15 December 2012

A small offering

"Breathe in and out."

That's what I'd tell them, the parents who woke this morning, if they slept at all, still living the nightmare from yesterday, if I had occasion to speak with them, if they asked me how they should go on. But they are many states away, and I don't know them. I'm fairly sure they don't want my opinion.

But you are here, which means you probably know me, and might care about my opinion.  I've written about grief a good deal. I don't have any new insights since my last bout of sermonizing.

So here is a run down of what I've written already:

I don't know what to say, reprint, originally from December 2009
How the story of Job teaches us what to do when our friends are hurting.

On the Phone, August 2010
What to say to people who are grieving.

What it means to Pray, August 2010
If prayer doesn't come easily, or if you think you can't pray, this is a simple way to start.

When the Lid is Taken Off of Your Life, December 2012
A sermon I preached recently on what it means to get ready for a personal crisis.

02 December 2012

Advent: Getting Ready

Luke 21:25-36
Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

2 December 2012, as prepared for delivery.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Last Sunday we celebrated Christ the King Sunday, the last day of our church year. This Sunday we begin again with Advent, and our preparations for a very different Christ, the baby Jesus, the God with us, the Emmanuel. It's a stark contrast, the King and the Baby, the God in the heavens and the God who lives here with us. One of the mysteries of our God is that both of these are true.

This new church year also means we're entering Year C in our Lectionary cycle, and many of the Gospel readings in this coming year will be from Luke. Luke is a wonderful Gospel for Christmas time. It is the Gospel we hear in the Christmas specials. But, in spite of what the commercials and sales fliers and store displays might tell you, it's not Christmas yet, so we're not reading Christmas Gospel readings yet. We're reading about preparation. And today's Gospel reading is a doozy. Jesus is telling his disciples that the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory. When I picture Jesus returning to earth at the end times, I see him just slightly larger than life, maybe 20 feet tall and wearing seven-league boots, taking great strides across the earth, laying waste to all that is before him, like the story of the money changers in the temple but on a much larger scale. That's Christ the King behavior, that is not Emmanuel behavior. Our God is both.

Before I started writing this sermon, I did some research on the signs of the end times that Jesus lists in today's Gospel reading. First there are signs in the sun, moon and stars. So I checked with NASA. There is not any especially dramatic stellar activity happening now, nor is there any expected in the next few years, so we seem to be safe on that count. Next, Jesus lists distress among the nations. So I checked with National Public Radio. It turns out there is a lot of distress among the nations. I had to turn off the radio and turn on the live feed of some frolicking kittens for a while to recover from all of that distress. But I've also taken a few history classes, and I don't think the distress among nations is really that much worse now than it's ever been. So whatever Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel, I don't think it has anything to do with the end of the Mayan calendar or any of the other end of the world predictions you've heard recently, either on television or from the man wearing the sandwich board in front of the White House.

Jesus also says “Truly I tell you, this generation shall not pass away until all things have taken place.” Luke took much of this story from the Gospel of Mark, which was written about 15 years earlier. In Mark's version of the tale Jesus is with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, looking down at the Temple in Jerusalem. Mark was writing around the time of the destruction of the Temple, so Jesus' words would have been especially poignant when spoken in that place.

But Luke was writing in a time when a generation had passed away after Jesus' death and resurrection. Luke was also writing after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It would have been clear to him and to his readers that Jesus' second coming was not going to happen to first generation Christians. And now, nearly 2000 years later, many generations have passed away. Many buds have appeared on many fig trees. And still the scene that Jesus described has not come to pass.

That is not to say that Jesus won't come again in some other form at some other time. We have about 5 billion years before the sun becomes a Red Giant and swallows the earth. Jesus has plenty of time to strap on those seven-league boots and come to earth in power and great glory. But that's Christ the King behavior. This is Advent, and we are preparing for the Emmanuel.

So why are we reading this Gospel story at all, when literal interpretation of it is so patently false? What is the good news today?

Just as Jesus is Christ the King and the Emmanuel, the apocalypse is both the end times and something far smaller, more personal. The word apocalypse literally means to take the lid off. The Gospel says “For it will come upon who live on the face of the whole earth.” All of us.

When has the lid been taken off of your life? When were you moving along with your life and suddenly everything changed? Divorce. Infertility. Diagnosis. Flood. Fire. One minute you think you know who you are and what you're doing and the next everything changes.

The apocalypse is not just a future event. The chaos is now. It is all the time. If not in our own lives in those of our neighbors. The apocalypse is both Christ the King coming in glory at the end of days and it is the personal events that take the lid off our lives and leave us knocked down, fainting with fear and foreboding, our world shaken.

It is in those moments that we most need the thing we're waiting for this Advent, the God with us, the Emmanuel.

This passage isn't in Luke's Gospel or the lectionary to tell us what the end times will look like. We don't need the Bible to tell us about destruction. We have the world for that. This passage is here to tell us what to do about the destruction. The Kingdom of God is in the future, but it is also here, now.

That day, whether it's the small, personal day or the End of Days will be known by its fruitfulness as much as by its destruction. It's not the apocalypse that defines us, it's what we do when it happens.

And what does our Emmanuel say in the face of our distress? He tells us to stand up, and not just drag ourselves to our feet, no, the Greek word translated as “stand” in this passage is “anakupto”, to rise up with elation after great sorrow. Just getting up isn't enough for Jesus, we have to jump up, filled with the Holy Spirit. That's a tall order. It's a tall order on an ordinary Monday morning, but it can seem impossible when the lid has been taken off of your life.

We may not, on the first morning after the apocalypse, be able to rise up with elation. But we can lift our heads. Then we can survey the damage, and pick up the pieces we know we can handle. That is why Jesus tells us to get ready. Not because the apocalypse isn't going to knock us down, but because if we are prepared then we will be able to get up again.

How do we get ready? The Gospel tells us two things. First, it tells us to avoid drunkenness, dissipation, and the worries of this life. Don't get distracted by the things that aren't real. Drunkenness isn't just about alcohol. We get drunk on television, smart phones, shoe shopping, bad relationships.

If you've ever sat down in front of the television with a bag of your favorite snack food, only to find yourself, an hour or so later, still in front of the television with an empty bag and no clear memory of eating so much, then you've been drunk.

If you've ever promised someone to give them your attention in “just a minute” without taking your eyes off the computer screen or pausing to notice the time, you've been drunk.

We all do it. We all have our distractions, and it's the distractions, not the pleasures that are the problem. It's not the glass of wine that Jesus tells us to avoid, it's the one glass too many. It's not the television or the smart phone or the bag of cookies, it's the one too many, it's the “just a minute” that keeps us separated from God, and from that which is of God in the people around us.

