5th annual all-day Thanksgiving chronicle


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Sheep mug for the win.

This is one of my favorite days of the year. Not just because I run to my computer every time something happens and have a running chronicle, but partly.

There’s also a lot of food involved, the best company, and good conversation.

This year I got up earlier than last year, because the potatoes had to be in the crockpot by 8am. I had intentions to help with the peeling, but I pressed Snooze a few too many times and ended up getting there after it was done.

Whoops.

Thanks for taking care of that, dad.

I’m thankful for my parents today. Thankful that they are happy to have me home, that they’re about to welcome me back home when I graduate in just 22 days and giving me time to figure out what’s next. They’ve been so gracious about not pressuring me to apply for jobs or be on the ball about anything. They listen to the crises about not getting things done and bring perspective and remind me to take one thing at a time. It’s been a blessing my whole life, but particularly so this semester, as I prepare to finish out a key phase of life and wander into the unknown.

It’s 8:50am.

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We set the table last night. The dishes are my great-grandmother’s china, 96 years old.

There she is, my mom’s dad’s mom. (still following?)

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Pretty sure this is before she got the china. Anyway, she lives on at our table now.

I’m thankful for getting to dig into my family heritage more this year, on both sides. I’ve gotten to write about some of it. It’s been formative, thinking about where and who I’ve come from and where I’m going. Also, I’m learning how to write about my own life in a way that brings other people in.

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This photo was taken around 8:30am, right after my mother said, “don’t you dare take  my picture.”

:)

My dad issued a challenge for a nerf gun war to the people coming to lunch today. This includes: Alex (my brother-in-law), Brooke (my sister), Stella, Brian, Alexander, and Jordan (our family friends, Stella was our piano teacher and we babysat for Alexander and Jordan).

I’m thankful for my dad – that he’s like this, engaging people and being excited about connecting over nerf guns. One of my friends saw his post and snapchatted me to let me know he is now her favorite human because he does things like this on Thanksgiving. He was pleased to hear that.

The day promises to be a success, particularly so if I get out of my pajamas and maybe get a workout in of some kind. I fell off the workout train in the middle of this semester, and what better day to get back on?

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9:15am, but first, the only protein I will eat all day and a view of the potatoes in the crockpot, which are starting to spread their starchy aroma around the kitchen.

10:49am

Workouts are done. Mom eats peanut butter and celery. The self-discipline here is just overwhelming.

This is the part of the morning where everyone wants a snack but doesn’t want to ruin their appetite for the late lunch of the century.

Just to give you an idea of what this will be like, there are three households contributing food… for nine people. 7 adults, and 2 children. There will be three pies (banana cream, pumpkin, and pecan), one meringue cake, and marshmallow fluff (which is NOT considered a dessert by table standards, only by sugar content). There will be turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, acorn squash and apples, Russian potato salad, a wild rice dish, quinoa salad with kale, cranberry sauce, challah bread, cornbread dressing, green beans, and the plethora of desserts already mentioned.

We will be full in twenty minutes. But it’s all about the experience (and the leftovers).

11:34am

Those potatoes smell so good. SO good. Like, would anyone notice if I dipped my fork into the crockpot a few times? Not that I would do that. It’s just a question.

12:18pm

My mom says these exact words, “I just can’t tell you how many times in the past week I’ve unwrapped a stick of butter… and another… and another.”

Good things are coming. When I came home, she’d already done a lot of the cooking and baking for today. There were 13 sticks of butter in the fridge. Today (two days later), there are 7 left.

This is telling.

1:32pm

Everything has gone in the oven or been heated. The place cards are ready, the green beans are steaming. Guests are coming soon.

4:05pm

Lunch has been consumed, leftovers have been divided up. Now Dad is organizing a nerf gun war. He’s making us all make targets and shoot them.

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7:12pm

It’s all over.

We ate a little of everything, talked, made targets for a nerf gun competition, and ate pie, and fought a nerf gun fight.

