Saturday, May 31, 2014

Afterthought #28 - Quakers in the Movies

Since March 2014, QuakerSpeak has been posting videos each Thursday “…to give viewers worldwide an experience of contemporary Quakerism that is entertaining, informative, inspiring, challenging, inviting, unifying and collaborative.” So far, this project of Quaker Voluntary Service, Friends Journal, and Friends General Conference has produced short (three-to-six minutes) videos on a range of topics including silence, nonviolence, homosexuality, and women in ministry.  This week’s installment will make you smile; QuakerSpeak took a break from its usual format of interviewing Friends for a lighthearted look at how Quakers have been portrayed in film.

Sounds like there’s still work to for people to understand Quakerism.  QuakerSpeak will help with that. 

“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning's worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Move Over, Julie and Julia

Two years of living in Stehekin, Washington trained me in menu planning, shopping for a month at a time, and improvising. You see, there’s no grocery store in this remote village nestled in the North Cascades at the end of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan. There’s also no phone service, and no road to the Safeway in the closest town at the other end of the lake. There, once a month, I’d sketch out menus and compose a grocery list, then slide the list and a blank check into an envelope addressed to that Safeway store. A few days later, my groceries and a receipt would arrive on The Lady of the Lake, the passenger-only boat that travels daily in the summer (less often in the winter) to link Stehekin with the “downlake” world.

Now, although I live in another small, remote community—this one on an island in Puget Sound—I’m just a 15-minute bike ride away from a natural foods store and a full-service grocery store. And just a short drive away, farm stands sell local produce and organic meats, and there’s a U-pick berry farm and an organic vineyard and winery. You’d think with all this near-at-hand abundance I’d produce culinary feasts with ease and pleasure.

Instead, for many months I’ve turned to quick, easy meals like roasted chicken, pesto pasta, and tostados. My cookbook shelves sag under the weight of volumes of recipes, so it’s not as though I’m not surrounded by inspiration. I could blame my lack of creativity on juggling graduate school, work as a school nurse, and writing a book. Whatever the reasons, I’ve become bogged in a rut when it comes to food shopping, menu-planning, and cooking. Until inspiration arrived in an envelope that my daughter, Rachel, sent me for Mother’s Day. Here’s what was inside:

The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson is unique because it’s part art book, part cookbook. The recipes (most use fewer than five ingredients) are displayed visually without a lot of text to read through, and Erin’s own handwriting, photography and watercolor illustrations guide you through the simple steps. 

salad photos courtesy
Better Homes & Gardens blog

I turned to the section labeled “salads” and
knew I had to try the recipe at the top of the list.

Polenta croutons on top of the salad - brilliant!

After flipping through a few more pages of the book, I slipped back into Stehekin menu-planning mode and developed a grocery list of ingredients for the dishes I wanted to try in the coming week.  As the days went by and the list of recipes I’d attempted grew, I began to feel like author Julie Powell. When Powell became disillusioned with work and life, she decided to replicate in 365 days the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. Powell’s blog posts about her effort eventually became the book, Julie and Julia - My Year of Cooking Dangerously, and a movie, Julie and Julia.

While Gleeson’s cookbook is loaded with meatless recipes—18 appetizers; 10 cocktails; 17 salads + 5 dressings, 2 dips and 1 sauce; 18 vegetable dishes; and 15 sweets—not a single one involves complicated techniques or ingredients only taught at Le Cordon Bleu. 

So far, I’ve made the Carrot Slaw twice (once for a potluck where the host asked for the recipe), Potato-Green Bean Salad, and Beet Salad with Pink Eggs; those served as delicious sides with grilled chicken.

Gleeson’s tone is easy-going and practical (how many cookbooks say “peeling is optional?”) and invites creativity.   Though I’d never made her Butternut Caprese, I felt encouraged to modify it with one of our last golden acorn squashes left from the fall harvest; when I couldn’t find smoked mozzarella on the island, I substitute smoked goat cheese.  It worked!

Although I don’t have the 3-inch round ramekins Gleeson suggests for the Baked Kale Egg Cups, they tasted delicious in my oblong ramekins alongside a rhubarb scone from our local Barn Owl Bakery (see my November post, Saturday Bread).  Oh, and I did crumble a little bacon on top.

