7.27.2012

We are half-hearted creatures

I read something in a book the other day that keeps coming back to me.  From fellow writer and pilgrim C.S. Lewis:

It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

Most of the time I consider my desires or aspirations too great, that I am asking too much, dreaming too big.  I fear sometimes that my resolve toward a greater sense of purpose is a selfish dissatisfaction.  But perhaps I've been wrong.  Maybe it's just that what I imagine is too small, my desires too weak.  Am I far too easily pleased?

I do think there is a difference between a human desire or a thoughtless dissatisfaction and a spiritual longing.  The desires that our Lord finds too weak are the ones rooted in who he created us to be, the ones that bring us infinite joy and a life of wholeness.  I am constantly challenged by the need to check my humility and reposition my hunger toward the One who wants to give us the moon.

Infinite joy.  I hardly know what to make of that.  But I guess my prayer would be that God would grant me the vision to see what he sees, to imagine the holiday at sea.  

I want to live a life so rich with wonder that this story cannot help but bespeak a Maker who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

7.19.2012

A dill bread to really shout about

Lately, on my days off all I want to do is sit at the poolside (where I close my eyes and imagine the ocean).  Summer is a Chicago resident's opportunity to do things you can't do for the other nine months of the year.  This means you live outside and swim and cookout and eat fresh.  We have such extreme seasons, we must stand together and make the most of this, the hottest summer of all time!  This is what I imagine the midwest battle-cry to be.

I spent my day off this week tending the garden.  It was in need of some focused care and determined weed-pulling.  It looks lovely now, if a little overgrown and unorganized.  My dill plant was beginning to flower, and I just couldn't keep up with it's skinny little shoots growing higher and higher.  I kept imagining the dill we saw while camping, which was taller than me.  Anxious to use up my dill and work with yeast again, I sought out a lovely little dill yeast bread recipe in my Simply in Season cookbook.  For whatever reason, my expectations for this bread were low, and I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.  I decided to take advantage of the humid heat outside.  Shrouded in white, the yeast worked its magic on our back porch, just steps from where the dill grew.  I love this proximity.  

I think this is closer to how things were created to be, how God intended them.  I imagine Adam and Eve enjoying a salad straight from Eden.  I love the idea of cultivating and eating a thing so close to its origins.  My sister and her husband just returned from Italy, where they had wine made from grapes that were grown on the hillside out their window. The essence of eating local.



The recipe calls for minced onion, I used a shallot because that's what I had and it was delicious.  It also uniquely calls for cottage cheese, a source of fat and moisture for the dough.  I think it could be made with any number of herbs.  I've got chives and rosemary ready and waiting.


I recommend a warm slice of it with a nice piece of cheese, a fresh green salad, and a glass of sauvignon blanc - my favorite summer wine.  
Well hello summer, here we are making the most of it!


DILL YEAST BREAD
Yields 1 loaf

1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1/4 c warm water
Stir together to dissolve yeast.  Set aside.

1 cup cottage cheese
In small microwavable bowl heat until warm (not hot); place in large mixing bowl.

2-4 Tb fresh dill (chopped; or 2 teaspoons dried)
2 Tb sugar
1 Tb butter melted
1 Tb onion/shallot minced
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 egg
Add to cottage cheese and mix together.  Stir in yeast mixture.

2 1/2 - 3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup corneal
Add, using enough flour to handle easily.  Knead 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, turn to grease both sides, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk (here is where I set mine outside, well shrouded to protect from curious birds and squirrels - your bread will rise quickly in the heat).  Punch down and place into a well greased and floured 9x5 inch loaf pan.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill. Cover and let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes (less if it's proofing in 95 degrees - mine took about 30 min). Bake in preheated oven at 350F for 30-35 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on wire rack.

7.06.2012

Won't you ride on with me?

My dear compadres, I can't remember a hotter summer.  I feel like that's the only thing we've really talked about this summer:  how hot we are.  We just endured a truly miserable camping trip at a blistering average of 100 degrees.  With a two month old nephew and a big fluffy dog in tow.  This is the stuff of champions.  When I think back on it now, I wish two things:  One, that we had a video camera rolling for those four comedic days, because it would have made for a great show and testimonial.  Second, I wish we had t-shirts capes with our respective superhero titles:  "Silas, Prince of 105" or "Winston, Master of the Kiddie Pool", our powers being the not-so-slight endurance of a camping trip heated to a rolling boil.  I think if there was an award for Most Miserable 26th Birthday, I'd have a pretty decent chance at it.  And not because my wonderful family didn't celebrate but because they were up against the heat and sadly, the rising mercury won.  To make up for it, we spent the Fourth of July in a pool, quite literally, all day, our imaginary capes afloat.

My bread baking has suffered incredibly this summer.  I cannot fathom turning the oven up to 500 degrees.  In my search for something light, fresh, and relatively cool to make, I ran across a slew of recipes for grilled pizzas/flatbreads.  We actually made them on our camping trip with prepared pizza dough from Trader Joe's.  You can essentially top them with whatever is in season and available; the grill gives it incredible flavor.  I made one just the other day with what I could glean from the fridge.  


Grilled Caprese Pizza
Makes 4 individual pizzas

1 lb pizza dough
cherry tomatos or sliced romas
pearl mozzarella balls
a handful of fresh basil
olive oil
salt & pepper

Fire up the grill.  Split the dough into four equal pieces and roll/work into a rough circle with a rolling pin (or if you're camping, with your hands) and a bit of flour.  Brush with olive oil on both sides and throw it on the grill.  Cook 3-5 minutes on each side, until dough is puffed and cooked through.  Remove from gril and layer with basil, tomatos, and mozzarella.  Return to grill briefly to melt cheese and heat through.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


I picked my first home-grown zucchini of the season this week - just before the rabbits got to it.  It has teeth marks.  My sister Jody calls me Mr. McGregor.  I think it's destined for another recipe I've got for a pizza with grilled zucchini, scallions, and ricotta.  I love summer.  I love it for its fresh produce and its pool-side reading.  I've been hard-pressed to find a good read this summer, so I've been re-reading some of my favorites.  Scared at first that what I once deemed one-of-the-best-books-of-all-time would be just average the second time around, I hesitated to start Peace Like A River.  But I guess my literary senses are keen because it's just as beautiful as I remember.  The author begins with this dedication, which I think fitting of this season's adventures:

The country ahead is as wild a spread
As ever we're likely to see

The horses are dancing to start the advance    
Won't you ride on with me?