I’m thankful for this tradition and for a day to reflect on what I’m thankful for. Gratitude is for every day, but it’s good to have a day set aside for thankfulness.

And potatoes and pie.

And maybe nerf guns.

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Bad planning skills and lots of grocery store trips.


My family can’t go more than two days without going to the grocery store. In fact, I think I’ve been four times this week. And that’s just me.

Is that a problem? I’m not sure. It’s not like we fill up a full cart each time. Heck, last time all I bought was pizza sauce. We just don’t always plan ahead very well. Making a birthday cake (like I am today, for my dear, sweet, chocolate-loving mom)? Well, you’ll certainly make sure you have enough flour and sugar and eggs when you go to the store a few days before. You think you’re being proactive.

Then you get home and look at the recipe for the ganache and see that you need heavy whipping cream… the ONLY dairy product that is not currently in your fridge (other than cottage cheese). And it also calls for fine chocolate, but you’ll just punt and use semi-sweet chocolate chips. It’s worked before.

What’s a cook to do? Well, my parents found out that I wanted to make pizza tonight, and of course we’ve gone through the cheese in the past few days because I’m home now (vegetarians will tell you they eat alternative protein sources. Really, it’s just cheese, peanut butter, and Greek yogurt), so add that to the list. And they like meat, so they get pepperoni, too. Oh, and while we’re there, can we get cut flowers?

It’s a miracle to go through the process of cooking a meal or baking without finding that there was just one tiny thing we forgot. If we didn’t live five minutes from the grocery store, we’ probably plan better.

But instead we take fifteen to twenty minutes to get the required ingredient. (I’m convinced I’m the fastest of the three of us.)

You can say it’s attention to detail or doing the thing right. Or you can say we just really like to use our resources, like having the grocery store nearby. Or you can just say we’re not the best planners. That’s okay, too.

Baking to better.


“Out of love I made you a cake.I bake almost every week, at least once. It’s not uncommon for me to show up at Liesel’s work (the rock climbing wall) with a piece of cake – not because I’m just a fabulous person but because I’ve baked and someone has to eat it. So I’ll put a piece of cake (because that’s usually what it is) on one of our few precious paper plates left over from a baby shower, grab a fork, and head over to the fitness center.

As I hand my ID to the desk attendant to scan in, I often feel the need to explain myself, wearing street clothes and holding one or more plates sugary goods: I’m not here to work out. I’m here to deliver food to the working class of America. I just baked, and I can’t eat it all. Here, you have a cookie bar, too. Don’t you love me now? Okay, please don’t judge me for not working out today.

Last fall I hit as close to rock bottom as I’ve ever been in realizing I was both depressed and full of anxiety. As a result, I went through more flour and sugar than ever before. I may have set records. Around Thanksgiving time, I baked 16 loaves of pumpkin bread and gave them to every apartment on my floor – and then some. You don’t even want to know how many eggs and cans of pumpkin that took and how many times I washed my limited number of loaf pans.

We ate hardly any frozen pizza last year. I cooked and cooked and cooked, trying to communicate through food. I love you, my roommate. I know I’m a bear to live with right now, but I don’t know how not to be. I can barely handle myself. Have some garlic. It will get better. Ohhh, let me sauté that for you. 

It wasn’t even just about trying to prove that I wasn’t a horrible person – just a nice person going through a horrible time. I needed a way to cope, something through which to escape all the feelings I was having to deal with in and out of counseling. I needed to make something, to have control over something, to have something to show for my day. And actually, people are starting to say that baking is an effective treatment for depressed people.

The Wall Street Journal says, “Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.”

See?

It’s proven.

Passivity. That’s kind of the opposite thing most people think of when they think of depressed people. You picture extreme sadness, don’t you? Weeping? That commercial where the woman has a heavy bathrobe she can’t take off – until she takes their particular anti-depressant? I pictured that before I became one of the number. “Depressed” is such a good word for it though, because basically, when I was in my darkest times, I felt like a pressed down version of myself, like I’d been deflated and put in a tiny Tupperware. It was hard to breathe, hard to do anything, and worst of all, I didn’t want to breathe or do anything.

