America vs. France: Cooking Edition

I cooked dinner tonight.

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I was tempted to call it “Zucchini et por la Fwench”, which means, “Zucchini, eaten by the French” in some local, organic, low French dialect. Or something.

But I caught myself. It’s really just called, “Zucchini Eggs.”

I was talking to a friend about this dish that my mom makes a lot in the summer.

“You sauté shredded garden-fresh zucchini and peppers in oil. Then stir in eggs and scramble everything together. Sprinkle with browned sausage and cheese. Voila. Zucchini Eggs.”

“Don’t you mean an “omelet”?

No. I mean zucchini eggs.

Does anyone else feel the pressure to change “everyday” things to obscure, “exciting,” foreign things so that we can accept them? My question is: why can’t we just eat zucchini eggs? Why must we name it something else? And if it has to be something else, why does it always have to be French?

Really now. It’s just eggs and zucchini. Why does it have to be French? In fact, why do we give a ______ about the French at all? We all pretend to love the French. Rather, we love the stereotype of the French. And what is their stereotype? That they are cultured and snobby. Why would we celebrate snobbishness? Why wouldn’t we instead want to celebrate the dozens of loving, faithful cooks who have cooked for us over the years? Our mothers and grandmothers, never snobby, and certainly not French.

Why don’t we celebrate the thousands of meals prepared for our own tired bodies by cooks who would also like to be sitting down to their favorite Netflix— Oh wait, I forgot. Our parents didn’t watch Netflix. They selflessly slaved away in the kitchen.

My own mother felt the pressure. When she served leftovers, she began Naming Things. We were too small to know what “Comment allez-vous” meant. All we knew was that it meant all the leftovers in the frigerator were fried up in a skillet and served with a big bottle of ketchup. My mom alternated between “Comment allez-vous” and “Romaine Hash.” As young children, we began to disdain the French, the Romanians, and their ketchup. I think it would have been just as well if my mother had chosen more local dishes. “Midwestern Mixed Meats”, for example. Or “Vittles in the Valley”. A rose, after all, as the poet says, by any other name would smell as sweet. With or without ketchup.

All I’m saying is that we don’t have to stamp Eiffel Towers on everything to make it more “cultured”. (Besides, the French don’t even like the Eiffel Tower. “That ugly thing?” they say. … … … They would.) So instead of implanting foreign names and silly stereotypes on our own local dishes, let’s call them what they are: good home-cooked food.

As much as I love trying ethnic foods, even French foods (if you live in central Ohio, you simply must visit La Chatelaine), I’m realizing that my body does best with the food I’ve grown up with. Homegrown vegetables. Simple meat and potatoes meals. But I’m not allowed to say that. I can’t celebrate Amish and Mennonite foods because “they’re fattening.” Yeah, they are if you eat too much of them. Simply: don’t. We should celebrate the healthy foods our mothers and grandmothers have fixed for us for years. And we should celebrate the culture that has produced these foods. No matter if that culture is “down-home”, “countrified”, or even cooked up in an iron skillet.

(I made zucchini eggs in an iron skillet.) Yeah, move over, Le Creuset, “circa 1925”. (Do the French think they own everything?) Lodge has 30 years of experience on you. Since 1896, Lodge Cast Iron has been helping out American pioneer families. Thank you very much, Le Creuset, my grandmother and my mother have always cooked in cast iron, and I’ll probably do the same. You know, my mom bought me a Lodge cast iron skillet from Lehmen’s Hardware (what do you think of that?) before I moved this summer.

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And I really really like my cast iron skillet. In which I cook “boring” American dishes like… zucchini eggs. So eat that.

Friday Nights, Laundromats, and Nineteenth-Century Egotistical Businessmen

Friday night, I was at home alone, scrubbing my toilet, and I was thinking about the book I had just picked up at the library. (Yes, cleaning is a perfectly legitimate way for a single person to spend a summer evening. Friday nights are overrated anyway. What, like Tuesdays must be discriminated against or something?)

They Called It Nappanee. It’s a pretty detailed history of the founding of our town. I hadn’t had time yet to peek into its pages. Today, however, after I packed for Florida (see, sometimes it’s a MONDAY. Mondays are good days. It’s not always a Friday. “Friday” is so high school!)… I went to the laundromat, so I had some time to check it out.

Interesting Fact #1: Nappanee isn’t even a local Indian word. Apparently, local white guys (warring businessmen, really) were fighting over who gets to name the town. One guy, Locke, wanted to name the area “Locke Station,” but everybody was like, “UHHHH! Then people will just think it’s a train stop, not a real town!” Then this other guy, Dan, wanted to name it Danville. (? These guys were just a little full of themselves. Don’t ya think?) And then several suggested the name “Napanee.” Two settlers from Ontario were like, “So, our old town in Ontario was named Napanee, aye? So we think we could use that name again, aye?” (Not the most creative sort.) But. They did decide to add an extra “p” just to make sure everyone knew it was a different town. So “NapPanee” was born. Apparently, “Napanee” is a Mississagua Indian word that means something like “land of much grain.” So, the name fits.

