Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Separation of church and stage

Blessed are the bassists, for theirs is the kingdom of awkward facial expressions.

So I went to a “U2charist service on Sunday. In a word: meh. OK, so that’s not officially a word. But all in good time. C’mon, if Meriam-Webster recognizes “w00t,” I get to validate meh.” Besides, U2charist is quite a little buzzy pseudoword, ain't it.

Anyway, my thoughts. I think the service I attended with my friend and coworker Wendy really lacked atmosphere. In a fairly small and bright room that formerly served as a library, the U2charist failed to move me (toe-tapping and swaying aside), wasn’t uplifting and it didn’t bring me closer to God. Not that I expected all or any of that. It was just flat.

I imagine in a dark, old chapel with dimmed lights and candles, a U2charist could be really cool or — even better — a powerful experience. A huge screen for projecting the DVD footage, a media person controlling the media (the pastor at St. Alban’s was doing double duty) and a gaggle of die-hard U2 fans — all would help the experience. I'd even suggest not using old "Rattle and Hum" and recent concert footage. I think U2 songs playing over projected, powerful images of faith, humanity, strife, etc. would be preferable to performance footie of Bono and Co.

As a musician and fringe member of the ADD generation, I was too focused on what kind of bass The Edge plays on "40" (one of Adam Clayton's Lakland basses, for the record — Clayton plays one of "David Howell Evans' " 1970s era Strats to complete the switch in roles on the "War" track).

So, I think the U2charist is too much entertainment, not enough God. It might be OK for others, but it’s not for me. However, the offering does go to a good cause, so I don't feel like I wasted an hour. It's worth checking out.

For more info on the phenomenon, check out my friend and former coworker Mike Plunkett’s write-up at The Norman Lear Center.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fácil o difícil

I try to practice restraint and focus on keeping life basic. However, I drift back into the clutches of irrelevant cluttering crap just like everyone. I used to be content with an artificial existence fueled by pursuing material things and further disconnecting from life and pure joys. I gotta admit I’m starving for more change. Not the kind that presidential hopefuls are throwing around. I’m ready for an existence that relies on compassion not consumerism. I’ve made some steps in the right direction (downsizing, getting rid of “stuff” and learning a lot from people willing to share and books). I’m not even close to where I’d like to be. But, I’m renewing my subscription for this new way. This slow, satisfying way. It’s just that simple.

Hmmm. Well, yeah. Anyway, I just had to get that out there. Back to complex life (work shift approaching), and sure, why not a complex bowl of chili. There are too many flavors in this recipe, so it’s a chore recognizing and appreciating all the spices. I am particularly pleased with how great the sweet potato works with the chili powder and cocoa. Sit down. Chew slowly. Smile.

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili (from
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoon olive oil (more if onions start to burn)
2 cans (4 oz) diced green chiles
2 tablespoon spices (cumin, chile powder, cinnamon, cocoa powder to taste)
1 large lime (or 2 small), zest and juice
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2 cubes
28 oz can whole tomatoes, chopped
4 cans (15 oz) black beans, rinsed
2 chipotle chiles (canned chipotle in adobo sauce), chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped leaves
1/2 - 1 cup water as needed

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil on low-medium heat till limp.
Add lime zest, sweet potatoes, 1/2 lime juice, and spices and cook covered for 15 min (add a little water or olive oil if the mixture starts to stick to the bottom). Add tomatoes, black beans, chipotle chiles, cilantro and cook until sweet potatoes are tender. Add remaining lime juice and more spices to taste if necessary, and simmer covered for 10 min, adding more water if needed.

Serves: 8

Preparation time: 1hr

Sunday, January 20, 2008

When I live alone, is there some toast in my house?

One-half of a good weekend is in the books. So, what did I do? Uh, not much really. That’s not true, but the rundown isn’t that interesting.

I blame, in part, the weather. It’s a cold one, which means I’m looking for warm places. That means my choices are bars, stores and coffee shops. Checks on all but the bars.

Back at 615 N. 4th, the best places to stay warm are the kitchen and bedroom uno. Weatherstripping, spaceheaters and window treatments can only do so much for a 90-year-old building.

All this means I’ve made a lot of food in the kitchen. Friday night and Saturday morning were very productive. I’ve baked Almond Quinoa Muffins, Banana Nut Waffles and Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies.

