cozy cooking

I woke up to beautiful, quiet world of white, where snow-covered bare tree branches look soft as feathers against gray sky. I hear the scrape of the plow against my driveway, clearing our way through last night’s snowstorm. Everything is hushed and heavy and monochromatic in the most elegant of ways.

Of course, it is also late March. We are beginning to chafe for sunshine and grass. The joy of snow angels has waned, and what was cozy in January is beginning to feel stale. This is the real test for us Northerners. All that “hygge” comes so easily in December, but can we keep it up in late March, while the rest of the world enjoys the first bursts of daffodil-yellow and azalea-pinks?

If you’re needing a bit of a boost, try candles, soup, and delicious homemade bread. A little mini tulip in an even mini-er pot helps, too. Hope springs eternal and all that jazz.

*****

My Favorite Roast Chicken
a wee bit adapted from Jamie Oliver

1. Heat oven to 375 and get out your dutch oven.
2. Season a whole chicken (theirs are the best, and BIG!) with salt and pepper (generously!)
3. In dutch oven, brown chicken in butter or olive oil or coconut oil over medium high heat until it’s a bit golden on all sides.
4. Add 10 unpeeled garlic cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp sage, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, juice of two lemons (or equivalent from a bottle — shhh, I won’t tell), 2 cans coconut milk (or 1 can, and make up the difference with whole milk.) Don’t need to stir, just dump it in.
5. Put on the lid and bake for 45 minutes. Take the lid off and bake for 45 more.
6. Take the chicken out of the amazing sauce, pick meat off bones, and stir the meat back into the saucy pot. Serve over basmati rice. Heaven.
7. Save leftover chicken and sauce for tomorrow.

*****

Soup The Next Day

1. Fill the pot you used yesterday with the chicken carcass you saved and cold water to cover. Simmer for HOURS.
2. Strain resulting broth (if you’re like me, it’ll be about 3 cups because you let it all evaporate — oops!), and pick any meat off of bones before discarding. Be thorough! This is a good chicken you’re dealing with!
3. Saute 1 medium onion in coconut milk until translucent. Add about 4 cloves of chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant.
4. Pour in reserved broth + enough water to equal about 4-6 cups of liquid. Add a can of coconut milk.
5. Stir in 3 chopped carrots and the leftover chicken and sauce.
6. Season with 1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1-2 tsp salt, and pepper. Simmer until carrots are soft (or longer!)
7. Add half a bag of frozen peas, a generous squeeze of lemon, and Israeli couscous towards the end — when I add pasta, I like to simmer for a few minutes, and then just lid the pot off the heat to let the pasta keep cooking while the soup simultaneously cools.

*****


Easy and Delicious French Bread!
seriously the best bread recipe I’ve ever found — makes 4 loaves

1. Mix 4 1/2 cups flour, 1 Tablespoon salt, 3 Tablespoons sugar, and 6 3/4 tsp active dry yeast in mixing bowl.
2. Stir in 3 cups warm water (120*F) with wooden spoon until smooth.
3. Add 2 – 3 cups more flour, until sticky dough forms. Turn out onto well-floured surface and knead until smooth and springy, about 5 minutes. (Keep sprinkling flour as needed — I like to not add too much at the beginning, knowing I’ll likely need it as I knead.)
4. Put in oiled bowl and cover. Let rise for about an hour till doubled.
5. Preheat oven to 400*. Turn dough out onto counter and divide into 4 equal amounts. Shape each ball into a rectangle about 8″x10″. Roll tightly (the long way), and place seam-side down on greased pan (or silpat.) Repeat for others, using two baking sheets with two loaves each. Cover with clean towel and let rise 45 minutes or so.
6. Brush with egg wash for extra fancy, and then make three slashes with sharp knife on an angle. Pop into the oven for 20 minutes or so, rotating baking sheets halfway through for even baking.

life and peace.

I think so often about being the one in my home responsible for setting tone, atmosphere, soul-aroma. Like it or not, that’s who I am as the wife and Mama. (And if I go on strike, that action has its own aroma. Or stench.) This home culture — it’s my domain.

I’m painfully aware of how often my heart is churning out fumes of annoyance, frustration, worry, anger, envy, discontent, judgment… Need I go on? Ugly. Poisonous. If our eyes could see the thick black smog those things produced, wouldn’t we just be horrified?

So I am continually crying out to the Lord to continue to do in me a deep heart-change, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of those breathing in my soul-fumes!

And oh my, is He ever. Such a deep down, turning things upside down, helping me to get it kind of work.

Rest. Peace. Work. Grace. It is finished. These are the themes that suddenly are everywhere, grabbing my attention, showing me clearly my brokenness, illuminating a path of freedom. Old patterns, dyed-in-the-wool weaknesses, things I’ve limped along with and thought maybe I’d just get better at limping — He’s able to address it all and make me brand new. That in and of itself is life giving. Wow.

