Monday, February 28, 2011

Easy BBQ Pulled Pork

2 lb pork loin
½ cup minced onion
1 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbls black strap molasses
1 Tbls apple cider vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth

Remove all visible fat from the pork loin.

Place the pork and onions in a crock pot.

Mix the remaining ingredients. Pour over the pork and onions.

Cook on high for 2 hours. Turn crockpot to low and continue cooking fro another 6 hours.

Shred pork with two forks and serve.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Red and White Chili

¾ lb 94% lean ground beef
26oz beef broth
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1½ Tbls chili powder
¼ cup ground cumin
1-28oz can RoTel
1-28oz can crushed tomatoes
1-28oz can chili beans
1-32oz can tomato juice
3-14.5oz cans great northern beans

Cook the ground beef in the beef broth, cooking until, about 1/2 cup of liquid remains. Add onions and garlic. Cook until no liquid remains.

Add the remaining ingredients.

Cook over low heat until quite thick, 2-3 hours.

Serve with gluten free Potato-Cornmeal bread.

Potato and Cornmeal Bread*

¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
5 egg whites
¾ cup plain yogurt
1¼ cups potato starch
¾ cup cornmeal
1 Tbls baking powder
1½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 Tbls xanthan gum
1½ Tbls apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350*F. Lightly grease a medium loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.

Add the egg whites and beat until very foamy. Beat in the yogurt and apple cider vinegar.

Add the dry ingredients. Mix until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes.

*This recipe comes from Roben Ryberg's You Won'te Believe It's Gluten-Free! (2008). It is the multigrain loaf found on page 81.

Veal Tarragon

Veal Tarragon
Serves 4

4-6oz veal steaks, ¼ inch thick, or 24oz veal scallopini
½ cup potato or corn starch
1½ Tbls kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbls olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 tsp dried or 2 Tbls fresh tarragon
½ cup white wine
½ cup heavy cream
¾ cup beef broth

Using paper towels, dry the veal very well.

Combine starch, salt, and pepper. Dredge veal in starch, shaking off excess.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Arrange veal in the pan, in a single layer, cooking until lightly browned. Turn and cook other side until browned. Remove to a platter. Cook remaining veal in same fashion.

Once all veal is cooked and removed platter, add white wine to the pan to deglaze. Add shallots and tarragon. Cook until liquid is reduced to about 1 Tbls.

Add cream and cook until reduced by half.

Add beef broth. Bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Return veal to the pan, turning to coat each piece in the tarragon cream sauce. Heat through and serve.

This is excellent with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Rant

Recently, a friend posted a video clip to her facebook page. This clip is a compilation of tweets posted on twitter, arranged music video style, and uploaded to youtube depicting "death threats" against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. The "story" is reported by FoxNews. A few blogs, like this one, have picked it up, criticizing democrats, the "Far Left Loons," union activists, and most especially the mainline, liberal media for failing to report on this "story."

The criticisms are about what one would expect from these sources: "liberals are mindless idiots", "democrats are ruining the country", "the liberal media once again plays favorites, demonizing Sarah Palin and the Tea Party while ignoring vitriolic hate speech and calls to violence of the left by failing to report on this 'story'."

Let me be clear on a few points:

1. I'm a registered Democrat
2. I'm really far to the left
3. I find calls to violence offensive regardless of who's calling

However, I find the notion that a few tweets by a couple of people is somehow newsworthy because it uses violent rhetoric ridiculous. And I find it grossly offensive that this "story" is being contrasted to the comments made by the liberal media in the aftermath of the Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt; comments that, while calling out Sarah Palin and the Tea Party specifically, also chastised those on the left for their use of violent rhetoric in the past, repudiated their own past use of violent rhetoric, and called for increased civility in public discourse.

Here's why I find this "story" offensive:

Having watched the video, and looked at the twitter accounts of every individual who has a tweet represented, we have a total of 13 tweets represents 12 individual accounts with a grand total of 1,347 followers, and only one twitter user makes any mention in their biographical information that might indicate a political affiliation, and it's "progressive."

6 of these tweets actually call for violence.
4 of these tweets wish Scott Walker would die.
3 of these tweets draw the conclusion that someone is likely take violent action against Scott Walker for his policies.