Interesting Fact #2. The whole book is a history of Nappanee being settled by Euroamericans, from 1875 to 1975. I had done some earlier reading that described how the American government pushed the Miami Indians out around the 1840s. So the question is: WHAT HAPPENED HERE IN THE THIRTY YEARS IN BETWEEN? I am so intrigued by this in between time. The book They Called It Nappanee talks mainly about the business ventures and the railroad politicking of the late 1800s, but there is very little about the earlier 40s and 50s. The only information of the early 40s is a tiny little blurb about an Amish congregation being here as early as the 1840s. So. I must still keep digging to find out about the earliest white settler families in Nappanee, and their possible contact with the indigenous Miami Indians. I’d like to visit the local historical society soon.

Interesting Fact #3: Um. That’s all I remember.

Saturday I took some time experience some local culture. I went to Walmart.
Oh, and I also visited a hundred year old building of a furniture company that currently houses several businesses. Upstairs you can see old furniture designs (they are epic) and like two dozen old Hoosier cabinets (my mom would swoon), and downstairs there’s an ice cream shop, a bookstore, a bulk foods store, and a party store.

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There’s also a weaver, from Harrisonburg, see, who’s cousins with my step-cousin’s husband and whose mother is related to my step-aunt’s first husband. (There were some deaths and resultant remarriages in that family.) (I’m serious. We played the Mennonite game and DOMINATED. For those of you who don’t know, the “Mennonite game” is the unofficial term for the cultural tendency to develop connections to new acquaintances through genealogies. It usually begins with the exchange of last names, but if a connection cannot be made easily, one of the parties normally offers a place-name, city or state, of origin. This broadens the possibilities, and the other party then lists off the people they know in that area. Connections are then made, normally by the first party, who is undoubtedly related to at least one of those people.) I LOVE playing the game! Just when the weaver decided she didn’t “know” me, she told me she was from Virginia, and the whole thing opened up all over again.

Interesting Fact #4: I leave for a teachers’ conference in Florida tomorrow! Bring on the sun!

Hot Tips: How to Write for the Rest of Your Life

I just finished this book, giggling.

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It was recommended to me by a choir director, and I bought it with a gift card from my pastor. How’s that for pious?

I wasn’t sure how I would enjoy reading a book about writing, but Douglas Wilson makes it bearable. His writing is an amusing mix of G.K. Chesterton, P.G. Wodehouse, and that snarky southern uncle on your dad’s side. In short, Wilson is a conservative Reformed and evangelical theologian and also a prolific writer. He has interesting ideas about Christian education and also valuable grandfatherly wisdom regarding what it takes to “be” a writer.

Wilson describes what kind of life a writer lives. He uncovers tools that all the best writers wield regularly. And everything he tells you about writing, he uses somewhere in the book.

Reading this book confirmed my suspicion that being a writer takes a lot of work. One does not simply snag a table at the closest coffee shop, macbook and latte in hand, and get published. Good writing comes with education, experience, and with age. Writing is also a lifestyle. Wilson confirms another of my suspicions: writers must read. (Sigh. I guess I’ll be taking up THAT hobby again. I’ve just really struggled to keep reading in college!) You’ve got to read so you know who to sound like. You expand your world by reading widely.

The book is peppered with wit and wisdom, but mainly just a ton of really valuable writing and lifestyle advice. (The question is: will I heed it?)

There are also laugh out loud moments. Wilson describes the attitudes of many young writers:

“The aspiring writer would like to graduate from college at twenty-two, marry at twenty-three, and land a major book deal at twenty-four. While the right kind of ambition is good, it rarely works like that. And even if you did have a major book deal at twenty-four, you would hardly have a vast reservoir of experiences to draw from. There was that time when you went sledding with your college buddies and broke your finger. Anything else?”

And a little sarcasm, regarding his own recommendation to read one to two books a week:

“If you begin this when you were thirty and joined the choir invisible when you were seventy, you would have read, over this course of time, between 2,080 and 4,160 books. It is quite true that you run the risk of learning something, but these are the risks a writer must take.”

My favorite moment, however, was reading Wilson’s literary opinion of Eugene Peterson’s (cringe-inducing?) translation of the Message (particularly the Psalms). I’m not trying to be cynical here, but it was truly fascinating to hear a scholarly critique of this Bible translation/paraphrase from a professor and literary genius. But, of course, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

Do yourself a favor. Order Hot Tips.

Or check out Wilson’s blog at dougwils.com. …He’s entitled it, “Blog and Mablog.” (Giggle.)

