the recipe series

lemon blueberry cake life lessons

I baked a cake on Saturday.

I had this urge when I woke up early Saturday morning to attempt to bake a cake.

Yes, I said attempt. 

I used to be a from a box cake baker, blasphemy I know, but when I was in Spain and was going to make a wedding cake, obviously I needed to make it from scratch. I found a great recipe and it worked out incredibly well.
But, sadly, that recipe never translated to the states.

So, on Saturday I decided I was going to take it slow. I was going to make sure all of my mise en place was done and that I didn’t deviate from the recipe at all.

I even purchased a flour sifter.


When I was young, a tiny human if you will, I was a straight A student. I was quiet and kind and did my work.

But, I had one issue:

I sometimes did things too fast.

Mainly, art and handwriting. I was notorious for having to redo coloring sheets and the first paper I ever typed blew my mind.

I also talked too fast (which I blame obviously on being a Reeve woman). But, the talking too fast was something that caused me to have to repeat myself a lot because when I talked to fast I couldn’t be understood. It wasn’t necessarily my fault, as a weird medical issue I had growing up hindered my speech slightly. 

It was frustrating.

That constant conscious effort to remember to slow down ALL THE TIME and the terror of speaking in front of class.

Now public speaking and teaching and all that type of stuff is mostly fine (as long as it’s my idea and not an on the fly thing) but slowing down all together isn’t something I’m great at.

There are reasons why I don’t slow down. Part of it is because I’m busy. I need to go, go go and get all the things done. Like on any day of the week at about 1:15 you can find me trying to will tiny humans to sleep because I have 15 things I need to do. I am always at least thirty minutes ahead in my brain transitioning to the next thing and finding the holes.

And sometimes I don’t slow down because I don’t want to pause.

God’s been bringing me back around to things I had long thought were done the last couple weeks. I have been busy doing all the things that I do and attempting to add more to my page and the minute I pause, the thing is there, standing in front of me, reminding me that I still need to deal.

So, I put pausing on my to-do list and keep going.

If I don’t slow down it can’t catch me right?

So, Saturday I slowed down. I juiced lemons and I sifted flour. I mixed slowly and wait for cakes to cool and frosting to thaw back out. I sipped coffee and scrubbed dishes with all the windows in my house open.


I forgot what happens when you allow everything space to do what it needs to do.

My cake turned out beautifully. Tangy with lemon and bursting with blueberries. Moist and spongy and surprisingly light.


I think the next season of my life potentially might involve coming back around to things. Things that go deeper then I thought, and maybe put a mark on my life that I was unaware was still there.

When you over mix cake batter it can get dense and chewy because the gluten will form elastic gluten strands. It ruins the cake.

What happens in our life when we choose to ignore the things that keep coming back because we’ve already dealt with them? What happens when we choose to over mix all the things in our life because we just want to be done?

Slowing down and actually resting is the struggle of my life. I’m going to attempt it more and more and maybe just make the practice of baking when I need to slow down.

So, my encouragement to you is this: find what YOU need to pause. Find the thing that slows your brain and your heart and your whole self. Make that thing a part of your soul work and see what happens.

the recipe series

The Recipe Series: Community Cheesecake

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I had never made a cheesecake before I set foot in Bellingham. If I am being 100% honest, cheesecakes aren’t my favorite. I mean, yes I can crush a Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, but the thought of mixing together that much cream cheese didn’t sound appetizing.

Enter my friend Joanna.

Joanna can’t eat a handful of things because of allergies and when the time came that I would have to bake something for a lunch she’d be at I took it as a challenge.

Enter cheesecake.

Cheesecake with coconut sugar and an agave nectar sweetened shortbread crust. Top with fresh berries. It was more tart then cheesecake the first time I made it. But it seemed to be a winner so I tried it again for friendsgiving.

I got a little fancier with this one adding homemade whipped cream. The cheesecake was a little more cheesecake like this time around and I think much more delicious.

But, I honestly didn’t think I’d make another cheesecake, I thought it would more a recipe I could tuck into my pocket for a rainy day.

Then, my lovely friend Joanna and her then fiancé now husband Patrick asked if I’d make a dozen for their wedding.

Duh.

It took my three days, one family trip to Costco, waaaaaay too many ounces of cream cheese, multiple trips to the store, filling my entire fridge with said cheesecakes, 9 spring forms, 12 microwave covers, a trip to the farmers market and of course one maid of honor turned soul sister.

And I would do it all again tomorrow. (Though maybe I would steal their kitchen aid this time).