This is contrasted with Sarah Palin's twitter account which has 421,622 followers. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are household names. They are well known political activists who spend billions of dollars on political ads to put their names on television. They go on talk shows, news shows, participate in televised debates, and have historically made significant calls for violence in what they deemed colorful speech that no one could be expected to take seriously.

Do I believe that the hateful rhetoric of the right has contributed to a climate of hate? Yes. As has the hateful rhetoric of the left. Anytime we use hate speech we contribute to a climate of violence regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum--assuming we count ourselves on that spectrum at all.

Do I believe Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are responsible for the violent actions of others? No. We each make our own choices. We are influenced, certainly, by any number of factors. Ultimately, however, we choose how we act and react.

Do I believe that a few tweets by a dozen people who are followed by 0.00000449% of the US population is newsworthy? Definitely not.

Because, you know, if that were the case, then my local news channel failing to report on the amazing recipes I perfect and share with all of you is a gross oversight of liberal media. When's FoxNews going to knock on my door?

And Then, I Turned the Other Cheek

This past Sunday, our pastor preached on Matthew 5:38-48.

He spoke specifically about the 1st century culture of "turning the other cheek," "giving both your cloak and your tunic," and "walking another mile." It really was an excellent sermon, and I quite enjoyed it. As Ministry Intern at the church, I was asked to assist in the demonstrative portion of the sermon.

The demonstration came when the pastor explained how one would strike an equal, with an open hand or fist, to the left cheek with the intent to cause physical harm. If one was striking a subordinate, one would strike with the back of the hand, connecting with the right cheek instead, with the intent to "put one in his/her place." As the pastor explained it, "turning the other cheek," would, culturally, draw attention the evil of the superiors actions, equating their use of physical violence as a means of social control with the use of physical violence as a means of injury.

Now, when the pastor asked me before the service if I would be willing to assist in the sermon, I was more than willing. It was not until after I had consented, that he told me what he intended. I began to have reservations.

My concerns were not that my pastor would actually strike me. He is, perhaps, the gentlest man I know. He's kind and considerate, and incredibly jocular. I truly enjoy talking with him, working with him, learning from him.

Assisting in the worship service, participating in the worship service, being in the worship service prior to the sermon, however, I was distracted. I wondered about the theological implications of my pastor slapping and backhanding me, even if he stopped short of actually striking me. I wondered what the effect of witnessing such a demonstration might have on 1) those in the audience who had experienced domestic violence and 2) children in the audience who were going to see their pastor "strike" me.

I was actually quite troubled by the whole notion. By time the sermon came, and I stood before my congregation, I was really uncomfortable. My discomfort grew as the pastor spoke about the cultural significance as it related to male/female and superior/subordinate relationships. Here I was, a female intern, being "struck" by her male supervisor. Though my pastor's hand never made contact with my face, it was difficult. At one point, I remember thinking to myself, "Just keep it together. It'll be over soon."

Now, the whole "keeping it together" is a thought I have every time I'm called up in front of the church by my pastor. He likes to give them updates on my ordination journey--reintroducing me to the church when I applied for In Care status, telling them I'd be received by the deacons and would be applying next to the Association, that I was accepted by the Association and was now a "Member in Discernment" since they had changed the language two months ago.... All things better said in a newsletter, or better yet, the Annual Report, which hardly anyone, it seems bothers to read. I'm just not comfortable standing in front of a crowd while someone else talks about me. I feel like a stage prop. It's weird. But, I digress.

This time, however, I was trying to "keep it together" for other reasons. I thought about my mother. I thought about my sister. I thought about both of my brothers. All of whom have been victims of domestic violence or child abuse. I wasn't frightened or upset. I was mindful of the reality of my family of origin, and what it means to me, personally, to willingly participate in a demonstration of the abuses of power.

Now, certainly, this was a demonstration that spoke against the abuses of power. But it was an extremely uncomfortable demonstration for me, nonetheless.

As I returned to my seat, I wondered about a lot of things--were their people in the congregation, other than my family, who had been subjected to or perpetrators of domestic violence? How were they coping with the sermon demonstration? Did it register for them at all, or were they so divorced from their experience, as is common with trauma survivors, that they were wholly unaffected by what was unfolding before them on stage? What was my role in all of this? Do I, as an intern, have a right or a responsibility to share with my supervisor the realities of PTSD and the potential for such a demonstration to elicit a trauma response in those watching, even if they knew no violence was actually being perpetrated?

