Merry Christmas


As promised, I've posted for 25 days in a row. I've learned I want to start carrying my camera around again. I've learned I have something to say every day and it doesn't have to be profound. And that the discipline of something every day isn't overrated. There are more things I want to do every day--meditate, spend at least 10 minutes being completely attentive to each of my children, make my bed, sing.

And I've remembered how much I love Christmas. I was humming "O Little Town of Bethlehem" tonight and got to the lines, "Be born in us tonight." It's not just about a night in history. It's about the birth of God in us every day. It's about Saint Catherine of Genoa shouting in the streets, "My deepest me is God!" Beyond the fears, failures, and fear of failure. Beyond our personalities, our histories, our ambitions. Beyond anything we ever do or don't do, anything we get right or get wrong. Beyond our roles as mothers, fathers, wives, professionals. Beyond all that, underneath all that, my deepest me, your deepest you, is God. And that bedrock will never give way or crumble. And it doesn't have to be built. It's there, solid and strong, but we've got to drop into it. Richard Rohr says that love is anytime we relinquish control. There's no descending to that deepest place without letting go of the rest of it.

This Christmas, the God in me bows to the God in you. Thank you for being here.

Advent 2013: Soul Sister


Over the 12 or 13 years I've known Emily, many people have asked, "How did you two meet?" I think what they mean is, "How do you stay so connected to one another?"

Then I tell the story of how we met at a mutal friend's wedding, got put in the same room at the bed and breakfast, and stayed up crying about how beautiful it was to love and be loved. We said we'd get together for lunch once we were back in Seattle. The miracle, maybe more than anything, is that we did. (And this, by the way, is perhaps my biggest tip for forming friendships. Initiate and follow up. Get our your *%$ calendar. Puget Sounders suck at that.)

And the miracles keep coming--her being Wyatt's godmother and there when Loretta was born, constantly reading my mind (or knowing before I do) what book needs to come into my life next or what compliment I need. And the letters. I have boxes of hers, she has boxes of mine. I want to make a book of them one day. Not just the text typed onto a page, but her beautiful architect's handwriting and the things she manages to make envelopes out of.

At this point in our lives, with 90 miles between us and so many things competing for our attention, time together is the best gift. When she leaves tomorrow afternoon, we'll have shared 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 2 dinners. That's my love language for sure.

Happy 2014, sister. Thank you for our years together and all those to come. I love you.

P.S. Thanks to Wyatt for the photo. It's hard not be pretty loosened up when he's got his finger on the shutter.

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake


What is up with me and my baked goods lately? So much for kale and brown rice. It's Christmastime.

Like I've said before, I love the "cut and come again" nature of a bundt cake. Leave it sitting on the counter, have a little sliver with tea in the afternoon, have some more with coffee tomorrow morning.

Emily and John are here for the weekend, and I like to spoil them. I was happy there were lots of slivers snuck through the afternoon.

Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake
There are so many superlatives floating around food blogs these days that I hesitate to add to the mayhem. But this cake is GOOD. You'll wake up in the morning wanting a piece.

For cake:
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tb. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 Tb. cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. water
2 Tb. grated fresh ginger
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1/2 c. molasses
2 large Bosc pears, peeled and very thinly sliced

For glaze:
3 Tb. butter
4 tsp. milk
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a bundt pan.

Combine first 8 (dry) ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine next 8 ingredients in a separate bowl (brown sugar, baking soda, water, fresh ginger, white sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, molasses). Add dry ingredients to wet, stirring just to combine, then add sliced pears.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out on a plate. Let cool for an hour before icing.

To prepare glaze, combine butter, brown sugar and milk in a saucepan over low heat until just melted. Take off heat and cool a bit, then add powdered sugar. If it's too thick, thin a tiny bit until it's pourable. Pour over cooled cake.

Advent 2013: Christmas Grumpiness


Finally! The Leftoverist admits her Christmas Grumpiness!

We had a magical snowy morning in Bellingham. School was cancelled (yes, for 2 inches of snow), I didn't have to drive to Seattle for work, and there was nothing to do but sleep in, drink coffee, and sled with the neighbors. It was perfect.

THEN....Then we came home. The house was a mess (still is, actually) and I realized how many annoying little tidbits were still on my Christmas list. And worst of all, Loretta wanted me to do a craft with her! How dare she! What is this? A snow day?! Even if I manage to avoid all the tasks on my list, I reserve the right to at least act busy. And this is no joke--I actually resented that the kids went outside again and started collaboratively and joyfully building a snowman. I wanted help with chores.

