Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Read a Poem

How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

You can now read poetry.

Pamela Spiro Wagner

Monday, March 22, 2010

A moment of Poetry

by Connie Wanek

We used to play, long before we bought real houses.
A roll of the dice could send a girl to jail.
The money was pink, blue, gold as well as green,
and we could own a whole railroad
or speculate in hotels where others dreaded staying:
the cost was extortionary.

At last one person would own everything,
every teaspoon in the dining car, every spike
driven into the planks by immigrants,
every crooked mayor.
But then, with only the clothes on our backs,
we ran outside, laughing.

"Monopoly" by Connie Wanek, from On Speaking Terms. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chicken Tikka Masala

(Sorry the pic isn't better, it was taken on my cellphone in a hurry!)

"In the 1970s a plateful of overcooked chicken tikka - boneless, skinless chunks, skewered and cooked in a tandoor oven - was sent back to the kitchen of a London curry house by a disappointed patron. The Bangladeshi chef in charge acted quickly, heating canned tomato soup with cream, sprinkling in Indian spices, and pouring it over the chicken before sending it back out to the dining room. His inventive creation of chicken tikka masala satisfied the demanding customer, and as the recipe was perfected, diners worldwide (including those in India) fell in love with the tender, moist pieces of chicken napped with a lightly spiced tomato cream sauce. In fact chicken tikka masala is so adored that it went on to overtake the likes of Yorkshire pudding and fish and chips as the "true national dish" of Great Britain, according to former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook."

~ Behind the Scenes with America's Test Kitchen (2008 Companion cookbook)

Steve and I visited The Red Lion a few weekends ago and we both lovingly consumed their Chicken Tikka Masala that was advertised on the Food Network Show 'Drivers, Diners and Dives'. After having reacquainted my taste buds with the gloriousness that is C.T.M. I decided to try out the recipe that I have from America's Test Kitchen.

Here it is in all its deliciousness!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka
  • I teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (low fat will also work)
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced.
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Combine the salt, cumin, coriander and cayenne in a small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the spice mixture, pressing gently so the mixture adheres. Place the chicken on a place, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger: set aside.

Masala Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced finely (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon Garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced
  • 1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and light golden, 8 - 10 minutes. Add the garam masala, tomato paste, garlic, ginger, and chile; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cream and return to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and keep warm.

While the sauce simmers, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position (about 6 inches from the heating element) and heat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan with foil and set a wire rack on it. Using tongs, dip the chicken into the yogurt mixture (the chicken should be coated with a thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on the wire rack. Discard the excess yogurt mixture. Broil the chicken until the thickest parts register 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer and the exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through the cooking.

Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then cut into 1 inch chunks and stir into the warm sauce (do not simmer the chicken in the sauce as it will toughen). Stir in the cilantro, season with salt to taste, and serve.

A couple of thoughts from making it yesterday.

1) It was flavorful but not spicy enough for me, I would suggest increasing the cayenne pepper on the chicken to 1/2 teaspoon rather than a quarter, and also adding the ribs and seeds from the serrano chile.

2) Make sure you preheat the broiler well for this dish, my chicken took longer than expected because of it.

3) Get an instant read thermometer. Because of the way the coating on the chicken lightly chars, it is very easy to assume it is cooked through. Yesterday I thought it was cooked at least twice, but when I checked it with my thermometer I knew to place it back under the broiler. Don't serve undercooked chicken!!!

4) Many broilers give off heat unevenly, rotate the pan with the chicken a couple of times while cooking to get every piece to cook evenly.

5) Garam Masala can be tough to track down. McCormick Spices and Seasonings make a wonderful one, but my local Kroger didn't sell it. I ended up having to make a specialized trip to Penzeys Spice Company for mine. If you still can't find it, there are many recipes online to make up a mix from scratch. I can't promise their effectiveness though. You can find one here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.