And how could this have been done differently? What would it have been like if my pastor had asked me, a female subordinate, to demonstrate on him, a male superior, the differences in between the two methods of striking? What were the theological implications of turning things upside down in that way? Or if the pastor had asked a male deacon to assist? How would that have been read, socially and theologically? And, hey, what about male-on-male violence in the U.S.?

I understand what my pastor's intent was, but somehow, I think it would have been better, much better, to use really descriptive language, to paint a mental picture, rather than use a live prop. Maybe we need to get the church to invest in a couple of mannequins.

At the end of it all, with the exception of really itchy skin, I walked away unscathed. But with much to ponder.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake

This is an altered recipe based on Alton's Brown's Sour Cream Cheesecake.
Mine is, of course, crust-less because that's the traditional way of making cheesecake. Though maybe someday I'll do a brownie crust. Or a sugar cookie crust. Oh, the possibilities.

Chocolate Cheesecake

20 ounces cream cheese
10 ounces sour cream
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 yolks
1/3 cup heavy cream
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (this is approximately 1 cup of chips)
3 Tbls cocoa powder
1 Tbls shortening

Lightly butter a 9 inch springform pan. Line with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Brush some of the melted butter around a 9 by 3-inch cake pan. Adhere parchment to the bottom and the sides.

In a small glass bowl, heat the chocolate along with the cocoa powder and shortening, in a microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until completely melted. Cool.

In a large bowl, beat sour cream for 10 seconds. Add the cream cheese and sugar and beat on low for 30 seconds and then turn up to medium. Scrape the bowl.

In a separate container, combine vanilla, eggs, yolks, and heavy cream. While continuing to beat the cream cheese mixture, slowly pour the liquid mixture in.
When half of it is incorporated, stop and scrape. Fold in the remaining egg mixture. Fold in the cooled chocolate.

Pour into prepared pan.

Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees F. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and open the door for one minute. Close the door for one more hour. Chill the cheesecake for at least 6 hours, but no more than 24 hours before serving.

To serve, run a knife around the outside of the pan. Dip the bottom of the pan in hot water bath for about 15 seconds. Remove cheesecake to a serving plate. (This works best if you turn it out into your hand, protected by a sheet of plastic wrap, before turning right-side up onto the platter).

Top with homemade cherry pie filling.

Homemade Cherry Pie Filling

2 ½ cups tart pie cherries
½ cup + 1 Tbls sugar
2 Tbls corn starch
½ tsp almond extract

Combine cherries, sugar and corn starch in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the almond extract.

Citrus Sparkle Brownies

This is a particularly delicious recipe, and may remind a few of my readers of some particularly fine fudge they received last month.

1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt (optional)
3 eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp orange extract
7/8 cup GF flour blend (I like this brand)
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 357*F.

Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Melt butter.

Add the sugars, cocoa powder, and salt; stir until fully combined.

Add eggs and extracts to the chocolate mixture and stir to combine.

Fold the flour and chocolate chips into the chocolate mixture.

Spread in prepared pan.

Bake for 28-35 minutes.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chicken, Mushroom, and Black Bean Quesadillas

2 chicken breasts, about 1 lb, cubed
1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 15.5oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch green onions, sliced
8 oz finely shredded Mexican Cheese Blend
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 brown rice tortillas

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Sautee mushrooms until brown on both sides, working in batches. Set aside in a large bowl.

Add a bit more olive oil to the pan. When oil is hot, add chicken. Season with salt and pepper and cook through. Add to the mushrooms.

Add the black beans and green onions to the mushrooms and chicken. Toss to combine. Allow to cool.

Add the cheese and mix well.

In a large sautee pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add one tortilla. Place a large handful of mushrooms-chicken mixture to the tortilla, folding over. Cook until brown and crispy. Flip and cook until the other side is brown and crispy.

Repeat with remaining tortillas and feed your friends. Alternately, make one quesadilla a day and enjoy as the week goes on. The filling gets better as the flavors combine.

