Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sour Cream Blackberry Pie

This recipe came to me courtesy of my friend Kenneth - thanks for such awesome goodness for Thanksgiving!

You will need:

A single crust pastry case of your own making (or shop bought if you really must) that has been partially pre-baked and cooled.


2 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups full fat sour cream, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
Big pinch of salt
3 cups of fresh blackberries

Streusel Topping

3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter

1. Heat the oven to 350F

2. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Add the sour cream, granulated sugar, flour, vanilla, orange zest and salt, stirring evenly until blended.

Here's everything ready to assemble!

3. Spread the berries evenly across the partially baked and cooled pie crust, then ladle the sour cream mixture over the top of the berries.

4. Make the streusel by combining the flour and brown sugar in a small bowl with your fingers. Add the butter, stirring with a fork. Switch to your fingers and gently rub the topping until it is crumbly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the sour cream filling.

Here it is ready to be baked.

5.Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until the filling is set, about 35 minutes. When done the filling will have puffed slightly and will no longer seem liquid/loose. The pie doesn't brown heavily as it is not in the oven long.

The finished pie.
6. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and allow to cool thoroughly. Serve at room temperature and refrigerate any leftovers :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't fence me in?

For 400 years God had been silent.

Priests still led worship, sacrifices were still offered, but no prophets spoke to the people, Messiah was nowhere to be found...

...until one day in the temple, a priest burning incense in the temple has an encounter with an angel. Zechariah doesn't believe what he is told, he and his wife are both getting on in years, but the angel says they will have a son who will be filled with the spirit of God and prepare the way for the Lord.

His disbelief is understandable. I would respond in the same way.

So the angel tells him he will be mute, speechless until the child is born, and so for 9 months he says nothing. First God is silent, now Zechariah. Until finally, his son John is born, and Zechariah's first words are ones of praise to a God who has not abandoned his people.

The canticle of Zechariah - the Benedictus, is recorded in Luke 1:68-79 and is going to be our focus this Advent season in the Contemplative Service.

In some translations it opens with the words 'Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who shepherds the people and sets them free.' As I've sat with that phrase this week it's opened up some tension within me. I'm drawn to the phrase 'Sets them free', it creates images of wide open spaces, but the phrase 'Shepherds the people' creates a contrasting image of fences.

One invites me to openness, the other creates feelings of confinement within me.

I imagine two sheep, both standing on opposite sides of a fence, arguing about who is inside and who is not. I've been those sheep, and I've wasted too much energy with discussion.

Intellectually I know there are many other images of 'Shepherd', Psalm 23 comes to mind, as do countless pictures of Jesus cradling a lamb that I have seen on many a Sunday school room wall. I also know that there are negatives about freedom - the responsibility of personal choice for example. But at this moment in my spiritual life I respond negatively to 'Shepherds' and positively to 'Set them free'.

I'm tempted to over analyze my response to the negative, to lose myself in that rather than allow God to speak to me in the part of scripture that is inviting my spirit. Advent is a time of waiting with purpose, of consciously silencing the outside noise and getting in touch with my inner longings.

Zechariah had 9 months of silence to grasp the miracle that God was doing in his life. Surely I can cope with 4 weeks?

So my intent for Advent is to notice where I am being invited by God, those things where I feel drawn. Words, phrases and images that invite me to step into a larger reality, a reality that waits in anticipation for God to speak and to move.

How do the words of Zechariah invite you today?

'Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who shepherds the people and sets them free.'

Where in your life do you need shepherding? Where do you need freedom? What images come to mind to you today as you reflect on those words? What images call to your spirit and invite you to wait in silent anticipation with them this Advent Season?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Follow me and I will........

The First Disciples

Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.
And He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

Matt 4:18-20

I read this passage this afternoon and I was struck by the fact that as far as I can tell this was the first encounter Simon Peter and Andrew had with Jesus. So picture the scene, this stranger walks up to them and offers to make them into fishers of men. Without a second thought they step away from their livelihood and follow him.

I wonder what it was about the offer of learning to be 'fishers of men' that resonated so much with the brothers that it led to their response. There had to be something in both the offer and the person offering it that made it so attractive that it elicited such a response.

I wonder what Jesus would offer to me that would connect to my inner yearning and cause me to respond in the same way.

'Follow me and I will make you a great composer'

'Follow me and I will make you learn to love yourself completely'

'Follow me and I will make you touch other people's lives'

Follow me and I will........

Follow me and I will........

