With thanks and anticipation

For weeks before Thanksgiving we scour magazines and cookbooks and newspapers for the perfect recipes.  Our kitchen table looked a little like when I wrote that 25 page research paper....books and papers scattered everywhere.  Thanksgiving was a small affair at my parent's home this year, so we could cook anything we wanted!  No green bean casserole assignments or cans of jello-ed cranberries.  My mom and I cooked until 10 o'clock the night before, wrestling with the freshest dead turkey I've ever seen, and we were up again by 8am, rolling out brioche and snapping beans with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade playing in the background.  

When at last we squeezed in around the table to eat at 3pm, it was a feast to behold.  An abundance of food and blessings, with as much love and as much life as you could ask or imagine.

I found this Thanksgiving Prayer earlier in the week by Walter Rauschenbusch:
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
It's strange to me how quickly Thanksgiving is here and gone again.  Seemingly just a "stop" on the way to Christmas.  So I've been holding this prayer of gratitude in my heart as we begin the Advent season - a season of hope, anticipation, and expectancy.  These four weeks of Advent are fittingly the start of the church calendar.  I look forward to the lighting of a candle each Sunday leading up to Christmas.  This is, amazingly, when God begins the fulfillment of his plan of redemption.  I met someone a few weeks ago who I haven't forgotten after learning the baby she carries in her womb is dying.  She will carry and deliver her baby to term, knowing death is imminent (apart from a miracle).  I keep thinking of this woman and how uniquely she will experience Advent this year, praying the Master of the Universe would protect her from despair and offer her hope.

So with this in mind, as we move into Advent - a time of anticipation, gratitude, abundance, hope, redemption, and celebration - there are two things I hold in my heart. First, a question:
How do we encourage a sense of wholeness in all people?

And second, something my dad has reminded me of lately:
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.


The Beckoning of Lovely

Last Friday was, as you know, 11.11.11 - just another Friday for many, but for Amy Krouse Rosenthal, it marked the final movement of her much anticipated project The Beckoning of Lovely - a film and collective mission described as "an interactive love letter to the universe."  Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an artist, New York Times bestselling author, and NPR contributor who likes to make things and encourages others to do the same, in hopes of changing the world for the better.

It all started on 08.08.08, where Amy invited all of her readers/followers/anyone to join her at the Bean for the first movement of The Beckoning of Lovely and the beginning of this grand gesture of love.  The Beckoning of Lovely gatherings continued on 09.09.09 and 10.10.10, each time gaining followers and intrigue.  Amy decided that the 11.11.11 gathering at the Bean would be the conclusion to her project (or rather, the beginning...), challenging all of us to continue the movement in our own way.

I had forgotten about Amy's 11.11.11 gathering until just last week and decided this was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.  So at 11:11am last Friday, a couple hundred of us gathered at the Bean, awaiting that first glimpse of Amy KR and her now famous yellow umbrella.

I won't bore you with a play-by-play of our hour-long gathering, but it was indeed lovely. If I've successfully peaked your interest, you can read the entire script here (video footage of the day coming soon).  But just to give you a sense of our collective love letter, here are a few things we "made" together:

Amy's friend Jackson Froelich kicked it off with some pretty awesome back flips.

And so together we pledged,

I pledge allegiance
to a life zig and zagged
and to our united mates of miracles
and to this great public
together we stand
What a sensation
a wee bit odd
may it be
wondrous for all.

We sang "Happy Birthday" to all the 11.11.11 birthday celebrators out there, including a special boy turning 11 years old on 11.11.11.  And then we did a little synchronized texting, all sending a text saying "I Love You" to someone we love at the same moment.

Artist and musician Nick Gage performed a song he composed for the project called "Dream" (because we're all really just a bunch of dreamers with our heads in the clouds...did you know the real name for the Bean is Cloudgate?).

We had a lot of fun together.  And we "made" some pretty cool stuff.  The complete Beckoning of Lovely film is posted on YouTube in five movements.  You can find it here

I would like to thank Amy Krouse Rosenthal and all the other "makers" out there for recognizing the potential of the human connection and for acting on the conviction to make something lovely, together.  


Bread for Barter

I picked up the latest copy of Food and Wine magazine today, sucked in by the recipes for Apricot-Tarragon and Chocolate-Cayenne Cocktail Cookies, and only the best Thanksgiving tips and recipes.  I didn't realize that tucked away in this November gem would be an article about a girl after my own heart - she bakes bread and trades it for stuff.  Ah, seriously?!  I love this.  I have been baking homemade bread for about a year now (and by homemade I mean handmade, no bread machine, totally kneaded and baked by hand).  In the process I have made and thrown out one sourdough starter, made and kept alive one new sourdough starter, broken a bread stone (yep, it literally cracked in two while baking bread), and given away maybe a dozen loaves.  Typically when I bake a batch of bread, it makes 2-4 loaves, which is 1-3 loaves too many for the three people who live in my household.  So I often give it away, occasionally stowing away a loaf in the freezer for the bread emergency that can arise, as it is a time-consuming labor of love and takes a backseat to my full-time job at the patisserie.  I am still trying to figure out how to get my oven temp up to 500 degrees F (not to mention those new, fabulous bread proofing oven settings) and finally have a proofing basket for those really wet doughs.

Recently, I've been thinking how great it would be to make an exchange - bread for barter.  Little did I know that there was someone by the name of Malin Elmlid already doing this in Berlin.  The November issue of Food and Wine featured an article about Miss Elmlid's Bread Exchange.  She started the Bread Exchange in 2009 and now has 1000 traders.  She sticks to the basics:  white flour sourdough bread, made and baked by hand. Elmlid began perfecting her sourdough loaf a few years ago, even studying under renowned sourdough bread bakers.  The Bread Exchange grew out of her own dispersal of loaves to friends and family, who somewhat naturally, began to give things to her in exchange.  Today, Elmlid posts via Twitter or Facebook when she has loaves open for exchange, and her website lists a manifesto of what might make "a good trade":  jam, eggs, home-grown herbs, unique things from unique places, a guitar lesson, a good book, a bike repair.

People have been doing this for ages.  Food for trade is not a new concept - it is, essentially, how things started.  I think it's high time we got back to it.  It allows us to learn and benefit from something that other people are better at or have access to. Elmlid says she doesn't do the Bread Exchange to meet new people but to discover new things.  And, in my opinion, she is creating lasting relationships in turn.  I remember reading about this in Barbara Kingsolver's fantastic book Animal Vegetable Miracle.  She and her family commit to eating locally grown and raised foods for a year, knowing that they can't grow and raise it all - so, they exchange some of their produce and fresh eggs for their neighbor's harvest.  

So, how 'bout it?  My brioche for a bag of flour?  A good haircut?  The last of the summer's preserves?  My bread doesn't compare to Malin Elmlid's (I've yet to study under the greats), but I'm making my way, and I know the value of a good loaf.  It doesn't have to be just bread or just food, but I think that's a great place to start.  Bread is one of the most elemental foods, eaten and recognized in different forms all over the world.  And food is globally known, universally essential, and completely priceless.