Home Blog Page 239

i wanted to think of that


My friend Gordon has taught me most of what I know about blogging.

He’s taught me a bunch of other stuff, too.

He has a blog called Real Live Preacher, which has some great stuff, not the least of which is a recent posting entitled, “Unmade Children and Never Written Words,” and it’s one of those ideas I hoped I would think of one day, even though it hasn’t really crossed my mind so far.

Go read it.


food for thought


I’m ten or twelve posts into this blog and I’m staring at the screen this morning in a bit of a crisis: I don’t have a recipe.

The crisis is self-induced, I suppose. After looking at a number of food blogs, I’ve let myself feel the pressure of falling into their pattern. My posts can’t just be about what I have to say; I have to have a recipe. Well, I’m writing this morning to talk myself out of that perspective. The primary point of creating this blog — fro me — was to write. Writing about the way food, faith, friends, and family wind in and out of each other in our day-to-day existence is what fascinates me. When, along the way, I come across a recipe that is worth bringing to the table, I’ll pass it along, but I am feeding another appetite here.

The last week in our lives here on the South Shore of Massachusetts has left me keenly aware of difficult life is. Several people we know are in deep pain: one is in the hospital dealing with heart problems; another is at the end of her rope after a year and a half of undiagnosed illness; another is in a fierce custody battle over her two boys; and several have been bitterly hurt by the way some things have played out at the church I serve. None of the situations can be solved by a kind word and a box of cookies, regardless of how good the recipe is, and yet, “how can I help?” seems like an important question — even if I can’t answer it well.

Whether the pain attacks us or is self-inflicted, it’s still pain. Like Michael Stipe sings, everybody hurts. That’s stating the obvious. The struggle deepens when the wounds are open and the nerves are exposed. Too often, we recoil into isolation, which only makes things hurt worse. I’m hurting from some things said to me last night, and from watching the way people beat up on each other in a church meeting that didn’t have to be such a train wreck. And I know I’m not the only one.

When the apostle Paul gave instructions about Communion to the church at Corinth, he told them not to come to the table until they had forgiven those with whom they would share the meal and asked for forgiveness. What he knew was you can’t be filled with bitterness and expect to make room for grace. One of them has got to go.

We take Communion the first Sunday of every month, which means I have some work to do between now and February 5, which actually brings me back to plates of cookies and banana bread. The best peace offerings travel best with food as a companion.

When I figure out what I’m making, I’ll share the recipe.


bring the family


We started a new menu at the Red Lion Inn this weekend, the centerpiece of which is family style dining. You get a choice of lobster corn chowder, Caesar salad, or Red Lion fondue to begin; a choice of pork tenderloin, chicken, or London broil for entree; and a choice of creme brulee, Bailey’s cheesecake, or lemon tart for dessert — all for $14.95. Everyone at the table can order what they want, but if they do order together, then it gets fun. Instead of individual plates the food comes out on wonderful platters for everyone to share. Robert, our Head Chef, is great at making the food both taste good and look good, so when the platters went out, people gasped.

Now that’s what meal time should be.

But “family style” is becoming an anachronistic term — at least, when we use it to describe the kind of meal where people actually sit down to eat. Today, as people rush to games, practices, play dates, and whatever else is on the schedule, family style eating means driving through some fast food joint and eating in the car. It’s not about the meal, it’s about survival.

When I was growing up, meal time meant we sat down at the table and ate together, whether we were eating pork tenderloin or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My mother always made a point of putting things in bowls, rather than putting the jars on the table. We were sitting down to do more than eat; we were eating together.

One of my favorite novels is Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Ezra, who grows up in a family that leaves him with little idea of what family is, opens a restaurant in order to create a feeling of home for those who come in, even though he knows little of what home really feels like. That image is part of what attracts me to restaurant work and a great deal of what attracts me to cooking and making meals. When I sit down at the table with friends I have a shot at feeling at home. When we send out the beautiful platters to the folks at the Red Lion, we are offering them a moment to really be together. I like that.

Beats the hell out of pulling up to the drive through window.

