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September began with a back-to-school, double-birthday, two-nights-in-hospital swirl.
Our only option, once we had emerged on the other side of all that, was to slow time down. Way down.
How does one do that, you ask?
By wasting it, of course.
Stop rushing. Sit still. Stare out of a nearby window.
Take a nap. Putter in the kitchen. Read a book. And then another one.
Procrastinate. Yes, even that.
I am not suggesting you ignore your deadlines and abandon your obligations. But if a task might take two days, and you have three, then wait.
Delay is risky. You may find you don’t have quite as much time for work as you’d like. But there is risk in productivity, too. You might discover you have accomplished so much in a day that the day has gone by in a blur.
I can think of few things more tragic than a lifetime of blurry days.
For the past two weeks, I have wasted time like a professional. I have even broken my unspoken rule and actually read a novel in the morning. Shocking, I know. But when the novel is by Barbara Pym I can hardly help myself.
Pym was a twentieth-century Jane Austen. There is less conventional romance in her novels of a post-war Britain, there is certainly more melancholy, but there is the same keenly observant eye and witty sense of humor. So far I have read Excellent Women (1952) and Quartet in Autumn (1977), and I highly recommend them both. The first is more humorous, the second more preoccupied with sorrow, but both are quietly subversive and fiercely intelligent.
When not reading, I have been cooking. I’m not baking bread or making party appetizers, I am only making dinner. These quieter, slower days have reminded me that family dinner is not the onerous obligation I have sometimes believed it to be. Instead, it is a delicious, daily treat.
Of course, if I wait until five pm to give it my attention, then it can be stressful. But why should I wait? Why not sip my morning coffee while asking what’s for dinner? Surely there are few questions so full with pleasurable possibility.
This is especially true if you own one of my favorite family cookbooks Dinner: A Love Story. Jenny Rosenstrach’s recipes are straightforward, wholesome, and tasty, and her celebration of the family dinner hour (written from the perspective of a busy, full-time working mother, no less) has been just the inspiration I needed to try new recipes.
And, I can’t wait to try her just-released cookbook How To Celebrate Everything.
I recently finished Katherine Willis Pershey’s wonderful new book Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity. You can find my full review on Goodreads, but here is the condensed version: Very Married is my favorite book on marriage. The personal storytelling is funny and friendly, but it is also inspiring and wise.
This book (with a foreword by Eugene Peterson!) is also that incredibly rare thing in Christian publishing: a book for all of us. No matter how your own views line up with Christian teaching on marriage, Pershey’s book is for you. Whether you consider yourself liberal or conservative, Very Married is for you. Pershey doesn’t ignore controversial or complex topics, and she doesn’t hesitate to state her own positions, but she writes with such grace and compassion. Her book reminded me not only how beautiful fidelity can be, but how beautiful Christian unity can be.
If slowing down holds appeal for you, I have one more recommendation. My dear friend Summer Gross, an ordained minister and spiritual director, has recently inaugurated a “Slow Word Movement.”
Summer offers guided Scripture meditations, or Lectio Divina, via video through her website. You can sign up to receive each new “Slow Word” in your email inbox. Summer has made it so easy for us to hit pause in order to find that still point in our spinning world. I hope you’ll visit her website to find out more and subscribe.
Finally, here is my latest post for Grace Table. It includes a recipe for our new favorite cake.
What are you reading and cooking these days?
We had our first hard freeze of the season last night. This morning, the sky is a deeper blue than I have seen in quite some time. The sky seems to respond well to freezing temperatures, as if making up for the dreariness of the earth. Though the dreariness will only come later. Right now the leaves on the ground are traced in frost, and the dahlias haven’t yet registered that they have reached their end. Their colors are still vivid.
I am grateful for our long, pleasant fall, but I am also breathing more deeply today. I recorded the date of the first freeze in my garden journal and felt a weight slide from my mind. I can close the page on this growing season. I do still have garlic to plant and a few more daffodil bulbs, but the seasons have taken a decisive turn. Around this bend lie dog-eared seed catalogs and sketches for the new flower garden. Piles of books, too.
When it is cold and dark, we read books in front of the fire like it is our job.
I recently finished a stunning new novel. I’ve never been in a book club, but when I closed this book for the last time, I wanted only to talk about this book. It’s that good. That thought-provoking. That beautiful. It’s Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel.
