Thursday, May 28, 2009

15 books

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. TRILOGIES COUNT AS ONE.These are in the order they occur to me. With only 15 over the course of my whole life, it's impossible to rank them.You know how the FB memes work. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. Go!

1. The Bible
2. Skallagrigg by William Horwood
3. The Duncton Chronicles by William Horwood
4. The Belgariad - David Eddings
5. The Mallorean - David Eddings
6. The Riftwar Saga - Raymond E. Feist
7. The Spirituality of Imperfection - Ernest Kuntz and Katherine Ketchum
8. Inner Compass - Margaret Silf
9. All of the Discworld novels - Terry Pratchett
10. The War of Art - Steven Pressfield
11. The Lord of the Rings - Tolkein
12. The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis
13. Swallows and Amazons Series - Arthur Ransome
14. Easter - Michael Arditti
15. Good Goats, Healing our Image of God - Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn

Wow, that was the first 15 books that came to mind (though some of them are long series!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Loving Long Weekends!

For me, long weekends and national holidays are an opportunity to cook and to hang out with friends and play boardgames. I detailed in a previous blog some of my struggles with pastry. Well I knew that I could make it on a cold crisp dry day, the time had come for the next challenge - Pastry in Houston Humidity.

I didn't want to just make another Apple Pie, I wanted to venture into new territory there too. Enter the Dutch Apple Pie. A dessert that I never encountered in my hometown of Norwich despite being only 152 miles from Amsterdam. Maybe the reason is that the pastry and the crumb topping don't travel across the North Sea very well?

I went to my trusty bible of cookery - Cooks Illustrated, and came out with a recipe. The pastry was great and the filling and topping cooked to perfection. There was I must confess a slight mix up in filling ingredients though. The recipe said 5 Granny Smiths (2 1/2 lbs) and 4 Large McIntosh (2 lbs). When I weighed 5 Granny Smiths it was only 1lb and the same problem with the McIntosh too. Figuring the weight was the more accurate measure I bought the specified weight and took them home.

My trusty Apple Peeler made short work of them - I peeled, cored and sliced 4 1/2 pounds of apples in 10 minutes. And when I had finished I had enough filling for 3 pies!!!! I guess I need to check the cookbook errata.

Anyway the finished pie was glorious!

The next task - which started on Saturday and finished on Sunday was a new challenge for me - a Lemon Layer Cake. It's something I wouldn't normally attempt given the complexity of the recipe. But my friend Paul had given me another Cooks Illustrated Cookbook for Christmas along with the accompanying DVDs of the series. Having watched them make it on TV I was confident I could do it.

And...I did :)

It was a lot of steps, but I took it slowly and it came together wonderfully. I had to buy a few extra tools along the way - offset spatula, cake stand, instant read thermometer, but the results were worth it. I will be making this again. The filling alone (home made lemon curd) contained 10 eggs!

It was a cross between cooking and chemistry because a number of the combined ingredients had to be heated to certain temperatures to allow reactions to occur. Too hot or too cold and disaster!

But no disaster here - it looked and tasted incredible!
Probably the best I've ever managed to ice a cake!

Here you can see the three glorious layers of lemon heaven sandwiched between light and fluffy cake bliss all smothered in icing probably get the idea that I liked it.

All also made a Key Lime pie - no pics I'm afraid. I was a bit disappointed by the recipe and I need to do some 'tweaking' before I make it for a party Friday night.

So that's the breakdown of the cooking (not counting the regular meals I also prepared), what about the games?


Go - the ancient Chinese game I am still learning. I played better this time and actually had a win.

Zombiegeddon - a new game from the master game designer Reiner Knizia. It's an interesting set collection game that has some similarities to Go, but it is ruined by terrible graphic design. It is very difficult to tell pieces apart without straining.


Duck! Duck! Go! - a fun game of racing rubber ducks around a bathtub. Similar in feel to Robo Rally, but a lot lighter.


Discovery Island - an excellent 2 player game which takes about 90minutes. You parachute down onto an island and have to find out where you are on the map. You then have to get to different clues, work out where the treasure is located and dig it up. All the while racing your opponent who is doing the same thing.

Lost Cities - another game by Reiner Knizia. It's quick, strategic and very addictive.


I'm the Boss - a classic from American Designer Sid Sackson. It's all boardroom negotiation and brokering deals. It can get chaotic at times and I'm not very good at it, but it's a great game for 6 people.

Category 5 - a quick, easy game that plays 10 people very well.

