Wednesday, December 21, 2011

God in Brussels Sprouts

In the Contemplative Service this Advent we have been reflecting on finding the Invisible in the Ordinary. When we discussed the topic in out planning meeting, we all felt excited, but over the past few weeks we've all found finding the Invisible in the Ordinary more difficult than anticipated. This kind of reflective work doesn't fit neatly into a 5 minute meditation or a 3 point sermon. It's not the kind of task that you ever feel is finished. It is far easier to remember past experiences and see God in them than to find Him in the present moment and in the mundane.

Last year I found the Invisible in the Ordinary on Christmas Eve over some brussels sprouts.

As I peeled them I was listening to the service of Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge. I was a service I used to listen to frequently with my Mom, and so as the boy soprano sang the opening strains of Once In Royal David's City I allowed myself to feel my grief once more.

I love to cook a large traditional English Christmas dinner and have friends over, but this year I am taking a road trip instead. I'm excited about travelling, but over the past few weeks I've found myself missing my usual Christmas. I haven't put up decorations at the house and I've felt almost completely bereft of 'Christmas Spirit'. I've given up listening to my Christmas Playlist, and even Handel's Messiah failed to work its usual magic.

It's as if a part of me is saying 'If I can't celebrate Christmas the way I've always done it.....then I'm not going to celebrate at all'

I wasn't really aware of that part of me until I found myself planning to cook brussels sprouts on Christmas Eve this year. I became aware that a part of me wants to recreate last year's experience again, that if I couldn't reconnect to the joy of Christmas maybe I could reconnect to the grief.

I've tried to spend some time wondering why I want to recreate experiences of Christmas past and I don't like the answer that's been rising into consciousness. I'm feeling disconnected to God at the moment. I believe that God is there, but somehow I feel lost in Him - like I'm wandering around a giant castle looking for Him but all I hear is my own voice echoing of the walls. I can see signs that the castle is occupied, but I can't find the occupant.

And so I've wanted to use Christmas traditions to quell the rising panic. I feel like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, trying to desperately hold onto tradition while his world shifts around him.

Melissa spoke last week about how she was learning Holy Spontaneity. I think what I'm learning this Christmas is Holy Flexibility. Learning to look for God in the new, the unexpected, the different. To teach myself that it is ok for Christmas to be different this year, and it is ok for my relationship with God to be different as well. Sometimes we need to let go of who God was, so we can see who God is trying to be...a Messiah in a Manger. A Homeless King. A Crucified Savior.

I may be wandering around a castle in the dark, but there is a light that shines in the darkness. I don't know how the Invisible will appear in the Ordinary this year, but that will not stop me looking.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pesto Pasta with Chicken Sausage & Roasted Brussel Sprouts

This recipe is incredible. Thanks to Ali over at Gimme Some Oven for creating something delectable.Even if you are not a brussel sprout fan I do urge you to try this. Roasting them brings out their nuttiness and cuts down the brassicaceous taste (ooh a $5 word which roughly means cabbagey lol)

1 lb fresh brussel sprouts, ends trimmed and any yellowed/browned outer leaves removed, then sliced in half
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
1 lb (16 oz.) orecchiette (or any pasta)
4 chicken sausage links (I used spicy Italian), sliced into 1/4″ thick coins
5 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup pesto
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together brussel sprouts, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently stir until well-combined.

Prepare a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then spread the brussel sprouts on it evenly. Roast for about 20-30 minutes, stirring once partway through, or until they are crispy on the outside and cooked on the inside. (My batch of tiny sprouts only took about 12 minutes to cook.) Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until nearly-browned, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant and the sausage is browned.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. (I begin heating my water while preparing the brussel sprouts, and added the pasta to the boiling water just after beginning to cook the sausage.) Once the pasta is cooked, drain the water (reserving 1/4 cup pasta water), and then toss together the pasta, pesto, cooked sausage and garlic, and brussel sprouts. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if needed for extra moisture.

Serve warm, and sprinkle with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

Ali suggests sprinkling toasted pine nuts over the top...I'm guessing that would be awesomeness. I'm also tempted to roast some button mushrooms the same time as the brussel sprouts because I add mushrooms to almost everything :) Another possibility would be to use Pancetta cubes instead of the chicken sausage!
Happy eating.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

An ancient Christmas Carol that we no longer sing....probably for good reason

Gotta love those old fashioned Christmas traditions...it makes me long for a Dickensian Christmas with orphans freezing to death in the street!


On Christmas Day it happened so
Down in the meadow for to plough
As he was ploughing all on so fast
Up stepped sweet Jesus himself at last


Oh man, oh man, why do you plough
So hard upon Our Lord's birthday?
The farmer answered him with great speed,
For to plough this day I have got need.


His arms did quaver through and through,
His arms did quaver, he could not plough.
The ground did open and lose him in
Before he could repent of sin.


His wife and children's out of place,
His beasts and cattle almost lost.
His beasts and cattle they die away
For ploughing on Old Christmas day.
His beasts and cattle they die away
For ploughing on Our Lord's birthday.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bethlehemian Rhapsody

I can't decide if this is awesome or terrifying

It's definitely creative!!!

Advent Anticipation

This song really captures for me what Advent is all about, that hopeful waiting and longing for something to happen.

God being born as a baby?
Could it be? Yes it could.


Could be!
Who knows?
There's something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!


Who knows?
It's only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there's a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!


Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something's coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something's coming, I don't know what it is,
But it is
Gonna be great!


With a click, with a shock,
Phone'll jingle, door'll knock,
Open the latch!
Something's coming, don't know when, but it's soon;
Catch the moon,
One-handed catch!


Around the corner,
Or whistling down the river,
Come on, deliver
To me!
Will it be? Yes, it will.
Maybe just by holding still,
It'll be there!


Come on, something, come on in, don't be shy,
Meet a guy,
Pull up a chair!
The air is humming,
And something great is coming!
Who knows?
It's only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Maybe tonight . . .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Poetry - Knives by Jane Yolen

Love can be sharp
as the point of a knife,
as piercing as a sliver of glass,
My sisters did not know this.
They thought love was an old slipper:
pull it on and it fits.
They did not know this secret of the world:
the wrong word can kill.
It cost them their lives.

Princes understand the world,
they know the nuance of the tongue,
they are bred up in it.
A shoe is not a shoe:
it implies miles, it suggests length,
it measures and makes solid.
It wears and is worn.
Where there is one shoe, there must be a match.
Otherwise the kingdom limps along.

Glass is not glass
in the language of love:
it implies sight, it suggests depth,
it mirrors and makes real,
it is sought and is seen.
What is made of glass reflects the gazer.
A queen must be made of glass.

I spoke to the prince in that secret tongue,
the diplomacy of courting,
he using shoes, I using glass,
and all my sisters saw was a slipper,
too long at the heel,
too short at the toe.
What else could they use but a knife?
What else could he see but the declaration of war?

Princes understand the world,
they know the nuance of the tongue,
they are bred up in it.
In war as in life, they take no prisoners
And they always marry the other shoe.

