31 August 2010

On the phone

Three times I have been the voice on the other end of the line with nothing to say.  Twice it was on purpose.

The first time I was just in the church office working on the utterly un-Spiritual task of  data entry.  The phone rang.  I was the only person there.  The woman on the other end needed a priest.  We had no priest.  Our priest had left and our Interim hadn't started yet and I was the financial secretary.  It was Friday afternoon.  I didn't know who was on call.  I would find out.  Someone would call her by Monday.  Would that be okay?

"I guess."  Said the woman on the phone.  She was breaking.

"Are you okay right now?"  And the answer poured out.  Her twins were born catastrophically early and were hooked up to every machine imaginable and she just didn't know how it was that life kept moving.

"How do you go on?"

And so I told her about my lost boy, and about breathing.  "You just get up every morning, and take a shower and get dressed.  And you breathe in and out."  Because that's all there is.  You go on because there is no alternative.

"I just don't understand why this happened."

There is no why.  It just is.  And it sucks.  And if you go looking for a "why" then all you'll get is a bunch of people with crap answers that do not help.  I didn't say that last bit, but I bet she learned it all on her own.

I didn't really say much of anything.  I was a real live human being on the other end of the phone.  I had once seen the face of death on my own child and that meant something to her beyond any words I might say.

Twice more I have had the honor being that person on the other end of the phone.  Every time I have felt inadequate.   These are people with problems I cannot solve.  My only gift to them is to guide them through the process of releasing whatever anger and sadness they have been saving.  It isn't much, because when a child dies the anger and sadness come in floods and even when you've wrung yourself dry there is more to come. 

I was on the phone today, and I had nothing to offer but breath and prayer.

Breathe in and out.

30 August 2010


This was another attack on my crisper full of good intentions.  I bought Anaheim peppers at the farmers' market fully intending to stuff them with something and call it dinner some day.  Time passed, and this afternoon the peppers were still sitting in my crisper, beginning to show their age.  So I dug around for a starting point recipe, inventoried my kitchen and settled on this concoction.  It's a great use for that wonderful artisan bread you bought and then only half finished.  The dry bread soaks up the liquid and holds everything together.  Husband's only complaint was that he wanted more of it, so this will probably appear on my dinner table again. 

Stuffed Peppers 2

8 Anaheim chiles
3 cups cubed bread, preferably old and dry (or use unflavored croutons)
12 ounces shredded cheese. I used a mix of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack
1 large onion, cut to small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (could you use cilantro?  Sure!)
2/3 cup flavorful liquid: chicken or vegetable broth, dry white wine

Preheat oven to 350 F

Place large skillet over medium-low heat and add oil.  When oil begins to shimmer, add onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir until until it becomes fragrant.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Combine bread, cheese, parsley, and pepper in a medium bowl.

Scrub peppers, then cut halfway through the stem end and lengthwise down the pepper, making a T-shape.  Use a spoon or your fingers to scrape seeds and membranes out of the peppers.

Stir the cooled onions and garlic into the bread mixture.  Use a spoon or your fingers to fill the peppers with the bread mixture.

Arrange the peppers in a 9"x13" casserole dish.  Pour flavorful liquid over and around the peppers.  Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour.  Remove foil and return to over for 5-10 minutes until the tops of the peppers are browned.  Allow to cool outside of the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Cleaning out the crisper

I am bad at follow-through.  I have excellent intentions about a lot of things: my prayer life, my exercise regimen, my writing, and most definitely my intake of fresh vegetables.  Thus, the state of my crisper drawer is usually quite sad. 

I had a bunch of beautiful rainbow chard that needed to be used quickly and I had no brains left in my head, so last night for dinner we had the rainbow chard version of clean out the crisper tart. 

Olive oil whole wheat crust with rainbow chard and Romano cheese

The key is the crust, a super simple whole wheat olive oil concoction I found at Chocolate and Zucchini.  I've used it multiple times and it has never failed me.  Are you afraid of pie crust?  I've never made a proper pie crust in my life and will shamelessly admit that I buy them in a box in the refrigerator case, but this crust is so easy even I can make it, which means you can make it, too.   Now, the elegant Clothilde makes her tarts in elegant tart pans with fluted sides.  I am less elegant and prefer a more rustic tart so I roll mine out into a big circle, fill and then fold over the sides before baking.  No matter how you make yours, I think you'll love this crust as much as I do.  It's her recipe, so I'm not going to reprint it here, since I do nothing to it.  It is perfection.

Once you've made the crust and set it to rest in your refrigerator, open your crisper and remove whatever lovely things you bought with excellent intentions last week.  Is is greens, starting to wilt?  Wash and sauté with a bit of onion and garlic, not too long as they'll keep cooking with the crust.  Is there some broccoli or asparagus starting to wrinkle at the base?  Cut off the bottom of the stalk, chop into bit sized pieces and toss with olive oil and some salt and pepper.  Is there a scrap of goat cheese in your dairy drawer?  Marvelous.  One egg all alone in the box?  Beat it gently and add it to the filling.  A lonesome sausage link?  Chop it up and crisp it in a hot pan before adding.  Is the potato looking back at you?  Scrub, trim and cube, then boil until tender in salted water, and in it goes.  Are there bunches of fresh herbs that you only needed a tiny bit of?  Marvelous!  In they go.  (I prefer to sprinkle fresh basil over the top after it comes out of the oven, but other herbs cook along with everything else.)

