20 December 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. LXXVII)

Christmas is only a few days away. For the shipwrecked -- like me -- it helps to remember what Christmas is really about.


et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis et vidimus gloriam eius gloriam quasi unigeniti a Patre plenum gratiae et veritatis.  (John 1:14, Vulgate)

In spare moments over the last several weeks, I've been reading Euell Gibbons' classic from the 1960s, Stalking the Wild Asparagus

I first came across this book several years ago, when I read excerpts in an anthology of American food writing.  Smiling as I read these bits, I later mentioned to my mom that I thought that my grandfather would have enjoyed them.  She replied that he had indeed enjoyed them when they were originally published, and that her maternal grandparents eagerly read Gibbons' work and practiced foraging for themselves after reading his books.

The books are of their time, from the 1960s, in some ways.  Some of the science in them is dated, and there are one or two plants such as sassafras that should not be consumed in the quantities or manner that Gibbons recommends.  The lack of color pictures and other such helpful identifiers also limits the book's usefulness, in many ways.

And yet... and yet... there is a charm and enthusiasm to the prose.  It is lyrical, in places, a hymn to humbler, more natural fare without descending into the fanaticism and self-righteousness that plagues so much of contemporary food writing and ideology.  In another way, the writing is, well, Biblical -- a praise of the good and merciful God Who created all of these healthy and nutritious plants for use and consumption, if we would but stop, look, and set aside our ingrained prejudices and biases on so many levels.

Definitely worth reading, I think.  (And no one compensates me to suggest this.)  I am curious to read Gibbons' other two books, Stalking the Healthful Herbs and Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop in the coming new year.

Speaking of the New Year: I am not one who makes resolutions for the New Year.  Resolutions for change, i.e., conversion, are, for me, an ongoing and year-round process.  

Still, it's good to take stock of the year. I touched on this in the last of my 7 Quick Takes Friday post from two weeks ago, but I think it needs repeating -- if only for myself to truly hear it. What has happened to me this year?

*The loss of a friend and a brother-in-law, both too young and too soon.  Receive T.J. and Ryan into Your merciful heart, O Lord, and grant them peace and eternal life.
*A new job, with new opportunities and broadening horizons -- from corporate libraries to academic libraries to public libraries. 
*Moving back to my home state after a 17-year absence.  The time away gave me perspective and distance, as well as the opportunities to be humbled and to mature.
*And the best part of this past year... getting engaged to the best woman in the world -- a woman intelligent, beautiful, kind, funny, and warm; the woman whom God calls me to marry, the joy of my heart. 

All is gift, and all is grace. 

The Holy Father shared his birthday breakfast with three homeless men.  Who are the homeless in my life whom I need to welcome and serve?  Who is my enemy, that I might love him or her as Christ did?  Questions to ponder, and to live.

A holiday favorite!


In light of Pope Francis' gesture, the connection of homelessness and Christmas in this poem seems appropriate...
"Christmas Poem"

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

-- G.K. Chesterton
I am blessed, dear readers, for the gift you in my life, and for all of the gifts given to me this year.  I give thanks to you and for you, and for everything.  Perhaps I am (finally) learning that one true prayer, the prayer of gratitude, after all of these years.

Yes, I'm repeating myself, but it's true. Gratitude is the foundation of prayer and a relationship with God, I'd argue.  And for one like myself who has rarely been grateful, it's a lesson I need to keep learning.

What are you grateful for, friends, this year? I am curious to know, if you'd feel comfortable in leaving a comment.

Have a very, very merry Christmas, dear readers! May the blessings of the newborn King of Kings and Prince of Peace be upon this Christmas, and beyond! 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

06 December 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. LXXVI)

Between coming down with a bad cold and celebrating Thanksgiving last week, the opportunity to write a 7 Quick Takes Post disappeared faster than pumpkin pie during dessert at a Thanksgiving meal.