~~Miguel de Unamuno

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I like catfish...who knew? :)

Growing up in the U.K. I never sampled catfish. I never ate much fish at all besides battered and deep fried Plaice from the the local fish and chip shop. Catfish kinda scared me, it looks like it hangs around sewage pipes waiting to eat whatever flushes into the stream.

Well as part of my desire to eat healthy I tried some grilled catfish at a local restaurant and loved it. Since then I've started fixing catfish myself. Here's one healthy way that I fix it.

Crisp-Crusted Catfish

2 tablespoons light ranch dressing
2 large egg whites
6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 (6oz) catfish fillets
Cooking spray
Lemon wedges

Combine the dressing and the egg whites together in a shallow bowl and stir well with a whisk. Combine the cornmeal, cheese, flour, pepper, and salt in a shallow dish. Dip the fish into the egg white mixture and then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.

Place the fish on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; bake at 425F for 12 minutes and then turn the fish over and bake another 12 minutes or until lightly browned and the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve with fresh lemon squeezed over the top.

It's crunchy and delicious and about 313 calories per serving.

Now me being me I'm never satisfied to just let the recipe stand as is, although I did make it that way the first time. Here's some improvements I made.

1) Try putting red pepper flakes in the cornmeal mix for more kick.
2) Dredge the fish in flour first, shaking off the excess, and then the egg white and then the cornmeal. It makes the coating stick better.
3) Allow the fish to sit on a rack for at least 10 minutes after being coated. It makes the coating crisp up and adhere better to the fish.
4) Substitute Panko for the cornmeal. It raises the calorie count slightly, but the resultant crunch is incredible.

One other thing, the easiest way I've found to spray a cookie sheet without covering the kitchen in an oily sheen is to open the dishwasher door, lay the cookie sheet on that and spray there - of course you do need to remove any clean items that might be in the door first.

Now go out and buy some catfish :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Exit leads to.....

Sometimes I start a blog post with a clear idea of where the post is heading....then there are those other posts, like this one. I just start typing because there is something I want to process. I have no clear goal in sight, I'm not even sure whether what I write will lead anywhere.

On Sunday in the Contemplative Service we opened with a series of simple reflections. The final one was worded as follows:
  • I open my eyes to find some symbol of my yearning for God...a candle, a portion of stained glass, an image on the screen, a word, an object, a piece of clothing. What symbolizes my hunger for God today?

Where I was sitting I had my back to the candles, the wall obscured the stained glass, the screen was directly above my head. I could see the congregation and the way out of the chapel, and one object that seemed to be fighting for my attention.

Directly in my line of sight was the sign over the Emergency Exit. It's a door that gets used surprisingly often, usually when we have a fire in one of our candle banks from people being over zealous with their prayers. As it's the other side of the Chapel to the piano it's a door I've never personally used.

So why an Exit Sign? I have no idea. My brain tried to chase down a reason all through the rest of the service. It actually became a bit of a distraction as there was a point where I was changing key in a song, and while my hands modulated up a minor third I started singing the melody a major fourth higher, and as the song started on the third of the tonic chord, that meant I came in with a very strong tritone! I know that won't make sense to some of you, but just trust me, it wasn't pretty and it took me a few moments to work out whether to raise the key on the piano or lower the key of my voice.

A simple question rattled around my brain. What is on either side of the door? What am I stepping out of, and what am I stepping into? The answer to both questions was the same.


I found myself imagining all the things in my life that I refuse to let go of like a crowded room on the TLC show 'Hoarders'. All the things I have trouble forgiving myself for piled in one corner, all the attitudes that I don't like to admit I have stacked by the window. Blocking my way to the exit sign was a massive stack of promises I had made to myself that had just fallen where they were broken. There was a thick carpet of shame over everything and some large regrets were threatening to collapse on top of me as well.

I imagined climbing over all the detritus and stepping through the door, and it was at that point that things got really surreal.

I loved that movie, it was wonderfully strange.

When I imagined walking through that door, the first response to 'Where am I?' was simply 'I'm inside myself'. Inside myself without clutter, shame, regret, fear, or broken promises. Inside myself at my most real, authentic, vulnerable, alive. It felt like seeing all the glorious possibilities of the future.

