26 December 2013

Post Prandial Round Up

A Christmas Feast:
(Maud started it.)

The most important part is the julekake for breakfast, which we had with scrambled eggs. Well, the most important part is to play with the presents.

But julekake is a close second.

 I also made enough to share with everyone in the known universe.

My dough bucket overfloweth.
Well, not yet, but soon after this picture was taken.
Sausages: I sent the husband to the store with a list which said bangers and he returned with a variety of flavors of pork and chicken sausage, none of which could be said to be banger-like.

People ate them anyway. It seemed fine.

Potatoes: What can go wrong with potatoes, cream, cheese and garlic? Nothing, except when you don't read the recipe properly ahead of time and find out it has to cook for 90 minutes, not 60.  Dinner was a bit late.

Carrots: Gingered, as before. Went off without a hitch. 

Brussels Sprouts: Shredded, with the food processor which I wouldn't have thought of myself. V told me about it on Christmas Eve and I sent two pounds of the beauties through the shredding blade lickety-split. It was delightful. I sautéed them with bacon. My sister tells me she likes to do hers in the oven with a bit of bacon pre-cooked, 15 mintutes and they're ready to go she says, and who am I to argue?

Molasses cookies: Deep, rich, gingery and moist.

Lovely. My grandfather always had Archway Molasses cookies around, and I loved them as a child. I love them still in memory, but they are, objectively, not good. These cookies are good, and while they're very grown up, my children both liked them.

Hot cider: cranberries, orange, clove, cinnamon, ginger.

No one else drank it. Most of it went back into the jug and is now outside because the bottle doesn't fit in the refrigerator and the outside is cold enough to be a refrigerator. I think the last time I made a crock-pot full of spiced cider was 2004, when I also offered a crock of mulled wine. People drank the wine, but not the cider. I must remember to stop offering cider to people who don't want it. I must also find some people who do want it so I can make it.

17 November 2013

Sacred Frustration

Feast of Christ the King, Year C
Last Sunday after Pentecost
as prepared for delivery

The prophet Jeremiah wasn't predicting the future in today's reading when he said “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture,” he was just stating the facts of the case. The kings of Judah were, on the whole, a bad group. They were more concerned with currying political favor with whichever nearby kingdom was in power at the time than they were with following God's law or caring for their people. Jeremiah wasn't warning the Kings that great sorrow and distress was coming. They were already there. The scattered flock that Jeremiah talks about was the scattered people of Judah, exiled after King Zedekiah paid tribute to Egypt instead of Babylon.

It was too late to bring the Kings around to better behavior, but the prophet was also called to bring comfort to the people in times of distress, and through Jeremiah, God promises the people better shepherds and a new King. “I will raise up Shepherds over them who will shepherd them and they shall not fear any longer or be dismayed nor shall any be missing. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a Righteous branch and he shall reign as King and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

We hear Jeremiah today because this is the Feast of Christ the King in the church calendar. It may sound like an ancient feast day, but it was first added to the calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to increasing secularism and political upheaval in Europe. Like the Judeans trapped between the Egyptians and the Babylonians, the Roman church was trying to navigate a Europe ruled by men like Stalin and Mussolini. The clear statement was that whatever political negotiations the Church might make, they were not subject to the civil authorities, only Christ was King.

Given the large political implications of this feast day, and the strong words of the prophet Jeremiah, it would make sense to have a Gospel reading that reflected a very Kingly Christ, dealing wisely and executing justice and righteousness. Instead we get a very broken, fully human Jesus, already dying on the cross. What friends he had left were silent and powerless. Even one of the criminals at his side taunted him. “If you're really God, then save yourself, and save us, too.”

But the “good thief” on his other side sees Jesus' God-ship and instead of asking for a free pass off the cross he asks only to be remembered. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus agrees, and because with God there is no difference between thought and word, or word and deed, to be remembered by God means to be brought back into communion with God, and so Jesus promises the thief that he will be with Jesus in paradise, not after some time in purgatory, not after a quick descent to the dead, but that very day. Because God's time is not our time, but instead weaves around and through our time, as soon as the thief asks, the favor is granted.

We're supposed to be like the good thief. Ask to be remembered. Know that we will be with Jesus in his kingdom when the time comes, when God's time comes. We sing that prayer here at St. Andrew's as a Taize during Lent. The repetition of that simple prayer calms me, centers me, reminds me that I am not in charge and that's okay.

But more often than I care to think about, I pray the prayer of the bad thief. I look at the world, full of environmental and political destruction, full of people who are either bleeding to death or starving to death and I cry out “If you are God, save us.” That prayer is not calming or centering, but I believe that prayer is not a failure of faith, but a cry of sacred frustration caused by the separation we feel between the broken, bleeding starving world, and the Kingdom of God.

We don't live only in this human world. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that the separation between this world and God's kingdom has been torn and we have been given full membership in God's Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here, woven around and through this broken human world and we stand with one foot in each place.

We see a broken world with our eyes, but with our hearts we feel what the Kingdom of God is like. Through the parables we can put the Kingdom of God into words. We know that the Kingdom of God is like a job where you are amply rewarded for your good work, even if you were late that day. We know that the Kingdom of God is like a huge tree grown from a tiny seed. We know that the Kingdom of God is a world without strangers. We know that the Kingdom of God is like being welcomed home with a hot bath, clean clothes, a good meal and the warm embrace of a parent who loves us no matter what.

So when we look with our eyes and see this broken, bleeding, starving world, our hearts cry out with sacred frustration, “Come down and save us, all of us.” We want this world to be a good as the other one. We cry out because we know how much better it can be.

That frustration is sacred because it is a call. If you see how things are broken, and you know they should be better then you are called to be like those better shepherds in Jeremiah. To see the world both as it is and as it should be is to see the scattered sheep, and to know that we are called to gather them together again.

To feel that frustration is to feel the pull that God puts on our hearts, a pull that cannot be satisfied unless we follow where it leads. We are not all called to the same place. God's lost sheep are on the plains in Africa, and the streets of College Park. They must be gathered back into the fold with food and water, but also with medicine, letters, rallies, money, and ceaseless prayers.

The damage that has been done to this fragile earth must also be repaired. There have been many bad shepherds, and so there is much to do.

It will not be fast, and it will not be easy. but just as Jesus was called to the cross and there gathered in a lost sheep, so we must go to the hard places, to the places full of fear and doubt and pain and sorrow to do the work that pulls at our hearts.

As Paul prayed for the Colossians, I pray for all of us. May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from God's glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience.

20 October 2013

A Chowder for Fall

We were out of town for a weekend, off the grid on a church retreat which usually takes place in crisp Fall weather. But this year the retreat was a week earlier than usual, and thanks to Global Warming or just bad luck, it was shorts and t-shirt weather the whole time.  I wanted cool days and chilly nights. I wanted to need an extra blanket and to find the heat of the Saturday night campfire a relief, to draw closer. Instead it was warm and the bugs were still out and the fire was so hot I had to roll my log-seat further away. It was still a good retreat. There are no bad weekends at the Shrine, but it was not Fall.

