Monthly Archives: February 2011

Legendary Pretzels


Practice pretzels for Sunday

I’m teaching my UU kids about Lent this Sunday. Last year, Bella asked me what it was and so we actually did the whole giving up something we loved. I gave up chocolate. It nearly killed me. I blathered on so much about it on FB that everyone gave me a hard time and a friend sent me an embarrassing amount of chocolate when it was all said and done.

This little observance has a very controversial past. When you google “Lent history” you get two very divergent viewpoints right away. The first is the heavily Catholic version, which is all about the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and Holy Week and so forth. The other side is the very conservative evangelicals, which will point out that Lent isn’t actually in the Bible (but then again, neither is Christmas or Easter?), and that it has Pagan roots (again, Christmas and Easter?) and so that is why the Catholic church is, in their view, wrong. Who knew Lent was so dang beleagured! I mean, it is a harder observance to sell. You don’t run out and buy Lent gifts or Lent food if you are in mourning or fasting or the like.

The truth is, well, who knows where the truth is. Lent wasn’t actually celebrated in the Catholic church until the fourth century. However, there are other much older traditions that observe a similar occasion, so chances are very strong this was another way of converting the remaining Pagans. (And yes, I get that Lent mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by Satan.) The most common story I find that is similar to the Christian Lent is this one, from Babylonia (and apologies, this is lifted off a web site that I have lost the address. If this is your site or you find it, let me know and I will link to it):

Upon the death of Tammuz his wife and beloved Inanna or Ishtar, was so stricken with grief that she followed him to the underworld. Since she was the goddess of spring rains that bring forth the fruit of life, the land was barren and desolate without her presence. Ea, their god of water and wisdom was moved to send a messenger to rescue Ishtar. Eresh-Kigl allowed the messenger to sprinkle the water of life on Ishtar and Tammuz, which gave them the power to return to the world for six months of the year. The remaining part of the year, Tammuz must return to the underworld, forcing Ishtar to follow him and also forcing Ea to give the water of life. This explained to their culture the miracle of resurrection and spring that occurred every year. Over the centuries the story and the yearly rites connected with Tammuz, moved westward to Phoenicia and Syria.

What is interesting to me is the spiritual practice, whether you are Catholic or Christian or whatever that can be accomplished from this. From the School of the Seasons site:

There is a long tradition of spring purification. Cleansing is part of the action of the tonic herbs of early spring on the body. Also think of spring cleaning. Those who planned to be initiated during the Eleusinian Mysteries in the fall participated in purification ceremonies in the early spring, which included bathing in the sea. When the world is being made anew, we wish to make ourselves new. Yet any change is fraught with danger and difficulty. As a friend of mine said while we were on our way to a ritual, “There is no transformation without change.” Gertud Mueller Nelson in her wonderful book on Catholic ritual comments, “which of us…does not know we must change and fear it, and in that fear come face to face with the mystery of death.” She believes that “conscious engagement of suffering and death forces us to take stock of our gift of life and consider ways of reforming and living our lives more fully and passionately.”

So what on earth does this have to do with pretzels anyway? Well, in my research I came across this cute little story about the origin of pretzels. Is it factual? Perhaps as factual as the history of Lent! But it’s fun and relevant. Basically, the story is that a monk around 600 AD. During Lent, you had to give up some finer foods, such a milk or eggs (or chocolate or Pop Tarts) and it was a challenge to make a bread without some of those ingredients. Pretzels are a very simple food. They consist of flour, sugar, yeast, water and salt. They are shaped that way so that if you hold it so the two round ends are down, they mimic the way hands might be held against one’s chest as they pray. In fact, pretzel is allegedly derived from the Italian “pretiola” which means “little reward.” Aha. A Lent project for the kids. They like to bake! We did a trial run tonight and I think we’re good to go! I just need a warm body to help me out. Anyone want to help make pretzels at 10:45?

So if you end up at a bar and you start snacking on pretzels, you’re supposed to think about prayer. Chances are you’ll be thinking “these pretzels are making me thirsty.”