If we can clear out that “one too many”, then when things fall apart we will know which pieces are important, and which pieces we can handle. If we can lift our heads then we can see God's plan for us. It is the preparation that gives us the strength to stand, to hope in the time of despair. And when we encounter the suffering of others it is that same preparation, that same lack of distraction that allows us to walk into their pain, to lift up their heads, and pick up their pieces, and be the face of God to them.

The second way that Jesus tells us to get ready is to pray. We are to pray for the strength to stand before God. If rising up with elation after a time of great distress sounds impossible, standing before God at the end seems no more possible, especially a God who is 20 feet tall, wearing seven-league boots and laying waste to all that is before him.

How do you stand before Christ the King? The answer is there in the original Greek, because the word that we translate as “stand” is not just “get up off the ground”, nor is it the “anakupto” the “rise up rejoicing” from earlier in the reading. This “stand” comes from the word “stathenai”, which is a passive verb. That means we are not the actors, but the acted upon. We don't have to stand by ourselves. We will be lifted up and put on our feet by our our advocate, by our God with us, by our Emmanuel.

That is the story that Jesus is telling in this Gospel, not a story of destruction, but the story of a new beginning, our new beginning, a beginning which comes to us again and again, like the turning of the calendar at the beginning of the new year. Now we are in Advent, and we have to get ready, ready to be clear headed, un-distracted, and held in the hands of a God who is with us all the days until the end of days, our God with us, our Emmanuel.

24 November 2012

Baking a Difference

While the headlines are fading, the recovery work continues. JHL of A Half-Baked Life is hosting a bake sale/auction, with proceeds going to the United Way for Sandy relief. Take a look at all the yummy things available.

My oatmeal cookies are part of the auction, and the winner can customize them any way they choose.


13 November 2012

Pumpking-Ginger-Walnut-Oatmeal Muffins

I had this idea in my head that I wanted pumpkin granola muffins, with the granola acting as a less-sweet streusel topping. I borrowed Maud's pumpkin bread recipe. (It's not on her blog. You should harass her about that.)

The muffins weren't a disaster. Muffins rarely are. But they weren't great. No one loved them.

The recipe uses one half of a can of pumpkin, so then there was a half can of pumpkin in my refrigerator, mocking me and my failed muffins.

(We'll ignore what else might have been mocking me recently. This is about muffins. Whatever else is wrong it seems only fair that I should be able to produce a decent batch of muffins.)

So I went back and tried again. I swapped out some oatmeal for some of the flour, added in crystallized ginger and walnuts. In the process I discovered what might have been a critical error in the last batch.) And then I put it in oven, told facebook all about it, and waited.  

Pumpkin Muffins and Coffee 

Unlike the other things I've been waiting on, this worked out exactly as well as I'd hoped.

Pumpking-Ginger-Walnut-Oatmeal Muffins

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup pureed pumpkin (half a small can)
1/4 cup water

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oil a standard muffin tin.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Whisk together the wet ingredients.

Add the wet ingredients, ginger and walnuts to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin.  Bake 18-22 minutes, rotating the tin at 12 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a center muffin comes out clean.

Remove from tin to a cooling rack as soon as possible. Allow to cool for as long as you can resist the aroma.

(Pumpking? Yes. Because I keep typing it that way. I don't know why. But now it's stuck.)

05 August 2012


Summer tastes like a bruised peach before breakfast, eaten over the sink while juice runs down your arm.

...like watermelon straight from the refrigerator, cold to the core, eaten while your skin is still hot to the touch, still shining with sweat.

...like ice cream that melts down onto your fingers no matter how many napkins you grab or how quickly you eat.

...like chlorine and sugar and red food coloring when it sounds like the bells and growl of a refrigerated truck.

...like gazpacho sipped from paper cups while you sit on a blanket on the lawn, waiting for the breeze to blow and the music to start.

...like iced coffee in the heat of the afternoon, as you sit with the shades drawn and the fans blowing.

...like salt spray when a wave tosses it in your face as you bend to fill a plastic bucket.

...like a garden grown tomato sliced onto a piece of bread with a smear of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of salt and basil.

...like a burger from the grill, with cheese melting into it, eaten while you laugh with friends.

What does your summer taste like?

04 August 2012


We sit facing each other.

You keep telling me it's hot,
but I have goosebumps on my arms.

You have a knife so finely honed that I don't see it,
don't feel it,
not even when you've cut me,
until suddenly I am bleeding on the lawn and the darkness is falling
and you are gone.

We play encore like it's a game.

The man at the piano winks and urges us on
until you return, your arms wide.

It is beautiful but it doesn't matter.

I am bloodless and breathless,
and you never saw me at all.

(I'm throwing this against the wall to see if it sticks. Don't worry it you don't like it. I probably won't like in the morning either.)

20 July 2012

Low Key Summer with Kettle Corn

We've been having a pretty low key summer. I signed the boys up for one session of swim classes, which fizzled out when someone got a fever and someone else didn't want to go anymore (not that he could have gone when his brother had a fever anyway.)  And the rest of the time I've just been doing whatever occurs to me.

So we went to a minor league baseball game and sat so close we needed a net to protect us from foul balls.
Safety Net

We learned some new chores.
Helping with the recycling.

We watched a movie at an Aunt's house.
Movie and Snack at Aunt Wynna's

We've built a lot of things.
Police Giraffe
Jail on the top.
Police Giraffe

We played in the sprinkler.
Playing in the sprinkler

We ate healthful snacks.

And then there's this:
Kettle Corn
Homemade Kettle Corn

I could pretend its good for us, since it's whole grain and all, but I won't. It's delicious and doesn't need to be justified. You'll need a stove-top popcorn maker, or an electric version that stirs.

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon high heat oil such as sunflower
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons sugar

Add butter and oil to popper and heat over medium-high flame until butter melts. Add 3 kernels of popcorn and replace lid. When you hear one of the test kernels pop, add the remaining popcorn and the salt and sugar. Close popper and stir continuously.  The addition of the corn and sugar will cool the popper, so it will take some time for the corn to begin popping. Don't stop stirring. If you stop the sugar will burn and that is not good times. When the popping stops remove the popper from the heat and continue stirring for a minute. Dump popcorn into a large bowl. Because of the hot sugar this will be hotter than you might be used to. Wait until the sugar has cooled before sticking your hand in the bowl.

08 July 2012

On Vegetarians, Paleo, Hospitality, and Taco Salad

In June we had house guests. Since the last time we'd seen them they converted to the paleo diet. (Short version: no grains, no dairy, no legumes, lots of meats, veggies, nuts, and fruits, limited raw honey, dark chocolate.) We had to feed them, while also feeding my older son who won't eat meat unless it's bacon.

Almost as soon as they were gone I had vegetarian friends come over for a play date, and I had to feed them lunch.