My contribution to the table was getting to make the stuffing to go with the pork. Robert said he wanted some sort of cranberry-apple stuffing and left the rest up to me. I cubed some of the baguettes we had; sauteed some chopped bacon, onion, and celery; added chopped apples, dried cranberries, chopped fresh sage, salt & pepper, melted butter, white wine, and enough water to make it moist, and then baked it until it was firm. (When I can be more specific about amounts, I’ll post it on the recipe page.) It went along with the pork, and mashed butternut squash. I got hungry every time one of the platters went out.

It’s funny, sometimes, making meals for people we never see. We send the platters out to people we do not know, hoping to make a meal happen for them: that they don’t just fill up on food, but they find a way to be together, to make a memory, or have time to tell a couple of stories. Sometimes we hear a few things: they loved the food, they were very impressed. Occasionally, the server will say, “They won’t leave; they’re still sitting and talking.”

That’s my favorite.


a taste of something fine


Wednesday nights are usually a work night for me at The Inn. I like the place, I like the people I work with, but between the cooking gig and my church gig, I’m out of the house six nights a week, which means my wife, Ginger and I, don’t get to eat supper together very often.

Last night we did. The chef called to say he didn’t need me to work and all of a sudden Ginger and I had a dinner date.

Though I do love food, meals are what matters most. It’s not about the tastes as much as it is the experience: the chance to stop and share a meal with someone you love – and, of course, cooking what they love. I asked what she wanted as she headed out to work.

“Polenta!” she exclaimed.

Ginger had to work fairly late, so as the sun set on an already grey day, I poured myself a glass of wine, put Jackson Browne’s Saturate Before Using in the CD player, and began to work on dinner as he sang:

The papers lie there helplessly in a pile outside the door
I’ve tried and tried, but I just can’t remember what they’re for
The world outside is tugging like a beggar at my sleeve
Ah, that’s much too old a story to believe

Polenta at our house means I make it (adding lemon juice, green chiles, and cheddar cheese), pour it into a 9-inch square Pyrex pan and let it cool, and then slice it and sauté it. I also pounded out a couple of chicken breasts, marinated them in Dijon mustard, rolled them in Ritz cracker crumbs, and then sautéed them as well. Ginger asked for green beans, but I had different plans for myself. A friend mentioned to me the other day he had been served asparagus with proscuitto and fresh cranberries, so I thought I would see if I could make that happen. I cut the proscuitto into thin strips and cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. I put the proscuitto in first; when it was starting to crisp I added the asparagus and the cranberries and sautéed all of them until the berries began to pop. It was excellent.

And you know that it’s taken its share of me
Even though you take such good care of me
Now you say “Morocco” and that makes me smile
I haven’t seen Morocco in a long, long while
The dreams are rolling down across the places in my mind
And I’ve just had a taste of something fine

Every meal is a memory, a chance to lean into all that it means to be together and savor what it feels like to belong. When we reduce it to feeding, we miss the stuff that matters, the chance to be truly nurtured. I realized how badly I need the connection as we ate. I miss being at home for dinner.

When I was growing up, my family sat down to dinner together every night. The conversations around the table were informative, though not always deep, but in the years that followed when distance developed between my parents and me, the memory of those meals kept me from walking away. I had a place at that table. So did they.

I don’t belong anywhere in the world more than I belong with Ginger. And I remember that best when we sit down to dinner together.

And you know that I’m looking back carefully
”Cause I know that there’s still something there for me
But you said “Morocco” and you made me smile
And it hasn’t been that easy for a long, long while
And looking back into your eyes I saw them really shine
Giving me a taste of something fine


food for friends


First thing: the soup came out great!

Second thing: in my continuing journey through blogdom, I decided to set up another blog with just the recipes, rather than trying to make them fit into the narratives. You will find them at don’t eat alone: the recipes (creative, huh?).

There’s no such thing a good soup recipe for one because soup tastes better when it’s shared. Any food does, for that matter.

I have a big container of pumpkin apple soup (Check the link; I tweaked it a bit) just waiting for someone besides me to enjoy it. And I know exactly who needs it today. There’s a couple in our church who have been lifelong members and who have both been sick over the holidays. They, like many of us, don’t receive help easily, yet, somehow, they will receive it from me. It’s like that scene in The Breakfast Club where Molly Ringwald’s character is putting make up on Ally Sheedy’s character.