I love baking for people. I love giving my time and producing something that someone will enjoy.

And it might not always look perfect. It might not work out each time. But when it does…man.


I made two more cheesecakes last week. One for a bachelorette party and one that I had made a mental note in my head to make after seeing that Joanna and Patrick only had one slice of the dozen at their wedding.

The one from the bachelorette party barely got eaten. So it just sat in my fridge for two days as the whirlwind of (another) wedding weekend happened. And Saturday night after this beautiful, holy moment took place, my crew of people ending up at my house before going out.

And we grabbed the cheesecake out of the fridge and set in on the counter and people grabbed forks and spoon and dug in.

It was messy, and there were crumbs in the floor and a couple stray pieces got left behind. To me, right there in that moment though, was perfection. We didn’t need plates or chairs or even a table. We just need the laughter and something to stand around and lean on.

And it was more than ok that we made a mess.
That’s what cooking and baking and creating in the kitchen is to me. It’s not necessarily in the perfectly made pastry, or the chocolate chip cookie that’s the same size as the other 11 in the dozen.

It’s about making a bit of a mess, and laughing and inviting people into your creation.

Really, to me, baking and cooking is about community.

It’s how I bring people together.

Be it a dozen cheesecakes for a wedding, or one eaten with plastic forks directly out of the pan as the woman changed out of their heels.

So, maybe attempt something you haven’t before, or maybe just make a friend a grilled cheese in a cold day. See what happens and what you can create when make a bit of a mess and allow someone in along the way.

the recipe series, Uncategorized

the recipe series: butternut squash macaroni & cheese

{this recipe series is dedicated to second generation nsquad and all the lessons we learned and all the dirt under our fingernails and the stories we still carry from Africa.}

(This recipe has absolutely no measurements because I have made it for the following amounts of people: 4. 22. 55)Cubed butternut squash

Macaroni noodles

Shredded cheese

Butter

Garlic for days

Butter

Milk

My 8th month of the world race I was in Nsoko, Swaziland living in a team house with 21 other women.

Sounds crazy yes?

I was team-leading a group of 4 other lovely, bad-ass women (our name was team BA for all correctly assumed reasons) and we were doing everything from hugging babies to harvesting cabbage.

 

team BA: month 8 debrief lip sync champions

And though we probably won’t admit it–one of the best parts of separating the men and the women for one month was not having to worry about feeding the men.

(They ate a lot.)

We took turns cooking every night and grocery shopping every 3-4 days because there was only so much food in Swazi supermarkets and 22 women needed A LOT of cabbage. I mean food. Breakfast and lunches were individually based, cooking and making food as you got up or when you had a break in ministry and dinners were family style. The cooking teams were so creative that month, from taco nights to soups to yes, cabbage, in literally everything.

Another amazing thing about that month was the lovely WR alumni Morgan who brought us peanut butter cups and coffee creamers and stacks of magazines.

And tossed among those were cooking lights. And for women who had been surviving off of cabbage and food cooked over coals, it was like water in a desert.

And then someone said “hey meg, you should make this butternut squash casserole”.

Challenge accepted.

Cooking for other people is one of my favorite things.

Even cooking with dull knives, water that runs out when people are using the community water tap and not super hot gas stoves.

I created this random recipe to the best of my ability. And I had blisters on my hands from cutting squash. And was also super grateful I didn’t have to scrub the pots of the aftermath.

But then two weeks later, I made this dish again.
For my entire squad.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t a hard recipe. You essentially make macaroni and cheese and then you cube and boil butternut squash and mash it up like potatoes. Once everything is cooked you combine it all so the cheese melts into the noodles and the butternut squash is creamy.

It is macaroni and cheese with butternut squash. That is it.

But when I sat around a table in the kitchen of the cozy off-the-grid hostel on what would be the last night I was in Africa since then with 5 people from squad chopping and dicing enough butternut squash to fit 50+people, I wasn’t just chopping and dicing, I was allowing myself to begin to breath out Africa.

 

RIP my african tan

Being in Africa for three months took a toll on my mind, body and soul and in that last week in Africa I knew I just needed to get out of Africa to have my head on straight again. Africa gets in between your toes and under your fingernails. Africa is a battle from sun up to sun up again.

And that moment cutting and chopping and dicing and laughing with friends I had been journeying with since January; I laughed. Big belly laughs and giggles and even some tears. My whole body hurt and was tired from sleeping on sleeping pads, on cement floors and dirt. All of my clothes were more than a little dirty from handwashing and a month in Mozi when it never stopped raining.

