Saturday, July 30, 2011

Take this tomato and eat it

Today Denis and I made our usual Saturday morning trip to Farmer’s Market. It never gets old – the anticipation, the festive atmosphere, this season of knowing that for the rest of the week I’ll have a fresh supply of choice vegetables and herbs for our meals. Winter will be here soon enough when there’ll be no such thing as a fresh golden tomato. Or the blinding heat of the sun bouncing off the tops of awnings. Baskets, shelves, buckets groaning with mounds of vegetables, herbs, flowers. Vendors selling chicken, pork, beef, elk, buffalo most of it happy-meat. Hidden Stream Farm. Hillside Farm. Veerman’s Ranch. Many Hands Garden. Friendly Acres. The earthy, basil-ly scent in the air is killing, making me decide pesto pasta and fresh tomatoes will be on our menu this week. We pass a stand where they are grilling steak from grass-fed beef and handing out free samples. People of all ages and colors push past arms loaded with produce and bouquets of zinnias.

Denis and I head straight for Heartbeet Farm and Easy Yoke Farm stands. The owners are friends - two young couples – their land and lives connected by the same calling in life – to grow vegetables that are chemical-free and incomparable to anything I could buy at Hyvee. Recently we brought an evening meal out to the farm, and as the sun went down, sending dappled shadows across the yard, - those soft and tender rays that cool the last of the day - Daniel wanted to take us through the lanes to look at the fields and the land where he and Hannah hope to build their home. (Joe and Becca have been at it a little longer and are more established.) Over near that big tree in the pic below.

He showed us the onion field – 10,000 plants. Today I bought  three.

I felt rich, rich as I unloaded all the vegetables to my kitchen counter. The tomatoes – purple heirlooms that Joe says have a slightly smoky flavor, and he’s right! The cherry golds so sweet it’d be easy to think of them as desert. We had eggs, scallions, Hungarian peppers, red pepper, green bell pepper, summer spinach (a broader leaf, tender and mild), celery (intense flavor), a bouquet of basil, two kinds of cucumber – small pickling cucumbers good for slicing with onion vinegar and oil in a simple salad and the long English cucumber for spear eating – and potatoes. Daniel was inspired to plant a few in the forest near the river bottom in the rich sandy soil, so of course: Forest Potatoes and he insists I tell the story of them. They taste real, honest, crisp. Quite amazing.

For lunch we ate a piece of wheat bread layered with Boursin cheese,  thick-sliced tomato and basil leaves. I’m thinking of the same thing for supper.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott: Gone

John Stott died yesterday. He was 90 years old and had some years ago made the choice to retire completely from public life. (That is merely one evidence of his unusual wisdom and humility) His writing and life has influenced mine, like it has thousands of others. It wasn’t just the clarity of his exegetical Bible teaching, it was his example and pure delight in loving and caring for God’s creation. I’m sure there are already dozens, perhaps hundreds of memorials and obituaries going up for him and I don’t pretend to add anything profound. Only want to say I’m sad he is gone, but thankful for a life that served God and others so fully to the very end.

I remember when I was first introduced to his book Basic Christianity through Intervarsity when I was a student. I wasn’t interested in reading it because the title insulted me and so did the young man who suggested I read it. Who was John Stott, anyway? Basic Christianity?! As though having been raised in a Christian home and a pietistic church did not mean I had not committed more Scripture to memory than this young man had ever read?! Pish.

Then one day I picked it up and began to read and the claims of Christ became so radical and so living, it was like I’d never heard the Gospel. For one of the things John Stott insisted upon, was that unless we struggle to build bridges built between what the Bible says and the modern world, through having listened to and understanding the modern world, then all our religiosity, all our sermons and piety makes Christianity irrelevant to those who don’t believe. He claimed that our task is to demonstrate Christ’s relevance to the world through our lives.

Until then no one ever described Christ in a way that seduced me through love. He began a new way for me to think and live.

“There is in him no trace of the crank. He believes ardently in what he teaches, but he is no fanatic. His doctrine is unpopular, but he is not eccentric. There is as much evidence for his humanity as for his divinity. He gets tired. He needs to sleep and eat and drink like other men. He experiences the human emotions of love and anger, joy and sorrow. He is fully human, but He is no mere man.
            “Above all, He was unselfish. Nothing is more striking than this. Believing himself to be divine, yet he did not put on airs or stand on his dignity. He was never pompous as men tend to be who think themselves greater than they are. There was no touch of self-importance about Jesus. He was humble. It is this paradox which is so baffling, the self-centeredness of his teaching and the unself-centeredness of his behavour.  He combined in himself the greatest self-esteem and the greatest self-sacrifice. He knew himself to be the Lord of all, but he became the servant of all. … The essence of love is self-sacrifice. The worst of men is adorned by an occasional flash of such nobility, but the life of Jesus irradiated it with a never-fading incandescent glow. The conclusion of the matter is this: Jesus was sinless because he was selfless. Such selflessness is love. And God is love.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Make me apologize

Last night we had friends for dinner. Late afternoon, I made a strawberry soup for dessert. It’s mostly a glorified creamy smoothie with a sprig of mint and a sliced strawberry for garnish. Wonderful with field-picked strawberries. Most excellent served with a piece of dark chocolate. As I was washing out the blender I pressed a squirt of dish soap which normally sprays into the sink, but for some reason, it backfired across the counter and showered the individual servings with a bit of Dawn. I was very vexed and called Sandy in for a consult. I had already skimmed the surfaces and tasted one spoonful that had a drop of invisible soap, and if it wasn’t so hard to get down there, I would have writhed on the floor. (WHY do these things happen to me? Or do they to you, too, and you just don’t say?) Sandy is a nurse practitioner living in NZ, not to hold her moving away against her - she’s an awesome cook, too. She test-tasted, and said “Ahhhh, it’s good. It would be a shame to throw this. Serve it. No one will know.” I did, and later she was the only one to get a soap droplet in her serving.  

Anita and I collaborated to make spring rolls – that delicious Thai appetizer, which to our unpracticed hands was like gluing double-stick tape on wet grass. With each one, they became more coherent until we had a tray of twenty. Ours held fresh mint, sprouts, avocado, shavings of beef, thin sticks of cucumber and CILANTRO in a paper thin rice wrapper, dipped in a peanut sauce - they are a perfect hot-day food. The combination of crunchy, soft, spicy, mild, chilled is… how did they think of this? In deference to Denis we made three without cilantro. He isn’t just phobic about this herb, which - I remind him - is used in all sorts of ethnic cuisine; he is aggressively hostile, claiming he can’t even stand the smell of it.

That came up during dinner, because we needed to mention that the ones pointed “that way” belonged to Denis who hates cilantro. I point this out, as if it’s a fault. Denis has so few I delight in obvious weakness. Among our guests was Larry, a physician. Each July he returns to Rochester from Mayo Clinic Scottsdale to do hospital service for a month. He’s a font of weird facts and arcane observations and declared that the hatred of cilantro is due to the lack of a certain inherited enzyme that leaves the inheritee thinking they’ve eaten soap or something disgustingly rotten. Now Denis demands I apologize for years of sneaking cilantro into things.

So here it is: Denis, I’m sorry for making fun of you for something you can’t help because you’re genetically deficient. I promise not to mention it again. I love you anyway. And if you tasted soap in your dessert last night, it wasn’t because I snuck in cilantro; it was just an accident. I hope one day a gene that causes accident prone-ness will be discovered.