This filling is also good as a topping for tortilla chips. Just pile it on and bake until heated through.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mexican Lasagna

1 lb ground beef
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbls minced garlic
2 Tbls cumin
1 Tbls chili powder
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 small can sliced ripe olives
24oz ricotta
1 lb shredded mozzarella, divided
2 eggs
1 large can enchilada sauce
20 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 375*.

Brown the beef and onion in a large skillet. (If using 94% lean, you may need to add a tablespoon of olive oil to lubricate the pan). Add bell pepper and garlic. Cook one minute. Add the cumin, chili powder, diced tomatoes, and olives. Bring mixture to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes. Cool.

While beef mixture is cooling, mix ricotta, 2 cups of mozzarella, and two eggs until thoroughly combined.

Pour the can of enchilada sauce into a small, wide dish.

Layer 1/3 of the beef mixture in a 13x9 inch pan.

Dip corn tortillas in enchilada sauce and layer on top of the beef mixture, about 5 tortillas per layer. Top with the cheese mixture.

Repeat layers twice more. Finish with the last 5 tortillas. Pour the remainder of the sauce over the top. Add the remaining 2 cups of mozzarella. Bake for 55 minutes.


This doesn't necessarily plate pretty, but it tastes good. If you don't have other peoples' taste buds to worry about, spice it up!

Mental Illness and Bible Formation

During my time in seminary, I was asked by an instructor what kind of a visual I might produce to explain the formation of the bible. This is the kind of question that gets me totally stoked in the course of a discussion. Primarily because I tend to think in analogies. So, this was right up my alley. The images that struck me was a cosmic ransom note.

Now, I know a lot of people who hold to the notion of verbal plenary inspiration. I wonder if they've ever read The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Code of Ur-Nammu, the Annals of Merneptah, or any number of other historical texts that predate not just the old testament, but the Torah as well by over 1000 years.

So, here we have a new text (the bible) that is made up of bits and pieces of multiple older texts (all the parallel stories that predate the bible). It's like God (if one believes that God is the author of the bible) or the authors of the bible cut out bits and pieces, single words or sometimes just a letter from any number of newspapers or magazine articles and created a new document. Getting the visual, oh kind reader?

That was the image I had during my first semester in seminary.

I found a new image during my last semester.

I have two marvelous friends who both love games. Board games, card games, checkers, chess... The more people playing, the more fun they have. These are the friends who introduced me to Bananagrams. I was already familiar with the concept from Speed Scrabble. The competitive nature of these games, paired with my, at times frustratingly, large vocabulary made them games to which I naturally gravitated.

However, on the non-competitive side of things, and just ridiculously good fun when you have a large gathering, is Telephone Pictionary. This might be the most hilarious game I've ever played, and one that can be enjoyed in my family, because there are no winners or losers. Just really, really ridiculous fun. Additionally, learning Telephone Pictionary gave me a new mental image for the formation of the bible.

In Telephone Pictionary, everyone gets a piece of paper and a writing utensil. Each person writes a sentence on the top of his/her paper. Then, everyone passes the paper to the person on their left (if play is going counter-clockwise) or their right (if play is going clockwise). It is best to alternate from one game to the next which direction you are passing so as not to always end up having to interpret the sentence of the person to one side or the other.

After passing the paper, everyone draws a picture interpreting the sentence. Then, they fold the paper back so that the sentence is hidden and pass the paper, showing only the picture, to the next person. Now, everyone writes a sentence interpreting the picture that has been passed to them. Play continues in this way, with everyone receiving only a picture or a sentence to interpret through a sentence or a drawing, until each paper is once again in the hands of the originator.

This game is hilarious! Seriously. It does, however, require a minimum of 5 people to be truly effective.

Generally, by the time the originator gets his/her own paper back, the interpretation of the original sentence has become so convoluted, no one really knows how the original sentence read. Unfolding the paper and discovering how each step newly interpreted the previous step, and how each step was one step further removed from the original author's intent is really, really delightful.

Telephone Pictionary is the framework I use for thinking about the formation of the Bible. The original author(s) wrote something. It had a particular meaning in a particular culture. The meaning was pictured in the minds of the original readers in a way that might have been pretty accurate to the authors' intent. Over time, as the stories have been told, new layers of meaning have been applied. Over time, as the stories have been told, in new places, in new cultures, in new languages, those stories have been removed step by step from the original meaning of the text.

