12 February 2013
I am bad at Lent, just as I am bad at New Year's resolutions. Specifically, I am bad at giving up bad habits, and at taking up good habits. I resist change, even change that is undeniably good. At least I am bad at the change that requires any effort at all. But I try again every year. I'm only half-hearted about New Year's resolutions, but I do usually mean what I say about Lent.
As of Sunday afternoon, I'd been fairly sure what I was going to do for Lent this year, but then on Monday I ran into this article about Austrian churches encouraging their congregations to give up their cars for Lent. Reducing the amount that I drive would be a net good: I'd walk more, put less smog into the air, and spend less on gas.
My kids are both in schools that are walking distance. The library, my yoga class, their dance classes, and a grocery store, all in walking distance. At the beginning of the school year when I was ambitious, I walked them to and from school regularly. But I've been slacking, and this is the push I need. Of course, Lent begins on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is dance class day, which means the first day will be the roughest day. I told my friend about this scheme and she said "And you don't even own a stroller any more." Trust me, I know that the walk home from dance classes is likely to be a trail of tears. I plan on having a backpack full of snacks and other enticements with me, and I bought the boys each a reflective vest, since we'll be walking home in twilight. I'm hoping the reflective vests will be novelty enough to keep them cheerful at least part of the way. And if all that walking means they collapse into their beds and fall asleep quickly, well, that's just an extra-shiny bonus.
I can't give up my car entirely. Church is too far to walk. So is the farmers' market, the pediatrician, and the store that has the bulk bins. I'm trying to figure out the best bus route, but the fact is I live in the 'burbs and the buses out here aren't great. That's on weekdays. On weekends they're terrible. That's part of the challenge, of course. Just sitting down and figuring out what it would talk to use the bus instead of my car makes me think about folks who don't have cars, and about what kinds of changes we'd need to make. Would it be easier to fix the bus system, or to convince my local grocer to add organic bulk bins? Would I be better off getting a trailer for my bike? Should we subsidize bikes? Are there enough bike lanes? There is no single right answer, and the problem (Which problem? Poverty? Global Warming? Yes.) is complex. Giving up driving my kids to school isn't going to solve anything, except that it will make me aware, for the six weeks of Lent, that the car that sits in my driveway is a both a privilege and a problem.
This week my awareness is also drawn to the needs of others because it is my church's turn to host the rotating homeless shelter. About forty people, most of them working poor, some of them children, are sleeping on cots in the Parish Hall. I dropped off some dictionaries today because some of the guests are school age and needed dictionaries to do their homework.
They eat breakfast and dinner with us, and we provide sandwiches and other lunch supplies. It is a point of pride with us that the food is good food, home cooked, and ample. The shelter residents are our guests, and before we send them out to navigate a world that doesn't care if they don't have cars or roofs over their heads, we make sure they have their bellies and their hearts fed. I made this pound cake for tonight's dessert.
(Edited to add that after the shelter was done, one of the kitchen workers hunted me down to let me know that while there was plenty of pound cake to go around, mine had been mostly devoured by the volunteers. Many of them come to the shelter straight from work, and this pound cake was too delicious to resist. I promised I'd make two for next year.)
Rose Levy Beranbaum's Perfect Pound Cake
adapted from The Cake Bible
1.5 ounces milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
5.25 ounces sifted cake flour
5.25 ounces sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6.5 ounces unsalted butter, softened.
ingredients should be room temperature before mixing
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Prepare a loaf pan by buttering, place parchment paper on the bottom, then butter and flour.
In a medium bowl, mix together the milk, eggs and vanilla.
In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for thirty seconds. Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until ingredients are moistened. Increase to high speed (medium if using a stand mixer) and beat for one minute.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating for twenty seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with the spatula. Bake 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover with foil after the first 30 minutes to prevent over browning.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
There are no good strawberries right now where I live, but if you make this during strawberry season, I suggest you chop some strawberries up and use them for topping.