What are you giving up for Lent, to do a little cleansing? I’m considering chocolate or dessert. I vowed never again. But that was so last year.


Big Red Chili

Boy it has been stunning and gorgeous here in South Carolina. In fact, so beautiful, I gotta use two adjectives to describe it. It means I have enjoy it with a run. (To be honest, if I’m serious about running the half in 5 weeks, I’m going to have to up my running game anyway.) But still, the family has got to eat, right?

Enter the crock pot! Oh sure, it might seem weird to make a chili when it’s so dang nice outside, but that’s what I did. The family chowed down on it too. Definitely a keeper, so I break my vow of only blogging once a week and share one more recipe.

The original is from a book called 1,001 Best Slow-Cooker Recipes, which isn’t too bad. There have been some winners. There have been disappointments too. The pineapple chicken was not a hit at all, except with Bella. The turkey pumpkin chili was a hit with me (and my friend Suzanne, who was having pumpkin shipped in to Florida with last year’s pumpkin shortage), but not with the other two family members. Still,  considering that I prefer to avoid meat and my husband prefers to avoid any fruit in his dinners, it’s been a nice resource.

To the recipe! Now the original called for 8 oz of ground sirloin. You can only get ground turkey in packs of 20 oz. I went with a sweet onion instead of a red onion. I added garlic and cinnamon while I was switching stuff around. Otherwise, I stuck to the recipe.

  • Lean ground turkey, 20 oz
  • Crushed tomatoes, 28 oz can
  • Red kidney beans, 15 oz can
  • Sweet onions
  • Red pepper, chopped
  • Red wine vinegar, 2 tbsp
  • Chili powder, 2 tbsp
  • Allspice .25 tsp
  • Cinnamon ground, 1 tsp
  • Salsa, .67 cup
  • Garlic, 2 cloves

Now you could brown the turkey and then put that in the pot, include all the ingredients, cover it and put it on low. Or you could just put everything in the pot, stir it up, cover it and put it on low like I did. Or even better … put everything in the pot while the family cleans the kitchen, cover it and stick it in the fridge. Pull it out in the morning, put it on low and go to work. Get that 6 mile run in, take a shower, make a salad and gobble up!

Nutritional Info
  • Servings Per Recipe: 6
  • Calories: 269.6
  • Total Fat: 7.4 g
  • Cholesterol: 83.3 mg
  • Sodium: 866.4 mg
  • Total Carbs: 28.6 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 8.7 g
  • Protein: 27.1 g

Fellowship Hospitality

Yummy muffins

Cranberry Apple Muffins

Today, I made chocolate sugar cookies and cranberry apple muffins for hospitality at church tomorrow. Now normally I just sit happily in my religious education (RE) silo, but my good friend Sarah Harcum is in charge of hospitality and she will cross over to my silo from time to time to teach. I realized it was time to get out of my little world and do something different for the church. I can’t harass people all the time to teach RE when I don’t bother to do something different myself, so with a couple weeks off from teaching, I thought “sure why not.” Besides, I have this wacky idea I’m going to present to our minister to try to get others to break out of their little silos, so I thought I should try it before I started to preach it.

Besides, I still had 13 of the original 44 apples left, so why not use some for hospitality? If you’re like me, when you bake, you end up being the only one in the family actually eating it, when really all you wanted was a cookie or a muffin or two. The bottom line was this looked to be a good way to use up some stuff that probably should be used, while getting a small amount of baked goods to satisfy that jones, then finding a place to take it and feed to others. So far, the plan is working pretty well. The family isn’t necessarily interested in the baked goods, I have had my fill, and the rest will go to church where I actually will see people enjoying it.

Now I thought the cookies were nice … chocolatey without being too terribly sweet. And the muffins were scrumptious. They are kind of unusual, so I’m sharing the recipe. The original is here, but of course, I made some small changes. Less than I usually make, but changes nonetheless.

