Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Romans 15:13 MInistry: Week #6

Today a thought dawned on me...I skipped a week. Not a week of baking, but a week of posting about the baking! I neglected to inform you of Romans 15:13 ministry's latest baking blessing. So now it is time to do some apologizing and backtracking.
Last week I did not abandon my baking ministry. I baked on Sunday afternoon in preparation for Monday morning's Women's Connection Bible study. I decided to try out a new recipe, frosted banana bars. Once again I found banana inspiration while looking at my kitchen counter.
I am convinced that no one goes to the store to buy bananas that they intend to bake with. We all buy bananas expecting to eat them in a fruit salad or the old fashioned way, hand held and peeled, one bite at a time. But, alas, there always seem to be those few neglected bananas that spoil before they can be enjoyed as a snack in their pure, unbaked state. Those forgotten bananas, riddled with brown spots, become the perfect addition to a culinary adventure, especially a culinary adventure that includes lots of sugar and cream cheese frosting.
Enter: frosted banana bars.
Last weekend gazing at rotting bananas I heard them call out, begging to be baked. And so I heeded the call from my counter and preheated the oven. Thirty minutes later my bars were perfectly browning and smelling of caramelized banana. The scent alone said, "yum." With the addition of cream cheese frosting the bars were complete and a hit, too. They were a perfect accompaniment to a morning cup of coffee. And, to top of their sweet goodness, they could almost be called healthy. After all they did contain a fruit!

The creation of the banana bars got me to thinking about making the most out of the gifts and talents each of us have been given. Bananas are a great picture of the 1 Peter 4:10 command: "...use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." 
So, if God gives you bananas, use bananas. If God gives you a love for baking, then use baking. If God gives you a love for teaching, then use teaching. There isn't a one size fits all ministry but there is a one size fits all God. 
Jesus died for all and His gospel is for all but how He will use each of us to spread His message of salvation will be unique. He distributes different talents to different people so that He can use each of us in a unique, individualized way to further His kingdom.
Maybe you survey your life, abilities and talents and come up short, wondering what you have to offer as a ministry or service to God's kingdom. Friend, I assure you that God has blessed you with unique gifts that He wants to use to spread His Gospel. Just look at it this way, if He can use rotten bananas then He can use you. Look past the limitations you see and allow God to show you how He can use what little we have to offer to make much of Him. He'll do it with bananas, He'll do with whatever we give Him if we give it wholeheartedly and in complete surrender. 

Once again this week's baking ministry provided another unexpected lesson. God can use the gifts you and I have been given, no matter how great or how miniscule, to bless and serve others. And what's more, He loves to use us to bless others. It is a command He gives us and a duty He has entrusted to us. We are to be His hands and feet, using whatever we have been given to make much of the magnificent name of Jesus.

So use whatever you have on hand to spread the message of Christ's love to the lost, hurting and hungry. And if you have rotting bananas then I suggest you try out these banana bars.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy birthday, Mom {The Perfect Yellow Cake}