Poetry - The Day the Saucers Came. Neil Gaiman

That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden,
Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,
And the people of Earth stood and
stared as they descended,
Waiting, dry-mouthed, to find what waited inside for us
And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow
But you didn’t notice it because

That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,
But you did not notice this because

On the saucer day, which was the zombie day, it was
Ragnarok also, and the television screens showed us
A ship built of dead-men’s nails, a serpent, a wolf,
All bigger than the mind could hold,
and the cameraman could
Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out
But you did not see them coming because

On the saucer-zombie-battling-gods
day the floodgates broke
And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites
Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities
And charm and cleverness and true
brave hearts and pots of gold
While giants feefofummed across
the land, and killer bees,
But you had no idea of any of this because

That day, the saucer day the zombie day
The Ragnarok and fairies day, the
day the great winds came
And snows, and the cities turned to crystal, the day
All plants died, plastics dissolved, the day the
Computers turned, the screens telling
us we would obey, the day
Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,
And all the bells of London were sounded, the day
Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,
The fluttering capes and arrival of
the Time Machine day,
You didn’t notice any of this because
you were sitting in your room, not doing anything
not ever reading, not really, just
looking at your telephone,
wondering if I was going to call.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Slow Cooker Meatloaf

I made this for lunch today and it was easy and awesome. Having done this I think almost any meatloaf recipe would work in the slow cooker as long as it follows the same proportions as this recipe. I have an Asian Meatloaf that I may have to adapt next.

Here's the meatloaf I made today.

1lb Sausage Meat (I used Jimmy Dean Hot)
1lb Ground beef ( I think mine was about 75%. Remember fat = flavor)
1 cup ketchup, divided.
1 (1.25oz) envelope dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used pre-bought Italian breadcrumbs)
1 Egg
Tin foil

In a large bowl, combine the sausage, beef, 1/2 cup of ketchup, soup mix, bread crumbs and egg. The only efficient way to do this is to stick your hands in and mix it together. If it bothers you that much get some surgical gloves.

When everything is well combined, shape into a loaf that will fit your slow cooker. Mine was slightly oval in shape.

Use scrunched up foil to make 3 or 4 cigar shapes that you will put inside your slow cooker on the bottom. Place the meatloaf on top of this. The foil lifts the meatloaf up out of the fat that drains from it as it cooks.

Cover and cook on low heat for 4-6 hours. The internal temperature needs to reach 160F for the meatloaf to have cooked through. I checked mine after 5 1/2 hours and it was fine.

Spread the remaining 1/2 cup of ketchup on top of the meatloaf 30 minutes before serving. Recover and continue to cook on low heat for 30 minutes.



It's a simple as that. I plan on trying other meatloaves in the future. If I get any really good ones I will post them here.

Happy eating.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanking God for empty barns.

Then Jesus told them this story: "The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: 'What can I do? My barn isn't big enough for this harvest.' Then he said, 'Here's what I'll do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll gather in all my grain and goods, and I'll say to myself, Self, you've done well! You've got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!'
"Just then God showed up and said, 'Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?'

"That's what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God." ~ Luke 12: 16-21

I've had this passage in my mind recently, and it's created some Thanksgiving tension for me. As I've reflected on what I have to be thankful for, there has been times where I've sounded suspiciously like the rich man in this parable. As I identify with him for his overabundance of blessings it makes God's declaration of Fool! all the more pointed.

I am blessed. I have an abundance. I don't worry what I'm going to eat (except for chasing exciting new recipes) and I have no fear about where I'm going to sleep tonight. Just having an abundance in the areas of Food and Shelter puts me way above many thousands in this world.

How do I hear this passage in a way that doesn't become guilt inducing? I've heard sermons on this text that generally parse out the text in this way: The abundance of the Rich Man's possessions are not the problem. The problem is his relationship with them. Possessions are fine and good so long as you identify God as the giver of all good gifts.

I wonder however. Am I letting myself of the hook and giving myself permission to own as much as I like. By reading the passage this way, a parable that Jesus uses to discuss greed (check out the context) has its teeth removed. I no longer feel the sting of God calling me a fool.

The more I look into God's heart for the poor the worse I feel.

Here are just a few verses that I wrestle with.

Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Deut. 26:12. When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied.

Lev. 19:19ff. Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.

Prov. 31:8ff. [Commandment to kings.] Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Is. 58:66ff. Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."

Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise."

Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Those verses are just a few of the ones that challenge me in my abundance. For even more passages concerning God and the poor click http://www.zompist.com/meetthepoor.html

I didn't intend this post to become a source of guilt about my relationship to the poor, though I must confess that is what I'm feeling at the moment. I found myself wondering what other points of connection this passage has for me and as I've prayed I've found myself drawn to the phrase '...produced a terrific crop'.

I've been asking myself "What terrific crop do I produce?" I can think of positive and negative crops. I can be judgemental, petty. I can hold a terrific grudge and an abundance of unforgiveness. I can also compose incredible melodies, speak into people's lives, create space for people to find God. I can be welcoming and hospitable. I can be stubborn and rude.



The message I hear at the moment is to fill my barns with God rather than self.

To do that, I need to do some emptying.

It's surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto bad crops. Giving up a grudge or a prejudice can be painful. A closed fist seems to offer more protection than an open hand.

It surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto the good crops. If I give away my abundance I become afraid that I may get trapped in poverty. I fear that there will never be another good harvest so I want to hoard what I have.

So here I am at Thanksgiving, trying to open the doors, move the crops and give thanks for empty barns, for it is in the act of emptying that I create space for God to fill.

Less of me, more of You.


Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Frosted Pumpkin Bars

These are so incredibly easy to make. I took them into work and got so many compliments I was almost embarrassed as it's just a throw together recipe.Make them, and feel the love :)

4 eggs (bring to room temperature)
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 (15oz can) pumpkin puree
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (see note below)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

When I made this yesterday I didn't have any pumpkin pie spice. I used 1/2 teaspoon all spice, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger instead.True pumpkin pie spice also has ground cloves in it but I didn't have any to hand. It tasted great, so relax and use what you have.

Make the pumpkin bars

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan by wiping it with the wrapper from the stick of butter.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin on medium speed until light and fluffy.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice (or substitute), salt and baking soda.

Add the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Don't mix it to death!

Pour the batter into your greased pan and spread it evenly around. Bake for 25-30 minutes....until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. This will take longer than you think.

To make the frosting:

Using your (cleaned) stand mixer with the paddle attachment combine the softened cream cheese and butter until smooth. slowly add the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla extract and mix again.

Spread the icing on the cooled pumpkin bars.


Other things you could do to the recipe.

Sprinkle the frosting with powdered sugar or toasted chopped nuts would make it extra sweet (if you like it that way)

I also wondered about adding cinnamon, nutmeg and eggnog to the frosting. I haven't tried it yet, but I would guesstimate about 3 tablespoons eggnog,  1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg would be yummy.

