Thursday, March 31, 2011

Beer Bread for the weary

Lots of folks don’t have the option of getting into the kitchen and leisurely prepping an evening meal. I understand this. So let’s not use words like puree, truss, stuff, or – God forbid – French.  I remember Little Miss Sunshine and feeling tender toward the mother, who came home from a whacked-out stressful day with a bucket of chicken and two liters of soda and tried to get dinner (a strained use of the word) on the table and the family together. The grandfather went off on her with a swearing tirade about chicken. #$%!! AGAIN?!!  Made you want to put a little strychnine in his drink.
I’ve noticed that the scent of something baking in the oven can work like freebasing Zoloft. It’s that powerful. A kind of calm sweetness diffuses through the house; traffic tickets, tyrants, terrorists, and skinned knees are forgotten. For a moment you are forgiven and soothed. The anticipation that announces something good is coming, is a gift I love to give because I know it’s more than food, it’s spiritual. There’s something sacred in this simple act. Since I can’t do it for that many, being finite and all, I share this instead.
There aren’t many recipes for a yeasty-tasting homemade bread this easy. It’s great company for nearly any meal. A few left-over slices make good toast the next morning. Putting it together and throwing it in the oven last night took me six minutes. Seriously. I timed it. And all the ingredients were put away, too. However, you must give enough time to bake (50 minutes) and cool (about 5 minutes). So, yes, it does require a little forethought.

Beer Bread

1 c. whole wheat or ¾ c ww and ¼ c. cornmeal (optional, can use all white)
2 c. white flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
1 ½  t. salt
2 T honey
12 oz beer
3 T melted butter
Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Add honey and beer. Stir together just until mixed. It will be sticky and moist. Transfer to a buttered loaf pan or a shallow baking dish. Bake 25 minutes at 325 degrees. Melt 3 T. butter and spread on top. Return to oven for another 20-25 minutes. Makes one loaf.

Margie tips:
* Wet your hand with cold water and pat the batter to smooth it down. Then it won’t stick to your fingers.
* Don’t use a whisk. It gets completely gunked up. Use a wooden spoon.
* An ale or dark beer gives a more beery taste. I like a lighter beer. Okay. A girly beer like Honey Weiss.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage – almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recounting of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance.    - Thomas Cahill

In the aftermath of the earthquake, stories emerge from the rubble of Japan. Strange stories of grace that break our hearts but give strange hope. Each day we wake and we think to pray for the people of Japan. We know as they face another day, nothing will ever be the same for them. We pray that out of this catastrophe there will be arms to enfold them. That Jesus will give them rest. That he will call many to a glory that will be eternal. Our brothers and sisters.

Last night our small group studied Psalm 130. A short Psalm that begins in the depths, crying out to God. Then comes the waiting and waiting and waiting in the dark feeling both weariness and fright. We are assured of both God’s forgiveness, his steadfast love and his plan for “full redemption” of which we have a taste, but we haven’t eaten the whole thing yet.

I picture full redemption being like the rolling back of the tsunami. In one of the most painful videos we’ve seen, people are watching from an air terminal as it comes across the land, rolling  the parking lots, pouring over the walls, sweeping over the walls, tumbling cars, trucks and people. And you hear the mounting cries of terror and lament. Full redemption will reverse the destruction of life. It will be pulled back and back to restore the earth to something better and more beautiful.

We are going to Chicago today on our own small mission of helping our daughter move. I’ll be away for a few days, but will be back soon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Loser's Coffee Cake

The weekend before last I used the sunny weather as an excuse to make a berry pie which was good, but not perfect. This past weekend I woke to darkness, the sky thickened by fog as snow slowly melted. It began raining gloom, exposing more dirt and dog doo along our sidewalk. It’s kind of disgusting to walk your dog, leash in one hand and loaded bag swinging in the other. Most owners responsibly pick up, and seriously, I don’t watch them, you know. But this one guy,  owner of a big ruffy dog, without a bag, annoyed me a little when he paused right in front of the kitchen window as I was doing dishes. No way to pick that up and too loose to kick onto the street. He needed a giant leaf bag bag, but I grabbed what was handy and ran out to offer it. I’m glad I curtailed my spleen because he was very shame-faced and kind of sweet. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to be imperfect. Big aside.