Baking on the fritz has been off the fritz for some time now. My baking has diminished in frequency and my posting has become almost nonexistent. Just because I haven't written doesn't mean I haven't been baking. In fact, I baked up the perfect yellow cake just a few days ago. I know, I know....the perfect cake and I didn't even share the recipe? Don't fear, the world's best from scratch yellow birthday cake is about to follow. I can't take one ounce of credit for the creation of this cake recipe (I didn't even tweak a thing, not even the amount of vanilla extract). And I can't take an ounce of credit for the birthday in which was celebrated. That blessed day is all thanks to God who smiled down on the earth sixty six years ago when He gave life to my Mom.
October 16 is my Mom's birthday. I forget most everyone's birthdays now a days. I have a lot of them to remember - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. But I never forget my Mom's birthday. It is a day I am immensely thankful for because my Mom is my absolute best friend in the entire world. If I were into "BFF" bracelets then my Mom and I would each be sporting them. You know the kind I'm talking about. Each necklace or bracelet has half of a heart and when you put the two halves together you get a whole. The two friends together are "besties". This is the jewelry of elementary school but a principle that lasts a whole lot longer. Try forever.
For as long as I can remember my Mom has been my most faithful companion. Her steadfast love and endless care for me dates back to before I was born. She started pouring out her love for me while I was in the womb and she's never quit. She is the greatest blessing in my life.
It may seem a bit biased to call my Mom the best in the world but I have my reasons for such claims. She is level headed, wise, funny, giving, generous and selfless. It doesn't matter how much time we spend together she never runs out of things to say. She is always up for an outing and loves to wander and explore. Yet she also loves a relaxing game of Scrabble where no one keeps score. She laughs at Everybody Loves Raymond even if she's seen the episode ten times already. And she cries nearly every time she gives a prayer request or praise report in church.
Quite simply my Mom brings with her an ease and comfort everywhere she goes. If Mom is there then love is there, too. She is the glue that holds our family together. She has created a home that is sweet and inviting and always welcomes you with open arms.
On my Mom's birthday I wanted to make her the perfect cake because she is the perfect Mom for me. I read lots of cake reviews. I didn't want to bake a bomb. Finally I settled on a cake that required eight egg yokes - eight! I figured with that many egg yokes it had to be good. And I was right.
My Mom devoured more pieces of cake then she would like me to share so I will keep that number top secret (a little post-birthday present for her). Let's just say the cake was a home run, slam dunk, hit of a birthday cake. I give all my thanks to David who (according to AllRecipes) claims the fame this cake deserves.
If you want to celebrate your Mom with a yellow cake that will knock her socks off and show her how much you love her (because we all know that's exactly what a good cake says to a dessert loving Mom) then I suggest David's Yellow Cake. Save the egg whites and make an omelet. Or feed them to your dog. Either way the cake will be a hit and the egg whites will go to good use.
To top off your cake I suggest a chocolate cream cheese frosting. The measurements for my go-to frosting aren't exact. It starts with about a 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 cups confectioners sugar, 3 tablespoons half and half and 2 tablespoons of cream cheese. Have a cup of water handy to smooth out the frosting as you beat it with an electric mixer. When your taste tester deems it perfect you can then frost your cooled cake. Then stick sixty six candles in it and sing a happy birthday to your amazing Mother.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Romans 15:13: Week #5

Another week and another opportunity to bake up a blessing.
Recently I've been reading through the book of Ecclesiastes. The poetic verses lined with the words "for everything there is a season" are well known to any kid that grew up in Sunday school. I've always known that part of Ecclesiastes but have spent very little time reading past those lyrical verses. What I've found in reading past Ecclesiastes three has made my baking ministry an even greater personal blessing.
Ecclesiastes four is about oppression and toil and friendlessness. It doesn't sound very uplifting. At least that's what I thought when I read the heading of the scriptures to follow. But as I read on I started to see past the dark, depressing words at the top of the page. By the time I got to verse nine I was practically joyful! Toiling away for personal satisfaction is meaningless. Envy is meaningless and downright destructive. But working together is good and unity is powerful.
Baking is a way for me to unite with my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a way to share in the love of Christ by contributing to a good outside of myself. There is no lasting pleasure in self-gratification but there is eternal blessing in giving, serving and uniting in Christ.
This week as I baked a few classic standby recipes I did so with a renewed joy. Ecclesiastes reminded me that I'm not just baking for the sake of filling stomachs. I'm baking to bless God's cherished children, share in the spreading of Christian fellowship and shine the light of Christ's love. Baking brings me together with my sisters in Christ and for that I am abundantly thankful. Because two is truly better than one, the Bible tells me so.

This week I baked some classic recipes that I've shared with you before. My favorite peanut butter cookie recipe and zucchini muffins (without the walnuts). Bake up a blessing to share with the body of Christ and I'm sure you'll experience the joy of coming together in fellowship that the Bible promises in Ecclesiastes.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Romans 15:13 Ministry: Week #4