But then there was the kitchen.

I didn’t realize until recently what a sanctuary it has become for me – even the mountains of dishes when I’m done with the actual creation. The satisfaction of watching my efforts – sometimes even deviating from recipes or cooking norms – become something edible and many times even tasty must be healing.

I don’t have any data to back that up. I don’t have statistics or dates when I started to feel better as a direct result of baking, but all I know is I didn’t feel like myself. But as I baked and cooked (and went to counseling and took medication and started talking about my emotions instead of bottling them up quite so much and journaled and sought out the company of people who would understand), I felt progressively more like myself. And I feel most like myself in the kitchen or at the table.

What a gift that not all therapy has to be electric shock or lobotomies. What a treasure that food can heal. I’m betting Jesus had something to do with that.

 

Secret cookies.


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Thank you, Daddy, for your marvelous photography.

Today I needed chocolate surrounded by a cookie. Yes, “need” is relative, but because I know the joys and comforts of a warm chocolate chip cookie made with our family’s secret (soon to be not-so-secret) twist on the Toll House recipe, I needed the cookie.

Every time I make this cookie recipe, which I now know by heart, I think of being just taller than the countertop, over which I now tower. The sweet, floury smell of the dough brings me right back to my childhood, right back to baking with my mom.

Oh, that time when I started the mixer while she was on the phone… without having it in the dough. It sprayed all over the kitchen. Yes, that was part of the beginning of my baking career.

I remember her asking me, “Do you remember the secret recipe?”, and my reply would be “Real butter, extra vanilla.”

Real butter, extra vanilla. The mantra still goes through my head each time I add these.

Real butter. Extra vanilla. Mmmmm.

To this day, I don’t know what the recipe would be like with margarine or no vanilla. We’ve learned that a quarter cup extra of flour helps, too. I’m just unwilling to try the recipe as its written because the way we make these cookies…. oh, you really can’t eat just one.

We used the hand mixer because our Kitchenaid stand mixer was an unthought of luxury in the far-off future at that point.  So after mixing up everything but the chocolate chips, my mom would get as much of the dough off the beaters as she could with the rubber scraper, then hand them to me to lick (salmonella, schpalmonella). Something about cookie dough pre-chemical reaction is so tasty.

Or maybe I’m just conditioned to like it. Either way, that slightly salty, sweet dough is so good. I have to remind myself to wait for the real cookies.

These are some of the things that I want to pass on to another child. Maybe mine, maybe Brooke’s. Maybe someone else’s. I want to share the love of putting ingredients in a bowl and mixing them up and creating something that none of them could become on their own.

Okay, one more cookie.

Spring plus muffins


Today I wore my yellow t-shirt with the giant record on it that says “Jon Foreman” on it. I’m not sure, but I think it might have been akin to waving a giant flag that says, “I’m an American, FYI.”

Maybe not. Either way, I’m okay with it.

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I swam through allergens on my way to school since spring is in such full blossom here. I can hardly believe it – April 2nd and I already have a teeny tiny bit of a tan. It’s like real spring, the kind we don’t usually get til May in Minnesota, and I’ve already had almost a month of it. The allergens make my eyes water and made the guy in the library sniff every two seconds (we put in ear plugs and headphones… and when that didn’t make it better, we moved), but the flowers are blooming and the grass is green. We can put up with the little annoyances.

Tomorrow holds my very first excursion outside of Graz for the semester. My friends and I are going to Hallstatt, a beautiful town west of Graz surrounded by mountains and on the shore of a beautiful lake. Weather.com promised sunshine and good temperatures, so we’re hopping on the train at 7:45 am (not counting the earlier tram ride to the train station) and heading out for the day.