Fall arrived on Monday. The morning was grey and we all knew it would storm even before we checked the weather.  By late morning the wind was blowing hard and the clouds had cracked open. The rain lasted most of the day and the air it left behind belonged firmly to October. It was time to make soup.

I wanted this batch of soup to be vegetarian. The challenge is to make a rich broth without stock. I've never bought a canned or boxed vegetable broth that made me happy. They all seem to be trying too hard. I find it’s easier to build one from the ground up. It does require some chopping. I used my mandoline, and I recommend everyone who wants to cook get one, but a knife and cutting board will do the job just fine.

The garlic might seem excessive, but in a big pot it’s not too much. The garlic cooks and softens and provides a deep roasty background to the soup. The lone jalapeno doesn't add much heat if you remove the seeds and membranes before chopping, but, like the garlic, it adds complexity. Don’t leave it out.

You’ll notice that this soup has frozen and canned corn. Most chowders get a round mouth-feel from dairy, but this one gets it from the canned corn pureed in its own liquid.  It’s not as lush as a cream-based soup, but it does save this soup from the thin feel that many vegetarian broths have.

I made the first batch two weeks ago, and another yesterday.

This recipe is vegan as written and it doesn't need anything, but you could always stir in a spoonful of sour cream or some cheese, and if someone really wants meat in their soup, a bit of crumbled bacon wouldn't be a bad idea.

Bean and Corn Chowder

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion
1 lb carrots
1 head celery
4-6 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno
1 16-ounce bag frozen corn
1 15-oz can corn
5 15-oz cans assorted beans
salt and pepper to taste

Place your largest soup pot over medium heat and cover the bottom in a thin layer of olive oil.  Dice the onion and add to the hot oil with a half-teaspoon of salt. Stir. Wash and slice the carrots. Add to the pot and stir. Wash and slice the celery. Add to the pot and stir. Crush and mince the garlic. Mince the jalapeno, first removing the seeds and membranes if you want mild flavor, leaving them in if you want a kick.  Add the garlic and jalapeno to the pot and stir.

Dump the canned corn and liquid in the blender and blend completely.  Drain and rinse the canned beans. Add the beans, frozen corn, blended corn, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the pot, then add enough water to cover. Increase heat to high. Stir and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread.

05 July 2013

How to Throw a Party Without Losing Your Mind

We need more parties, more opportunities to get together with old friends, to meet new friends, to deepen fledgling friendships. We need more time together. Or, more selfishly, I want to go to more parties. And I want to host more parties, and I sometimes forget that it’s not really hard. So this is advice for me, and maybe it will be useful to someone else, too. 

Just dive in and do it.

First things first, decide if you’re feeding a meal or just snacks, choose the time accordingly. Even a wedding reception can be just punch and cake if it’s at two in the afternoon. Choose an end time. If the party is focused around an event, like a big game or watching the fireworks, then the end time is built in. If you’re just having people over to hang out, then put an ending time on the invitation. Unless you think it would be awesome if everyone hung around all night talking, in which case leave it open. Mostly I want people to go home when the party is over because I want to decompress and go to bed. 

Then decide if you want to cook all the food yourself or have a potluck. If you decide to cook all the food yourself, know that someone will bring something that won’t fit in with the menu you planned. Take a breath, let it go. If you decide on a potluck, relieve yourself of all menu planning authority beyond the main course. If people ask what you need say “Just bring whatever you want.” Deny any and all knowledge of what any guest might be bringing. Accept that your guests might all bring watermelons. It will be hilarious. (Your guests will probably not all bring watermelons.) 

Figure out how many people your location can hold, and how many people you’re willing to feed. Invite the lesser of those two numbers of people. You will forget someone. You will have to leave someone off the list. It will be okay. Someone will not be able to come. There will be room for someone else. You will run into the person you forgot at the grocery store. Invite that person. Give up on keeping an exact total. Somebody will show up with their in-laws in tow, somebody will get sick and cancel on the day of, somebody will show up late having already eaten. No one will starve.

Figure out a way to be part of the party. Choose a menu that won’t stress you out. Have a small enough group that everyone can hang in the kitchen. Put the grill near the seating area. Make everything ahead. You are the host, not the housekeeper. Your friends are coming to hang out, not be served.

Make a list of things you need to do before the party. Plan a schedule so you can do a little bit each day instead of running around like a headless chicken on the day of the party.

Ignore the schedule.

On the day of the party, run around like a headless chicken. Always invite at least one person who will text you the day of the party and say “I’m going to do some errands, do you need anything?” If you don’t have friends like that, get some. Always be a friend like that. 

Your friends are coming to hang out, not to judge you.

Clean your bathroom. (I’m pretty sure Maud wrote that about me, because it was posted the day after she was at my house for a play-date. I've been paranoid about my bathrooms ever since, but she’s completely correct.)

Once your guests start arriving, stop running around like a headless chicken. There’s a lovely prayer for the end of the day in the New Zealand prayer book that includes the line “What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be.” The beginning of a party is not the same as the end of the day, but the principle still stands. Let the beginning of the party be the end of the party prep. Your friends have come to hang out with you. Let it be.

The day after the party, make some notes about what to do differently next time. My list might say
  • Set the freezer to quick ice / buy a bag of ice
  • buy more sausages, maybe also grill some chicken
  • set up a soaking bucket for utensils

Be prepared to eat leftovers for a day or so. I always make too much food. You probably will too.

(Photos from this guy, who is a great co-host in addition to being a great photographer.)

