Pineapples at Christmas? (Angel in the Kitchen)

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Anyone who’s visited our home knows we’re crazy about birds! The walls in nearly every room are adorned with framed prints depicting bluejays, woodpeckers, cardinals and herons, to name a few. But there’s another decorating theme running through Woodhaven: pineapples!

We have friends in Hawaii who continue to send us gifts of handcrafted bowls, spoons and plaques featuring this giant golden fruit, but recently one of them jokingly proclaimed, “You guys need to pick another theme!” She said she’d just about exhausted all the tchotchkes that are available in the “Pineapple State”! Aloha?

So why are we crazy over pineapples? We have the design mounted above our kitchen entrance, on the wall next to the French doors, etched on goblets and mugs, imprinted on coasters and dinnerware; pineapples adorn our candlesticks and napkin rings, our serving pieces and — best of all — the centerpiece we place on the table each year at Christmastime. And as if these decorations weren’t enough, one of us greets our guests wearing tiny gold pineapple earrings! (Hint: it’s not Tom!)

One of these guests, a teenager named Nicolas who was visiting with his parents, spent nearly an entire weekend wandering about the rooms at Woodhaven counting all the pineapples he came across, including a few crafted into the antique furniture. Trust us, his imaginative little game of “Find the Pineapples” kept Nicolas busy for hours. That’s not to say, however, that the inside of our home looks like something out of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop! We try to … ahem … maintain a modicum of good taste and sensible order at Woodhaven!

Nevertheless, Nicolas finally asked quite politely, “What’s up with all the pineapples?” To answer this question, we need to return to the Colonial Days of America.  No, we don’t need a time machine, we can get there by car! We live within easy driving distance of the first capital of Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg, where the past of over 250 years ago is daily re-enacted.

As we stroll down the streets of Williamsburg we see … pineapples — lots of pineapples — on and above the doors, decorating signs and wreaths, even imprinted on tourist maps and brochures. In fact, the pineapple is one of the official symbols of this Colonial town, because the fruit has an interesting place in its early history.

Christmas decoration featuring pineapples, adorning a building in Colonial Williamsburg, VA.

Columbus had discovered the pineapple on his second trip to the Caribbean in 1493. He took the spiky-skinned fruit back to Spain where it became both a novelty food and a sign of status and wealth. Europeans weren’t able to grow the fruit. At least, not until the first hot-houses were constructed — and those were only built on the grandest estates. So the tropical delicacy had to be imported from the Caribbean; and the fruit had to survive the long humid trip across the Atlantic. Much of the fruit rotted before reaching its destination, but the pineapples that did make it to European tables were expensive indeed!

In Colonial Williamsburg, England’s headquarters in America during the 1700s, pineapples continued to be viewed as luxury items. Whenever the fruit arrived on British merchant ships, a prosperous hostess would quickly send a buyer in the hope of claiming one of the scarce fruits. When she succeeded, she’d place the exotic fruit at the center of the dining table, where all her guests could admire it. At the conclusion of the meal, the pineapple was carved and served to her guests, who considered the rare and expensive fruit the ultimate expression of her hospitality!

The pineapple soon became the symbol of sincere and abundant hospitality, proclaiming “Welcome!”; “¡Bievenidos!”; “Shalom!” — and we’re all for hospitality! In fact, we believe that if people everywhere were more hospitable, we could solve most of the ills of our world.

But that’s why the pineapple motif appears throughout our home. We want our guests to feel welcomed at Woodhaven! And hey! Wanna know what’s really neat about hospitality and the pineapple? Pineapples contain a unique protein enzyme known as bromelain, an all-natural pain reliever. So again, the pineapple is a fitting reminder to be hospitable; because when you welcome people into your home, your act of hospitality goes a long ways to relieving the pain of isolation, loneliness and rejection.

As we celebrate the holidays, please consider opening your heart and home to those around you. And not just your family members. Extend your social circle beyond your friends and relatives. Reach out to your neighbors, coworkers, and the members of your community who often get left out of the Christmastime festivities: singles and people who have lost loved ones; military spouses whose husbands and wives are serving away from home; college students who can’t make it home for the holidays; shut-ins, who spend most of their days in isolation; and  anyone else you happen to meet on the byways of life who can use a little love and reassurance.

The pineapple and hospitality: both let people know they are welcome! “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” (1 Peter 4:9 NASB) “Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.” (1 Peter 4:9 NLT)

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The Beauty of Baking (Angel in the Kitchen)

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Not long ago we discussed the “Junk Food” of life, those guilty pleasures in which we frequently overindulge — such as TV, sports, video games, etc. — and how we need to balance our “diet” with healthier fare: specifically,
reading the Word of God. We enjoy making these analogies between food and the Holy Scriptures, and we contemplated writing today’s post on “health food” (spiritual nutrition: which we need in order to stay spiritually strong and avoid getting “sick”: again, reading the Word of God.) However, we think you get the point. So ...  today we discuss the beauty of baking.

Baking isn’t as easy as preparing other types of foods, for a few simple reasons. First, you usually have to stick to the instructions! And follow them in order!  Plus, you shouldn’t add anything that’s not listed. Or subtract anything. Or substitute anything. It’s like a science. Deviate from the proven formula and the cake may fall, the pie may turn out pathetic.

Despite the number of cookbooks sold each year, most cooks rarely refer to written instructions of any kind. They just walk into the kitchen and do their own thing. They stand in front of the range and start to boogie, waving a big spoon in one hand, while shaking out spices with other.

When cooking veggies, for instance, it’s easy to toss in some extra butter and seasonings. And as a result, the dish is usually greatly improved. Cooks tend to do a lot of this sort of thing. They stir the broth, taste it, and then decide it needs something. They add a teaspoon of this and a sprinkle of that. If they’re whipping up one of their favorite recipes and they don’t have one of the necessary ingredients, they improvise! Through experience, they’ve learned that they can make smart substitutions and sometimes even leave stuff out. Or add stuff — strictly in the name of science — like an extra stick of butter!!! Generally, the dish turns out just as tasty, perhaps even better. But if you try to do this when baking, you’re courting disaster.

Life is NOT like cooking. We often approach it, however, as though it were. In our relationships, our ways of thinking and behaving, we act like we can do our own thing and everything will magically turn out okay. We improvise, make substitutions, leave stuff out, throw stuff in. We often don’t refer to God’s recipe for success in life.

Life is like baking. If we want it to turn out right, we need to follow the directions — in order. So where do “bakers” turn for instruction? Specifically … the Word of God. (Betcha didn’t see that one coming.) Moreover, when following God’s instructions, you can’t leave anything out, or add anything, or make substitutions. Just. Follow. The directions!

Even the Pillsbury Doughboy follows the book!

No baker worth his or her flour ever deviates from what works, and then wonders why their bread is dry or chewy or looks like a gooey mess on the inside. They follow instructions and have great success. (Baker’s Joy ?) And that, dear friends, is the simplicity and the sheer Beauty of Baking!

Moral of this little analogy? When in the kitchen, have fun, sling the spices, do your own thing. But in life, follow the instructions in the Holy Scriptures. That way you’ll experience the Baker’s Joy! “Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do.” (Joshua 1:7 NLT)

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