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.


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
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

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

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!


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


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


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.


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.