But my heart was full of memories of women in the Mozambique marketplace and the smell of guavas and so many other things I can’t even begin to describe.

I didn’t chop Africa out of my life that night as I made food for Nsquad; but I allowed myself to say goodbye.
I said goodbye to Africa stirring an overflowing soup pot and crammed on the floor of the carpeted main room at the hostel. I said goodbye to Africa pulled up the bar outside with a beer in hand listening to the sounds of Swaziland settle around me.

I said goodbye to Africa doing my most favorite thing, cooking with those I love. And feeding my family.

Cooking isn’t just cooking for me.

It’s the ability to pour out my story into food and just myself to see what it said.

Cooking?

It’s the work of my soul.

What’s yours?

the recipe series, washington whimsy

the Recipe Series: Grandma Sue’s shrimp cocktail

1lb of baby shrimp

1lb of imitation crab

2 bottles of del monte ketchup

1/3rd cup water in each ketchup bottle shaken to get all the excess out.

Heaping Tablespoon chili powder

Tablespoon horseradish

2.5 cups minced celery

Bunch of green onions (tops and bottoms)

Juice of one lemon

 

All of my life every single holiday was about the food. My mom’s side of the family is full of cooks and bakers and candy makers. And while, my hands down favorite family holiday meal was and still is Christmas morning breakfast; there is one staple that needs to be at every holiday was Christmas to Thanksgiving to Fourth of July:

My grandma Sue’s shrimp cocktail.

She made it every year, for every holiday and served it in a gigantic glass jar that she had from who knows when and then we would eat it in Dixie cups with tiny little shrimp forks and bowls and bowls of ritz crackers (always name brand ritz never generic).

Growing up I didn’t think we were a family that had traditions.

But now, as this is the second Christmas in a row that I haven’t curled up on the puzzle piece couch sipping my coffee as us adults clammer for breakfast first and the kids want presents, I see that we are indeed, a family with traditions.

Someone always forgets the salsa for the tamales and when my grandma was alive she would pull out a half used container of old salsa, my father always shaves his beard after we eat breakfast, there is at least one prep heavy dish that someone walks through the door with not made an hour before dinner. My mother always supplies socks for all my male cousins. My Aunt Ann usually gives me a gift that makes me cry. My aunt Sue brings all of my favorite Christmas cookies. My Aunt Marie always makes sure we have trader joes chocolate milk. And aunt Marie would also make sure everyone got out on the front porch for a picture even with all the complaining.

Christmas in the big blue house on 21rst was a magical homey event even with stress and drama and everything that comes with a big family holiday.

My grandma didn’t give the recipe to my mom until about 2009. She then, watched her make it for three years to see if she was doing it right. And I guarantee when she gave the recipe to my mom it wasn’t with exact measurements, or how much it would actually make.

And as much as I love my mom, the shrimp cocktail hasn’t ever tasted the same. And if I’m being honest–even though I know how to make it now, I don’t know if I ever will. Because there is something about the huge recycled jar, and the Dixie cups and the ritz in the brown bowls.

Because sometimes, having family recipes aren’t for the remaking of them. It’s the knowledge that I could if I needed too. But mainly, it’s the five minutes on the phone with my mom telling me how to make it, it’s the memories of my grandma in her apron scooping it out in Dixie cups only after pulling out the big wooden box with the tiny forks in it.

Christmas for me, is about traditions that I didn’t realize were traditions until I missed out on them. Like my grandmas shrimp cocktail, or sitting on the puzzle piece couch with coffee, or drinking tangerine juice out of the metal glasses.

As I’ve moved out and now am spending my first Christmas with my own “family” and am starting new traditions with people in my life I find myself most grateful for all of the things that came before it.

I miss my Grandma Sorenson the most during Christmas. She passed away a little under three years ago. Every moment of Christmas makes me think of her and her house and her shrimp cocktail.

Like I said, I may never ever make this shrimp cocktail. But one day, when I have a husband and a family, and we have a Christmas party that night and I have no idea what to make, I might sift through the archives of my mind and mix this together and grab some ritz crackers on the way and think of my grandma Sue and Christmas morning spent on her blue and green puzzle piece couch.
Merry Christmas my friends. Take a moment to bookmark traditions that you’ve never deemed traditions and hold onto them. And maybe, just maybe, make your own.

the recipe series, washington whimsy

The Recipe Series: an international wedding cake 

Edit

1 cup sugar. Half a cup of Greek yogurt. Half a cup of milk. 1 and a quarter cup of flour. Third a cup of oil. 1 and a quarter teaspoon of baking powder. A splash of vanilla. 20 minutes in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius makes one layer of a five layer cake. Repeat times 7 (because you need back up cakes)That is how you make the layers for a five layer wedding cake with one 9 inch round and a hit & miss oven in the south of Spain.


