Saturday, December 27, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
There are times when the world arranges things absolutely perfectly. The sunrise as you drive over the brow of the hill, the rainbow in the midst of depression. The bird call as you stare out into the ocean.
At other times, the world sucks.
Christmas is not always 'the most wonderful time of the year'.
I'm sitting here this afternoon, grieving my parents, wearing the Christmas Sweater my mother knitted for me before she died.
I'm a little bit angry because circumstances point to the fact that I have been misled, and I'm little scared because the future has suddenly gotten more fuzzy and uncertain.
It took a little animation to pull me out of myself.
Life will all work out o.k.
Between the 'Appearance of the Angels' and the 'Shepherds Kneeling at the Manger', there is a dark and scary moonlight walk down a mountainside, leaving your livelihood and only source of income (the sheep) unguarded.
It's a bit dark right now, but somehow I will make it to the manger tonight.
Merry Christmas Everyone.
You know what Dad? I think I want a quiet birthday this year. I don't want a lot of fuss. I'll just have a few close friends over, just the disciples and their wives. We'll munch our way through some hors d'oeuvres and I'll make some of my special red wine. I don't need a big celebration with lots of candles and music....
...oh and make sure you invite Judas, for some reason he thinks I don't like him.
Monday, December 22, 2008
I remember when I was a child in Sunday school, our teacher was showing us the t.v. series 'Jesus of Nazareth'. We watched with joy as Shepherds and Wise Men visited the Stable and 'paid homage to the Christ Child' - and then the teacher stopped the tape at a place that was obviously not the end of the episode.
When we complained, we were informed that the next section 'was not suitable for children'.
It was the Slaughter of the Innocents.
It's out of place with the fuzzy nostalgic Christmas story. It doesn't look good on a Christmas Card and we definitely can't have our young children acting it out as part of the yearly Nativity Play.
The Brick Testament which is a website that the publishes bible stories interpreted visually with Lego, and is an excellent site to waste some time, published a book of the Nativity Story which sells on Amazon. I was reading a review that criticized the book for showing this scene in Lego.
The reviewer felt that the picture was inappropriate in a children's Christmas book - not that the Lego Nativity market's itself as a children's book in any way.
The story makes us feel uncomfortable, we wish it wasn't part of the Christmas Story, and so we deal with it by ignoring it. The trouble is we reduce the story when we do that. We create a sanitized version that is age-appropriate, and in doing so remove part of what drives the narrative along. Without the Slaughter of the Innocents, Mary, Joseph's and Jesus escape to Egypt makes no sense.
We 'tidy up' the story of Christmas to somehow make it 'more acceptable'. We remove from the story anything that may give offense to us.
I 'tidy up' the story of my life to somehow make it 'more acceptable' too. There are parts of my past that make me uncomfortable. There are parts of my past that I wish I could travel back in time and erase. But those parts of my past have shaped me and formed me, I would be less of a person without them.
Another theme that I see in myself in this story is the response of Herod to the news of the Wise men.
Herod's worldview certainly doesn't have room in it for a new King, even one as young as Jesus is a threat to him. And so Herod does what he knows, he lashes out in and orgy of violence out of all proportion to the event itself. He is so intent on clinging on to the status quo that blood is shed.
I can get like that, I have a framework that I call 'Christian', and when a person, or a theology comes along to shake that framework I resist change. It's sad when I do that to others, but it is dangerous when I do it to myself. I find something within me that is so at odds with what I consider 'Christian' that I am left with 2 choices. Either deny and destroy what is within me or enlarge my 'framework'.
And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. (Matthew 12:25)
It is amazing to me the energy that I have wasted slaughtering innocent parts of myself because they do no fit into some preconceived idea of what 'Christianity' looks like. I'm not perfect, my theology is not perfect, and yet somehow I would rather enslave myself to a faulty framework than allow myself to change.
I am the innocent slaughtered, and I am the slaughterer of thousands.
It's time the killing should stop.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I served them with broccoli, cauliflower, shallots and red peppers that I had all sauteed and steamed in a skillet. And then just grated some Parmesan over the top.
Another yummy concoction!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
It looked yummy, and the pastry stayed light and flaky.
The only problem was convincing the Americans at the party that something called a mincemeat pie, was actually a sweet tart rather than a savory meat pie! The Frangipane actually worked well with the mince and made the whole thing a pleasant culinary experience.