Ultimately, I think we might have a document that does not much resemble or effectively communicate the intent of the original authors. This isn't to say that the Bible is of no use to us today. The whole point of interpreting the Bible is discerning what these stories mean for us today. How do we, as a community in a new culture, speaking an entirely different language, make meaning from a text that is so far removed from its origins? That is, maybe, the best part of writing sermons.

I have some access through other sources to a cursory understanding of the cultures in which these texts were written. Sometimes, in the course of daily reading or intentional research, I'll come across a single sentence that illuminates a small aspect of 1st century Palestine, and it'll deepen, enrich, and transform my understanding of a given biblical pericope, making it alive and applicable in ways that light my faith on fire. It's fantastic!

But images of biblical formation aren't the point of this post. Which might seem ridiculous given the amount of space I've used to describe those images.

Nope, the point of this post is to process some of what I'm feeling about living with someone who is mentally ill.

I live with someone who does not communicate effectively. I do not know how much of this is a result of the mental illness and how much of it is a learned trait. In terms of communication, the individual in question is engaging in behaviors that mimic those which were modeled for him in childhood by his father, but with distinct differences.

Both the father and the son, at times, speak in riddles. Puzzles. Code, if you will, to which they alone (most of the time) have the key, and which they believe they alone (all of the time) can decipher. In the case of the father, there is a distinct attitude of intellectual superiority. It is an attitude that communicates a desire to frustrate and confuse others. For example, a note might be left on the refrigerator attached to a $5.00 bill. The note, however, will be written using only the first letter of each word.

For example:




For those of you who don't read this type of code, it translates:

Dear Daughter,

Please buy one loaf of seven grain bread.


Any guesses out there as to what happens when the daughter to whom the note was addressed actually takes the $5.00 and returns home with a loaf of seven grain bread?

The father in question gets a look of disappointment that his note was understood and the request granted, and he then pouts for the rest of the evening.

It's a bit different in regards to the son. In the case of the individual with whom I live, there is no indication that the purpose of speaking in code is done to frustrate others. In fact, the person who gets most frustrated tends to be the individual himself. It's like he's speaking in a different language.

He makes statements or asks questions that do not provide enough information. When asked for clarifications, or when a person repeats what they understand him to be communicating and asks if they have it right, he insists that they are making it more difficult than necessary. He insists that he asked a simple question or made a simple statement. Except his understanding of "simple" often does not take into account culturally relevant understandings.

For example:

Today, he said, "I'm going for a four mile walk around [town]. Who wants to go with me?"

Now, the cultural understanding of "around [town]" is "from place to place in"; i.e. a four-mile walk around town would be a four mile walk from place to place in town.

This is where the confusion came in for me: the town in which we live has a 1/2 mile circumference. I wish I were kidding.

In trying to get a clear picture of where he would be walking, so as to be better prepared to decide whether or not to join him, I responded, "You're going to walk around town eight times?"

Him: "No. I'm going for a four mile walk around [town]."

Me: "Okay, but its only a half mile walk around [town], so, how..." interrupted by...

Him, yelling: "You're not listening to me! I said I'm going to walk around [town]!"

Me: "Okay, but..." interrupted by...

Him, yelling: "Look, as far as I know, if I take the blacktop, to the highway, turn right, walk up to the next gravel road, turn right, walk to the intersection of the next gravel road, turn right, walk to the next intersection, I'll be back to the blacktop, at which point, I'll turn right, and when I get home, I'll have walked 1 mile in each direction, and have walked four miles around town!"

Me: "Oh. So, you're going for a walk in the country..." interrupted by...

Him, yelling: "Just forget it! You never listen to me!"

I sometimes feel like I've been hijacked to crazy land, handed a ransom note, and the only way out is to interpret the note without any kind of a key. It's like trying to divine the intent of the original biblical authors without knowing biblical Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, and without any training whatsoever in ancient cultures. Sometimes, it just can't be done.

Not without a lot of yelling.

And see, that's the part that leaves me needing to blog about my frustrations. Not the fact that I've been hijacked to crazy land and constantly have to expend significant amounts of mental and emotional energy to understand anything this person says. It's the fact that because of his mental illness, he's volatile and unpredictable, with a history of violence.