Shadow Hunters - This one was a new one for our group. Three teams of people are around the table all with different (and conflicting winning conditions). The trouble is you have no idea who is on your team and who is an opponent. You are trying to deduce who is on your side and then gang up on the others. There is a lot of potential for suspicion in this one. It's been described as a cross between Bang and Werewolf. Unfortunately I omitted some information when I taught the rules that would have been helpful in playing the game. Hopefully we'll get it to the table again soon and we can partake in all its glory.

Stone Age - A resource management game. You need different materials to build huts and purchase cards that give you points, but you also need to feed all your workers. It's a fun balancing act.

So, quite a full Holiday weekend :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Heart Attack waiting to happen!

This terrifying beast is called The Pattie LaBurger.

That is a triple bacon cheese burger with deep fried patties as buns!

Another inspiring meal from This is Why You're Fat - where dreams become heart attacks!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Spicy Salad Dressing

Since I've been trying to lose weight I've been eating a lot more salads and I've discovered that most fat free salad dressings leave a little something to be desired in terms of their ability to stimulate the taste buds. Most of the time I just sprinkle the rabbit food with balsamic vinegar and hope for the best.

I was surfing food sites recently and came across a salad dressing that peeked my curiosity. I made a few twists to the published recipe and voila! Peter's spicy salad dressing was born. I warn you though it does have a bit of a punch to it.

1/3 Cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
2/3 Cup Fat Free Yogurt
1 Whole chipotle chile plus adobo sauce to taste
(You buy them canned. Just freeze the rest individually in ziplock bags.)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Ancho Chile Powder
Juice of a fresh lime
1/4 Teaspoon to taste.

Combine all these ingredients in a food processor (a blender would probably work too). And give them a blitz until combined.

You can vary the amount of heat by the increasing/decreasing the amount of whole chipotle chile and adobo sauce that you put in.
I served it on a mixed green salad which I topped with a mix of cooked chicken, cherry tomatoes, avocado, red onion, black beans and corn.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Look at me while I'm talking to you!

(Once again, more random thoughts I'm processing for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else...

For in him we live and move and have our being."

Acts 17:24, 25, 28a

Why is it some places feel more holy than others? If we take Paul at his word where he says God does not live in temples, why is it we can walk in a place like the Villa De Matel and be aware of God, more than we can at Memorial City Mall? If, as Paul says, in him (God) we live, and move and have our being, why do I not connect with God when I'm doing my grocery shopping?

Even in church we use language that suggests that God is not always present. We label certain experiences as ones in which 'God showed up' or 'God moved powerfully' where what we are really labeling are our own emotional responses. We equate God's presence with a feeling of goose bumps, with the unspoken corollary that if there is no emotional reaction God is not present.

If Paul is speaking Truth here, then how do I experience God at Kroger?

I think the key here is expectancy. We 'expect' God to be in certain places, consequently we have our 'receptors' on looking. In other places God is present but we may not be listening. I wonder what would happen if we went through our days looking for signs of God. Would we know what we should be looking for?

Step 11 in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out

Improving our conscious contact takes a conscious effort. It is very easy to sit in church, and still not be attentive. Being present in worship does not mean that you are present in worship. There are times when I am sitting at the piano leading, and my brain is far away trying to remember the contents of my pantry so I can make a mental shopping list for when I leave church.

It is difficult for us to sit still and focus on God, even in church. We scan our bulletins looking to see what is ahead in the service. We read through sections of the bible - I spent many a happy hour in church with my children's bible looking at the maps of Paul's Missionary Journeys and putting in imaginary pirate attacks and sea monsters!

Just for a few moments, do nothing. Sit still, close your eyes, be attentive to the present moment. Say to yourself 'In God, I live, move, and have my being.'

Monday, May 18, 2009

Quote for the Day

"The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever...Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians."

John Leland (18C/19C Baptist Minister, New England)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

MacGuffins in Church?

No, it's not a new sandwich from the red and yellow purveyor of fat, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction."

Sometimes, the specific nature of the MacGuffin is not important to the plot such that anything that serves as a motivation serves its purpose. The MacGuffin can sometimes be ambiguous, completely undefined, generic or left open to interpretation.

Examples include:

The top secret plans in 'The 39 Steps'
The letters of transit in 'Casablanca'
The statue in 'The Maltese Falcon'
The ark in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'
The briefcase in 'Pulp Fiction'.

So what is a MacGuffin doing in church?

We are expecting a higher than usual turnout to the Contemplative Service this Sunday, and some of those people will have had little experience with Contemplative worship. In our planning meeting we discussed using a passage from the Psalms for reflection.

Psalm 36:5 – 9 (BCP)
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep;
you save both human and beast, O Lord.
How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.

