Monday, January 7, 2013

Breaking Bread Together

It isn't just that I like food.  I DO like food but what really turns my crank about good food is its underpinning of fellowship and community.  
The purchasing, planning, preparing and sharing of the meal is the very stuff of life to my way of thinking and upbringing.  
As a first born daughter in a family of seven kids born on top of each other, cooking for crowds was second nature;  feeding the five thousand didn't seem like such a stretch.  
And quality mattered! according to my mother's strict code of kitchen ethics.
I'm the gal who went to see Julie & Julia three times in the theatres.  
The gal lucky enough to browse the Julia Childs exhibit at the Smithsonian in the same year -- 
with her exceptional, understanding husband alongside! (The same man who, without a murmur, replaced a perfectly good kitchen table with a beautiful custom made 60 inch round to indulge my dream for face to face dining).
Ahhh.  Long and happy sigh.
My foodie soul found home here at Laity, particularly after reading 
Setting The Table 
by Laity Lodge Chef Tim Blanks pictured below 
serving up his corn chowder and black bean soup.
I have his permission to share his well-earned wisdom on the subject verbatim, 
after which there will be no doubt as to why my soul resonates perfectly with his quote: 
"I'd say some of the best work of the retreat center takes place at the dining table"

 If the subject is meals, I have opinions.  About preparing them.  About serving them.  About setting the table.... in fact, let's start with that, with the table.  Yes, every meal needs a good setting.  And yes, the food has to be my best.  But to truly invite -- to welcome all comers -- a table has to mark off an area of well-being, a safe place to share yourself and, in every sense, to make room for the person next to you.

Last year the Lodge hosted its first food retreat, and to know Laity Lodge or me is to know that a good meal hardly stops with the food.  But before we get to Laity Lodge, I want to detour through a couple of scenes that illustrate my strong feelings about the importance of the table.  
Detour one:  my boyhood home, wherever it happened to be.  In most houses today the biggest dust catcher is the dinner table -- we know that.  But when I was growing up, the dinner table was our family circle.  As kids, my brother and I had two certainties:  Sunday's meant roast beef and 6:30pm meant family dinner.  Period.  So while my father's work moved us across datelines and meridians, at the stable center of the Blanks' spinning sphere was the family meal.  
Next example:  picture my wife, Amy, and me at our first dinner with Barbara Dan and Howard Butt -- pre Laity Lodge employment.  We all had on our best that night; the table looked like a spread in a House Beautiful magazine.  But settings and people have chips and cracks if you look closely, and flaws are part of a good table's safety perimeters.  My personal chips that night were about coming out of addiction and alcoholism to faith as I shared my story with Howard and Barbara Dan.  
When I was through, Howard said simply, "You're safe with me".  And that evening we feasted.
Now we fast forward to Laity Lodge's first food retreat where participants, just as I do, tend to arrive packing their own opinions.  All good.  Divergent views welcome.  I say often that the magic around a table trumps the quality of the cuisine.  So we made certain that the tables for the food retreat served up our dining philosophy to also feed every person's human need to be himself or herself.  As feedback (good word) came in, I saw that we'd dined well.  We told stories (best meals, worst meals).  
We weighed in on the importance of the table in our lives.  We laughed.  We never advised people to try to get along or to get to know each other; we didn't have to.  
I expect to serve more of these retreats at Laity Lodge, and each time I'll hope our guests go home to stir up more magic.  To eat is human after all.  
But to nourish the soul.... that's a meal;
that's what Laity Lodge is about.
I'm grateful to be in the kitchen.
As chef of Laity Lodge, Tim Blanks sets meal tables to know and be known, to grow and share.
Amen brother Tim.  Thanks for nailing it so perfectly!
Oh, and for making our first food retreat precisely that, 
a place to know, be known, grow and share.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Lure of Laity Lodge

In recounting our retreat experience I will at times default to shameless plagiarizing (word for word!) from the welcome package/promo material we found in our room.  A room of more elegant-rustic charm than we could have ever imagined
and to which these few photos might testify. 
Plagiarism will be henceforth identified in blue text to 
ease my conscience.  
Call me weak but to my way of thinking, 
it is senseless self-injury to try the telling of a thing already available in prose that cannot be improved.
Our sweet suite was one of six in the Black Bluffs, a structure built right into the cliff side 
and over-hanging the Frio River. 
Anne of Green Gables might have her Lake of Shining Waters,
but does it compare to this Emerald Sea? 
I thought not.
 The walk from the parking lot to the Black Bluffs
 Down one flight of spiral steps to our room
 Literally built into the rock face
If you know me, then you already know how hopelessly smitten I am with the music of Sara Groves and the writings of Sally Lloyd-Jones.  These women have been nurturing my soul for a few years now with their particular artistry and spiritual giftedness.  Sara's blog led us to The High Calling (and the daily bible studies with Mark Roberts) which in turn led us to the awareness of Laity Lodge and the concept of spiritual retreat.