I do not have an easy time being sick.  Part of me feels as if I'm slacking off or being lazy, when what I really need is to rest and heal.  I feel that I am somehow "indispensable," and if I don't get to work, even when sick, the world will fall apart, etc.... which is really nothing more than pride and vanity, yes?  The world depends on the love and mercy of God, not me.

Easy to say, hard to remember and truly live.  The Gospel is, as I've written before, not for the faint-of-heart or for dilettantes.  

When I finally did stop fussing about, I spent some time reading.  C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet I read the first day of my illness.  Of his science fiction trilogy, I think that this one is my favorite of the three books.  It reminds me not only of H. G. Wells, to whom Lewis refers in the introduction, but also of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  And why, you might I ask, do I prefer it over the other two?  I think because it's more of a straight adventure story.  Perelandra is too preachy, or so it seems to me.  That Hideous Strength is a bit too dark in terms of mood and plot.  But maybe it's how this last novel hits too close to home in these contemporary days, much like Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of World.

The second day, I picked up an anthology of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries, which included both The Innocence of Father Brown and the Wisdom of Father Brown.  Chesterton, I am finding, is one of those authors in whose work I am constantly finding something new, or rediscovering things that I had forgotten.

One quote, from the story "The Sins of Prince Saradine," especially struck me:
   "By Jove!" said Flambeau, "it's like being in fairyland."
   Father Brown sat bold upright in the boat and crossed himself.  His movement was so abrupt that his friend asked him, with a mild stare, what was the matter.
   "The people who wrote the mediaeval ballads," answered the priest, "knew more about fairies than you do.  It isn't only nice things that happen in fairyland."
   "Oh, bosh!" said Flambeau.  "Only nice things could happen under such an innocent moon. I am for pushing on now and seeing what does really come.  We die and rot before we ever see again such a moon or such a mood."
   "All right," said Father Brown. " I never said it was always wrong to enter fairyland.  I only said that it was always dangerous."
When, you might ask, dear reader, do I visit fairyland? To which I smile and reply -- why, every day! The world is a magical place, though we have mostly forgotten that it is so, or willfully deny it, not unlike in Katherine Brigg's Hobberdy Dick.

Another quote, this time from "The Eye of Apollo," made me think of Christmas -- I'll give you the quote and then explain:
   "Well, that's all I can tell you about the new religion," went on Flambeau carelessly.  "It claims, of course, that it can cure all physical diseases."
   "Can it cure the one spiritual disease?" asked Father Brown, with a serious curiosity.
   "And what is the one spiritual disease?" asked Flambeau, smiling.
   "Oh, thinking one is quite well," said his friend.
The lines got me thinking about Advent and Christmas.  The Incarnation happened in the fullness of time, when sin had grown monstrous and too large.  Those who knew their true condition, not unlike the publican of Luke 18:13, eagerly await the coming of the Lord in His Incarnation.  They know that they are unwell.  They know that they need the graces and medicine of the Divine Mercy, especially in the Sacraments, and to (re)turn to God with their whole bodies and beings.

Brennan Manning, I think, has the wonderful notion of "the shipwrecked," those who have nothing left to cling to after their boats have been wrecked, as it were, and so are open to the power and workings of God's grace in their lives.  I like that image.

Every Advent, I try to remember that, whatever the season, I am shipwrecked, ill, and a sinner in need of God's grace and mercy.  It's never easy, as I typed above.
I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. 
-- C.S. Lewis
Which is not to say that religion does not bring joy -- far from it.  But joy is not the same thing as happiness, and passing happiness is not what God desires for us.  Everlasting happiness, sharing in His Divine Life: that is what He desires for us, and that is the promise that He begins to fulfill in the Incarnation at Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, are you getting excited for the approaching holiday?  Do you have, good readers, any special customs or traditions for preparing for Christmas?  How do you keep Advent?