This week’s verse for meditation is Romans 8:6, and oh, how it has struck me in a whole new way.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

What does that mean?

It means that when our mindset is one of “do good, earn favor; do wrong, you’re a failure,” we are living under a construct that can only mean death. We can never do enough good. I will live my whole life under pressure that will never let up; I can never satisfy the gaping void between my best (and I’m rarely at my best!) and the holy God whose approval my soul craves! And that pressure breeds anxiety, stress, anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, pride, insecurity, hatred, selfishness… Death.

When my mind is set on the flesh, and we don’t have a “good” school day, the poisonous fumes of failure are the result.

BUT.

But.

In Christ, there is the most beautiful but.

When my mind is set on the Spirit, I realize that my worth is found in Christ. The deepest things my soul craves and is tempted to prove through my best efforts — value, meaning, goodness — are fully satisfied in the Cross. That to-do list is completely crossed off.

Done.

And now, I wake up and work and do my best each day as wife and mother because it’s the work my Loving Father has given me — not with an underlying drive of needing to finish, complete, perfect, produce.

The fragrance of that is life and peace.

I love the smell of a good scented candle, of freshly baked bread, and just-shampooed babies wrapped in clean towels — but the homiest fragrance I can bring to my family is the one that comes when my mind is set on the Spirit, and I am working to bless, not to prove.

For more great insight into Romans, the law, and the Spirit, listen here.

Every Good Endeavor

This month I read Timothy Keller’s “Every Good Endeavor.” Hearing a few podcasts of his on the topic whetted my appetite and I was eager to read his deeper thoughts on the theology of work.

Because yes, God has much, much to say about the topic of work. In fact, as I read, I became more and more struck by how “work” is not a topic. It is an intrinsic part of our design. A correct theology of work is so important because it is actually a correct theology on who we are and how we are meant to relate to the world.

Keller is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I am blown away by the lucidity and clarity with which he can convey profound wisdom. I wasn’t disappointed by this book. True, at the end there were several pages that almost lost me, but every time I determined to just follow his train of thought, BOOM, he led me to an amazing idea.

The big ideas in this book are “God’s Plan for Work,” in other words, what Genesis and pre-Fall has to say about work and who we are; “Our Problems with Work,” enumerating the incredibly deep ways in which sin has broken our ability to work or even understand what work is; and “The Gospel and Work” — the amazing news that because sin has broken the world so deeply, a Christian can be a profound light by simply reclaiming the truths of God’s Plan. Not easily, but simply.

Having been taught a very solid theology of work from a young age, I’m not sure there was anything brand new in this book. However, over and over, it was a message that cut through to my heart and challenged me page after page. It’s far too easy, living on this side of the Fall, to grow weary or discouraged, to assume failure on my part rather than seeing that my best work will be plagued by the results of Adam’s choice. (There will be fruit and there will be thorns.) It’s also easy to not consider how holistically we can live for the Kingdom of God — we don’t begin to make a difference when we teach Sunday school, but rather, the minute we rise from sleep and begin to maintain, preserve, and create (wiping down the sink!)

There were too many “best parts” to pick just a few, but for someone who is prone to being a slave to the “work beneath the work” (trying to satisfy some need for production and success and self-worth), the very last segment left me almost in tears — you know, that feeling of your soul being liberated from weight it need not carry?

Remember, God was able to rest in Genesis 2, verses 1-3 only because his creative work was finished. And a Christian is able to rest only because God’s redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ. When the work under the work has been satisfied by the Son, all that’s left for us to do is to serve the work we’ve been given by the Father.

For a read on how all your life’s work can be connected to God’s work on the earth — both your production and your consumption — I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

boundaries

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance. –Psalm 16

A page from “A Blossom in the Desert” once again arrested my attention and led me down a path of contemplation, this time as I pondered the concept of boundaries.

“…there is a world of difference between a pool and a river. A river is wide open to its source, and as wide open to the needs lower down. We need all barriers down — manward as well as Godward — to believe for the outflowing as definitely as the inflowing.”

I want to be that river, receiving an endless flow of the Holy Spirit’s life, and without measure pouring it out to others. But what about boundaries? That picture of “all barriers down” — what about knowing when to say no, learning our limitations? Aren’t we supposed to know our boundaries and learn to say No?

Where are the boundaries of a flowing, roaring, lively river? (Because that’s how much grace and mercy there is to receive and give.)

Even the mightiest of rivers has boundaries, but those are neither barriers “Godward or manward,” no barriers to the source nor to the needs lower down. The boundaries are on either side, in the river bed carved out for that flow of water.