And then the next day my mostly vegetarian friend and her utterly carnivorous husband and son came for a visit and I had to feed them, too. 

I say "had to feed them" as if it were a trauma, which is wasn't. I like feeding people. I say "had to" because they were in my home over mealtimes so I was required by the laws of hospitality to offer them sustenance. Basic hospitality also required that I provide food that was acceptable to them. Hospitality doesn't say anything about judging their dietary choices. Why they eat what they eat is immaterial. Religious reasons, ethical reasons,  and personal health reasons are all the same. I am supposed to make whatever small accommodations are necessary to feed them food that they can eat. Their duty as guests was to eat of the food which I put in front of them and shut up about it. My follow-up job was to notice what they ate without mentioning it, using the information only to prepare the next meal so that there is enough that they can eat.

Now, the laws of hospitality do not require any of the following: that the food be fancy, that the food be homemade, that the food be in violation of my own ethics. You don't have to cook it yourself, you don't have to serve meat if you're a vegetarian, you don't have to serve bacon if you keep Kosher. You simply have to assure that you share of what you have. If you are a vegetarian feeding an omnivore, that may mean you serve a meal that is heavier than you usually eat. If you are an omnivore feeding a vegetarian it means that you cannot mix the bacon into the salad before putting it on the table. You are perfectly free to offer the bacon on the side, just don't use the bacon fork to stir the salad dressing.

Hospitable food can come in many forms: a tray of cheese, grapes and crackers, a take-out menu from a local restaurant, a frozen lasagna, an offer to host a meal out at a restaurant, an offer to host a pot-luck. It can be served on fine china, everyday plates, plastic plates, paper plates, or eaten straight from the take-out box with disposable chopsticks. How you serve your food is determined by the company and the occasion. I don't recommend showing up with a bucket of fried chicken and suggesting everyone sit in front of the coffee table watching TV the first time you meet your future in-laws, but I don't know your future in-laws so maybe it would be perfect.

While my friends were visiting, all of them, the whole mixed, messy, wonderful lot of them, I picked meals that were flexible. It meant I served taco salad twice in one week. Mix up a pile of greens. Cook up some black beans (or open a can). Open some jars of salsa, a tub of sour cream, and a bag of tortilla chips. Shred some cheese. Cook up some ground beef (or turkey) with taco seasoning of some kind. Let your guests serve themselves. If you have a vegan and a paleo at the same table they will both be able to eat together. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures. My photographer was too busy enjoying the company.

ETA: We made it again, so now there's a picture: Taco Salad with Prominent Ingredients Hidden

04 April 2012

Butter(less) Chickpeas

On Monday morning I got a call from a client, warning that my services would be needed soon. The threat of labor makes me pretty efficient. I filled and ran the dishwasher, cleaned the sink, took the boys grocery shopping, got the groceries put away, fed the boys lunch, emptied the dishwasher, made snack and dinner for the boys, filled the dogs' water, cleaned the dog' ears, and put the flowers in the vase. I spent the rest of Monday at the birth, watching a skilled nurse-midwife facilitate the VBAC my client wanted despite circumstances that might have sent some providers running for the operating room. It was a great birth, the baby was perfect and I'm glad I was there to witness it. But it meant that I didn't get to bed until 2:00 in the morning. When I say that I am a morning person, I do not mean 2:00 in the morning.

A mere five hours later the sun was up and my children were up and my husband was getting ready to leave for work. I had a follow-up scheduled for the afternoon, my regular Tuesday night dinner guests, and an interview in the evening. Oh, and I had the remnants of a cold that would have been kicked if I'd only had a good night's sleep.

As I left my afternoon appointment I texted the usual Tuesday night crew. “Who's coming tonight, and who can bring me a big can of chickpeas?” If you're going to start hosting people on weeknights, I strongly recommend that you choose people who are more than happy to stop at the grocery store on the way to your house. Also choose people who show up 20 minutes early to take your kids to the playground.

While the kids and the very good and patient friends were at the playground, I made Butter Chickpeas. You might remember the butter chicken from my whole wheat naan post. It was delicous, and I recommend it, but when you only buy the expensive chicken, and your husband objects to bone-in chicken, and your older son objects to chicken in all forms, well, it's just not going to be in your weekly repertoire. A week or so ago I dumped some chickpeas into the sauce so older son would have something to eat, and it worked so well I decided to leave the chicken out entirely. If you love butter chicken but are a vegetarian or want to feed a vegetarian or it's a Friday in Lent, give the butter chickpeas a try. If you want to go vegan, try some coconut milk instead of the sour cream.  


Butter Chickpeas
adapted from Dinner with Julie
Serves 6

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 cloves garlic
1” piece fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons garam masala (You can mix these around as you prefer/ your pantry allows. I always buy salt free blends.)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 29-ounce can chickpeas
1/2 cup sour cream (or coconut milk for a vegan meal.)

Place a skillet over medium heat.

Halve and thinly slice the onion.

Add the oil to the skillet, then stir in the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occaisionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. While the onions are cooking, mince the garlic and grate the ginger.

When the onions are soft, add the garlic, ginger, and spices to the pan. Stir until fragrant.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add in the tomatoes, tomato paste and chickpeas. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat and simmer for at least 10 minutes until sauce is the right texture. You can put the lid on and keep it on low heat for quite some time until ready to serve.

Just before serving, add the sour cream and stir to combine. Serve over hot brown rice. Naan optional. 

05 March 2012

Music Monday: Science is Real

This last week of light posting has been brought to you by a failed oatmeal muffin recipe. I am working on an oatmeal muffin recipe for Lunch in the Park, because we learned last week that Kate makes oatmeal muffins which are so good as to earn her good karma. My last attempt was utterly meh, though my boys ate them happily. I will go back to the drawing board and tweak the formula again.  That is what recipes are, of course, they're chemical formulas and when I try a new baked good I'm doing a bit of science. My last experiment did not produce the expected results, so I have to go change my procedure.

I should note that I'm doing all of this work myself and not relying on my mother to do it. That's how science experiments are supposed to be done.  There's a mother at my sons' preschool who doesn't seem to grasp this, and so she weekly regales me with the tales of woe that result from her older son's science project in which she, the mother, must be up to all hours of the night designing, performing, recording and finally typing up the experiment.  Never mind that every time she talks to me about it I say "Why are you doing any of this? Your son should be doing all this! You're not doing him any favors!" You would think that would, if not encourage her to let her son do the work, at least discourage her from complaining to me about it.  But no.

Science is real, folks, and you should let your kids try it for themselves.

