Thursday, July 31, 2014

You aren't the first to get there

Listening is not always something I do well. This past year I've been forced to learn about what I do that prevents me from listening. In some ways I have welcomed these revelations and have hoped they would help deepen some important relationships. In other ways I really didn't want to know the disturbing truth about myself. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

Perhaps everyone else is aware of the symbolism embedded in the Chinese character that is translated "to listen." Not me. I only recently learned about "ting."  It is very interesting. Okay, more than that. It is fascinating and attractive.

On the left, the ears are prominent. The eyes are on the right looking out at you. The straight line beneath them signifies intense focus. And beneath that is the heart with the tear-like drops. Together, they express an action that requires more senses than just the ears, and becomes more powerful and more meaningful than just "listen" as we would say in English.

Often I listen more with my mouth than any other body part. When I happen on a person in need - it could be a friend, a relative or even a stranger - my first impulse is to give words. To let them know I understand their difficulties and to offer hand-me-down thoughts from wherever I have gathered them. It is partly a lunge to let them know I "get them." The motivation for this flows from a polluted spring - I feel a guilty responsibility to fix what I see. If I don't or can't, it may indicate my own deep failure to be someone who heals and helps. This is not exactly empathetic.

I've been learning a good deal about listing from Zack Eswine, author of Sensing Jesus.  He writes:

"In Jesus we learn that we are never the first to arrive on the scene. We enter the moment quieted to learn what has transpired there before we arrived. What has God been doing prior to our arrival? Once there, what is his intention for our presence? Our nervousness, our desire to do well, our past wisdoms and successes, our longing to have nice things said of us, or our leftover feelings from how we just handled our spouses or were handled by our deacons - these ought not guide our words and actions once we are on the scene." p. 201.

Never the first to arrive on the scene. Not quite how I pictured it. There's something very freeing about that.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cast Iron forever

In the week before our daughter and her family arrived from Tennessee, I wanted to recondition some of my cast iron skillets because she and one of our grandsons has celiac disease. If cast iron has been used for cooking food that has wheat, like pancakes, French toast, or grilled sandwiches, just minute traces of gluten can make them sick.

I've found a way to recondition pans that works very well and is so easy. I place the pans in the oven and send it through a cleaning cycle. The temperature is high enough to burn the impurities off the iron and leave behind a kind of rusty residue. In the end I have a clean oven and cast iron that is ready to be wiped out and seasoned. 

I chose three of my favorites to re-condition before Sember arrived. (Really, I love them all! They are wonderful to cook with when they are properly conditioned and seasoned.) A very small 6 inch skillet, a medium 9 inch pan and a large 12 inch skillet that is great when you are cooking for a crowd and doing a lot of sauteing or stir fry. It is also makes a great oven-baking dish.

This is what the skillets looked like after the oven was done cleaning. Very nasty, but that's exactly how they should look at this stage.

End of oven cleaning cycle.

I laid out newspapers on the counter and got to work on the next step.

The small 6 inch on right needed reconditioning the most.

Notice all the gunk has turned to a rusty ash. That's good.

I take paper towels and either vegetable oil or shortening and begin to wipe them out. You can see how much comes off with the oil. This continues to clean and condition the surface. You will already feel how much smoother the surface has become now that all the gunk has been burned off.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to see it begin to shine up.

Almost done wiping. 

A little discoloration on the paper towel after the majority of the residue is wiped off is okay. The next step is going to begin the re-seasoning process. This will continue to seal and smooth out the surface as the oil is baked on. Apply oil or shortening to the sides and bottom as you see below. Make sure it is completely coated and rubbed in. Then return the pan to the oven for two hours at 350 degrees. 

I used canola oil.
When you take the skillet out of the oven. Let it cool down and wipe it out again. It should look beautiful and ready to be used.

I have learned that the more you use your cast iron the better it gets, until it finally has a silky non-stick surface that rivals any teflon. You can see that the large one above needs to be used more in order to get it in even better shape. The other two are perfect. In fact, they are so well seasoned now, I can even risk the big No-No and scrub it with a little water and soap if I've made a messy batch of scrambled eggs with cheese, for example. After I've washed it, I simply dry it out and rub in a little olive oil and it will be fine for the next time I use it. 

The most common way I clean them is by merely wiping them out with a paper towel. If it needs more than that, I often dump in a tablespoon of coarse salt, rub it around with a paper towel and that will clean and smooth the surface. You may wonder if this is sanitary enough because you aren't scrubbing it with hot soapy water, but remember this: every time you use a skillet or Dutch oven you will be heating the pan up to a temperature that is way beyond the life of any bacteria, so you'll be just fine. I know that some people are also concerned that no matter how much you wipe the surface with oil when cleaning up - it may still comes away discolored. That is normal with cast iron. It's just the nature of it. Insignificant amounts of iron may be picked up by food, but it becomes a source of an important mineral in our diet and that is good, too.

Another wonderful thing about cast iron is its durability. Whatever you own now has every chance of being around a hundred years from now and can be passed from generation to generation and that is pretty cool sustainability, don't you think?