In a random sweep of the retreat schedule for 2012, 
my attention was drawn to November's Food Retreat.  
Yes.  You read that right.  A Food Retreat.  And yes, the better half of me needed some time to consider the merits of such a theme on our spiritual health.  
As a firmly established foodie however, I needed no such convincing 
and knowing that one of the featured speakers 
was none other than the illustrious Sally Lloyd-Jones 
clinched the plan for me us in no *uncertain terms!
(*aka unnecessary negotiation)

Dr. Wirzba has published The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age and Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight. His most recent book is Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating. He also has edited The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land and The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.
“I grew up farming and still grow a garden. I also love to cook and eat. I want to help Christians think about and practice better eating. Doing the right thing tastes really good! I love sharing the table with others.”
Sally Lloyd-Jones
Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote the Bible. Well, not exactly. But she did write The Jesus Storybook Bible, along with other highly regarded (and highly recommended) children’s books. Sally also likes food. She joins us for The Food Retreat to lend a second voice to the weekend. Expect foodie-centric readings from the Storybook Bible (there are quite a few) and beyond.

 Though this marks only her second trip to Laity Lodge, 
we already count Sally as an old friend and look forward to introducing her to you.

Nathan Tasker

Gabe Scott (Pie Making)

Special Guests
Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo Austin

They’ll be cooking up something. More details soon.

I needed nothing more to start the registration process.
Here is a write up of the same retreat by Sally herself.  

God’s Love Made Visible:
The Laity Lodge Food Retreat
, by Sally Lloyd-Jones 

Friend and best-selling children’s author, Sally Lloyd-Jones, recently spent some time writing at Laity Lodge. The tail end of her stay coincided with The Food Retreat, so we asked her to take part, take some notes, and write about it after she returned home. We’re happy to share Sally’s account of the retreat, and look forward to having her back in the Canyon soon. (We’re big fans of her books too…they make great Christmas gifts!)

The remainder of this post is still under construction but I will publish it anyway.  
I am going out right now with all my boys to see The Hobbit - 
(my first real outing in three weeks as I struggle to recover from pneumonia).  
Like Bilbo Baggins, I'm going on an adventure and know not when I'll return!
*** 48 hour Time Lapse ***

Stepping out of the car in the parking lot, we caught the delightful aroma of Texas BBQ in the making.
We cast each other a thumbs up.  This Food Retreat was off to a mighty grand start.  WE passed this incredible conglomeration of outdoor cooking space en route to the Registrar's Office.

Everything and I mean Everything on the property has purpose and detail and is done with an excellence that surpasses even the most discerning taste.
When things are done for His Glory - the difference becomes very obvious.
THAT was an enormous take away for us as we ruminate the experience of Laity Lodge here at home.
The Bookstore welcomed you to either carefully borrow or buy 
from her shelves.  
 Sally's books!  (I noticed they couldn't keep up with the re-stocking)
A Hammered Dulcimer brings Rich Mullins lovingly to mind
Turns out Gabe Scott (resident Pie making expert as well) and Nathan Tasker are well connected to many of our favourite musician artists:  
The Getty's, Sara Groves, Michael Card, Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson....
*sigh*  Music Heaven 
I wish I had gotten the story behind these sculptures but alas, 
now you are left with my uneducated guess.   
Feed my lambs?
We fellowshipped with approximately forty others at this Food Retreat.  
You are about to meet some of them, at the table and elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

You know what they say....

En route to Laity Lodge, on a truly deserted endless stretch of highway, we saw this For Sale sign.
I begged my driver :) to stop
so I could provide digital evidence of Texan bigness.
Two thousand four hundred and eight acres.  Give or take a few.  LOL.  
With more wells than the patriarchs could ever dream of and not quite a mile to land your private plane.
In Utopia of all places!
And I always thought that place was just a myth!