22 February 2012

Lenten Disciplines

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for many Christians. (In which we read about making our prayers private and then smear oily ashes all over our foreheads where everyone can see them.) I haven't had ashes in years because my kids are not yet old enough to manage the meditative noon service and my husband sings in the choir at the last service, and someone has to actually be in the house while the kids are sleeping. I didn't expect to be able to go this year anyway, since I knew I'd be spending the day at a hospital offering up my patience, my compassion, my arm strength, and my ability to not roll my eyes at hospital staff in service of a client. As it turns out, I received ashes from the hospital chaplain who was visiting the maternity ward, and I go to explain the whole praying in public/ mess of ashes contradiction to a Jewish doctor who was sitting behind the desk while I received the ashes.

The preparations for Lent started before today. On Sunday the children's classes made “Alleluia” banners and then buried them behind the altar. We won't say the celebratory word “Alleluia” again until Easter morning. Tuesday night was the pancake supper, a traditional final gorging before the fasting of Lent. Eggs and butter and other rich foods were forbidden during Lent.

Modern Lenten disciplines are less restrictive. People give up meat or chocolate, take on daily prayer or charity. Some folks take Sundays off. Sundays are Christian feast days, and it's inappropriate to fast on a feast day. This tradition provided a welcome break from the strict fasting of Lent. It may be less necessary with the modern disciplines. There's some controversy over “giving up for Lent.” Should we give up a vice, or is it more important to take on good deeds? Facebook debates about this question can get quite snippy.

I argue that it's a false dichotomy. If we're paying attention to what God wants from us then we're giving up and taking on at the same time. Giving up chocolate for Lent may be a real sacrifice, and so in giving it up someone takes on self-discipline, or a measure of discomfort. Giving up eating out means taking on more awareness about food and how we spend our time. Taking on a prayer practice means giving up some time vegging out in front of the TV or with a favorite book. Taking on charity means giving up time or money we could have spent on ourselves.

I believe that there is no such thing as a selfish prayer, and no such thing as a bad Lenten discipline. The point is not the thing that is being given up or the thing being taken on. The point is the sacrifice. The point is that in the moment when you are resisting the chocolate bar or preparing the lunch for the next day, or sitting in prayer, you are changing your awareness. You are forcing a remembrance of and reflection on your relationship with God.

15 February 2012

(Not a Bento) Lunch 2/15/12

My Husband is the very best of husbands and I wouldn't trade him for anything. He unloads the dishwasher, after all, a task I find tedious, and he never takes it personally when I completely rearrange things he has put in the dishwasher.  I don't like to complain, so we'll say that a feature of his unloading of the dishwasher is that things sometimes go to unexpected places.  So this morning as I was searching for my little blue boxes to pack the boys' lunches I could find the lids but not the bottoms.  I looked in the drainboard, the container drawer, and the other drawer where things seem to go, but they were not in any of those places.  The lunch I wanted to pack didn't fit neatly in the Ziploc lunch containers and I was in a rush, so I shuffled things into containers for sharing and headed out the door.

Not a bento

Ravioli and veggies (green bowls for them, glass bowl for me), blood oranges, blueberry muffins.

14 February 2012

Stuffy: a Potent Ginger Noodle Soup

Sleep is surprisingly necessary for the proper functioning of my body.  Most of the time I get enough sleep and I wash my hands often enough I can avoid most of The Yuck, the nasal/sinus/chest phelgm monster that travels the preschool circuit.  But my job sometimes gets in the way.  I was up all night on Sunday, so what had been an annoying thing at the back of my throat, easily vanquished with gargling and tea, became a full blown head cold, complete with that most undignified of symptoms, the runny nose.  This morning, after dropping W at preschool and humoring A through a toddler art class I walked to the grocery store to pick up the extra soft tissues, and the ingredients for this soup.

This is potent stuff.  You have to be dedicated to garlic and ginger to eat it made with the full amounts.  But it's just the thing when you can't smell and you need something to give you a boost.  It won't cure the common cold, but it will make a lovely companion as you huddle on the couch under a blanket with only your extra-soft tissues for company. (Or, if you're like me, with your extra-soft tissues and your kids because when your full-time job is "Mom" there are no sick days.")

ginger noodle soup

Potent Ginger Noodle Soup
makes 1-2 servings depending on how hungry you are and how willing you are to share.
2 cups water
2 carrots
(1 or)2 cloves garlic
(1 or)2" piece fresh ginger
1 bundle soba noodles
large handful fresh spinach
1 Tablespoon tamari
1/2 Tablespoon rice vinegar (lime juice would also be great here.)
1/2 Tablespoon sesame oil

Set water to boil in a small pot.  Scrub the carrots, slice thinly, add to the water.  Mince garlic.  Peel and mince ginger and add to the water. When the water begins to boil, break the noodles in half and add to the pot. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.  While the noodles are cooking, wash and drain the spinach.  When the noodles are done, stir spinach into the soup until wilted.  Remove from heat, pour soup into bowl and drizzle with tamari, vinegar and sesame oil.  Eat.  Slurp if desired.

11 February 2012

I don't know what to say

This is from my personal archives, and was published in my parish newsletter in November, 2009

Many years ago I went to the funeral of a young man. He was my boyfriend's friend, and I didn't know anyone there, certainly not the young man's family. As I walked through the receiving line, the man's mother pulled me into a tight hug. I said the only thing I could think of: “I'm so sorry for your loss.” It felt inadequate. Surely there was something else I should have said.

There are plenty of guides for people who are grieving. There are fewer resources for the friends and acquaintances. Well-meaning and loving people are often at a loss for what to say and what to do. Afraid of doing something wrong, they don't do anything at all. The result is that the bereaved feel abandoned, which adds more pain and sometimes anger to an already bad situation. So what should we do when we are called to support others?

Most people are familiar with the story of Job, a righteous man who was tested by God. He lost his children, his property, and eventually his health. We know that Job remained faithful and that God rewarded him. But Job's friends don't get a lot of attention.

When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2: 11-13

It doesn't seem like much. But just as there are lessons for us in Job's patience and faithfulness, there are also lessons for us in the actions of Elipahz, Bildad and Zophar. One of the most profound gifts we can give to others is our presence. Job's friends didn't hear the bad news and figure they would wait until they saw Job at the market to express their condolences. They didn't seem him sitting on the ground and decide to come back at a better time. They didn't try to make Job feel better with profound words. They simply entered into his grief so that he would not be alone with it.

Sitting silently with someone isn't easy for most people. The overwhelming urge is to babble on about how the dead person is in a better place, the newly single person is better off without that loser that used to be his wife. Or we want to encourage the bereaved, you'll find someone new, you'll be able to get pregnant again, someday all this will be a distant memory. Certainly there is a time and place for many of these statements, but it is not in the first moments of grief. In the beginnings of grief we are called simply to witness and be present.