Just as well really - I still have half of it in the Fridge!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
This year I set the lyrics of 'In The Bleak Midwinter' - written by Christina Rossetti, to a new tune, composed by myself.
You can see and hear my setting here.
I did not receive much response from the choir last night over the piece.
Comparing my setting to the familiar Holst setting, my melody is more interesting. It uses some interesting rhythmic devices and changes time signature. Holst stays in 4 beats to the measure.
Harmonically, I have some interesting chord progressions and some mini-modulations. I even more the entire melody into the Major Key for one stanza. Holst has one solitary note that isn't in the basic scale of the key of his melody. His melody is 4 lines long, and two of those are practically identical.
In terms of text setting, my melody is in the minor key, and tries to feel bleak and sparse to conjure up musically the feeling of 'bleak midwinter'. When the choir sings about 'frosty wind made moan', the melodic phrases sets up a 'musical wind swirl'. Holst's melody seems at odds to most of the lyrics.
None of that matters.
The problem is, mine is not the familiar tune the choir is used too.
Singing lyrics to a new tune creates culture shock (just imagine if somebody did the unthinkable and set the lyrics of 'The Star Spangled Banner' to a new melody!)
It's like learning to drive on the other side of the road - it feels different, it feels wrong, and suddenly you have to concentrate on the act of driving.
By putting the lyrics to a new tune, I'm fighting against tradition. The new tune isn't a big deal to me, I know other settings of this carol beyond the three I've listed here. When I moved to the U.S. I discovered other Christmas Carols that are sung to different tunes than to the ones I grew up loving in the U.K. I've dealt with my culture shock.
I still remember though how weird it felt.
And now my melody is causing the choir to experience that 'weirdness' for themselves.
I've taken something that is beloved - and altered it!
For many people Christmas is a time of nostalgia and tradition. I have certain foods that I want to eat, and certain things I want to sing - If a candlelight service didn't end with singing 'Silent Night' whilst holding your candles aloft I think there would be uproar.
In the midst of that, I'm fighting with Holst. A fight that most people don't see as necessary. Why does 'In The Bleak Midwinter' need a new tune? It doesn't. But I wrote one simply because I could and I wanted to be creative.
As I said I did not receive much response from the choir over the piece. That lack of response has reminded me that I didn't compose the piece for the response it might get. Writing new tunes to Christmas Carols has become a Christmas tradition for me.
It's ok to let Holst win.
It's not a fight.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
During Lent people were encouraged to fast and reflect on their own lives. The problem was that many people became more caught up in how bad they were rather than on focusing on how good God is. People began to wallow in their sins and misery and instead of Lent leading them closer to God it became a time of separation. To counter this, the Pope would hand out Pink Roses on the Third Sunday of Lent, a symbol of coming Joy and the goodness of God. (Some sources say that the roses are handed out on the Fourth Sunday which is Laetare Sunday in the Catholic Church, and is when the Pope used to hand out golden roses to Catholic Sovereigns. Whether the roses of the commoners were given the same sunday as the roses for the Sovereigns is a matter of debate.)
When the church began to celebrate the feast of Christmas, they wanted to have a time of preparation before it, and so Advent was instituted. They kept the candle lighting, and they wanted to also keep the hope of Joy with the roses, but of course before the age of cultivated flowers that was a challenge. And so the Rose Colored candle for Advent became the solution. The other candles were purple because that was the color of Penitence that was used during Lent. Some traditions now use Blue Candles instead of purple, to distinguish Advent from Lent.
Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.
This preacher's interpretation of the bible is so off base it's sad and funny at the same time.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
- Swashbuckling trio
- Indian burial grounds
- What bees make
- Flotation device
- Twin letters
- Red planet
- Sarcastic laugh
- Greasy digits
- Famous author
- Famous baseball player
- Elite street in New York
- Sign of affection
- What a worker looks forward to
- Nut happiness
- Pleasantly plump
- Two female pronouns
- Single women look for him
- Sun explosion
- Crunch noise
- Children of the cane
- Lottery amount
- Lactic flops
- Determines who wins the game
- Home of movie stars
- Superman's favorite hangout
- Opposite of bad and few
- What Elmer Fudd calls pranks
- Sticky teddies
Monday, December 08, 2008
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Well Cooking Light arrived with an article devoted to pan frying so I really had no more excuses. One of the recipes that sounded really yummy was chicken stuffed with Pancetta and Fontina.