Follow me

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Paprika, divided
½ teaspoon seasoned salt (e.g. Tony Sachereys)
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 lbs beef chuck cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
8oz mushrooms, quartered
3 potatoes, cubed
5 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup marsala wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (can add more to taste)
4 cups low sodium beef broth (approx 2 cans – I make up the difference with water or wine)
1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 package dry onion soup mix
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

1. In the bottom of the crockpot, put the potatoes, carrots, celery, and garlic.

2. In a ziplock bag put the flour, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, seasoned salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper.

3. Add the cubed beef and shake to coat.

4. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the beef till lightly browned (in batches if need be)

5. Put the beef in the crock pot and, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon sauté the onion and mushrooms until the onions are translucent.

6. Drain the fat and then add the onions and mushrooms to the crockpot.

If you are preparing this the night before stop here and refrigerate.

7. Add the beef broth (plus the extra water/wine if needed), tomatoes, onion soup mix, wine and Worcestershire Sauce.

8. Cook on High for 4 to 6 hours or on Low for 10 to 12 hours.

9. When the cooking time is up, mix the cornstarch with the cold water and then stir into the stew.

10. Let cook for at least 5 mins longer to slightly thicken and then serve.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010

October's Games

October featured 25 plays of 14 different games. Top of the list?

Werewolf I have played 29 games of Werewolf this year so far, 5 of them in October, and I foresee some more in the future. Well, when I say play, I can assume that actually for the majority of these games I've been Moderating the game for others rather than playing it myself. But moderating it is fun and creative so it still counts :)

Forbidden Island (3 plays) is by game designer Matt Leacock who also designed Pandemic which I played twice this month. They share similar mechanics and are both cooperative games where the players join forces as a team to beat the game. In forbidden Island the goal is to rescue 4 treasures from the island before it sinks into the ocean. I like the way the pace of this game speeds up as the game continues. It starts off looking easy to do but the island starts sinking faster and faster and so some difficult decisions have to be made. Ultimately a lot comes down to the shuffling of one deck of cards to whether you can achieve your goal or not. I enjoy this and I think it is a good gateway game to introduce people to cooperative gaming.

Haggle is a game that deserves special mention as it doesn't get played very often. I ran this game on our Men's Retreat this year. I handed out over 45 envelopes each containing 10 random colored cards and two rules. The men had approximately 24 hours to negotiate and trade deals with one another. At the end of that time they submitted an envelope with a set of cards that I scored according to all 15 rules.

A large part of the game is in obtaining and interpreting all 15 rules. Not an easy task. Of all the envelopes I handed out I received back 7 which I scored using a spreadsheet that my friend Bill prepared for me - scoring by hand is a real hassle, so thanks Bill!!!!

Some of the guys got really into trying to obtain all 15 rules. They managed it, but even then interpreting their interplay is not the easiest task, and they were beaten by the youngest kid at the retreat who only saw half the rules but took a very educated guess. I love surprise upsets!!!

Snowtails made a welcome return to the table, as did Die Aufsteiger.

In a few weeks I will be off to Dallas for my yearly boardgame convention :) 5 days of playing boardgames with other aficionados. Who knows what new and exciting games I will return with!!!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember, remember...

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Guy Fawkes Night originates from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Anglican King James I of England and VI of Scotland and replace him with a Catholic head of state. The survival of the king was first celebrated on 5 November 1605, after Guy Fawkes, left in charge of the gunpowder placed underneath the House of Lords, was discovered and arrested.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

and forgive us our [blank] as we forgive those who [blank] against us

I didn't grow up saying the Lord's Prayer very often, the church I attended seemed to view unison spoken prayer as somehow suspect. The Lord's Prayer was cited as a model to follow rather than words to recite. It was only when I spent sometime at the local C of E church as a chorister that I began to say the prayer with any regularity.

In the liturgy that we used the [blank] was always filled by the word 'Sin'. Later on I discovered other people who used the words 'Trespasses'. Fortunately I discovered that if I started saying the word Sin when everyone else was Trespassing I could easily morph my S to fit in and end up saying something that sounded like Sespasses.

When I moved to the U.S. I discovered people using the word Debts. It's quite difficult for me to disguise my liturgical lapse if I start saying Sin and everyone else uses Debts. My S sounds far to early to be disguised and the word Sebts doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Sins, Debts and Trespasses all paint different images in my mind. Debts leads to images of Bank Balances, of dusty ledgers and accounts in the red. Trespasses are fields encased with fences with warning signs promising prosecution for people who do not heed them. Sins are arrows flying through the air falling short of the target.

But what is the target, the mark that we are trying to hit?

In my earnest teenage years, the target was Perfection. Sin, was generally anything 'bad', anything that went against my internalized moral code. Lying, Smoking, Drinking, Disobeying your Parents, and of course anything to do with Sex. Over the years my Moral Code has shifted, items jockey for position, new ones appear and others disappear.

