Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Order Living

Growing up in Europe exposed me to many different cultures, history that is thousands of years in age, the beauty of landscapes and architecture like no other. When I moved to Canada over 15 years ago, I immediately fell in love with the people, their warm welcoming ways, the possibilities for anyone wanting to lay a hold of them. And who can beat jaw dropping clearance sales? Yet there was something missing... I grieved the richness of Europe, and I missed little things, like admiring homes with rather short front doors, a building date of over 800 years past above it. It's taken me years to allow myself to discover Canada, to learn about it's youthful beauty, it's multicultural diversity, all scrambled into one big pot. Today, I love this country, even it's winters, with snow so high you can't help but get out into it. I love that we are so welcoming, I love that we have freedom to raise our kids just the way we feel is best.

Summer day trips in Europe are still amongst my favourite childhood memories. The steep Swiss mountains with it's clean, crisp valley lakes. Not far from these same mountains, cafes in bustling cities. Riding street trams for shopping expeditions, visiting museums, and my favourite, old castles, some in ruins, many perfectly restored. Now that my own girls are at prime day tripping ages, we have taken full advantage of this, every free Summer day, we are on our way, discovering and loving this country, Canada.

One lasting favourite is St. Jacobs, Ontario, where Old Order Mennonites live as they did many years ago. A personal Mennonite heritage on my father's side sparks additional interest, one can't help but feel curious about these plain, simple folk. Aren't you? Is your first impression one of admiration, or do you wonder why they would live such deprived lives?

I have had to assure my husband on many an occasion, I would not attempt to reform to an Old Order, still I can't help but feel fascinated by these people's priorities, and how they are amongst the healthiest and most satisfied in the country. While I can't imagine a life of plain dress, no cars, or the comfort of electricity, I admire with all my heart their love for community. So I ask myself, why are they amongst the healthiest in our large country? Theirs is a life without daily trips to the gym or grocery stores filled with quickly accessible fancy health foods - to me, it's proof in the pudding that all these new health craze studies, all that fancy gym equipment, might not be what we should be striving for. So what do Mennonites do differently? They work physical jobs and they are loyal to family and community. They even take Sundays off, no questions asked. Could it be that simple? That, plain? Can we take some of their ways of life and incorporate them into our modern ways, creating a New Order of living? Should we prioritise community over our careers, just one day out of seven? Can it profit us all, even studio apartment dwellers in high rises, to get our hands a bit dirty, to learn about our land while we work it and profit much more than a few home grown vegetables and herbs? And rather than spending money at restaurants, might it be wiser to gather in people's homes after Sunday worship, filling long tables with a Thanksgiving-worthy feast through combined effort, every week? When our neighbours are in need, are we the first to drop everything, and gather others to help where we can?

I hope your heart warms when you think of community, as does mine. Open your homes, your hands, your resources.

And buy your boys straw hats, your girls cute bonnets. Pinching cute cheeks may just out last that fleeting baby stage.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hell-O Jell-O!?

I hope you are one of us crazies who read package ingredient lists, especially when it comes to childhood essential treats, cringes, and, with a disgusted to the gut feeling, puts the product back on the shelf.

I have been called upon the "depriving" I have inflicted upon my children of many foods that no child should do without. And yes, my kids beg for the stuff. But they have become experts at reading labels and we most often end up in the produce aisle rather than the boxed kind. They don't seem to mind a bit once they are informed!

When immigrants passed through Ellis Island many a moon ago, they were often served Jell-O as a "welcome to America" treat. Making the stuff essential to our food culture, even in my mind (and my belly). But there is no need to buy those little boxes basically made up of artificial flavour and food coloring. Why should these be part of a complete childhood? Research is not lacking in evidence of the horrific things these have done to it's eaters.

I have happy news!!