I made muffins because my mom taught me well. When you’re leaving for a trip early in the morning, your first concern is where you will eat breakfast. Will you get up extra early to eat before you leave and risk being late? No. You’ll bake blueberry muffins the night before, accidentally melting the butter instead of softening it, adding lemon zest and juice, and ending up with 6 more than the recipe said it would make. All in all, they’re tasty, and you are happy to have something to offer your friends tomorrow.IMG_20140402_185503

These eggs are way better than at home. I’m telling you, the yolk is ORANGE.IMG_20140402_185528

Just a little zesting action.IMG_20140402_185743

Figured I’d be original since I bet no one’s ever taken a selfie with a bald lemon before.IMG_20140402_190616Ah, fresh blueberries – heidelbeeren in German. See, I’m learning!

 

I made brownies.


I have no idea what these are going to taste like. It wasn’t a family recipe. I wasn’t even totally sure that I was buying flour and cocoa powder (thank goodness, I was).

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But there are about 285 grams of chocolate in these brownies. Plus 40 grams of cocoa powder. There’s almost no way that this could turn out badly. 185 grams of butter. Good ingredients should yield tasty results. Should.

IMG_20140327_203554I’d like to think that with my baking competency there’s no way it could go wrong. No way that my classmates will bite into one tomorrow and grimace or need their stomach pumped afterwards.

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These are an experiment, like so much of my life right now. Does this road connect to any other roads by which I can get home? Let’s find out. Is this a vegetarian dish? Let’s find out. Does that person speak English/understand bad German? Let’s find out.

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So tomorrow I’ll take a Prezi about Hemingway and my brownies and try to facilitate a discussion. Do Austrian students like brownies and sarcasm? Let’s find out. Will my professor appreciate what I’ve done? Well, if he doesn’t, he obviously isn’t a chocolate person.

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Sometimes you just have to double boil and chop and whip eggs and sugar and fold the chocolate into the eggy sugary mixture and pour it into a parchment paper lined pan and hope that it’s an acceptable offering. Sometimes it’s not that much of a risk but it feels like offering your heart. Sometimes it is offering your heart.

And sometimes it’s just chocolate.

 

My food people.


I wrote an article for RELEVANT, kind of hoping that they would snatch it right up and declare it the best piece they’ve ever had submitted. But alas, they already had an article on the same subject ready to go.

Oh well. Better results next time, perhaps.

So, instead I read my eyeballs out for American literature and wrote a short story while sitting on the deck on the third floor of my building. It’s sunny and in the high 60s today, which is a welcome introduction into spring weather. I think I got a little pink while I sat out there with my laptop, typing away about two old guys who are regulars at a coffee shop.

It’s probably not an amazing story, but sometimes you just have to sit down and write something that you might know a little something about, even if it’s mediocre. Because if you try to write something you know nothing about, then it will not only not be amazing, it might really stink.

Here’s the other news: we’re talking about what an American is in my American lit class. It’s funny because most of the people in there are European, so there’s a very different lens than I’m used to. Also, I’m realizing that I’m not sure what an American is. I’m not sure what we are historically or if you can even put a label on what is really “American.” I like what one of Dickens’ character who traveled a lot said; rather than being from a specific place, he was “a citizen of the world.”

I also like cookies. So I decided to bake some, because baking feels like home, even though all the tools and ingredients are foreign.

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Meet Austrian ingredients. Can you read any of that? Kudos if you can. Also note the recipe with grams as a measurement. WHAT?DSCN5519

The lovely dough balls, waiting to have a chemical reaction in the oven.DSCN5520Mother dough lump.

The after picture of the cookies is basically the same shape as the before picture. They weren’t anything particularly beautiful, but my flatmate said that they were “soooo good.” And I think I agree.

On the list of great food items of the past 24 hours: crêpes. Yes, crêpes. Made by a French person and eaten with French people. And a Canadian. And a West Virginian.DSCN5528

Photographic evidence of friendships. I think true friends eat together, and this group embraces that. We hadn’t even gotten up from the table before planning what we were going to eat together next.

Oh, I like food people.

 

Addicts and daily bread.


I’ve been doing a lot of silent (happy) screaming today. Lots of hand twinkling, ecstatic smiling, eye widening, toe tapping, and seat dancing.