We saw our dear friends Jen and Jason tonight. I was telling Jen about my day and she said "I'm here to keep you honest. Your blog is like a religion to me, but I know it's hard to practice what you preach sometimes." Amen, sister. She reminded me not to sweat the small stuff, and that's my resolve for tomorrow. Wouldn't it be horrible if time wasn't divided up into days? If there was never the relief of starting over?

Somehow, I had the presence of mind to get my camera out and take this photo, which will live much longer than my bad mood.

Advent 2013: Perseverence


You know this posting-every-day thing must be getting hard if I'm taking photos of stuffed animals.

I didn't grow up watching TV, so I missed out on the Muppets. But I fell in love with Kermit when the new Muppet movie came out a couple years ago. While lots of people were nostalgic for him, I was talking about him like I discovered him. Once I get excited about something, watch out.

I keep this little guy in my office to remind me not to give up. Remember when the crew gets together, finds Kermit's decrepid mansion, and convinces him to help save the Muppets studio? And Kermit at his dusty desk, going through his old Rolodex trying to find a celebrity to host the show? Love that little guy and how he brought out the best in his friends and kept trying.

Like most of you, there are some things and people in my life I feel like giving up on. The days are about to get longer (Finally!), and I think Kermit would sidle up to me and tell me to keep going. I can't resist him.

Advent 2013: As Much Reality as you can Handle

Winter berries

If you are my husband or one of my children, you are sick to death of me quoting Richard Rohr, my favorite spiritual teacher. But I can't help myself. Today's reflection is from him, and it's mind-blowing. Here's to living in reality.

Contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form, without filters, judgments, and commentaries...The only way you can contemplate is by recognizing and relativizing your own compulsive mental grids—your practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and computing everything.

This is what we are trying to do by practicing contemplative prayer, and people addicted to their own mind will find contemplation most difficult, if not impossible. Much that is called thinking is simply the ego’s stating of what it prefers and likes—and resistances to what it does not like. Narcissistic reactions to the moment are not worthy of being called thinking. Yet that is much of our public and private discourse.

When your mental judgmental grid and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to you, because your pettiness is at last out of the way. Then Truth stands revealed! You will begin to recognize that we all carry the Divine Indwelling within us and we all carry it equally. That will change your theology, your politics, and your entire worldview. In fact, it is the very birth of the soul.

(Adapted from CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer (CD, DVD, MP3))

Advent 2013: Lessons from First Graders


Loretta's first grade teacher, Ms. Brown, has too many good qualities to list. One of them is her great communication with parents. In her monthly letter for December, she listed the 20 areas the class is focusing on. I wish I could post them in lunchrooms, board rooms, and family dinner tables all over the world. Some of my favorites:

  1. We take pride in doing our best at all times.
  2. We are becoming skilled at waiting our turn and not interrupting.
  3. Because of our buddy class, we are learning to have friendships with older students.
  4. We understand the power of the words "Please," "Thank you," and "I'm Sorry."
  5. When we see a friend in need, we are quick to give help.
  6. We know the importance of staying on task and completing a job.
  7. We are enjoying playing with old friends and making new ones.
  8. We have learned that singing makes us happy and builds community.
  9. We are now skilled at making "I statements" when our feelings are hurt.
  10. We know the meaning of the word "stamina" and practice it in our academics.
  11. We look at people's faces to see how they are feeling.
  12. We know the importance of doing our own work so others can do theirs.
  13. We are careful to use kind and respectful words toward one another.
  14. We are now skilled at using encouraging words towards others and ourselves.

Go ahead. Print it out and stick it on your mirror. I'm going to.

Number Four--saying "I'm sorry," is something these 6 year-olds could teach most of us. I love how Loretta and her classmates don't have any finesse or art about it. They just say, in the words of their kindergarten training, "You dumped my bucket." Then they have it out and play with each other again next recess.

Our memories are longer, our interchanges are more nuanced, and certainly I don't have time for people who dump my bucket constantly. But in 2014, one of my goals is to bounce back more quickly--to take myself less seriously, notice the assumptions that keep me from playing well with others, and get out there and play 4-square anyway.

Advent 2013: Kimchi Lunch Bowl

Kimchi bowl

Another lunch at home. Sunday afternoon, kids made their own Top Ramen (yes, the 50 cent kind from the package) and I made this. More kimchi for me.