You could also add about 2/3 cup of chopped nuts into the pumpkin batter before baking.

Enjoy

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Eggnog-Stuffed Cookies....attempt at your peril

I enjoy cooking. That should be apparent to any regular readers of my blog. I fiddle around in the kitchen the same way some people tinker with car engines. I firmly believe that home cooked food will taste better than something that is prepackaged, injected with preservatives and has sat on a grocery store shelf for too long. Some things just taste better fresh.

There are however certain foods that it is better to buy than make. Bagels and Doughnuts spring to mind. I've made bagels and they were ok, but the amount of effort expended was in my opinion too great for the quality of the product. Doughnuts scare me because of all that hot oil. I've only just gotten my stove completely repaired after the great Jalapeno Jelly Explosion of 2009.

I was lulled into a false sense of security by a recipe in this month's Food and Wine Magazine for Eggnog Stuffed Cookies. They sounded delicious, and I had some eggnog in the fridge. I thought this would be a great new cookie to do the rounds at all the Christmas Parties I attend (all 2 of them lol)

little did I know the terror that would ensue hidden within 1 deceptively simple instruction.


Filling

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons prepared eggnog
 1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons dark molasses
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting.


Make the filling

1. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer at low speed, beat the softened cream cheese with the confectioner's sugar, eggnog, nutmeg and cinnamon. Freeze the filling until firm, about 30 minutes.
(It doesn't look that appetizing, but trust me, it tastes great)

Make the cookie dough

2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the cornstarch, ground ginger, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

3. In a large bowl using the electric mixer, beat the softened butter with the the brown sugar at medium speed until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and molasses.

4. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until they are incorporated. Using a 2 tablespoon-size scoop, scoop 24 mounds of the dough onto the baking sheets and refrigerate until the dough is slightly firm, about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 325F

6. Working with one baking sheet at a time, using floured hands, press a deep hollow in the center of each mound of dough and spoon in a level teaspoon of the cream cheese filling. Pinch the tops closed, creating a 'kiss'; be sure to seal any cracks or holes. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Refrigerate until the cookies are firm, about 15 minutes.

(This is where all hell broke loose!)
(My 2 dozen cookies somehow became 19)

7. Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for about 30 minutes, until they are golden and the tops lightly cracked; shift the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway though baking.

8. Transfer the baking sheets to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Dust the tops of the cookies with confectioner's sugar before serving.

Makes 2 dozen cookies....well that's the theory :(

The problem as you can see was step 6. After the dough had sat in the fridge for 30 minutes it was too cold to mold and cracked when I tried to make the deep hollow. When the dough warmed up and softened it was too soft and pliable to shape with any ease. I eventually developed a bit of a technique, but I felt like I was back in high school art class trying to shape a very soft lump of clay. It is not easy to encase a soft filling inside a soft dough.

One confession that may have added to the difficulty. When I went to my pantry I discovered that I didn't have any dark brown sugar, only light brown. A quick search on the Internet said that you could substitute light for dark if you added some molasses - 1 tablespoon of molasses per cup of light brown sugar. I therefor added an extra teaspoon of molasses to the recipe, but I did increase the flour just slightly to balance the extra teaspoon of liquid.

How do they taste? In the cookies I baked the ratio of cookie to filling was not great enough. The cookie tasted great but felt too dry. It needs enough filling in each cookie to be in every bite, but as the dough is so fragile this seems almost impossible to do without lots of practice...

...and I have far more important things to do than practice stuffing cookies.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Trial

In a world where following Christ is decreed to be a subversive and illegal activity you have been accused of being a believer, arrested, and dragged before a court.

You have been under clandestine surveillance for some time now, and so the prosecution has been able to build up quite a case against you. They begin the trail by offering the judge dozens of photographs that show you attending church meetings, speaking at religious events, and participating in various prayer and worship services. After this, they present a selection of items that have been confiscated from your home: religious books that you own, worship CDs, and other Christian artifacts. Then they step up the pace by displaying many of the poems, pieces of prose, and journal entries that you had lovingly written concerning your faith. Finally, in closing, the prosecution offers your Bible to the judge. This is a well-worn book with scribbles, notes, drawings, and underlinings throughout, evidence, if it were needed, that you had read and reread this sacred text many times.

Throughout the case you have been sitting silently in fear and trembling. You know deep in your heart that with the large body of evidence that has been amassed by the prosecution you face the possibility of a long imprisonment or even execution. At various times throughout the proceedings you have lost all confidence and have been on the verge of standing up and denying Christ. But while this thought has plagued your mind throughout the trial, you resist the temptation and remain focused.

Once the prosecution has finished presenting their case the judge proceeds to ask if you have anything to add, but you remain silent and resolute, terrified that if you open your mouth, even for a moment, you might deny the charges made against you. Like Christ, you remain silent before your accusers. In response you are led outside to wait as the judge ponders your case.

The hours pass slowly as you sit under guard in the foyer waiting to be summoned back. Eventually a young man in uniform appears and leads you into the courtroom so that you may hear the verdict and receive word of your punishment. Once you have been seated in the dock the judge, a harsh and unyielding man, enters the room, stands before you, looks deep into your eyes and begins to speak.

"Of the charges that have been brought forward I find the accused not guilty."

"Not guilty?" your heart freezes. Then, in a split second, the fear and terror that had moments before threatened to strip your resolve are swallowed up by confusion and rage.

Despite the surroundings, you stand defiantly before the judge and demand that he give an account concerning why you are innocent of the charges in light of the evidence.

"What evidence?" he replies back in shock.

"What about the poems and prose that I wrote?" you reply.

"They simply show that you think of yourself as a poet, nothing more."

"But what about the services I spoke at, the times I wept in church and the long, sleepless nights of prayer?"

"Evidence that you are a good speaker and actor, nothing more," replied the judge. "It is obvious that you deluded those around you, and perhaps at times you even deluded yourself, but this foolishness is not enough to convict you in a court of law."

"But this is madness!" you shout. "It would seem that no evidence would convict you!"

"Not so," replies the judge as if informing you of a great, long-forgotten secret.

"The court is indifferent toward your Bible reading and church attendance; it has no concerns for worship with words and a pen. Continue to develop your theology, and use it to paints pictures of love. We have no interest in such armchair artists who spend their time creating images of a better world. We exist only for those who would lay down that brush, and their life, in a Christ-like endeavor to create a better world. So, until you live as Christ and his followers did, until you challenge this system and become a thorn in our side, until you die to yourself and offer your body to the flames, until then, my friend, you are no enemy of ours."



The Orthodox Heretic - Peter Rollins

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chicken Sausage, Sweet Onion and Fennel Pizza

O.k. first off I should say that I didn't make this with fennel. I tried three stores and they were all out, which is sad because I love the taste of fennel bulb. I had an orange bell pepper in the fridge that was fast approaching its usefullness date, so I just adapted. Feel free to us what you want, but I urge you to give fennel a try as it is so yummy.