All this while trying to play piano and lead worship.

The closing Benediction for the service caught me by surprise. It was written by my friend Jerry and is a part of his reflections on Psalm 143

Show me the first steps of the path into my future, the steps that will draw me deeper into Your heart, the steps that will draw out of me my most authentic self, the steps that will lead me to lay down my life on behalf of those You love and gave Your life for. Deliver me from the fear of taking the next risky step...for my heart's desire is to walk with You into the days ahead.

If I stay in my room I have a feeling of safety, but that safety comes at a stifling cost. The mountains of items stacked up threaten to collapse onto me. I become so attached to them I may never discard them.

The hardest journey to make is the journey into vulnerable authenticity. It's only when I stop living my life driven by what I think other people are thinking about me, that I am able to show my true self to others and be loved by them. I need to trust that the voice that I hear is God calling me out of the tomb of my own existence and leading me to stumble forward like Lazarus into the bright light of a new day.

(When I first typed that last paragraph, I switched into the Plural Voice ''s only when we stop living our lives...' etc. It was a struggle to go back and edit it into the Singular. Somehow it made the sentiment more real and more challenging)

Parts of my life I live on the other side of the door, and other moments I remain in my room. God in his grace allows me access to both sides of the exit. He knows that too much freedom all at once can feel intoxicating, and yet he continues to woo me onwards until that glorious day when I step through the door and close it behind me forever.

Edible Math

(Thanks to my friend Simon for this)

If you have a pizza with a radius of 'z' and a thickness of 'a' then it's volume can be expressed as the following:

Volume= Pi.z.z.a


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Singing Accapella Taylor Swift!

I do not own a single Taylor Swift album, the only song I know of hers is 'You Belong with Me', which I stumbled upon because the video was kinda cute and fun. If you haven't seen it please watch before you read any further.

At the University of Rochester their is an all male Acapella group called the Yellow Jackets who did a version of this song. They also filmed a video parody of it. This is live footage from their concert, it starts off a little dark, but then they show the video while they sing live.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Contemplative Giggles

Sometimes I confess I have the mind of a 14yr old - though if I'm honest I should actually say 'frequently'.

I was in Contemplative Worship this morning and we were praying with part of an ancient Celtic prayer from the Carmina Gadelica.

The leader encouraged us to touch parts of our body as we prayed as a gesture that we were offering them to God. It was all very reverent and holy, until I reached the end of the prayer and had to stifle a fit of giggles.

God be in my head and in my understanding
God be in my eyes and in my seeing
God be in my heart and in my loving
God be in my ways and in my walking.

God be in my mind and in my thinking
God be in my mouth and in my speaking
God be in my hands and in my doing
God be in my end and at my departing.

Visions of people 'goosing themselves' in prayer leapt to mind so I had to hide my smile behind the piano music stand!

My inner child is definitely alive and well!

Friday, March 05, 2010

The February Board Game Tally

Well I managed to get in 28 plays this past month. I played 19 different games so as you can imagine some got played a lot.

First with an amazing total of 7 plays is Hive It's an awesome 2 player game where you are both in control of identical sets of insects and you are trying to surround your opponents Queen Bee. All the insects have their own distinct ways of moving and so the game has a chess like feel but without a board. It's simple to learn and yet the strategies are surprising and numerous. Frequently I would think I was one move away from losing and then discover a move that put me in the advantage and my opponent on the defense. Learn it. Play it. Love it. I know of one fan of the game who has had the insects from the playing pieces tattooed on his forearm - now that is a fan!!!

Three games had 2 plays this month:

Kakerlaken Poker - It's a fun game of bluff featuring insects and other vermin that I've written about before. It's simple enough to pick up really quickly but generally causes some laughter and some agony. It's a good test of whether you can detect when other people are lying.