Heat up your wok over a high flame. Add some vegetable oil, let it get hot again, then add a few big handfuls of broccoli florets, a minced garlic clove, and 1/4 head of a green cabbage, thinly sliced. Stir-fry for 3 or 4 minutes, then add a couple big spoonfuls of kimchi and fry another minute until everything's hot. Serve with brown rice, Korean chili paste, sesame oil, and maybe a fried egg on top. (Which I did but I didn't show since you'd start to think all I eat is fried eggs. Which is true.) This amount of veggies serves two in case your lovie is home. Or in case you want to make things easier on youself when pack your Monday lunch.

It's the week before Christmas. For all my sometimes zen-ness, even I feel a little twinge about the tasks to complete and the Christmas spirit to maintain all the while. If you're in that place, let's be there together. As Saint Julian would say, "All is well and shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." "Well" just might look differently than we'd like it to.

Advent 2013: This is It

Baby Loretta


Maybe because it's Christmastime, I'm so nostalgic lately for when my kids were younger. I've been telling them stories and finding old photos, and I'm blown away when I think about having these little people in my life for almost 11 years. Parenting is a relationship, and boy do they ever have a relationship with me! They've seen me at my wits end, they've seen me cry, they've eaten thousands of my meals, been in my body and close to my body.

I wasn't excited about having kids. When I think about the possibility I could have said no this, I almost come undone. I didn't know how much I'd feel hung out to dry--how terrifying it would be to love someone so much. And I didn't know how terrifying it would be not to. Like I've said before, there are many ways to be broken open. These two are my way, and I am alive with love and longing for them.

Advent 2013: Week in Review


Best lunch: At home with Yancey, roasted delicata and yams with sharp cheddar and fried eggs
Biggest accomplishment:
Getting half my Christmas cards mailed
Favorite kitchen moment:
Teaching Loretta how to crack an egg
Least favorite kitchen moment: Spilling a jar of marinara sauce all over the floor
My dog's favorite moment: Me spilling a jar of marinara sauce all over the floor
Favorite commute: Listening to my Christmas mix at full tilt
Biggest disappointment: Only 2 Christmas cards in my mailbox so far
When I felt most understood: Commiserating with  Emily that I'd only gotten 2 Christmas cards

Advent 2013: Savory Parmesan Shortbread

Parmesan Shortbread

This is for my friend Jordan.

Jordan recently moved back to the West Coast after being in NYC for 4 years, and I keep quizzing her about all the things she misses. She told me about some parmesan shortbread she used to get at a favorite coffee shop, and then I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I don't want to embarrass her, but Jordan is a tastemaker. If she likes something (shoes, pencils, or shortbread), you'd best pay attention. She's got the magic touch just like my mom or sister or other artists have. And another thing--making her happy makes me happy. It's not hard to make her happy. I can make a salad, send a card, or compose a photo that gets a "LOVE!" out of her. I told her recently that I get inspired when I'm around her--inspired to see things differently, to find more beauty in everyday things.

I find it pretty easy to appreciate people and things, but I'd put inspiration in another category. Being inspired by someone or something usually means I'm spurred to some kind of action or resolve that wasn't there before. Something moves. Besides Jordan, here's some other people in my world that have inspired me this year:

  1. Molly who started meditating, somehow, in the middle of parenting four boys and cutting people's hair
  2. My sister who landed an amazing, scary job that's kicking her out of her comfort zone
  3. Emily who's interning as a chaplain at the King County Juvenile Detention Center
  4. My dad who's going through a forced career change at 61 and finding joy and peace anyway
  5. Kristen, who finds time to paint breathtaking canvases in her studio after teaching art to high schoolers all day and caring for her family
  6. Kerri who worked her butt off to help her twin daughters get into a great college and bravely said goodbye to them
  7. Jenn who's living life (very unexpectedly) as a single parent and staying present to all of it

Cheers. Parmesan shortbread for all of you.

Savory Parmesan Shortbread
From Nigella Lawson. I changed the recipe the tiniest bit with the addition of rosemary (guess I'm into that these days--it's my one garden plant) and flake salt. EASY and addictive. You'll want to make these for every dinner party. And they make a wonderful gift, maybe with a bottle of wine and some spiced nuts. This recipe makes one log--I quadrupled it and kept some in the freezer.

1 c. flour
3/4 c. grated parmesan
7 Tb. softened butter
1 egg yolk
2 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
flaked salt for the top

Combine flour, parmesan, butter, and egg yolk in a mixer, food processor, or with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a lump. Separate into two balls. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 30 seconds until smooth. Do the same with the other.

