Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Quick Chili Fix

Don't get me wrong, I love chili, I love a long slow cooked complex chili taste, I've even been known to buy my own dried chile peppers, toast them and grind them myself...but sometimes I just want something quick.

This three bean chili hits the spot and I didn't even notice the lack of meat, and if you omit the sour cream your vegan friends can join you at the table (hi Kimberly!!!!)

I got this recipe from and it is wonderfully low in fat...good tasting diet food does exist!

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3/4 cup of water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (15 1/2 oz can) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (15 1/2 oz can) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 1/2 oz can) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 1/2 oz can) vegetable broth (preferably organic if you can find it)
1 (15 1/2 oz can) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 tablespoons of reduced-fat sour cream

Heat olive oil in large pan. Saute the onion, bell peppers and garlic for about 3 minutes.
Add the 3/4 cup of water and the next 9 ingredients (through diced tomatoes), bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes - it will look too runny at this stage, don't panic. Stir in cornmeal and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Serving size is 1 1/3 cups and 1 tablespoon sour cream

Quick, nourishing and flavorful!!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pasta and Sauce

Things have been a bit crazy and emotional recently (don't worry, I'm ok) - when I get into that kind of place I generally retreat into cooking. Here is what is bubbling away on the stove right now :) It takes a bit of time, but it is sooo good!

[Courtesy of the wonderful folks at Cook's Illustrated who's cookbooks I adore!]

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pounds country-style pork ribs (trimmed of excess fat)
salt and black pepper (freshly ground of course!)
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes
1 pound Penne or Ziti
Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

1. Heat oil in skillet till shimmering. Season the ribs with salt and black pepper and then brown on all sides, turning occasionally (8-10 minutes)

2. Transfer the ribs to a plate and drain off all but 1 teaspoon of fat from the skillet. Add the onions and saute till softened - about 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add the wine and simmer, scraping all the yummy bits off the bottom of the skillet, until the wine reduces to a glaze - about 2 minutes.

4. Return the ribs (and juices) to the pan and then add the tomatoes and their juice. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer at a low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Turn the ribs several times during this process. The meat should become very tender and practically fall off the bone.

5. Put the ribs on a clean plate. When they are cool enough to handle remove the meat from the bone and shred it with your fingers (discarding the fat and bones). Add the meat back to the skillet and bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Check the seasoning and adjust to taste.

6. Cook your pasta until al dente. Drain and then toss the pasta with the sauce and serve topped with the cheese.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Desire to Climb Trees

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

My excitement was triggered by an email from my friend Paul - 'Nigella Lawson has a new cookbook out and is doing a book signing in town.' You have to understand that I have every cookbook Nigella has written and I frequently make her culinary delights. A new cookbook was exciting enough, but to actually see her in real life? That would be pure ecstasy. Plans were made, maps were printed. Routes were rehearsed. She was appearing somewhere I'd never been before, so I made a preliminary trip just to make sure there would be no problems on the day. (See blog entry here)

I know comparing my culinary 'savior' to the Savior of the Universe might be in bad taste (taste? Get it? GROAN), but when you consider somebody important enough that you want to meet them, you make preparations. I printed maps and drove to a neighborhood I had never been too before, Zacchaeus climbed trees. When you value you someone enough to want to see them you don't let a little thing like unfamiliarity with the territory or the size of a crowd get in your way.

All of us desire an encounter with God - I think the fact that we are sitting here in the Contemplative Service is evidence of that. There is a deep underground current that flows within each one of us that desires that holy connection. We get little nudges of its existence from time to time, a conversation, a poster for a Retreat, the title of a book on a shelf. All little prompts, invitations to go tree climbing.

We can also discount our tree climbing desires easily. We label them as embarrassing, not what respectable people do, immature, inappropriate. We may discount them, bury them or become numb to them but they don't go away because God wired us that way...

...and so, at just the right time, you'll see an employee of the IRS in a sycamore tree.

We celebrate Zacchaeus climbing, his desire to just see Jesus. He doesn't climb the tree because he's heard that Jesus will stay at the home of someone sitting on a tree limb. He doesn't climb the tree because of the consequences; he climbs simply so he can get a better view of Jesus...