16 June 2013

A Woman in the City, A Sinner

Proper 6, Year C
Luke 7:36-8:3

What are you ashamed of? What is your biggest sin, your greatest weakness, your deepest failure? What is there about you would horrify the person sitting closest to you? What would get you kicked out if only people knew? Now imagine that people did know, and you can imagine yourself as the unnamed woman in today’s Gospel story.
Today’s Gospel reading takes place in the heart of Jesus’ ministry. It is surrounded in the text by miracles and parables. Jesus had just talked to the messengers from John the Baptist. His ministry was getting attention, but he had not yet angered people enough that they wanted him dead. He was a pop star at the top of the charts.
Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to a banquet at his home, both to find out more about Jesus’ teaching, and for the cachet of hosting a popular traveling Rabbi.
At a formal banquet, the guests would have been lying on their left sides, propped up on their left arms, supported by cushions, leaving their right arms free for eating. Their heads were in toward the center of the room and their feet were toward the walls, with enough space between feet and walls for servants to move around the room.
These feasts were public events, which explains how the unnamed woman got in. There wouldn't have been security checking invitations at the door.
The text tells us that the woman was “A sinner.” I was taught, I think most of us were taught, that she must have been a prostitute, but the text doesn't support that. The Greek word here translated as sinner is hamartolos, which appears seventeen times in Luke’s Gospel, including in Chapter Five, Verse 8 when the Apostle Peter says “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  As far as I know, no one has ever accused Peter of being a prostitute. Whatever this woman’s sins, we can be sure they were grievous, and they were public. Simon knew who she was, and what she had done, and no doubt most of the rest of the city did as well. She had much to be ashamed of and she would have carried that shame like a weight on her back.
The banquet cannot have been the first time the unnamed woman came in contact with Jesus. She must have heard him preaching, or at least have heard about him. My guess is that she had somehow heard Jesus teaching, perhaps even gotten a glimpse of him in the city, maybe a moment of eye contact, and something, a word or a look told her that Jesus saw her, not just a sinner, but a woman, a human being. It was a moment of Grace and whatever the risk it meant she needed to find him and thank him.
She came with an alabaster jar of ointment, and she probably intended to anoint his head, which would have been the usual way of honoring him.
Imagine what that trip from her home to the banquet must have been like for her. Her sins were grievous and they were social. Walking into the home of a Pharisee meant risking being seen, being recognized by people who thought they knew her heart because they knew her sins, enduring the silent, and maybe not so silent condemnation. At any time Simon the Pharisee or a head servant might have recognized her and escorted her out, no doubt making a bit of scene and causing her disgrace, and possibly physical harm. It’s likely that a servant throwing a sinful woman out on the street wouldn't bother about being gentle or discreet.
Whatever the risk of further humiliation, the unnamed woman was willing to take it because it meant a chance at being near Jesus, and she was able to take the risks because the burden of her sins had been lifted by that moment of Grace.
With her jar of ointment held close to her body she walked into the home of Simon the Pharisee with every intention of anointing Jesus’ head, but when she got to him she was overcome with relief and gratitude and she fell at his feet and began weeping. And here is where the story gets a little crazy. She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. And she unwraps her hair and dries his feet with it, even though a good Jewish woman would never have uncovered her hair in the presence of a man who was not her husband. Touching his feet would have made her unclean by touching an unclean part of a man’s body, and it made Jesus ritually unclean by being touched by a woman who was not his wife. Not only is the scene stunningly intimate and a huge violation of social norms, but it must have taken a while, because even the most prolific of criers would need a few minutes to produce enough tears to wash a man’s feet.
It’s no surprise then, that Simon the Pharisee was shocked by the scene, and thought Jesus must not be a prophet at all.  The word Pharisee means separate. Simon’s whole idea of righteousness was defined by being separate from unclean things, and there in his banquet hall was possibly the most ritually unclean thing he could have imagined. Frankly I’m surprised he didn't call for his servants to remove the unnamed woman and Jesus at the same time. But he didn't, and in the midst of this Jesus engaged Simon in a bit of traditional Rabbinic teaching. “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And Simon replied in the same way “Teacher, speak.” Jesus then went on to tell the parable of the two debtors and asked Simon a question about the story. When Simon answered correctly, Jesus replied “You have judged rightly.” All of this could have happened in a synagogue, but it didn't, it happened at a banquet with a weeping woman kissing Jesus’ feet. And Jesus, referring to the woman said “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love.” Then he turned to the unnamed woman and said “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Notice the order of cause and effect. Her sins were forgiven, the burden of shame that she carried had been lifted, hence she showed great love. The forgiveness was there all the while. It didn't happen when she was weeping at Jesus’ feet. She didn't earn it with tears and ointment. Her sins were already forgiven when when she came to the banquet with the jar of ointment. She had already accepted the forgiveness in a moment of Grace and was so overwhelmed that she could do nothing less than go to Jesus and show her shocking, outrageous love. The forgiven sinner loved much, and  that forgiveness and love brought her the peace of God.

It was good for the unnamed woman that Jesus was an Emmanuel, a God with us, instead of a Pharisee, separate. And it’s good for us, too, because the forgiveness that she accepted in her moment of Grace is available to us as well. Whatever our sins, whatever our shame, small or large, private or hugely public, the forgiveness is ours for the taking. We don’t have to earn it. It is simply there waiting for us to accept it. And just as it did for the unnamed woman, our forgiveness comes with the lifting of the burden of shame, with the promise of shocking, outrageous love, and peace.

13 May 2013

Riverdale Park Farmers' Market, post at The DC Moms

I have a new post up about one of my local farmers' markets at The DC Moms.  Do you shop at producer markets?

At three o’clock in the afternoon, when the market opens, it’s a great place to get fresh produce,meats, cheeses, breads and other goodies. RPFM is a producer only market, so you can chat with the farmers about what they sell.  It’s also a good place for an afternoon pick-me-up: iced coffee from Zekes, or fresh lemonade from Migue’s Donuts, or ice cream from Simple Pleasures. I hand my kids a few dollars and make them order their own treats, after we’ve rehearsed the “please and thank-you.” They like to help pick out berries, corn, greens, melons, and apples as they come into season.  If there’s something perfectly ripe they want to eat it right away . . . 

13 April 2013

Lemon-Thyme Salmon with Brown Rice and Dandelion Greens

Last week we had dinner at a friend's house. She made salmon, and Husband, who is not always a fan of fish that is not in the form of fish fingers (hold the custard) discovered that he could eat salmon and like it. Later that week as we were discussing what dinners we might eat, he pulled some salmon fillets out of the freezer and said I could do something with them, if I wanted. This dovetailed nicely with some rice cooker related research I'd been doing so I knew right away what I would do.

My rice cooker is not currently big enough for salmon fillets (though I expect to change that soon enough) so I baked the fish instead, along with the rice and dandelion greens because why make more work for yourself that you have to? The brown rice takes a long time to cook, so keep the salmon in the fridge until just before you need it.  Keeping it cold will prevent it from drying out during baking.

Lemon-Thyme Salmon with Brown Rice and Dandelion Greens

Lemon-Thyme Salmon with Brown Rice and Dandelion Greens
feeds 4-6

1 1/2 cups brown rice
2 cups water

1 pound salmon fillets (I used frozen.)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 whole lemon, preferably organic
2 Tablespoons fresh Thyme leaves
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 bunch dandelion leaves, or other greens

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Zest the lemon. In a small bowl, melt the butter together with the lemon zest, salt and thyme leaves. Use the microwave in 30 second bursts. Set aside.

Set the water to boil in a small pot or kettle. Spread the rice in a rectangular baking dish.

Rinse the greens and chop the leaves into 1-inch pieces. Chop the stem ends fine.

When the water boils, pour it over the rice. Arrange the salmon fillets over the rice, then cover with chopped greens.

Pour the butter mixture over the greens. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for one hour. 

After one hour, remove the baking dish from the oven, remove the foil and squeeze on the lemon juice.


