Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Guts

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 
1 Corinthians 1:20

I get a weird, grisly pleasure just saying the words.  “Pumpkin guts!”  I was pulling the innards out of my soon to be jack-o-lantern and making freaky sound effects to entertain the kids.  By and large, it worked.   They were amused.  But they weren’t touching the stuff.  My son wouldn’t even take a pumpkin seed offered to him.  When I put it on the table in front of him, he batted it away as if it were a dung beetle, trying to touch it as little as possible.

My daughter did give it a go with the ice cream scooper.  She dug out a few seeds and some stringy, orange gook then called it a day.  I might not have been so crazy about it either when I was their age.  Now, carving pumpkins – even cleaning out the goo – falls into the nostalgic compartments of my memory right alongside the “haunted houses” where I had to reach blindfolded into a bowl of oily spaghetti.  Extremely creepy at the time, hilarious now.

I’m not sure what it says about my character that I take so much pleasure in the gooey and the weird, or that I try to make my kids do the same.  I am hoping they will store away in their memory a happy recollection of pumpkin carving.  But if it weren’t this, I suppose I would likely be a freaky parent in some other way.  Most of us probably are.

When I’m feeling the weight of my weirdness, I take some comfort in remembering that this is my calling.  We Christians are supposed to be a little strange.  We are not supposed to sit too easy with the rest of the world around us.  If we fit in too well, we would probably miss out on some of the most important teachings of our faith.

In scripture, we are told to do absurd things like love our enemies and give to anyone who asks of us.  We’re expected not to spend too much effort seeking our own welfare, but to pour our energies into the wellbeing of those with nothing to give back.  This means that if we are true to our calling, we will often find ourselves swimming upstream, moving against the crowd and standing out as if we were still wearing vampire teeth on November 1.

We might as well accept our peculiarity, but most of us struggle with it.  We long to fit in, to look like everyone else.  Because Christians hold the majority in our land, we have difficulty stretching our brains around the idea that following Jesus can be counter-cultural.  Jesus, himself, was rather subversive .  Most of us aren’t ready for that yet.

Maybe this is why I like Halloween so much.  It lets us own our weirdness for at least one day of the year.  I’ll have to work on the rest of the 364, but for now it will do.

Blessed eating!

Pumpkin Cookies
½ cup shortening                1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten                     1 cup pureed pumpkin
2 cups sifted plain flour     2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt                   2 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg           ¼ teaspoon ginger

Cream shortening; gradually beat in sugar.  Add eggs and pumpkin, mix well.  Sift flour, baking powder, salt and spices together.  Stir into pumpkin mixture.  Drop onto greased baking sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until brown.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cake for the Soul

For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.               Psalm 18:49

It isn’t widely known, but many of our Halloween traditions come from the Church.  More precisely, they came about as a result of the Christian conversion of the Celtic people centuries ago.  The original harvest festival called Samhain included bonfires to strengthen the waning sun and costumes to frighten away evil spirits.  The Christian teachings suggested instead that the fires would keep the devil away, and the masks became religious parades in honor of the saints.  The reverence toward ancestors long past became the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, on November 1 and 2 respectively.  All Saints was also known as All Hallows – Hallow meaning “holy” referring to the saints.  All Hallows Eve became Halloween.

My favorite example of pagan tradition turning Christian is the story of Soul Cakes.  It had been believed that on the night of Samhain, spirits of departed loved ones roamed the earth and would visit the homes of their living family.  Families would prepare feasts in expectation of these ancestral spirits, hoping to offer them sustenance for their travels in the world beyond.  As the celebration of All Souls became more popular, the cooking was directed toward a different recipient.  Soul Cakes were made to give to the poor who knocked on the door.  They were offered in exchange for prayers for the departed.  In this way the tradition became a charitable one, replacing the food for the dead and ensuring enough to eat for the living.

Over time, the tradition changed.  Eventually youth would begin going door to door, singing “souling” songs and asking for food.  Over time, this practice would become what we now know as trick-or-treating.  So now you know who to blame when you get the dentist’s bill.

I love the story of Halloween. I am enchanted by the cultural and historical aspects of this strange holiday, and charmed by the fascinating and colorful images of a people who, so many centuries ago, built the traditions we still enjoy. I love the story of the Church and its gentle (also successful) way of bringing others to the faith. It was done without forcing a new story on an ancient people or attempting to slash them from their traditions. While remaining true to our own faith, our predecessors were unafraid to embrace the beauty of other cultures and to create from them elements in the worship of Christ. We are richer for it.
Blessed eating!

This recipe comes from a story at the National Public Radio website.  Read it here.

Soul Cakes
Soul cakes get stale within a day or two, so eat 'em while they're hot. Makes 12 to 15 2-inch soul cakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground fresh if possible
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground fresh if possible
1/2 teaspoon salt             Generous pinch of saffron
1/2 cup milk                        1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar                     2 egg yolks                         
1/2 cup currants

For the Glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork. Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.

One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won't need the entire half-cup.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently.

Decorate the soul cakes with currants and then brush liberally with the beaten egg yolk. Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny. Serve warm, with cold pumpkin juice. – from

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Eye of the Beholder

Can you find out the deep things of God? . . . Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.
                 Job 11:7,9

It didn’t seem like much.  Of the few growing seasons I have under my belt, this one produced the least.  Many of my tomatoes suffered from blight, and the plants that did live produced fruit that barely grew larger than a golf ball.  My experiment with strawberries was interesting, but those that offered up fruit usually did so one at a time.  My yummy smelling mint died while was on a short out-of-town trip.  And though my basil remained healthy, I never found the time to make the longed for pesto that I had been planning all season.  We finally used the Parmesan for something else.

I was grumbling at my bad luck when I pulled some of my produce together for a visit to family.  I picked my small tomatoes; three kinds – Black from Tula, Brandywine and Sun Gold.  I included malabar spinach, some banana peppers and a handful of herbs – mint, rosemary, stevia and oregano.  As I was tallying up this harvest to my husband, I realized it wasn’t so meager after all.

It is funny how our perspective can shift.  Our lot can seem lavish or pitiful depending on our vision.  The difference lies in our expectations and our capacity for gratitude.  We live in a world of high expectation and low satisfaction.  Although most of us are aware of this reality, we persist – heaven help us – as if no other way were possible.  When we choose to acknowledge ourselves blessed, however, we can see the blessings all the more clearly.  It is only in our failure to notice our riches that we experience poverty.

I am grateful for this growing season, however it may have differed from my expectations.  My garden yielded enough to make it worth the time given to it.  I enjoyed the pleasure of tending these small, growing and living things.  Best of all, I was reminded of the One who gives us life in abundance!

Blessed eating!

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Corn Salad
1 can Mexicorn – drained             1 can shoe-peg corn
1 can whole kernel corn                green onions chopped
Tomatoes chopped
Mix with mayonnaise to taste.  Child, then serve. – Hazel Trawick

Note:  I threw in some banana peppers in because they had grown in abundance.  They were great!