morning on the second of january

wp-1451784258726.jpg“It’s been a loud year, and I really need the quiet.” {Brooke Fraser, New Year’s Eve}

We wake to the world covered in frost, mist hovering over the water like the days before form or void. The thermometer on the outside wall declares that the temperature has dipped to eighteen degrees, but inside the house the woodstove pops and cracks, and the cold–thoroughly chastened–slinks away to sit in the windowsill corners and under the couches where it bats, catlike, at our ankles.

The New Year arrived the night before under frigid stars on an icy porch, fireworks echoing down the channel, rumors of lights in the night sky, and expectant prayers with bent heads over glasses of prosecco. We whispered in the hush between explosions, opening our gloved hands to lift our futures up before the Creator, high enough for the stars to see, and higher still. The moon rose.

But today, the world as we know it is gone; the fog settles on every surface as ice and lingers in the air as a veil. The islands across the channel have vanished, the boats in the harbor reduced to ghostly skeletons of shape. Every movement is magnified. The gulls scream in and out of the mist. An eagle swoops out of sight above the trees. Buffleheads and scaup ducks sail to and fro on the stillness like raindrops on glass, languid and unconcerned.

At the window I hold my teacup, forget to take a sip as I watch the world unfold slowly, the sun attempt to reach the earth to break this winter spell. All down the row of houses the woodstove smoke rises in perfect columns, joins the mist, carpets the sky. I think of all the creatures in the winter, and wonder who feeds them. I think of the woods frosted and gemlike, beautiful but no longer nourishing. I think of the animals who sleep during this time, hide in caves, nod off in their nests, find a dark and quiet corner.

That is what I’m doing, I think. I am like that.

New things don’t always feel new. Sometimes they are old things transformed, like a world covered in frost. Sometimes we don’t notice the new things until we emerge from our caves, months after the new year, and find that spring has brought our hopes to life. Incubation is a dark, silent, brooding time, but it’s where life comes from. Winter into spring. Frost into fire.

A female towhee with a flicking tail lands on the sill and eyes me, a reminder in her gaze to refill the empty bird feeder. Thoroughly lost in my thoughts, I forget to make conversation, and she flutters away with a frustrated buzzing.

And so the year begins in a flurry of feathers, a rising of steam, an applause of flame, a column of smoke, a wash of white, a forgetting, and a remembering.

The air is so, so still.

with us

IMGP0013_2Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. {Matthew 1:23}

My last blog post on this site was exactly one year ago, today.

In my utmost honesty I don’t remember how it felt to stand where I stood, then. I don’t remember exactly what holiday jumble-sale of thoughts clambered for space while I wrote the words in that final blog post called paper crowns, or who I thought I would be when I looked ahead to what would eventually be today. I suppose memories are soap-bubble thin unless extraordinary emotion makes them more viscous, more solid. This is just how it is with us.

It would take more than I have in my pockets to explain this year just passed, the ups and downs and twists and turns that make a life while all the while the Parish Pantry waited silently, breathing shallowly, legs dangling, hands folded while I took my time deciding what to do with her. I looked upon this blog as you might look on a crooked house by a lake, a persnickety oven, a creaking floor, a set of old dishes, a pair of worn shoes. “I don’t live there anymore,” you might say. And you might be right. She doesn’t look the same, anymore, this old house. But neither do I, and maybe we’re both the better for it.

One thing refuses to change: I still have no idea what I want to say, even while I’m saying it. But this season does things to me. This Advent tumble toward Christmas, the lights and the colors and the sounds, the ancient sitting squarely beside the modern in a way that truly only happens once a year, the light in the darkness. This season strikes me dumb, and then makes me a singer. And the Parish Pantry, for whatever reason, for whatever rhyme, is where I like to put those songs.

And that’s just how it is with us.

If you are a longtime reader, you will notice that this is where the Parish Pantry takes a slight change of tone to reflect the changes that have happened since the blog began. Certain themes will remain constant, but expect some shifts in the way you remember the blog, from a blog centered around cooking and eating to more lifestyle, theology, hospitality, and prose poetry essays. Though a few recipes may sneak in from time to time. 

Most importantly, thank you for your patience through the long, long wait. 

paper crowns

Have you ever seen a roomful of people wearing paper crowns?

I have. But then again, I see it all the time.