11 April 2013

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09 April 2013

Let Them Figure It Out ~ The DC Moms

The Gladiator Arena

I am a slacker-parent. In the years since I first claimed my slacker title, Lenore Skenazy created the term “Free-Range Parent” which not only sounds better than “slacker,” it comes with a whole philosophy attached, which you can debate with the other parents at your parenting group, proving that even if you’re not climbing the slide with your kid, you spent real time researching the reasons why you shouldn’t climb the slide with your kid. Sometimes I do call myself a free-range parent, but the truth of the matter is I’m a slacker. I would rather sit on the park bench and read a book, or commit that cardinal sin of parenting, play with my smart-phone, than climb the slide or push my kid on the swing. Back when my kids were in the “stick everything in their mouth” phase, I did put down my book long enough to take the mulch out of their hands and redirect them, but that’s about it. If my kid climbs too high on the playground climbing structure, or can’t figure out which fake rock to step on next at the climbing wall, my slacker philosophy lets me tell the kid to figure it out.

Read the rest at The DC Moms.

05 April 2013

Slow Cooker Blueberry Breakfast Cobbler

Years ago, when I was first dating the man who would eventually be smart enough to marry me, that man had a roommate who never cooked. Instead he went home every weekend, ate his mother's cooking, and brought back enough dinners, each packed it its own tupperware, to feed him until the next weekend. My boyfriend liked to mock him for it, but I tried a more encouraging approach. I told him that if he made his own dinner, just once, I'd make him a blueberry cobbler. I don't know why I said blueberry cobbler, but I did, and it stuck. Not long after I made the promise, the roommate cooked himself his own dinner, and I was called on to make blueberry cobbler.

Blueberry Oatmeal from the Slow Cooker
Grab a spoon.

That story has nothing to do with this recipe, except that I was thinking about it while I assembled this morning's breakfast last night. My boys were going to gymnastics camp today, which meant getting them up and fed earlier than usual, and I wanted their bellies full of food which would last them until lunchtime. Enter steel cut oats and blueberries, a rocking nutritional powerhouse if ever there was one. The blueberries were frozen. I like to buy wild blueberries, which are smaller and more flavorful than the regular kind, but this will work either way. You know what's easier than this breakfast? Nothing.

Overnight on Low
Five minutes of prep time means you can wake up to this.

Slow Cooker Blueberry Breakfast Crumble

16 ounces frozen blueberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups steel-cut oats
2 cups milk (dairy, soy, rice, almond, whatever)
2 cups water

Pour blueberries into the bowl of the slow-cooker. Sprinkle sugar and salt on top.

Brown Sugar and Blueberries
Blueberries and sugar, see, it's already delicious.

Pour oats on top. Gently pour in milk and water, trying not to disturb the oats. A few blueberries will escape, but you want to keep as many as possible down on the bottom.

Add Milk and Water
A few escaped blueberries, but most are still down below.

Do not stir. Cook on low 8 hours or overnight.

17 March 2013

Outrageous Love

Judas made a very common mistake. He assumed that our love for God and for our neighbor was a zero sum game, that we had to choose between God and our neighbors because we couldn’t love both, not really, not enough. Now, as we know from this reading and others, Judas wasn’t doing a good job of loving God or his neighbors. The name Judas has become one of our cultural references. I could stand up here and call someone a Judas, and you’d all know what I mean: a traitor.

Jesus used that kind of reference all the time. His words as we have them were written down by men who knew about farming and fishing, and about the Torah.

The disciples were Jews, which means they would have studied the Hebrew scriptures, would have the words of the scriptures written on their hearts and their minds in ways that we modern Episcopalians mostly don’t. So when Jesus says “The poor you always have with you,” we hear a sentence standing on its own. “The poor you will always have with you.” And it’s not a sentence I like very much. In fact, when Carol first asked me to preach today I went and looked at the readings and thought “No, not this one. I’m going to sit this one out.” Because when I read that line what I hear in my head is “You poor schlubs are never going to get this whole social justice thing worked out.”

It’s true that some people have used this line to excuse themselves from having to do anything about social justice. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us. The eradication of poverty is an impossible task, so we just shouldn’t bother. But the line “The poor you will always have with you” doesn’t stand alone. Jesus didn’t just make it up because he wanted to smack down Judas. Jesus was referencing Deuteronomy, Chapter 15, verse 11. The disciples and other early Christians who were Jews would have caught the reference right away. I wanted to know when we were going to read that part of Deuteronomy, so I looked it up. It turns that part of Deuteronomy not in the lectionary. It’s possible you’ve never heard it, or if you have you don’t remember it.

Chapter 15 begins by establishing a Jubilee Year, in which the Israelites must forgive all debts within the community once every seven years, and then it goes on to say :

7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8 You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9 Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt. 10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” 

Since there will always be poor among you, therefore I command you to open your hand. That is the “Yes, and . . .” love of God. It is our duty: Yes, you will forgive debts every seven years AND you will be open-handed all the other years, too. And it is our inheritance: Yes, I will love you outrageously. Yes, I will make you in my image, and I will send you prophets, and I will send you men to lead you out of bondage. Yes, you must love me outrageously, and you must love your neighbor outrageously, too. Yes, your neighbor is the person who lives next door, and your neighbor is the man found beaten on the side of the road, wherever he might live.Yes, I will come live among you so that you may hear about outrageous love in my own voice, and I will sit with sinners and tax collectors and tell them about my outrageous love, too. Yes, I will preach truth to power even if it means my death. Yes, I will die on the cross proclaiming my outrageous love, AND I will come back to life so that you can have life, too. Yes, I will forgive you and call you back into communion again and again because I love you outrageously.

Yes, and . . .

But Judas couldn’t hear any of that. I imagine Judas had been growing ever more disgruntled. Perhaps he thought that tagging along with Jesus would lead to fame and fortune and now he finds himself in a dusty house, pushed aside, both literally and figuratively by Jesus’ favorite apostles, and now by this woman who not only displays a love that is beyond Judas’ understanding, but grabs the attention of the whole room in the process.

A generous interpretation is that Judas is simply stuck, as we are sometimes stuck. Despite traveling with Jesus all that time Judas doesn’t understand the “Yes, and . . . “ love of God. He is stuck in a small, legalistic, “no.” Judas, like the older brother in the prodigal son story, simply cannot accept the “Yes, and . . . “ love of God, because “Yes, and . . .” is so outrageous.

God does outrageous things for love of us, and we are called to do outrageous things for our love of God and our love of each other. And doing outrageous things means taking outrageous risks.

Mary did an outrageous thing. She took a bottle of nard, an expensive, imported perfumed oil, and poured it out over Jesus’ feet. Why would she do such a thing? Three-hundred dinarii, a year’s wages, poured out on the dirty feet of a traveling preacher. Have you ever felt so compelled by love that you did something absurd? Have you ever loved so much that you felt that whatever you did wouldn’t be enough?