Of course, we know that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar each brought along a casserole. That was so obvious that the authors of Job didn't bother to record it. The gift of food relieves the burden of planning, shopping and cooking at a time when so much else requires attention. We can imagine that they performed other tasks as well. As friends of Job, they would have known about his allergies and preferences, and no doubt their wives and daughters fielded calls from less intimate acquaintances who wanted to be sure their gift was useful. One of them might even have taken on the task of organizing the gifts of food so that they didn't all arrive at once.

Eliphaz probably also carried with him letters of condolence from his acquaintances, simple notes that read something like this: “Dear Job, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I want you to know that you are in my prayers. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you during this difficult time. Sincerely, Jacob.”

Perhaps Bildad sent word home to fetch a servant who could help with the washing up and other chores, as well as someone to help rebuild the damaged building and fences. There are a dozen different chores that get lost in the fog of grief. Zophar probably provided a few animals from his own herd, only what he could spare, to help Job begin to rebuild.

After seven days of sitting quietly, Job finally gives voice to his grief. His friends who so far have been doing all the right things start to make mistakes. They chide Job for losing hope. They start probing for ways that Job might have brought his troubles on himself. Surely, they think, Job made mistakes that could have been avoided. Surely Job brought these troubles on himself.

The theology that argues that the bad things in our lives are direct punishments for our sins isn't common in the Episcopal church. Most Episcopalians won't tell you that you could have avoided that car wreck if only you'd gotten up early enough to do Morning Prayer before work. But there are plenty of people who try to figure out why the bad thing happened. I think that comes from a desire to protect ourselves from the bad things that happen to other people. If the woman who miscarried drank too much coffee, if the couple who separated spent too much time at work, if the man who died smoked, then surely we won't come to the same end. Unpredictable events are scary, so it is easier to come up with a reason why it happened so that we can assure ourselves that it won't happen to us. But this line of reasoning does nothing to comfort the grieving, and has no place in our ministering to them.

Job's friends leave the story at this point, and Job starts arguing with God instead of mere mortals. Job gets the satisfaction of an answer from God, and was blessed with more children, more animals, more of everything because he was righteous. Despite these blessings, I imagine that Job still mourned his lost children, even as he delighted in his new family. He might have wept during prayers, seemingly for no reason. I wonder what his friends did then? Did they stay away, thinking that there was nothing they could say or do? Or did they go and sit by him, offering a hand on a shoulder, the comfort of touch? A year later, did they hesitate to talk to Job, not wanting to remind him of his loss? Or did they know that Job would never forget and that by offering their remembrances they made sure that Job knew he was not alone?

As many of you know, I was the person weeping during prayers. Sometimes I still am. Most people stayed away. But a few people came and sat with me, offering me a hand, or a tissue, a hug, or sent a note with a few words of assurance that I was loved and my loss was not forgotten. These gestures were small in that they required little time and no money, but they were immeasurably large in how much they meant to me. I learned through that experience that I had said the right thing at that young man's funeral; that I said as much as I needed to. I strive now to be that hand, that voice, that witness to others who sorrow. I invite you to look around at the people in your life, and see where you can be that witness.

09 February 2012

Hard, Soft, Red, White: Multiseed Brown Bread with Fruit

If you were to invite me over to your house and then leave me alone, to chase after some child who is raiding some other child's couch full of animals, for example, then I will eventually end up digging through your cookbook collection. You're welcome to come over and dig through mine as well. They're in the cabinets above the stove.

I borrowed Maud's copy of Avoca Cafe Cookbook (more correctly the Irish version thereof, a couple of weeks ago, because I wanted their baked lamb with cumin, cardamom and coconut milk recipe, thinking it might be similar to a dish I ate in an Indian restaurant years ago.

I cannot resist an interesting bread recipe, so when I saw the lovely picture of round loaves of seeded bread on page labeled “Multiseed brown bread with fruit” I knew I had to try it. Now, as it turns out the picture had nothing to do with the recipe, but I liked the ingredients in the recipe too, so I decided to give it a shot.

The first four ingredients as printed are as follows: plain flour, coarse brown flour, bran, wheatgerm. I read this with my head cocked to one side like the RCA dog. Why would you use half white flour and then add in bran and germ, the things that are removed from the whole grain flour to make it white flour in the first place. It seemed excessively complicated.

I can come up with a plausible (if not necessarily correct) theory about almost anything if given enough time, so while half of my brain was deciding to use white whole wheat flour for the entire weight of wheat ingredients, the other half pondered the weirdness of the recipe.

As I understand it, the reason that soda bread was popular in Ireland is that the Irish climate made it difficult to grown the high-gluten hard red wheat that makes good yeasted bread. The softer (lower gluten) white wheat that grew well in Ireland was ideal for quick breads like soda bread.

Here in the States, where we have Amber Waves of Grain, whole wheat generally means hard red (higher gluten) flour which makes quite nice loaves of yeasted bread when it's handled properly. I don't know what the current state of wheat imports in Ireland is, so I don't know if Irish whole wheat flour is higher gluten like American whole wheat flour is, but that would explain the difference. By using part white flour and then adding in brand and germ the recipe may be trying to mimic softer white wheat. 

Fortunately, most people with access to a supermarket can by-pass all of that by purchasing a bag of white whole wheat flour. It's still whole grain, it's just made from soft white wheat so it has a milder flavor and bakes up more like white flour in quick breads and cookies.

Here's what this bread is: hearty, slightly sweet, whole, delicious. Here's what it's not: sugary, complicated. I've made it twice already this week.

Multiseed Brown Bread with Fruit

Multiseed Brown Bread with Fruit
adapted from Avoca Cafe Cookbook

20 ounces white whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
2 Tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 Tablespoon flax seeds
2 Tablespoons pumpkin seeds
2 ounces raisins
2 ounces dried apricots, chopped.
1 Tablespoon molasses
2 1/2 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Butter and flour a loaf pan (or use baking spray, my word, do I ever love baking spray)

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl and whisk together for at least 30 seconds. Add seeds, raisins and apricots. (I don't actually chop my apricots, I cut them with kitchen shears, much easier.) Toss the dry ingredients together to coat.

Drizzle molasses over the dry ingredients.

Pour milk into dry ingredients and stir until flour is just moistened. This is a quick bread, overworking it is bad.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from loaf pan immediately to a wire rack and allow to cool thoroughly (or at least 10 minutes, if you can't possibly wait.)

Serve with butter, or jam, or margarine if you must, but pronounce it margereen, the way Maud does, so it sounds better. Avoca also suggests cream cheese and salmon, or bacon, which sound lovely, too.

What's for Lunch 2/8/12

Lunch 2/8/12
Everything was eaten eventually, even though there was no dip for the cucumbers.