With your hands, roll the doughs into a cylinder, as uniform as possible without stressing it, about 1 1/2" in diameter. Flatten the ends, too. Roll these up in a piece of plastic wrap then twist the ends. Put them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350, take your cylinders out of the freezer, and cut into 1/2" coins, and sprinkle a bit of flake salt on each. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until just barely golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool before eating.

Advent 2013: Area 25

Kalbi Feast

My father-in-law's birthday party at our house last night. 12 people, 15 pounds of Kalbi ribs, and a GIANT pile of used napkins. I almost typed, "My life isn't always like this," but stopped myself. It kind of is. I have family and friends all around. They have birthdays and we get to celebrate them together. Or it's a plain old weeknight and we get to celebrate that, too. And most the time, I feel THERE, in my skin, and ready to give and receive.

I heard a podcast today about a way to treat depression by stimulating electrodes deep in the brain. The nuerosurgeon talked about his technique, and how people who haven't left the house for months all of the sudden want to go out to the garage and tinker with the car or call a friend. It got me thinking about how I always want to call a friend. I've had dark moments, I have my share of anxiety, and I struggle with a very loud inner critic who says I'm not good enough. But I don't have a problem getting out of bed in the morning or coming up with things to look forward to. For whatever reason, that hasn't been my burden in this life.

I bring this up because, for lots of you, it is. And I've heard that Christmas is a sucky time. Everyone's expectations and nostalgia factors are higher than normal and you don't feel happy. "Area 25" is the space in the brain responsible for sadness, and it's like a prison for you. I don't understand it, but I believe you.

I have zero suggestions or prescriptions, but I guess I just wanted to say I'm sorry and I think about you a lot during Advent and Christmas. And people posting about raucous family meals and Rumi poems might rub you the wrong way. I don't see how this could be a consolation, but I've always believed that those who suffer deeply know more about life, themselves, and what's really important. Things I don't know yet. Somehow, in some way, may you find yourself in the light this season--inexplicably, undeniably out of Area 25 and into some State of Grace. Amen.

Advent 2013: True Stories


Maybe you've heard the adage, "This story didn't happen, but it's true." For fact-obsessed Westerners, it's hard for us to understand that sometimes.

I love the Christmas story. I grew up with a very literal understanding of it. There were 3 Wise Men, shepherds watching their flocks by night, and Mary was definitely a virgin.

I don't begrudge anyone their fact-finding. But as I've grown older, the story has taken on more meaning for me as I've let go of what "really happened." Particularly the story of Mary. I used to work with street kids--homeless, dirty, abandoned or abused, and many of them addicted. I imagine one of THEM bringing God into the world, and I can tell you none of the babies born to those girls were virgin births. When I think about God's entrance onto the human scene, I'm more transformed by the idea that it wasn't a virgin birth, but an accidental pregnancy. And it wasn't a warm barn with sweet-smelling hay, but a cold and dirty temporary shelter for a family on the margins who needed some help. If that's where God was born, it changes everything. It means you can experience Love even when you don't have money for Christmas gifts and you're dreading seeing your dad. It means light comes out of the darkness and, in fact, needs the darkness. It means transcendence isn't about Christmas crafts and harmony, but about being right where you are and paying attention.

Rumi says, "Out beyond ideas of right and wrong, there's a field. I'll meet you there." Who knows what really happened on that nativity night? But I do know this field is beautiful, it's wide open, and there's space for all of us.

Advent 2013: Kitchen Essentials


Odds are, some of you are over this meditative Advent thing and are ready for some practical *&%$. This is for you.

A reader just wrote and asked my opinion about pots and pans. I sent her to Mark Bittman's excellent advice on a no-frills kitchen:

Best Tips for Avoiding Stupid Kitchen Gadgets and Getting What you Really Need for Cheap

To walk through any kitchen store, one would think you've got to invest $10,000 on ice cream makers, bread machines, and silicone muffin pans. Hogwash. I've always loved the magazine Saveur, especially because they go into home kitchens all over the world and photograph what is there. And often, it's one butane burner on the floor, one seasoned pan, and a wooden spoon. Expensive equipment does not a good cook make. Especially in this season of grabbing giving, I like the reminder that less is more. And less is less, which many of us need.

