Perfect Pesto Recipe

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My amazing chef husband gave me permission to share this recipe in celebration of spring - yay! Now, you can wow your guests with this gorgeous sauce. Oh man, I can’t wait for all of my basil plants to grow so we can make loads of pesto this summer. Fresh basil = absolutely one of the best smells ever.

Perfect Pesto

courtesy of The Korean Farmer

2 cups fresh basil, packed

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano (this is authentic parmesan cheese made in Italy)

1/4 cup neutral-tasting oil, such as grapeseed oil

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup almonds, toasted

Add all ingredients except olive oil to a food processor and process. Add a little water if you need to make it smoother. Remove from food processor and stir in olive oil.

To toss with pasta (even better, with fresh pasta!), add pesto an empty bowl, then the pasta. Add a couple ounces of leftover pasta cooking water. Toss until glossy.

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And that photo above that I took a few years ago on our back patio in Dallas? It stirs something deep in me. Maybe it's the beauty of simple food - Texas-grown produce made into salad in the Polish pottery bowl given to me by Steven’s Gran on our first North Carolina road trip. Or the fresh green of that pungent pesto that I can smell through the photo. Or that it was all eaten outside that spring evening with friends and wine atop the tablecloth I scored at an outdoor market in India 15 years ago.  So many favorite things, all in one little square.  

Easiest Homemade Bread Recipe Ever

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I know, I know…I was skeptical too. Making homemade bread always seemed so complicated and unattainable, but once I finally mustered up the courage to try it, I realized how simple it is (not to mention inexpensive!). They say no-knead bread is “so easy, a 4-year-old could make it” - again, I was skeptical, but it really is. Now it’s become one of our go-to recipes for a normal cozy weeknight dinner or for when guests are coming over.  You can do it too - I promise! All you need is a dutch oven or other tightly lidded pot. I use an inexpensive Lodge cast-iron dutch oven for mine, and I love it.

I used a recipe from Girl Vs. Dough and then added a few tweaks.

Easiest Dutch-Oven Bread Ever

Ingredients:

3 cups organic all-purpose flour (my favorite is King Arthur)

1 tsp Red Star Active Dry Yeast (in the packets, not from the jar, which has an extra additive)

2 tsp sea salt or kosher salt

1 1/2 cups warm water (not hot, or it can kill the yeast)

(optional) 2 Tbs chopped fresh herbs, like rosemary and thyme - but it’s also perfect without them!

Instructions:

  1. Measure each cup of flour by filling it to overflowing, then tap the flour mound with the blade of a butter knife to make sure it fills the cup. Use the butter knife to scrape all excess flour off the top of the cup in a straight line. Add all the flour, sea salt, and yeast to a bowl.

  2. Add the warm water to the dry mixture, and mix it all with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides of the bowl. (The mixture will be sticky and shaggy - that’s how it’s supposed to look!)

  3. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise for 6-8 hours. (I’ll often make this dough right before bed and let it rise overnight, then bake it first thing in the morning. Or, I’ve made the dough in the morning and let it rise all day so I can bake it before dinner.)

  4. After the first rise, your dough should have doubled in size and should have lots of bubbles. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place your dutch oven or lidded pot in the oven to get nice and hot.

  5. Meanwhile, do the second rise. Take a handful of flour, and sprinkle it on a cutting board so your dough doesn’t stick. Scrape all the dough from the bowl onto the board (keep the bowl - you’ll need it again!). The dough will be sticky. Sprinkle flour on top, take a flap of dough, and fold it over itself, almost like you’re closing an envelope. Keep rotating it and folding it over itself, adding more sprinkles of flour as needed. Your dough should feel soft and puffy and no longer sticky. Turn the dough over and you’ll have a lovely ball with all folds hidden underneath.

  6. Take a piece of parchment paper and put it inside the bowl you were previously using. Set your dough ball on the parchment paper in the bowl. Cover the bowl lightly with a clean dish towel, not touching the dough.