Cranberry Apple Muffins

  • 2 c diced apples
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1 c julienned (then chopped) carrots
  • handful of craisins
  • 1/2 c walnuts, chopped
  • 2 eggs (you could also use Eggbeaters)
  • 1/2 c corn oil (normally I halve this and replace that with applesauce … but there’s already two cups of diced apples in this thing!)
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 2 t coriander
  • 1/2 t salt

Mix the apples, sugar and carrots together and let stand for 10 minutes. Add craisins, nuts, eggs and oil and mix well. Add baking powder, baking soda and spices and mix until just blended. Add the two flours and mix until just moistened. Spray muffin pans with oil  and fill cups until 2/3 full. Bake for 25 minutes in a 375° oven. Cook for 5 minutes until removing to a wire rack.

Delicious! Like carrot cake, except it also has apples. MMM. AND! I’m down to 11 apples! Or at least I thought so. I’ll see tomorrow what the church folk think. But they are pretty ravenous after the service. Food doesn’t seem to hang out long. Always nice to serve food to an appreciative crowd!

A Liberal Lives in South Carolina

People ask me all the time why I live in SC because I do not fit just about any demographic for the area. I’ve been thinking about this a fair amount with some of the latest SC news. I found this map about higher education funding, in which SC is decreasing funding, yet is surrounded by states investing in higher ed. My teaparty governor wishes to cut nonessential state funding and made a point of calling out the arts in her first State of the State speech. And I came across this little charmer of an ad from NC, in which they basically say “let’s not try to be like that backwater SC.” (Really, I’m not exaggerating.)

Plus, I had a wonderful lunch with a young friend from Massachusetts who is frustrated by what she’s experienced while living here and I found myself justifying why I live here. So why I live here has been on my mind a lot.

Here’s the list:

1. The weather. While this one is the easy one, it’s a big one for me. I loathe cold weather. Really hate it. We had a freak warm weekend in which I ran in 68 degree weather at the end of January. Then it got cold and miserable at the end of the week. It got to 39. My friends in the midwest were sitting under mountains of snow and insanely low temperatures. No thanks!

2. Misfit. I grew up this way, so I’m actually a little uncomfortable being in the majority. It’s one of the reasons I like David Sedaris. Poor thing grew up in a family of girls, a northern Greek orthodox family transplanted to NC in the mid-60s. I could relate! My parents grew up in Connecticut and ended up in SC for work. I was raised with that Yankee liberal attitude.

3. Missionary work. This is actually my mother’s standard answer for why she lives in SC. I’ve concluded my job living in SC is not to change people’s minds on the issues. I’m here to show conservatives that liberals are not some sort of evil, sushi-eating, tea-sipping freak. I’m here to show them that I’m their neighbor who happens to eat sushi and sip tea. (This blog post reminded me that I am indeed a white liberal.) When we lived in Easley, we lived across the street from a family that we got to know fairly well. Our kids were a year apart in age and they seemed to enjoy playing together. And yes, they were conservative Baptists. They liked Sarah (at least for a while, don’t know their current opinion right now), they posted nasty things about the health care bill on their FB feeds and they go to church every Wednesday. She overlooked my UUism and my enthusiastic support of Obama. She never said a word about the Planned Parenthood or Sierra Club mailings that might have been in my mail she picked up while I was on vacation. We did share a sense of humor and we found that we really wanted the same sort of thing for our country and our kids. I’ve concluded that being here is a way to remind conservatives (as well as myself) that we’re not the evil other team. We’re each other’s neighbors. (OK now hold hands and sing kumbaya, but I do mean this one.)

4. Scenery. Have you ever been in upstate SC? Once you get beyond some of the towns (sorry Easley, you don’t even qualify as pretty), it’s stunning down here. My husband and I, on one of those freaky warm January days, jumped in his Datsun 260z that he’s restoring and rode up to Sassafras Mountain and back. It’s a drive that takes an hour one way. Within 20 minutes, I can be in the mountains. And even where I live is really pretty. I live in an old neighborhood, with lots of trees and wildlife. My husband the birdwatcher (as well as his companion cat) loves that. And on a warm summer morning, there just is nothing better than running down a country road, surrounded by the pines and the birds singing. I don’t have to drive to get to this route. It’s part of my running route from my house.