New York Chase - It's all against one in this race around Manhattan. One player is the elusive 'Mr. X.' and the other players unite as detectives trying to track him down for reasons unknown. You have no idea where he is on the board, but you know how he is travelling (taxi, bus, subway etc) and so the team uses their combined logic skills to deduce where he is. How long can Mr. X. stay hidden? In our games, not long enough. Mr. X. wins if he can elude the other players for a set number of turns, but I've yet to see Mr. X. manage it. Fun times!!!

TransAmerica - It's a race to connect cities in the U.S. by train. Every player draws their own destination and races to lay tracks over Plains, Mountains and Rivers. When you connect into another player's network you can use their track to help you connect, but they can also use yours so careful placement is a must. It's a light game that works well with non-gamers so I often pack it in my travelling bag!

The rest were all single plays of games, some old favorites and some new ones. At the moment 'Hive' is my highest played game of the year with 10 plays, while last years most played game 'Dominion' has only hit the table 3 times in 2010. Will it make a comeback? Will Hive still be in the top spot by the end of the year? Tune in next month for the update :)

Monday, March 01, 2010

The 'Vowels to Bosnia Campaign'

Cities of Sjlbvdnzv, Grzny to Be First Recipients

Before an emergency joint session of Congress yesterday, President Obama announced US plans to deploy over 75,000 vowels to the war-torn region of Bosnia. The deployment, the largest of its kind in American history, will provide the region with the critically needed letters A,E,I,O,U, and Y, and is hoped to render countless Bosnian words more pronounceable.

"For six years, we have stood by while names like Ygrjvslhv and Tzlynhr and Glrm have been horribly butchered by millions around the world," Obama said. "Today, the United States must finally stand up and say 'Enough.' It is time the people of Bosnia finally had some vowels in their incomprehensible words. The US is proud to lead the crusade in this noble endeavor."

The deployment, dubbed Operation Vowel Storm by the State Department, is set for early next week, with the Adriatic port cities of Sjlbvdnzv and Grzny slated to be the first recipients. Two C-130 transport planes, each carrying more than 500 24-count boxes of "E's," will fly from Andrews Air Force Base across the Atlantic and airdrop the letters over the cities.

Citizens of Grzny and Sjlbvdnzv eagerly await the arrival of the vowels. "My God, I do not think we can last another day," Trszg Grzdnjkln, 44, said. "I have six children and none of them has a name that is understandable to me or to anyone else. Mr. Obama, please send my poor, wretched family just one 'E.' Please."

Said Sjlbvdnzv resident Grg Hmphrs, 67: "With just a few key letters, I could be George Humphries. This is my dream."

If the initial airlift is successful, Obama said the United States will go ahead with full-scale vowel deployment, with C-130's airdropping thousands more letters over every area of Bosnia. Other nations are expected to pitch in as well, including 10,000 British "A's" and 6,500 Canadian "U's." Japan, rich in A's and O's, was asked to participate, but declined.

"With these valuable letters, the people of war-ravaged Bosnia will be able to make some terrific new words," Obama said. "It should be very exciting for them, and much easier for us to read their maps."

Linguists praise the US's decision to send the vowels. For decades they have struggled with the hard consonants and difficult pronunciation of most Slavic words. "Vowels are crucial to construction of all language," Baylor University linguist Noam Frankel said. "Without them, it would be difficult to utter a single word, much less organize a coherent sentence. Please, just don't get me started on the moon-man languages they use in those Eastern European countries."

According to Frankel, once the Bosnians have vowels, they will be able to construct such valuable sentences as: "The potatoes are ready"; "I believe it will rain"; and "All my children are dead from the war" [And "Oh my God, there's an axe in my head." ?]

The airdrop represents the largest deployment of any letter to a foreign country since 1984. During the summer of that year, the US shipped 92,000 consonants to Ethiopia, providing cities like Ouaouoaua, Eaoiiuae, and Aao with vital, lifegiving supplies of L's, S's and T's. The consonant-relief effort failed, however, when vast quantities of the letters were intercepted and hoarded by violent, gun-toting warlords.

(originally written by the staff of the Onion)