Now, he hasn't demonstrated a tendency toward physical violence since he got clean and sober. So, I don't have any concerns for my physical safety. I just sometimes wish I could finish a sentence, to ensure that I understand what he's trying communicate without being interrupted and yelled at. Or, alternately, that he just wouldn't talk to me at all. Because, honestly, it's exhausting. And some days, I just do not have the energy.

Of course, I've told him this. Nothing changes. My only option, some days, is to stop what I'm doing and physically remove myself from an area. This is particularly frustrating if I'm trying to get work done on the computer or in the kitchen. Sometimes, I just can't stop working on a sermon--because I'm under a deadline. Sometimes, I just can't walk away from the kitchen--because if I leave a dish unattended it'll burn, and if I stop the process with the intent to return later, it'll be ruined. Something are just time-sensitive. And sometimes, I'm just tired.

And those seem to be the times when he comes in, most anxious, most unwilling to take "no" for answer, most unwilling to respect boundaries. Those are the times when I cannot give 100% of my attention and energy to figuring out what he's saying without asking any kind of clarifying questions. Those are the times when I need to remind myself that no matter how tempting the activity he's proffering might seem, "No," is always the best, most appropriate response. Because if I can't figure out immediately what he's talking about, asking questions might clarify things, but I'm going to get yelled at in the process.

Biblical interpretation and Telephone Pictionary are way more fun.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sea Salt Caramels

This is my recipe for Sea Salt Caramels. These are the little gems I had the children pass out for our "sermon application." It was a big hit!

2 cups sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup half-and-half
1 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 lb dark or milk chocolate
3 Tbsp sea salt of your choice

Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment paper, covering the bottom and sides. (Alternately, line the pan with foil and butter the foil).

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, half-and-half, and salt in a 5 qt sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring (with a wooden spoon) occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil.

Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixtures reaches 245*F. Immediately remove from heat.

Slowly add cream, stirring until fully incorporated.

Return mixture to medium heat and cook until mixture returns to 245*F, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Immediately pour into prepared pan. Do not scrape the pot. (Scraping comes later, with a small metal spoon, before the caramel is fully set. Thus, you do not have to wait several hours to get a taste).

Allow caramel to cool for 1-2 hours, cover with plastic wrap and finish cooling overnight.

Remove plastic wrap from caramel. Turn caramel out of the pan, onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel the parchment paper (or foil) from the caramel.

Using a large kitchen knife and tape measure, cut caramel into 1 inch wide strips. Cut into strips into 3/4 inch wide pieces. Arrange caramels on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet (10x15 or larger). Do not allow any of the caramels to touch one another. Sexual harassment is bad, and another post entirely. Suffice it to say, NO BAD TOUCH!

In a double-boiler, over simmering water, melt 12 oz of the chocolate of your choice. Once chocolate is fully melted, remove pan from heat. Add the remaining 4 oz chocolate. Stir to fully melt.

Using a fork, dip each caramel in the chocolate and place on a sheet of parchment paper. Before the chocolate has a chance to harden, sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt. I sprinkle every 12 caramels or so.

Cool completely and enjoy!

Store in mini paper baking cups in an airtight container.


This recipe makes 108-120 caramels, depending on whether you use a metal baking pan with relatively sharp corners and straight sides or a Pyrex baking dish with rounded corners and slightly sloping sides. When using Pyrex baking dishes, I always trim a significant portion of the outer edges to get uniformly shaped pieces.

I like to sprinkle white sea salt on dark chocolate, pink sea salt on milk chocolate. I think the contrast looks lovely. Regardless of how you choose to dip and sprinkle, these caramels are a fantastic treat!

After making two batches for this morning's service, I have just enough left over to send out some care packages to dear friends. How fortuitous that the "salt and light" passage fell a week before Valentine's Day. I feel the siren call of the fates, and they are singing, "Valentine's chocolate! Valentine's chocolate!"

Yes, life is good.

On Being Salty

Isaiah 58:1-12
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Matthew 5:13-20


Salt, in small quantities, is necessary for all animal life. It regulates the balance of fluid in the body. Without salt in our diets, our cells would become flooded, diluting our electrolytes and slowing our neural transmissions. It all goes down hill from there, and it ends in death. Salt is necessary for life.

