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So much exciting stuff has been going on lately:
- Our creation care ministry was approved as a PARTNER of Grace Church, enabling us to expand our reach and resources
- We decided on a new name: Project Eden
- We have lots of exciting stuff coming up, so stay tuned!
With all of these changes, I have decided to move the foodie and gardening related posts to a new blog going forward, so be sure to subscribe to www.sarabytheseason.com for lots of new recipes, gardening tips, and other good stuff. We will have a blog under Project Eden as well for all sorts of creation care-related goodies, so be on the lookout for that soon. Be sure to check out the new blog and let me know what you think!
We had lots of people come up to be a part of the new community garden by helping us build a shed out at the garden for the 2013 Weekend of Service. We were blessed with a perfect day and plenty of flexible, construction-savvy volunteers. As I told everyone during the morning’s briefing, this shed is the start of something big at Grace. We will look back on October 13th as a turning point in our efforts to connect our people with where their food comes from. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for next year’s garden!
In all the history of teaching and learning, our own time may be the oddest. We seem to be obsessed with education. Newspapers spend an enormous flow of ink on articles, editorials, and letters about education. Presidents of public universities appear on the op-ed pages, prophesying the death of American civilization as the inevitable result of fiscal caution. Our governmental hallways are hardly passable because of university lobbyists kneeling and pleading for public dollars. One might conclude that we are panic-stricken at the thought of any educational inadequacy measurable in unappropriated funds.
And yet by all this fuss we are promoting a debased commodity paid for by the people, sanctioned by the government, for the benefit of the corporations. For the most part, its purpose is now defined by the great and the would-be-great “research universities.” These gigantic institutions, increasingly formed upon the “industrial model,” no longer make even the pretense of preparing their students for responsible membership in a family, a community, or a polity. They have repudiated their old obligation to pass on to students at least something of their cultural inheritance. The ideal graduate no longer is to have a mind well-equipped to serve others, or to judge competently the purposes for which it may be used.
So I resolved to be a bit more adventurous in the kitchen this year – stretch my comfort zone a bit. I love to cook, but I’ve never been a very talented baker. All of that measuring exact amounts doesn’t mesh with my laissez-faire personality or something. For desserts, I typically make cookies or a fruit crisp because those are much harder for me to screw up, but my dad’s favorite dessert is yellow cake with chocolate icing. He isn’t big on sweets, but he can put away some yellow cake. His birthday was last week, and since we gave up pre-packaged stuff like boxed cake mixes long ago and because I thought he deserved his favorite dessert for his birthday, I decided to branch out and bake him a cake. I first did quite a bit of research on the recipe itself, and then dug in. Obviously, this thing isn’t even remotely healthy, but I know (and approve of) every real ingredient that went into making this thing, and it tasted amazing. How it looked was a different story! Bookmark this for your next birthday – you’ll love it.
Some caveats: (1) while this is now my go-to birthday cake recipe, I will either make it in a 9×13 pan or as cupcakes next time. I am just not cut out for the double decker thing, as you can see. The double layer cake is so pretty when done well, but I think I’m just not cut out for all of the steps involved. If you are, more power to you. This was how my cakes looked when I peeked in the oven to see if they were done. Tons of batter had overflowed onto my stone on the bottom rack of the oven. I tried to follow these tips on layer cakes, but mine still turned out totally lopsided and rather sad looking. (2) The recipe is a little fussy, but I think it’s worth it. Deb from Smitten Kitchen doesn’t add extra steps unless they’re necessary in my experience with her recipes.
Yellow birthday cake
Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (I made my own because I don’t have cake flour sitting around)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml)*
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9×13 cake pan or line your cupcake tin with cupcake liners.
Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in batches, mixing just until the flour is incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then tap pan on the counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool for at least an hour. (I put mine in the freezer for about an hour, which helped with the frosting).
I have a standard chocolate buttercream icing that I thought sounded better (and less fussy) than the icings Smitten Kitchen’s recipe used, but feel free to experiment.