3 ounces chicken apple sausage
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups vertically sliced sweet onion
1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb (about 1 small bulb) * see comment above
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 prebaked pizza crust (I used a 10oz Boboli thin crust)
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Gouda cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives ( I didn't have any so I used Penzey's pasta sprinkle instead!!!)

Preheat oven to 450F
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan (removed from it's skins) and saute for 4 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan.

Add oil to pan. Add onion, fennel and salt; cover and cook 10 minutes or unitl tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Place pizza crust on baking sheet. Top evenly with onion mixture, sprinkle with cheese, and top evenly with sausage. Bake at 450F for 12 minutes or until cheese melts. (I used a thin crust boboli and it was done quicker).

Sprinkle evenly with the chives and serve.


(originally from Cooking Light)

Sweet and Spicy Citrus Tilapia

The original recipe calls for fresh orange juice (about 1 orange). I used grapefruit instead and just increased the brown sugar slightly to counteract. This is a great way to add more fish to your diet. The original recipe suggested you use 4 tilapia fillets. I reduced it to three because I don't think the marinade really stretches that far.
3 (6 ounce) tilapia fillets *see comment above
Cooking spray
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (about 1 orange) *see comment above
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar *see comment above
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Arrange fish in a single layer in a shallow roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Combine orange juice through next 9 ingredients (through garlic); pour over fish and let stand for 15 minutes.

Preheat broiler.

Sprinkle fish with paprika; broil for 15 minutes of until desired degree of doneness. Drizzle sauce over fish.


I served this with a simple salad of peppers and onions sauted in olive oil. Then I wilted some spinach into the pan and added a sprinkle of pecan chips :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Catching up with Ourselves.

An American traveler planned a long safari to Africa. He was a compulsive man, loaded down with maps, timetables, and agendas. Men had been engaged from a local tribe to carry the cumbersome load of supplies, luggage and “essential stuff.”

On the first morning, they all woke very early and travelled very fast and went very far. On the second morning, they all woke very early and travelled very fast and went very far. On the third morning, they all woke very early and travelled very fast and went very far. And the American seemed pleased.

On the fourth morning, the tribesmen refused to move. They simply sat by a tree. The American became incensed.

“This is a waste of valuable time. Can someone tell me what is going on here?”

The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”



Reflect back over your past week.

• When did you feel like you were ‘loaded down with maps, timetables and agendas’?

• When did you feel like you ‘travelled very fast and went very far’?
• When did you feel pleased?

• When did you feel frustrated?
• Do you feel connected to your ‘soul’ at the moment?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

How big is your field?

This post is a follow up to my first post on  Mark 4: 26-29 that you can read here.

Then Jesus said, "God's kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!

In our discussion this week someone made a comment about where the seed in the parable is sown. The whole world is God's field. There is not a person or situation that God is not working in at some subterranean level.

When this statement was made I could offer intellectual assent, but I could feel a push back emotionally. There are people, organizations, situations that I really cannot see the work of God in. I find it difficult to imagine God seed being planted in such fields that I label poisonous.

I found some resistance that I'm still having to work through.

My first challenge is that if I take the message of this parable seriously, then I have to let go of many of my judgements around people. I cannot divide the world into good and bad, right and wrong. I cannot discount people I would label fanatic or lunatic because God is at work in that person. If God in his infinite love and grace chooses to pour out his love on somebody, who am I to see that person as somehow less? The same Jesus who loves me, loves them.

But I don't want to change. It's exhausting. It's confusing. It's so much easier for me keep putting my labels on people, organizations and situations, the alternative is overwhelming. A few months ago I wrote this:

"I saw the world in black and white.

When that didn't work I moved to shades of grey,
Now I see even that is too monochromatic.
There is a world of color that I was terrified to let into my checkerboard existence,
And now my eyes have adjusted I cannot go back to that stifling false dichotomy."

And now I discover that I still have adjustments to be made.

Something that is helping me in this is the realization that there is a difference between God working 'in' someone's life and God working 'through' someone's life. Many people and organizations perform actions that seem to run counter to my understanding of the work of God. I think about Westboro Baptist Church planning on picketing Steve Jobs funeral for example. It's difficult for me to imagine God working through that demonstration. However I need to realize that God is still working in the lives of everyone. It's difficult, but I need to learn to not judge the outside of someone, and instead trust that God is indeed working in that person in a way I cannot see.

That is so hard.

To love the unlovable, to extend grace to the graceless....

...and just maybe, God uses my act of extending love instead of judgement to till the soil of my own life and plant new seeds within me.

"If you judge people, you have no time to love them" ~ Mother Theresa

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Saturday Poetry

The Custodian
Sometimes I think I have lived
My whole life like that old janitor
Who locked up after the rabbi
And patrolled the synagogue at night.

He never learned the Hebrew prayers,
Which he hummed under his breath
As he folded the soiled tallises
And stacked the skullcaps into piles.

He opened the Holy Ark by hand
And dusted off the sacred scrolls
O Lord, which he never opened,
And cut the light behind the organ.

He ignored the Eternal Lamp
(Woe to the worker who unplugged it!),
As he vacuumed the House of Prayer
Muddied by the congregation.

Not for him the heavenly choir music
Or the bearded sermon handed down
From the lectern, through stars squinted
Through the stained-glass windows.

Every now and then he'd sigh
And stare up at the domed ceiling
As is he had heard something auspicious
But it was only the wind in the trees.

He picked up a prayer book off the floor
And carried it down to the basement,
Where he chewed on a sandwich
And listened to a ballgame on the radio.

~ Edward Hirsch

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Growth Happens

I've been spending some time reflecting on Mark 4: 26-29 recently.

Then Jesus said, "God's kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!

I'm a recovering internal processor. I think deeply and reflect on decisions before I make them, but often the people around me have no idea that anything is going on at all until I make a pronouncement. My decision to move to the U.S. came as a surprise to my parents as I wasn't the type of person who talked through decisions (even major life changing ones) out loud. I'm learning to process outside my own head, but it is still a challenge at times.

I love how Jesus says that the seed sprouts and grows, and the farmer has no idea how it happens. Germination takes place at a subterranean level far away from sight. I find it encouraging to realize that even though I may not see it, God is at work in my life right now. I can be as oblivious as the farmer, but even without my help seed turns to stem, bud becomes grain, until one day I notice a change in my life and I reap a harvest.

When a shift occurs in my life it is tempting to label how I am now as right, and who I was in the past as wrong, and it's even more tempting to label other people that way, especially if their shift aligns them closer with me. However just because the plant is now a stem doesn't mean that it was somehow wrong being a seed.

As I walk along a path, my view shifts and changes. This doesn't mean my old view was wrong, just that my horizons and perspectives have shifted.

This growth, this journey, this shift, is happening to all of us all the time, but because so much of it takes place below the surface we are often not aware. God is constantly planting seeds and causing growth, but we are as oblivious as the farmer until harvest time.

I bless the work that God is doing in you.