The blue boxes are Sassy boxes that I bought in the kids aisle at Target. They're also on Amazon and you can probably get them at most places that sell kid stuff. They're really the perfect size for the preschool/early elementary set.

They come with a variety of internal containers, most of which have been scattered, and which I never found hugely useful anyway.

The main downside is that none of the compartments is water tight, so these aren't great for messy things.

Bento Lunch

06 February 2012

Music Monday: Hey Mama

I found this through my friend Amelia.  I've known her since she was two and somehow she's grown up into an awesome person.

05 February 2012

Menu Planning 2nd week of February, 2012

Sunday: Cheeseburgers with roasted potato wedges

Monday: White Beans and Cabbage

Tuesday: Red Bean Peanut Stew

Wednesday: Seitan Stir-fry

Thursday: Black Bean Soup

Friday: Pizza

Saturday: Stuffed Peppers

What are you eating this week?

04 February 2012

Whole Wheat Naan

Are you on Pinterest? I got on Pinterest a few weeks ago and have been pinning happily since then. One of my boards is titled “Intriguing Recipes” and it's there that I stick the recipes for things I might want to try, if only I can remember that I want to try them. One of my early pins was a recipe for Butter Chicken without the butter from Julie at Dinner with Julie. I love Indian food and Julie's recipes are always solid, so I knew I'd like it. I'd just have to remember to make it.

Butterless Butter Chicken & Whole Wheat Naan

I probably wouldn't have remembered, except that the pin generated some discussion with a friend, first on pinterest and later by email about cooking with chicken thighs. I know some people have a problem with chicken thighs because they're greasy and dark and have a flavor. (And don't tell me it's a weird flavor. It's a chicken flavor and we've all been beaten into blandness by the industrial chicken breast.) My chicken-thigh-averse friend asked if I'd tried the recipe and did I like the recipe and of course then I had to go out and try the recipe because if someone is afraid of chicken thighs then it is my duty to help them.

I have dinner guests on Tuesdays so of course I took an untested recipe (trusting Julie all the time) and fed it to them. But I couldn't just feed them chicken. Man does not live by saucy chicken alone, especially when one of the men in question still has a teenager's metabolism. I added some roasted cauliflower based on this recipe. I did two full heads of cauliflower and it was gone, not a floret left. Obviously I recommend it. I admit to playing fast and loose with the proportions, and I think you can use the temperature and time from the recipe and then coat the cauliflower in whatever suits your mood.

Roasted Cauliflower

I still needed something else, so I decided to make naan bread. The recipes for whole wheat naan that I found were partial whole wheat recipes and I really wanted something 100% whole wheat. I think people are afraid of whole wheat flour and there's no reason to be. So you can thank pinterest for the chicken, and google for the cauliflower, me for the bread and my guests for being willing to eat untested recipes on Tuesday nights.

Whole Wheat Naan

100% Whole Wheat Naan Bread


For the sponge:
1 Tablespoon yeast
1 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons honey
2 cups whole wheat flour

For the mix:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt

For kneading:
an additional 2-2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

For cooking:
1/4 cup melted butter


Make the sponge: In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in the warm water. Stir in the flour and beat by hand for 30 seconds. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rise for 1 hour or until doubled.

Make the mix: beat together the yogurt, egg and salt. Stir the mix into the risen sponge. Then stir in the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough becomes to stiff to stir, dump it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 20 minutes, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking.

Grease the mixing bowl and then form the kneaded dough into a ball, place in the mixing bowl and cover.  (If you want to make this recipe ahead, you can stop here and place the dough in the refrigerator until about 2 hours before you are ready to bake.) Allow to rest one hour or until doubled.

Grease a baking sheet. Gently deflate the dough, knead a few times and then begin pinching off golf ball sized pieces of dough and forming them into balls. Place the dough balls on the baking sheet. This recipe will yield about 24 balls. Precision is not necessary. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise for about 1 hour.

To bake, heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Roll several dough balls into thin disks. Brush the griddle with melted butter and then arrange the bread on the griddle to cook. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then brush the unbaked side with melted butter and flip. Cook the second side for an additional 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately or keep warm in a very low oven until ready to serve.   

01 February 2012

February Picnic

We've been having unseasonably warm weather here. Yesterday and today were in the 60s, so the playgroup decided to obey the weather rather than the calendar and meet outside.  My boys were very excited about this both because it was a beautiful day and because being outside meant plenty of playground equipment for everyone, instead of a limited number of toys which are inevitably the cause of much angst.

lunch for a sunny February day

Yesterday my younger son rejected his lunch in favor of begging for bites of my salmon burger and broccoli, so today I made salmon for everyone.  The boys ate all of their lunch, albeit in two shifts because it's hard to focus on food when there's playing to be done.

Everything but the pears came from the freezer.  The boys like their peas cold so I just poured them into the containers straight from the bag. I heated my veggies in the microwave (in a glass dish because I have a no plastic in the microwave policy.) The salmon burgers were cooked in a skillet and then allowed to cool on top of the veggies for a while before I snapped on the lids.

Check out some other lunches:Bento Lunch

29 January 2012

Eating Cheap: White Beans and Cabbage

Sometimes the births I attend as a doula are intense, and there is no talking beyond simple phrases (come here, drink this, press here, turn that off) sometimes there are long stretches where my role is to keep people's minds off of their worries. I never discuss politics or religion with a client unless they specifically ask me a question, and then I answer as briefly as possible.  I will discuss food, but not the politics of my food. The other day I sat with a client and waited, and waited, and waited for a planned cesarean to happen.  There was a lot of time to talk and eventually we had each other's who histories including my undergraduate degree in animal science.  The father asked me if I was a vegetarian, so I explained about free-range, humanely raised meats.  He wanted to know what that cost, so I told him.  And he made a face, which is fair, because it's a lot of money.  I explained that we compensated by eating less meat (which is easier sometimes than others, because I go through phases where my body is all "Oh, steak, I see steak.  I want to eat steak.  Mmm...steak." and pretty much nothing else will do.  I buy the good stuff and pretend I need the iron.  (I don't need the iron. I'm one of those people who have good iron levels no matter what.  The Red Cross wants me for their extra blood sucking services.  Maybe it's the zinc. Yes, surely I need the zinc.)

When I'm not eating steak, we eat a lot of beans.  Beans are cheap.  They're even cheaper if you buy dried beans in bulk, but even a can of beans is pretty cheap.  And all that business about the musical fruit?  It's because the beasties that live in your intestines aren't adapted to a beany diet.  If you eat more beans your beasties will adapt and then you can eat beans without worry.  Mmm...beans.

Sorry, I'm back being serious now.