Chocolate buttercream frosting
My mom’s recipe
1 1/2 cups salted butter, at room temperature
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3 – 4 Tbsp heavy cream or whole milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
In an electric mixer (or using a handheld mixer), mix the butter until light and fluffy. Then add the powdered sugar, the cocoa powder, the vanilla extract, and about 3 tbsp cream/whole milk. Whip mixture until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes), adding additional tablespoon of milk/cream if necessary.
Notice in the picture how the whole cake slopes down from right to left. I had to use icing to fill in the parts of the cake that didn’t make it from the pan, so some bites had enormous amounts of frosting (which was awesome!). So learn from my mistakes – your version is bound to look prettier than mine, but I’ll guarantee that however sad it looks on the outside, it tastes delicious!
*My standard trick for buttermilk is this: for every cup of buttermilk that you need, add a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then fill up the measuring cup up to the one cup mark. Stir to combine and let sit for several minutes before using. Typical store-bought buttermilk has additives to stimulate the natural occurring bacteria in traditional buttermilk; whereas, traditional buttermilk is a by-product of butter making. I can only find traditional buttermilk at Whole Foods or EarthFare, so I typically use the shortcut unless I’m planning lots of baking.
People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best. Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating….The thought of the good pasture and of the calf contentedly grazing flavors the steak….A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.
Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace
If you’re participating in Grace’s Hunger Challenge this week, you’re probably thinking about food and hunger a little more frequently and differently than you usually might. Wendell extols us (sub)urban folks to “eat responsibly,” which he says looks a little like this:
1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.
2. Prepare your own food. This means reviving in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you a measure of “quality control”: you will have some reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat.
3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence.
4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist. All the reasons listed for the previous suggestion apply here. In addition, by such dealing you eliminate the whole pack of merchants, transporters, processors, packagers, and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both producers and consumers.
5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to the food that is not food, and what do you pay for those additions?
6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.
From “The Pleasures of Eating.” Read the whole thing.
If you go to Grace on a regular basis, you’ve heard about the upcoming Hunger Challenge. The Challenge starts next week. Those of us who have accepted the challenge, in solidarity with our hungry brothers and sisters around the globe, agree to eat rice and beans every day next week. We’re going to try to do rice and beans for every meal next week. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes!
I thought I would share some ideas here on how to spice things up a bit, so stay tuned for some help if you’re taking on the challenge (for a meal, a day, or the whole week!).
In the meantime, check out some past posts that might help:
- How to cook beans in the pressure cooker + a recipe for “smashed beans”
- “Saree beans” (you’ll have to skip the bacon)
- Cuban black beans and rice
To soak or not to soak? I prefer to soak my beans, but I don’t always remember. The more I read, the more confused I get as far as nutrition goes (some people say beans should be soaked and others say it’s actually healthier not to). I try to soak them, but I don’t worry about it if I don’t have time and just pull out the pressure cooker. Soo since I’m giving you a few days’ heads up, go ahead and start soaking some beans on Sunday morning!
Did you catch this opinion in last week’s NYT? A mother writes about her efforts to feed her family healthfully on a shoestring budget:
My turn with spade and hoe started a few years ago when I found myself divorced and flat broke. My livelihood as a freelance writer went out the window when the economy tanked. I literally could afford beans, the dried kind, which I’d thought were for school art projects or teaching elementary math. And I didn’t know how to cook.
Luckily, my late father had hammered into me that grit was more important than talent. So, when I couldn’t afford fancy food — never mind paraben-free shampoo — for my babies, I figured, if peasants in 11th-century Sicily did all this, how hard could it be?
…My goal was to have healthy, unprocessed food for $10 or less a day. Cereal was the first thing to go. It dawned on me that making granola was a matter of tossing oatmeal and nuts into a bowl with a little oil, honey and spices — and then baking until brown. No more $14 boxes of fancy grains with pomegranate antioxidants.
Read the whole thing.
