process and the journey is taking a long time? Will I trust about health and genetics? Will I trust again and again and again that I’m in the right space at the right time and just rest here? Will I trust that He will guide me as I seek to be a Christ-follower, probably even regardless of what church I am affiliated with?

After my last post, someone told me that we don’t often get answers to our questions, but we do receive grace to live in the questions. Which of course reminds me of what may very well become my life quote, given the way it keeps circling back to perfectly explaining where I am: “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…” (R. M. Rilke).

***

Lately the struggles feel repetitive. It’s the end of August and I’m disappointed I haven’t read as many books this year or learned that piano piece I thought I wanted to learn or… You know that even the things that could be fun and relaxing leisure activities become goal-oriented exercises for me? I can’t just read for fun (because I’ll never sit down and do it), so I set a goal to read a book or month, but still feel ashamed because I used to read a book a week (when was that? maybe that was possible because I was 12?). There might be a better way for me to set myself up for success in life.

Does anyone else feel like instead of growing straight up like a sunflower, growth feels more like the dizzying monotony of a merry-go-round?

***

I feel like I have been living in life’s waiting room for a while now and I’m making the best of it, I think. What a perfect place to continue learning to live the questions in.

 

(17) what is it about food?

When did food become so important to me? I’m worried that it is becoming too much of my identity, but I can’t quite trace the origin of this identify-forming thing.

Should I conduct interviews? My family surely remembers the stressful nights when I was responsible for fixing dinner as a high schooler and probably even younger. My struggle was never being able to make everything come out “even.” Some dishes would be overcooked, others not quite done, and being the already-chronic perfectionist that I was, I would be stressed to a boiling point, having not met the family dinner deadline.

My parents instilled in me good food rules, like “Stop eating when you’re full,” “Eat what you’re really hungry for, but in moderate quantities,” “Use restraint with dessert,” “Eat a little bit of everything, even if you think you won’t like it,” “Vegetables are delicious. So is water.” It’s not that all of these things were actually stated, but some of them were. And somehow my parents achieved a feat that is far rarer than I knew: They raised 4 children who actually enjoy vegetables and healthy foods and who are not at all picky.

On my own in college, I did a fairly good job of feeding myself. I think my friends would mostly remember my baking, though, since I (perhaps intentionally?) lavished baked goods on all of the people I loved. There is truly no easier way to gain affection than through some sweet little edible item.

Is that all it is/was, then? Just a way to earn affection? Or is it also a way to express affection? I think, I hope that was part of it too. Perhaps I should interview my college roommates.
Then there was food in Peru. I won friends in Peru simply because I would try anything and I liked most things. Raised by my parents to be a polite person and adding to that a lifetime interest in other cultures, as well as a more recent desire to learn and be sensitive to other cultures, I don’t think I admitted to disliking a single Peruvian dish until I had lived in Peru for quite a while. But in all honesty, I loved Peruvian food overall, with only 2 or 3 exceptions.

Patricia taught me how to cook Peruvian food and I finally learned the all-important lesson of how to make everything come out even. And I began to learn how important food was in understanding a culture. Isn’t that one of the first questions we would always ask someone from another place? “What do you eat there?” Or maybe that is just me or just Peru. Food is definitely important in Peruvian culture and upon meeting new Peruvian friends, their first question to me would often be, “What is your favorite Peruvian dish?” followed by “What are the typical foods in the United States?”

Food and perfectionism. Food and family and relationships and sharing. Food and loving and being loved. Food and culture and language and people.

I just don’t want to identify so closely with this trait that I lose hold of who I really am. I have friends who are also kind of “foodies.” But I don’t want to be interested in food just because my friends are and they are cool. I want to be able to let go of the trait and still be me. Is that even possible, or am I seeking a balance, an ideal, that no one can truly achieve?

My husband would say that I am (once again) over-analyzing…and he may very well be right this time, since I have no answers and only a vague sense that at least asking the questions is a helpful step.

 

(9a) soul pleasure

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He’s hungry, he says. I realize slowly that I am as well. An idea begins to form, random bits and pieces from the fridge are coming together as I envision a finished product: satisfaction, delight.
I giggle at my silly wonder upon opening the spice cupboard. My soul grins as I choose the voices for today’s choir (lunch). I’m not the kitchen’s Beethoven; I don’t know exactly what it will sound like in the end, so I just choose what I love and what calls to me today: Worcestershire, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, ground mustard, cumin, cinnamon, fresh garlic…honey? I’m uncertain, but I’m not planning on creating a masterpiece, just moment of joy.
As it turned out, it was all quite a hit. I loved feeding him. He loved being fed. And my soul delighted in the process.

(4) delight

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I’ve been thinking a lot about delight ever since a friend posted the question on Facebook: where have you encountered delight today? In the moment, I couldn’t think of anything, not a single glimpse of delight in that day.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout. Surely I’m just missing the moments. Maybe I’m too caught up in my thoughts, many worries, long to-do lists, anxious conversations, and all of this is distracting from the moments of joy. Or am I just not taking time to indulge my soul?

But I captured a soul moment yesterday and met delight in the process of creating and enjoying beautiful food. The joyful wonder of slicing up plump tomatoes, the lemony finger-smell of thyme, tarragon, turnip greens chopped, the spicy fragrance of garlic in oil, all tossed together, beautiful and nourishing.

(3) fridge

The door is heavy, somehow sticky (although who will admit to causing that), and oddly precarious with a zillion small items teetering behind plastic bars that have been historically unreliable. It can be the door to a paradise of possibilities, like opening a garden gate and being pleasantly assaulted with the spectrum of colors and flavors and a seemingly unlimited range of pleasurable options.

In those tightly-squeezed, harried, overwhelmed moments, though, the ones that have lately become somewhat more regular, that door is simply turning the page on the “to-do” list. A drawer to clean. Ingredients purchased for recipes postponed that are now decaying. Incredible the amount of shame I feel having to throw away food! The endless quest to eat healthier sometimes, sadly, meanders through valleys of “my hummus gone rancid” and “a small collection of Dr. Peppers on the bottom shelf,” which he will enjoy. Leftovers for days, simply because I am not allowing myself a few moments of creative abandon in the kitchen. I think that is just a temporary sacrifice, while I drive this course to completion.

I feel better, though, after the surprising discovery of last week’s (or the week before) best-ever-chicken-soup. It truly was for the soul, with a healing and tantalizing blend of chicken broth with a barrage of veggies, lentils and wild rice. Heated on the stove, paired with a grilled cheese and tomato sammie, enjoyed beside the computer with the door cracked open (the house door, not the fridge) to see an odd, bright slice of the day…I am sure I will tackle the fridge another day.