I can imagine Mary, hearing that Jesus was in the house, being overcome with love, being absolutely frantic with love, and without a thought for the cost she took up the most valuable thing she owned and laid it at the feet of the man who had touched her heart. Was it wasteful? Yes. Was it extravagant? Yes. If she’d taken a moment to think would she have known that such an outrageous and yes, very intimate act, would have opened her up to ridicule? Yes.

And none of that mattered to her, because in that moment the only thing she knew was the love in front of her, and that she had to act. Mary had a calling, a vocation that she could not deny, and Jesus honored her for it. Maybe we should all be a little more extravagant with our love, more wasteful, more outrageous.

Over and over again the Scriptures tell us about the outrageous love of God. Over and over again we are called to love God and love our neighbor not just a little bit, but outrageously.

Over and over again we try to box it in, make it small. We utter a very human “No” to the “Yes, and . . . “ love of God. We say no because of fear. Fear of appearing ridiculous. Fear of giving up something that we’re going to need later. Fear of choosing the wrong action. Judas felt that fear. Mary’s outrageous “Yes” sent him scurrying to the safety of “No.” No, she shouldn’t have wasted that perfume, or the money or the time.

My friend Rachael has founded a non-profit organization in Guatemala that is working with the native population there to coordinate climate change adaptation strategies. As if the usual financial and procedural roadblocks weren’t enough, she also faced a deluge of questions from people who couldn’t understand why she was working in Guatemala, and not helping her “own people.” The assumption being that helping people who live next door to you is somehow more virtuous, or at least more sensible, than helping people far away.

Now, Rachael could answer her critics with examples of how Guatemala is really not far away, how 1/3 of our migratory bird species live there for 5 months of the year; that climate change pressures are forcing a family migration rate [to the US and other countries] of 85%, that many of the problems that Guatemalans now face can be traced, at least in part to a 1954 coup d’etat organized and carried out by the CIA. But that’s not why Rachael is there.

Working with the people of Guatemala is what Rachael knows in her heart she must do. Although our faiths are not the same, she and I agree that she was called by God to the place where her gifts best fit the needs of the people, and that any other work would always chafe, a little bit. She felt the same frantic, outrageous love that Mary felt, and instead of listing all the reasons why she couldn’t possibly go, she said "Yes, and . . . "

We are not all called to another continent, as my friend Rachael is, but the needs of the world are great, and diverse, and widespread. Some of us are called to the altar, some of us are called to Guatemala, and some of us are called to the kitchen.

In any of those things, and in infinitely more, we may be called to the “Yes, and . . .” love of God. We may find ourselves, as Mary did, frantic with love, eager to pour out our most valuable possessions. Or we may find ourselves trying to explain why it’s impossible, why “no” is the only sensible answer.

We may claim that we don’t have enough brains, or courage to meet the need. That’s our Judas talking. Judas says the need is too great, and I am too small. But Judas is a traitor, and when we listen to him he betrays us. Because however small you are, however much you might lack in brains, or courage, you are created in the image of outrageous love, and the world needs outrageous love in all its forms, in every shape and size, on every continent, across the oceans, and as far into space as humans can go.

The world needs you to look for that which excites your outrageous love, find it and say “Yes, and . . .”

As prepared for delivery,
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church,
College Park, MD
March 17, 2013
Lent five, Year C RCL

03 March 2013

Brown-Butter Buttercream Birthday Cake

Downy Yellow Cake with Brown-Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Brown-Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I have come here today to confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned.  In full knowledge of the importance of birthday cakes, I did willfully try to get away with making a pound cake for a friend's birthday because I didn't want to be bothered with frosting a layer cake. My feet were only set back on the path to righteousness by a stern rebuke from my friend's husband.

(Okay, not a stern rebuke, but "statement of my friend's mild preference" seems sort of anti-climactic, doesn't it?)

And, as it turned out, a different friend of mine had spurred a thread about brown butter over on Facebook and I had filed away the phrase "brown-butter buttercream" for future use. So I decided that if I was going to frost a cake I was going to do it with style.

The first step is to brown the butter, which is a simple matter so long as you're willing to hang around the kitchen stirring occasionally. I recommend hiring a three-year-old to run up and down a step stool and report on the state of the butter every thirty seconds, but you can manage without if necessary. You can do this a day or so ahead, which will give the butter plenty of time to cool.

I also recommend doing this with a stand mixer, but I managed with a hand-held electric mixer and  you can, too. It just requires a bit of patience.

The recipe I started from made a vat of frosting. I only needed half to frost a two-layer, nine-inch cake. The rest is in my freezer, awaiting the next bout of cake. The recipe here is half of what I made, but feel free to double it if you are making a huge cake or you want to have a bag of buttercream in your freezer in case of cake emergency.I'm considering adding some melted chocolate when I defrost and re-whip the remaining frosting.

This is a buttercream, so it is not going to be stable in hot weather. This might the best frosting in the history of cake, but it is the wrong frosting for summer. Try a cooked flour frosting instead.

Brown Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Try not to eat it all before it touches the cake, unless you really want to.

Brown-Butter Buttercream


1 1/2 pounds unsalted butter

6 ounces egg whites (4-5 large egg whites, 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

To brown the butter:
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Allow the butter to come to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Foam will form and then subside. Butter solids will become visible as white flakes. When the white flakes begin to turn brown, remove the pan from the heat. And pour through a fine sieve into a bowl. I do not line my sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter because I want the small bits milk solids to remain. They fleck the frosting with tiny bits of extra deliciousness. Allow the butter to cool to room temperature, then move to the refrigerator, where it will keep well for at least a week.

Brown Butter
Browned butter, scooped into balls for easy incorporation into the frosting.
That dark brown stuff is the browned milk solids. They're delicious.

On the day you are going to make the frosting, remove the butter from the refrigerator and set aside to soften.

Mix the sugar and egg whites together in a large, heat-proof bowl, then set it over a pan of simmering water. (If you're using a stand mixer, you can just use the mixer's bowl.) Heat, whisking frequently, until the egg whites are 140 F, or hot to the touch.

Remove the bowl of egg whites from the double boiler and set in on the counter on a slightly damp towel to prevent slipping. Using your hand mixer at full-power, beat the eggs into a fluffy meringue until the bowl is cool to the touch. If the meringue is more than room temperature, then the butter will melt and the texture of the frosting will not be as good. If using a stand mixer, beat with the whisk attachment on high speed until the bowl is cool to the touch.  You should have a stiff, glossy meringue.  It would be a perfectly adequate frosting on its own if you were so inclined.

Swiss Meringue Not Yet Buttercream
Congratulations! You've made marshmallow fluff!

Add vanilla extract to the meringue. With the beater on high speed, begin incorporating the butter a couple of tablespoons-full at a time, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula.

Frosting can be used immediately, stored in the refrigerator for several days, or frozen for several months. Chilled frosting should be allowed to come to room temperature slowly over several hours, and then re-whipped before being used.