Along those same lines, check out Urban Hermit, a memoir about an extremely obese and deeply in debt man who resolves to do something about his condition and accomplishes both largely by eating real (cheap!) food. Now a diet consisting solely of lentils and tuna sounds like quick boredom to me, but the point is that eating whole foods doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive necessarily.
The biggest complaint I hear about “real food” eating and cooking is the time and cost it requires. While I sympathize with both complaints, we have actually found that eating real food is less expensive than how we used to eat, which, while not totally unhealthy, was much more convenience-focused. It does take more time, but I have found that creating something in the kitchen for my family or friends’ enjoyment is immensely more satisfying than many of the other ways I spend my time. I’ll try to do better about including cost and time estimates in my recipes here to be more transparent about how much time and money we’re spending to feed our family in this way.
When I get going on food and gardening topics, it’s hard to reign me in. I’m often asked for book/movie/blog recommendations to learn more on these topics (or maybe to shut me up?), so I thought I would create a little reoccurring category here on the Grace Garden blog on recommended reading and/or viewing. Feel free to submit your own recommendations (please do!).
I first read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle when it was published in 2007, and it is the first book I recommend to people on the importance of more thoughtful food choices and the importance of gardening. Kingsolver writes beautifully, and it’s hard not to get sucked in to her family’s adventure in eating locally and seasonally over the course of a year.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver begins with Kingsolver and her family deciding to move from the sunny deserts of Arizona to the fertile, rolling hills of Virginia. Both Kingsolver and her husband were originally from the Appalachian region, so, for them, the move was a return to the roots of their childhood. Once the family has settled into the more laidback life of Virginia, they decide to embark on a diet produced either from the work of their own hands or work from the hands of those in their community, which they define as the region within 100 miles of their home. Kingsolver breaks down the chapters according to the seasons of a farm and offers an easy mnemonic device for those of us not raised on a farm for remembering what types of produce are in season when.
Kingsolver and company (her eldest daughter, Camille, and her husband, Steven L. Hopp also contribute to the book) provide a lovely glimpse into a family’s life on a small farm. Her descriptions of working the fields and creating recipes together based on what’s available from the garden made me want to head out to my yard and start digging.
The book is not all memoir, however. Kingsolver has a clear agenda throughout the book. She hopes to convince her readers of the value inherent in purchasing organically and thoughtfully produced, seasonal and locally-grown produce. This reader was convinced. The book’s publishers were smart to release the book toward the beginning of spring, as people, like me, are itching to get back outside.
As a twenty-something still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, I have repeatedly felt guilty and even weird for not buying into the workaholic, constant networking mindset of many of my peers and co-workers. My husband and I recently bought a new home and brought home a puppy, and I almost resent the time I spend away from them to sit at a desk feeling uninterested and unnecessary. As I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I began to realize that maybe I’m not as strange as I thought. In today’s society, we are so far removed from the natural, Godly order of life that we find ourselves caught up on the merry-go-round of “keeping up with the Joneses” – being the most successful, having the biggest house, knowing the right kind of people, to name a few. Maybe I feel uncomfortable and out-of-place about living in the world as we know it because God wants me to feel that way.
During their experiment, Kingsolver and her family learn to relish the value of hard, manual labor and seeing the results of their work in the fresh taste of a summer tomato picked right off the vine or the beauty of a mountain of steamed asparagus straight from the garden. Kingsolver’s narrative reminded me that, as Christians, we are called to care for the poor and marginalized in our own backyard, not just those we often hear about in Darfur or the Congo. It is a sad reality that most of our small-family farmers have been forced out of business by the large, corporately-owned “farms” that over-produce genetically-modified corns and soybeans or mass produce poultry, beef and pork in conditions that no natural being should be forced to endure.
Reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle made me more conscious of what I put in my mouth – where it came from, how far it traveled to get to my plate, the people that toiled so that I could enjoy it. As far as I’m concerned, a book that makes me more considerate and thoughtful of the creation around me is a book worth reading.
Review originally published at Burnside Writers Collective.