There is something in the human body that resists the urge to wear a paper crown in public. It is much easier to wear it at a party, when everyone else is wearing theirs and all of the colors are on full display. It is much easier to forget that you even have it on when everyone else has forgotten, too. Just for one night, it feels like it’s a part of you. It doesn’t feel heavy or awkward or uncomfortable. Just for one night.

Paper crowns are fragile things. They are lightweight and rip easily, and if thrown on the floor they crumple underfoot. It could be that there may be nothing more melancholy than a torn-up paper crown, after the party is over and the trash bag devours the last signs that anyone was ever there.

But perhaps not.

It is far worse, I think, to see the paper crown that is still neatly folded, untouched, on a tabletop or hidden behind a picture frame or in between the sofa cushions. It is the proof that someone did not dare, and would not dare to wear their paper crown. They had it in their hand, perhaps, and thought it over, and thought it best not to be seen a fool. And they put it away from them.

And so they isolate themselves. And by attempting to fit in, they stick out.

Perhaps vulnerability in a community of faith and grace is like that. Perhaps a roomful of people ought to wear their hearts on their heads in full display, just for one night, even if their hearts are lightweight, fragile things. Perhaps the most melancholy sight is a heart untouched, still folded in upon itself, tucked on a tabletop or hidden behind a picture frame or in between the sofa cushions. Perhaps.

Have you ever seen a roomful of people wearing paper crowns?

Bent over mugs of soup and conversation, forgetting how silly they look?

Sharing a little spark of foolishness in a heavy, serious world?

I have.
But then again, I see it all the time.

first sunday: bones

Advent is a time of waiting, but not sterile and empty waiting. It is a time of creative expectancy. {Rev. Rembert G. Weakland}

It is Advent again, and I sit on the floor sipping bone broth out of a crisp white bowl. This broth has simmered for 24 hours in our crockpot, a melange of the leftovers from the Thanksgiving turkey: bones, skin, flesh, and obliging vegetables. An onion, a stalk of celery, some cloves of garlic. A bay leaf. A tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar, to convince the nutrients in the bones to eke out and join and swirl and move. And here before me, a broth. Good for the bones, teeth, hair. Good for the body. Nourishment from another body to mine.

As I sit and sip and savor and think back through Advent past and wonder over Advent future I approach again a table laden with fine food and rich heritage. Candles and lights cast a glow in the darkness of late autumn into winter and I eat, hungry to understand, yearning to be delighted by an interruption in the normalcy. A banquet laden with history. Songs from centuries ago, traditions passed and re-passed and re-passed. Every word, every movement a balm to this weary soul.

Advent returns, and I sit at a table full of food only some of which I understand, but every morsel I long for. A table set by a merciful Host, a Father who teaches and guides and rescues. I savor what He gives me. It is good for the body. It is nourishment, from His Body to mine.

—–

Turkey Bone Broth

As far as I can tell, making bone broth is nearly the same as making stock except for the addition of vinegar to draw out the nutrients in the bones. Bone broth is also simmered for longer. This is an “un-recipe”…it really all depends on personal taste.

You Will Need:

– turkey (or other poultry) scraps: bones, skin (optional; adds fat, but also flavor), giblets
– vegetables: onions, celery, carrots, leeks (whatever you like in stock)
– herbs and spices: garlic, black pepper, bay leaf, thyme, etc. I usually leave mine unsalted.
– apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar: one tbsp per 2 quarts of water
– enough water to submerge the ingredients

Combine all of your ingredients in a stock pot or crockpot. If using a crockpot, set on Low and cover and simmer for 12-24 hours. If using a regular stock pot, bring to a boil and then lower heat down to Low and cover and simmer for the same amount of time. You may add water as you go if too much evaporates. Skim the fat if you wish.

You can use bone broth in soups or sip it straight. Add salt to taste. Savor.

after the party

They say that prayer is a lifting up. I think it’s more of a setting down.

Last night after the party we surveyed the wreckage and wondered how it could look so much like home. How could the windows and doors all be closed but everything feel so wide open? Conversations still thrumming in the silence. Heads still thrown back into laughter but not a sound, not a sound, not a sound.

He said to me, “Every cup, plate, and mug has a story.”

Is that why they design cups, plates, and mugs to nest inside each other? To fit well, concave to convex, stacking up as high as gravity and ceiling-height will allow? Is that because they understand that our stories will nest inside one another, building and building, never-ending until time and the grace of God allows? Do they know about parties? Do they know what it means?