28 February 2013

Lunch in the Park is On Sale Now!

I have a problem, which is that I have a fear of talking about my book because people might think it's incredibly lame that I have written a book.  So for the last couple of days when I've seen people in real life and they ask me what's been going on I'm all, "Oh, you know, the usual . . . " and then we nod at each other like "Yep, the usual, yep."  I don't say "Hey, I wrote a book, and I'm going to get serious about publishing it soon and I'm very excited and nervous and some other things, too."

But it's true. I did get serious. I had it professionally edited and then professionally formatted so that it would look nice in people's e-readers and I swallowed hard and I sent it out into the world. And then I told Facebook about it and not one of my friends said "It's incredibly lame that you have written a book." At least none of them said it out loud, to me. What they said to me was that they thought it was awesome, and since my friends are awesome that means awesome people think my writing a book is awesome. Which is nice.

Enough blathering! On to the book!

Dragons may not be real, but Kate fights them anyway. Kate had always taught her niece that when a dragon comes along, you slay it yourself. She rescued herself Priscilla, her students, her friends, and everyone else who loved and depended on her on a daily basis. 

When a yellow Labrador bounded into her picnic in the park, Kate's life got even more complicated. She almost forgot that you don't always have to do the rescuing alone.

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.

26 February 2013

Rice Cooker Lentils and Rice

Down the Hill
When I told Facebook that I was giving up driving for Lent, my yoga teach said "You're all going to be so strong!" That wasn't the point, of course, but it would be a nice side effect. Nearly two weeks in, I'm not there yet. I'll get there, I'm sure of it. I will come to a point where the last walk of the day will seem like a pleasant stroll.

For the time being though, the last walk has been something to endure. The boys have started asking to ride their bikes wherever they're going. It's a very sensible suggestion, except that they need some practice before the bikes become fast than walking. Younger son and I left a bit early to pick older son up from school so the walking bike could get a workout.  By the time we were on the downhill toward home he was gliding farther and faster than he ever had before and I see many more trips on that bike for him during Lent.

One of the consequences of walking is that we take longer to get home, especially when we have to stop at playgrounds on the way home, and then I'm tired and don't want to do anything elaborate for dinner. Obviously I'm a huge fan of beans and rice, but we've done some variation of tex-mex black beans an outrageous number of times in the last week. The menfolk may not get tired of it, but I do, so I force them to eat other things.

In the course of searching for a new, bigger rice cooker to replace the wonderful but will soon be too small rice cooker I discovered that you can cook soaked beans in your rice cooker. My head almost exploded.  Beans! In the rice cooker! I know you can do beans in the crock pot. I do beans in the crock pot frequently. But a crock pot needs to be fairly full to achieve "slow." If I'm making enough for a crowd, or I'm making enough for leftovers, then the crock pot is perfect. But sometimes I just want enough for the family meal and maybe one lunch. My rice cooker doesn't care how much I'm cooking.

So easy!

I thought I would ease into this radical concept of cooking beans in the rice cooker by cooking lentils. Lentils are small and cook quickly with no soaking at all. It's almost cheating.  I put the lentils and rice in the rice cooker, set the timer and forgot about it. At dinner time I cooked an onion with some spices, mixed it in with the cooked lentils and rice and it was dinner! Two of us were pleased and two of us admitted that it was an adequate dinner. I'm calling it a win.


For reasons known only to the gods of rice cookers, a rice-cooker cup is 3/4 of a regular cooking cup. I know this is terribly confusing. The point is that you can measure the lentils the same way you measure the rice and it will all work out. If you still have the measuring cup that came with your rice cooker, use that. If you don't, just just 3/4 of a regular cup.

Rice Cooker Lentils and Rice

Rice Cooker Lentils and Rice

1 1/2 rice-cooker cups lentils, rinsed, stones and discolored lentils removed.
1 1/2 rice-cooker cups brown rice

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter (or use just olive oil for a vegan dish)
1 small white onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon garam masala (I use a salt-free blend)
1 teaspoon salt

Up to several hours ahead,  measure the lentils and rice into the bowl of your rice cooker. Add water up to the three mark for white rice. Place the bowl into the rice cooker and set the time for your desired dinner time. If your cooker doesn't have a timer, just turn it on and allow the cooker to keep it warm until you're ready to eat. (I'm told that in Japanese households they make a big pot of rice in the morning and keep it hot all day, so your food will be fine for a few hours.)

Fifteen minutes before you're ready to eat, place a skillet over medium heat. Dice a small white onion and finely mince two cloves of garlic. When the skillet is hot, add the oil and butter. When the butter is melted (or if using oil only, when the oil begins to shimmer) add the onion to the skillet and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic, garam masala and salt. Stir until fragrant. Remove from heat.  In a medium bowl (or in the rice cooker bowl if you have room) combine the lentils and rice with the onion mixture.  Makes a lovely simple supper or a hearty side.

20 February 2013

Like Riding a Bicycle

I was ten when I learned to ride a bike. That was late. Everyone elese I knew already rode bikes, except for my mother and my sister who had declared it impossible. There seemed to be some hope for me, so my parents bought me a bike, and one afternoon my father drove me and the bike over to the stadium parking lot so I could ride without fear of crashing into trees or cars. The fact that I might crash into the pavement was not a significant concern.

I honestly don't remember much about that day, except that we spent most of the afternoon in that parking lot. I don't think I did crash into the ground because I have a significant fear of failure. I hopped off the seat and planted my feet firmly on the ground whenever there was any risk that I might go so fast as to actually lose control.

I hate being out of control.

I would wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble, hop off. At one point I got some actual momentum going and ended up riding over a ditch which bounced the seat of my bike right up into my crotch and anyone who thinks that didn't hurt because I'm a woman is utterly wrong.

My father wouldn’t allow me to quit, so wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble I went until my father with his greater knowledge of both bicycles and angular momentum must have been near despair. What he knew was that once the bike was really moving it would be nearly impossible for it to just fall over. There would be no wobble if I would just surrender to the physics of the thing.

By the end of the afternoon I was gliding creditably, not yet convinced that the physics really worked in my case, but not a danger to my self or others on my quiet residential street.

The  "just like riding a bicycle" exists for a reason, and I've never really forgotten what I learned that day. But I am still afraid of falling and failure, and if I get on a bike after a long absence my three semesters of college physics and my years of practical experience don't quite overcome the fear, so that my first first few yards are forever wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble, until I learn, again, to surrender.

16 February 2013

The Practice of Writing

I just finished The Practice of Writing, a 5 week, online writing course run by Alice Bradley of Finslippy.  I first started reading Finslippy when I was beginning doula work, and I ran into the funniest birth story in the history of the world.  I knew then that Alice Bradley was destined to be my very good friend. She didn't know it yet, of course. After five weeks of a writing class she still doesn't know it. But whatever, she'll come around eventually.

