Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “local foods”

Simple Lent & Simple Food

If you live in North America, you live in the land of abundance. We have a staggering array of options when it comes to food. Just going to the grocery can be overwhelming if you shop at a store like Wegman’s (a store that was a guilty pleasure when I was on internship).

Maybe we have too much choice. Perhaps our choice has caused us to lose focus of the process of how our food is produced, processed, and marketed to us. Is it just to purchase a piece of fruit out of season that has traveled thousands of miles and burned a lot of carbon? Do we even remember how to eat seasonally, to put food by, or to support our local farmers and farm markets?

The shocking thing is that even in this land of  plenty, almost 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table each day. The average SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) allotment is $4 per day per person. In the United States alone, more than 16 million children live in homes where food is scarce. The situation globally is even more grim, and increasing hunger is likely to lead to violence as people fight over resources.

What can people of faith do? First of all, we can become more aware of the situation, especially in our own communities. You don’t have to look very far to find those who are hungry in your own home town. Secondly, we can examine our own patterns of consumption. How much do you spend on groceries each month? Have you ever broken it down by day and per person? You might be surprised. Now add the amount you spend dining out and on quick snacks and luscious lattes. It will be far more than $4 per day.

How might you simplify your consumption? How could you eat more responsibly and healthily? How can you find ways to work toward the elimination of hunger? For starters, check out the work of Bread for the World, for example, and become involved in being a part of the solution. Then find your local soup kitchen or food pantry and volunteer. Plant an extra row or two in your garden this year and give that produce to the hungry.

We decided during Lent we would simplify our diets as much as possible, increasing our consumption of legumes, avoiding processed foods, and continuing to support local farmers and economies. My spouse even gave up desserts for Lent. Tonight we dined on pinto beans, cornbread, and cabbage. It was a wonderful meal that cost only about a dollar each and was healthy and filling. We are also constantly aware of our waste stream and try not to waste food. Each year we are adding another raised bed or two, increasing the size of our garden.

Sure, these are small actions, but when we all take small steps good things happen. We have the capability to eliminate hunger in our world. To do so we must all be mindful of the choices we make and of how these choices reflect Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

Here’s an idea! Instead of going out to eat, why not invite friends over for a shared meal. You provide the entree and beverages and invite your friends to bring a dish to share. You’ll have a good meal and an even better time. If you are adventurous consider a theme that puts an upper limit of how much can be spent on each dish. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Make it fun. Nobody said Lent had to be a completely grim experience.

Above all, pray for open eyes, open hands, and a heart that is willing always to share and set an extra place at the table. The Creator of the Universe deals in abundance. As the people of God we need to live from abundance, too.

Thanks-Living Activity

Be sure to check out this new film that premieres on March 1. You can find out more at bread.org.

Photos by David Shankbone and Natalie Maynor. Thanks!

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In Praise of Soup

Nothing for me heralds the transition from autumn to winter like soup on the supper table. A good soup is warming, filling, and frugal. A pot can be whipped up using cans relatively quickly, can simmer all afternoon, or  can simmer in a slow cooker from morning ’til night. The aromatic scent of spices fills the house and beckons all to pull up chairs to the table. Add salad and bread, and the repast becomes a feast.

Guess what we had for supper tonight? If you guessed soup, you’re invited over for an amazing bowl of curried sweet potato and lentil soup, along with a spinach, apple, walnut, and cranberry salad. My spouse’s homemade whole wheat and white bread rounded out the menu. And if you live too far away for leftovers, click here for the recipe we used.

As a busy clergy/writer couple, we look forward to slow cooker soup meals at the end of busy days. We use lots of beans, brown rice, fresh vegetables, and ethnic spices. Because we use fresh seasonal ingredients and try to buy our legumes in bulk, most recipes are quite frugal. We keep stock and leftovers in the freezer to add to soups, decreasing food waste. Another benefit of soup is that many recipes can be easily and quickly expanded if a need exists for a few extra bowls.

Last night, for example, we enjoyed a big kettle of “loaded potato” soup (minus the bacon bits). The recipe is simple: combine a sauteed onion and crushed garlic to taste, a five pound bag of russet potatoes chopped, flavor with salt and freshly ground pepper, and add enough veggie stock to just cover the potatoes. Once they’re soft, add chives, up to two cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream). We use a potato masher and and enough skim milk to reach a consistency that’s thick, creamy, but still sporting potato chunks. Yum.

