Our Team Recalls Highlights of Summers Past, Passes on Favorite Recipes and Shares Creative Plans for Summers to Come!
by JASMIN HOWELL
Regular Contributor | Canada
Most of my favorite summertime activities involve an evening fire of some kind, sitting in the lingering daylight chatting with good friends over warm drinks, while our kids play somewhere nearby full of hot dogs and s’mores. Their playful voices intermingle with the evening birdsong in the trees. As we chat about all God is doing in our lives and enjoy the fellowship, we watch the sun sink lower on the horizon, pulling our sweaters on and bundling up in blankets as the summer heat of the day transforms into an evening chill. These types of casual evenings are a must-do for us every summer!
I have one goal every summer: Make time to be outside each and every day! I’ve never loved the heat, so summer can really challenge my ideals if the days get super hot and I start feeling lethargic — which is when my goal kicks in. I will push myself do something fun outside — either make the trek to the beach, take a bike ride, go for a walk, or lay out on the hammock. I’ve learned being outside can be enjoyable in any weather if I’m dressed properly and bring enough snacks, beverages, and appropriate headwear to make it enjoyable!
The summer project on the top of my list is a raised garden box that my son and I will plant together! We recently moved into a home with a yard and the possibilities for backyard fun keep my mind whirring with excitement. We used to have a large square coffee table with a hinged lid and beautiful antique metal accents. During the course of our recent move the lid fell off and broke, leaving just the base … a box large enough for a sweet little garden bed. I am weather-sealing it and filling it with dirt, and will enjoy visiting all our little plants with my boy!
By SARAH GUTHRIE
Our Administrative Assistant | Colorado
In the spirit of the golden rule and with a dash of Mr. Roger’s kindness, the Lord has laid on my heart to love my neighbors … quite literally. After moving to a quaint neighborhood, I’ve been inspired afresh to do the uncomfortable and reach out, introduce myself, wave when going to the mailbox, make a humble offering … and as I have done so at His bidding, I have seen smiles appear, hearts relax, and meaningful conversations unfold. You should try it!
Tackling Something New
Imagine my sheer excitement when I saw the tiniest flecks of green push themselves up from the dirt — my seedlings had sprouted! My summertime goal for this year is planting my first garden … and let’s be honest, by that I mean a few terra cotta pots of basil and cherry tomatoes for caprese salads and an entire raised bed devoted to happy zinnias. Gardens are for learning, growing, sharing, and enjoying God’s goodness … and sharing with others!
When we’ve all rolled our tired and relaxed selves into our cars after an afternoon of low tide clam-digging, my family brings our seafood harvest home where the real festivities begin. Rinsing, shucking, and packaging our catch of the day — fresh Misquamicut clams — our family reserves a generous portion of our labor and begins to chop, sauté, and simmer an inviting pot of clam chowder. If you want a taste of New England … this is it!
Sarah’s New England Clam Chowder
1 diced onion
4 stalks chopped celery
4 slices bacon
4 cups clam juice
4 cans of baby clams with juice or 2 cups fresh chopped clams
10 medium-sized potatoes, diced (Leave your potatoes unpeeled if you want a more rustic chowder)
2 cups of half and half*
1/3 cup flour
Sea salt + pepper to taste
Sauté the first three ingredients with salt and pepper to taste in your soup pot. After the mixture is cooked crumble your bacon.
Add your potatoes and 2 cups clam juice. Cover your potatoes 1–2 inches with water. Bring to a boil. Once boil has been reached, lower your temperature to a simmer. Simmer until you can pierce a potato easily with a fork. In a separate bowl whisk 1 cup of half and half with flour until smooth. Gradually stir into soup. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1–2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat to low. Add the remaining half and half, clam juice, and clams. Heat through. Serve with a side of clam fritters — perfect for dunking!
*Optional: For Rhode Island style clam chowder, omit dairy and add remaining clam juice and clams after potatoes are cooked through. Bon appétit!
By HEATHER COFER
Regular Contributor | Colorado
This may seem rather small to some, but a couple of summers ago I decided that I was going to keep outdoor plants alive all summer … for the first time. I had tried several times before, but hadn’t been able to follow through for one reason or another. Watching these little plants survive and even thrive during those hot summer months gave me a greater appreciation for how God created us to tend and nurture and care for His creation!