Probae esti in segetem sunt deteriorum datae fruges, tamen ipsae suaptae enitent - Accius
A good seed, planted even in poor soil will bear rich fruit by its own nature.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Missing Rituals and Nurturing Emotions (or not!)

I've started a diet/exercise program. I haven't blogged about it. I seem to have some resistance to putting it out there in cyberspace....well actually that's not true. I'm quite willing to 'check in' at the gym on Facebook, but not much more than that.
It was a photo that started it, a picture of me in Barcelona that I looked at and I thought wow I look big. So I bit the bullet, and called the local gym...and now I'm there 6 days a week. Doing cardio, meeting with a trainer, and learning about nutrition whilst in a weight loss competition.

And here's my first problem/challenge. I'm now eating 4 meals a day and following a strict regime, and in that regime there is no room for my mug of Hot Sweet Tea. Now, as many people have pointed out, I could switch to fat free milk and to splenda (or some other chemically dubious sweetening substance), but that's not really the point.

I want my mug of tea to be like I've always had it. The whole ritual of making and drinking. Tea is what I reach for after my morning shower. It's what I consume while sitting on the couch reading a good book, it's my night cap. Tea opens and closes my day. I may be known because of my love of Dr. Pepper (which also doesn't fit within the nutritional guidelines), but it is tea that punctuates my life.

Do I sound melodramatic? You have to realize that in the U.K. the humble mug of tea is granted almost mythic properties. Hot and sweet is viewed as a cure for shock. The mug of tea also eases social conventions. It says 'welcome to my house, please sit and relax.' It is a symbol of pausing from the rigors of work. The tasks are always there, but even they pause for the humble tea break.

I miss drinking it, but more than that I miss the rituals surrounding it. I was downstairs in the morning after my shower and I'm suddenly at a loss for what to do. The ritual no longer exists. I sit down with a good book and it just feels wrong to drink water.

I can live without tea. During my recent trip to Spain I didn't drink any at all, but I didn't feel the loss of ritual because everything else around my was different. It's the smaller changes that seem harder to cope with.

It's the patterns and the rituals that I am grieving. My sense of the familiar, the usual, the comforting.

I wonder if my experience is shared by people who attend church and discover a change in the Liturgy? Suddenly a different translation of the bible is used, or everyone saying the Lord's Prayer uses the words 'debts' instead of 'tresspasses'. Even non-liturgical churches have a ritual or a pattern to worship that they follow. In the church I grew up in it was Hymn, Prayer, Hymn, Bible Reading, Hymn, Sermon, Hymn.

When our patterns get changed a little bit, not enough for us to even be consciously aware of them, then we grieve for the rituals lost.

By changing eating patterns I've become irritable. I know that the feeling of hunger I have is a sign that my body is eating fat instead of storing it, but I get angry. I want comfort. The handful of peanuts from the dispenser in the church office. The cold soda from the vending machine. Never hand me Guacamole when I am stressed as I will consume the entire amount and you will be left with an empty bowl.

I've heard that Full = Happy so many times that I've taken it to heart. Therefore if I'm hungry I can't possibly be happy because I lack one of the conditions required for inner peace.

To type that out exposes it for the lie that it is. My emotional state is affected by my hunger, but hunger should not be the driving force. Somehow I need to recalibrate the connection between my level of consumption and my inner peace.

Hopefully this 28 day diet and exercise program will help me retrain myself to realize that overeating is not self-care, and Food and Love are not synonyms.

G.O.D.I.S.N.O.W.H.E.R.E.

This reminds me very much of some of the concepts in 'There is a God. There is No God' by John Kirvan.

Good stuff!!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potato and Broccoli

This is less of a recipe and more of a technique.
Suggested Ingredients

Olive oil
Seasonings
Whatever vegetables catch your palate: Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Mushrooms, Garlic,

Preheat the oven to 450F

Peel the sweet potato and cut into finger-like pieces.
Cut up the broccoli, Cauliflower.

Place all the vegetables on a foil lined pan, toss in the olive oil (and garlic if using) and season.
(I've used simple salt and pepper, or other hotter spices)

Place in the oven until cooked (10-15 minutes) the broccoli will look slightly brown in places.

Remove from oven (toss in lemon juice if using)

Trust me, this is addictive!

Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Whipped Mascarpone

Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Whipped MascarponeAs posted on SmittenKitchen.com

Cake
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 cup red wine, any kind you like
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Topping
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup chilled heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pan, or spray the interior with a nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until 3/4 combined, then fold the rest together with a rubber spatula.

4. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate.

5. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. This cake keeps well at room temperature or in the fridge. It looks pretty dusted with powdered sugar.

6. Whip mascarpone, cream, sugar and vanilla together until soft peaks form — don’t overwhip. Dollop generously on each slice of cake. It can also be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours.

Chicken Vesuvio

Chicken Vesuvio - from Cook's IllustratedServes 2 (or 1 if very depressed)

• ¼ cup all purpose flour
• 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and pounded ½ inch thick
• Salt and Pepper
• 5 teaspoons olive oil
• 12 oz red potatoes (about 3), cut into 1 inch chunks
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
• 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
• ¼ cup dry white wine
• ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Put the garlic, oregano, rosemary and 1/8 tsp salt in one bowl. The chicken broth and the wine in another and the peas, butter and lemon juice in a third. (Mise en Place!!!)

2. Put the flour in a shallow dish. Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Working with 1 breast at a time, dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess.

3. Heat 1 tbs oil in a non stick skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the chicken in the skillet and cook until lightly browned on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes, flipping the breasts half way through. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

4. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel then heat the remaining 2 tbs oil over medium- high heat until shimmering. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occ until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, rosemary and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and the wine, scraping up any brown bits. Nestle the chicken, along with any accumulated juice, into the potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook until the chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees. About 12 to 18 minutes…flipping half way through.

5. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and tent loosely with foil to keep warm. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook uncovered until the potatoes are tender and the sauce is thickened slightly – 5 to 7 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to the platter with the chicken. Off the heat, stir in the peas, butter and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and potatoes and serve.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lime and Candied Jalapeno Cupcakes

This recipe started out as a random conversation at Game Night with my friend Paul. I then freely adapted a recipe from Betty Crocker to make this cupcakes. They are rather unique!


Cupcakes

1 box super moist lemon cake mix
1 box (4 serving size) lime-flavored Jello
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
Zest of a lime


Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
2 -2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice


Frosting

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup candied Jalapenos (see note below)

1. Heat the oven to 350F. Place cupcake liners in 24 regular sized muffin cups.

2. In a large bowl mix together the lemon cake mix and the lime jello. Add the Lime zest, the 3 eggs, the water and the lime juice. Mix on low for about 30 seconds then on medium for about 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.

3. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups filling each one 2/3 full (approximately 3 tablespoons of batter)

4. Bake 19 to 24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I recommend rotating the trays and switching racks halfway through the baking time.

5. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then put the cupcakes on wire racks. With a toothpick or wooden skewer, pierce the tops of the cupcakes in several places.