Other favorites are tomato, butternut squash, vegetable, black bean, split pea, and vegetarian bean chili. We’re always open to try new recipes, and this time of year we eat soup, salads, and sandwich combinations several times a week.

I am thankful for good food, especially for the food we are able to purchase from local farmers and markets, and share with generous friends who garden. I am also grateful for the warming and comforting properties of soup suppers when the temperatures drop and nights become longer.

A meal doesn’t have to be time-consuming and expensive to be good for you, tasty, frugal, and local. Soup makes a fine option for entertaining because it’s easier on the cook. Try putting together a couple of soup options, a few loaves of bread, and a hearty green salad the next time you host guests. Better yet, make it a “crock-luck” soup party and let everyone contribute something for the table.

What are your favorite soups? Feel free to share a recipe!

Photos by erin.kkr, jeffryw, and Qfamily. Thanks!

Chow, Chow, Chow*

*or, the fine art of maximizing excess produce and living frugally but well

Spatchy Cat checks out the Chow-Chow

Unless you live somewhere in or around Appalachia, Pennsylvania, or various Southern states (or have roots in these areas), chances are you think of Chow Chow as a dog breed of Chinese extraction rather than a delicious relish to slather on pinto beans or hot dogs.

Growing up in the foothills of Appalachia, Chow-Chow was a regular condiment on our family’s table. Mammaw Nannie, my paternal grandmother, used to give us a few jars every year, and my father prized it about as highly as he did banana pudding and my mother’s meatloaf. As a child, I was ambivalent about the brightly colored pickled concoction. But it grew on me the older I got, sort of like a taste for coffee grows on a person, and by the time my Mammaw passed on, it had become one of my favorites, too.

Mammaw Nannie shelling beans for canning.

For most of my adult life, I’ve resorted to local or regionally produced varieties, an occasional purchase of a homemade batch sold at craft fairs and festivals, or (gulp) none at all. In fact, I’d gotten to the point that I didn’t really think about it–until my spouse and I started gardening again.

This year we had an over-abundance of green tomatoes, and as the first frost loomed ever closer, I started looking for ways to use the excess produce rather than letting it go to waste. (After all, one can only consume so many fried green tomatoes.) I posted a question to The Compact looking for Chow-Chow recipes and got a few responses and ideas, but nothing seemed to match exactly what I remembered from childhood.

My resourceful cousin Bev was able to figure out the basic process and ingredients from conversation with her mom and our aunt. Between that and a vintage cookbook my mother had given her for a wedding present, we came up with a workable recipe for “Green Tomato Relish.”

My spouse and I harvested the remaining tomatoes, and chopped them along with onions, red and green peppers. We cooked them down with a brew of vinegar, sugar, and spices, and water-processed 10 pints and three 1.5 pint jars. We even saved the excess seasoned vinegar for salad dressing and cooking.

Tomorrow we’ll open the first jar to serve with pintos, turnip greens, and cornbread–a Southern Appalachian feast.  Better yet, we have plenty to share and made the best possible use out of virtually all the tomatoes in our garden. Mammaw Nannie and so many others of her generation knew how to stretch a dollar, feed a family, and make the most of everything–including each and every day of life. Thanks, Mammaw, for continuing to teach me how to live well and be a good steward of God’s many gifts!

What ideas do you have for making the most of your garden produce to live frugally but well?

Mom’s Green Tomato Relish (aka Chow-Chow)

1 gallon ground green tomatoes

6 green peppers

6 red peppers

4 stalks celery

2 T. salt

1 T mustard seed (white)

1 T celery seed

Onions to taste (optional, but I use four or five)

Grind (or mince) tomatoes. Put hot water over them. Drain and rinse in cold water. Boil three pints vinegar and three cups sugar along with the salt, mustard seed, and celery seed for 5-10 minutes. Add drained vegetables and simmer to consistency desired. Pack Chow-Chow into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Note: I processed them in a water bath for 15 minutes.

When I shared this story and recipe with the journaling and scrapbooking group at Trinity Lutheran Church, Sally B. brought me a photocopy of a couple of recipes from an old family cookbook (handwritten). Here they are:

Chow Chow

1 peck tomatoes, green-ground

6 cup ground cabbage

6 onions

6 sweet peppers ground

6 stalks celery

1/2 cup salt

Boil 20 minutes, strain, add vinegar enough to cover it well.