I think I've done this before, but my version of Bittman's essential list would be:

  1. 10 and 12" nonstick skillets. Don't buy expensive ones. The coating won't last longer than a few years no matter how much you pay. I buy mine at Cash and Carry.
  2. A cast iron skillet. A really big one if you don't have a cast iron griddle, which I do.
  3. One big whisk and one small one. Actually, I have 3 small ones because I use them so much. Again, you don't need this to fly you to the moon. Get them at Cash and Carry or TJ Maxx.
  4. Lots of wooden spoons. Cash and Carry again! (Or a restaurant supply store.)
  5. Baking sheets, or "jelly roll pans" with sides (not nonstick). My 4 are totally black and marred because I use them for everything.
  6. A roll or sheets of parchment paper (Costco or Cash and Carry) so it doesn't matter what your baking sheets look like. They will perform beautifully!
  7. A food processor. Bittman doesn't list this as an essential, but I couldn't do without it.
  8. A wok (only if it's the cheap carbon steel kind and you commit to seasoning it well and you've got burners that get hot.) Otherwise, use your cast iron skillet.
  9. A big pot for soup.
  10. Two sizes of saucepans with lids.
  11. A glass 9" pie plate, an 8x8 glass or metal pan, and a 9x13 glass or metal pan.
  12. Some cheapo muffin and bread tins (not nonstick). Once you grease or line them, it doesn't matter how fancy they are.
  13. A cheap box grater and a not-so-cheap Microplane grater.
  14. A flexible, metal, very thin spatula for turning eggs, pancakes, and taking cookies off their sheets. None of these chubby silicone ones. I found mine at an estate sale for a dime.
  15. A vegetable peeler, paring knife, chef's knife, bread knife, ladle, silicon spatula for scraping bowls, and tongs.
  16. Salad spinner. Some people would put this in the "extras" category. If you eat as many greens as we do, you'd be setting yourself up for emitting many expletives in front of your children. I just had the same one for 15 years and recently got a new one after the plastic bowl cracked.
  17. A big colander and a little one (for draining capers or olives, small bit of herbs, etc.).
  18. You can blend things in a food processor, but nothing beats a little $30 immersion blender for soups, smoothies, or pureeing a can of tomatoes. I am ridiculous and have a Vitamix. You don't need that.
  19. A garlic press. Real cooks decry them, but I'm not down with chopping garlic every time I need it.
  20. Bench scraper. I think Rachael Ray calls this a "food mover." I couldn't go 5 minutes without it.
  21. Fine mesh sieve for sifting powdered sugar, washing grains, or straining liquids. It was so tempting to leave this list an even "20" but that would be disingenuous. I can't live without a sieve. Again, cheapo at Cash and Carry. You don't need a titanium handle.

I hope you're finding some time to spend in your kitchen this month. I'm not making any gingerbread houses (that activity, by the way, has absolutely zero appeal for me--you can't even eat it when you're done!), but I'm enjoying all the little tasks--washing kale, finding new uses for cranberries, going through the butter like there's no tomorrow. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience.

Advent 2013: Russian Teacakes


Or Mexican Wedding Cookies. Or Viennese Cresecents. Whatever the international moniker, they will melt in your mouth.

They are the first Christmas cookies I make every year. My cooking magazines are full of tantalizing and novel options, but I get overwhelmed. And don't want to go to the store. And Loretta is very proficient at rolling things in powdered sugar. Like many favorite cookies of mine, they are not fragile and will not go stale quickly. Packed in a Chinese takeout container, who wouldn't want to find these on their porch or desk with a note from you?

Russian Teacakes
This recipe calls for hazelnuts, which would be delicious. I used toasted pecans. Pecans or walnuts are my favorite in these cookies. You can also use almonds. Just make sure you toast them. Makes a huge difference.


Advent 2013: Night Vigil

Loretta on Thanksgiving

Loretta slept with me last night. Yancey was at work and she was sick--sore throat, high fever. She woke several times, reaching for me. I held her hot little hand in mine, knowing even as I did that I'd relive that moment today. And years from now. I believe in redemption and second chances, but I also believe in missing out. I don't want to miss out on my life. This is it.

Advent 2013: The Snowman

Do you know this book by Raymond Briggs? Or the movie?

It's been cherished in our family since I was little, and I've passed that onto Wyatt and Loretta. It's such a magical story that even Wyatt gets enamoured when we watch it every year.

Even more than the story, I love my memories of watching it with neighborhood families. Before VCR's, our neighbors Chris and Jim would rent a projector and reels from the public library. They'd invite us over for a viewing party, and it was so novel to be watching a movie in someone's home. So sweet to be cozied up, snacking and talking.

