Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sweeter off the Vine- delicious desserts featuring the fruits of the season

Spring seems to finally be breaking thru the wet, dreary hold Winter has had on these parts for what feels like a very long time. With Spring comes the hopeful, white blossoms on all the fruit trees around the farm, making me start dreaming of cobblers and pies and other homegrown desserts of choice. Just this last week, we planted four fragile, wee fruit trees- a nectarine, an early apple and two different varieties of cherry-to replace the heirloom fruit trees that have provided for several generations of family on this farm.  It will be a few years before we get to enjoy the harvest of those tiny, little trees but thankfully we have the well established, mixed bunch of fruits to pick from come this fall. 

  Growing up on a farm, I am well accustomed to seasonal desserts to look forward to and savor. As a child, my siblings and I would be sent out in the summer with big, plastic bowls to fill to heaping with plump, juicy blackberries. My dad would make a simple, but delicious blackberry cobbler for many a summer after dinner treat. And come Thanksgiving, there was always one of Dad's famous apple pies on the table spread. I love a good fruit pie or cobbler better than other baked goods and made with fresh, homegrown fruit makes it even better. So I was excited to add the beautiful, new cookbook- Sweeter off the Vine to my kitchen shelves in preparation of long summer days and sweet summer cooking. 

The book's description tag line- A cozy collection of heirloom-quality recipes for pies, cakes, tarts, ice cream, preserves, and other sweet treats that cherishes the fruit of every season- seems to be the perfect summary of what these gorgeous book consists of. I love that the book is sectioned off by season and shares several recipes for each fruit ripe during that time. I'm excited to get my herb garden blooming again this spring so I can bake up the lemon verbena olive oil cake. When the short Oregon strawberry season  comes on in a couple of months I will definitely be making a few of the simplest strawberry tarts. Summer will bring many mixed berries for the multiple berry rich recipes in the book. Of course, Fall will mean apples, pears and grapes that will be put to good use in the books' pie and fritter recipes. The concord grape and plum butter recipe looks really intriguing! I appreciate the all purpose, essential recipes for pie crusts, sauces, etc. at the end of the book. 

Yossy Arefi did a wonderful job compiling some homey, delicious and accessible desserts that I'll be adding to my baking arsenal. After reading her author bio, I realized she was very well probably the author of many of my favorite Bon Appetit magazine dessert recipes, so I am excited to have some of her best recipes all together in one beautiful book!

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Noteworthy fiction from the month of Love- The Confessions of X

February, with it's hallmark holiday of Valentine's Day, seems to bring out the die hard Romantic in me. It seemed like the perfect month-with all the rainy days- to curl up with a good work novel with a romantic leaning. I chose The Confessions of X and was not disappointed! 

The Tag line from the book description is -Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story. Saint Augustine is a figure from Church history that has always interested me but that I honestly know very little about. After reading this historically inspired novel about his love life, I have to say I am more intrigued to delve into his classic, The Confessions of Augustine. I appreciate all the research the author, Suzanne M. Wolfe, put into her work with this book and the fascinating Author's note about all her findings at the end of the book. 

  The story's nameless main character is the daughter of a poor, widower mosaic layer whose job brings him and his daughter into close proximity to the rich upper class who commission his works of art for their homes. As a young girl, X befriends the son of a well off family and the establish a life long friendship that transcends social class. Years later, X reunites with her good friend and promptly falls in love with his brilliant and charming best friend, Augustine. Augustine truly loves X and asks her to "marry" him, in the sense of becoming his concubine- basically his common law wife (the woman he was in a committed relationship with but she got none of the legal benefits of marriage.) I appreciated coming to a better understanding of what a concubine meant in those times; It almost feels like this will be a very scandalous book, when in fact, we find the story of a young couple who find a deep soul connection and who pursue a legitimate relationship in the only way the social class of that day would let them. The writing style of this book is raw and gripping- some of the depictions of X and Augustine's relationship and intimacy is passionate but I wouldn't say inappropriate. The first person perspective of X and her life journey really draw you in and you feel a real empathy for all she goes thru. 