Beans! Are cheap! You know what else is cheap?  Potatoes and cabbage are cheap.  So when I was flipping through the completely brilliant Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson and saw a dish made up of beans, cabbage and potatoes that looked delicious I knew I had to make it. It was quick and easy because Heidi is brilliant. And when my husband took a bite and asked if there was bacon in it, I knew I would make it again and again. I cook mine in a my wok because I am currently obsessed with my wok, but a large frying pan will do.

White Beans and Cabbage

White Beans and Cabbage
adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red skinned potato
1 shallot
2 cups (or 1 can) cooked white beans, cooled
1/4 large head cabbage
salt and to taste
Parmesan cheese (garnish, optional)


Heat a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat.

Scrub the potato and dice it small.  Add the oil to the hot pan, then add the potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and toss to coat.  Spread the potatoes out in a single layer, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until soft, 5-8 minutes.

Slice the shallot thinly.  When the potatoes are ready, add the shallots and the white beans.  Stir to combine then spread into a thin layer.  Let the beans cook undisturbed for a few minutes, until they begin to brown on one side.  Then stir to turn and cook a few minutes more.

While the beans are cooking, shred the cabbage thinly.  When the beans are cooked, add the cabbage and toss to combine.  Cook for a minute or two until the cabbage begins to soften.  Taste for salt and season if necessary.

Serve immediately, with a sprinkle of Parmesan if desired. (It's lovely, but not necessary, and obviously makes this not vegan.)

23 January 2012

Vanilla Bean Tea Cake

Is it a tea cake? Is it a bread? A young visitor insisted that my freshly baked offering wasn't cake at all as there was no frosting. So we offered it as vanilla bread instead, like banana bread, without the banana. He agreed that he might like banana bread without banana, and tried a bite.

Vanilla Cake

Where is the line between cake and bread. Is a muffin something in-between or is it something altogether different? What should we call muffins that are really sweet, fluffy cakes sold in paper wrappers in coffee shops? Are there lines at all, or is it just a continuum of floury goodness?
Should we worry less about what we call things and more about making them wonderful, and then offering them up to guests, even skeptical guests? Should we go bake up this moist, flavorful cake and then brew a pot of tea? Absolutely.

Three Kinds of
Banana Cranberry Bread, Vanilla Tea Cake, Gingerbread

I used vanilla bean seeds because it adds great vanilla flavor and the specks of bean add an interesting visual feature. I baked this in two mini-loaf pans from King Arthur Flour. I'm a little bit in love with these pans, because they're adorable and because it makes it easy to put part of the treat away for another time.

(Oh, and because this is made with the creaming method it is definitely a cake, but I won't contradict any guest who wants to believe otherwise.)

Vanilla Tea Bread
(adapted from Shammy's vanilla tea cake)

1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 vanilla bean
8 1/4 ounces cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teasoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare two mini-loaf pans or one six-inch round cake pan.

Cream the butter and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Beat in the egg. Cut and scrape the vanilla bean (see video below), then beat the seeds into the butter mixture. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk at least 30 seconds to distribute leavening.

Beat 1/3 of flour mixture into butter mixture, then beat in half the milk, half the remaining flour, the remaining milk and finally the remaining flour.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes then remove from pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

10 January 2012

Flavor, Joy and Prosperity

Mary Bailey: Bread so that this house may never know hunger. Salt so that life may always have flavor.
George Bailey: Wine that joy and prosperity may reign forever.
Bread, Salt and Wine are traditional housewarming gifts.  We all know this because we've seen "It's a Wonderful Life." Perhaps some of us assumed that it exists because of "It's a Wonderful Life."  But the tradition goes back to a time before Frank Capra, and it's a lovely idea, one I'm in favor of keeping alive.

Depending on who you ask, the tradition is either Russian, Polish, Jewish, or Italian, unless it's Lithuanian, or something else.  Of course it's possible, that similar traditions grew up in different places.  Many cultures value bread, salt and wine.

It was a Russian folk custom for local merchants to present the gift of a round loaf of bread covered in salt to the visiting emperor as a sign of hospitality. In many cultures bread, salt and wine are given to newlyweds so that they would always have the necessities of life. The wine, bread and salt may also represent joy, work and sorrow as the three elements of a couple's life together.Bread, wine and salt were necessary to a meal, so bringing those items made the visit into a party. In German tradition, bread and salt may be carried by a bride to symbolize a good harvest and by extension, of fertility.
"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight." M.F.K. Fisher
Bread is a nourishing, comforting food that stretches a bit of meat and a bit of vegetable into a meal.  We talk about "breaking bread" with people and we mean that we are sitting down to fellowship. The smell of baking bread  The shared meal, either real or symbolic, is still an important part of Jewish and Christian tradition. If you Google the terms "bread life" you get "about 390,000,000 results."
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Matthew 5:13
Salt, taken for granted today because it we are overrun with it, is necessary for life. Our cells use sodium and chlorine and we can't function without it. In ancient times when salt had to be painstakingly harvested and then carefully kept so that it wouldn't go bad. Sea salt, remember, isn't pure sodium chloride. If it got wet, the sodium could be washed away leaving other minerals that weren't salt at all. The salt could also go rancid. The spoiled salt would be spread on the fields in hope that the sodium that was left would be absorbed by the plants that grew there.  Salt, therefore, was precious and valuable

Today, of course, there is a salt mania. We use table salt, sea salt, pink salt, grey salt. People serve food on blocks of salt. Some chefs insist on a certain type of sea salt. If you're looking to give a gift of salt there are plenty of choices beyond a carton of Morton's. (Although, under the right circumstances a simple carton of table salt might be the perfect gift.) At the same time, we are told to eat less of it, much less. Most of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods. If we prepared food from fresh ingredients and then added salt to taste we'd cut back on our salt intake significantly, and could enjoy salt without fretting.
"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness And Wilderness is Paradise enow." Omar Khayyam
Wine barely needs justification. In Jewish tradition the wine is necessary for Kiddush prayers to sanctify the Sabbath. Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Even in the most secular of contexts, a bottle of wine elevates a simple meal to a special occasion

There are some other traditional gifts for newlyweds or a new home.  A new broom is said to help sweep your troubles away and bring good luck and harmony to a home. You should never take an old broom to a new home, apparently the broom gets attached to its old home. Sugar may be given so that life will always have sweetness. A candle ensures that the home will always have light.

Whatever your culture, (homemade) bread, salt and wine do make a party, and giving gifts that symbolize plenty is a lovely way of supporting people starting a new part of their lives, either a new marriage or a new home, or any other fresh start.  And if you're wondering why this blog is called Bread, Wine, Salt and not Bread, Salt, Wine, it's because I just like it better that way.