Once again, I was using the weather as an excuse to bake something. Why should I do that? It really doesn’t matter what the weather is. It’s March. We’re all mentally ill from lack of sun. Just watch, next I’ll be complaining about how hot it is. But while it’s still chilly and with Easter coming, it’s time to make the one coffee cake I’ll make all season. The one that has a crunchy cinnamon-y wave through the middle of a moist sweet inside and crispy golden crust outside.

I found a recipe on the web called Loser’s Coffee Cake. Not because the recipe is a loser, they said, but if you are. It was acclaimed as super-easy and so good, a no-fail. I have an affinity for losers whether we’re talking about the kitchen or figuring out where the volume button is in iTunes. The concept attracts me. So I made it.

When I could handle it without getting third degree burns we ate a piece. And someone ate another, not me. I was thinking: this IS a loser recipe. It’s not that good. But why would that be? As I remembered, the old recipe, buried somewhere in my archives, had all the same ingredients. Excepting chocolate chips. I left them out because coffee cake should not have them. It’s wrong. It had to be something else, not the chocolate. So I dug out the old recipe from Nancy Fyke to compare. The difference was: twice as much sugar, a little more fat, and twice the amount of cinnamon filling and topping.

So. If you’re going to make a coffee cake, and it comes once a year, perhaps on Christmas or Easter morning, then don’t skimp on this, just go for it. I mean. It really DOES make a difference.
Here’s the winner’s recipe – No more difficult than the “Loser’s” and way, WAY better.
Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1 c. butter softened
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour

2 eggs
1 c. (8 ounces) sour cream
1 t. baking powder
1 t. vanilla
½ t. salt
Cream butter, sugar and vanilla beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add half the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until blended. Add sour cream, blend with spoon. Add remaining dry ingredients. Do same thing. Don’t over stir.

Cinnamon mixture:
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 T (tablespoons) cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped almonds or other nuts
Combine all ingredients in small bowl.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the cinnamon mixture in bottom of a well-greased, floured Bundt pan (you can use a 9x13 cake pan, but then skip putting the cinnamon mixture on the bottom and add to middle and top only). Spoon in half the batter. Sprinkle with another third of the mixture. Add remaining batter. Top with final third of cinnamon mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 -75 minutes. Cool 1 hour before removing from pan. (Otherwise it comes out in chunks. I know from another of my loser experiences. Still tastes good but looks like a squirrel dug it up.) Also. This might look like any old boring coffee cake, but it is fantastic.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Blog for Pie

The sun shone for about two hours last Saturday. The flow of rays onto the kitchen counter was strong enough to melt butter and keep the French press warm. I was rooted there and to justify standing in one spot absorbing vitamin D – justification being the saving oil for souls who think worth is measured by what they do, among other complex cravings and addictions – demanded pie. The answer to many moral questions. We still have several freezer bags full of blackberries that Anita picked in Washington last summer. Blackberry banana vanilla soy milk smoothies have had their place this winter, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had a lip-staining blackberry pie. I wasted thirty minutes looking for a recipe that didn’t call for tapioca. No sense making Denis feel sicker than he did with fisheyes. Couldn’t find anything, but with shameless audacity I thought adding 2 T. of cornstarch to a cup of sugar and 5 cups of blackberries would be just perfect.

The pie looked gorgeous when I took it out of the oven. But it wasn’t perfect. Why couldn’t it be? Why is nothing ever perfect? Why does my eye always settle on that little flaw – the dot of wall paint left on the white ceiling, the stain on the floor where I dropped India ink, the scratch I put in the car when the train gate dropped on the trunk, and na-nah, na-nah, na, na.  It wasn’t just the decorative leaves and berries I’d made for the top crust that now looked like flying-bird dropping poop; it was the juice leaking along the edge and flowing onto the catch pan below. Turns out 2 T. of corn starch isn’t nearly enough. Nor was the sugar. I cut the first piece and poured ¾ cup of juice out of the pie remaining in the pan and dumped more sugar on each piece.. Denis loves soupy anything from lasagna to pie, so, happy, happy Denis. Sweet Denis. I admit my crust is a ten, a thing I can’t help or really claim. It’s like Kristi Yamaguchi doing a sit-spin, just nothing to it. But happy Margie, I did stand in the sun for thirty minutes and you can hardly go wrong with that even if you don’t get the thickening right. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

…"Creation testifies to God's beauty but in its own distinctive ways and God testifies to His own beauty through creation’s own beauty." [Jeremy Begbie] Two certainties flow from this: that we can enjoy the beauty of created things, like flowers because He values this physical world and is committed to renewing it. He showed us this when he first renewed Jesus' body at the resurrection. Jesus' resurrection is the promise of the physical renewal of the whole creation. It will go on into eternity and be more glorious than it is now, beyond our imagining.