And so I find that I need to spend less time studying “my” boundaries, and more time studying the ones He has drawn for me. With the first, it is far too easy to say No because it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, or just plain old not fun for me. With the second, I find my “yes” and “no” is usually rather clear as I determine to stay within the bounds of His calling for me.

I say YES to honoring Him as Lord, living as His representative.
I say YES to loving husband, caring for children.
I say YES to creating home.
I say YES to living in fellowship with my local church.
I say YES to living as a city on a hill.

Those lines fixed, I can boldly say, “Let the river flow.” Open to the source, open to those “below.”

I need not determine my boundaries; I need to simply know HIS boundaries for me. And then live with open hand and heart to the Holy Spirit and all those I encounter. I bring the obedience; He brings the flow of life.

“The glacier torrent — so obedient to its course in its narrow bed, yet just tossing with freedom and swing in every motion. Such a picture of the ‘rivers of living water’—bound and yet unbound.” –Lilias Trotter

February, in photos

The shortest month, almost done. So much just life crammed into four short weeks. So many moments of ordinary, and every one special and meaningful. I think that’s amazing.


This little one learning to stand, and take a few steps. Making us laugh with antics, loving when all eyes are on her.


This oldest one readily helping out each and every day.


Many mornings spent at the kitchen table, with kids drawing or painting while I read out loud from our current history selection. This hour+ is NOT on the schedule I made last fall, but that’s my favorite part of deep winter months: the quiet hours of books and creativity that sort of insert themselves in a way that just fits.


Mornings that occasionally look like this. Waking early and getting out for a walk before it all begins has been harder this winter than any other season in 5 years! But I keep trying. Something is better than nothing.


This blurry pic represents a whole-family excursion to scope out a new business location. As soon as we were all buckled in, I suddenly realized we hadn’t done anything all together since Christmas. We went out for dinner and it was special. We love each other.


We read lots of books in the winter. I wish it could be more — does anyone else look over their bookshelves and think, How can we read all of these wonderful stories today?!? But a moment here and a page there. It’s regular and routine and part of our lives, and I’m glad for that.


Reading is also togetherness most of the time.


I love hearing the boys read out loud. They put their best into it (although occasionally not, and I tell them to do it all over without the race-to-the-end effect!) This book is our 2017 winter favorite. “Snow,” by Uri Shulevitz. The kids always begin the story with title and author, because saying “Uri Shulevitz” is the most fun. If you don’t have this book, and you have littles, get it! Fiona had the story memorized immediately, so captivated was she by the simple text and fun illustrations.


February is when spring endeavors begin. William has begun rehearsals twice a week for his role in the upcoming high school musical. And no, he’s not in high school yet. Phew.


This. Every morning (except the occasional day when my routine gets thrown off and I forget!) A salad for Ryan. Probably most people think of him as a free spirit, spontaneous. And he is, somewhat. But not completely. He loves, craves routine. So each morning, this.


This past week, days that reached 60* (!!!), and rain that has melted all but the biggest piles of snow. But the week before, the loveliest snowfall of the entire winter. What I have no pictures of is the kids outside. Every single day, regardless of how on or off track we are, they head outside after lunch. They laugh and play (and fight and resolve), and are friends, even the ten year old boy and three year old girl. I love it.


This baby of mine. I just love her. She naps in a little “nest” on the floor, because I’m a weird hippie or something. We have no crib. Somehow I’ve always gotten through the crib stage without one, even if it’s a bit unconventional for a few months. She’s too old to be left on my bed, of course, but wants to lay down and nurse to sleep at nap time. So we do. I love these baby days. I know, and you know: they go too fast.


One of those mornings I did get out to walk, I sacrificed exercise for fellowship. I’ve been thinking about cultivating friendship with these girls. Rapport. Fiona, especially, really loves me. Somehow it’s easy to not really notice that, or to somehow think she just loves the mom in her life, but not necessarily me. I don’t want to take for granted or assume her affection. She’s a unique person who genuinely loves me as a person.

And so much more not pictured. Thoughts, conversations, piano lessons and meals and laundry piles and chores crossed off. Friends and family we share life with all week long. Choices made that allow for regular remembrance of Who our lives belong to and how we can honor Him.

So Happy Sunday. Thanks for following along with this update of the ordinary. Have a blessed day!

pray with me for jack?

Tonight we cut out hearts. Three little girls and a mama, rolling and cutting. And praying for my nephew, who continues to need a miracle. Praying so much. Saying our current memory verse together — Isaiah 53:5 — and praying some more.

And thinking, as I prayed and cut hearts, about love. The love of God. Love poured out richly, abundantly, lavishly, into our hearts. Love that overcomes.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Love wins.