Wiggly Jiggly Fruity Cups

Serves 8

1 liter clear juice (meaning texture, not color), like grape, cranberry, apple, 100% juice - not sweetened "fruit" cocktails

2 pkgs. Knox Gelatin, or enough of your brand to set 1 liter, or 4 cups, of liquid

2 tbsp superfine sugar (optional)

assorted fruits, with the exception of pineapple, which hinders gelatin of doing it's job

Measure out 1 liter of juice. Pour 750 ml into a medium saucepan. Stir the gelatin into the remaining 250 ml, let it absorb in the juice for 5 minutes.

If using, add the 2 tbsp superfine sugar to the juice in the saucepan. Bring up to a gentle boil, stirring, to melt the sugar. Now carefully pour the hot juice into the gelatin mixture. Stir to combine, then pour into individual serving cups.

Refrigerate until just about set, 1 1/2 hours, add chopped fruit, and allow to set until firm about another half hour.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I dare you

It's no secret - our family's dream is a move out to the country, build our dream house in the midst of tall trees (which is far from a mansion, but a humble home, using creativity and simple materials, not high end expensive finishes - a house should feel like home, after all), grow fruit and vegetables to feed a crowd, swing in hammocks while reading good books, finishing days with guitars and bon fires and friends. Most of us have dreams, too many of us never dare to pursue them. As I watch my children grow, and their eyes light up whilst doing things they love, when we have that typical grown-up to child conversation about what to become one day, it brings joy to my heart when they have big dreams, when they don't say silly things like, "well, that would be nice, but that's impossible, so I won't dare try". I wonder if God sees dreams passed over, dreams let go by us, the same way I do when I see a child's can't do outlook? Dreams usually have purpose, and when they are beautiful dreams, they extend past ourselves and include those around us, often many more, people we may never know. So please, allow yourself to follow your dream, don't be too humble to brush God off, thinking it's not for you. He's in the dream business, His dreams came true when He created you.

Allowing myself to take the time to learn to cook, without being so hard on myself when I fail, has been a dream for me. I want my legacy to be memory evoking recipes left behind to generations after me, for people to enjoy them and to smile and perhaps shed a few little tears, when they remember the times we spent around the kitchen island. I refuse to let anything stand in it's way.

Still there is something to be said about efficient cooking, so more time can be spent sitting together, enjoying each other's stories and thoughts. During cold winters, we love spending time near the oven, it keeps us warm(er), and the beautiful aromas evoke comfort in so many ways. Summers are short, cooking outdoors a special treat, and I do embrace it any chance I get. This dinner is a perfect example of this, the house remains cool, and post-cooking wash up is sparse.

I started with skinless, boneless chicken thighs, about 2 per person (plus extra for lunch the next day, or course). I grabbed a large bowl, and combined these seasonings in it:

2 tsp sweet paprika

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 tsp turbinado or brown sugar

1 tsp coarse kosher salt

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 - 3 tbsp olive oil

Pat your chicken dry, then add it to the bowl, using your hands, coat with the seasoning rub. Set aside.

Now, grab a large head of broccoli, cut it into medium florets. Using a large length of aluminum foil, make a pouch for the broccoli by laying it in a 2 inch line in down the center. Crimp both ends of the foil to make a pouch, but leave the top open. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Time to heat the BBQ to high.

Meanwhile, scrub 4 russet potatoes, then place in the microwave (yes, I know... but do you really want the oven on for an hour right now??!), and cook on high for about 15 minutes. Check for doneness, adjust cooking time if necessary.

When the BBQ is good and hot, place the broccoli pouch on one end, and the chicken, presentation side down first, on the other. Turn the BBQ to medium. The broccoli (which I love cooked rather than raw but with a good crunch left in it) and chicken will be ready in about the same time, roughly 10 - 15 minutes. Turn the chicken as little as possible. I like to cook it about 3/4 of the way on one side, then almost to done on the second. At this time I add my favourite BBQ sauce to both sides and let it caramelize, turning it once or twice.

A few chives snipped from the garden, chopped and stirred into thick sour cream with a little salt and pepper completes the dish. (By the way, read your ingredients even on basic foods like sour cream, you might be surprise what you find. I only buy Western sour cream, it's entirely natural and tastes so much better for it.)

Voila - dinner is ready, just 20 minutes later, and the kitchen is still refreshingly cool.