I applied for an internship this morning. You’d think we were made for each other. And we just might have been. If it get it, I’ll tell you about it.

Oh baby.

Excitement central over here.

Today was another French Toast morning. Also a ginormous mug of coffee morning, but when isn’t it a ginormous cup of coffee morning? As I contemplated my possible addictions to cream cheese and coffee (we all know that my addiction to coffee isn’t just possible though… it’s certain), I thought about God.

We talk about going to church in terms of being fed. And I’ve heard people say that we should be at a place in our lives where we crave God and want more and more of Him.

Something about the metaphor bothers me. Is God a hit? A dose of some substance that I need to stop the shakes and the demons in my head? Is he a temporary satisfier, something that tastes good, but I’ll need more of it later?

Somehow, that doesn’t fit to me. I think God would rather be my daily bread, something that I make time for on a regular basis and enjoy deeply. Something that I need to live, desperately but not like an addictive substance. I’m not addicted to God. I run on God. There’s a difference there. Addiction indicates unhealthy dependence, that it’s something that we have a love/hate relationship with. Daily bread is something we can’t live without and are still dependent on, but it’s something we eat as a means of living well. It’s empowering rather than creating an obsession.

I don’t think God wants us to be obsessed with him like a stalker or an addict. I think he wants us to respond to him as you would to someone who loves you deeply and is fulfilling your needs, not your cravings.

Perhaps in the end, it is God who changes our cravings so that instead of wanting single hits of his presence, a strong wave to last us til we’re ready for the next one, we want daily doses, a consistent presence in our lives that changes us continuously and keeps us healthily seeking Him.

 

There is absolutely nothing that I can’t relate to food.

Self-control abandons ship.


If I ever had the ability to say “no” to a cup of coffee, it’s gone now.

It’s so gone that even though my flatmate made coffee and left some for me (probably two little mug-fulls), I still made more after I drank that. Just because it’s Saturday and I have a lot of reading to do today. The coffee is always good here. Always. Julius Meinl, will you marry me? Oh wait, you’re dead. (If you want further proof that God is good, click that link to wikipedia, and you’ll notice that Julius Meinl coffee shops are in Austria… and there are three in the USA, all on the North Side of Chicago)

I’m slowly losing the ability to say no to cookies (keks) and waffeln now. In America, those little wafer cookies are not that tasty. They’re pretty good when you dip them in chocolate (what isn’t good with chocolate?), but otherwise, they aren’t that spectacular. Enter: Manner waffeln.

My team won the Ernest Hemingway trivia game yesterday in my first Hemingway seminar (which is the coolest class in the world, might I add, full of people who want to explore literature deeply), and this was our prize. We got a bag of the Schoko-Caramel Törtchen and a bag of little Spar brand Mounds. Since it was Friday and our class had already gone 15 minutes over, half of our team left without even looking at the prize twice (makes no sense. You have to stay late to win a game, which the prize is fabulous for, but then you don’t stay to get your share? people are crazy), so we divided up the candy by throwing it to people as they walked down the stairs. Then we started eating the Manner waffeln as we walked off campus.

Melt in your mouth is such an overused phrase, but my goodness. These really do. So much so that you seem to forget how many you’ve had. My fellow winners and I marveled at them as we walked, and after we’d eaten about four, one of them says to me, “Here, you take the bag home. You’ll enjoy them.”

I was floored. One, is it a compliment when someone can tell that you’ll enjoy having a bag of cookies all to yourself? Two, these were amazing, and his kindness to give them to me was unprecedented. Few people are so kind. I consider giving food the highest form of love and appreciation. The girl from Bosnia agreed, “yeah, just let me grab another, and you take them.”

I was touched. Perhaps a little too touched since not everyone considers food the highest expression of love, but I gratefully and with gushing took the bag home with me.

I have had to put it on a high shelf to keep myself from eating the whole thing before the weekend is out.

I will learn how to enjoy all the delightful cuisine of Austria (because I didn’t even mention all the bread and amazing dairy products and fruit and pizza) in a moderated way… perhaps but July 5th.