For a long time, I would follow the daily readings in Watch for the Light.  Depending on how focused I was, sometimes the readings would speak deeply to me, and prepare me during Advent for Christmas and the Christmas season.  Sometimes, they wouldn't.  I laid aside the book this year, to keep the readings from getting too familiar.  Next year, I will pick them up again.  

Snow is forecast for next week! I wonder if we will get any significant snowfall this time around?

The end of the annus mirabilis 2013 approaches -- so many changes this year -- losses of friends and loved ones, but the gain of a beautiful, wonderful fiancee and so much more! For all of these, I give thanks, for gratitude is the basis of prayer, indeed of the spiritual life.

Have a great week, everyone! See you next Friday!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

22 November 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. LXXV)

So... I'm back to writing posts.  Just once a week for now, to see how it goes.  The break was needed  as I begin to write this new chapter of my life.

I've been reading quite a bit the last few weeks.  I never did finish Cavell's City of Words or Bugbee's The Inward Morning.  There were great passages in each... but philosophy -- especially its modern and contemporary versions -- no longer speaks to me as it once did.  The frameworks, conceptions, ideas, and language are no longer mine; I no longer speak them or find them persuasive.

That became apparent as I read Sylvain Tesson's The Consolations of the Forest.  When I read a review of this book, I was moved to purchase the book, given my interest in solitary spells in the wilderness.  Yet, this account... bothered me.  Not so much the vodka-drenched prose, but the nihilism and meaninglessness that underlay it.  

Casting about for something else to read -- something a bit more hopeful and upbeat -- I picked up my copy of Plutarch's Lives.  Such a difference between the two books!  Whatever one's gripe with the historicity of the accounts -- and given how contemporary biographies are generally heavily laden with ideological and theoretical baggage, contemporary critics who pooh-pooh Plutarch are pots calling the kettle black, I think -- I find many of the accounts moving, if not edifying.  Cato the Younger, for instance -- whatever his faults, and they were many, he truly did have the good of the Roman Republic in mind, and devoted his life to defending it.  

The last week or so has found me reading the first volume of Samuel Pepys' diary.  I have wanted to read this diary for years, but have never gotten around to doing so.  

What a fascinating window into the life and times of Restoration England!  Though Pepys seems to have spent a good deal of time in 1659 and 1660 doing little more than frequenting taverns and pubs with his coworkers while waiting to see if the monarchy would be restored.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading the remainder of the diaries.

One final book that I've read since I last wrote was H.J. Jackson's Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books.  I have had this book for nearly 14 years, but it has sat on my shelves, unread.  I found the title eye-catching when I saw it all those years ago, and the topic intriguing, being a copious annotator of many of my books, so I bought it... but never read it.

A few weeks ago, while setting out some books in my new library -- which my multi-talented love is helping me build in refurbishing my bookshelves -- I put Jackson's book on the shelf, and thought to myself: "Self, why don't you read it now? You're between books, and this one seems as good as any at the moment."  And so I did.

Quite fascinating to see how the practice of making marginal notes, annotations, and such has changed and shifted over time.  I find this especially so in light of my last job, where there was a great deal of interest in the marginalia of Josiah Royce's copies of Hegel's works among Royce and Hegel scholars interested in the reception and understanding of Hegel in the United States.

So, just a few thoughts on my reading of late.  No one is paying me to mention or discuss these books.

I thought this was the coolest thing when I first read of it a few days ago -- Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki builds a piano designed by Leonardo da Vinci and plays several later classical music pieces upon it.  The sound is quite unusual.


A brief bit of snow fell last week that didn't amount to much.  What did fall and stick was gone in two days as the temperatures returned to the 50s F.  I was driving to work in the middle of a snow squall when, as soon as I cross the town line three towns north, the snow instantly shut off and the sun came out as I crossed the frontal boundary.  Wild.

So there you go, readers.  What do you think?  I sense that several of these posts may be a bit too moralizing.