Salt is also an excellent method of food preservation, and was the primary way in which meats were kept prior to the invention of refrigerators and freezers. Salt has been produced as a good for over 8000 years. Archaeologists believe salt was being harvested from springs as far back as 6050 BCE.

Production of salt continues today. And in epic proportions. In 2002, world wide salt production tipped the scales at 210 million tons. That's 420 billion pounds of salt--or roughly 70 pounds of salt per person in the world.

Of course, we don't eat all of that salt. 82.5% of all salt produced today is used for purposes other than food: salt is used in pulp and paper production, setting dyes in textiles and fabrics, making soap, detergents, and cosmetics, and, of course, salt is used for melting snow and ice in the winter.

Salt is used in various religions for ritual purification, blessing, and preservation of the covenant in Judaism. It is the most oft mentioned food in the Bible, appearing 40 times in the King James Version.

Culinarily speaking, salt is used as a seasoning. It makes food taste better. It makes food taste more like itself. I remember, as a child, watching my grandfather sprinkle salt on watermelon and cantaloupe because it brought out and intensified the flavor of the fruit.

Salt is also one of the only four "tastes" for which the human tongue has receptors. And while there are many things that taste sweet, sour, or bitter (as experienced by the other three types of taste receptors), only salt tastes salty. Salt also interferes with the receptors in the tongue for bitterness. Find coffee too bitter? Not a fan of grapefruit because of the bitter overtones? Try a sprinkle of salt. It cuts the bitterness and allows other flavors to come to the fore.

And pair salt with something sweet? It's a winning combination every time.

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth. Considering everything that salt does, this is significant. And in the save breath, Jesus warns us against salt losing its flavor. When salt is no longer salty, it is "no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot."

It's not enough to look like salt. TO actually be of any value, it has to taste salty--and only salt tastes salty.

Jesus is known for speaking in parables and riddles throughout the gospels. I think this is one of those times when he's using metaphor to make a point. After all, none of us is made entirely of salt. And the only person in the Bible to be turned entirely into salt--Lot's wife--ended up that way because she disobeyed God.

I think what it means to be the salt of the earth and how salt can lose its saltiness is founder later in our gospel reading, and earlier in Isaiah.

Jesus tells us that "unless [our] righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

The Pharisees in 1st century Israel were the authorized teachers of the Law. They had succeeded the priests who had become ineffective. The Pharisees saturated every aspect of life--influencing the Sanhedrin (which was kind of like the U.S. Supreme Court), holding power in the synagogues (places of worship), and in the schools.

Though the Pharisees were lay officials, they were experts in the Law who acted as power brokers between the aristocracy and the masses. The Pharisees were focused primarily on ritual purity.

The scribes were an elite class of individuals from many corners of Jewish life. So named because they were among the few who were literate in the 1st century, the scribes were teachers of the Law. They also interpreted the Law in new circumstances, and served as lawyers, theologians, guardians of tradition, and curators of the text.

The scribes and the Pharisees were the keepers of Old Testament traditions. They held to the peoples' fast described in Isaiah--seeking God and claiming to delight in God's ways, while forsaking God's ordinances; they fasted but did not see; they fasted "only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist." They served their own interests and oppressed all their workers.

Being salt of the earth, a salt which is salty, means holding to the heart of the Law, rather than the letter of the Law. It means choosing the fast that God chooses: loosing the bonds of injustice, undoing the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, and breaking every yoke.

Being the salt of the earth means sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless poor into your home, and clothing the naked.

I also believe, though, that being the salt of the earth means choosing to act in ways similar to the rock salt.

We should bring flavor to life! We should make life taste better. We should melt the cold around us, bringing warmth and safety everywhere we go. And we should deter bitterness, making things sweeter wherever we find ourselves.

Paul writes a bit about this in 1 Corinthians--how we are to bring the light of Christ into the word--"not with lofty words or wisdom...but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power."

I think he actually says it better, though, in Colossians:

"Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way that you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."

"Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt...."

Seasoning our words with grace is one way we can be salt and light to the world everyday.