Despite not yet being my very good friend, Alice Bradley is an excellent writer, a good teacher and a very encouraging critic. If you write anything: a blog, short stories, poetry, annotated shopping lists, then I strongly encourage you to give The Practice of Writing a try.

Our last assignment for the course was to produce fifteen writing prompts of our very own.  It was Alice's little nudge to get us out of the nest. I plan on sifting through what I've written for the course and looking for gold nuggets I can refine to share here, or expand into something more. So, as a first offering I give you my very own fifteen writing prompts. The rules: Don't think, just write. Give yourself fifteen minutes. You can write poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, in any format you like. If you use them, I'd love to hear about it.

  1. Write about a time when you believed you had magical powers.
  2. In the process of cleaning out a family member's home, you have found a beloved object from your childhood. What is it? What has it been doing since you saw it last?
  3. What keeps you awake at three in the morning?
  4. If you had to move your whole household into one room, how would you do it?
  5. In the process of changing the light switch covers in your home, you find a note from  the previous owners. What does it say?
  6. You have fifteen minutes to change my mind about a contentious political topic that is important to you. Go.
  7. On a walk in the woods, you discover a path of flower petals leading in a direction you've never been. What do you do?
  8. Write about a time when you wished the earth would open up and swallow you whole.
  9. What is the one thing that tells you that you are home.
  10. Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in a small house next to a big river . . . 
  11. You have been given a four week, all-expenses paid vacation for four. Where do you go? Who do you bring? What will you do?
  12. Joey was sure the disco ball hadn't been hanging in the basement yesterday . . . 
  13. Write about a time when you made something better.
  14. Write a birth story.
  15. A stranger hands you fifty one-dollar bills and tells you to give them away one at a time, then leaves. What do you do with the money?

15 February 2013

Small Changes and Vegan Cornbread

A quick car-less update:

I have walked fourteen miles in the past three days.
The vests are very reflective, so are the straps on big boy's backpack.

On Wednesday, when dance classes were over, I picked up the small boy and said "Are you ready to walk home?"

"Yes!" he answered with great enthusiasm. "Mommy, will you carry me?"  His enthusiasm wavered when I explained that I would not be carrying him all the way home.

The reflective vests were the source of much excitement, and might have kept the boys cheerful all the way home despite the pouring rain, but big boy slipped on the wet pavement and banged up his head and his knee. Neither was serious, but they did away with all sense of adventure.

It's been better since then, because it hasn't rained and there's been less walking.

Walking means we can stop at the signs and trace the letters.

And we can use parking lots to practice balancing.

I have  a dinner meeting to attend this evening. My friend volunteered to make dinner for the group, and I offered to make bread. The dinner plans changed when we found out one of our new members is vegan. Out went the lasagna and in came chili. Out went the crusty loaf and in came the vegan cornbread. I packed everything into my largest mixing bowl and baked on site.

Baking supplies ready to go.

There is a phantom jar of baking powder in my house. I believe that I own an almost full jar of baking powder, purchased when I was on vacation last year. I've been using the dangerously-close-to-empty jar, because I can never find the full one. I'm sure I saw the full jar earlier this week, so when I was out buying ingredients today I didn't get baking powder. When it came time to mix the dry ingredients, I couldn't find the almost full jar. I made a double batch of the corn bread, which meant I needed two entire tablespoons of baking powder. The now-empty jar contained at most one and three quarters tablespoons.  In BakeWise, Shirley Corriher claims that most American recipes are over-leavened, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. It worked out fine, and everyone at the table was fed.This was a very wet recipe, so I think in future I will make sure that all of the baking powder is accounted for.

Vegan Cornbread

Vegan Cornbread
adapted from Supermarket Vegan by Donna Klein


1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 (8.5 ounce) cans creamed corn
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Oil one 8x8 glass baking dish and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir for one minute to mix thoroughly.

In a large bowl, stir together water, creamed corn and olive oil. Add dry ingredient and mix until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

12 February 2013

Giving Up

Pound Cake

I am bad at Lent, just as I am bad at New Year's resolutions.  Specifically, I am bad at giving up bad habits, and at taking up good habits. I resist change, even change that is undeniably good. At least I am bad at the change that requires any effort at all. But I try again every year. I'm only half-hearted about New Year's resolutions, but I do usually mean what I say about Lent.

As of Sunday afternoon, I'd been fairly sure what I was going to do for Lent this year, but then on Monday I ran into this article about Austrian churches encouraging their congregations to give up their cars for Lent. Reducing the amount that I drive would be a net good: I'd walk more, put less smog into the air, and spend less on gas.

My kids are both in schools that are walking distance. The library, my yoga class, their dance classes, and a grocery store, all in walking distance. At the beginning of the school year when I was ambitious, I walked them to and from school regularly. But I've been slacking, and this is the push I need. Of course, Lent begins on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is dance class day, which means the first day will be the roughest day.  I told my friend about this scheme and she said "And you don't even own a stroller any more."  Trust me, I know that the walk home from dance classes is likely to be a trail of tears. I plan on having a backpack full of snacks and other enticements with me, and I bought the boys each a reflective vest, since we'll be walking home in twilight. I'm hoping the reflective vests will be novelty enough to keep them cheerful at least part of the way.  And if all that walking means they collapse into their beds and fall asleep quickly, well, that's just an extra-shiny bonus.

I can't give up my car entirely. Church is too far to walk. So is the farmers' market, the pediatrician, and the store that has the bulk bins. I'm trying to figure out the best bus route, but the fact is I live in the 'burbs and the buses out here aren't great. That's on weekdays. On weekends they're terrible. That's part of the challenge, of course. Just sitting down and figuring out what it would talk to use the bus instead of my car makes me think about folks who don't have cars, and about what kinds of changes we'd need to make. Would it be easier to fix the bus system, or to convince my local grocer to add organic bulk bins? Would I be better off getting a trailer for my bike? Should we subsidize bikes? Are there enough bike lanes? There is no single right answer, and the problem (Which problem? Poverty? Global Warming? Yes.) is complex. Giving up driving my kids to school isn't going to solve anything, except that it will make me aware, for the six weeks of Lent, that the car that sits in my driveway is a both a privilege and a problem.

This week my awareness is also drawn to the needs of others because it is my church's turn to host the rotating homeless shelter. About forty people, most of them working poor, some of them children, are sleeping on cots in the Parish Hall. I dropped off some dictionaries today because some of the guests are school age and needed dictionaries to do their homework.

Shelter Week
Yes, that is a crib. One of our guests this year is ten months old.

They eat breakfast and dinner with us, and we provide sandwiches and other lunch supplies.  It is a point of pride with us that the food is good food, home cooked, and ample. The shelter residents are our guests, and before we send them out to navigate a world that doesn't care if they don't have cars or roofs over their heads, we make sure they have their bellies and their hearts fed.  I made this pound cake for tonight's dessert.