...and if we look carefully, and are willing to acknowledge it when we find it, we discover there is something of Zacchaeus in all of us.

How is the desire to climb trees showing itself in your life at the moment?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Poetry for the Soul

Li Po and the Moon - Mary Oliver*

There is the story of the old Chinese poet:
at night alone in his boat he went drinking and dreaming
and singing,

then drowned as he reached for the moon's reflection.
Well, probably each of us, at some time, has been
just as desperate.

Not the moon, though.

In those times when your defences are down what do you reach for?
How is what you reach for merely a reflection of what you actually desire?

*Published in Parabola Summer 2008

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Trial Separation

Dear Dr.

You have been a part of my life for many years now. When I am feeling run down you are the first thing I reach for. When I want to celebrate you are there, and when I need to comfort myself you are my first thought. I seek you out no matter wherever I am in the world, I even managed to locate you in Cambodia! My friends know that I will always be happy if they bring you with them to a party I'm organizing.

Lately though I've been reconsidering our relationship. I've begun to see that what once was just an enjoyment of you has become something more unpleasant. At times I find myself thinking that I can't get by without you, that somehow life will be less if you are not by my side. Rather than getting the rest I need I turn to you for stimulation. Everything is good in moderation, but lately I think I am around you too much and I worry about the effect you are having on me. I don't blame you completely for my recent weight gain, but you are a contributing factor.

Therefore Dr., I've decided that we should spend some time apart for a while. I know that will be tough, because you are everywhere I look. It is difficult for me to even sit down at a restaurant without wishing you were with me, but if our relationship is to become healthy then I know I need to get some separation from you so I can gain clarity.

Please don't expect me to look for you until Easter, and even after that time, I fully anticipate our relationship will be far more casual than it has been the last few months, at times it has felt so consuming that I've felt twinges of doubt. This trial separation is my way of honoring those 'twinges' within me.

So, dear, sweet Dr. Pepper, I'll see you in a few months. Know that I will miss you, but I'll survive.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tending the Garden of the Soul

I am not a gardener. I do not have a green thumb. My Mum was an avid gardener, she would spend hours digging, weeding, planting, mulching and whatever else you do to a garden. She had rosebushes scheduled to bloom throughout the summer, I never really realized that until she pointed it out to me. How she achieved that I have no idea, but I have many memories of looking out the windows into the back garden to see mum in her gardening gloves hunched over the ground knees resting on her foam flowery kneeler rooting through soil.

Mum knew that different seasons of the year meant different jobs to be done.
The tasks of Autumn are very different to the tasks of Spring, do the wrong job at the wrong time and nothing blooms, in fact, you can even harm the garden by pruning when you should be feeding or sowing when you should be reaping. Every Season makes its own demands on the Gardener and every plant needs its own special care.

I was in a discussion this morning on Spiritual Disciplines. We talked about what Disciplines we should take up for the season of Lent. It is so easy for groups like this to covenant to all do similar things. I remember when I first started interning at the Wesley Foundation in Lubbock, all the interns decided we would meet together an hour earlier than work started so that we could worship and pray together...I think we managed about 2 weeks before the agreement fell apart. It wasn't that we weren't committed, it was just that we were trying a 'one size fits all' approach to Spiritual Formation. Those of you who have seen me in the morning know that I am only partially human until I've shaved, showered and had a cup of tea and gotten to at least 9am. I am not one of those bright shiny happy morning people - in fact I usually want to do bodily harm to people who are perky at 7am!

What was great about this morning was we first asked 'What Season am I in?' The answer to that question became the lens through which we decided what Disciplines to take on for Lent.

My answer to that question was 'It's the depth of winter and I'm beginning to get cabin fever from being snowed up so long.'

All of the Seasons are necessary for growth. I've had some experiences in the last week that hint at the coming of Spring, but I'm not quite there yet. If I try and take on the Disciplines of Spring I will fail, get discouraged and feel guilty (one of my favorite emotions SIGH). If I try to impose my winter disciplines on my friend who is experiencing Spring then he will feel held back, restricted and frustrated where he wants to be bursting with new life.

My aim is to be intentional this Lent about tending the garden of my soul, but to do it with respect for the garden itself, not forcing it into activities that I think would be beneficial but would actually be harmful.

