Wednesday, December 24, 2014

New neighbors for the holiday season

A few days ago, my husband forwarded me the following email message.

  Sent: Saturday, December 20, 2014 4:06 AM
  Subject: Re: stable for rent

  Dear Dr. DMA,

  My name is Mary. My husband and I are looking for a nice barn for a  
few days and noticed that you seem to have one available. We are only  
a couple of inches tall, and we don't play loud music or anything. We  
have with us three kings and a shepherd. They also keep to themselves  
and don't listen to loud music. Do you allow animals? We also have a  
couple of sheep. We will clean up after them; their poop is probably  
so small to you that you wouldn't notice it anyhow. We really like the  
pictures you have on your entertainment center and hope we will have  
some like that when we can afford it. Unfortunately, the inns around  
here are really expensive. We tried the one next door but they said  
they are full. Could you please let us have a place to stay until Dec.  

  Mary and Joseph

  p.s. Do you have a cat? We will stay with you regardless, but we are  
hoping not. Our sheep had accidents last year by falling off the cliff  
and we are sure they are not suicidal.

I told him since nobody was using the empty stable on the bookcase, that was fine with me.

  Sent: Saturday, December 20, 2014 7:45 PM
  Subject: Re: stable for rent

Dear Mary and Joseph,

We would love to have you come and stay with us. You can come as soon  
as you want and stay through Epiphany. We do have a cat, but he is not  
as much of a climber as he was in his younger days, so your sheep will  
probably be safe, although if they fall to their deaths, we can  
reincarnate them and put them back in the stable for you: no worries.  
Also, the sheep poop is no problem. A little Pledge at the end of the  
holiday season will take care of it, I'm sure. See you soon!

Dear Husband and FrauDoktorDoctor

Do you like how he mentions "a little Pledge at the end of the holiday season"? Guess who dusts around here.

  Sent: Saturday, December 21, 2014 3:09 PM
  Subject: Re: stable for rent

Dear Dr. DMA,

That sounds wonderful! Thank you so much for your generosity this  
holiday season. My husband and I will move in right away. We will  
probably see you tomorrow. Again, thanks so much!


Dear Husband forwarded Mary's response to me proclaiming, "They're coming!"

And sure enough, the next morning they arrived: Mary, Joseph, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior, Hozie with his wife Talitha and their little girl Marta, and a couple of sheep. Even the innkeeper Gilad came out to see what all the fuss was about.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all."
~Luke 2:11-14 KJV

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
~John 1:14 The Message

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hannah and Mary dance for joy in the Lord

The Fourth Sunday in Advent is traditionally known as Mary's Sunday, when we light the candle of Love in the Advent wreath. I was asked to choreograph a dance for the choir anthem this Sunday, a duet for Hannah and Mary. Uniting Older and Newer Testaments, they make an interesting pair: Hannah was barren and unhappy, and she very much welcomed her pregnancy with Samuel (1 Samuel 1). Mary was young, just engaged, and at first did not welcome her pregnancy with Jesus (Luke 1:26-28). Both women sing songs of praise of God for over-turning the expected order: the barren conceive, the hungry are filled, the proud are scattered (1 Samuel 2; Luke 1:46-55). Contemporary composer Carolyn Jennings has set the two hymns to music as "A New Magnificat." I played the part of Hannah, while RA played the part of Mary. (You might recognize her from last year's World Communion Sunday trio.)

Hannah: My heart exults in the Lord;
My strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies;
I rejoice in God's salvation.

Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,
Who looks upon a lowly handmaid with favor.
All generations shall call me blessed.

Choir: My heart overflows, Allelulia!

Hannah: There is none holy like the Lord;
There is no rock like our God.
Let not your mouth be arrogant,
For the Lord is a God of all knowledge.

Mary: For God who is mighty
Has done great things for me,
And holy, holy, holy is God's name.
And God's mercy is giv'n to God's people
From generation to generation.

Choir: My heart overflows, Allelulia!

Hannah: The bows of the mighty are broken,
But the feeble put on strength.
Those who were full are hungry,
And those who were hungry are filled.

Mary: Strong is the arm of the Lord,
Who has scattered the proud in their hearts;
God has put down the mighty
And lifted those of low degree.

Choir: For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's and on them God has set the world.

Hannah: The Lord kills and brings to life;
God brings low and also exalts.
God lifts up the poor from the dust
To sit with rulers and inherit a seat of honor.

Mary: Strong is the arm of the Lord,
Who has scattered the proud in their hearts.
God has filled the hungry,
And the rich have been sent empty away.

Choir: My heart overflows, Allelulia!
Hannah: Alleluia! / Mary: Alleluia!

Hannah: God will guard the faithful flock,
And human might shall not prevail.
The Lord will judge the earth;
And will exalt the pow'r of God's anointed.

Mary: For the Lord has helped the servant Israel
In remembrance of God's love and mercy,
Which was promised to Sarah and Abraham,
And to their children's children forever.

Choir: My heart overflows, Allelulia!

Hannah: Alleluia! Alleluia! / Mary: Alleluia!
All: Amen!