Shortly after Judah and I were engaged, I attended a picnic hosted by his church. I was visiting him (I lived half-way across the world from him at that point) and felt rather nervous being around these new people. But they made me feel so welcome and loved and were so excited for us. It was a beautiful reminder that the Body of Christ is our spiritual family, and we can love one another well even if we’ve just met.
By ANNIE WESCHE
Our Creative Director | Idaho
Summer Plans Redirected
One fond childhood memory of summer was when my mum had planned a day trip for my brother and I to a nearby hot springs. When we arrived, much to our dismay, we learned it was closed for cleaning all day. Ever the advocate for making memories and getting creative, my Mum offered to the owners that we could help them clean the pools in exchange for a swim when it was all over. They agreed! And to my brother and I, being part of the “cleaning crew” was just as much of a fun adventure as having the pool all to ourselves when the job was done!
Sort & Simplify
One project on my list for this summer is to work my way through various corners of my life — files, storage boxes, that abyss under the bed, closets, desk drawers, that trusty catch-all bin, and unorganized dresser drawers — trimming out anything I can toss, donate, or give away. I always find that decluttering and reorganization refreshes me, lifts away the weight of disorder, and frees me up for new focus and inspiration!
Getaway Days With Jesus
When I lived in Colorado, I was blessed to reside about an hour’s drive from the iconic mountain town of Estes Park. One of my favorite things was to have “getaway days” there with Jesus. I’d plan things out ahead of time with one central focus — to set apart a whole day to get alone with Jesus and cultivate my love for Him. I’d head out early in the morning and spend the drive up the mountain singing worship songs as I watched the sunrise. I’d land in a favorite coffee shop for unrushed hours of soaking in the Word, journaling what God was teaching me, and freshly looking at areas of my life that needed His refining. I’d open up a picnic lunch beside the river, breathing deeply amid the wonder of our glorious Creator, and then close the day in fervent prayer as I drove home with the sunset. These were treasured getaways that brought refreshment to both body and soul!
By MANDY SAELER
Our Managing Editor | Pennsylvania
My childhood summer days were filled with playing outside till the dinner bell rang, washing dirty feet with the garden hose, snacking on wild berries from the woods, and learning to be content with what was given. Though my siblings and I sometimes longed for neighbor kids to play with or suburban sidewalks to venture out on, looking back I’d never trade the luxury of being surrounded by fields and woods, a pond and creek, and countless other simple joys — all our own to explore and enjoy! My country upbringing was the spark for my ever-deepening love for nature and the heart-stirring ways that I see the loving hand of God in the things He has created!
In previous summers, after the tasks of the day were done, I’d mount my townie bike and head to my favorite river trail that meandered through the fields and farms on the outskirts of town. I’d soak up the bright sunshine and beautiful sights, pedaling to the cadence of my prayers as I poured my heart out to the Lord. That trail became a favorite place of personal retreat where my shoulders would be sun-kissed and my soul was strengthened in the presence of God.
Healthy & Chocolatey Go-to Dessert
When I stumbled upon a “healthy” chocolate cake recipe quite a number of years ago, I began experimenting with variations and quickly landed upon my go-to chocolate cake recipe. Much to my surprise this “healthy” chocolate cake has proven to be a crowd-pleaser and is a recipe I’ve enjoyed sharing with many friends over the years. (I like to top it off with a healthy chocolate frosting recipe I concocted … I hope you like it, too!)
So many enjoyable memories surround this chocolate cake … dear friends with colorful Fiestaware plates and forks, the flickering glow of birthday candles in the eyes of my littlest friends, and even a Black Forest version for my own summertime birthday one year.
These simple cake and frosting recipes provide a chocolatey canvas for your creativity in the kitchen. Take this recipe, make it your own, and jazz it up in a way that those you are serving it to will enjoy! Top it with fresh berries, layer it with peanut butter cups, or splatter it with colorful sprinkles!