Last night after the party we thought about how long we had been carrying that night in our pockets. Desperately heavy, like a lump of loose change, as we wondered at it from all angles. Tempting to drop it before then, to let it scatter on the floor and forget. Tempting to ask why the desire to carry it was so strong, why our pockets didn’t feel deep enough or made well enough to hold it. Walking side by side, passing it back and forth, splitting it in half to share. It was too heavy. Too, too, heavy.

I say that prayer is more of a setting down. And once that night was on the floor, out of our hands, before a Host who knows best, we found that it became very light. Very right. And very good.

Last night, after the party, we listened to the stories still ringing in a quiet room, and were glad.

twenty-six

My birthday arrived with lightning and rumbling and rain in the middle of a weeks-long heatwave. My birthday arrived with the cry of a dear friend’s brand new baby, with fresh thyme on my fried eggs, with questions about Home, with strange fears and even stranger hopes.

It has been a long, long time since we spoke.

And what can I say? That I’ve met someone? I have. I’ve met a man who came from four and a half thousand miles away to teach me how to play outside. He asks me questions and remembers my answers. He and I carry each other in open palms, prayerful, seeking direction, learning and stumbling and laughing. Most days I do not feel capable, and these twenty-six years collapse into childhood terrors, and I don’t know whether to hide or to seek. But he is patient. He lets me see his scars, little by little, and lets me take my time understanding them. We grow.

And what more can I say? That Home is not what I expected? Because it isn’t. I thought Home was a crooked house with creaking floors and an angry oven, or perhaps that Home was the place where my parents sit on Sunday afternoons with their newspapers and their contentedness. But Home is neither here nor there, and perhaps I am still looking for it.

I thought that the Parish and its Pantry would be Home enough for me, but freshly twenty-six I am seeing clearer, for the first time in a long time. The Parish was never a house, and that house was never Home. The Parish was something we had to bring with us into any house we chose. And even up to now I don’t know whether we truly succeeded.

In a month I will no longer be living in the Parish. Not the way I’ve known it. My time in that crooked house is fading now into entries in a journal, posts on a blog. It was beautiful and sharp-edged in equal measure, depending on where I’m sitting when I think back on it.

But it’s not over. Because this blog has less to do with a house and more to do with Home. And if the Parish is something I have to bring with me into any house I choose, then I choose to pack it along with my bedding and books and my bright red teapot. I don’t know where the next step is, but the Parish will come with me there, and beyond.

In the end, any house can be a Home.
And every Parish needs a well-stocked Pantry.

the taste tester

I wish I could introduce you to Georgie.

Georgie lives in my house. She doesn’t talk much. Not at all, in fact. She always wears stripes, and she tends to scurry about; doesn’t like to linger too long in one place. She’s a bit skittish, but she seems to enjoy my company, because I’m always finding her in different rooms of the Parish. My bedroom window is a particular favorite hang-out spot, but the bathroom by the toilet paper roll has become a recent adaptation.

And now, as of tonight, the kitchen.

Georgie is not a housemate, nor is she a pet…although with the right point of view she might be both. Georgie is a common, tiny little house spider just smaller than my pinkie fingernail, one of the jerky-robotic-moving types with stripes on their rumps that you find in most Northwest houses. She’s easily missed, but I tend to spot her because she always seems to be in the same room with me.

Today was full of cares, and it was a bit difficult to pull myself into the kitchen to whip up a batch of ginger nuts for the garden party that will be held here, tomorrow. But as I pulled ingredients out of the pantry and began the process, the mechanical but never dull process of making something out of lots of other little somethings, the smile came back to my face.

Cue Georgie, spotted skittering over the face of my open cookbook. I said hello, since it only seemed polite. As per usual she didn’t say anything. But I thought she looked a little down. So I put a tiny piece of ginger nut dough nearby.

At first I thought she would ignore it, but she scuttled over and took what I assume was a teeny, tiny nibble. And then, before I could comment, she had climbed right on top of it and sat there, looking very pleased with herself, for about ten minutes.

I asked her if it was any good. She gave me no review.

Eventually she climbed off and disappeared down the side of the countertop. She seemed content, at least as content as a spider can seem. I’m still a bit miffed that she didn’t give me anything to go on regarding the dough, but I guess that’s what I get for having a spider as a taste tester.

And no, it’s not necessarily a good story…but it’s a true one.