A recreation after the service of the simple pyramid with which the dance ended. Much to our relief, we were able to get into it on the first try during the performance, long skirts and scarves notwithstanding!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reindeer Turds

Perhaps a little late for this holiday season, but if next year you suddenly remember about that potluck, need to make something for a bake sale, or can't think of anything for a secret Santa gift swap, then may I suggest this recipe?

I first tried these delectable little "truffles" at the church choir's Christmas party. I haven't made them myself, but the hostess insists they are just as easy as all the reviews online claim. I swore off Oreos and other packaged products made with high-frutctose corn syrup years ago, but these little guys--which she and I dubbed "reindeer turds"--are worth breaking that fast. When your teeth break through the chocolately shell to reach the soft, moist mh hmmm!

What you need: 1 16-oz. package Oreos; 1 8-oz. package cream cheese; 16 oz. baking chocolate.

What to do: Crush cookies and cream cheese together. If you need to work off some holiday stress, feel free to employ the rolling pin and plastic bag method on the cookies, or if you have bad arthritis, go ahead and use a blender or food processor,

Form into 1-inch balls and space out on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet. Send them to the North Pole (aka the freezer) for 10 minutes. One hour in the fridge also works, if you have the time.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate, either in the microwave or in a double boiler on the stove like your (grand)mother taught you.

Dip the balls in the chocolate. Don't be too fastidious about letting the extra chocolate drip off--it contributes to the truffles' turdiness. Place back on cookie sheet and refrigerate until serving to rave reviews.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Downton Abbey Masquerade

When our local public radio/tv station announced they were showing the Season 5 premiere of Downton Abbey at the historic theater in town--for free, with costumes and antique cars--I went looking for girlfriends to go with. I have to confess that before the big night, I had watched exactly one episode of this big BBC hit. But I have many friends who adore the show, and besides, I know from historical costumes.

On the big night I pulled out of my closet a pink satin and black sparkly chiffon number that could pass for a c. 1920 party dress. I added elbow-length black velour gloves and a black fringed mesh shawl. I don't own a pair of vintage silk stockings, and with temperatures as low as they were, I wasn't about to be all authentic and draw a seam line up the back of my legs with an eyebrow pencil; I just wore black stockings and my black tango shoes.

The internet brought me a picture tutorial on a period-appropriate quick up-do for long hair (a Gibson-girl holdover from the pre-WWI era). I got it right on the second try with just one elastic hair tie, two big hair pins, and a bobbypin, plus one black rhinestone brooch re-appropriated as a hair accessory.

You can't really tell from this picture, but I wore the garnet jewelry I've been gifted or bequeathed from my grandmother and aunt: earrings, necklace, bracelet, ring. Mother-of-pearl opera glasses from the other side of the family. And a pocket watch around my waist, after watching a short video about the actresses' favorite Downton Abbey costumes.

Alas and alack, the costume contest was full and/or closed by the time we got there, but I certainly had fun dolling myself up. (Hello, grown-up dress-up!) Watching the episode in a crowded theater was also a blast. I can tell that the writers and actors have really settled into the characters, as there was plenty of the drama, humor, and sass we love British serials for so much.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Uncertain Shepherd

Dear Husband has given me permission to share his "reverse paraphrase" of Psalm 23 from Disciple I Bible Study. Whereas I made God into an abusive parent, he swapped the positions of God and supplicant. The narrator in his version is a pastor trying to do it all by himself--and suffering a crisis of faith because of it.

For the Director of Music--of the Pastors, a Psalm of Lament

I am the Lord's shepherd; when I get through defending orthodoxy with my moribund sermons, God won't need anything. He can just relax--head out to pasture. Me, I'm slaving away over here to make God look good. I've got answers for all the hard questions, except who's gonna restore my soul when I'm weary and worn out from all this.

Sometimes it's touch and go--people wander through some pretty deep valleys--I try to get them to stop worrying and just be content in God. If they won't stop with the questions, I get worried. How are they going to get out of this? What if there isn't an answer?

We prepare tables for our flock--every week, every month; once in a while. We try to give them goodness and oil. Maybe it works, sometimes. But what if it doesn't? And who's gonna look out for them if I can't?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What if the Good Shepherd were an abusive parent?

This week in Disciple I Bible study, we were asked to perform a writing exercise called "reverse paraphrase." Theologian Dick Murray developed this technique 30 years ago to help congregants understand the dark, terrifying place--real or spiritual--that the writer of Psalm 23 must have inhabited in order to pen such a beautiful expression of trust and blessing. If you think about it, it makes sense: when do most people turn to Psalm 23? It's not at their brightest moment but in their darkest hour: at funerals, when the Titanic is sinking, when the Twin Towers are on fire and falling. We were asked to rewrite the psalm from the opposite point of view. I went to a very dark place in my imagination, knowing full well that this is some people's reality.