I should have some time to write up a post for next Friday, even with the Thanksgiving Day holiday, so I will see you then! Have a slice of turkey or your main dish of choice, and enjoy!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

13 November 2013

Changes Ahead...

We step and do not step in to the same rivers; we are and are not.
-- Heraclitus of Ephesus, Fragment 49a 
Good morning, readers!

I've returned after the hiatus of the last few weeks.  The break was needed, for a lot of reasons.

During the break, I was thinking about this blog, the matters about which I want to write, the frequency of my writing, and if I should even continue this blog.  My new life and schedule don't allow for much writing time, and I do not like to write garbage simply for the sake of having something to post.  I prefer to write a few well-crafted posts a few times a month than a bajillion poorly-written posts every week.

Moreover, my relationship with food has changed over the last several months.  I have changed, too -- losing nearly 60 pounds, eating healthier and better.  So, while I still enjoy food and eating well, I am less the fat, jolly glutton and clown who I was when I began the blog -- and I do not want to be the fat, jolly glutton and clown any longer.  My life is less about food nowadays, and I wish to write about other things.  I have, as Thoreau wrote at the end of Walden, other lives to lead, having given this foodie blog path a good deal of wear and use over the last year and a half or so.

Having talked with my love about this, I've decided to keep the blog going, but the focus will change.  I'm going to start focusing only on writing the 7 Quick Takes Posts on Friday for the time being, and taking a week to write them up.  I find that I'm really enjoying crafting these little pieces, and they, not the food posts, are ones to which I receive the most feedback and responses.  

So, that's what ahead with this blog.  I'm not really sure where this fork in the road will take me, but I feel the call to choose it and see where it goes.

I hope and pray that you, my good readers, will continue to stop by and visit.  I really do enjoy the craft of writing, and am glad that you take the time from your busy lives to examine these little pieces.  Thank you, and God bless you abundantly!

See you next week with a new 7 Quick Takes Friday post!

27 October 2013

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad (or Wraps)

I've never been much of a fan of sweet potatoes, mostly for the same reason that I've never much cared for winter squash: I've always had it prepared such that it was buried under marshmallows, brown sugar, maple syrup and other sweet things such that my pancreas would go into sucrose shock.  I've always found that I did enjoy eating these when they were prepared with something spicy or savory, to balance out the sweetness.

In my quest to improve my diet, I'm trying to incorporate more of these foods into my eating plans.  So I was glad to find this recipe listed on a cheeky food blog that I discovered a few months ago.  

However, I didn't make this recipe and put it into a wrap, mostly because I found out recently that wraps potentially shoot my blood sugar up to unacceptable levels.  So I omitted the tortillas and simply had it with a small half-serving of brown rice instead.

I think I goofed when making this, in not weighing the sweet potatoes beforehand.  I went by the quantity of sweet potatoes, rather than by weight.  Next time, I'll weigh them ahead of time.  I also might change the spice profile a bit -- using chili powder instead of smoked paprika, or adding in nutmeg or allspice or cumin.

The texture and flavors, though, as is, are wonderful -- crunchy and soft and colorful.  Definitely delicious, and something to make again in several months!

(Warning: the site from which I took this recipe has language that will likely be offensive to some.  Read at your own risk.)

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad (or Wraps)

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2x 15 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons gluten-free tamari sauce
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
¾ teaspoon dried thyme
cayenne pepper to taste
1 medium apple, cored and cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons water 
A pinch of salt
Baby spinach (or whatever greens you prefer)

Wash the sweet potatoes and pat dry with paper towels.  Prick the potatoes all over with the tines of a fork.  Microwave the potatoes on high for 5-10 minutes, turning them over once.  Remove them from the microwave and let them cool until safe to handle.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  When the oil speaks, drop in the onion slices and cook until they begin to caramelize  about 8 minutes or so.  Stir once or twice, but don't disturb the onions too much.  To keep yourself from disturbing the onions, whisk together the water, lemon juice and tamari in a small glass; set aside for the moment.  Once the onions have begun to brown, drop in the chickpeas and stir to combine, followed by the water/lemon juice/tamari mixture.  Stir to combine, and let the mixture burn off.  Add in the paprika, thyme, and cayenne pepper.  Mix everything up and let it sit for a minute or so.  Remove from the heat and set aside for the minute.  

