my little rebellion (smoky eggplant dip)

Last week Slate reported that the USDA did some serious backpedaling after an internal suggestion to employees to eat less meat.

Here's what the USDA initally suggested to its emplyees:

"One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative. How will going meatless one day of the week help the environment? The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the U.N., animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7,000 kg of grain to make 1,000 kg of beef. In addition, beef production requires a lot of water, fertilizer, fossil fuels, and pesticides. In addition there are many health concerns related to the excessive consumption of meat."

After immediate pushback from law-makers and Big Ag, the USDA told the New York Times that it in fact does not support the Meatless Monday initiative, that the suggestion was posted without proper clearance.

Is it cynical of me to say that it's no surprise to see that once again, deep pockets define truth in Washington?

I don't have a clue how to change that, and I probably won't try.

But I do believe (unlike some) that food choices are moral choices. That's not to say they are something to judge our neighbors about, or that they're clear-cut, straightforward moral choices {full disclosure: we drove through for fast food just last week}, but they are choices with moral significance. In what we choose to eat, we are making a statement about how we care for the world and its resources, how we care for our bodies, and how we think about our neighbors.  In what we choose to eat, we can remind ourselves that the earth cannot support our excess, and that others pay for our careless extravagence.

"It is not indignation that will change the world but instead a quiet resolve to do discipline in the home," as my friend DL wrote last week.

This is our third summer as members at Victory Acres, where we buy eggs and recieve a weekly basket of fresh vegetables. As CSA members, we support a local farm which offers good work and good food to our community. It's a small step.

We've also been on the meatless monday bandwagon for the last eighteen months, another small step towards joyful sustainability.  We want our food choices to reflect our respect for the earth, our commitment to sustainable practises, our awareness of the hungry around the world, and - most of all - our deep gratitude to the giver of all good gifts.

I'm often restless, wondering if I'm settling into a complacent middle class life.  Cultivating a strong local community, beauty, respect, gratitude, creativity, and awareness of world hunger are ways to help me be less complacent here; they are part of my little rebellion.

This week I've been craving Cambodian food, and cooking from my Mith Samlanh cookbook. There are a couple of vegetables we get in our CSA that I don't really love, to be honest.  Eggplant is one of them.  Its texture kind of grosses me out.  But this smoky eggplant dip from the Mith Samlanh restaurant in Phnom Penh is fabulous.

Make it.
Friends' Famous Smoky Eggplant Dip
(adapted slightly)
4 japanese eggplants
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp diced tomatoes

Grill the eggplant until blackened. Once cool, peel off the burned skin and dice.  Combine all ingredients but tomato in blender and process until smooth.  Top with the tomatoes, a glug of olive oil, and fresh ground pepper. 

Serve with fresh bread.

my grandmother

Grandma with Rosie, June 2012.

Today my grandmother, after a bout of pneumonia, had a feeding tube inserted. She will never "eat" another meal again.

I can't stop thinking about that.

About food, and what nourishes us; about breaking bread, and about doing it together; about Eucharist, and how every bite is grace; about life without these rituals of obtaining food, preparing dishes, eating a meal, and washing up.

About the turkey and gravy over biscuits she always made the weekend after Thanksgiving. About the nutty healthy cookies she kept in the freezer in case we came over.

About Last Suppers, and how I hope she had one worth remembering, and how I want her to know that every bite of bread, broken, is forgiveness; that every sip from the shared cup can be hope, sweet on the tongue.

Grandma with her mother and with me, June 1981.

top ten things I adored about the Festival of Faith and Writing

This weekend my sweet husband and friends watched the kiddos while I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Michigan. As a person of faith, a reading fiend, and a sometime writer, this little retreat - with likeminded friends - was probably the most nourishing and restorative personal trip I've taken since Chiangmai, 2005. But enough general blathering. Here they are, the top ten highlights:

10. Learning from the diverse religious and artistic viewpoints of Judith Shulevitz, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Leila Aboulela.