  7. Wait about 30 minutes, and you’re ready to bake it! Open the oven and carefully remove the suuuuper hot lid of your dutch oven. Pick up the parchment paper with the dough ball in it and place the entire thing in the dutch oven. This way, you won’t mess up that perfectly round ball!

  8. Place the lid back on the pot. It’s OK if some of the parchment paper sticks out. Bake for 30 minutes at 450. Remove the lid and bake for 15 more minutes until there’s a gorgeous dark brown crust.

If you come to my house for dinner, it’s pretty likely I’ll be serving you this bread. Try it, and let me know what you think!

What Gathering Around the Table Has Taught Me

Photo: Sarah B. Gilliam

Photo: Sarah B. Gilliam

On a warm October evening, eleven long tables were set end-to-end to form one big, long table down the center of a meadow. Dressed in white tablecloths, mismatched fabric napkins, clear glass plates, flickering candles and lanterns, magenta and orange wildflowers in turquoise Mason jars, and twinkle lights draped overhead, the table shined like a beacon as dusk started to settle on the Tennessee hillside.

A young man played guitar in the background. In the pasture near the table, without any electricity, chefs created a makeshift kitchen using fire and iron grates and grills. Over these burning coals, they cooked the finest seasonal, farm-fresh fare: fire-roasted squash, potatoes, and beans, fresh bread and desserts, homemade pasta with Bolognese sauce, and porchetta from pastured pork that had been happily raised in the adjacent pasture.

As this fresh and rich meal was being carefully prepared, 88 dinner guests slowly began arriving. Everyone was chattering excitedly; no guests were in a hurry. As they passed over the crest of the hill encircled by blazing autumn trees flickering at the edge of the forest, they saw the long table set for them, waiting for them, and their eyes widened. Each person chose a seat with friends they already knew - or perhaps, they were brave to sit next to someone new. They sat and talked and awaited the first course, and soon, wooden salad bowls piled high with buttery lettuce grown in the field just down the hill were placed before them.

This scene is real - it’s from the first farm-to-table dinner we hosted on our organic produce farm in October 2017, and it was absolutely life-changing for me. This surreal night of gathering both old and new friends on our own farm at a long table under the stars and twinkle lights, was a dream literally years in the making. Even so, I had been slightly nervous about welcoming people we didn’t know to a dinner on our land just steps from our house. Would this feel invasive? Would it go smoothly? These people were purchasing tickets and trusting we would deliver. But my husband and I moved forward with the clear vision He’s given our family to gather people around the table on this beautiful land He’s entrusted to us. I’m so glad we did.

Before we even got to the feasting part, the behind-the-scenes preparation and anticipation of gathering around the table brought unity. Every friend, farmer, chef, and artisan involved in the event offered up their God-given gifts and abilities, and with each person doing his or her part, things went smoothly. A close friend offered her time and expertise as our event planner, and without her, we would have missed many important details.

Others came over and hustled to finish constructing our barn, paint a mural on the side, hang signs, and cut tree stumps to hold lanterns. Our photographer/farmer neighbor grew and picked the wildflowers that would dress our tables and agreed to capture photos during the evening so we could sear it into our memories. For the bonfires and cooking fires, her husband delivered trucks of firewood from his own woodlot, selecting the most fragrant varieties so you could walk past the fire and smell the sweet perfumy wood scent perfectly intermingled with the savory smell of food. The chefs spent hours developing and collaborating and prepping an exquisite menu.

And we did it because of one reason...it’s the biggest thing that gathering around the table has taught me: The table is for everyone.

There’s something about gathering around a physical table that unites us.  No matter who you are, where you’re from and whether or not you recognize it, feasting together is something human beings were meant to do.

In Scripture, God repeatedly compares the Gospel to food and drink and welcomes us to this feast of all feasts. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, NLT)

In the book The Lifegiving Home by Sally and Clay Clarkson, they share a quote from author Leonard Sweet that’s a perfect analogy of the table:

“The first word God speaks to human beings in the Bible - God’s very first commandment - is ‘Eat freely’ (Genesis 2:16, NASB). The last words out of God’s mouth in the Bible - his final command? ‘Drink freely’ (see Revelation 22:17). These bookends to the Bible are reflective of the whole of the Scriptures: Everything in between these two commands is a table, and on that table is served a life-course meal, where we feast in our hearts with thanksgiving on the very Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation: Jesus the Christ.”