I once wrote about books I don’t know why I read but am so glad I did. Station Eleven would certainly qualify as one of these. First, I tend to avoid anything “dystopian,” and “post-apocalyptic” is even less appealing. Finally, I have never read any of Cormac McCarthy’s highly praised but violent novels, and I don’t think I ever will. When I heard Mandel likened to McCarthy, I had serious doubts about picking up this book. Yes, this is a book about the collapse of civilization after a serious flu bug kills most of the world’s population, but, I promise you, it’s really not about that at all.
All I can say is to forget everything I just wrote and go read this book. It isn’t violent, so we sensitive-flower types need not fret, but it is disturbing. It is disturbing in the way of excellent art. It gives you new eyes to see your life, your family, our world. It’s a book to wake up your soul. I don’t think it’s possible to read a book like this and stay just the same as you were.
But if that doesn’t convince you, it’s a compelling story. A pager-turner. The writing is beautiful, the characters are rich. And days after finishing it, I am still haunted by a single image. There is a moment when we come upon a group of survivors who have made their home in a building that was once a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. This new world has no fast-food (and, on the flip side, no antibiotics), but humans still flourish. The old restaurant door must have worn out and needed replacing because the door on this former Wendy’s is hand-cut from heavy wood. Also, someone has carved the front with delicate flowers and vines. A work of art in a place once devoted to everything fast, cheap, and plastic.
Because survival is insufficient. – Emily St. John Mandel
Another recently finished, dearly loved book is Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time by Dorothy Bass.
It’s a lovely, wise book. You’ll find a mixture of accessible scholarship and personal storytelling. You’ll find a bit about Sabbath and a bit about the Christian church calendar. But, mostly, you’ll find lost wisdom. Time is not our enemy. And each day is a gift. Live in it, and be glad. It isn’t always an easy or intuitive way to live, especially in our harried culture. But this book will help. It is helping me.
Preparing and eating is a major component of our days, isn’t it? As much as I love food, I struggle with that. I struggle with the time required to plan and shop and cook and clean. I resent the hard work, and I resent the time it asks. I’m praying to let go of resentment. I’m praying to grow in gratitude for the daily gift of food.
A good cookbook helps. I know one reason I have struggled with preparing meals for my family is the challenge of my son’s many food allergies. Anaphylaxis really takes the fun out of things.
Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great by Danielle Walker is saving my life in the kitchen. Paleo recipes don’t all work for us (my son can eat almonds but no other tree nuts or peanuts), but most of these recipes are for foods we can and want to eat. I’m recommending this book to anyone with allergies or food sensitivities, but I also think this is a great cookbook for anyone who thinks they should cut back on wheat and dairy and refined sugar. Which, if we’re honest, is probably most of us.
There is a lot I could tell you about these recipes, but I will only share one story: I have tried and failed to make or purchase a dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free birthday cake for my son for eights years. They have all been disappointments, some bigger than others. This past summer, I made the chocolate layer cake from this book. It was easy, used ingredients we already had on hand (though mine is the sort of kitchen where coconut oil and almond flour are always on hand), looked beautiful, and … well, my husband took one bite and looked at me with huge eyes.
“This actually tastes good.” I nodded in agreement. “No. I mean it. I would serve this to people! This tastes real.”
So. It’s good. You should check it out.
Tell me, what’s on your reading list for the dark days ahead?
Another Saturday, another peak at my bookshelves. This one is for the mothers.
I know what you’re thinking. Who has time for reading once they have children? Admittedly, this is how I feel about exercise, but I do know a few moms who make the time. Me, I make time for reading. Every Single Day.
The secret? Lower Your Standards.
It is not possible to keep a pristine kitchen floor and read a novel a week. Priorities, people. It’s about priorities.
With that in mind, here are a few books for Mom.
I gave this one to my own mother a few years ago: Apples for Jam: A Colorful Cookbook (No) by Tessa Kiros.
This is a cookbook by a mom for moms (or anyone who cooks for a family). It doesn’t try to tempt children with smiley faces on pancakes. It doesn’t try to trick children by sneaking spinach purees into the brownies. This is a simple but beautiful book full of comforting, delicious, family-friendly food with a European flare.
This cookbook is all about memories. Creating them. Cherishing them. This is a cookbook that knows family happens around the table.
Apples for Jam is a satisfyingly hefty hardcover book full of beautiful photographs and the author’s own family memories.
Something else: the recipes in this cookbook are organized by color. Pink. Brown. White. And so on. It is wildly impractical and utterly enchanting. Kiros understands that many of us go looking for a recipe, not because we need an “entree” or an “appetizer,” but because we want to feed someone. We want to take care of ourselves and others. Maybe that requires an entree. But maybe that requires something white and beautiful. Or something rich and brown.