I remember when I got a random Facebook message from Whitney- a woman I had never met. She told me that Tiffany and Abby had told her that I made wedding cakes. (Fact: I had made one wedding cake) And she wanted to know if when I got to Spain I would like to make the wedding cake for Esther, Andrew and Mo’s daughter.

That wasn’t terrifying at all.

You see, Andrew is the founder for G42, the leadership academy I went to in Spain and at that point in my pre-Spain brain, I was scared of meeting him, because I had a feeling he would be a person who could look at me and cause me to cry with a glance (and I mean for the most part I was right except replace terror with lots of love). So, to make the wedding cake for his daughter was saying a lot about myself. But, of course, being the human that I am, I said yes.

I was only in Spain for a couple weeks when the weekend came to prep and make the cake. I was going to make all of the layers and freeze them the day before and dirty frost them. I had made one test layer prior to this day and it turned out well and got rave reviews, so I felt prepared the cake wouldn’t suck. And I googled how to fill the cake with jam without it toppling.

Baking is sacred to me. And if I don’t like how it turns out I normally will toss it. So, for the first time in my life, I started to fill the baking of this cake with prayer. Because I was an absolute nervous wreck. This cake was going to speak of me, or so I thought, what if it fell apart, or didn’t taste good. Most of the people I was now doing life with in Spain didn’t know me at all, didn’t know who I was or what I was capable of.

What I am trying to say is that I was practically paralyzed with fear that the cake would be a failure.

So I scooped and measured and stirred and cleaned and sang and face timed with friends. I coated the kitchen in flour and powdered sugar and got shaky from said powdered sugar and mass quantities of coffee. I cooled the cakes and wrapped them in Saran Wrap and stuck them in the freezer.

And in the midst of the stirring and measuring and baking, Andrew came by the house to drop off some wedding prep items and as I was the only one in the house he popped into the kitchen to talk to me. I couldn’t tell you what he said to me at this point, but the peace fell in that moment and I believe because of that, the peace fell into my baking.

I had two days of baking in the Mijouse kitchen to create a five layer cake with raspberry jam filling and buttercream frosting. I was mainly alone with some assistance from the flower girl and visits from my friends.

But what I learned from that moment was my stress translates into my baking and cooking. And instead of pouring stress into something I need to pour love and peace and goodness. So I wrote a prayer for Jason and Esther on the cardboard that I used as a cake board.


No one saw it but I knew the cake was sitting on a foundation that more then just a physical piece of cardboard.

In the end I was just plain honored to have made that cake.

I made that same cake two more times. Once halfway through my time for Kellen and Whitney’s one year wedding anniversary and once at the end for Andrew’s 70th birthday; because according to Mo–I made Esther’s cake in the beginning so I needed to make Andrew’s at the end of my time. And it’s funny as I look at the timeline. That I made that cake three different times in the span of six months and how I was a different human each time. And by the time I made Andrew’s cake, I was bursting with love for him and for that place and for that tribe. So I poured all of the love and honor and celebration (and tears) into that cake and it showed. I could tell the cake was different then any others I had made.


There’s a moment in my favorite cheesy dance movie CenterStage in which Charlie tells Jody to “Whatever you feel, just dance it”. I don’t want to bake or cook with whatever I feel. I want to get it all out, the stress, the nerves, the overload, the weight on my shoulders, with the chopping and the mixing and the cutting and the blending. But when I pour the layers into the cake pan, or simmer the soup on the oven all that needs to be left is the truth, the joy and the celebration.


Things fall flat or burn or fall apart when they come from a rocky foundation. But when things are filled with hope and joy and truth and celebration they aren’t wobbly. They are declarative and they are a resounding choice to not be controlled by what you feel. And a resounding choice to live above the fog.

Cooking and baking is about more then just the act of feeding and nourishing those I love. It’s about story and emotion and truth and revelation. This new blog post is the inaugural post for “the recipe series”. While right now it is just words and story on a screen my hope is that one day it will be a physical tangible cookbook. Filled with stories about making butternut squash Mac and cheese for my entire squad in Swaziland, or cooking over the fire at training camp or vegetarian April and poblano pepper and mango quesadillas or my new signature dish coconut sugar, gluten-free cheesecake.

So without further ado, let’s eat.