When we choose to be salt and light--removing the yoke, the pointing finger, the speaking of evil; offering food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted, seasoning our conversations with grace--the Lord promises to guide us continually, to satisfy our needs, and make our bones strong. we will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Today, may you be salt and light to all your encounter, and may God meet your needs as you meet the needs of others.


Just for fun, as a practical application for being "salt of the earth," during the children's sermon, I had the kids hand out the salt caramels I'd spent the last two days making. SO! MUCH! FUN!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day Productivity

Ahh, snow days. What with a blizzard blanketing half the country in the blowing white stuff, I was stuck at home today. Which is, in reality, no different than any other day. However, snow days just feel different. They're an excuse to do things that I might not otherwise do.

So, after exegeting three biblical texts, organizing my room, vacuuming, finishing my application materials for an internship, I decided to be "kitchen productive."

The recipes follow:

Bratwurst and Lentil Stew

4-5 Bratwurst (I like Turkey Brats)
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, halved on a bias
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb lentils
1 64oz can tomato juice
2 Tbls Italian herbs (I like Rosemary, thyme, basil, etc.) whatever you've got around
3 Bay leaves

In a 5 qt pot, cook bratwurst over medium high heat, searing on all sides. Remove. Slice into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Add all ingredients to the pot. Fill the tomato juice can with water. Add to the stew.

Cook over medium-high heat until it reaches a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer for several hours.

This stew only gets better with time.


5 1/2 cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup pineapple juice, apple cider, or other fruit nectar
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup chopped mixed nuts

Preheat oven to 350*

Combine oats and sliced almonds.

Stir together oil, agave, and juice/cider/nectar until combined. Pour over the oats and almonds. Stir to coat.

Spread on a large cookie sheet, and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until toasted.

In the meantime, combine the dried fruits and remaining nuts. Add the oat mixture. Stir to combine.

Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, and store in an airtight container.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Creme-Filling and Chocolate Ganache
Chocolate Cake with Creme-Filling and Chocolate Ganache


3/4 cup Canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups potato starch
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp xanthan gum

Creme Filling

1 cup milk
2 1/2 Tbls Potato starch
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla (clear if possible)

Chocolate Ganache

2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350*.

For the (cup)cake(s), in a large bowl, mix oil and sugar with an electric mixer on low speed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk and beat to combine.

In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients with a wire whisk. Whisk into wet ingredients.

Add vanilla to the batter. Mix well.

Pour 1/4 cup of the mixture into each of 9 silicone cupcake cups.

Grease a 9 inch round cake pan. Pour remaining batter into the pan.

Bake cupcakes for 25 minutes.

Bake cake for 35 minutes.

For the Creme Filling, while the cupcakes and cake are baking, mix milk and potato starch in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 2-4 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until very thick.

Cover thickened milk with plastic wrap, touching the surface, and cool to room temperature.

When the milk is cool, thoroughly cream sugar, butter, and vanilla. Add the milk mixture. Beat until it resembles whipped cream.

For the Chocolate Ganache

Put the chocolate chips in a heat proof vessel. Heat the cream in the microwave until bubbling. Add to the chocolate chips. Allow to sit for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth.

Cool the (cup)cake(s). Using a pastry bag or cookie press with nozzle attachment, fill each cupcake with approximately 2 tsp creme filling. Dip the top of each cupcake in the ganache.

Cut the cake in half. Fill with the remaining creme. Top with the remaining ganache.

Cherry Pie

2 3/4 cups GF flour blend
2/3 shortening
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup very cold water


5 1/2 cup tart pie cherries, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 Tbls corn starch
1/2 Tbls almond extract

Preheat oven to 375*.

For the crust, combine flour blend and salt. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Add water 1-2 Tbls at a time until dough comes together. Divide dough in 2. Roll out 1/2 of the dough and place in a 9 inch pie plate. Roll out the other 1/2 and reserve, covered with damp paper towels and plastic wrap.

For the filling, if using frozen cherries, partially thaw. Add almond extract.

Thoroughly combine sugar and corn starch. Add to cherries. Mix. Allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Fill bottom crust with the cherry mixture. Add top crust. Pinch crust together at edges and crimp.

Vent the pie crust in a nifty design.

Use a foil collar to cover the outside edge of the pie crust.

Bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes. Cool.