From a lecture by Jane Winter:  “Truth, Beauty and Flowers”  (reproduced by The Washington Institute).

Today another snowstorm is moving through our area. The prospect of spring or anything remotely connected to Resurrection looks bleak. But as many in Western Christendom enter Lent, traditionally a time of fasting, praying, and repenting, we count the days to the celebration of Easter morning, of Christ’s return from hell. There are signs of it coming. This morning as I read through the book of Habakkuk, and the prophet attests to God’s inexorable movement through and into this world. He promises:  “…though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” (2:3)

Not only Scripture assures the miracle of resurrection, just stepping out my door to take a closer look contains it’s own miracle. That the collection of snow falling on a metal fence should be so beautiful? That a home on frozen ground surrounded by ice displays a kind of beauty? I want to be more aware, more hopeful, more thankful. So I’ll begin Lent here, confessing I’m not.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Proximate Justice

Steven Garber responded to my last post and placed his comment on my facebook page. I felt his response would make sense here, too. Steve often uses the word "proximate" in helping us reach a place where we acknowledge that justice or love or even the coffee I make is not going to be perfect even though we strive for it. So the question then is: how do we live in this precarious place desiring the Kingdom of God to be fully present and when it is not, how do we live faithfully? Answering that question has shaped much of his own life and ministry.

Steven wrote: "I don't know Steve Schaper, at all. But I wonder what on earth in Margie's post could possibly be seen as a universal statement about police brutality? It fails in even the most pedestrian logic. Most of the world lives by tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye. You gore my ox, and I will gore yours. It is a dead-end. I have many commitments, one being the Middle East, and especially the generational struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is a short-term fiction to think that one can be "for the Israelis" as over against the Palestinians-- and the reverse is just as much a problem. The harder work is being "for" both histories, and both futures. Sort of like being "for" public justice in Houston, huh? Or maybe even Madison? Unless we are content with justice being just "just us," that is. The real "killer" here-- excuse the term --is that Margie's much-loved brother is a county sheriff in Minnesota, and I know for my years of listening that he embodies a just mercy, a merciful justice. And that was what is missing from the arrest on the streets of Houston."

Thursday, March 3, 2011


We’ve probably all winced through enough Cop shows to recall them screaming: “GET ON THE GROUND. GET ON THE GROUND NOW!!” When the camera focuses on the suspect, and if he has spread-eagled himself on the ground, (like the young man in the video below), the cops run up, knee his back, bring his arms around, snap on the cuffs, and bring him to his feet. They don’t kick him repeatedly in the head and groin and punch him over and over in the kidneys. At least not in Cops I’ve seen.

I’ve been avoiding this post, trying to find better words to express what I mean to say and can’t say I’ve succeed here, either. Recently I placed this link on my facebook and someone commented:

“Good. Now let's see you condemn the teacher's union brutality and hate speech in Wisconsin and elsewhere.”
Someone else responded merely with: “Teacher's union brutality?????? Mercy.”

I got it – the aggressive sarcasm of the first remark and wondered whether to respond. I decided yes because the practice of brutality (wherever it is) and hateful rhetoric does not reflect the gospel and life of Christ. I’ll stand by this: whatever that young man did, he had already surrendered and the behavior of the arresting officers was wrong. We have courts and laws that are supposed to protect a suspect from what the Houston police were doing. Whatever grievances we have about the Teacher’s Union over there does not excuse the violence here.

 I thought of how we Americans often thank ourselves that we are not like other people in less civilized parts of the world. Places where human rights are violently abused and life is extinguished without mercy or justice. We think of Libya these days.

Happily, not all officers are like them. I’m proud to have a brother who is a county sheriff. He’s a savvy, powerful man, but he’s also wise and kind-hearted. I’ve often said that if you ever really needed help and saw him coming, you would cry with relief. On the other hand, if you were the suspect, you could trust him to respect the law and not to kick in your head or break your groin even if you’ve committed a heinous crime. We leave punishment to the courts and the law. In our country that is supposed to mean protection for everyone, regardless of race or social standing. Not that it does, obviously.