The Essential Ingredient

Perhaps this pizza slice is slightly overcooked?
Photo by Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA-3.0

Have you ever cooked a dish which turned out to be plainly inedible, or even downright dangerous to consume?

It can happen to the best of us, as these examples prove:

A grandmother with failing eyesight accidentally grabbed a bottle of ammonia instead of vinegar when making potato salad for her family. They started gagging at the mere smell of it, which fortunately prevented anyone from eating it!

An 18-year-old living on his own for the first time wanted to make fried rice. He poured some oil into a very hot pan, then dumped in a bunch of uncooked rice. Needless to say, the burned mess had to be thrown out.

Another young person forgot to add water when cooking packaged ramen noodles. I guess cooking isn’t for everyone!

Did you know that a cooking fail even happened in the Bible?

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The God of More Than Enough

Photo by Jenny Porter on Pixabay

In recipes, a teaspoonful of an ingredient doesn’t always mean a level teaspoon.

It can be “heaping,” meaning generous enough to form a heap on top, or “scant,” which means barely coming up to the rim of the spoon.

Likewise, a recipe might call for you to press down the brown sugar in a measuring cup so that it’s “packed.” Or it might instruct you to use only a “pinch” of a spice.

But the measures God uses are always generous. The blessings and grace He bestows on us are never meagre or paltry, but plentiful and abundant.

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A Gardener’s Worst Enemy

Garlic Mustard
Photo by Simone VomFeld on Pixabay

Gardeners may not realize it, but they’re a bit like soldiers in wartime. Their enemies aren’t people, of course, but an even more insidious foe:

Weeds.

Weeds infiltrate our gardens like enemy invaders: dandelions, nettles, thistles, couch grass and garlic mustard, to name a few. They may seem innocent enough when there are only a few of them, but make no mistake: their ultimate aim is to take over and occupy your territory.

One vanguard weed may sneak in and settle, and you think nothing of it. If you’re not vigilant, though, that lone plant will soon multiply into an overwhelming host.

Or you pull up a dandelion and think that’s the end of it, but unless you’ve been very thorough, part of the taproot remains deep in the soil. The weed will come up again long after you thought you’ve eradicated it.

The seeds of weeds may stay in the soil of your garden and remain viable for years. They lie in wait like sleeper agents, waiting patiently for the right opportunity to spring up and attack.

The mission of weeds is simple but deadly: to compete with other plants for light, water and nutrients and crowd them out so they die. They’re dastardly adversaries, often needing less sunlight and water than other plants to survive.

And the worst part of it is that they’re very hard to kill.

Weeds are sort of like sin, aren’t they?

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Have “Large Pot” Faith!

I’ll bet many of you grew up watching the televised cooking shows of Julia Child, “The French Chef.” If not, you’re probably familiar with her name.

Credited with popularizing French cuisine for an American audience, this six-foot, two-inch dynamo was always a hoot to watch. You not only learned a great deal about cooking from Julia, but you were also entertained with zingers like these:

“A party without a cake is just a meeting.”

“I think every woman should have a blowtorch.”

“Cooking is like love—it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”

“I just hate health food!”

But the Julia Child quotation that has stayed with me is this:

“Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.”

Why does this phrase resonate with me? Because with faith, as with cooking, the size of our “container” can be a limiting factor.

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Chocolate: Everybody’s Friend

Photo by Jean Beaufort, PublicDomainPictures.net

One of the wonderful things about chocolate (and there are many), is how well it pairs with other foods.

Chocolate seems to go well with just about everything. It marries happily with fruits like strawberries, raspberries, pears, cherries and bananas. It perfectly complements the flavours of nuts, such as peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts.

Chocolate cheerfully coexists with citrus, coconut, ginger, caramel, coffee, dairy or mint. It has even been known to blend with the flavours of chili and meat in some Mexican dishes.

Some adventurous people claim that chocolate goes well with broccoli (well, perhaps…if you held the broccoli).

You’ve got to hand it to a food that is uncompromising about its own flavour yet harmonizes with such a wide variety of other substances.

Did you know that the Bible implies that we should be a bit like chocolate? Not in so many words, of course, but the concept is still there.

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God Won’t Waste Your Pain

Quilting Bee circa 1910, New Jersey
Photo by Richard on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Did you grow up in a family that hated wasting things? So did I.

Instead of throwing out old scraps of fabric, my paternal great-grandmother would twist the lengths and sew the resulting cords together into a rag rug. Nothing was wasted.

It was the same on my mother’s side of the family. Material from clothes that were no longer of use would be cut up and sewn into quilts. My Mom recalls sitting underneath the quilting frame as a child when her mother and other female relatives worked together at a quilting bee (Mom thought she was “helping” push the needle back up to the top surface). Even as a little girl, my mother learned an early lesson in letting nothing go to waste.