Clarkson goes on to detail the importance of “tableology” in the Bible and how an actual, physical table draws people together. Clay Clarkson says the table creates unity and interaction with other people who you look at face-to-face and becomes a physical anchor where people sit and stay for awhile without wandering. “It creates a physical unity - all who sit at the table become, in a sense, one with the table, and so one with each other while at the table...And that in turn helps to create koinonia, which means fellowship or partnership with others.”

Gathering around the table in community is something that’s innate - it’s how God wired us. I’ve experienced it firsthand over and over again...

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, some of our best Thanksgiving holidays were those where people we barely knew from the community accepted my mother’s invitation to join us. She always opened our table in a cramped dining room to anyone she would meet at church or the grocery store or just in town. “Do you have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving?” she would ask. If they said no, she would invite them without stipulation, and most Thanksgivings, several new friends would show up. We added chairs and all rubbed elbows while we reached for spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. We welcomed people into our small, humble home and family traditions. It might have been uncomfortable at first, but once we sat down around that table, it just felt right.

Our farm dinner took months of preparation, a small army of friends volunteering, and the talents of some of the best chefs around. It wasn’t thrown together but was carefully planned down to every last detail and aesthetic. But it’s just one example of a feast, because we can prepare any kind of “feast” in our homes using any kind of food or table. It doesn’t have to be fancy - it just has to be welcoming and created with love, offering a taste of what Jesus ultimately has to offer us as we nourish people’s souls and bodies. I’ve written some practical steps on how to do that in this post: How To Engage Your Family in Sharing Meals Around the Table.

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I hope for another table...except this one will be filled with every single person I know and love, and it will go on as far as the eye can see. The feast will stretch on for hours, and no one will have any food intolerances or restrictions. We will never be full. Our souls will be satisfied in a way we could not even fathom now if we tried.

One day, it will happen...

“In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! In that day the people will proclaim, ‘This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.  Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!” (Isaiah 25:6-9, NLT)

Until then, I’ll keep remembering the tiny glimpse of heaven’s feast that we experienced on a warm October evening, at a long table in a meadow under the stars.

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This post was originally written in November 2017 as a contribution to JellyTelly.

Nostalgic Smells of Childhood: Lilac

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If only you could scratch-and-sniff this photo. Our white lilac bush in our yard has been blooming, and it’s bowling me over with its scent, taking me straight to the backyard where I grew up, in Madison, NJ. Except our lilac bush was actually lilac and bloomed in May, right around Mother’s Day. Tucked away in old photo albums in my parents’ living room closet are years and years of Mother’s Day photos in front of that tree. I vividly remember one photo from my preteen years with my older brother wearing a white suit, my mother, of course, in a striking dress with fanciful hat and strappy high heels, and me in some kind of flowery getup with a square lacy collar and puffed sleeves (“Life isn’t worth living without puffed sleeves!” ~ Anne of Green Gables).

Now I can’t even smell a lilac without being transported to standing in that cushy grass inside my childhood self.

What are some smells of your childhood that take you back to the best memories? If you have children, what are some of the scents you think they’ll remember?

Simple With Tsh Oxenreider Podcast Episode 190: Hometown Tourism + Abundant Mindset

I tread lightly with the word “abundant” - it doesn’t meant we’ll all be millionaires, or all of us will get to live out our ultimate dreams. In this episode of Simple, I’m sharing an Annie Dillard quote about “spending it all” that absolutely slayed me and inspired me to start practicing a more abundant mindset rather than one of scarcity or lack. To me, it’s more about gratitude and living abundantly without fear within our God-given gifts and callings, whatever that looks like.