4 lbs sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon

2 tablespoons cloves

a little mustard

boil 15 to 20 minutes, makes 7 1/2 qts.

Pepper Hash

24 peppers

16 onions

1 qt vinegar

3 cups sugar

2 ts celery seed

2 ts salt

Grind pepper and onions, scald with salted water 32 times, drain, add vinegar, sugar, and celery seed. Let boil 15 minutes and seal.

Sally also brought me a copy of a traditional Pennsylvania version of Chow-Chow that uses a wider variety of vegetables and makes about 12 pints.

1 pt green string beans

1 pt yellow string beans

1 pt sliced celery

1 pt kidney beans

1 pt yellow corn

1 pt carrots sliced

1 pt lima beans

1 pt Navy beans

1 pt cauliflower

1 pt small pickles

6 chopped red peppers

2 small onions chopped

Note: Anything that isn’t precooked…do it, but not until it’s mushy. Whenever possible I use frozen vegetables @ room temperature, or canned beans because they are already precooked.

Drain and rinse all vegetables. Make a syrup of:

1 1/2 pound sugar

1 tsp. mustard seed

1 tsp. celery seed

1 qt. white vinegar

1 qt. water

1 TBSP pickling spice in a cloth bag…..bring to a boil….remove spice bag….add vegetables to liquid….bring to a boil again and then pack in jars & seal.

Photos by sblezard and davidpbaxter.

The Gift of Connection & Community

No man (sic) is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. — John Donne, from Meditation XVII

Jacobean poet John Donne’s powerful words still ring true today, although humankind still strives for distinction and personal space. However, for the one who practices the art of “thanks-living,”the joy and the meaning of life are found in the connections forged among us. The meaning of life is expressed in community and communion rather than the glories of individualism and singular achievement.

“I did this” or “I made that” the human mind is apt to proclaim. The truth is that nothing is completely original, and we all build upon the lives, creativity, and experiences of others. We, too, will leave a legacy for good or ill upon which our successors must build.

Yes, that’s correct–“we.” Because we do not live in isolation. Even Thoreau in his Walden woods cabin could not completely separate the individual and his efforts from the joys and delights of a shared creation. The same sun and moon and stars that shone on Walden Pond still shine on all of us today. The same life-giving rain and nurturing soil belongs to all creation, not to you or me alone. Nothing can truly be held only by the individual, despite our illusions to the contrary.

We may build fences and wall and fortresses, but they will crumble and fall eventually. Robert Frost knew this when he wrote the poem “Mending Wall,” and said “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”

We are created to be our best in various constructs of community. We form family units, schools, churches, clubs, cooperatives, and any number of other groups that gather around shared purpose and goals. Together we are stronger than the isolation of our individual parts. When we break down walls and remove barriers, amazing things happen. Life and love flourish if given the most minute of opportunities.

One small example is our backyard garden. In all probability two new raised beds would have remained a dream without the joyous self-giving of our friend and neighbor, Debbie. She brought her tools, knowledge, energy, and laughter to the effort. She generously brought alpine strawberries, Egyptian walking onions, and black-eyed Susans to be planted. Other neighbors and friends, Ida, Audrey, and Creta gave their extra tomato and onion plants so that we now have an abundance to share with others.

Our little backyard garden, still very much a work in progress, is not something that we can claim as “ours.” It is the gift and product of community, the fruit of connection, and a harvest of true blessings.

Questions to Ponder

What strands of connection and community are you weaving into your life?

Who gives to you and to whom do you give?

What harvest of blessings might you celebrate during this season?

Photos by Linda N and steppnout. Thanks!

Thankful for Local Businesses

I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am to be able to shop at locally owned stores. Today was one of those days when I realized afresh just how thankful I should be. Here’s the story.

My youngest daughter has a landmark birthday tomorrow, and we had ordered a cake from the local ginormous chain grocery store at her request. It was going to be a special cake with two of her favorite television characters on it from the show Psych. We went to the bakery this afternoon to take the picture for them to copy onto the cake. After waiting for almost five minutes, one of the bakery assistants came to the counter to help us. I gave him the picture, and another employee said “We can’t do movie stars on cakes. It’s a copyright deal.” Well, bummer.