I'm tempted to deride all our private screens here--tablets, phones, laptops. And I'm tempted to moralize about no one talking to one another anymore. But it's also true that technology brings connection to a lot of people.

In conversations about how we want to raise our children, Yancey and I decided a long time ago that we won't make technology the villain, but that we would always privilege relationship over technology and teach our children to do the same. It's not "either/or"but "both/and" (like so many things in life). We may not be renting projectors from the library anymore, but we can still stop what we're doing when someone knocks at the door. We can leave our groceries melting in the car to chat with the neighbor in the driveway. The little boy in The Snowman didn't experience the wonder until he got outside, literally and figuratively. The risk of connection sometimes lets us down (the Snowman melts in the end), but it's worth it. More than worth it.

(And even if it's on your phone under the covers, find a way to watch this sweet movie.)

Rosemary Shortbread

rosemary shortbread

Shortbread always makes me think of my sister. Every Christmas, she makes a gargantuan batch of dough and proceeds to turn each cookie into a frosted work of art. 

I trust myself less with the decorations (yikes!) and more with the recipe. I was craving a traditional cut-out shortbread recipe that wasn't fussy, and it actually took me awhile to find one. I ended up coming back to my tattered Silver Palate cookbook. The first one. I remember so clearly my mom cooking out of that in the 80's, way before people even knew what pesto was. Or sundried tomatoes. Or roasting garlic, which seemed so crazy at the time. 40 cloves of garlic? Wild!

Don't let the rolling intimidate you. This dough is really easy to work with, and the results are perfection. I added some fresh rosemary here. You can leave it out or add countless other (finely chopped) additions--lemon zest, pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds, Chinese 5 spice powder, lavender, candied ginger. Shortbread tastes even better if it ages for a few days, won't go stale for at least a week, and is so wonderful with a cup of tea in the afternoon. 

Rosemary Shortbread

3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. powdered sugar
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. granulated sugar

Cream butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.

Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.

Gather dough into into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 3 or 4 hours.

Roll out chilled dough to 1/2" thickness. Cut into rounds or shapes with your favorite biscuit or cookie cutter. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 30-45 more minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 325. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just starting to color lightly. Cookies should not brown at all. Cool on a rack. 

Advent 2013: Charged with Grandeur

Beach still life

Objects found on the beach in front of my mother-in-law's house in LaConner on Thanksgiving day. Rosehips, an ochre rock, a leaf, and a big striated block of driftwood. Loretta also found what we think is a squirrel skeleton, smooth and bleached. 

When we're on that beach, something in us slows down. We take 10 minutes to walk a few feet, turning over rocks, picking up oyster shells, marveling at all the forms of life and death. I remember why my rule of "Go outside whenever possible" is psychologically sound. Whatever networks and ambitions we humans have created for ourselves, they are contrived next to the contours of any old piece of driftwood. Makes me think of Gerard Manley Hopkins and his (probably most famous) poem, written in 1918. Advent seems a good time to pull it out:

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to greatness like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men now wreck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and share's man's smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights of the black West went
Oh morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. 


So beautiful. I have loved this poem since high school. I hope that, even in this cold week, you're being brushed by those bright wings.

Advent 2013: Pear Jam

Pear Jam

When you're cleaning out your fridge or your fruit bowl, you might stumble across 5 pears that are past their prime.

Peel, core, and dice them, and put them in a saucpan with 1 cup of sugar. Turn the heat to medium, and stir vigorously the first minute so the sugar doesn't burn. Turn it down to low and cook on the back of the stove for about 45 minutes. It will look more like sauce for the first 30 minutes, then the sugar will start to gel and it will start looking a lot thicker. At the end, you can stir in a little cinnamon, vanilla, or bourbon if you like. I left mine plain. Take it off the stove, let it cool, and put it in a jar. 

There is something nice about making such a small batch and not consigning the pears to the compost bin. There is something about "Making do." You're not deciding whether to make strawberry, raspberry, or blackberry jam. You're making pear jam because that's what is on the counter. Makes me think of one weary family about to give birth and the barn they settled for. Definitely no 10 page birth plan or 4 different brands of pacifiers on the gift registry. 

When I ask my clients about times when they felt close to their team or to their mission, it's always a story of people pulling together in scarcity. I don't wish scarcity or barn births on anyone, but sometimes I need the choice taken away from me so the Divine (or a jar of jam) can show up.