I must have inherited that trait.

I love recipes that not only produce a yummy result, but that are efficient. By that I mean that you’re not left with partly used cans of an ingredient that will languish in the fridge and eventually have to be thrown out.

I prefer a recipe that uses up the whole can of an ingredient, or, if it calls for 3 egg yolks for the batter, it also calls for 3 egg whites for the filling or a meringue (see cheesecake recipe below). Nothing is wasted. No leftover egg whites that you have to store until you think of another recipe that can use them up.

Likewise, I think God is efficient in how He manages our lives. He won’t waste anything we go through: it all has a purpose, even the negative parts.

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Let Off Some Steam

Latticework Pie Crust. Photo from Pxhere, Public Domain

In baking, as in life, it’s important to let off some steam every so often.

When you’re baking a pie, the recipe will usually instruct you to make some slashes or holes in the top crust before putting the pie in the oven. This isn’t just to make a pretty design, although some people do get very creative and make decorative cut-outs of hearts or dots, or even create a latticework effect in the crust.

The real purpose of these openings is to let the steam escape. If there’s no outlet for the steam building up under the crust, the filling will burst through and spill out. Your pie will end up looking like an unsightly mess.

Sometimes we need to let off a bit of steam, too. We get frustrated or angry at the circumstances in our lives, and need to “vent” our feelings.

David certainly did his share of venting in the Psalms. He let loose with some very raw emotions, crying out to God to intervene in his situation.

Surprisingly, God seemed okay with David’s outbursts. In fact, David was the only person in Scripture whom God called “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).

I believe David’s example can give us a key to how to vent appropriately without letting our emotions explode all over, making a mess of our lives and leaving us bitter.

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When Bad Cakes Happen to Good People

Cake Explosion Photo by Raffi Asdourian on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, recipes don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to.

Your soufflé turns into a pancake; your cookies are as hard as hockey pucks; or your cake is a soggy mess. Any way you slice it (if it’s even possible to slice it), the recipe results in a total disaster.

Sometimes it’s due to a mistake on your part. You accidentally added twice the amount of an ingredient called for (guilty!); you used Shake ’n’ Bake instead of graham cracker crumbs for the dessert base; or you put the pizza in the oven for 450 minutes at 15 degrees, instead of 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Or maybe the fault lies with someone else. The recipe’s author might have led you astray by inadvertently calling for 1/2 pound of flour instead of 1/2 cup’s worth. You only discover later that the recipe contained errors when you see a correction printed in the next day’s newspaper or blog post. But by then, of course, it’s too late: your family is using the rock-hard muffins you made as door-stops.

Often, you didn’t see a recipe fail coming at all. You followed the instructions to the letter, but it still didn’t work out. The ingredients may not have behaved as you expected due to humidity, altitude, or their age. Your oven may be hotter or colder than you realized, or your flour is harder than the type tested in the recipe. It wasn’t your fault, but just the nature of baking.

As Marian Keyes puts it in her cookbook, “Saved by Cake,” sometimes bad cakes happen to good people.

It’s the same in our lives, isn’t it? Sometimes things go wrong even when we’ve tried to do everything right. Our lives don’t turn out the way we expected.

But there’s good news for the believer in God: He can redeem any mistake and turn things around for your good and His glory.

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You Already Have What You Need

Baking ingredients
Photo by Kathy Moreno on Wallpaper Flare

I love desserts that you can make on the spur of the moment, with ingredients you already have in your kitchen (like the recipe for coffee cake below). The ones where you don’t need to make a special trip to the store to find an uncommon or rarely used ingredient.

For instance, I love the flavour of pistachios, but rarely keep them on hand in my cupboard. Walnuts, on the other hand, are more likely to be found year-round in my kitchen. If a recipe calls for nuts, I know I’m bound to have some walnuts I can use.

Or what about an ingredient like rosewater? It sounds like it would create an exotic dessert, but who keeps rosewater in their pantry?

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Lick The Bowl!

Child happily licking the bowl of cookie dough
Photo by pxfuel

When I was a little girl, I always loved baking cookies with my Mom. The best part was when I “helped” her clean the mixing bowl.

Many people have fond memories of their Moms letting them “lick the bowl”: that is, scraping up and eating the bits of leftover cookie dough on the sides of the bowl.

My Mom would go one better than that, however. She’d deliberately leave not just the scrapings, but extra spoonfuls of cookie dough in the bowl for me to eat. Sometimes I wonder if more of the dough ended up in my stomach than on the cookie sheets to bake!

Isn’t God like that with us, too? He sometimes gives us unexpected favour or extra blessings in our lives just to show us how much He loves us.

We find an illustration of this favour in the beautiful Biblical story of Ruth.

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