6. In a small bowl mix together the glaze ingredients until the glaze is smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle and spread the glaze over the cupcakes and allow to cool completely (about 30 minutes)

7. Drain and rinse 1/4 cup of candied jalapenos (see note below). Place them in a food processor and blitz till chopped finely. Add the butter and the cream cheese and run until smooth.

8. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time and then frost the cupcakes. Place a single candied jalapeno slice on top of each cupcake.


Notes

I used Buc-ee's Candied Jalapenos for this recipe. If you cannot find them there are various recipes to make them yourself on the web, but I cannot guarantee their efficacy.

I used 1/4 cup of jalapenos to just give the frosting a slight afterglow. Obviously you can add more if you wish a hotter cupcake.

I would normally make the cupcakes from scratch rather than use a box mix, but a) I was feeling lazy today and b) I was curious to see how the Lime Jello and Lemon Cake box mix adaptation worked.


So, the all important question, how do they taste? Like lime cupcakes with just a subtle hint of warmth, I'm probably not the best judge of this as a) I like things spicy and b) I have a dull sense of taste so my 'nicely spiced' is somebody else's 'holy crap this is hot!!!!!' Personally I think I should have increased the amount of candied jalapeno in the icing to at least 1/3 cup. I'll see what everyone else says at the party tonight.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Spiritual Whack-A-Mole

(Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

The phrase Spiritual Whack-A-Mole just bubbled up into my consciousness last week. I am not sure what triggered it, but as I've sat with it more I've found a connection.

Whack-A-Mole is a fun game to play. Five moles pop up in random places and you hit them with the large foam mallet. The more you hit, the higher you score. As the game continues the moles appear more quickly and sometimes in multiple places at once making the act of whacking more difficult.

Spiritual Whack-A-Mole feels similar, except there are more moles. I can be enjoying a pleasant day when up pops the Mole of Pride. I whack him down only to be surprised by the Mole of Gluttony. I turn quickly as Greed, Sloth and Anger make an appearance. As I knock those moles down by wielding a memory verse or two, Envy and Lust appear almost out of my reach, and, as I pummel those down Pride and Anger make return appearances.

The game continues at a faster and faster pace until I eventually collapse overwhelmed and exhausted. The game stops for a while...until somehow I put in another dollar and the machine springs back to life.

Spiritual Whack-A-Mole is a game that I have played for a long time. My definition of spiritual maturity was based upon getting as high a score as possible in the game. To be spiritually mature was to be able to wield my mallet efficiently and pound as many moles as possible and so for years I wielded bible verses, prayer techniques, small group accountability, conferences, or whatever was the latest in thing.

Now don't misunderstand me. Scripture memorization, bible study, prayer techniques, small groups, accountability etc are all good things. It's not the mallet that's the problem, it's the game.

Over the last few years I've begun to approach Whack-A-Mole differently. Instead of just hitting whatever pops up, I've begun to open the cabinet of my life and take a look at the mechanism underneath. Instead of fighting the mechanism I've begun to dismantle it.

It's much harder work than simply raising a mallet.

I find it relatively easy to look at the mechanism behind Gluttony. I can examine my relationship with food and hopefully change the way I relate to that plate of pasta while at the same time visiting the gym. Some of the other moles are more difficult. Envy, Pride, Lust and Sarcasm for example. When I hit them with the mallet I get them out of my sight as quickly as possible. I can almost pretend they don't exist - out of sight, out of mind. However to look at the mechanism underneath I have to admit that those moles are a part of my life.

The Jesuit Theologian Walter Burghardt once described Contemplation as "a long, loving look at the real." I've begun to see that spiritual maturity is not about keeping score of the number of sins that I do or do not commit. It's about opening the cabinet of my life to see what's inside, and asking the Creator to help fix my broken mechanisms.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quote of the Day

“I see that Christ is but little known by those who consider themselves his friends. These, loving themselves so much, seek in him their own comfort and satisfaction, and not his sufferings and death out of love for him.” (John of the Cross)




Saturday, August 27, 2011

He needs a recipe to make toast!

I've often heard the phrase 'He needs a recipe to make toast.' along with it's companion phrase 'When she boils water, she burns it.' as ways of insulting somebody's culinary prowess. Consequently the idea of posting any kind of recipe for toast is an odd one, so take what follows as a suggestion for a very specific purpose.
I am currently making Ricotta in the kitchen. See the recipe here.


I'm taking it to a party tonight (along with a Caprese Salad), and I wanted some little toast rounds to serve it upon.


So for the cost of a 99 cent baguette, I made these :)

Preheat the oven to 350F

Slice the baguette thinly

in a small bowl mix olive oil, garlic powder and Italian seasoning (and salt if the Italian seasoning doesn't already have it)

Brush each side of each slice with the olive oil mixture and place on a wire baking rack stood inside a rimmed baking sheet (covered in foil for easy clean up)

Bake 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Then let cool.


These will be served tonight with the Ricotta.

Tasty and cheaper than purchasing pre-toasted slices ( I see them for sale at the store but have never yet seen anyone buy them!)

Yum

Thursday, August 18, 2011

God's Blog

GOD’S BLOG

by Paul Simms (The New yorker, 8/8/11)


UPDATE: Pretty pleased with what I’ve come up with in just six days. Going to take tomorrow off. Feel free to check out what I’ve done so far. Suggestions and criticism (constructive, please!) more than welcome. God out.




COMMENTS (24)

Not sure who this is for. Seems like a fix for a problem that didn’t exist. Liked it better when the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep.
_________________________________________________________

Going carbon-based for the life-forms seems a tad obvious, no?

_________________________________________________________


The creeping things that creepeth over the earth are gross.
 
_________________________________________________________


Not enough action. Needs more conflict. Maybe put in a whole bunch more people, limit the resources, and see if we can get some fights going. Give them different skin colors so they can tell each other apart.
 
_________________________________________________________


Disagree with the haters out there who have a problem with man having dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, the cattle of the earth, and so on. However, I do think it’s worth considering giving the fowl of the air dominion over the cattle of the earth, because it would be really funny to see, like, a wildebeest or whatever getting bossed around by a baby duck.

_________________________________________________________


The “herb yielding seed” is a hella fresh move. 4:20!
 
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Why are the creatures more or less symmetrical on a vertical axis but completely asymmetrical on a horizontal axis? It’s almost like You had a great idea but You didn’t have the balls to go all the way with it.

_________________________________________________________


The dodo should just have a sign on him that says, “Please kill me.” Ridiculous.
 
_________________________________________________________


Amoebas are too small to see. They should be at least the size of a plum.
_________________________________________________________


Beta version was better. I thought the Adam-Steve dynamic was much more compelling than the Adam-Eve work-around You finally settled on.

_________________________________________________________


I liked the old commenting format better, when you could get automatic alerts when someone replied to your comment. This new way, you have to click through three or four pages to see new comments, and they’re not even organized by threads. Until this is fixed, I’m afraid I won’t be checking in on Your creation.