5. Growth. Oh, I’m not so arrogant to assume that I’m going to change everyone around me. I think I might be able to challenge some attitudes, sure. But really, I live here for my own growth. It keeps me grounded to remember that my opinion isn’t so obvious to everyone around me. I have to really work to stand by my beliefs. And so I become a better person for having my ideas and beliefs challenged. I’m not the status quo. This is good.

6. Family. Remember the part of this blog where I talked about my parents moving down here? They are still here. And yes, they drive me nuts. But we lived in Dallas for a year where it turned out I was so much of a misfit there that it made me uncomfortable enough to come back. But that wasn’t the only reason. I had a baby before we moved out there and after a year, in which my father had some health issues and my in-laws had a few scares as well, we realized we had this adorable child that could be loved by four people who she should get to know. So why were we living 1,000 miles away? We moved so that our child could have grandparents. And we moved so we could be closer to our family. (Cue swelling violin music, I know.)

7. Rebel. Let’s face it: anywhere else and I might be your run of the mill liberal soccer mom. Yawn. But down here I’m a crazy liberal, with crazy ideas! Letting my kid learn about Hinduism and Buddhism on Sundays! Eating quinoa and acorn squash! CRAZY! I figure it’s a lazy gal’s way of being a rebel.

8. Job. I have a great job. I have a manager that listens to me kvetch all day and helps me channel that into solutions. I have a director that begs his employees to grow and learn. Both are incredibly supportive. They give me freedom to get the job done as I see fit. A large part of my job is convincing high school students that Clemson is the choice for attending college. It’s hard to mess that up.

9. Irony. My manager can tell you this. Many of my stories begin with “ok, you know I love irony.” I was struck by how my young friend took some of the situations around her. Me, I find humor in them. It’s one of the reasons I like working with engineers (to a point.) We think entirely differently. I’ll give you an example. I was headed to church one Sunday and at a stoplight, I saw a big banner at a bank that read something like “open a checking account and get a free Snuggie!” I thought this was hilarious. When I’m looking at banks, the free crap they might give you is the last thing I am concerned about and of all things, the much lampooned Snuggie? So I took a quick shot on my phone (before the light changed) and I was showing it around after the service. Most found it amusing. Then I showed it to my engineering professor friend. Her response? “I don’t get it.” Which I found even funnier than the banner, actually. So I’m so deep into irony that I really get a charge out of people’s differences. This makes SC the perfect spot for me to live.

10. Love. I had an argument with an old high school classmate who turned out to be a very angry conservative. I dismayed about something about our state once, probably about our governor or the like, and she wrote back “well then why don’t you leave?” (Like I said, she was an angry soul.) So yes, beyond the weather and the lazy rebel and the scenery, this is indeed my home. I love my home, warts and all. I’m very comfortable here and I love the people who live around me, despite the differences we might have. It would be easy to leave it and head somewhere else, but I stay here to fight for it. I stay so that I can indeed say “leave the arts alone, why destroy that rich tradition we have here?” or “do not cut education, it is worth investing in our children” or “let’s work on building a first class institution here so that we can attract industry” or even “uh, taking down the Confederate flag off the capitol and flying it down front isn’t exactly what we meant?” I love SC enough that I’m willing to fight for her.

And so here I am. And really, is it that much of a sacrifice? Maybe I am not surrounded by people who think just like I do or have fun boutiques or a plethora of unique dining establishments. Hey, that’s what travel is all about. And if you’re worried about the education my kid might be getting, she’s doing OK. SC schools may not be perfect for everyone (those with special needs or in need of individualized attention are a particular problem), but we are fortunate that Bella seems to have thrived. And living in a small college town really is a special slice of heaven. (To me anyway.)

May you love your home as much as I do.