Amish in the City

Well, I’ve properly welcomed myself to Nappanee. Rather, I’ve been properly welcomed by my roommate, who has graciously treated me to a driving tour of Nappanee and even introduced me the local frozen delicacy of Rocket Science Ice Cream (ice cream made using liquid nitrogen).

Here are the new digs:

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…brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “great room.”
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A little place I like to call home.
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La cocina.

 The apartment is one of the bright spots in my move to Middle-Of-Nowhere, Indiana.

Nappanee is iconic small-town America. Smiling white people serve grandpas and lil kids their soda floats. It’s real. However, the uniqueness of the town lies in its heavy Amish and Mennonite population. (Wait, I mean: … Nappanee is heavily-populated with Amish and Mennonites.)

Many locals businesses and business owners have common (and recognizably Amish) German surnames. (Interesting culture factoid: a fixation with last names is not peculiar to Amish and Mennonites. One of my classmates at OSU mentioned the importance of last names in her own Jewish community. She described how her mother is always on the lookout for young men with Jewish-sounding last names (Goldberg, Levy, Silverstein), and when she finds one, she’ll say, “Oh look! You could marry him! HE’S Jewish!”)

I’m trying to get a feel for the place. Amish grandmas in crocs and covering strings march across Main Street. Amish grandpas coast their bicycles past the hardware store. Amish teenage girls slap the reins of a rig at a railroad crossing. And Amish boys in baggy gray pants and beanies race their bikes down the sidewalk. (I saw one earlier today, and I’m like, “What a POSER.” Then I realized he was Amish, not part of some gang. LOL!)

I’m sure I’ll get used to this community, but at this point, I’m very touristy.

Today, I also got a library card and picked up some books about Miami Indians. (Apparently, they used to live here. Betchya didn’t know THAT, did ya?!)

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Much of the printed “history” about Nappanee “begins” with the Amish settling around mid-nineteenth century. However, Nappanee was obviously populated long before that era, but unfortunately, that history is not recorded in our history books. (Don’t you love how “history” doesn’t begin until white people settle in an area?) Anyway, I thought I would do the culturally appropriate thing by reading up on the Miami Indians, from whom we get all these wonderful local place names: “Nappanee,” “Wakarusa,” “Shipshewana,” and “Wanee.” I’ll let you know if I come across anything shocking in my research. (AND I’ll let you know if I meet an Indian.)

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Wait. Where is his headdress? He can’t be an Indian. He’s not wearing a headdress!

Until then, mainly… and basically… I spend my time sneaking donuts from my own pantry.

This out-of-state move is also requiring me to learn a new skill: cooking.

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Today’s crowning achievement.

This photograph, of course, doesn’t quite express the the chaos of pots boiling over, large flames, crunchy rice, and a broken jar of beans. But. I ate it. Just like I downed the “Explorer’s Temptation” sandwich at the famous local “Rise and Roll Bakery” the other day. (You can’t move to a new place and NOT try a sandwich with a name like that. It was ham and swiss on cinnamon raisin bread with raspberry jam. Believe it.)

What an adventure! And it’s only Day 2! 🙂

Bits: AVeryFastVeryShortSummaryWaitSummeryDoYouMeanSummerICan’tWaitTilSummer!!!

Why does it seem that when I’m busy beyond the point of going insane that THAT’S when my brain short-circuits from all the blogging ideas I have?

Hi guys! I’m alive! Your prayers would be appreciated the next three weeks, where I shall attempt to conquer untold amounts of research, reading, paper writing, and wedding prep! Can I just say: April 26th cannot get here fast enough! It will be my birthday, and I will be DONE WITH UNIVERSITY, my sister will be married, and I will be hosting WORLD’S LARGEST BARBY in my backyard! Everyone is invited. Please bring a friend and a non-alcoholic dish to pass.

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(Okay, just kidding about the barbeque.)

Here are some things I have been thinking about lately. Please vote on your favorite topics, and I might write a post about them in the future!

1. This shampoo.

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2. The Pros and Cons of Being an English Major.

3. Hutchinson Community College Vs. The Ohio State University: A Comparative Case Study.

3. The complexities and roles of humor, irony, and sarcasm in the Bible and how Christians should approach these issues in their personal lives. (Cuz I’m a sarcastic girl. And sarcasm got this girl pregnant.)

4. The role of literature, analogy, and figurative language in Scripture. (Okay, so, Daniel was BOSS at Babylonian literature. And, really, anyone who thinks that “English class doesn’t matter” ought to read the words of Jesus from John 16:25: “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” Hey, if our Savoir uses figurative language, it’s probably pretty important to understand how it works! #EnglishTeacherForLife)

5. Anabaptist Ostriches: Heads in Historical Sand.

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(Realizing of course, that ostriches actually bury their heads in the sand to adjust their hidden ostrich eggs. So the heads in the sand are actually protecting their young, not blocking the whole world out. Biological correctness aside, it seems that some Anabaptists bury their heads in our history. And I would say that our history of persecution, nonresistance, and reconciliation is important, the study of which is beneficial. But I wonder if we really benefit from this history as we might. I feel like we are trying to find relevance for our present existence through the faith of our fathers. Why don’t we instead make practical applications of our exciting, unique history for today? Shouldn’t the study of the past be grounded in contexts of the present, and if not, the future? The way I see it: our past is to be our future.