I got very caught up in this story of a woman whose position in life was so dictated by what social class she was born into, but she innocently embraced love and loved her husband and child with all she had. This is a powerful account of complex life circumstances and a sacrificial love that did whatever was necessary for the ultimate best of the Beloved. In fact, the book reveals to us that ultimately X's love brought Augustine to a true understanding and faith in God. I can't say I wouldn't wish a "happier" ending for this story, but it may not be for the better. This is a poignant novel that you don't come away from unaffected- that's my kind of novel.

  I received this book in exchange for my honest review thanks to Book Look Bloggers.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Life Giving Home: A help on the journey of bringing the KingdomCome into our homes

 Home. A word with deep meaning and strong connotations for me. I have such vivid and fond memories of my childhood home and farmyard adventures with my siblings. So much of who I am now is rooted in those days of childhood bliss and discovery;my whole worldview was shaped in those early years. Even better, I share that history with a sister and two brothers who know of the memorable places I reminisce over and laugh at all the right places in the tales of our daring escapades. I always pause and think of my siblings when I hear the lines from my latest favorite artist-Twenty One Pilots- song, "Stressed Out"-
         Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young,
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from,
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it,
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one,
It’d be to my brother, ‘cause we have the same nose,
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam.

I know it sadly isn't the case for everyone, but my childhood and the home I grew up in were a gift and I knew, fairly early, that I wanted to create the same for my someday family. I knew that was my "career calling"- homemaking. I've always felt it was a worthy vocation. I enjoyed honing some early skills while still living at home as a teenager and was fortunate to marry a man who had always hoped and planned to make it possible for his wife to be able to stay home with the family. I married young and instantly had a rather large home to make my own. I loved endlessly changing out paint colors and preparing gourmet meals- I will say, I felt I was pretty darn good at this homemaking gig. And then just barely after our first anniversary, we welcomed our first son and soon after a second (and eventually a third!) The joys of adding beauty to my home,day in and day out, suddenly took a back seat to changing diapers and constant meals and snacks and entertaining toddlers and soothing babies and.. I think you get the picture. Life with children happened and everything shifts. My home wasn't about just being a pretty, feminine place I could take pride in showing off to guests any more, it was now the nursery and play grounds to a new generation of rambunctious boys. I will admit this was a bit of a bittersweet transition for me- having my space how I wanted it-spic and span and always having time to add some new touches here and there morph into little men's needs taking up so much of the day and leaving a train wreck in their wake.  But I slowly woke to the realization that I had a even grander task now, to create a home- a whole history and foundation- for my boys that would serve as a safe haven from this fallen world and a primer to set these little souls on the way they should go. I was now not just about creating a pretty house but a Life Giving Home.

We decided to pack up and move our ever growing boys to the farm I was able to call home during my childhood. With hay fields to run through, the river banks to roam and the grandparents right around the corner- we couldn't think of a much better place to raise our boys. I traded in my two story house for a nice, new mobile home we chose for the open floor plan- making it possible for the boys to run from one end of the house to another and Mom able to monitor it all while washing dishes. We ended up with a big fenced in yard, a trampoline, atvs and a (big) puppy- things to fill a little boys days with fun and activity. Our days are full, the boys are growing up before our eyes and life is good- but I still feel like something is missing. I stay so busy chasing boys all day, I feel myself become the weary, tense mom who is getting by hour by hour without a long term plan to motivate the daily plans. In comes my lately found, mom "mentor"-Sally Clarkson- to help spin that vision for what my home could be!