“Why are you doing this,” Ally Sheedy asks.

“Because you’re letting me,” answers Molly Ringwald.

The husband loves the lemon bars I make, so I just took a batch out of the oven to go along with the soup. When they cool, I will be off to make my delivery. That’s what friends do.

Food heals when it comes from the hands of a friend.


a good day for soup


We are in a the middle of a stretch of gray days where it is not so apparent that the sun has even risen. The lights are on, the schnauzers are snoozing, and I’m in the mood for soup — but not for going to the grocery store. A quick glance in both the pantry (I have several cans of pumpkin) and the fridge (apples! and one more sweet potato), as well as a Google search for soup recipes, has brought me to my project for the day, bouncing off of some recipes I found here:

Pumpkin Apple Soup

1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 lb bacon
2 cup water
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 can of pumpkin
2 cups apple cider
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 apples, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
1/3 cup crystallized ginger
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t tumeric
1/2 t cayenne pepper

I’m going to saute the onion and bacon in olive oil, add the water and potato until it cooks, and then throw in the rest of the stuff and let it simmer for an hour or so. I’m going back and forth about whether or not to add any curry powder to the mixture. Finally, I’m going to puree it all with my Braun stand mixer (my current favorite appliance). I’ll let you know how it turns out.

I think it’s going to be great. However it tastes, it’ll make the house smell warm and hopeful. And I can snooze a little with the schnauzers while I’m waiting for my late lunch.


first meal


Every few years, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both fall on Sunday, which means we have church services on days we not normally do so. Yesterday, for me, it meant, other than my cup of coffee on the way to church, my first meal of the day and the new year was Communion.

In the United Church of Christ, we don’t have a set way Communion has to be served. The most common method is to pass trays of bread down each pew, followed by trays of small glasses of wine (or grape juice), so we all serve the meal to one another. Yesterday, we served by intinction, which means everyone came forward, tore off a piece of bread from a common loaf, dipped it in the common cup and then took both elements together. Either way, we always end up with leftovers.

On the one hand, the fact that we have all eaten and there is still more is a helpful metaphor for the expansiveness of the love of God in Christ: regardless of how much we need, there is always more. Yet, I watched as folks came through the line yesterday and they tore of pieces of bread so tiny that they could not dip them in the cup without getting their fingers wet. Why do we come the Table of God for the Ultimate Meal and nibble at our food like kids being forced to eat broccoli for the first time?

Several summers ago, when I saw how much we had leftovers after we had passed the food around, I sent the elements out a second time, and said then much of what I have said here. We still had more on the plates than ended up in anyone’s stomachs. I wished I had kept passing the stuff around until we finished it, until we settled in and really ate together. The focus on reverence in the meal in most churches has made us more aware of the precision of the plate passers than the power of the meal. I wish we felt the freedom to talk as we passed the elements, calling each other by name, telling stories of our faith, forgiving one another, and remembering why we gather together as the people of God. What I noticed most yesterday as people came through the line was the look in their eyes: am I dong this right?

Who can eat under that kind of pressure?

Springsteen says, “Everybody has a hungry heart.” He’s right. His words remind me of the last verse of Thomas Webber’s hymn, “Come, Ye Disconsolate”:

Here see the Bread of Life; waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
Come to the Feast of Love; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.

How can we come so hungry and yet feel that we are not worthy to take what we need to be filled?

One day, I want to share a Communion meal where each person has plenty of bread and we drink wine from large glasses that can be refilled so we can talk late into the night, telling stories of how Love has found us.

I’ll bake the bread; you bring the wine.


starting off right


I love the way our home feels when it’s filled with people sharing food, drink, and conversation.

Twenty-or-so people made their ways to our open house this afternoon. We never really know how many folks are coming. We aren’t very good at the formal invitation thing; we just tell the people we see along the way and wait to see who shows up. If you’ve been once, we expect that you know we are going to do it again next year and the invitation still stands. Part of what that means is we never quite know what the collection of people who gather is going to look like, which means the afternoon is always filled with wonderful surprises.

Some of the best recipes happen that way as well.