We would have been fine with that, but she rudely suggested we laminate the picture and do it ourselves. Never once did she suggest alternatives or ask if another cake might work. She never smiled. Nothing…just kept right on working. We told them to cancel the cake and left. Granted, she could have just been having a bad day, but as my almost-birthday-girl and former waitress/barista reminded me, “When your job is to serve the public, you do it with a smile no matter how you feel.”

Then to top it all off, we find the one gift my daughter wanted is nowhere to be found. Of course, it’s the much coveted and talked about iPhone 4S. When she finally decided to put her name on a waiting list for one, we find out that the other upgrade available on our account will work with ANY OTHER phone but an iPhone because of the different microchip size. Bummer again. Big business 2 – birthday girl 0.

Much dismayed she left to consume junk food with her step sister and look for jeans and pajamas in lieu of Psych cake and iPhone. My husband and I headed for one of the locally-owned groceries to see if we could find her second choice cake–one with a Harry Potter theme. The young woman behind the bakery counter was amazing. She dropped what she was doing and came out from behind the counter to help us look. Unfortunately, there were no Harry Potter cakes to be had at that store. We were so delighted by the bakery employee’s helpful manner that it didn’t seem so bad.

We decided to buy the ingredients for a cake and some ice cream and enlist the help of the ever-clever and artistic step-sister to save the day. Of course, we made our purchases at Kennie’s our locally owned market. The soon-to-be birthday girl has decided that the sky is not falling and her birthday won’t be so bad after all. Best of all, she can live with her perfectly adequate Samsung phone for now.

Oh, one more word about Kennie’s and why we like the store so much. They were the closest thing Gettysburg had to an “inner city” grocery–within walking distance for college students and lower income residents of town. The ginormous chain grocery had an abandoned property just a few blocks away that they left behind when they built out closer to the highway. They refused to sell the property to Kennie’s for an expansion. The good folks at Kennie’s did not give up and eventually found a way to remodel on their own property so they could better serve the needs of their faithful clientele.  My spouse actually did a study a few years ago and found that based on square footage, Kennie’s offers more variety and choices than the ginormous chain grocery. They also sell a lot of local produce and regional products.

So thank you, Kennie’s (and your counterpart Jane’s in Biglerville and The Rose Garden Organic Grocery in Gettysburg). You didn’t help us solve the cake problem, but you sure did try. We know we can count on you to do your best for your customers. I am thankful to be able to shop locally and support local business.

Plus, the homemade cake will be much tastier and made with much more love and care anyway!

Photo by HAPBI.org. Thank you!

Thankful for Food (Mostly Local) on the Table–not in the Trash

One of our kitchen goals is to avoid as much food waste as possible. I was reading one of my friend’s Facebook posts today, and she reminded me how important it is to avoid letting food go to waste. Here’s what she said (Thanks, Julia!):

Heifer International says that one third of food produced in the world goes to waste. 20% of greenhouse gases come from rotting food. And Americans throw away almost half of their food. Hence, no waste/Pantry Cleanout month for me.

If this shocks you, check out Jonathan Bloom’s blog Wasted Food. He posts some fascinating articles, facts, and suggestions, including that Americans waste “more than 40% of the food we produce for consumption…at an annual cost of more than $100 billion.” For example, he writes about Feeding the 5,000, an event in London where they feed thousands of people a free lunch prepared from food that otherwise would be thrown out. Pretty cool, huh?

Back to our kitchen! Tonight we had leftover seasoned brown basmati rice (from last night’s supper and purchased at our local organic store), roasted acorn squash (local), fried apples (local and seasoned with with cinnamon and butter), and frozen mustard greens (from our local grocer–not a big chain). It was a simple meal of fresh, healthy flavors.

I am thankful to have good food to eat. I am thankful to be able to prepare healthy food, and I am fortunate to live in an area where a good portion of my food can be acquired from local sources. I can buy from three locally owned grocery stores and several seasonal farm stands. Most of all, I am thankful to have choice and abundance when so much of the world’s population is lucky to have anything to bring to the table each day.

In gratitude for all that we have, my husband and I have a commitment to eat as simply and healthily as possible. We also try to be aware of the sources of our food and how far it travels to get to us. We eat very little meat and avoid highly processed foods. And of course, we remember to say thanks before enjoying what’s on our plates and trying not to waste what we’ve been given.

Photos by jbloom and epants used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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