1-The Lord is my abusive parent; I am neglected.
    He takes me to crack houses.
2-He leave me alone in the street.
3-He calls me "stupid."
4-Even though I got a scholarship to college, I don't think I deserve it.
   You couldn't care less. You haven't remembered my birthday in years.
5-You're off shooting up, getting high, and spending my support check.
   You rain blows on my head and spit epithets in my face.
6-Surely hatred and spite will follow me all the days of my life.
   I might as well be an orphan.

Editor's note: Click here to read Dear Husband's reverse paraphrase of Psalm 23, in which the narrator becomes an over-worked pastor trying to go it alone, without God, with disastrous results.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Green Grain Gourd Salad

You might know the stereotypical vegan recipe: Take a pot. Add a green vegetable, a grain, and a bean (or legume), cook, and call it "dinner." This recipe is a derivative of that. I first tasted it at a Thanksgiving potluck. Here's my (renamed) version. It took an hour to make, so I wouldn't recommend trying to add it to the weekly rotation. It is better suited as a party dish or for making on a weekend to eat from during the week.

Green Grain Gourd Salad

1. Prepare the gourd. The original recipe called for sweet potato, but my hostess made hers with butternut squash. Because Dear Husband doesn't eat sweet potato, I decided to try my hand at butternut squash, too. It was the first time I had ever prepared this fruit of the vine, and I dare say it nearly got the best of me. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon? No problem. Cut into 1/2- to 1-inch chunks? You got it. Peel this sucker? Holy moly, I'm lucky I didn't lose the end of a finger trying to get the rind off. This was easily the longest step of the whole process, and it gave me great respect for anyone who makes butternut soup from scratch. Once you've got those gourd cubes, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until fragrant and soft.

Butternut squash and farro pilaf with sauteed kale and walnuts (original title was Sweet potato quinoa pilaf with sauteed kale and walnuts -- so you can substitute out different orange vegetables + grains if you'd like!)

2. Prepare the grain. The original recipe called for quinoa. My hostess used a package of 10-minute farro that yielded 2 cups cooked. I had ~3/4 cup of pearled barley in the cupboard and simply boiled that.

3. Prepare the green. As a hardy leaf, kale is probably your best bet for this dish. Wash and dry the kale, then remove the ribs and tear into pieces. Heat garlic and (optional) onion in some oil in a large pot. Add the kale all at once and stir frequently to coat and cook evenly. Remove from heat when bright green but still crunchy. Salt/pepper as desired.

4. Prepare the salad. Combine all three major ingredients in one large bowl. Add about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice (about 1/2 large lemon), 1/2-1 cup of chopped walnuts, and 2 tablespoons of minced flat-leaf parsley or other spices (I used ground sage). A little salt might be necessary. Best served warm.

Green Grain Gourd Salad + Lentil Loaf

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kohlrabi Fritters

Since we discovered kohlrabi--first at the grocery store, later at the farmers market--I have enjoyed finding ways to incorporate it into our meals. Early on I would mash them with their steamed greens, my take on a recipe from the New York Times. Kohlrabi are also good raw, shaved on top of a green salad. For dinner recently I adapted this recipe from a farm blog for kohlrabi fritters.

First, make the topping: 1/3 cup yogurt + dried mint (lots) + 1 teaspoon lemon juice (if you remember) +/- salt to taste. Store in fridge.

Peel and shred the 4 kohlrabi bulbs into a colander and squeeze out excess moisture. In a separate bowl, combine 2 beaten eggs + 3 tablespoons bread crumbs + 1 teaspoon of salt + generous amounts of dried tarragon + pepper. Add kohlrabi by the spoonful and mix until egg is coating the entire mixture. Heat olive oil in skillet. Drop ~ 2-tablespoon balls of fritter mixture into skillet. Press gently with spatula to flatten. Cook for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Top with yogurt sauce. Feeds 6-10.

Here you can see we served the kohlrabi fritters with Greek salad (right) and a salad (left) made of the kohrabi greens, chopped carrots, craisins, and either honey-olive oil or red wine vinegar (I can't remember). The batter and sauce kept well in tupperware in the fridge; it was easy to fry up a couple fritters every other night until the batter ran out.

Monday, December 1, 2014

French-Fried Deliciousness

Facing the prospect of a bunch of green beans and broccoli going bad before we could eat them--usually steamed or fried in sesame oil at our house--I decided to try them in an old American classic: green bean casserole. Most of the recipes online called for canned beans and a package of french fried onions, but not being a big fan of preservatives--and having a whole onion in the refrigerator--I decided to make my own french-fried deliciousness.

The recipe I used called for slicing the onion thinly, soaking in milk, and then dredging through flour. I spiced the flour liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I probably could have used more sunflower seed oil, but oh well. The results came out light, fluffy, and very tasty. They went well with the vegetables, which I chopped and mixed with a can of cream of celery soup and a little milk.

Here you can see the dinner we had them with: kohlrabi fritters with mint yogurt dressing and simple egg noodles. I tried keeping a few onion rings until the next day, but they were disappointing, even after being reheated in the microwave. Likewise, the casserole was less appetizing the more we ate it. I think I would only make it again if it were for a party and would be assured of being eaten in one sitting.

Is green bean casserole a tradition in your family? How do you like it?