COOKBOOK CLUTTER

I love books in general, including cookbooks, many of which make good reading, even if I never get around to actually cooking from them. It pains me to divest myself of books. But some of the cookbooks I’ve collected over the decades have overstayed their welcome, taking up valuable real estate in the kitchen.

Here’s what I got rid of:
How to Cook Without a Book –Ironic, don’t you think?
Rachael Ray 365:No Repeats – lots of similarities, though. Think Garlic Shrimp, followed by Garlic Shrimp with Orzo. This book oversold itself a bit.
The Great Big Cookie Cookbook – See my post entitled “The Dark Side of Cookies.” The two grandsons who always wanted to bake cookies have lost interest in helping. Now they just want me to bake the cookies so they can eat them. I’ll stick with the 4 or 5 recipes from my mom’s collection.
1000 Classic Recipes From Around the World – Beef and Broccoli is the only one that made it into my rotation. I used to feel guilty about the other 999. Now that the book is gone, so is the guilt.

I’m on the fence with Julia Child – The Way to Cook– Aspirational, and purchased after seeing “Julie and Julia.” It seems sacrilegious to get rid of Julia, the icon of cooking. Will she haunt my kitchen if I don’t keep her cookbook? I do admire her, though, especially her famous quote, “You can never have too much butter,” which I have thoroughly taken to heart.

What’s left?
Among others, my 43-year-old Betty Crocker, the go to for basics like gravy and butter cream frosting. Also a source of humor. The back section contains hints on making mealtime interesting for your family. Here I read that I should have a cheerful centerpiece at the breakfast table, ideally a new one every morning.
Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, Barefoot Contessa Family Style and a couple of thick grilling cookbooks. Honestly, we don’t grill that much, but we want to. And fifty cents apiece at a garage sale is a pretty good deal.
Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader. This one is for reading, dreaming, and getting lost in excerpts from the Mitford books. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything from this book, but someday I really and truly am going to make Esther’s Orange Marmalade Cake. There’s a lot of butter in Mitford. Julia would approve.

I’m keeping a pile of five or six church and community cookbooks, bursting with recipes for fried chicken and every German dough dish imaginable, including a multitude of cheese button recipes. Typical is a “salad” of jello, marshmallows, cream cheese, real whipped cream and mayo. Main dishes include Rice and Hamburger Hotdish (with cream of mushroom soup in a supporting role; also note that “hotdish” is the Midwestern word for “casserole”), Chicken Ole (cream of mushroom AND cream of chicken soup), and Cowboy Dinner. This one involves kidney beans, which I’m pretty sure cowboys didn’t eat, and if they did I feel sorry for them.

The dessert sections in these church and community cookbooks are the largest categories, with names like Goop Cake, Apple Turnovers and Bible Cake. This is the stuff of the magnificent church potlucks of my childhood. Though I don’t cook like this, I can’t part with the memories of the dear people who unwittingly killed their families with jello and cream of mushroom soup. It would be like throwing out a Bible. I can’t do it. So these bastions of nutritional suicide will remain in the museum section of my cookbook collection.

On to the loose recipes in file folders. The grease-stained, juice-splattered ones have become sacred and shall be kept forever. I threw out a lot from each category, but kept all the dessert recipes. I don’t know why. I look at them often and longingly, and conclude that unless I’m cooking for a crowd (which hasn’t been possible in almost a year), I’d be a fool to make a caramel cheesecake or a triple chocolate-pecan pie. It would be self-destructive for a person who’s able to justify eating pie for breakfast.

Before I go, here’s one of the sacred recipes from the file folder. I promise you it’s delicious, even the Brussels sprouts component. I sometimes serve it with a kale salad, but that might be pushing it.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS GRILLED CHEESE
2 tbs olive oil, plus more for brushing (you could use butter instead, very soft or melted)
¾ lb. Brussels sprouts, very thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
8 slices whole grain bread
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbs. prepared mustard
8-10 oz shredded fontina cheese

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbs oil over medium. Add sprouts and shallot, season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes.

Brush one side of each slice of bread with oil. Sprinkle with the parmesan, pressing gently to adhere cheese to bread. Turn the slices over and spread with mustard.

Layer 4 slices with half the fontina, the sprouts/shallot mixture, and the remaining fontina. Top with remaining slices of bread, parmesan side up.

Heat remaining 1 tbs oil over medium and cook the sandwiches until toasted, 3-4 minutes each side. Or you can go the route of the fake panini press with a preheated George Foreman grill coated with cooking spray.

GOD WITH US

A long time ago I knew a couple who adopted two sisters out of the foster care system. These girls had a horrific background, resulting in emotional damage. Their adoptive parents provided them love, acceptance and counseling, and the girls made great strides, but not without struggle. Sometimes everything came crashing down.