One problem - I didn't have Pancetta or Fontina and I didn't want to get out of my comfy clothes to go to the store! I rummaged around in my fridge and mixed up a stuffing of chopped deli ham, cheddar, garlic and rosemary.
As you can see from the pic I go through a lot of garlic so I but it in bulk :)
The next step was probably the fiddliest. Cutting a pocket in the side of the chicken and making a cavity for the stuffing. The trick is to use a small knife and to make sure you don't make a hole in the other side of the meat in your zeal for maximum stuffing containment. Then all it takes is a teaspoon and some judicious poking with your fingers to get the chicken stuffed.
Now it starts to get really fun. You set up three dishes with coatings on them. The first one had 1/2 cup of flour. The second, 2 egg whites lightly beaten, and the third had saltine crumbs in it. (Take a sleeve of saltines and run them through the processor for 2 minutes.)
You cat the chicken with flour, then with egg white and then with the cracker crumbs. Why the flour? Why not just dip in the egg white and the crumbs? Well The egg white won't stick to raw chicken without something for it to bind too. And the cracker crumbs are too dense to stick to the chicken without some form of glue. So the Crumbs stick to the egg white which sticks to the flour which sticks to the chicken! Do it this way and your coating shouldn't fall off!
The one trick I learned is to designate a 'Wet hand' and a 'Dry Hand'. Otherwise the mixture gets all over you and makes a real mess.
- Use the wet hand to pick up the chicken and place it in the flour.
- Use the dry hand to coat it in the flour.
- Using the dry hand, shake off the excess and place the chicken in the egg white.
- Using the wet hand make sure the chicken is coated in the egg white.
- Using the wet hand shake off the excess and place the chicken in the crumbs.
- Using the dry hand coat the chicken in the crumbs.
- Using the dry hand shake off the excess chicken and place it on your board.
It's as easy as that. Repeat with all your chicken pieces and then you are ready to cook!
And there's the finished deal :)
The coating stayed on the chicken and the chicken is crispy without being drenched in oil.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Those of you who have heard me speak before know that I love to cook. I can be a month away from a dinner party and already be searching through cookbooks, planning the perfect menu. Organizing my shopping list under various subcategories and even drawing up a time plan to coordinate the cooking of multiple dishes.
I love the running around on the day, putting the finishing touches on everything, making sure every dish is ready to go when the time for the start of the party rolls around, and then just waiting for the doorbell to ring.
Being English I was raised that being 'on time' meant being 10 minutes early. There's something about waiting beyond the length of time I was expecting that sucks the joy out of all my preparation.
It couldn't have been easy being Israel. Imagine hearing the promise:
"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."
and having to wait over 400 years for it to come to fruition. I get angry enough when someone is 30 minutes late!
400 years feels like along time.
I read the Magnificat - Mary's incredible song of Praise that she sang in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth, and I wonder. I wonder if she was still singing about how blessed she was when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant and riding a donkey.
9 months feels like a long time.
I sit in Advent - this season of Preparation and Waiting. And I get frustrated. Even when I've done everything that I can to Prepare I still have to wait. Preparation can fill up the time, but it cannot make the time move any quicker.
4 weeks feels like a long time.
I sit in the Contemplative service. We've finished a song. I look down at the bulletin and I know that a liturgical reading is coming next. I look up to see who is leading it, but nobody has stepped forward. Have they forgotten? Is there some miscommunication that I am unaware of?
2 minutes feels like a long time.
I sit in stillness, I pray and ask God to speak, I talk to others about whatever it is God is 'birthing' in my life...
...and I wait...
...and I wait...
...and I wait...
The waiting teaches me that I'm part of something much larger than just myself with my own calendar and my own agenda.
The waiting teaches me that I'm not the center of the Universe.
The waiting teaches me to trust God's timing whenever I think God is moving too slowly.
The waiting teaches me that God cannot be manipulated. It's not just about me putting my quarters in the cosmic coke machine and pushing the right button.
The waiting teaches me that just because I'm prepared doesn't mean I'm ready.