The shortbread crust looked bad...very bad. Not in the least bit appealing.
As I stared at that anemic shortbread bar base for my pecan pie bars I began to have a sinking feeling that these dessert bars were not baking into a delectable treat, like I had hoped. The crust had strange bubbles forming and the edges weren't crisping quite right. They had already been in the oven for their designated twenty minutes. My next step was to pour in my pecan and corn syrup mixture. But I was hesitant. I was leery of wasting precious ingredients on a disaster of a crust.
I pondered how to proceed. To pour the pecan mixture or to start over again on the crust, hold onto the mixture and hope that the second shortbread turned out looking more promising than the first. After thinking on it I decided to pop the shortbread back into the oven for another few minutes and see if they showed any sign of improvement.
Five minutes later and a glimmer of hope was found in those bars. The edges were just starting to brown and the bubbles were less pronounced. I decided to pour in the pecan mixture and hope for the best.
Thirty minutes later the pecan topping had set and the bars were a beautiful brown golden hue. I couldn't believe the transformation they had undergone in the oven. The pale bars were no longer sickly looking. Once cut they revealed a perfectly crisp yet delicate base for a decadent pecan dessert. I was relieved and beyond thrilled to see that what I pulled from the oven was just what I had hoped to create: a Starbucks look alike Pecan Bar. Perfect!
I must admit I was quite surprised at the success of this latest pastry/culinary/dessert adventure. In the midst of the baking process it looked as if failure was inevitable. I really didn't put much stock in the recipe or the future of my pecan bars. I was certain they would be a dessert disaster.
But sometimes when baking, just like in life, the desired outcome can't always been seen in the midst of the process. Sometimes the future of life and the future of our baking experiment looks bleak. We are standing alone with nothing but shortbread that isn't browning quite right and we wonder, "how can this ever turn out?"
It's the story of baking and it is the story of life. In the midst of our journey we can't see the finished product. All we know is the process isn't looking so hot. It doesn't look promising. It looks disconcerting. And we start losing hope that the end result will be anything positive or, in the case of Pecan Pie Bars, tasty.
But these little indulgent dessert bars reminded me to never lose hope in the process. God may have me alone right now, feeling as if the future doesn't hold much promise for a different tomorrow. But in just a blink of an eye God can change everything. In thirty minutes Pecan Pie Bars can go from lifeless shortbread to divine decadence. And with the snap of His fingers God can turn a life upside down and inside out. There is hope in the future. There is excitement and a thrill in the unknown of what God has up ahead. And there is a purpose in every step of the process to get there.

If you decide to bake these Pecan Pie Bars don't be discouraged if you pull the crust from the oven and find that it doesn't look appealing. It isn't done baking yet. They are still in the midst of their culinary journey to the ultimate crunchy, delicate perfection. Give them more time in the oven to complete the process of becoming your perfect base to the perfect Pecan Pie Bar. And don't give up hope on the deliciousness that is baking up in your oven. Even when you can't smell a tantalizing scent or see a golden brown forming on the edges of your crust, something magical might be happening as your bars bake in the oven. Just have patience in the process and keep your eyes set on the promise and hope of the future glory to come.

I baked these Pecan Pie Bars for the lovely ladies at the Women's Connection Ministry. I hope they enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed baking them. If you give them a try I hope you enjoy the process of baking them just as much as the process of devouring them!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cake Day: Sam's Famous Carrot Cake

Yesterday was cake day. And, in many ways, it felt like a good day for cake, especially a cake infused with lots of cinnamon and a little nutmeg. The air outside was blowing, spreading the soft sound of rustling leaves just waiting to change color before they float to the ground blanketing the earth in a sea of browns, oranges and yellow hues. As the day wore on the sky became ominous and gray. Soon rain followed. The whole day just whispered "fall." It started out bright and cloudless and ended in a soggy drizzle. What could be more fall than that?
And so I decided that it was a good day to bake a classic cake that embraces the scents of fall and the colors of leaves. Carrot Cake. And not just any Carrot Cake but "Sam's Famous Carrot Cake."
I found the recipe for this famed cake on, you guessed it, All Recipes. It is my favorite baking source. Not only does it provide a recipe, it gives bakers reviews.
As much as I value the reviews I must admit they can be the most frustrating aspect of All Recipes. Do these reviewers actually use the recipe listed on the webpage? Very few, I suspect, do. Every comment comes with its own unique list of changes, substitutions and alterations made to the original recipe. By the time the commenter has finished their review the recipe is something completely different. Sometimes I wonder if they even ended up with a cake at all! Oil becomes applesauce. Cinnamon meets nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Sugar becomes honey. Regular flour gets exchanged for whole wheat. Buttermilk is nixed for skim instead. You name it, someone has substituted it.
The reviewers might like their particular culinary cake creation but it certainly isn't Sam's, that's for sure.
After doing my routine read through of the reviews I decided that I wanted to remain fundamentally true to Sam's recipe. I will admit to not including raisins in the cake and replacing the walnuts with pecans (I was out of the former). At the suggestion of many reviewers I added a 1/4 tsp of nutmeg to the mix, too. What can I say? I'm a guilty recipe tweaker myself. I just don't talk about it in comment sections!
When it was all said and done my cake was a success. Sam didn't let me down. And I suppose you could say the reviewers didn't let me down, either. Their 1,665 reviews deeming this a 5 star recipe guided me to this cake, putting it high on the list of results for carrot cakes on a Google search. So thank you All Recipes and its reviewers. Once again you came through on pointing me in the direction of a home run of a dessert.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Pippy Love Post