Sally with her daughter, Sarah Clarkson wrote the inspiring, new book The Life Giving Home: Creating a place of belonging and becoming.  Isn't that the perfect description of what you want home to be- a place of belonging and becoming? Expounded a bit more in Sally's words,"A place of refuge, a harbor for their wandering souls, a place where all that is precious about life is preserved, protected, and cultivated and the daily needs of their hearts and souls are satisfied."This book was just what I needed when I was hitting a wall of discouragement in how to balance the want to's and the many have to's of life. I loved reading the Clarkson family's story, written with enough retrospect to see what lasted as a legacy thru Sarah's eyes. I appreciated Sarah's writing style- more of the philosophical and wordy (though in a good way!) variety, the way I tend to communicate. Sally's contributions make a very nice balance with a more straightforward, applicable message. I have always appreciated Sally's books for challenging women to higher ideals while leaving lots of room for grace. Being very idealistic myself, sometimes I come away from a book jam packed full of grand goals feeling more burdened down than anything. I am thankful Sally and Sarah paint a very ambitious picture of what home can be while being honest with the challenging seasons and obstacles they ran across making that happen in their own lives.
 The best advice I can give reading thru this book is to remember that all these traditions and ideas came from years of seasoning and are being offered as examples not hard, fast rules. I love some of the fun family activities Sally suggests and will be trying to implement them into our lives slowly. I have always had a large appetite for reading and am so happy the same can be said for my boys! We've surrounded them with piles of books pretty much from day one and the collection just keeps growing. I have loved our read aloud times and already see the joys of those shared stories woven through our days. While I don't think we will be having family tea times, my husband and I share our best conversations over a hot cup of coffee in hand. I have found that my boys love a good tea party (complete with their own blue and green, boy friendly tea set) though, once in awhile! I was even able to score a sample box of the Yorkshire tea that has been a long time favorite of the Clarkson Family. We aren't really a classical music family but we do have calming, folk music-a la  Andrew Peterson or maybe Josh Garrels- playing as the soundtrack for our days quite often. And I will say, Music for the Life Giving Home composed by Sally's son,Joel, is beautiful to listen to! I've always felt a grace with Sally's writings- an encouragement to find who God made me to be and be the best at that. To be able to have big goals for your family but realize that there will be plenty of days when the details just don't all play out like they're 'suppose" to. Sally shares a freedom to not have to be just like the Clarkson family, but to be intentional in making a home that serves your family and points the rest of the world towards Christ.

I also appreciate the encouragement Sally gives to invest in beauty for your home and life; obviously, don't spend outside your means but that it's okay to buy things that bring joy and atmosphere to your home. Currently, for me that means eagerly awaiting our new wood stove being installed a couple of weeks! I just love the cozy warmth and feel a wood stove gives a night winter night at home. Also, I have been pining the fact that homemade bread is literally just about the best food there ever was but making it in my home is probably not happening on a regular basis any time soon. My friend introduced me to a local couple who are making hand crafted, wood fire, rustic sourdough loaves at a very reasonable price. I just picked up my first delicious order today and am excited to have an outlet to provide my family with homemade bread and support local people at the same time! I also love finding ways to display scripture around the house in beautiful ways. I recently purchased a few prints from Ruth Simons at Gracelaced. Her paintings with verses interwoven throughout add such depth and truth to our walls.

I enjoyed the layout of the book- starting with a blueprint of what home is and all that it could be. I personally was really interested and challenged by what Sarah had to say about the implications of technology and social media on our lives and even our homes. She says, "If the precious, limited hours of my day are used bit by bit in scanning information, I will have less and less time for the attentive, slow, good work if creativity, conversation, and connection  that real people and real home require."  The rest of the book is broken into chapters that correspond with the months of the year to give coordinating ideas and inspiration. Honestly, I really want to get the most of this book, so I have chosen to wait and read a new chapter with each new month to keep it fresh in my mind. I have already gleaned so much from this impressive resource book for my "chosen profession." Homemaking is an art and a job: I pray for the perseverance and wisdom to take it serious and the creativity and grace to make it beautiful. I'll leave you with one of my favorite lines from Sarah-" To make a home right in the midst of the fallen world is to craft out a space of human flesh and existence in which eternity rises up in time, in which the Kingdom comes, in which we may taste and see the goodness of God."

I received this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review.