Autumn Awakening

September 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm 2 comments

A few days ahead of its official debut, fall has fallen upon us with a decisive “plop.” Last evening I heard my favorite local weather guy issue a hard frost warning for the upper regions of the state.  For those of you living south of the snow belt – for whom the term “seasonal vegetation” is an unfamiliar concept – a hard frost is when temperatures are sufficiently cold, for a long enough period, to seriously damage all those “annuals” we delusional Minnesotans spent good money on last May.  It’s also when the neighbors’ flower beds start looking like a linen sale at Goodwill, in one last desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable.  Like I said, delusional.

But after a summer that was more swelter than anything else, I am savoring every energizing snoutful of crisp morning air, every watercolor wash of cloud across the pale autumn sky, and every creeping stitch of crimson lace embroidering itself around the edges of fading green leaves.  I am also taking a few days to unplug, literally, from the quasi-reality of play-by-play political narration, and focus on events closer to home.  Stuff like friends fighting the good fight against medical challenges, the hope of a positive career change for loved ones, and delightful anecdotes issuing from the mouths of babes.

A friend recently told me that her school-shy grandson, Zachary, answered an inquiry about his first day of fifth grade thusly:  “It was the longest six hours of my life.”  No doubt some facial dramatics accompanied his response.  I sympathize.  I recently spent a grueling six days trying to respond to the IRS charge that we had underpaid our 2010 taxes by $624.00 – the same year, mind you, that they had sent us an unrequested $550.00 refund of overpayment.  At least little Zach will outgrow his grade school desk and move on; barring some miracle of rational legislation, the IRS will be hovering always.

Another closer to home event is the publication by an acquaintance of a lovely little recipe collection titled Desserts in Jars:  Fifty Sweet Treats That Shine.  Now, I am constantly thinking that I’ve come up with a novel recipe idea, only to do an internet search for, say, “peach and fig chutney,” that turns up a dozen variations of my brainstorm that have already saturated the web.  Storm indeed.

Once I got a hold of a copy of Shaina Olmanson’s brightly illustrated gem of a book, I was astounded with the creativity, skillful writing, and beautiful photography – which she does herself – that landed her in this cozy little niche of the cookbook market.  When I cornered her at church last week and further learned that her very professional, award-winning web site has thousands of subscribers, I first reacted like a slightly dazed boxer.  Should I take a TKO, and give up my own meager efforts?  If this is what the field holds – young, ambitious, MFA-seeking bombshells of talent, with the savvy to cut through the jungle that engulfs the path to publishing success – should I even fool myself into thinking I’ll ever have a shot? Apples to oranges, I know, but still…

Fortunately I have another acquaintance who also happens to be a gifted fellow writer and a dear friend, and who helps me past these spasms of self-doubt.  Bless her.  Everyone with a dream should have a half-dozen friends like mine.  “Apples to oranges is correct,” she reminds me in an email.   But it’s more than that.  “The entire focus of why [you and I] write is very different, and our drive to write is also.  I lament that some of the old avenues for publishing are not available today.  Where do I fit?  Or do I even fit?  Apple, orange, pear, or kiwi, I will figure it out, or God will hit me over the head and show me… [but] what and how He is using me outside of writing is the most important.”

She concludes,  “Finally, I get to the Luther quote:  ‘To have faith, to love, to endure suffering, these three should be enough to keep us delightfully busy.’  And by love he didn’t mean the warm fuzzies, he meant love that acts.”

I have been so certain that I was being called to write – profiles of inspiring people of faith; nutrition and recipe pieces promoting good health; advice for a life of purpose and moral courage – that I forget, sometimes, that taking my mother-in-law to the grocery store on Thursday mornings can be an act of love.  But only if I approach it with a right heart and mind, not resentful of time taken away from the keyboard, but consumed with gratitude for the opportunity to serve.

I may not be published, I may not be unique, I may not know exactly what to do next to ensure that I’ll have justified my existence by the time I leave this earth.  But I can learn to listen with an unbiased ear to the echoes of my Lord’s voice, and to maintain my soul “open to the facts of God’s creative purpose, and not muddle it with my own intentions.”  (Oswald Chambers.)

So we work toward goals, as best as we can define them, but we take care not to lose track of the small graces we are invited to participate in every day.  And we don’t compare ourselves to other varieties of produce.

Now, I unabashedly offer you my own modest, not-particularly-original rendition of a Ghirardelli cookie recipe, revised and tweaked and, I think, rather delectable.  I didn’t take a picture, because photography isn’t really my thing, but I’ll trust you to put your imagination in gear.  Can’t you almost feel your nostrils tingle with the taunting aroma of freshly baked cookies on a hard-frost-warning September afternoon?

Coconut, Pecan, Butterscotch, Chocolate Chip Cookies

1-1/4 C unbleached flour                                                          1 C white wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda                                                                        ½ tsp salt

1 C softened butter                                                                     ¾ C sugar

¾ C brown sugar, packed                                                         2 tsp vanilla

3 eggs                                                                                             ¾ C bittersweet chocolate chips

¾ C butterscotch chips                                                              ¾ C sweetened flaked coconut

¾ C chopped pecans

Whisk together flours, soda, and salt; set aside.  Beat butter with sugars on low speed until creamy.  Continuing on low speed, add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, until mixture is well blended.  Gradually blend in flour mixture.  Stir in chips, coconut, and pecans and drop by 1/8 cup measure (or cookie scoop) onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake on middle shelf of oven for approximately ten minutes, rotating cookie sheet after five minutes, until golden but still a bit soft.  Cool on wire racks.  Pour large glass of cold milk.  Enjoy.

As I prepare to hit the “publish” button, I am hearing that the city of Duluth got a dusting of snow last night.  Plop, plop.

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Entry filed under: Advice For Life, Musings of a Midwestern Foodie, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , .

Summer, When It Sizzles Take My Survey, Please!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shaina Olmanson (@FoodforMyFamily)  |  September 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Hi, Sue Anne. I’m sorry to hear our conversation only served to discourage you and your goals. I think you may find it interesting to know that any success I have had is the result of several hours of hard work on a daily basis and many, many failures, and despite any achievements I may have accomplished, the fear of failure and the self-doubt do not cease to exist now that I can add “author” as my occupation. On the contrary, being published has only forced them to increase tenfold. I write for many of the same reasons as you and because I must, no matter how painful it can be at times. I agree that in the end you must constantly be working toward some goal, even if it is undefined, but never lose sight of the reasons why you are working to that end and what drives you in your daily life. Those small graces along the way are the true reward.

    Reply
    • 2. kirkhams  |  September 28, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      Not discouraged, just re-focused! I’ve been writing for years, taking occasional stabs at publishing for decades, and finally was able to concentrate my efforts over the past five years or so, but the contemporary publishing scene intimidates me no end. It is evident from your output that you possess both the work ethic and the skills, in addition to that elusive thing I referred to as “savvy.” Your success – and your struggles – are an inspiration to us as-yet uninitiated types.

      And I know what you mean about “having to”; if I’m away from the keyboard for too long, I go through withdrawal. The stress of “not writing” takes more out of you than the demands of writing itself.

      Thanks so much for your feedback, Shaina. It means a lot, and I am buoyed by your words of wisdom. See you on Sunday – if you’re back from your book tour by then. God bless you and your family. (Now that’s another impressive thing: How, with all of those little ones, do you find enough hours in the day?!)

      Reply

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About

Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

Have a taste and see what you think. If you like what we are serving up, please tell your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to stop by for a visit, too.

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