So.  Move over, Julie and Julia. I'm well on my way to cooking and eating my way through The Forest Feast. I encourage you to buy a copy for yourself and to join me on the journey. Bon apetit!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Boris’s Bluff - An American Vignette

Note:  This essay received first place in the student category last year in the 14th Annual Oregon Quarterly Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest. I’m posting it here to participate in the American Vignette “Show Us Your State” Writing Challenge.

Reader, blogger, and essayist Andrea Badgley is collecting “Show Us Your State” stories for her Andrea Reads America website. Submission guidelines are here if you would like to participate.

Boris’s Bluff
Boris’s Bluff. You won’t find it in hiking guidebooks or on topographical maps.  Guides don’t take visitors there, either; tourists wouldn’t be impressed by this rock outcropping, a twenty-minute wander from our home the two years we lived in the isolated village of Stehekin, Washington. But Boris’s Bluff awed me.

It was Boris, our tabby cat, who first led me there. It’s not so much a bluff as the alliterative name we gave it suggests, but more like an over-sized, moss-flecked pitcher’s mound. Just beyond the sloping rock, cottonwoods and pines start their ascent to the foothills and peaks surrounding it. If not for the slice of sky visible through the canopy, you could believe the world ends right there.

Stehekin, translated as “the way through,” was named by Skagit and Salish tribes migrating between the east and west sides of Washington State. My husband and I and our two kids vacationed there regularly over the course of ten years. We’d arrive on a passenger-only ferry that navigates once daily up fifty-five-mile-long Lake Chelan. Highways were blasted through a stretch of the rocky lakeshore, but none ever made it all the way to Stehekin and its cliffed shoreline. Telephone lines never got there either, and the mountains shooting up from the valley floor block cell phone transmission. 

Long before our move to Stehekin, vacations there schooled us in the way of life in this village of eighty-five, fringed by North Cascades National Park. We practiced Stehekin-style grocery shopping—mail your list and blank check to the Safeway store at the other end of the lake; pick up your groceries at the boat three days later. We outwitted biting black flies and temperatures in the upper 90s by skinny-dipping in the icy Stehekin River. On a stay during a winter holiday, we woke to three feet of fresh snow, read by kerosene lamp when the hydroelectric power went down, and inched a vintage pick-up along single-lane, ice-crusted village roads.

Early on in our visits, hikes into Stehekin’s backcountry renewed my zeal for my work as a public health nurse. As the years went on, though, my fire for promoting health for the poor and underserved began to sputter; trekking the mountains no longer re-ignited me. I dreaded yet another referral for a pregnant teen, or sitting again in a cigarette-smoke-infused apartment teaching a harried mom alternatives to yelling at her toddler. I couldn’t face more refugees who had forgotten to take their tuberculosis medications, or hear once more from supervisors that we had to increase visit numbers. It all weighed on me like an overstuffed backpack, its straps digging into my shoulders and its heft pounding my lower back. I began to question if nursing, the work I had felt called to, was what I was still meant to do.

Finally, one year, instead of vacationing in Stehekin, my family and I moved there. They wanted adventure. I sought escape. Hoped for my own “way through.” That first fall and winter, I filled two journals with run-on sentences of complaint, criticism of myself and others, questioning of my values, and fear. I didn’t realize I was writing the textbook on burnout. By the time most of the snow melted, I had only questions. Had I failed? Or was I being nudged to different work?

One spring day, Boris and I again tramped to the bluff.  He coiled beside me as I sat on the sun-warmed stone, his purr vibrating in the windless air. I breathed in Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Reaching a hundred feet upward, their long history preceded me. At the base of their trunks, saplings signaled new growth. Snowy peaks towered five thousand feet above, their ridges cascading in ripples of purple beyond my vision. Unexpectedly, I sensed that Boris and I weren’t alone. The cement block of worry about the sick immigrants and the struggling teen mothers lifted from my back. Tears welled as I grasped that I have my part to play, but it’s not up to me alone. On Boris’s Bluff, I embraced both my smallness and my greatness.

I don’t live in Stehekin anymore, but it lives in me. Boris died a couple years ago. I didn’t go back to the old house, or the old job.  My family and I moved to a community on a rural island in Puget Sound. Here, I balance work as a school nurse with writing. I’m seeking still—not escape, but attention to God’s presence. 

So here, I climb the saltwater-lashed cliffs 
of Iceberg Point

and sit among firs, their wind-twisted trunks bowed toward the ground.

I imagine the Coast Salish of the past, fishing for salmon and gathering gin-scented juniper berries on that “way through” the Cascades, perhaps pausing awhile at Boris’s Bluff.