On a particularly bad day the younger sister disappeared for hours. Her adoptive mom eventually found her in her room, curled up in the darkness of the closet. She was there, she told her mom, because when she felt overwhelmed, it helped to sit in the dark.

A lot of parents I think would have told her to stop being silly and to come out and be with the family. That’s not what this mother did. Instead she sat with her little girl in the dark until she was ready to come out. What love. What care in handling the brokenness of her daughter.

This tender example is the perfect illustration of what followers of Jesus have just celebrated – Jesus, the very Son of God, coming to be with us in the darkness, to experience our humanity and our world, and to finally sacrifice himself for us.

Timothy Keller, in Hidden Christmas, writes, “Christianity says God has been all the places you have been; he has been in the darkness you are in now, and more … In Jesus the ineffable, unapproachable God becomes a human being who can be known and loved. And, through faith, we can know this love. This does not stun us as much as it should” (italics mine).

Far from being stunned, a lot of us are extremely jaded about the fact that God Himself came to sit in the darkness with us. His goal is to bring us out of that darkness and into his light. But first he comes into our darkness, lives in our world, experiences our pain and hunger and helplessness.

This is something we should spend some time absorbing, considering how truly broken we are, how dark is our darkness, and then be absolutely overcome with amazement that the God of the universe would stoop so low. God Incarnate, God in the flesh, making his home with us. “And the Word became flesh, and lived with us.”

This amazement at Emmanuel, God With Us, ought to make us so thankful that we’re willing to sit in the darkness with others. We like to jump in with quick fixes as we quote a few Bible verses, handing them out like pills, without understanding whatever is causing the darkness, not really being “with”. I’d say most of us have been on both sides of this sad equation at one time or another – either as the glib giver of good cheer and advice, or the struggling soul left hanging desperately alone and unheard.

In this after-Christmas season, God calls us to be listeners, those who are with others in their darkness, because Jesus is with us in ours. We are called to bring the stunning realization of “God With Us” to a dark world.

WAITING FOR THE LIGHT

December, the season of twinkly lights, is paradoxically dark. The days are short. Darkness comes too early, while sunrise comes too late. It’s dark when I wake up, and dark again when I’m cooking dinner. It makes me sad.

As a child I was oblivious to this December darkness, caught up in the excitement of Christmas decorating, baking and Christmas program rehearsals. Plus the nearly unbearable anticipation of what was in those packages under the tree.

As an adult, if I’m being honest, I dread the long march to the shortest day of the year, and look forward to the day after the winter solstice, when the days start getting longer once again. The change is imperceptible at first, but the knowledge that we’ve reversed course brings me immense relief and joy. I’m happy when the holidays have gone, because spring is that much closer.

Regretfully, this celebratory time of year is tightly bound up in my struggle with darkness. But it heightens the fact that each Advent season I am very much waiting for the light, in all sorts of ways.

I think without the annual experience of darkness I wouldn’t be attuned to the significance of what it means to be longing for light, and how much I need the light of God in my soul. Human beings are looking for light, whether it’s spiritual light, sunlight, or just a nightlight in the hall on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. How desperately you need that light, and how welcome it is. You wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much if you hadn’t first of all experienced darkness.

Around 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah predicted the coming Messiah, and he used the image of light. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). A few verses later, Isaiah describes this light, this deliverer, in a famous passage that is sung every Christmas – “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Apostle John picks up the image of light in the opening to his gospel – Jesus has the light within him, the light for every person and every culture. This light is life, the life we need that only comes from him. Jesus says it himself in John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus, the light, is literally our life. His light gives us salvation and transformation, a reason to be here as we follow him in obedience and service, and resurrection hope for the future, no matter how thick the literal or figurative darkness around us.

This December feels much darker than all the Decembers of my life up to this point. We have not only physical darkness, but pandemic darkness. People we know, sick and dying. Restrictions, isolation, jobs lost, businesses going under, and kids struggling to learn online. More sunlight is coming at the end of December, but Covid darkness will stretch awhile longer. We are all waiting for the light.

What do God’s people do while they’re waiting for the light? They pray, they love, they serve others, they work to bring God’s kingdom to earth, they live in expectant hope. This isn’t easy, so sometimes they despair and get afraid. But the light is still the light. That’s why we can be quietly joyful in this season, even without all the activities we’re used to and long for. After this darkness, we will love corporate worship, family gatherings, Christmas traditions, and longer, light-filled days more than ever. Because we’ve seen and known the dark.

But even here, even now, Jesus is still the light. And his light will not be quenched.