Live from the Philippines

I write to you from a house in Baguio City. There are five puppies and one rooster outside that will wake me up in a few short hours at exactly 6:00 with an incessant, obnoxious crow and some subsequent barking. 

  
This is my first trip to the Philippines, and I am surprisingly comfortable and well-adjusted. I think mainly because everyone speaks English here in some form or another, and all of the signs are in English too. The houses are ramshackle and multicolored, where every day is laundry day (until it rains, then everyone puts their clotheslines back inside). 

I am here, in short, to visit the wonderful relatives that feel like family. Isaac and I need their help scouting the land for what will eventually be a self-sustaining missions field. There’s already a lot happening here as far as missions work, and in part we are here to support what is already happening. Our own vision, however, is growing and we need feet on the ground here in the Philippines. 

  
It is a beautiful country. I am surprised at how quickly I fell in love with it. The food is hearty, simple and filling. Rice is the foundation on which everything is built. (I heard one of Isaac’s relatives lean over and whisper to him, “But how does she like rice? She is American!”

  
Because I have been here for only two days (I think– jet lag has me very confused) all I have are photographs. Hopefully soon I will have written out the  stories to go alongside them! 

So far, God has been faithful and given us vision for making these things a reality. 

Coffee growing. Restaurant building. Skate park construction. Ministry using every facet of our skills and passions. 

Tiny dots waiting to be connected. Lives waiting to be affected by what is going to happen here. Send prayers! We are in the earliest stages. 

More to come!
   
    
    
    
 

Far From Home

The last place I expected to find myself on a snowy Christmas Eve was at the base of Mount Hood, dodging snowballs lobbed by people I hardly knew.

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Christmas Eve in my family is sacred. It is better than Christmas Day, surrounded by family and food and warmth and fire and laughter and tradition.

Somewhere far away, my family was celebrating. And there I was, stuck in Oregon, alone for the holidays.

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But God is so good. He had tossed me gently right where I needed to be: surrounded by other far-from-home Christmas celebrators. I had been invited along to join a group of people transplanted from New Mexico to Oregon. They are all core members of Reason Church, a brand-new church plant looking to give the  PDX community a reason to live for, not just rules to live by.

(This is, by the way, my shameless plug: starting January 17th in the Bossanova Ballroom on East Burnside, Reason will be launching right here in Portland. I’m so stoked.)

Anyway, these wonderful people welcomed me into their Christmas without batting an eye.

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We were all holiday misfits, far from home.

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When we had all properly worn ourselves out from an impromptu holiday snowball fight, I found myself drawn to the one comfortable room in any house — the kitchen (obviously). One of the housemates was a fellow Le Cordon Bleu student from the Dallas campus, who kept us all fed with hearty omlettes in the morning, dusted liberally with cayenne and brimming with golden bacon lardons and sauteed mushrooms.

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He also made hash browns so lovely and golden they kept the crew full all day. Luckily, I was recruited to help prep chicken breasts for Christmas dinner, which allowed me the ease of community that can only be found in the kitchen, and helping cook Christmas dinner gave my otherwise idle hands something to do.

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Our Christmas dinner was delicious, the warmth of the table pulling us all out of our uncertain shells as we ate massive stuffed chicken breasts and mashed potatoes that were more likely half butter than actual potato.

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It felt a little like we became a family in that moment, everyone pitching in a little to set the table, fetch groceries, cook the meal, clean the dishes, make dessert, brew coffee.

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Granted, I hardly knew these people. But we were brought together to celebrate the season, tied together in gratitude over our shared meals and seemingly endless pots of coffee. (What else could be expected from Portlanders on holiday?)

Everything was brought to the core, the simplest reason for the season. Yes, holidays are about being with family and friends and the ones we love. But at the end of the day, isn’t Christmas the simplest, sweetest celebration of our Lord and Savior’s birth? Aren’t we supposed to join over a meal– no matter who with– and take a moment to just be overwhelmed at this incredible, miraculous moment that we still celebrate hundreds and hundreds of years later?

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Our nice wine glasses were filled with eggnog or apple juice. Dessert was a rich cookie/brownie baked good that combined chocolate chip cookies, Oreos and brownies in one sinfully sugary bite.

It was, without a doubt, one of my more memorable Christmases.

Yes, I was surrounded by people other than my near and dear family. But these people became family, too, all held together by the miracle of Christmas. And it was a beautiful thing.

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Here’s hoping your holiday was warm and welcome as well. Keep an eye out for my New Years party recipes… definitely working on some 2016 kitchen magic on this side of the internet!

One-Pot Cheer

“Dad!” I exclaimed over the phone. We exchanged pleasantries before I got to the root of the call. “I’m calling for your beef stew recipe.”

My father scoffed good-naturedly. “You know how to make it,” he said as though brushing the thought away. Maybe he assumed that a few years of culinary school mitigated my need for family heirloom recipes.

I insisted.

“But Dad,” I whined, like the kid I still am, “I want your recipe.”

He relented, giving me a quick rundown. I jotted down the key words. Stew meat. Onion, carrot, celery, brown thoroughly — “so they really stand up once they’ve been sitting in the broth” — and don’t skimp on the oil.

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I knew at its core, the recipe was dead simple. My father, as wonderful as he is at many things, cooks only a handful of meals a few times a year. It’s usually beef stew in the winter, barbeque in the summer and the occasional split pea soup in between. His stew is by far my favorite, warm and savory. As a kid I have fond memories of eating it in front of our roaring fireplace as the Wyoming wind howled outside.