In a large bowl, mash up the potatoes with the olive oil, water, and a bit of salt, then add in the contents of the skillet and the apple matchsticks, and whatever greens you're using (I used 2/3 of a 6 oz bag of baby spinach).  Use this mix to make a wrap, with tortillas, or do as I did and serve it over a little rice.

Adapted from "Sweet Potato Chickpea Wraps" (October 17, 2013), ThugKitchen.comhttp://thugkitchen.com

Arabian Squash Casserole

I choose this dish to welcome my love back from a well-deserved mini-vacation that she recently took.  It was also a way to utilize some acorn squash.  I haven't generally enjoyed winter squash very much, as it's usually been prepared for me in ways that pile on the levels of sweetness, the point where the sugar is -- to me -- overpowering.  

I'm not sure what makes this particular casserole "Arabian."  While it's delicious, the flavors, I think, could be tweaked a little to make it a bit more exotic -- maybe increase the cayenne pepper amounts?  We'll see.  

In any event, this dish is a great option, I find, if you want to prepare winter squash in a way that doesn't bury it under layers of brown sugar and maple syrup.  Butternut squash or pumpkin will also work well with this recipe.

Arabian Squash Casserole

2 acorn squash, cut in half, seeded, and roasted, then mashed or pureed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
4-5 mini bell peppers, any color, minced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
Black and cayenne pepper, to taste
6 oz of nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 cup crumbled feta
Chopped walnuts, for topping

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  While the oven is heating up, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add in the onion and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add in the minced peppers and sprinkle with the salt.  Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so, then add in the garlic and black and cayenne peppers.  Saute for a few more minutes, then remove from the heat.  Combine the contents of the skillet in a large bowl with the mashed/pureed squash, yogurt, and feta.  Stir to combine.  Pour everything into an ungreased 9 inch x 9 inch square pan, and spread this mixture out evenly.  Top with the walnuts.  Pop the pan into the oven, and let it bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or so.  Remove from the oven, and serve hot.

Adapted from Mollie Katzen, The Moosewood Cookbook (2000), Ten Speed Press

Beet & Za'atar Puree

My love had a plethora of beets in her garden this year.  What to do with all of these lovely roots has been something of a challenge!

We found this recipe for a Beet and Za'atar Puree that looked intriguing.  Last weekend, in a flurry of Sunday cooking, I whipped up a batch.

The results?  Fabulous!  This is a lovely way to serve beets as part of a crudite or mezze platter.  Be sure to have something savory or salty to serve with the puree, to balance out its lovely sweetness.

I couldn't find any date syrup, so I used some date molasses.  Curious to see what the difference in taste and texture would be between the two, should I find some of the former.

Beet and Za'atar Puree

2 lbs beets
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 oz nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1.5 tbsp date molasses
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp za'atar

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Wash the beets and wrap them up in aluminum foil before placing them in a roasting pan.  When the oven is ready, pop the beets in and roast them for about an hour or so, until a knife inserted in them slides in easily to the center.  Remove them from the heat, and let them cool down until safe to handle.  When cool, rub the skins off and cut each beet into six or so pieces, and continue to let them cool down completely.  Be sure to not get any beet juice on your clothes, lest it stain them!

When the beets are cool, place them in a food processor with the garlic, yogurt, and molasses, and zap to puree everything.  Transfer the puree to a large bowl and stir in the olive oil, za'atar, and a little bit of salt.  Serve as a dip for vegetables or bread, or as part of a mezze plate.

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem: A Cookbook (2012), Ten Speed Press

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