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


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