But he learned a few of his cooking techniques from his mother-in-law, my wonderful Abuelita, and also inherited her ability (or is in an inability?) to pass on recipes verbally. Or via pen and paper.

If I want a recipe from anyone in this family I must watch and learn. To ask or to transcribe is just asking for trouble. For one, the recipe changes depending on the mood of the cook. And more often than not, the unchangeable, rock-solid recipe instructions (“Fry the noodles first!” “Don’t forget the aji!”) tend to change every time I ask.

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So, for all intents and purposes, this is the family recipe as quoted from my father on December 15th, 2015. If you were to call him up and ask him this very minute, it will have changed.

But that’s okay. It’s delicious and it will taste like home, every single time.

For your holiday warmth and enjoyment, here’s the recipe of the day! Enjoy with a helping of good holiday cheer.

Dad’s Beef Stew

Ingredients:

1 – 2 lbs stew meat, diced   –     use tougher steak cuts, or check your grocery for stew meat, which is often packaged and ready to go!

2 carrots, diced

1/2 onion, roughly chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3-5 potatoes, washed and diced

1 large can beef consommé

Aji to taste. [Optional. Aji is a hard-to-come-by spice usually smuggled into the states by my various family members visiting from South America. If you have some, use it! If not, don’t worry.]

Directions:

  1. In a saute pan, heat several tablespoons of canola oil. (“Don’t skimp on the oil!”) Add all your diced vegetables and allow them to brown thoroughly so they withstand the long simmer ahead.IMG_8814
  2. Transfer vegetables to a crock pot. Using the same saucepan, brown stew meat until seared and golden on the outside and cooked through, seasoning with salt, pepper and other desired spice. Transfer meat to crock pot.
  3. Dump a can of consommé on top. Fill the rest of the pot with water.
  4. Lid your crock pot, set it to high heat and walk away for 4 to 7 hours.
  5. Come back, ladle yourself a heaping bowlful and enjoy!

 

Christmas Things

Mexican wedding cookies. Beef stew. Fudge that is always grainy, despite every attempt otherwise.

This, to me, is what Christmas tastes like.

I’m the kind of person who is wary to listen to Christmas music until we’ve hit the double-digits of December. Then I go full-force into the holiday, obsessing each year over a different Christmas song, singing it at length despite the fact I sound like a  dying animal. Each encore is filled with snacking.

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I have been lucky enough this year to stumble into Christmas parties of excessive cheer. Moving to a new city can be rough, especially around the holidays. Knowing I won’t be going home for Christmas is also pretty difficult to swallow, but there is kindness all around me from friendly, sweet people who hardly know me and love me anyway.

I hit up my first Christmas party of the season and found myself surrounded by the hippest, most Portland-esque crowd of all time. Everyone had animal tattoos and wore mostly black and neutral. We played Heads Up! and drank hot chocolate, roasted marshmallows and all met each other for the first time. The season roared to life.

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My goal is to bring the holiday to me, cooking all of my family favorites. It’s my way of being home without really being home. Stay tuned for some killer beef stew and probably something with red-hots.

(My grandmother quit smoking by eating red hots, and now puts them on all of our Christmas cookies.)

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And for those of you who are even mildly curious about my obsessive Christmas song for 2015, it’s She & Him’s version of the Christmas Waltz. Give it a listen. Feel the joy.

A Recap to be Thankful For

It’s been a few days since Thanksgiving, I know. But I am still thankful, and it’s better to post late than never, am I right?

My family flew me out for the holiday, which was unexpected and tons of fun. I was able to do some cooking of my own, but mostly I ate my mom’s food, which (as anyone will attest) is the best food ever.

I woke up Thursday morning and was tasked with tackling sweet potatoes. Somehow, some way, they needed to be incorporated into the meal. (For the pre-diabetics among us.) I was handed a bag of sweet potatoes…

… and found a starchy white yam imposter among the mix.

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Diced up with some fresh rosemary — only my mother would grow herbs during the dead of winter — and tomatoes, these sweet potatoes (and the lonely yam) became a roasted winter veggie side.

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Going home is always a great experience, because it reminds me where my foodie roots come from. When I asked my mother for an onion to chop, she led me to the pantry, opened a dark little box and asked, “What kind?” as though it were totally normal to have a little jewel box of perfect, shining onions.

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Even my dad pitched in, smoking a rack of ribs for 4 hours in case there were hungry diners looking for a protein other than the ever-present turkey.

“Erin,” my dad said to me earnestly. “Take a picture and send this to Biker Bill, will you? He’s the master. He’d know how awesome this is.”

Biker Bill, one of my old culinary school friends, would indeed be proud, or so I imagine. My dad relating to my culinary school friends will forever make me smile. He asks about them frequently, even when I haven’t heard from them in weeks.

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Truly, I can’t express what an unsung hero of a hostess my mother is. She pulls of Thanksgiving without flaw every year.

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It was a night full of Thomas Edison fun facts, card tricks and a fabulous feast. I was able to spend time with family I hadn’t seen in years. While a big storm blew outside in the Wyoming cold, we all sat around the fire, drinking wine and laughing.

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We followed up the night with a trip to Kohls, where Black Friday had bled into Thursday night. My darling Abuelita, determined to act as she had seen on TV, kept nudging me and mumbling, “Should we push her? Where is all the pushing?”

It was a fun, amusing Thanksgiving to say the least.

Here’s to hoping your holiday was just as fun! May the upcoming December season be twice as great.