Mandy’s Healthy Chocolate Cake
2 cups coconut sugar
1 3/4 cup sprouted wheat or spelt flour
3/4 cup raw cacao or cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons sea salt
2 eggs (or flax/chia “eggs” for a vegan option)
1 cup almond milk + 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup additional liquid: full-fat coconut milk or coffee
3/4 cup fruit puree (strawberry, apple, banana, etc.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350º. Combine almond milk and apple cider vinegar, set aside. (This creates a “buttermilk” for added flavor in the cake.) Mix sugar, flour, cacao, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt in a large bowl. Whisk eggs, almond milk mixture, additional liquid, fruit puree, and vanilla together. Pour the liquid mixture into the large bowl. Beat for 2 minutes, until completely smooth. Pour into a greased bundt pan and bake for 30–35 minutes.
Use your own choice of sugar, flour, and milk in this recipe. Here, I’ve reflected my favored options.
This cake batter can be used for bundt cakes, cupcakes, and even layered cakes! When varying from a bundt pan, as the recipe prescribes, be sure to adjust the baking time appropriately.
Healthy Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup coconut oil (softened, not melted)
1/2 cup raw honey
1/2 cup raw cacao or cocoa powder
1–2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt, to taste
Liquid stevia to taste
Cream coconut oil (softened, not melted), honey, and cacao together. Add 1/2 t. vanilla and 1–2 T. milk based upon desired thickness. Fine tune flavor to preference with milk, liquid stevia, and sea salt.
Drizzle over Healthy Chocolate Cake in bundt form. Or pipe onto Healthy Chocolate Cupcakes (use less milk and refrigerate for a short period of time, which will harden the coconut oil and add integrity to the frosting).
Using honey can tend to make the frosting a bit “sour” in its sweetness, so I add just enough of the flavor-adjusting ingredients like milk, stevia, and sea salt to “round out” the sweetness to the preferred taste.
A FEW MORE IDEAS
- Organize a cooking day with friends where everyone contributes to the ingredients and each person leaves with healthy meals for their freezer. Soak up Christ-centered fellowship as you wash, chop, prep, and cook together!
- Plan a surprise “Love & Appreciation” gathering for your pastor and his wife, or perhaps an older godly couple who have long-served in the church. Have everyone come prepared to express their gratitude or a story of how they’ve been blessed by those being honored. Encouragement and gratitude are such life-giving blessings to give!
- Have a clothing swap with several friends with everyone bringing gently used items they no longer wear.
- Have a letter-writing party. Everyone brings a set of stationery or cards to share. Turn on some beautiful background music, set out refreshing summer tea, and have everyone spend an hour or so writing encouraging notes to mail off to friends and family.
- Host a fireside hymn-sing or a testimony night with friends, everyone taking turns sharing about the difference Jesus has made in their life.
- Memorize a chapter in the Bible this summer, like Psalm 34 or 139.
- Write down attributes of God you wish to understand more fully and take a week for each one to study and meditate on it in depth.
- Make a “sacred list” or “mountain prayer list” of things you need God to move mightily on your behalf. Pray over them each day, and journal as you begin to see God work in those areas.
- Exchange edifying “favorite” books with a friend and then meet up after you’ve read them to talk about what you gleaned and enjoyed.
- Meet up with a friend at a new hiking trail or walking path.
- Set a new daily health goal and strive to be consistent for 30 days — like taking a short prayer walk every morning, drinking more water every day, doing 100 jumping jacks or squats each day, or stretching every night.
- Try something new with friends like kayaking, paddleboarding, tennis, rock climbing, or horseback riding.
- Call up your married friends with kids, offering to engage their kiddos for a few hours while they have an impromptu date. Find a local place to take the kids berry picking, go to the zoo, explore a new park, or get creative with sidewalk paint at home.
- Pay for the coffee order behind you in the drive-thru and tell them, “It’s because of Jesus!”
- Call up an extended family member you haven’t connected with in a while and see how they are.
- Assign a time of day to remember someone you know who needs Jesus — every time you see that time, you’ll be reminded to stop and pray for their salvation!
- Offer to help a busy mom you know — clean her house, make a grocery run, or help with a project she’s needing to tackle.
- Reach out to your pastor’s wife and ask if there’s any way you can serve her or their family.
- Call up a younger woman in the church and offer to take her out for the day. Go to a botanical garden and talk about ways God is at work in both your lives. Or treat her to lunch and ask how you can be praying for and encouraging her.