It's a highly virtuous meal for the day before market day, full of good-for-you vegetables and follow-through. 

29 August 2010

From Prayer to Pancakes

How do you go from prayer to pancakes?  By reading this blog, for starters.  I decided I was never going to be properly focused like the "generate loyal readers and convert them to ad revenue" essays think I should be.   So this blog will be about whatever I'm thinking about, be it prayer or pancakes.   Sometimes it might be about both.  Bread, wine and salt belong in religion just as much as they belong on the table.

I love pancakes, so I often order them when we go out to eat, and mostly I'm disappointed.  Restaurant pancakes are almost always sad, thin floppy things with no flavor.  I am never disappointed by these pancakes, which are fluffy and hearty, with rich flavor and aren't all that bad for you.  We mostly use pure maple syrup at home, but growing up we usually had butter and molasses on our pancakes, and these pancakes can certainly hold their own against that team as well.

This recipe uses flax seed meal for an extra kick of flavor, but you can substitute three eggs instead of the flax seed meal slurry.  If you don't have fresh buttermilk, you can use powdered or add one tablespoon of white vinegar per cup of fresh milk in a pinch, but the flavor and texture won't be as good.  Fresh buttermilk keeps well and is useful in lots of baked goods as well as in mashed potatoes.  Try keeping some around the house and see if you don't love it, too.

Eggless Buttermilk Pancakes
3 Tablespoons flax seed meal
9 Tablespoons water
15 ounces  whole wheat (or white whole wheat) flour (about 3 cups)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted, plus more for the griddle

Whisk flax seed meal and water together in a small bowl and set aside.

Melt butter and set aside.

Measure out flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine.

Heat skillet or griddle to medium high.

Whisk together buttermilk, milk and flax seed meal slurry, which should have started to thicken.  Stirring constantly, slowly pour in melted butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir gently until dry ingredients are just moistened.  This is a thick batter, more spoonable than pourable.  Don't overmix or you'll lose all your beautiful air bubbles.

Lightly butter the griddle.  Don't use too much or you'll deep fry the first side of you pancake.  I know this sounds like a good idea, but it's not.   Once the butter is melted and shimmering, use a serving spoon to drop about a 1/4 of batter on the griddle for each pancake.  Cook on the first side until the sides begin to look cooked, then flip and cook the second side for about one minute, keeping an eye on the heat under the griddle and the color of the pancakes.


28 August 2010

What it means to pray.

It is said that if the Jews are the people of the Book, then Anglicans are the people of the Prayer Book.  I am an Episcopalian, a member of the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and our service and daily office are outlined in the Book of Common Prayer.  Anything you want to pray about, there's a prayer in the BCP, and if somehow the BCP is at a loss, there's the Book of Occasional Services.  And if the BOS fails?  There are any number of supplements at your disposal.  You can have full, vibrant prayer life without ever once using words of your own.

That's not always a bad thing.  Sometimes we need to rely on the words of generations of our ancestors.  Sometimes we can pray in anemnesis, praying with all those who prayed those same words before you could speak.  There is comfort in ritual, and anyone who denies it should really give it another try.

Sometimes, though, words aren't enough.

I struggle with prayer, intercessory prayer in particular.  I believe in a Creator God.  I believe in Jesus Christ who died for teaching the truth about the good news of God.  And I most definitely believe in the Holy Spirit, who moves among and within us, speaking endless, timeless truth in our ears, guiding our hands and voices if only we will listen.  But what does intercessory prayer mean?  Does God answer the good prayers?  Are there magic words that make God change the track of the universe?

Of course there aren't.

So what is personal prayer for?  What good does it do?  I certainly don't know the whole story, but I know this: when we pray for our friends, for our neighbors, for members of our human family we've never met we are transformed.  When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai his face glowed with the reflected glory of God.  The Israelites made Moses cover his face because being that close to God terrified them. Most of us don't get to see the face of God on this side of the grave, but when we pray for others, we are able to connect with God, and while our faces don't actually glow, we too can be transformed.

In September 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Flickr user AnomalousNYC took to the streets and photographed thousands of people, each holding a card that said simply: "I AM THINKING OF YOU."    When I first saw the pictures I noticed that there were no ugly people in them.  I wondered if the artist had gone out of his way to choose pretty people.  But the more I looked at the pictures, the more I saw the small imperfections, the wrinkles and freckles, the extra flesh and crooked noses.  These were normal people, but all I saw was their beauty.

It took me a while to figure out why these people were all beautiful despite their imperfections.  The answer, when it came to me, was simple and yet I was overwhelmed by it.  They were transformed by love.  They held that card, and they thought about the people affected by Katrina, and they loved them.  They loved people they had never met, had never seen.  That love radiated through them and shone out of them.  They might not have thought of what they were doing as prayer, but I have no doubt that they were praying.

When I pray for people I don't have words.  I can only hold them in my head and my heart and love them.  I don't think it cures cancer, or eases pain.  I don't think it gets people jobs or makes them hit home runs.  I don't know what God does with our prayers, but I do know this: when we take the time to love others, we are changed, our faces and our souls are transformed, and we can reflect the love of God outwards to our families and friends and to people we have never met, have never even seen.


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