Thankfully for the Christian, our past—redemption and reconciliation by Jesus—IS our present. And our future. Happy Easter!

Homemade Christmas

To whomever decided that we should do “Homemade Christmas” for this year’s family gift exchange, I’d like to say a big fat hairy, “Thank you.”

At least that’s what I was saying, through gritted teeth, as I was finishing up my gift on Christmas Eve. Not to mention that I had known for a year that I was supposed to make my gift. And I only started making it the week before Christmas.

Whose idea was this anyway?

Oh yeah, that’s right. Mine. Heh heh.

It wasn’t SO bad. Last week we all began to encouraging each other, desperately… with old Christmas adages. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (RIGHT?!!) “It’s the thought that counts.” (RIGHT?!!)

I loved the responses I got when I told people my family was gonna do Homemade Christmas. An older couple who came into the restaurant declared, “That’s a WONderful idea! What are you going to make?” They were clearly enamored with the idea of a young person bothering to make something with their hands.

A young coworker of mine heard about our idea, and he asked what I was going to make for my sister. I tried to play it cool, “Oh, you know, well, my sister’s married now, so… you know, I thought I’d make her some pillows for her couch. Yeah, I wasn’t really sure what to make… you know.”

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I walked back out to the dining room, and I heard him exclaim to the servers around him, “Dude! That would SUCK!!!” (I think he meant that he couldn’t imagine having to make a gift. Or having to receive a home-made gift.)

But you know what? Who really needs another gift card, you know? Do you ACTUALLY need that new Hollister hoodie? And a new video game? Really? Little children are starving in India. If we raised money to send them money for food, they couldn’t even keep it down because dysentery plagues them because of the dirty water they drink due to bad sanitation. But, yeah, I mean, I want a new membership to Urban Active, too. Really?

So, I whipped out the (quite hidden) Pinterest-y me, bought some pillow forms, and ransacked some local thrift stores for some cool material.

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For this one, I sewed up an old pillowcase and then printed a giant Times New Roman initial. Next, I raided my vintage button collection for old red buttons and sewed them on in the shape of an “M” for several hours. (I made it through THAT monotony by listening to Father Gilbert.)

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I created this pillow from a refurbished extra-large Old Navy polka-dot top.

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Abigail had passed on this awesome skirt to me several years ago, but it never quite fit me, so I cut it up and sewed it into strips. Once I had one long strip of fabric, I sewed up the pillowcase. (This is SO hilarious, because I cannot sew at all!)
My *favorite pillow is: the sweater pillow. I took a second-hand Lands’ End sweater, hacked off the sleeves, buttoned it up, flipped it inside out, took in the sides, measured the pillow, and sewed up the top and bottom. Then I unbuttoned it, flipped it inside out, and covered the pillow. Viola!

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After I finished making it, Mom was flipping through the January issue of Good Housekeeping and found the exact same pillow (well, one that was designed by Laura Ashley anyway) and it was listed for $74. I think they copied me. I should probably sue.

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Not only was I wielding a needle and thread this Christmas, but someone actually caught me in the kitchen. (Shocker, I know).
A highly inaccurate domesticated image of myself: here I am making scrambled eggs for Christmas brunch. Oh… what? Egg shells?

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These next photographs demonstrate the healthy holiday eating habits of our family. (You ARE ignoring the piles of Christmas cookie containers, there, aren’t you?)

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After brunch, carols, the Christmas story, and sharing together, we came to the revealing of The Gifts, Which I Made Everyone Pose Awkwardly With.
1) From Abigail to Mama: a Precious Moments counted cross-stitch.

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2) From Mama to Papa: a denim blanket (made from his old jeans), and framed photographs of The Ancestors.

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3) From me to Abigail: couch pillows!

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4) From Josh to Rachel: a wedding website! Cool.

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5) From Jeremy to Josh: eight hours of manual labor on “The Man Cave.”

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6) From Rachel to me: a sister bag! (She chose some of my favorite pics and then used iron-on transfers.) (I also got an iTunes gift card for the win!)

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7) From Papa to Jeremy: a hand-made wooden shelf (classically wrapped in a sort of hipster, masculine design with newspaper, electrical tape, and yellow ratchet straps). Thanks, Dad-in-law-to-be.

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And that, folks, was my family’s Homemade Christmas gift exchange.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!