_________________________________________________________


***SPOILER***
One of them is going to eat something off that tree You told them not to touch.

_________________________________________________________


Adam was obviously created somewhere else and then just put here. So, until I see some paperwork proving otherwise, I question the legitimacy of his dominion over any of this.
 
_________________________________________________________


Why do they have to poop? Seems like there could have been a more elegant/family-friendly solution to the food-waste-disposal problem.

_________________________________________________________


The lemon tree: very pretty. The lemon flower: sweet. But the fruit of the poor lemon? Impossible to eat. Is this a bug or a feature?
 
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Unfocussed. Seems like a mishmash at best. You’ve got creatures that can speak but aren’t smart (parrots). Then, You’ve got creatures that are smart but can’t speak (dolphins, dogs, houseflies). Then, You’ve got man, who is smart and can speak but who can’t fly, breathe underwater, or unhinge his jaws to swallow large prey in one gulp. If it’s supposed to be chaos, then mission accomplished. But it seems more like laziness and bad planning.
 
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If it’s not too late to make changes, in version 2.0 You should make water reflective, so the creatures have a way of seeing what they look like.
 
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S*H*O*E*S!!! Manolo Jimmy Choo Vuitton Prada +++ All sizes Great deals Free shipping! @@@ [www.shoezwarehouze.com]
 
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Penguins are retarded. Their wings don’t work and their legs are too short. I guess they’re supposed to be cute in a “I liek to eat teh fishes” way, but it’s such obvious pandering to the lowest common denominator.
 
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There’s imitation, and then there’s homage, and then there’s straight-up idea theft, which is what Your thing appears to be. Anyone who wants to check out the original should go to www.VishnuAndBrahma.com. (And check it out soon, because I think they’re about to go behind a paywall.)
 
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Putting boobs on the woman is sexist.
 
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Wow. Just wow. I don’t even know where to start. So the man and his buddy the rib-thing have dominion over everything. They’re going to get pretty unbearable really fast. What You need to do is make them think that there were other, bigger, scarier creatures around a long time before them. I suggest dinosaurs. No need to actually create dinosaurs—just create some weird-ass dinosaur bones and skeletons and bury them in random locations. Man will dig them up eventually and think, What the...?
 
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Epic fail.
 
_________________________________________________________


Meh.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Gathering Stones

In a meeting this morning I was discussing my ability to form judgements about people when I'm driving. I see somebody driving recklessly - speeding, lane changes, driving off road to avoid waiting in traffic, cutting across parking lots to avoid a red light, I judge them. 'Who do they think they are? Why is their time more important than mine? They are putting other people at risk!'.

I never do anything with my judgements, I'm not the kind of person who accelerates up behind somebody or flips them off or anything like that. The condemnation just simmers inside me until I eventually leave the car and the judgements behind.

After I had finished speaking I glanced at this icon out of the corner of my eye and turned to examine it.



I identified with the man in red. He's gathering stones, he may not be throwing them, but they are weighing him down. It gave me a picture of what my judgements are doing and how they hinder me.

Next week I am driving to West Texas. I talked with the group about how I was going to make a conscious decision to use any reckless drivers as a reminder for me to pray. To try and offer generous judgements - 'Maybe they are driving fast because they have to get to the hospital or a friend is in difficulty'.

I do not know all the story of the person in the pick up truck who is cutting across 5 lanes of traffic. Even if I did it may not justify their actions, but it does help explain them.

I will be generous, and allow my stones to fall unthrown...

...and in that generosity of judgement to somebody else, I am unburdened.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baking Rainbow Cakes in a Jar

A friend posted this recipe on facebook on how to bake cakes in Mason Jars. I decided to give it a go and give them the full rainbow treatment that the recipe suggests.
As I knew the dying of the icing and the filling of the jars would be time consuming I opted to cut some corners by using box cake mix and ready made icing...I know this goes against everything I believe in, but sometimes you just gotta go for expediency over principles. I'm sure they would taste better if I had made my own cake batter, but the primary gimmick is the appearance here anyway.

The first challenge is working out how to split a large amount of cake batter into 6 equal portions.

Here's how I did it - a digital scale that you can zero will be your friend.
  1. Weigh your empty mixing bowl - mine was 1 lb 9oz
  2. Weigh your mixing bowl full of batter - 5 lb 15 oz
  3. Total weight of batter = 5lb 15oz minus 1 lb 9 oz = 4lbs 6oz
  4. Six equal portions of batter will be 4 lb 6 oz divided by 6 which is 11.6 oz
  5. Put your empty bowl on the scales and add 11.6 oz of batter...repeat until all 6 bowls are filled.

First lesson learned - The math would have been easier and more accurate if I had used Grams and Kilos rather than pounds and ounces. A gram is a smaller unit than an ounce so you get a more accurate reading...also, the smallest unit my scale would read is 1/8 oz. Working out what 11.6oz was (11 and 6 tenths) when you can only measure in 8ths was a challenge. I went with 11 and 5/8 to approximate.

Next I needed to color all 6 batters.

Gel food coloring is preferable to liquid as it won't change the consistency of your batter that much. I bought a pack of 4 colors - red, yellow, green and blue because I figured I could mix orange and purple to get the 6 colors I needed. As you can see from the picture this was only partially successful.


Orange was not difficult to mix, but I found getting the red an intense enough color took a lot of gel and I was concerned about having enough left to mix the purple. Little did I realize that mixing purple would be the bane of my existence!

Second Lesson Learned  - I bought the 4 color pack to save money. I could have bought each of the colors already mixed in gel form. My red would have probably been more intense if I'd done this and my purple might have actually looked purple. If you are not confident in your color mixing skills buy them ready mixed.The colors looked muted after baking (see pics below) so the more intense they are at this stage the better.

The next stage is filling the jars with the 6 layers. I was concerned about how I could split the batter. evenly among the 6 containers so I resorted to math again.

  1. I have 11.6 oz of each color cake batter
  2. 11.6 divided by 6 is approximately 1 and 7/8 oz in each jar.
I placed the empty jar on the scales and zeroed them. Then I drizzled in the first color from a spoon and when I reached the correct weight stopped. Then I zeroed the scales again and added the next layer. Continue adding and zeroing until all 6 colors are in the jar.


The recipe said to fill the jars 3/4 full. Mine were slightly fuller than that and I had a little batter left over. I knew from the recipe that they would rise to a domed top and I would have to cut some off the top before icing so I wasn't too worried.

After 40 minutes in the oven I was greeted by this.


Third Lesson Learned - 3/4 means 3/4. My division of the batter was even, but it was still too much for the size of the jar. The tray of water that the glasses stands in catches any mess, but I did have some dribble down the side of the glasses and some batter wasted. I think if I'd been a little less liberal with my filling I might have stretched the recipe to fill 7 jars rather than 6. It's not a huge deal as I have to cut off the tops anyway, but an extra jar might have been nice.

The trimming of the cakes once they had cooled was a relatively simple affair. It's helpful to have someone else with you so that you don't gorge on all the spare cake yourself.