But what if the 'target' is something other than my internalized definition of Sin?

Back in the Garden of Eden the first words the Serpent says to Eve is 'Did God say....' Eve begins to question her connection to God and her ability to hear him. Hot on the heels of this comes the implication that God is depriving Eve, that who she is, isn't enough '.....your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God....'

What if Sin is our inability to step fully into who God has created us to be. To Be and Do something other than what we were created for. We mistrust our own connection to God (Did God say....) and we think who God has created us to be is somehow lacking or less than all it could be.

What if Sin is wearing masks that present who we think we ought to be rather than who we are. We present a version that is less than who God calls us to be, 'sanitized for your protection'. We think living life to the full is fully expanding into our fake shell without ever questioning the shell's validity.

Our woundedness, trying to be something other than who God lovingly creates us to be manifests itself in the sins we commit. Our sins are like the warning lights on the dashboard of the car, telling us that there is a deeper problem.

Our sins flow from our wounds, and it is from Christ's wounds that we find healing and forgiveness.

That sounds so nice....and I paused after writing it because although it is poetic, I need to find out what it actually means, here are some ways Healing and Forgiveness have manifested themselves in my life.

Healing and Forgiveness means liking myself for who I am rather than hating myself for who I am not.

Healing and Forgiveness means offering who I think I should be to God and allowing that image to be transformed, enlarged, and even destroyed if necessary.

Healing and Forgiveness means feeling rather than avoiding the weight of my sin, my brokenness, so that I can encounter God there.

Healing and Forgiveness means letting go of my pain rather than treating it like a close friend.

Healing and Forgiveness means letting God dissolve the false images I have of myself.

Healing and Forgiveness means growing into all God has for me.

Healing and Forgiveness means trying to be as gracious to myself as God is to me.

Healing and Forgiveness means trusting my own connection to God.

As you pray the line 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us', ask yourself where you need forgiveness and healing in your life.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Child Sacrifice, Euchre and God

I'm doing a lot of reading as part of my Ignatian Spirituality Small Group, and one passage that has stuck with me recently is Genesis 22:1-19 It's a passage that I used to like, but now have conflicting opinions about. God decides to test Abraham buy asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac to him on Mount Moriah. It takes 3 days to get there, and on the third day, whilst carrying the wood for the fire Isaac finally asks the question that has been on his mind. "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham responds "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." When they reach the mountain top, they get everything ready and then Abraham quickly ties up Isaac places him on the Altar and raises his knife. It's at this point an Angel tells Abraham to stop. He tells Abraham that the scenario has been a test to see whether Abraham really does fear God. A ram is found caught in the thicket that is used for the offering instead.

I'm guessing Isaac was in therapy with trust/daddy/God issues for quite a long time!

There is some evidence that Child Sacrifice was as an Ancient Near Eastern Practice of both the Moabites and the Ammonites. It's fascinating to read how people have wrestled with interpreting this passage. Click here for a good summary.

According to Rabbi J. H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually "rife among the Semitic peoples," and he suggests that "in that age, it was astounding that Abraham's God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it."

That interpretation appeals to me because it opens me up to my own assumptions about God. Abraham is shown that his God is different to the Gods of the cultures around him. YHWH prevents an act that may have been a common occurrence in the culture and shocks Abraham in the process (it would be like God stopping the offering plates from being passed around in the middle of worship!). YHWH Suddenly becomes a lot different to what Abraham expects.

I wonder how much my culture has influenced my understanding of who God is.

Imagine you had grown up only playing Euchre, a trick taking game that uses a deck of cards consisting of 9 through Ace in 4 suits. All you know is a deck of 28 cards and one rule set.

Then someone hands you a deck with 52 cards and teaches you Poker, Bridge, Rummy, Hearts, etc

Suddenly the size of the deck and the possibilities for games has gotten a lot greater.

That's what my Spiritual Journey has felt like. The shift from '28 cards to 52 cards' was quite an adjustment in the spiritual realm. A lot of who God was for me shifted, and that shift felt as surprising as God interposing to prevent the sacrifice...

...and then I discovered and even bigger world of card games, stepping beyond my deck of 52 cards. Games involving decks with 5 or more different suits, and sometimes as many as 18 or 19 cards in each suit.

The possibilities are overwhelming.

God keeps getting bigger...

...and every time I wonder if I am crossing over the line from orthodoxy to heresy. I thought I was open about God, then I discovered that all I was doing was shuffling the 'cards' I already had, unwilling to admit that there might be more. I still find myself wanting to speak with absolute certainty about divine mystery.

I need to realize that when it comes to understanding God, none of us are playing with full decks.