Sometimes life lessons come without a recipe. When they do I tend to post them on Pippy Love.
Click the link for a recipe-free post!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Romans 15:13 Ministry: Week #3 {Pumpkin Bread}

Simple. Sweet. Satisfying. That is exactly what I had in mind for this week's Romans 15:13 Ministry treat when I decided to bake a big batch of Pumpkin Bread.
There is nothing as basic as bread. It represents some of the fundamental tenants of life, especially the Christian life. The Lord is the bread of life. We, His children, are called to be "broken bread". Bread was multiplied by Jesus. Bread is eaten together in unity and fellowship not only in the Bible but even today in churches as an act of communion and obedience.
That is how I decided upon bread. Being the season for all things pumpkin I decided to throw in some fall festive flavor into the mix, too. I clicked around all of my usual blogs for recipe inspiration but every list of ingredients was too complex. They all had too much going on in the dough. Most had chocolate chips. Some had raisins. Others kept the fancy to the top in the form of a glaze. Many recipes called for pecans or walnuts and others called for a swirl of cream cheese or even Nutella. But I didn't want a gussied up pumpkin loaf. I wanted a loaf that would satisfy a desire for something sweet while maintaining the simple integrity of basic bread. 
After clicking in and out of boxes on my computer screen I decided that the internet wasn't going to be my golden ticket to the perfect pumpkin loaf recipe. Over-the-top recipes boasted too many chips and not enough loaf for my liking. So I went back to the basic, a cookbook. And not just any cookbook but the cookbook that every baker and chef undoubtedly has on their shelf, Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.
Sure enough, filed under "breads" and then "quick breads" I found the simplest pumpkin loaf ever. Trusting the New Cookbook authority, and the fact that it has stood the test of 15 editions, I didn't even look for reviews online. I simply preheated my oven and opened a can of pumpkin.
The simple recipe calling for lots of flour, sugar, eggs and only one can of pumpkin, yielded three generously sized loaves of bread. They were perfectly golden brown with a tint of orange. They rose just the way every baker prays their bread will rise. And they smelled absolutely divine!
The beauty of this bread is that it didn't need any chocolate or dried fruit or sweet glaze to be satisfying and delicious. The bread's star was pumpkin and that's all it needed. The simplicity of bread paired with the fall's favorite vegetable made these loaves the perfect sweet delivery to the ladies at the Women's Connection Bible study.

My prayer is that the ladies who feasted on those loaves of bread saw the beauty of the baked dough, just like I did. A simple loaf of bread can remind us of how Christ can simplify our lives when we turn our struggles, pain and control over to Him. Don't get me wrong, this life won't always be simple. The world is not without its complications and trials. On this earth, surrounded by humans and sin, sometimes it feels like all that surrounds us are imperfections and trials.
But Christ can simplifying even our messiest of circumstances. When we get back to the basics, turn our lives, problems and complications over to Christ He can do a sweet work of simplification. He can remove our worries, burdens and heartache and fill us with His satisfying Spirit of peace and calm. Even in the midst of this chaotic and upside down world, Christ can step in and put our hearts at rest. It is His work of simplification that makes it all possible. Our Bread of Life, King of Kings and All-Sufficient Savior can turn our lives into a place of refuge even in the midst of the fiercest of storms.
All it takes is getting back to the basics and simply asking Christ to take over, take control and release our complications into His care. And just like a simple Pumpkin Loaf, He will come into our lives and simply satisfy our every need with His Holy Spirit that always hits the perfect sweet spot.

{ Recipe found in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook}