Monday, September 29, 2008

Is it possible to make Kale and Tofu Appetizing?

Tofu is a curious food, It's almost an un-food. I know it is supposed to adapt chameleon-like to whatever dish it is in and assume the same flavor, but on the rare occasions I have cooked with it, it seems to remain as little moments of Zen Nothingness in the midst of palate stimulation.

Kale too seems to me to be less of a food and more of a garnish. It's the wilted green curly leaf that fruit gets placed on. It's a food groupie - hanging around with the rest of the band hoping that it can become cool by association.

In one of my random searches across the Internet I somehow came across the following recipe for Lemon Chickpea and Tofu stir fry. For some reason I printed it out, and, as I consumed way too much food the last two weeks at Hesychia I figured it was a good time to get back into healthy eating and try something new. This is the result.

Buy a block of Extra firm tofu. Put it between sheets of kitchen towel with a weight on top to draw out the moisture.
I was amazed and rather astonished as to how much fluid came out! I think I changed the paper towels three times of the course of the couple of hours that it sat in the refrigerator!

And here's everything else. 2 shallots. 1 lemon (juiced and zest). 1 cup of chopped Kale. I can of chick peas (drained), 2 small zucchini (finely chopped), olive oil and salt. Doesn't that all sound yummy????

First, stir fry the chick peas and the shallots in the olive oil and some sea salt until the chickpeas get golden with a crunchy exterior. This took a lot longer than anticipated!

When they reach that point, stir in 8ozs of Tofu, diced, let that heat through and then add the chopped Kale and stir till it wilts. Transfer the mix into a bowl and keep warm.

Add a little more oil and stir fry the Zucchini. Originally I had the zucchini in slices, but I figured it would take too long to stir fry so I chopped it up instead.

Mix it all together and add the juice and the zest of the lemon and voila!

I was actually pleasantly surprised. The Lemon juice worked some kind of magic giving the kale and the tofu a nice flavor and tying the whole dish together.

Would I make it again? - Yes I would, and I even think I would serve it to others.

Any Issues? - I would double everything, that way I wouldn't be stuck with half a block of drained tofu in my freezer. Also the recipe said it made enough for 2 - 4 people. That seemed quite a wide margin to me, and as I was so hungry I ate all of it that means I just consumed food for 4-8 people!!! Oh well, at least it was healthy eating.

Is it possible to make Kale and Tofu Appetizing? -Yes, through the magic of lemon juice!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

...normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

I got back to Houston late last night (fortunately to a house that had power, and milk in the fridge - Thanks Shannon)

I had a rehearsal this morning, and I was driving in to work I was struck by how much evidence of Ike you can still see around. Nearly every street has tree limbs cut up and leaves bagged waiting to be taken away. I saw technicians working on power lines. I talked to friends who don't have power and others who have power but their sewer systems are backed up. I saw many interstections where the lights have not been reset so the traffic backs up.

Part of me thought I would get back and it would be 'business as usual' as if somehow Ike hadn't happened.

But storms, whether literal or figurative, always take longer than we anticipate to recover from.

In a change of thought, here are the people I 'journeyed with' these past two weeks at Hesychia.

The 'Week One' Gang!

The 'Week Two' Crew!

I'm grateful for all of them for sharing their lives and there sacred stories with me!

Week 3 and 4 is coming in November - woohoo!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Journey of a thousand miles...

...begins with a single step.

This week has been part of a journey for me. My first memories of learning about other religions were in Religious Education Classes in High School. The memories are ones of boredom and disinterest.

My next memories are from Sunday School and my work with the Oasis Foundation. There the emphasis was upon teaching us enough about what the different religions believe so we could learn strategies to convert them to Christianity.

This week has been about learning, to appreciate the uniqueness of different faith expressions.

It's been a journey that has brought up those old emotions of 'Right and Wrong'. I've already blogged about what does my need to say Christianity is right and everyone else is wrong say about me.

Two things that have helped this week:

1) On monday in the introduction to Interfaith Spiritual Direction it was said 'When you meet a person you look for commonalities, not differences.' As I've listened to stories out of faith traditions different to my own I've heard much that is common. It makes me reflect on how on the journey of Spirituality different traditions learn remarkably similar lessons. For example, this morning we heard a tale from the Mahabharata (one of the Hindu holy books), whose teaching was remarkably similar to the book of Ecclesiastes. Another speaker this week said that people may find differences of Theology but find remarkable similarities of Practice. The monks who practice Centering Prayer discover much in common with monks who practice Zen.

Where this leads me I don't know...but it is great thought for further reflection and reading.

2) When a person dies, God doesn't give them a Pop Quiz in Theology as an entrance exam into Heaven. There is Grace over all of this. That gives me hope even as I question.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why am I here?

Don't panic I'm not having existential angst. Today we in class we talked about 'Islam and Spiritual Direction' and also 'Spiritual but not Religious'. I'm not going to blog about either of those topics (even though they were excellent sessions). There was a chance comment made by a classmate that seemed to resonate with me and got me thinking about my path to Hesychia.

His comment (paraphrased) was 'The church seemed to be more about doctrine than saving souls'.

In many ways, that was me, and if I'm honest is still me sometimes, but to hear it expressed with that clarity made me think 'Why do I want to be a Spiritual Director?' as opposed to a Teacher or something like that. I used to be a paid up member of the 'Brethren Doctrine Police' (I just made that up). Being 'right' was more important than being 'loving'. I treated people that way because that was the way I thought God treated me. That changed because of Spiritual Direction in my life.

Why do I want to be a Spiritual Director?
One of the things I've always been good at is asking questions. Somehow I seem to have an ability to phrase a question in a way that can reveal, lovingly challenge, and invite. I used to ask seemingly simple questions to people and then challenge their answers in a way that made them think. (Cliff/Adam, if you're reading this 'Who are you?' GRIN)

Why do I want to be a Spiritual Director?
I first encountered Spiritual Direction at a guided retreat at S.t. Hildas in Whitby. This is the Mother House of the Order of the Holy Paraclete. I didn't know that what I was experiencing was Spiritual Direction, but the guidance of that Nun back in 1992 started me on a path that has brought me to Hesychia. More than just guidance though, the experience had a profound affect on my spirituality and how I viewed Jesus. Jesus became for me someone I wanted to be seen un public with, someone who was attractive and welcoming. This was one of the first glimpses that I had of a 'different Jesus' to the one I had somehow created for myself. This one was nice! I'd like to help more people have that experience.

Why do I want to be a Spiritual Director?
It seems like the next step that God is calling me in to. I don't know why and what for, but this feels 'right'. On Monday, when I was going to be 'spiritually directing' for the first time in my Practicum session, I posted a comment to that fact on Facebook. Within moments I had comments from people, including people I haven't talked to in years, that basically said how I had a positive impact on their life and spirituality. It seems like I've been doing this for a while without knowing it.

Why do I want to be a Spiritual Director?
Yes there is a part of me that wants to have 'a title'. Some of that is motivated by a thought that 'people will take me seriously once I have a title'. That thinking doesn't really work, esp. as there is no nationally accredited qualification for becoming a Spiritual Director. More than that though. I want to connect with people. I want to listen to them where they are and honor the work that God is doing in them. There is something powerful about being with somebody on Holy Ground as they share their sacred story.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Brain Hurts

Today we covered Zen Buddhism in the morning and Cosmology and New Science in the afternoon. I am so confused. The morning session was taught by a very articulate catholic priest who is also a zen Roshi. There are only a few of these in the world so we were very fortunate to have him come speak to us.

I could feel my 'Inner Fundamentalist' starting to complain at various points. I found it difficult to understand how somebody can be a master in two traditions, especially at the points where they disagree.

It raises interesting questions for me - Jesus said 'I am the way, the truth and the life' no one comes to the Father but through me. (John 14)

In my faith tradition we make this an exclusive claim that Jesus makes. It's always been separated in my mind from his comment a few verses earlier 'In my father's house are many rooms'.

But why separate it? I don't know.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25) the only difference between who goes to eternal life and who doesn't is their actions.

Why do I emphasise John 14 over Matt 25? Why is it so important to me for Christianity to be exclusive? What need does it serve for me to be able to say 'This religion is right. That religion is wrong'?

I don't have an answer.

I do know that the alternative of 'all roads lead to God' still ruffles my feathers in a way I can't explain.

But who am I to put limits on God's grace?

A Relaxing Evening

Today was long day...I'll blog separately about it.

Celebrate getting through it in one piece Carol, Kate and I went to 'The Melting Pot' and gorged ourselves on fondue. 3 courses!!!! Of Cheesy, meaty, chocolaty goodness all washed down with a really nice Forest Glen White Merlot.

The chocolate course was spectacular

Especially when it was put on fire!!!

After getting back to my room I was carrying my computer out to work when I saw this crawl across my front step!!!

That's a real live Sonoran Desert Tarantula folks....and yes I did freak out a little, after all I was wearing sandals and almost stepped on it!

I managed to get a close up with my digital zoom, but I swear the thing was heading for a bite on my toes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Being a Spiritual Director for the First Time

I just had my first experience of being a Spiritual Director in a Practicum Session. The following is purely fiction, but reminiscent of the state of my mind during the experience.

O.k. Listen, pray, listen. I can do that. Don't talk to much.
Oh. He's looking at me, should I say something? I should ask a question? Should I ask a question? What question should I ask? He's talking again, shut up and listen.

Wow that's really interesting, that reminds me of a time when I.... no, put that to one side. Listen. God please help me to stay focused. They've stopped again. Should I ask about...but is that really what this session is about or is it just me being nosy?

More silence. There's a lot of silence. Silence is good right? If it's good why do I feel the urge to say something? I'm just about to ask a question and wow they start talking again. Now they've stopped. This time it's a long pause....I'll ask a question.

Man that was a crap question. I totally mangled that question. It took 5 sentences just to explain what I meant. They are answering the question! How do they know what question to answer? I don't know what I just asked, how do they? I wonder what's for dinner. Don't think about food! Listen. Pray. Listen.

Should I make a meaningful sound so that they know I'm listening? Maybe a 'Hmmmmm' or a 'Do go on'. I can't do that. It feels too forced. God, help, please help.

They are really working hard. I feel like I'm here on Holy Ground, they are telling their story and their fears to me, I feel really lucky. Wow I must be really good at this.

Oh No. Pride Alert!!!!!

This isn't you it's God, you need to confess that and pray about it, but not now because you should be listening.




Was that my stomach? Oh crap.
What if I fart during Spiritual Direction? That would really look holy!



Wow we've run out of time.
They seemed to really appreciate the session.
Did I really ask helpful questions?

That was really God and not me.

What is for dinner?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Too holy for Church

My friend Carol, who I've been hanging out with the past few days, once said 'I think the Sabbath is too holy to spend in Church'.

That may seem heretical to some, but I think the early Celts would approve. They considered the earth their cathedral, and today we went to one of the largest 'Cathedrals' in the Tucson area.

After a brunch at a friend of Kate and Carol's, we climbed into the car and drove up into the Catalina Mountains to Mount Lemmon.

We had a lazy day enjoying the cathedral of God's creation, and then we stopped in mountain village of Summerhaven for pizza and cookies.

(As usual click on any of the pictures to see them full size)

Politics. Play. Party.

After a lazy start to Saturday morning where I caught up on some sleep and blogged, Carol picked me up (thanks Carol)

We then headed over to get Kate and we went to have lunch at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson. This was the hotel where John Henry Dillinger and his gang was hiding from the F.B.I. Due to a fire in the hotel that caused them to flee, the local Tucson police did what the combined might of the F.B.I. had failed to do, and arrested America's Most Wanted (who then later escaped from an 'Escape Proof Cell' and went on the run again.)

After lunch Kate and Carol were interviewed by the local Tucson press about Arizona Proposition 102.

We then headed off to the Mission San Xavier del Bac which was fascinating. In the midst of all the saints I spotted one unusual carving (See slide show below). It was a statue of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha - a native american woman who is in the process of being Canonized by the Catholic Church, the first Native American to be honored in this way.

After visiting the mission we consumed indian frybread in the parking lot - yum yum yum.

After a brief respite we headed off to a birthday party where I tried a local Tucson delicacy called Carne Seca. This is cooked shredded beef that is then air dried on the roof of your house(!). You reconstitute it with a little water to serve. It was an acquired taste.

Again you can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them for your viewing pleasure.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday Fun

Yesterday was just a half day at school

Carol picked me up just after lunch and we headed off to Tohono Chul Park.

(Click on any of the pics to see them full size.)

I was really excited to see the Century Plant
From Friday Play Day in Tucson

As I really liked the song 'Century Plant' from the movie 'Camp'. And here by the miracle of Youtube is the song for your enjoyment.

After spending time in the sun we went in the tea room where I had a glorious pot of English Breakfast Tea and Carol had Prickly Pear Cactus Lemonade.

Then off shopping to prepare for dinner.

We were wandering around Trader Joes when I spotted this in the frozen food section.

How nice of them to make a frozen food that is Therapy as well :)

I had a nice relaxed evening with Carol, Kate, and their friend Patricia. I cooked dinner and then we played 'Felix - The Cat in the Sack'. It was a nice change of pace.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hesychia Day 4

This morning we covered an 'Introduction to Inner Life and Religious Experience: Steps for the Journey'. The presentation gave us a framework for different stages of spiritual growth. Stages is probably the wrong word though, I think of it more as different colors of glass in the stained glass window of our lives. The presentation helped identify the different panels that make up the bigger picture.

Thought for the day - feel free to discuss.

Going to a Spiritual Director to become 'more spiritual' is like going to the gym to become 'more human'.

Each of us is already as Spiritual as we can be - what we need to learn is awareness, openness, connectedness etc.

Ike Part 4

Here's a radar loop of what I lived through last friday.

Much of the deep red went right over my house!

The Danger of Ringtones

I'm travelling light at the moment. Ever since I discovered that my cell phone has an alarm clock feature, I've ceased packing my little travelling clock.

This morning I discovered a drawback to this plan.

I'm sitting at breakfast having an engaging discussion with two catholic nuns and a catholic priest about the nature of Allegory and how sometimes the narrative can feel forced because as well as telling the story it also has the meta-narrative of the points the Allegory is making. Good deep conversation.

My phone rings.

Normally I keep my phone on vibrate, but because I have been using it to rouse me from my slumber it was on full volume.

Into the cavernous emptiness of the Catholic Retreat Center Dining Room came the melodious strains of Meredith Brooks...

"I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm a child, I'm a mother, I'm a sinner, I'm a saint, I do not feel ashamed...."


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Training day 3. God does the Unexpected - as usual!

There seem to be two different streams of learning going on in my life simultaneously at this moment.

1) There is the learning of the 'How To' of Spiritual Direction.

2) There is the learning that comes from encounter with God.

This morning we had a wonderful session on listening skills. It was practical, educational, experiential and enjoyable. We did a very interesting Creative Writing exercise where I felt very connected to God and I thought to myself 'Here's what I need to blog about today'.

Then we had the first part of the afternoon - We were compassionate observers on a Spiritual Direction Session. It was moving, instructive, informative and at the end of the session I had written in large letters on my notes 'Trust Yourself!' and 'Take the Risk'. At the break time I thought to myself 'Here's what I need to blog about today'.

Then we had Practicum.

For the second session I was the Directee - it was a totally different experience to what I had planned, God showed up in a major way.

I was talking about how I've found it difficult to compose (esp. lyrics) since Mom passed away last year. As we talked somehow the conversation came around to one of my favorite verses to do with music writing and the image of God in my life - Zephaniah 3:17. "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing"

As I talked about the image in the verse being one of a mother cradling her child and singing over them as they cry I started tearing up. It was as if a light had come on.

Here is an image of God that has been very meaningful for me over the years. I suddenly realized that in losing my mother I felt that I lost that image of God. My Earthly mother could no longer hold me in that way, and a part of me felt that God could no longer do that too.

I lost it.

I started weeping.

I'm so grateful for the woman who was being the Director for the session. If she had started crying I would have totally shut down. As it was she just sat there patiently.

I felt very vulnerable and loved all at the same moment.

I know I have a lot of processing to do on this experience.

I came to Hesychia thinking that most of the learning would fall into learning skill sets and techniques. What has surprised me is how much God has been speaking to me in this place.

The desert is a wonderful rich place to be right now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The life of Ike

Here's the link to an incredible photo essay about Ike

Powerful stuff.

Spiritual Director Training Retreat Day 2

It has been a really full day today.

This morning we covered the History of Spiritual Direction in the Contemplative Tradition. This was really an impossible task and something that could take a Semester rather than 2 hours and 15 minutes. The speaker acknowledged that she was presenting from her own Catholic background. I appreciated that she recognized that fact, but I would have liked maybe a little input about Celtic Spirituality and other Protestant Traditions. It felt a little like saying 'yes, we acknowledge this is important and that there are other threads, but it's not important enough for us to devote any time to it'.

Having said that, I am aware that in 2 hours and 15 minutes somethings have to be not said for clarity's sake. I think it's also the fact that I feel in a minority position for me as it seems there are more Catholics than Protestants here - doh, I'm at a Catholic Retreat Center! It seems very 'little' of me to be complaining about a catholic emphasis here. It's a new experience for me to be part of the 'spiritual minority'. It's good for me.

Probably the statement that I found resonated with me the most this morning was "Every human experience can have a religious dimension for the believer who expects to encounter God" ~ William Barry.

One of the threads of my own spiritual journey has been a realization of how much God is present all around me. I think of previous posts about 'Spiritual Where's Waldo' and 'Seeking Burning Bushes'.

The song I wrote 'There Are Burning Bushes Everywhere' was running through my head most of the day.

A dusty path, a dreary land
A wooden staff in weathered hand
A holy blaze that never dies
A miracle before the eyes
A stumbling onto holy ground
God revealed in sight and sound
As it was for Moses why not me?
If I can teach my eyes to see

There are burning bushes everywhere
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours
Waiting for us to see them there
The red and the green, dancing unseen through our days
Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze.

The roll of dice, the belly laugh
The ancient tale, the photograph
The mouse's click, the lovers' kiss
All of Heaven speaks through this
The taste of bread, the t.v. show
Are signs for those who are in the know
How I take for granted daily grace
The voice of God is common place

For there are burning bushes everywhere
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours
Waiting for us to see them there
The red and the green, dancing unseen through our days
Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze.

It's not that God is far away
Only whispering on special days
Our lives are spent on holy ground
God speaks so much we ignore the sound

When there are burning bushes everywhere
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours
Waiting for us to see them there
The red and the green, dancing unseen through our days
Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze.

This whole connection to Burning Bushes came up strongly in the afternoon for me. We talked about the stance of Moses before the Bush being a model of the Director and Directee. When someone comes to us with their stories and experiences they are sharing 'Holy Ground' with us and we should respond like Moses, humble and barefoot.

We then started our practicums and spent time together 'on holy ground'.

In the practicum, one person is the Director, one the Directee, and the rest of us are Compassionate Observers. The Director and Directee do a 20 minute Spiritual Direction session while the rest of us silently watch. At the end of the session we sit and offer where we saw blocks and openings.

Going in to it I was concerned that it would feel like 'Role Play' but not at all. It was clear that there was a genuine sacred safe container made for people to share and be authentic. It was beautiful and a definite 'holy ground'. It was a challenge to just listen and observe. There were topics that came up in the 2 sessions today that I had to 'bracket' and put to one side because they were resonating with things in my own life and spiritual walk.

I also found my 'inner critic' wanting to comment on the way some of the sessions went - saying to myself 'That's not the way to do this'. I have to keep reminding myself that there is no particular 'way' to do this. Their are guidelines and suggestions, but every Director will lead in their own unique way, that's what makes some Directors a good fit to work with some people but not with others.

I think my 'inner critic' is also appearing as a defense mechanism. As I've listened to people's stories and backgrounds I find myself feeling 'unworthy to be here' and 'less than'. With professional therapists and people who've lived a life in Holy Orders in the group it is easy for me to say 'who am I'?

This is an old tape that I carry with me everywhere. I'm glad I had the experience in Lectio Divina yesterday of God reminding me that 'He is the only one who matters'. I thought that was just for my fear about showing up late - but that message is speaking right into my default thought patterns.

Tomorrow I get to be a 'Directee' in one of the sessions. I'm still praying about what I should bring to the discussion. Having seen the process today helps me react and know that God will be there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spiritual Director Training Retreat Day 1

Well I got here a day late, and I was a bit concerned about it. As they covered some basics and did some group bonding yesterday. The phrase that went through mind when I was praying this morning was 'Here you are again Peter, a day late and a dollar short'.

I needn't have worried.

In one of the morning classes on Lectio Divina we were praying on a passage from Psalm 90. The phrase that I felt was God's word to me was '..after heaven and earth have vanished, there is only you.' I felt a real sense of peace that that I don't have to worry about what anyone else thinks about me. There is only God who matters - and he's head over heels in love with me. I'm never 'A day late or a dollar short' with Him.

That made me feel better.

Classes were interesting today and I'm looking forward - with some trepidation, to the Spiritual Director Practicum sessions that start tomorrow. Fortunately I don't have to direct until next week(!)

After lunch I crept out and took some pictures of area surrounding the Center.

The cacti are really impressive. As were the ancient Petroglyphs.

I'm typing this entry on a balcony over looking the valley, and I can see mountains in the distance and hear coyotes howling!

Quote of the day about spiritual Direction "No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight" - it's originally said about Quaker Clearing Committees, but it applies equally well to Spiritual Direction too.

Welcome to the Desert

Here's the view when I stepped out my door this morning!

Monday, September 15, 2008

From Desolation to Desolation

This morning I was packing my suitcase by flashlight (the closet still being dark due to the lack of electricity), taking a cold shower so that I did not over heat too much, and then driving to the airport seeing yet more signs of Ike destruction.

This evening I met up with Carol and Kate, ate some great Mexican food here in Tucson, and I'm now typing this outside on the balcony of the Redemptorist Renewal Center over looking the lights of Tucson in the middle of the desert!

From desolate destruction to desolate beauty in one day...

...oh and there was cake too.

I feel so lucky to be here - and yet my mind is still with the many of my friends in Houston without electricity. A small part of me feels that I have deserted them - though I know they wouldn't feel the same. I'm glad to get out the chaos of Houston, and part of me feels I should still be there.

Funny things, emotions.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ike Part 3

For part 2 click here

For part 1 click here

The power went out at about 1:35pm, it got so noisy after that it was very difficult to sleep. Ike took about 8 hours to pass over us completely. 2 hours of tropical storm, 4 hours of Hurricane and then another 2 hours of storm. The Eye of the storm passed to the east of us. My brother in the U.K actually asked if I could go out in the street and shoot a video of Ike passing over us - maybe he still hasn't forgiven me for hitting him in the nose with a golf club when we were kids :)

Our street had no damage, though 1 block over 2 houses caught fire and were gutted by the flames, a power line came down on them and started it I believe. This fire means it's going to be a while before the house gets electricity again.

We spent most of Saturday playing boardgames. I reheated some stir fry for lunch and pizza for dinner (hooray for gas stoves). We went out for a walk in the neighborhood and took some pictures. And then the street had another impromptu gathering at the house with the generator (and the booze). People were firing up their gas grills to use up the meat in their freezers :)

Here are some random pics - click on any of them to see full size.

To see more pics of the aftermath click here

Sleeping last night was very difficult because of the humidity. It also started raining and storming again.

This morning I tried to leave the neighborhood but the flood waters prevented me. We played some more boardgames and when the water receded headed over to a friends house who was further out of town and had air conditioning!

Aaah the luxury of electricity.

I'm booked on a flight tomorrow for my course in Tucson, but I haven't heard for certain when the airport is going to re-open. If it gets too late it won't be worth flying out as I will have missed too much SIGH

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ike Part 2

For part one click here

There is something about a disaster that brings out the community in people.
There are 23 houses on my street, and there's not much to do but sit around, drink, tell tall tales, and wait for Ike to hit us just like we were Tina Turner.

So, seeing as I had plenty of time and not much to do, I decided I would attempt the pizza recipe in my Cooks Illustrated Book.

This involved making pizza dough from scratch, assembling and then cooking. How hard could it be?

Well - harder than I thought. The dough seemed to form itself wonderfully, but shaping and stretching it out into a 21 inch diameter pizza base seemed impossible. It kept ripping and pulling back!

Well eventually I got the pizza built on the Pizza Peel which had been liberally coated with cornmeal to assist the pizza sliding into the oven.

It wasn't totally circular, and it was smaller than the requisite 21 inches, but I was feeling pleased with myself.

To put the pizza on the tray that had been heating in the very hot oven (500F) the book said - and I quote "Use a quick jerking action to slide the topped dough off the peel and onto the hot tiles or pizza stone." It is amazing how much angst can be concealed in a simple sentence.

There I was standing before a ferociously hot oven.

I used a quick jerking motion.

The toppings slid into the oven and the base remained on the peel.

Not quite the result I had hoped for, so I maneuvered the dough into the oven and piled on the toppings.

It came out a little misshapen but then a miracle occurred.

I tasted it.

It may have been deformed, but it tasted perfect!!! Steve took one bite and said that I should open a restaurant.

Ennobled by the taste, I attempted Pizza 2. I also realized upon a close rereading of the recipe that I had added the cheese to early to pizza 1. I tried to slide using a less jerking motion. The toppings rolled, but stayed on the dough - but the dough wouldn't move.

I pushed it into the oven with a wooden spoon.

Pizza 3, I used a lot more cornmeal and Steve offered to try the jerking maneuver - well he does have some Italian heritage so maybe the problem is actually genetic.


Because I couldn't get the dough thin enough the pizza was too thick to slide.

It did taste incredible - now we can have left over pizza for a few meals :)

Oh and just in case you wondered there's not much to report to Ike right now. It's 8pm we don't have much wind and we still have electricity.

We do have some ominous clouds overhead though!

Ike Part 1

Well Hurricane Ike is coming and everyone is dealing with it in different ways.

There are the 'Survivalists' who are stockpiling canned goods and water as if Ike is a combination of Y2K and a Nuclear strike.

The 'Party People' - I stood behind one of those at the store whose grocery cart was full of water and many many cases of beer.

The 'Cleopatra Brigade' who are competing to become the next 'Queen of Denial' - those folks aren't even removing their lawn art from the front yard. Personally I don't want to be hit by a low flying plastic flamingo.

The 'Sugar Fiends' - I don't understand this group at all but I witnessed this phenomenon when 'Dolly' came through so I know it's not a fluke. This group is preparing for the hurricane by purchasing donuts!!! I don't get it myself, but if you are addicted to sweet confectionery then this group is for you.

The 'Junk Food Junkies' - a friend of mine who works at McDonalds says someone came in and ordered 40 hot and spicy burgers and 40 cheese burgers this morning!!!

The 'Cautiously Optimistic' - this group is going about life as relatively normal, but making some preparations as they deem appropriate.

So what group do I fall into?

I'm a combination of 'Party People' and 'Cautiously Optimistic'. Though I do have moments of worry.

Last night was game night - normally we average 4 or 5 members. We had about 10 of us at the house last night. We played various games. People staying later than normal and celebrating because Ike has given us a day off.

Here's a picture of Greg, during a game of Coyote. We played a lot of different games last night - including the inevitable 'Rock Band' video game playing on the big screen tv upstairs.

This is actually my first ever Hurricane so I am a little apprehensive - I'm coping by cooking (as usual)Here's the stir fry. I made sure that there are leftovers that can be reheated on the gas stove if we lose electricity. It has been interesting watching the people in the grocery stores....they are bulk buying the craziest items and fighting over staples. I decided rather than fight my way through the crowd for an overpriced loaf of tasteless bread, I would bake.

Here's the Olive Oil Bread waiting to go in the oven. It's cooking as I type this, the smell in the kitchen is wonderful even as it gets slightly cloudy outside.

Oops the oven timer just beeped - so I stopped blogging to get the bread out of the oven. How's this for a loaf :)

No sign of the storm yet - the waiting is the worst.

More updates later!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Praying for Ike?

I'm in a prayer quandary.

I leave on Sunday afternoon to fly to Tucson for part one of my Spiritual Director Training. I've been looking forward to this for months and the classes all look excellent. For a detailed class list click here.

However Hurricane Ike is coming and could potentially delay my flights.
Part of me wants to pray that Ike will miss Houston and hit far enough away so that my plans don't get delayed.

I can't do that.

I know that wherever Ike hits there is going to be damage, so I can't pray that God will protect me and my plans by sending the damage to some other part of the State. Their will probably be people praying there too. Why should God heed my prayer more than theirs? About all I can pray for is that Ike either dissipates or makes landfall at the place that causes the least damage to persons and property. What I really need is a totally barren coastline and inland area that I can prayerfully direct Ike towards!

Apparently on KSBJ the local Christian Radio station this morning, the DJ was asking listeners to pray that Hurricane Ike would head to Mexico (I did not personally hear this, though one of my work colleagues did).

It saddens me that a Christian DJ would make that statement on air. Surely Mexico doesn't want a Hurricane any more than we do!

It reminded me of this video from the Onion.

Hurricane Bound For Texas Slowed By Large Land Mass To The South

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Spaghetti Cat!

Apparently this is a 'Bleep Photo' - here's what the spokesperson said:

"What you saw was our new bleep photo. When someone says something inappropriate we're going to use something like that. You're going to see a lot more of those in the future."


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Channelling Mrs. Lovett?

In the musical Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Lovett declares that she makes 'The Worst Pies in London'

"These are probably the worst pies in London.
I know why nobody cares to take them!
I should know!
I make them!
But good? No...The worst pies in London...
Even that's polite!
The worst pies in London!
If you doubt it take a bite!
Is that just, disgusting?
You have to concede it!
It's nothing but crusting!"

Well I might be giving Mrs Lovett a run for her money.

I blogged here about my problems with pastry. Well I decided that I would tackle it head on for Labor Day.

Labor Day 2007 was a day of creative cookery adventures, that led to the creation of one of my favourite blog entries which you can read here.

Labor Day 2008 was a little calmer. It began with Pie Filling -
This is a mix of Potatoes, Green Onions, Cheese and Sour Cream. A slight adaptation from another one of Nigella Lawson's recipes. Well the filling was made fine, and I made the pastry exactly as the recipe called for. On Saturday I used the Food Processor for it, but this time (after a comment in Nigella that I missed before) I used the Kitchen Aid food mixer with the flat panel.

I chilled the pastry for 20 minutes as per the instructions and then began to roll it out.

And that's where the 'fun' began. To give myself credit it wasn't as bad as Saturday's pastry, but it was still pretty unmanageable.

The first pie wasn't too bad, but as I had to keep gathering up scraps and re-rolling it slowly got worse. Eventually I had four pies ready for the oven. The trouble was the recipe claimed it made eight! How I could have rolled out the pastry thin enough to make crusts for eight pies I have no idea. It was falling apart on me as it was so some serious mushing and squidging took place.

Well here are the 4 pies hot out of the oven - even the first pie that I made seem to suffer from some swelling and then sinkage causing the pastry to distort.

Still served with a green salad they were fine.

I also made up a batch of Bakewell Slices. This is a variant of the Bakewell Tart (which I was amazed to discover has an entry in Wikipedia) and is one of my favourites from the U.K.

After eating a couple of slices last night I bought the tray in to share with my work colleagues. They were very appreciative, esp. the Senior Pastor who made it through five servings :)