9. Meeting in person - even briefly - some writers and editors I have enjoyed and respected online (like Rachel of Eat With Joy, Katelyn of Christianity Today, and Micha of Mama Monk), and also making new connections (how could Christie and I possibly have so much in common?) Although, I also have to admit that being at a conference with people I "know" from twitter felt kind of like a creepy preview of walking around with google glasses on.

8. Witnessing the graciousness and humility of Ann Voskamp in person.

7. Hearing fascinating stories of God at work around the world from Luis Urrea and Shane Claibourne.

6. Eating at Brewery Vivant and San Chez Tapas Bistro with my dear friends Jenn, Jane, Karen, and Linda (plus new friend Laura). Real! Restaurants! (Yes, our four square miles of cornfields are a bit lacking in this area.)

5. Marilyn McEntyre on caring for words. A seriously inspiring woman, speaker, poet, teacher, academic.

4. The car trips with Jennifer. Two mamas of preschoolers, it turns out, have a lot to say when they actually get a chance to sleep a full night and finish a complete thought. And what a relief to discover that I do still like road trips!

3. And along the same lines, the chance to finish a thought- and even whole conversations! Whole meals! Whole lectures!- without being interrupted by: "You pretend to be a mama wolf, and I'll pretend to be a baby wolf who was shot by gunners..."

2. Hearing Marilynne Robinson speak. Twice. I don't know if there is another living writer for whom I have as much admiration. I'll admit to being a bit starstruck. If you don't know Marilynne Robinson, I recommend to you Gilead.

1. The opening plenary session with Gary Schmidt, whose young adult novels make me cry. I think you should read them, and I'd start with the Newberry award-winningThe Wednesday Wars. I loved what he said about writers as servants, like Namaan's servant girl, suggesting to the pain of the world, "Why don't you try this?"

The audio from the conference should be available online soon. I'll link to it. In the meantime, if you are interested, here is the book list I came away with.


I'm beginning to figure out why I have such a hard time starting things. My problem is that I get overwhelmed by my own inability to fully grasp the intricacies of a topic or a task, and give up before I start. Voting. Eating in a way that honors God's creation. Switching to natural health and cleaning products. Making medical decisions. Arts and crafts. If I can't dive in with a high sense of informed competency at the beginning, I don't even want to test the waters.

(I know this sounds like perfectionism, but I don't think that's exactly it. I am too lazy to care much about being perfect, but I do have to feel competent and confident that I'll have some level of success.)

I started getting more adventurous when I was pregnant with Rosie and began sewing. I tried things even when I wasn't sure they would work. I made things up, and worked without a pattern. I allowed myself to see failure as an acceptable outcome. I let myself play at things instead of perfect them.

I've tried to adopt that attitude in other areas of my life, too. For example, even though I haven't mastered the facts on fish (which have high mercury levels, which to buy farmed, which to buy wild, which are in danger from overfishing, etc.), I try to absorb a little bit of knowledge at a time, and if I can't always be sure I'm making a responsible decision, I just make one anyway. Give myself some grace on it.

This is the approach I'm taking to composting this spring. I've skimmed the book I got for Christmas, and i have realized there are a thousand different methods and a million things to know. My options are deeply limited right now, since we will likely move mid-summer, so I'm just going to play at composting and see what happens.

So this is the ceramic crock I got at the Goodwill and keep by my sink for kitchen scraps.

And this is the compost tumbler that my clever husband built for me. (Inspiration here.). He bolted two plastic tubs together, drilled holes in the ends, and ran a steel pipe through it. Then he cut a door flap, hinged it, and added a hook and latch closure. He drilled another half dozen holes for air flow, too.

When I have a full pot of kitchen compost, I drop it through the door along with a couple handfuls of dead leaves or twigs. Every now and then, I spin the bin to mix the contents.

I don't know if the proportions of materials I'm adding will be right. I don't know if the moisture level is exactly where it should be. I don't know how long this cold (not hot and not worm) method of compost will take. I don't know if the bin will get too heavy to move to our next home.

But that's ok. I'm just playing. I'm just giving it a try. Why did it take me so long to get here?