And Tsh encourages us to view our hometown (or the town we currently live in) with a mindset of curiosity. I can’t wait to plan an entire tourist day in our local small town of Columbia, TN and explore all the places I pass regularly that I’ve yet to discover. So many good ideas here!

Listen in here or on iTunes, and let me know what you think!

You can also check out My Good List that inspired this podcast episode.

My Good List - For The Art of Simple

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A few months ago, I got to share My Good List for the first time on the Simple podcast. It was fun to revisit that idea and ponder what’s making my life better right now in this new season. Here are 4 things—an item, a habit, a work of art, and a philosophy—that are currently life-giving to me.

What’s on your Good List right now?

3 Reasons Why I Love Juvenile Literature (+ Book Recs!)

Dancing Shoes
Bridge to Terabithia
Wonderstruck
The Marvels
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Wonder
The Magic Summer
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
The War That Saved My Life
The War I Finally Won
A Single Shard
Little House on the Prairie
Little House in the Big Woods
Farmer Boy


Christine's favorite books »

At our little small-town library in Columbia, TN, the children’s area delightfully encompasses the entire basement. It’s all warm and carpeted and vintage-feeling down there, with aisles of classic books and plenty of copies of titles I often can’t find at other local libraries. I feel myself exhale when I walk down the stairs and see my girls run ahead of me to go off exploring the shelves.

Over the last year or so, I’ve found myself browsing the juvenile literature section, not to choose books for my children, but for myself. When I say “juvenile literature,” I’m gravitating more towards the books for middle grades (ages 8-13) rather than the older young adult (YA) titles (for a great list of those, check out this post). Finding myself at home in this section of the library has opened up a whole new world of reading that’s perfect for me in multiple ways. So I thought I’d share them with you…

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3 Reasons Why I Love Juvenile Literature:

  1. There’s less heaviness, but still great, deep story lines. I’m definitely a Highly Sensitive Person - things affect me deeply, like too much violence in books or movies. But I don’t want to just read fluff, either. I love how Juvenile Literature still contains real-life struggles and situations but without the violence, sexuality, or intensity that can be found in adult literature.

  2. I can preview books for my children. My oldest daughter is 8, so she’s at the very beginning of being able to jump into middle grade literature, but I feel she’s still too young for the storylines in several of these books. No need to rush into more mature storylines! By reading them first, I not only get some truly enjoyable reading time, but I know the content so I can recommend them to her when the time is right.

  3. It makes me feel 10 again. I can still remember the smell of the Madison Public Library that was a second home to me in my hometown of Madison, NJ. Before the over-protective days we currently live in, my mom would drop me off at the entrance in her Trans-Am (because New Jersey in the 80s…), and I was free to stay there all day, by myself or with friends, until I called her using the payphone to come pick me up. There was the quiet hum of the librarian’s ancient computer, the smell of printer ink and the microfiche machines, the clunk of patrons opening and closing the wooden card catalog drawers. I would spread out solo at one of the large tables for six and then go searching the shelves for one of my favorites, like a book from the Sisters series by Marilyn Kaye (any other children of the 80s remember these?!), the latest Babysitters Club title, or Tough Luck Karen by Johana Hurwitz. With the freedom and time to enter these new worlds through books, I worked out my own self and began to develop a picture of my developing identity.

Here are some of my favorite juvenile literature titles I’ve read over the last few years:

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Here are some titles on my “to be read” list:

Whew! Mamas’s got some reading to do.

Do you have any juvenile literature titles to add to my list? I’d love to hear! Also, I’d love to see you on Instagram - follow my hashtag #whatstineisreading for some reading happiness (there’s usually a good frothy latté picture to go with it!).

Simple With Tsh Oxenreider Podcast Episode 188: Analog Living + Reading Classics

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In this episode, I share about how to “slow down time” in the midst of very full days in my life as a farmer, homeschooling mom, wife of a chef, and writer. I also share a story about how I delightfully misplaced my phone a few weekends ago. I learned so much from Tsh about reading the classics, and it definitely convinced me to pick up a few new ones I haven’t read yet!