About.com Judaism
Chowhound: : Wedding Toast for Wine, Salt and Bread
German Wedding Traditions
Just a Mere Tree Farm
Kosher Gift Box
Polish American Center
Salt and light. Precious and bright. Necessary and powerful. The Rev. Lauren Stanley

07 January 2012

Menu Planning

The men of the household are at the barber shop getting haircuts.  I am home making menu plans.  (No, come back.  I swear I am still a feminist.  I have righteous indignation and everything, just not about menu planning.  My husband does the grocery shopping!)

Here is the plan for this week:
click to embiggen

The page numbers with no initials are from Supermarket Vegan. Menu planning is not commandment carving and sometimes things from last week get shifted to this week.  The pages marked "sne" are recipes from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks.  Heidi is the cook I want to be when I grow up, and I love her cookbook.  I just haven't done much with it yet, so it made sense to pull it off the shelf this morning.  There are so many wonderful pictures, it's hard to pick.  I know this is a book I'll be going back to as the seasons change.

You'll notice that I don't plan a lot of breakfasts and lunches.  Breakfasts tend to be pretty basic, oatmeal, bagel with smear, granola, etc.  I only need to plan if I want to get out of the rut.  Lunches are often leftovers or just sliced veggies and an egg.  I say there's no shame in scrounging around in the fridge. I'm slightly more organized if there are people coming over, but that doesn't happen often.

Sunday lunch is often eaten out, but I've planned to pack a lunch because it's going to be a nice day and we might just go to the church playground and let to boys run around with their friends. Most Tuesday nights we have friends over, hence the double batch. And Friday night is a concession to my poor, vegetable stuffed husband.

06 January 2012

Vegetable Tofu Stir-Fry

I have two methods of menu planning. The first is to sit down with my husband and decide which of our regular meals should be in rotation in a given week, and then make sure that our shopping list reflects the plan. It's easy, but it's a tiny bit boring.

The second method is to pick up one of my many cookbooks and flip through it looking for recipes I want to try. A book which has been sitting on my shelf for a while, sadly neglected, is Supermarket Vegan. I picked it off the shelf last week and made a menu plan.

I love this book. I am not a vegan, not even a vegetarian, but when I do eat meat it is grass-fed, free-range, humanely-raised meat, because I believe it is better for me, better for the animals and better for the planet. “But” say my friends, “that kind of meat is so expensive.” And they're right; it is. No one knows that better than the person who bought the rib-eye roast for the Beef Wellington at Christmas dinner. (Me!) Since we don't have a vault full of money that we can use for swimming in and purchasing a daily Beef Wellington, we rely on a variety of meatless meals to fill our grocery cart. We don't rely on a lot of meat substitutes both because they're not cheap, sometimes more expensive than the meat they're replacing, and because they are highly processed products, and so aren't in line with the kind of whole-food eating I'd like to be doing. In Supermarket Vegan, Donna Klein uses ingredients found in plain old ordinary supermarkets to create easy, tasty meals that happen to contain no animal products. I will say that none of the recipes in this book are highly spiced, so if you're used to plenty of garlic, hot peppers or other powerful ingredients you might consider increasing the amount called for in the recipe.

This vegetable and tofu stir-fry is tasty and simple. The secret to good stir fry is high heat, so turn on your vent fan and open a window.
Stir Fry Tofu
& Vegetables

Vegetable Tofu Stir-Fry,
adapted from Supermarket Vegan

4 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
4 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 large cloves garlic

Stir Fry:
1 Tablespoon safflower oil
1 block extra-firm tofu
1 medium bell pepper
2 small heads fresh broccoli

Drain the tofu and wrap it in a clean kitchen towel. Weight down with a heavy pan or a large can from the pantry. Set aside for at least 20 minutes.

Mince garlic. In a medium, non-reactive bowl, stir together the sauce ingredients.

Unwrap the tofu and cut into 1/2” cubes. Toss the cubes of tofu in the sauce to coat. Set aside and allow to marinate. This can be done the night before. Simply cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Fill a medium sauce pan halfway with water and a generous spoonful of salt. Heat, covered until it begins to boil. Meanwhile, wash* the broccoli thoroughly, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Wash the red pepper and cut it into strips.

When the water comes to a boil drop in the broccoli and cover. Allow to cook for 1 minute, then drain and set aside.

Put a wok or large skillet over highest heat. When the wok is hot, add safflower oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the tofu, leaving as much of the sauce in the bowl as possible. Spread the tofu out into a single layer. Cook for one minute, then turn tofu to cook another side. Cook for one more minute.

Add broccoli and red pepper. Cook, stirring for two minutes. Add the sauce and cook to heat through. Serve over rice or noodles.

*Should you ever wonder if you really need to wash your broccoli, take a look at what I found in the bottom of the bowl after I washed mine.
Why You Should
Always Wash Your Broccoli

04 January 2012

(Better Than) Coffee Shop Ginger Scones

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too. 

Have I told you the story of the “as good as store bought” lemonade?


Years ago we were invited to a Fourth of July Picnic. We brought food of some description, and a gallon of homemade lemonade in a jug that had a previous life as a gallon of distilled water. One of our hosts was a big lemonade fan, and after drinking a glass checked the label. When I told him it was homemade he said “It's as good as store-bought.”

I lifted my chin a bit and said “In some cultures that's not a compliment.”

“Yes,” replied his sister. “Like this one.”

He went on to expound on his theory that some things are simply better when store-bought. Lemonade was one of them, cheesecake another. He would not be dissuaded.

A few years later I was reading reviews on a molasses cookie recipe, and found this comment “These are just as good as the ones at [big coffee chain].” Imagine that, a cookie that is as good as the over-sized, over-sweet, under-flavored baked goods sold alongside 1 liter cups of burnt coffee. That really is an accomplishment. snort

We know Kate orders a chai and a ginger scone when she meets Jeff on Friday afternoons. The scones at Kate's favorite tea and coffee shop are closer to homemade than the monsters at the chain shops, but they're still quite large. If you want smaller scones, form the dough into two circles instead of one and bake for less time. Either way, these are just-sweet, quite gingery and a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

A food processor makes this recipe very easy to put together, but you can cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter, or two knives, or just rub it in with your fingers.

Ginger Scone

Ginger Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 inch piece fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup crystallized ginger
additional sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Peel and grate the fresh ginger.

Chop crystallized ginger.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, powdered ginger and grated ginger in the bowl of a food processor (or in a medium mixing bowl.) Pulse or stir to combine. Cube the butter and cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles wet sand. Stir in buttermilk to form a dough.

Dump dough onto a floured surface. Sprinkle the chopped crystallized ginger over the dough. Knead the dough just long enough to distribute the ginger.

Form the dough into ball and place on the parchment paper. Flatten into a disc about 8-9 inches across.

Cut into 8 equal triangles but do not separate. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the scones begin to brown around the edges. Allow to cool, then cut into individual scones.  


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