And finally, I made the No. 1 must-make recipe from V’con: Chickpea Cutlets. Every blogger who owns the book makes and loves ’em. I think somewhere in the back of the book there’s a notice in tiny type that says V’con will self-destruct in 90 days if you don’t make the cutlets. Then Dr. Claw’s henchmen will kidnap Penney and Brain. ...

I upped the recipe by a quarter and paired the cutlets with Herb Scalloped Potatoes and some standard spinach. The meal was excellent. Next time I will make the mustard sauce that everyone gushes about, which, will definitely help the “meat.”

So, today’s Sunday. I’m back to church “shopping.” I took a break after a decent run of trying out places. I am very grateful so many of the churches around here have Web sites. It’s incredibly helpful. I’ve crossed off a few places, which is great ’cause the task of finding the right place would be practically impossible — there must be a thousand churches here. And I’ve only got so many Sundays in a lifetime.

I might even check out the U2charist next weekend. I learned about the concept about a year ago. It’s intriguing and probably the first time it will be done in Waco. At least the music is familiar; but, it seems too gimmicky for me. I’m out if they hand out fly shades.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Let's go bowling this weekend

I’m gonna call this my Saturday/Sunday Soup. It’s lunch and dinner for what used to be my weekend (Wednesday/Thursday) and a celebratory soup for my return to normal weekends.

You might know Saturday/Sunday Soup better as Creamy Tomato Basil (its V’con-given name). I prefer substantial soups (beans, tons of veggies) so I usually would pass on a seemingly just-liquid soup. But this bowl is far more satisfying than a typical bowl of pureed tomatoes. Four potatoes, pureed nicely with the standard crushed tomatoes and flavorful sun-dried variety make this champ a filling cold-weather meal that's perfect for a drafty cottage like mine. Paired with some crusty bread I baked (loose interpretation of a Moosewood biscuit recipe), and I'm set for a weekend of refining my ladling technique — sloppy Holmes, sloppy.

Friday, January 11, 2008

More minis and FU tofu

I’m a better human being in the morning ... well, post-coffee, of course. After that, I’m good to go. I’m more productive and generally happier when the sun’s out. But, who isn’t.

I mention all of this because I am filling in today on the morning desk. It should be just breezy. It’s not like I have to negotiate 30 to 45 pages (tab, but still) today. Nope. How ’bout two fronts and a few inside broadsheets. Cake.

And muffins. Moosewood Restaurant has a bunch of recipe books, and this recipe for basic muffins (I added the blueberries and some lemon juice to make ’em more sunshiney) comes from a book I got for Christmas (thanks, Anne). These freeze OK, but they are great the next day.

Not being a grump in the morning? Sunshiney? What’s goin’ on? Who is this guy? Don’t worry, y’all. It ain’t all “Shiny Happy People” and fluffy bunnies ’round here. There’s still a bit of moody piss-n-vinegar in me. Exhibit A: The worst tofu meal ever. The orange glaze rocked. The couscous was as bland as expected. BUT, the “meat” of the meal was no good. I messed up. Bad. Undercooked? Check. I also effed up by freezing and thawing the ’fu. Also, I most definitely could have done a better job pressing the water out of the stuff. Pictures? Oh no. No chance. Too depressing. I’m not defeated, just deflated. I will try it again. Still, I have reason to believe tofu just isn’t for me. We shall see.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Apples and a twister

Who can resist a muffin? I hope my coworkers can’t, ’cause today I’m taking in some mini muffins — Apple-Oat Bran from the V’con.

First, my kitchen now smells like Apple Jacks, so I couldn’t be happier ... unless you’ve got a bowl of Apple Jacks on ya. No? Damn!

Second, this is a culinary tribute to Edwards Apple Orchard in Poplar Grove, Ill. A tornado recently hit Boone County, which is the home of one of the best traditions in Northern Illinois. I hope everyone affected by the storm gets back on their feet soon and that the community supports each other in this tough time ... and maybe, just maybe, the home of the best apple cider and apple cider donuts will be back in business come fall.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Fake it up

My meat-eating evolution hasn’t been easy or pretty, folks. Days before I decided to give up the goat (or more precisely cow), I was throwin’ back multiple patties at Wendy’s with great regularity. Oooooh, how I loved ’em. But, I always regretted chowin’ on cow (even in moderation) cause it made me as lethargic as ________ _______ (fill in with your favorite rehabbin’ celebrity) for the rest of the day. Not worth it.