My Greek friends remember coming home from school to a piece of white bread, lightly broiled and splashed with olive oil, then sprinkled with some beautiful oregano, crushed between their mamma’s fingers.
This year I sent my mother-in-law Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories by Laura Lynn Brown. Laura is a friend, but I’ve been excited about her book ever since she shared the concept with me.
This is a gift book, but I hesitate to call it that. Aren’t most “gift books” horrible? Do they ever get pulled from their place on the bookshelf? I’m willing to bet not often.
Everything That Makes You Mom is different. Full of great (read: not sentimental) quotations about motherhood and structured around the author’s own memories of her mother, this beautiful little book asks questions and offers prompts to help us record the big and little things we remember about our Moms.
Complete with your written memories, this would make a great gift for your mother. If your mother is no longer living, this book would make a wonderful keepsake for the next generation.
Mom bought a gravy whisk that we saw in a specialty kitchen store not so much because she needed a gravy whisk, but because its packaging claimed, ‘It scoffs at lumps.’ She gave it a new name: lump scoffer. When she made gravy, she whisked with glee, scoffing at those lumps herself with a single ‘Ha!’
Finally, here is the only parenting book I ever recommend: Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt by Leslie Leyland Fields.
I could tell you all about this one, but, really, isn’t the title enough? This book will set you free: free to live, to love, to be a whole person as well as a Mom or Dad.
If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed by parenthood itself or overwhelmed by all of the guilt-inducing advice send them this book. Trust me. When I first read this book I whispered thank you, thank you, thank you with every page I turned.
We want so badly to get it all right – our marriages, our parenting, our family dynamics. We want to meet all the requirements of a good Christian family. But God takes every hour of our home life, as well as every hour outside of it, and he uses the mistakes, the flaws, the pain as much, if not more, than he uses the good.
Food is my love language.
Isn’t that one in the book? No? Well, I’m convinced food is my love language. I know my mother loved me because she sometimes surprised me during the after-dinner homework hour by sneaking into my bedroom with chocolate pudding. Yes, Mom, I still remember the chocolate pudding.
I show my kids love by feeding them.
Which has, on more than one occasion, resulted in a call to 911 and an epi-pen. Which just goes to show that love is complicated.
Making something that is healthy, non-allergenic, and liked by all is my holy grail of cooking. Actually, it’s my holy grail of motherhood. But, like any epic quest, mine is marked by failure, disappointment, and only occasional victory. Like the knights of old, I am not giving up.
Books like these inspire me to get up and give it another try. Books like these remind me that food and its enjoyment are among the very greatest gifts of our creator.
First, (for those whose taste buds have been set dancing by the photo above) is Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. Yes, that photo shows actual bread baked by the actual me. In my actual home kitchen. And, it actually tastes even better than the picture looks.
In addition to the cookbook, you will need a digital scale and a cast-iron combo cooker (though I think a dutch oven would also work). Then, simply follow directions. Robertson takes us step-by-step from making our sourdough starter through his basic country loaf and on to variations that include everything from pizza dough to English muffins.
I am generally something of a disaster in the kitchen, but this book makes me look like I know what I’m doing.
Next, is a book I suspect many of you have read. It’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. If you haven’t yet read it, then I am thrilled to be the one to give you that final push. Because read it you must.
Do you like food? Do you like memoir? Then you will like this book. Kingsolver chronicles the year she and her family spent eating only locally grown foods, most of them foods they had grown or raised themselves. Kingsolver talks politics, global warming, and the state of American agriculture, but at the heart of this story is good food, family, and love.
This is a book about tomatoes. How we care for them. How we harvest them. How we spoon them out of jars in the middle of winter and remember warm, summer days. This is a book about bread. About what it does for our families when our homes smell of fresh-baked bread.
This is a book about celebration.
Finally, a new-to-me book I admit I’ve only just begun. Two chapters in, and I’m smitten. It’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. Generally, I won’t recommend a book I haven’t yet finished, but this is one of those books you start telling all your friends about before you’re even halfway through.
Adler is funny and wise. She begins with the simple act of boiling water, and I am now convinced that a big pot of bubbling, well-salted water is the start of all sorts of magic.
This is a book for those of us who love food but get bogged down in long, complicated recipes. It’s a book to make you believe that you, too, can create, not restaurant masterpieces, but the stuff of life. Good, nourishing food.
Which is, of course, the whole point.