You can also check out my Day in the Life post on Art of Simple that inspired this podcast episode. Drop me a comment here or on the AoS site, and let me know your thoughts!

A Day In The Life - For The Art of Simple

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In my latest post for The Art of Simple, I’m sharing a typical day in my life right now as a homeschooling mom, wife of a chef, writer/creative, and organic produce farmer. If you’ve never taken the time to record a typical day in your life, I highly recommend it - it was quite an eye-opening experience!

“Recording my day in the life helped me recognize that slowing down time is important to me, as much as it’s in my control. The more I pay attention in the little moments, the more I’m able to pull back the reins on time. So, after I wrote this, I came up with a new daily motto that I’d like to share with you…”

Continue reading…

A Woman Who Changed My Life

"This is my work, my mission."

The words flowed from her mouth boldly yet humbly. Over the course of 10 days in the village of Ongole, India, I watched Prabhukumari clean her home, cook from scratch for multiple people, mother two young boys, take care of her duties as a pastor's wife, and host a guest from America (me) that spoke a foreign language, all with joy and a peaceful smile.

Today is International Women's Day, and as my Instagram feed fills with photos of women from all over the world, my mind is occupied with memories of this woman who changed me forever, whose strong and gentle hands I can still feel on my back.

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Fourteen years ago in January, I did one of the scariest and bravest things I've ever done - boarded a plane alone, with a back injury from falling down the stairs a few days earlier, and flew 21 hours across the world to Chennai, India. There, I waited to be retrieved by Prabhukumari and her husband Pastor Samson, both of whom I had only ever seen in photos. I had no cell phone or way to reach them. All I had were desperate prayers whispered under my breath, “Please let them be here…please let them be here...”

After I finally spotted Samson in a crowd holding a sign with my name on it, we then traveled another 5 hours by train to the town of Ongole, which was my headquarters for the next 10 days working with the organization Peace Gospel, visiting children in an orphanage, embracing the culture, helping tsunami victims, and basically being stretched in ways I never knew possible.

When I think about that trip now, I can't believe I did it. I barely got on the plane. I remember crying the night before on the phone to Steven (who was my fiancé at the time), declaring that I was too scared to go. But the ticket was bought, and I went. Turns out it was one of those watershed experiences - I was humbled every single day, seeing firsthand just how far-reaching the love of God is.

One day, we traveled further to a tiny, remote Indian village near the coast, where the tsunami had just taken the lives of many of the men who were out fishing the day. We delivered food, Bibles, and clothes to the widows.  Their vibrant smiles, their colorful garments, the way they clung to their babies, their shyness mingled with strength...I couldn't get enough of these stunning women.

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During my last few hours in India, Prabhukumari, Pastor Samson, and I spent several late night hours in a hotel room watching Indian television and resting before it was time for them to take me to the airport. I was wearing my sari, lying face-down on the hotel bed with my head resting sideways on my elbows, drowsily watching TV. 

Then, without a word, Prabhukumari reached out and touched my dirty, frizzy hair, and ran it through her fingers. She placed her hand on my back and ran it up and down over and over gently, sending shivers throughout my body. She must have done this for a solid hour. 

At first it felt strange to be accepting so much physical touch from someone I was supposed to be serving. It felt shocking, even. But my injured back began to feel like it was healing, and tension and tiredness from this scary, wonderful trip began to leave my body. Her touch was absolutely the hand of God to me in that moment, and I didn't want to leave her. At the same time I was tired, homesick and desperate for home. From this point on, a part of my heart would be left among these people in India. And she would always be my sister.

Today as a mother and a wife, I think of Prabhu's words often.  On days (all too often) when I'm anxious and grumbling and overwhelmed by everything that's on my plate, I hear her voice saying, "This is my work, my mission," and I stop in my tracks.  I feel her love and encouragement radiating across the oceans that separate us. If she can do hard things with joy and a smile, certainly so can I. 

We’re all a part of this tribe of women that traverses the globe. Who are some women - where you live or abroad - that have inspired you?