What Season are you in right now? What actions do you need to take to tend the garden of your soul? Should you be planting, pruning, resting?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

January Board Games

O.k. so I'm slightly behind the Calendar this month as I should have posted this by now, but better late than never :)

I managed 37 plays of 27 different games in January.

It's a tie for the top spot!

Bucket King and Werewolf with 4 plays each.
I love playing (and facilitating) Werewolf with large groups. It's such a different game to play and it's wonderful to see people get tied into knots as they try and follow someone else's logic or go with their heart. It would be very interesting playing it with a group of people who are used to swaying others with their opinions and oratory!

Bucket King is a simple card game, but has some interesting depth to it as you try and protect your pyramid of buckets from being overturned while at the same time trying to destroy your opponents!

Close behind with three plays was last years winner Dominion

I fully expect this game to be around for quite a while, we're still playing the basic game most of the time and loving it. We do have an expansion on the shelf, and with other expansions available I see this remaining a fixture of game night for some time to come.

Other games that stood out for me this month include:

Wits and Wagers - It's a trivia game where you don't need to know the answers. I led a large version of this game on our Choir retreat with 6 teams of about 10 people. We had a blast and it was a close game. Fun times!

Taj Mahal - I picked up the german edition of this game, from a local thrift score. Somebody had been kind enough to print out the english rules, but everything else inside was still in shrink. It is a seemingly complex game, but once it clicks it is great fun. It had been a long time since I'd played this and I'm very glad it hit the table again.

Code 777 Deduction and logic at its most painful. Everyone has 3 cards infront of them that they cannot see that they are trying to deduce from the other players cards and answers to different questions. I seriously think my brain overheats when I try and play this game, but there is such a rush when you realize you actually worked it out!!!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Poetry to Reflect Upon

The Vacation
Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998), 157.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

When Chess and Role Playing Games Collide!

Click on the pic to see it full size.

Jesus Hates Me - Just to clear up some confusion!

Apparently during the Children's sermon this morning at Chapelwood, Jim invoked my name and mentioned a song I'd written called 'Jesus Hates Me'. He then proceeded to tell the children how that isn't true.

Unfortunately there wasn't time in the children's sermon for Jim to explain the full context and history behind the song, so I was given some very strange looks by church members as I walked into the sanctuary after the service.

Back when I lived in Lubbock I was running a contemporary service with my good friend Sean. One Sunday he told me he was preaching on Spiritual Abuse and did I know any songs on the subject I could sing. I couldn't think of one so I sat down at the piano and improvised the following:

Jesus loves me this I know,
For the bible tells me so,
Little ones to Him belong
Except when we do something wrong.

Then Jesus hates me,
Then Jesus hates me,
Then Jesus hates me,
My Pastor told me so!

If I recall correctly we used the song in the service as a comical way to illustrate how spiritual abuse can happen when the word of God is unintentionally or deliberately misinterpreted.


...and in case you wondered, I created the Church sign using this website.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thank you Mark Bittman!

Who is Mark Bittman? He's a food writer who writes for the NY Times (and other places)

This is a slight adaptation of one of his recipes that has been very popular but for some reason I'm only just getting around to posting.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing.

The recipe is wonderfully easy, and if you throw some chicken breasts in to cook at the same time as the sweet potato, you've got instant meal - though I could just devour the salad by itself without the meat, it's that good!!!!

In this pan is 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks.
One red onion, sliced.
It's all tossed with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkled in salt and pepper. You'll also notice some chicken breasts and some sliced mushrooms (both optional)

Put that pan in the oven and let it roast at 400F for 40 minutes, turning the potatoes and the chicken occ.

In a bowl (photographed under low light) - put 2 red pepper, chopped, 1 can of black beans (drained) and 1 cup of fresh chopped cilantro.

Meanwhile in the bowl of a mini chopper or in a blender put 1 -2 tablespoons of minced Jalapeno (I normally throw in a full chili), 1 clove of garlic, juice of 2 limes and just under 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Blitz it together.

Here is everything (except the chicken) mixed together with the dressing poured over the top. Words and pictures can't describe how comforting this warm salad is.

And if you serve it with the chicken - it's a complete meal.

Now. Go. Shopping.