Icing them is a simple task.


Now all I have to do is put the lids on, stick some circular labels in the lids and maybe tie a few ribbons for added fun.

Fourth Lesson Learned - The leftover cake that I cut off goes really well with the leftover icing :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

A 4 Chord Life?

We spoke about singing a New Song in the Contemplative Service yesterday. You can read what Jerry said at this link here. The whole post is worth a read, but here is one quote that caught my attention.

You don't have to find the pre-ordained notes to the score God has written. As God lives within you, inhabits you, energizes you, you are the score. Your moment-by-moment life is the pattern of notes, the harmony to the song you are given to sing and to be.


I hope you can sense, then, that your new song is not something to figure out, to wrestle with and struggle over as you try to come to whatever your song is. Usually we think about the "will of God" as something difficult to find, something that takes great effort to discern. Rather, in this view, your new song is something to live, something to be. It is your everyday, ordinary life lived with God for the good of the world.


Your very life is a new song, non-repeatable, creative, expansive and uniquely your own.

Don't try to sing someone else's song. Sing your song. Live your life

There are infinite ways to combine melody and harmony. The danger is that we get stuck in a rut. Always singing the same safe song that sounds just like every body elses. The Australian Comedy Trio Axis of Awesome demonstrate the occurrence of this with a medley of songs all using the same chord progression.

(If you are offended by some off color language then please don't watch)



I could spend my life singing and playing the same four chords. A life lived that way would be embraced with open arms by most people. It is controlled, non-threatening, middle of the road and very cookie-cutter. However if you strip away the words, all the songs start to sound the same.

That sounds like many people I know. Their lives are all slight variations of one another. They may all speak with their own voice, but everything that is said is the same. The fear of branching out into new harmonies keeps them locked in the same 4 chords cycling over and over again.

At the other extreme we have the fantastic work The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. Complex rhythmic Structures, creative use of harmonies and dissonance, unusual musical timbres all combine to make the composition of this piece one the seminal moments in music history. American composer Peter Schiekel said that ...The Rite of Spring had such a profound effect on composition that virtually all subsequent 20th century music could be said to be “The Rewrite of Spring”

Here is Michael Tilson Thomas discussing the work.



Michael Tilson Thomas talks about Stravinsky tapping into his unconscious in the creation of this piece. It is raw, passionate, violent, sensual and incredible.

In most works melodic phrases are quoted and developed, repeated and altered. Here, Stravinsky seems to continually throw out new phrases as if he is never afraid of becoming stale. There is rhythm and repetition, but just when you think you've grasped what is happening the who piece shifts once again.

4 chords stifle me...and Stravinsky scares me.

I want a life bursting with unique passion. A song that is mine and mine alone, but that means acknowledging the darkness as well as the light. It means confessing that there are times in my life where a curse word is a more honest truthful response than a Praise the Lord.

For me to sing my own unique song it means acknowledging that minor chords (sad chords as I was taught in Middle School) are necessary. Even the 4 chord progression quoted above contains one minor chord, but that chord always falls in the same place and is predictable.

My life isn't that predictable. Minor chords, dissonance and changes of tempo occur without warning. Sometimes it feels that multiple songs are all playing at the same time, conflicting melodies calling for my attention creating harmonic progressions that 4 chords could never cover.

It's scary, but I chose Stravinsky over Safety anytime.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pineapple Teriyaki Salmon

I'm not a big fish eater, but this was yummy!!!!

Make sure you have an oven proof, nonstick skillet though!


2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 (6 oz) can of pineapple juice
1/2 teaspoon of salt (divided)
2 teaspoons canola oil
4 (6 oz) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick) See Note*
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grated Orange Rind (optional)

Combine the first 4 ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Set to one side.

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle both sides of salmon with remaining salt and pepper. Add fish to pan and cook for 3 minutes.

Turn fish over and then place the pan in the oven and bake at 400F for 3 minutes.

Remove from oven, brush sauce over each salmon fillet. Return to oven and cook for 1 minute more or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Sprinkle with orange rind if desired.

I served it with Lemon Rice and Broccoli. Healthy and tasty :)


*I couldn't find salmon fillets so I just bought a piece about 1 1/2 lbs and cut it into pieces. I cooked them skin down first, then skin up.

To be honest 3 8oz servings looked a lot better than 4 6oz ones, but then again, I do eat alot :)

The monk who never judged anyone

This monk was lazy, careless, and lacking in his prayer life; but throughout all of his life, he did not judge anyone. While dying, he was happy. When the brethren asked him how is it that with so many sins, you die happy? He replied, “I now see angels who are showing me a letter with my numerous sins. I said to them, ‘Our Lord said: Judge not and you will not be judged (Lk. 6:37). I have never judged anyone, and I hope in the mercy of God that He will not judge me.’” And the angels tore up the paper. Upon hearing this, the monks were astonished and learned from it.

- St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Indulge Me?

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”


 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."
Matthew 19:27-29

(Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service)


However much I don't want it to be, I must confess that Peter's question is often my question. 'What's in it for me? What do I get?'  When I do something good I start looking to God for my reward and when something bad happens I start looking back through my life trying to work out what I did wrong to cause the event to happen.

I reduce my spiritual life to My Action and God's Response. I perform action A (or avoid performing it) and then I wait for God to respond with B.

Actions like:

I have had a quiet time every day.
I avoided _________________
I gave money to the poor
I took Disciple Bible Study
I taught Disciple Bible Study
I went on a mission trip
I went on a silent retreat
I visited auntie Ethel even though she drives me crazy
I went to church while on vacation
I gave up meat for Lent
I work full time for You
I moved to another country for You
I made a pilgrimage to _______

All the things I've listed are good - prayer, fasting, study, pilgrimage, teaching, self discipline etc, but the danger is I think that I can manipulate God into blessing me by the way I live. I keep my end of the bargain then God must keep his.

I am also aware that I promote books, studies, retreats, worship services etc to other people in a similar way. If you read this book then God will bless you. If you go on this retreat you will grow spiritually. If you fast for Lent then you will encounter God in a new way.

I saw a number of cathedrals in Spain recently. At one of them we saw incredible gold and silver items for use in worship services. I overheard someone saying that they could see where all the money from the church selling Indulgences ended up. Johann Tetzel, a Dominican Preacher in the Middle Ages is reputed to have said 'As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.' If you give to the church your deceased friends will get relief from Purgatory.

I don't like this comparison. I can sit in judgement of Tetzel whilst being guilty of the same thing.

My Action. God's Response.

I decide what I want God to do in my life and then try and figure out how to manipulate God into doing it. I judge whether I should perform an action by what I will get out of it. Even my selfless actions have a level of selfishness in them. It's easy for me to get caught up in a spiral of despair around this. I question my motives for everything and end up doing nothing.

I'm glad Thomas Merton is there to help. He wrote in his book Thoughts in Solitude:

I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

What do you want? What is your desire? How can you please God today?