On your mark. Get set. Wait.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.
2. For each question below, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS.
4. Tag 10 friends.
IF SOMEONE SAYS "Is this okay?" YOU SAY?
"Cop Song" (Urinetown Soundtrack)
WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
"My Little Girl" (tim McGraw)
WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
"When Tomorrow Comes" (Eurythmics)
HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?
"Selig sind, die da leid tragen" (Brahms German Requiem) -
translates as 'Blessed are those that suffer'
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?
"Candle in the Wind" (Elton John)
WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
"Coming Around Again" (Carly Simon)
WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK ABOUT YOU?
"Careless Whisper" (Wham)
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?
"Where is the Love?" (Shirley Bassey)
WHAT IS 2+2?
"I Can Do Better Than That" ('The Last Five Years' Soundtrack)
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?"
Metamorphosis 2: Danae " (Paul Schwartz)
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
"And Then There Were None" ('Spring Awakening' Soundtrack)
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
"Aiutami" ('The Light in the Piazza' Soundtrack)
Aiutami means 'Help Me!' in Italian.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
"The Bitch of Living" ('Spring Awakening' Soundtrack)
WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
"The Look of Love" (ABC)
WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?
"Knowing When to Leave" (Burt Bacharach)
WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
"Seven Seas of Rhye" (Queen)
WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?"
Eclipse" (Pink Floyd)
WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?
"Strawberry Fields for Ever" (Beatles)
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?
"Musica Dei Donum" (Rutter)
Translates as 'Music is God's Gift'
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
"The Hills of Greenmore" (Steeleye Span)
WHAT'S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?
"Kiss Me" ('Sweeney Todd' Soundtrack)
HOW WILL YOU DIE?
"Wanted Dead or Alive" (Bon Jovi)
WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU REGRET?
"Octupus's Garden" (Beatles)
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
"Acension" (Paul Schwartz)
WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
"In Old Mexico" (Tom Lehrer)
WILL YOU EVER GET MARRIED?
"No More Lonely Nights" (Paul McCartney)
WHAT SCARES YOU THE MOST?
"Saturday Night" (Bay City Rollers)
DOES ANYONE LIKE YOU?
"Blaze of Glory" (The Alarm)
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
"No No Never" (Texas Lightning)
WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW?
"Begin the Beguine" ('DeLovely' Soundtrack)
WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS?
"Time Heals Everything" (Bernadette Peters)
IF YOU READ TO THE BOTTOM AND YOU USE ITUNES CONSIDER YOURSELF TAGGED!
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa (dutch processed if possible)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 16 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
- 1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool
- 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat.
3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla lightly with a fork, sprinkle the coffee powder over to dissolve, and set aside.
4. Beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 5 seconds. Beat in the sugars until combined, about 45 seconds; the mixture will look granular. At a slow speed beat in the egg mixture until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat to combine, about 40 seconds. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer at a low speed add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and mix until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the consistency is scoopable and fudge-like, about 30 minutes.
5. Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
6. Scoop the dough onto the prepared sheets with a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop, setting the mounds of dough about 1 1/2 inches apart.
7. Bake until the edges of the cookies have just begun to set but the centers are still very soft, about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through the cooking time.
8. Cool the cookies on their baking sheets for 10 minutes and then slide the parchment with the cookies onto wire racks and cool to room temperature.
The recipe makes about 48 cookies.
Monday, December 01, 2008
"Everybody talks about AIDS at cocktail parties," Oldfield said. "But nobody wants to hear about diarrhea."
Back in the 90s Churches in the U.K. did special services on World Aids Day, today it just seems to slip by almost unnoticed. I remember attending a service in Nottingham - I attended because a friend of mine was speaking. I recall sitting there and being aware that some of the people who were sitting across the aisle from me were living with AIDS. It was the first time I'd seen someone with the disease. It put a face to something I'd just heard talk about. Suddenly AIDS became much more real to me.
After the sermon they played the song 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' from the musical Les Miserables, they played it in memory of people who had died from the disease.
As the song echoed around the church I began to see people sobbing over friends, colleagues and partners they had lost. I did not know anyone who had died from the disease, but the grief was so palpable I began to weep too.
It was at that point that AIDS ceased to be a 'homosexual problem' or a 'third world problem' instead it was simply a 'Human Problem'.