Anyway, that’s all in the past and I don’t miss it. My meatless revolution is a comfy, experimental place (how 'bout we call it Frigginrighteousvania? Huh? huh?). This place has got a boatload of “who-the-hell-needs-meat” sammiches.

I used to shell out serious coin for Morningstar Farms and Boca’s variety of meat substitute. Not anymore. There’s so much you can do with lentils, chickpeas and black beans (my fave). Truthfully, it’s a mess mashing and kneading the ingredients, and the words “vital wheat gluten” don’t make anyone salivate quite like “double-bacon cheesebruger.” Still, after all the fuss, you end up with something great, like this Black Bean Burger from the Veganomicon. It probably woulda been even better if I were better at frying, but it’s cajun and I’m cool with that. And a thick layer o' cheese and generous mustard (great name for that Reel Big Fish tribute band you've been dreamin' about forming) make every burger a li'l better in Frigginrighteousvania.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Two things that matter today

Music: Talent is great, but what really matters is passion. It doesn’t get purer than furious ’80s punk. I’ve got Black Flag, Minor Threat and Fugazi in my brain, and oddly, it all started a few days ago when I overdosed on Rancid (less furious ’90s punk).

Life: I won’t be satisfied until I’m making a difference in people’s lives, contributing to the improvement of my community and feeling a sense of accomplishment (in that order — money is not even close to being a part of the equation). I am hopeful I am on the right track in realizing all of these.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cornbread strikes again

Monday couldn’t have been a better day for rolling up the sleeves and rolling out new recipes. I was feeling better but not well enough to get to the gym or run, so I had some time to kill in the kitchen

For those of you not up-to-the-minute on my health (you can follow it on the Headline News ticker, ESPN’s scrolling bottom line and the sign of that dude at Cesar Chavez and I-35 in Austin), it stumbled a bit last week. Just some bad crud, y’all. And, since I’m a guy (read: stupid) I didn’t rush to the doc immediately for a pill-based solution. No, that would belie my stubbornness (charming, ain’t it). Instead I’ve gone through a health roller coaster, a wellness waterslide if you will. For those familiar with the best place to spend a preteen summer afternoon circa 1988 — Wet ‘n’ Wild — you’ll no doubt know what I mean when I say one minute I was all “Pirate Ship” chillin’ and the next I was totally “Atlantic Panic.” Totally.

Anyway, I’m feeling better (don’t let my rambling fool you) so I finally got around to making a really good PPK-approved Potato and Black Bean Soup.

Potato and Black Bean Soup
6 cups vegetable broth, canned or made from bouillon cubes
10-12 medium mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup shredded carrots
4 medium potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.50 oz) can whole tomatoes, cut up
1 Tbs fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp cajun seasoning

In a large saucepan, combine broth, mushrooms, onion, carrots, and potatoes.
Cook over medium high heat until mixture comes to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally until potatoes are just tender; about 10-12 minutes.
Stir in beans, tomatoes, cilantro, and seasoning.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

There’s a whole lotta good stuff in there already, but you can add more veggies if ya like (you need to clean out your fridge anyway, right?). I added celery cause that’s how I roll and I said nay to “cajun seasoning.” In it’s place I pinched cumin, chili powder and wee pinched cayenne to taste. And the timing for this soup couldn’t be better. I’ve got a few more servings that will make the recent drop in temperature a bit more tolerable.

Alongside a brave new bowl of soup, I kicked out some kickass Vegan Cornbread straight from the “Veganomicon.” What makes this batch the best is simple — it’s the skillet. In fact, henceforth, I will never again make cornbread without a skillet. It’s the baking equivalent of a broken-in biker jacket or blue jeans. It’s just a classic that works. That said, I’m not a big fan of pie slices (‘cept actual pie, pizza pie and Trivial Pursuit pie). However, it’s not a deal breaker. The bread’s only gonna get crumbled in the soup any damn way.

Happy New Year, y’all.