Their are so many images in that passage that the basic idea was to ask people to pick one of them and reflect on how it intersects with your life - for about 5 minutes. That's great in theory, but as we talked more we knew that some people in the service would spend the entire 5 minutes wondering what image they should pick and whether they had chosen the correct one.

Enter the MacGuffin.

We decided to reduce down all the images to single words and have each congregant draw one at random as they enter the service....words such as Refuge, Abundance, Strong Mountains, Great Deep, Drink, Priceless etc. The congregation would not know what the paper is for until we reach that part of the service. They are then asked to sit with the word they have and look for it's intersection with their life and what God may be saying to them through it.

The important thing is not which word they draw, but the work of contemplating how it connects with their life. The word is not important, it is the 'work' that is important. The word is the MacGuffin that drives the 'plot' of the service forward.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


So much more than not speaking.
Everything is transformed.
Every action becomes deliberate.
Every taste becomes magnified.
Every thought becomes cherished.

To be fully consumed by what you are doing.
One experience at a time.
To slow down.
Life isn’t about quantity but quality.


Be totally involved in what you are doing.
Don’t spread yourself thinly between experiences.
Pick one.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Carlo Carretto - on the church.

I read this today and it resonated so much with me I thought I would type it into my blog.

Here is the mystery of the Church of Christ, a true, impenetrable mystery.

She has the power to give me holiness, yest she is made up, all the way through, of sinners - and what sinners!

She has the omnipotent and invincible faith to renew the Eucharist, yet she is made up of weak men groping in the darkness and fighting daily against the temptation of losing their faith.

She carries a message of pure transparence, yet she is incarnate in a mess of dirt, which is the dirt of the world.

She speaks of the sweetness of the Master, of his nonviolence, yet in history she has sent armies to disembowel infidels and to torture heretics.

She carries a message of evangelical poverty, yet she often seek gifts and alliances with the powerful.

We have only to read the Inquisition trial of St. Joan of Arc to convince ourselves that Stalin was not the first to falsify charges and corrupt judges.

We have only to consider what the innocent Galileo was made to sign under threats to be convinced that the...personnel of the Church, although they make up the Church, are often evil and fallible personnel, capable of making errors as great as the earth's path around the sun.
It is useless to want anything else from the Church except the mystery of infallibility and fallibility, sanctity and sin, courage and weakness, credibility and the lack of it.

People who are dreaming of something different from this reality are simply wasting time and keep going back to the beginning again. Moreover they show they have not understood humankind.

Because that is human, just as the Church shows us to be, in our wickedness and, at the same time, in our invincible courage, which faith in Christ has give n us, and the love of Christ has us live.

- From 'The God who Comes' by Carlo Carretto

Monday, May 04, 2009


I played my first full game of Go tonight. I got beaten, badly beaten. The rules are simple but it builds up into elegant complexity. I lost by 150 points - this means the next time we play a full game I get to put 15 stones on the board before the game even begins.

I knew I would lose, my opponent has been playing for 18 years, but it was still a fascinating exercise. I spent a lot of time so focused on the little skirmishes that were happening in various areas of the board that I lost sight of the bigger picture.

Cue commentary on how Go is like life right here :)

Now I've got a basic grasp of the mechanics I'll play some games on a smaller board (9x9 instead of 19x19). That will hopefully help me begin to see patterns and tactics...

...and then I'll try a full game with my 15 stone advantage ;)

Some Very Impressive Part Singing

Friday, May 01, 2009

I loved the book - roll on the movie

The book was awesome, let's hope the movie is as good.

(sorry the trailer is slightly the wrong size - I can't work out how to fix it)

Weight Update - and boardgaming news!

Well, it's the first of the month - and I managed it. I'm still on my target of 5lbs a month. That means I've lost 20lbs over all :)

March was so easy that April came as a shock. I really thought I wasn't going to make it to be honest. I got very busy at work (Requiem, Easter, Children's Musical) that working out moved lower down my list of priorities. Lent finished and so I am allowed Soda again. I am trying to limit myself to one Dr. Pepper a week, but there were a few days when I convinced myself that I really needed the Caffeine...

I've also decided that when I post a weight update I should post a board gaming update too...

I managed to play 22 boardgames in April, not bad considering I had a lot of work on.

Top of the list with 3 plays is the ever fun Kakerlaken Poker. A simple game of bluffing that can cause a lot of merriment. It plays best with 4-5 players but can accommodate 6.

This month 5 games tie for 2 plays each:

Pandemic (which seems appropriate given the swine flu craze)

Queens Necklace

Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas
(the game in my collection with the longest name)

Small World (one of the current 'hot' games in the community)

Tier Auf Tier ( a children's dexterity game)

After 4 months of play Dominion is still in the lead with 5 plays, but it's only winning by the thinnest of margins....