(Edited to add that after the shelter was done, one of the kitchen workers hunted me down to let me know that while there was plenty of pound cake to go around, mine had been mostly devoured by the volunteers. Many of them come to the shelter straight from work, and this pound cake was too delicious to resist. I promised I'd make two for next year.)

Rose Levy Beranbaum's Perfect Pound Cake
adapted from The Cake Bible

1.5 ounces milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
5.25 ounces sifted cake flour
5.25 ounces sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6.5 ounces unsalted butter, softened.
ingredients should be room temperature before mixing


Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Prepare a loaf pan by buttering, place parchment paper on the bottom, then butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, mix together the milk, eggs and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for thirty seconds.  Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until ingredients are moistened. Increase to high speed (medium if using a stand mixer) and beat for one minute. 

Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating for twenty seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with the spatula. Bake 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover with foil after the first 30 minutes to prevent over browning.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

There are no good strawberries right now where I live, but if you make this during strawberry season, I suggest you chop some strawberries up and use them for topping.

11 February 2013

Powerful Winter Salad

Grains and Greens Winter Salad

I sent the first two chapters of my novel off to a respected author who wrote me back, told me my writing was beautiful but boring and those two chapters might need to be cut entirely.  The book I thought was almost ready for publication needs its nose cut off.  Even though I knew in my heart she was right, I was knocked sideways. I cried a little. I posted a flounce on Facebook, declared I would put the whole thing in a box and forget about it.

I felt that way for fifteen entire minutes before I blew my nose, squared my shoulders and went to read chapter three of my novel. It turned out that chapter three could be an excellent chapter one with only minor corrections.

In December I went back to yoga class after a long absence. I went with excellent intentions. And then in January we had weather-related school delays and I had a nasty head-cold and I was out of class for three weeks.  I had to drag myself there this morning, not because I didn't want to get back into the habit, but because the getting into part of a habit is hard, and I feel weak in chaturanga, and my balance isn't what is should be and if I'd only gone to yoga these last three weeks I would be so much better than I am now.

Yoga class was hard, but rising from forward bend into mountain pose I felt powerful. In that simple movement I was in control, stable, and stretched out to reach for something higher. I'm not where I was, or where I'd like to be, but there was a small victory, anyway.

I love green salads. I eat them regularly all summer long. But it is not summer, and the fresh lettuces and other veggies that make a summer salad delicious are some combination of foreign, expensive, tasteless, and ugly. Last week, I bought the last of the baby spinach at the farmers' market.  Even with global warming and frost covers there are just times when you can't get salad greens that haven't been shipped in from a million miles away.   The produce section of the local organic market is filled with leafy greens, kale, and chard, and dandelions, plants that can survive a mild winter, and are full of nutrients to support your body through the short days and germ-infested rooms that make up winter.

Wheat Berries

These are wheat berries, about as whole grain as whole grains get. They also take two hours to cook. They are the anti-fast food. But when they are cooked, they are chewy and delicious and if you want to get all excited about things being good for you, they're full of slow-digesting fiber.

Together they make this lovely winter salad. The wheat berries take time to cook, but otherwise this is fairly easy to make, and it's a nice thing to pack for lunch. I used ruby chard and dandelion greens, but you could use anything. Kale would be lovely, or spinach. Maybe skip collards which really do need more cooking.

It's a salad because it has salad dressing. I just used my usual dressing, which includes honey. If you're trying to make this vegan, you could sub in maple syrup or just sugar. Don't skip the sweetener though, since greens have some bitterness.

for the Salad:

1 cup wheat berries
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 bunch leafy greens
1 medium yellow (or red) onion

for the dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon honey (or vegan sweetener)
salt and pepper to taste

Put wheat berries and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until berries are chewy but not at all crunchy, about two hours. There's no need to fuss with them, and they're hard to over cook.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.
When the wheat berries are almost done, half and thinly slice the onions. Put the onions in the dressing bowl, toss and set aside.

Wash the greens and chop them small, stems included. Put the greens in the bottom of a large colander in the sink.  Pour the wheat berries and excess water over the greens.

Add the well drained wheat and greens to the large bowl and toss until well mixed. The heat from the grains and the oil in the dressing will wilt the greens and soften the onion.  Taste and adjust seasoning. 

18 January 2013

Companionship and Toasted Cheese

In October of 1997 I was on a ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England.  From Dover my friend and I had a long train ride to the North of Scotland.  After a month of hostels and backpacks and European men with questionable intentions, my friend and I were still friends, but we did not have eight hours of conversation left in us. I needed a book.

I picked two books from the duty-free gift shop on the Ferry, and read them both on the train. One was The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian, number 18 in a popular series featuring the brave, dashing sailor Jack Aubrey and his friend the naturalist and intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin.

The eighteenth book is not the best place to jump into a story, but O'Brian and his publisher knew that, and the new reader is helped along with crucial bits of backstory, so I didn't have trouble following it. I've forgotten the other book I bought that day, but in the nearly 16 years since I first read The Yellow Admiral I've been pecking away at the series, in order, and its stories of battle, sickness, family drama, political intrigue, natural discovery and the deep friendship of the two main characters.

The one thing the books don't have is luscious descriptions of the food that is served. When food is described it's either to underline the shipboard routine, or to suggest the excess which is served at the officers dinner.  With that, and the food being from another culture and another time, I do not walk away from the books thinking about food. Salt horse is probably never going to be on my menu. The exception is the toasted cheese that Aubrey and Maturin eat as a snack when they are up late playing music together.  There's no style, except that Aubrey's steward, Killick, always serves the toasted cheese in a special silver dish with an alcohol burner to keep the food warm.  It's simple comfort food, and it's the one foodstuff I really wanted to recreate.

Toasted cheese is also referred to as Welsh, Gloucester or English rabbit, depending on what is added to the recipe beyond cheese and toast. I mixed the liquid in with the cheese, although most recipes have the liquid poured over the toast.  Aubrey's cook probably used port, as it seemed to be readily available, regardless of how long the ship had been at sea. I used red wine, but white wine, beer or milk would all work.

I don't have a sterling chafing dish for my toasted cheese, so we have to eat it as soon as it's ready.  I think Jack Aubrey will forgive me for that.

Toasted cheese

8 ounces cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup wine, beer or milk
8 slices bread
2 Tablespoons butter

Turn broiler on high.

Shred the cheese, mix with mustard, Worcestershire sauce and liquid and set aside.

Toast the bread, spread with butter, and arrange the slices on a cookie sheet. Distribute the cheese mixture on the toast and spread to the edges.

Broil the bread until the cheese begins to bubble and brown. Mine took about 5 minutes, and I rotated the pan about halfway through to keep the browning even.  Eat as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack to fortify yourself for a late night music session with a good friend.

(A note on Worcestershire sauce: the standard bottle wrapped in brown paper contains anchovies and so it is not vegetarian, but there are lot of vegetarian options, so it's easy to accommodate vegetarians with this dish.)


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