As I was putting things together for this afternoon, I found I had a sweet potato left over from Christmas, some cranberry chutney I made a couple weeks back, a bag of mini marshmallows, and a pack of wonton wrappers. I boiled the potato and pureed it with some maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg and then put a teaspoonful of the mix with a spoonful of the chutney and a marshmallow in the wonton wrapper, folded it over and fried it. Good stuff, Maynard.

Whatever designs I have on 2006, I can rest assured that things are not going to go as I expect them to, unless I expect the recipe for the year to require much the same improvisation as the wontons. I have some ideas about what I hope will be on the menu for the year ahead, but I don’t yet know what ingredients I will be working with.

Here’s what I do know: we started it off right with a house filled of friends and a table filled of food.


what’s with the black-eyed peas?


As long as I can remember, New Year’s Day meant black-eyed peas. It also meant ham and cornbread, because that’s why my family always ate with black-eyed peas. The peas were for good luck, they told me.

When we moved to Boston fifteen years ago, I went to the local supermarket in Charlestown to buy some black-eyed peas. I searched the dried beans, I searched the canned beans — no luck. Finally, I asked the store manager if they carried them.

“Shu-ah (which is Boston for “sure”),” he said, “they’re in the ethnic section.

Thank God for Goya.

This morning I did a little surfing to find out why black-eyed peas on New Year’s? I found three explanations.

The first — from a guy in Florida, I think — said the dish promised prosperity: the peas represented coins and the collard greens (which he cooked alongside) represented folding money.

The second — from a farmer in Arkansas — said the role the peas played in crop rotation put nitrogen back in the soil and enriched it for the coming crop.

The third — from the deep South — said troops from the North raided the camps of the Southern soldiers one New Year’s Eve and all they had were black-eyed peas.

When I come home from work tonight I will start soaking the dried beans to get ready for our New Year’s party on Sunday afternoon. Since the house will be filled, mostly, with folks who did not grow up in a pea-eating tradition, I’m going to fix them three ways (one, I suppose, for each story): traditionally, with some ham, garlic, and a little sugar — and cornbread on the side; as a variation on “Chile Macho,” a recipe from my mother (a can of green chiles, a can of Ro-tel tomatoes, one diced onion, two cups of cooked black-eyed peas, 2 T vinegar, Salt, and sugar); and as Akkras, a West African bean fritter (2 cups soaked — but not cooked — peas, 1 chopped onion, 1 fresh red chile seeded and chopped — all put in the food processor — and oil for frying).

One way or another, everyone will get a taste of good fortune.


PS — I sent some of you an invitation to be a member of this blog. I didn’t realize the catch was you had to creat a blog of your own. I didn’t mean to create any obligations. Sorry.

bread makes the meal


My earliest food memories have to do with bread.

I grew up in Africa in the late fifties, sixties, and seventies. What bread we had my mother made from scratch, at least in the early years. I think that’s one of the reasons I grew up wanting to be in the kitchen. There’s something about the smells of the whole bread baking process — the dryness of the flour, the pregnant promise of the yeast as it dissolves, the aroma of invitation that fills the house as the bread bakes — that make most any house feel like a home.

For Ginger and me, special occasions are marked by special bread.

My mother passed on a family recipe to me for “Refrigerator Rolls,” which is a bread dough that contains yeast, baking powder, and baking soda, and will keep in the fridge for a week or more, making it possible to bake a little each day.

Here’s the recipe:

1 quart milk, scalded and poured over

1 cup sugar and
1 cup butter
(I do it in the bowl of my kitchen Aid mixer on low speed)

Let cool and then add

2 packages yeast dissolved in
1/2 cup water


8 cups of flour, one cup at a time (I use 1 cup of whole wheat flour)

Cover and let rise until doubled, then add

1 cup flour mixed with
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking Soddy

Cover and let rise again.

When I make our rolls, I use a biscuit cutter and then drag the bottom through some olive oil and fold then in half. You can also cook the dough in loaves; it also makes great cinnamon rolls. Bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes. We’re talking seriously addictive bread here.

I’m convinced part of what makes bread dough rise are all the memories it contains. Each time I make the rolls I am tapping into the history of my mother and grandmother doing the same thing. I am also connecting with all the loaves that have been baked and broken at any table that was and is to come.

That’s good honest work.