Food : Love : Chai

There is something about food that is akin to love.

There is something about cooking that is love in action.

Maybe it’s just my Southern roots running deeper into my soul than I imagine, but for me, on some core level: Food equates to Love.  Now this is not true just on the romantic level, but all types of love.  Food for the homeless as a response to your love for community and compassion for humanity.  Food for your friends for all the joy they bring to your life.  Food for the grieving because you have felt their pain.  And lets not forget those nights when you cook simply for yourself, because you are happy with who you are.

I guess it’s because food is both a basic need for survival and an indulgence that can awaken the senses, unveiling countless variations of pleasure.  It satisfies on a core level and it touches our higher sensibilities.  Taste evokes memories of people, smells take us back to events we had forgotten and the act of preparing a meal can remind us of who we are.

Both my Mother and Father shared the kitchen growing up.  My Mom did most of the cooking, providing us everything from bacon and eggs to liver and onions to her amazing Monkey Bread to keep us occupied while she put the finishing touches on Christmas morning.  My did was the special occasion cook.  He fired up the grill for holidays and pulled out the waffle iron for his pecan or bacon waffles for birthday breakfast when all our friends had spent the night.  (They were so light and crispy I have yet to recreate them successfully.)  Even when they forced me to eat my liver and onions, I knew everything had been prepared out of love for my brother and me. Now this ‘act of love’ is a part of who I am.

Rich and Aromatic

This weekend however food and the romantic side of cooking did mix.  I was filled with an almost tangible excitement as I’ve been playing around with those amazing Indian spices trying to perfect a cup of simple Masala Chai.  You see I found out my new boyfriend really likes Chai.  He was spending the weekend with his Father, and before he was headed out of town I was looking up the history and methodology for authentic masala chai.

There is apparently no ‘one true’ recipe for the spicy milked tea, but instead as many variations as there are regions and families in India and beyond. So for 4 days I’ve been testing cup after cup.  Here is my favorite recipe so far.  I’m just so caffeinated right now that typing is getting little  hard.  I hope he, and you, enjoy it!

Masala Chai

Crushed Spice Mix

Ginger Slices

  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
  • 1 green cardomom pod
  • 1 star anise star
  • 2 cloves
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 2 quarter sized slices of fresh ginger
  • 1 3-inch piece of cinnamon stick – broken
  • scant 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 rounded tablespoon black Assam tea
  1. Place your dried spices in a mortar and roughly break them up to release their flavors.  Make sure your cardamom pod is broken enough to release the inner seeds.  Do not grind or pulverize the spices.
  2. Add the water and spice mixture to a small pot and place on medium heat.  Add the sliced ginger and bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat and gently boil the spices for about 7 minutes.  You do want the liquid to reduce slightly.
  3. Add the Assam tea to the water and boil for 3 minutes more.
  4. Add the honey and cold milk.  Slowly let the tea heat until it just begins to simmer.
  5. Remove from heat and strain through a sieve into a large mug
Advertisements

The Road Most Traveled: (sometimes there’s a reason)

Have you ever had your passions come together in a surprising way.  This weekend I had all three of the things that make me come alive intersect in a way that breathed life into my soul and delicious calories into my stomach.  It was such a perfect meld of relaxation and creative energy that all came together at one of my favorite spots: Linville Falls, North Carolina.

Now this is not my first time in these parts.  I’m quite familiar with the area, but I’m used to hard core roughing it; backpacking my way through sections of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.  Also called the Grand Canyon of the East, it’s a beautiful gorge more than 3000 feet deep and heavily forested.  It’s some of the roughest hiking and backpacking near Charlotte.

I love this area because it’s one of the few places where, except for the lonesome whistle of a train or a passing airplane, human impact has been kept to a minimum. I’ve been on a 4-day hike and never met a single soul.  You can almost believe you alone in this amazing space. Eventually the silence becomes loud enough to drown out whats going through your head and actually let you hear from your heart.

This weekend I was camping with my good friend Tracy.  Tracy and I share a love of cooking and good wine, but we had never been camping together and experience has taught me that even the best of friends do NOT make good camping buddies.  We were both excited about the trip, but  I had my journal and he had his sketch book; our backup plans if the excursion turned less than stimulating.

View from Camp

View from Camp

We headed out for the western rim of the gorge to do some car camping and light hiking. The plan was to make a base camp at one of my favorite spots (on the western rim near the Rock Jock trail) and do a series of small hikes.

Now one of the things I love about the gorge is that it’s a bit of the ‘road less traveled’.  It’s not for the masses, there are no ‘facilities’ or concession stands serving ice cream and diet cokes.  For years I’ve avoided the main “Linville Falls” and ‘Table Rock’ because they just seemed to commercial.  I didn’t want my mental image of the wilderness area ruined by landscaped rock walls, paved parking lots and blacktop hiking trails.  However, Tracy is recovering from some pretty serious back injuries and I decided it was the right time to pick the ‘low hanging fruit’.  I must say I was feeling a bit snobbish when we set out to see what the park service had to offer.

Linville Falls from the Chimney Rock Overlook

I was amazed to find I’d been ignoring the beautiful natural fall system that fed all my favorite smaller falls further down the gorge.  The Linville Falls has a smaller ‘upper falls’ and a larger ‘lower falls’.  The park system has provided access to no less than 4 vantage points for experiencing the falls.  The trails were mainly graded and easily traveled, but still had a natural feel to them.  As a photographer is was great to have access to multiple vantage points for shooting the falls.

Many hiking buddies get frustrated when I bring along my camera on a hike.  I can loose myself in trying to set up the right shot, and who wants to sit around and wait for 15 minutes when you could further down the trail experiencing the next wonder ahead.  Tracy was great.  He encouraged me to enjoy my passion and was excited when I got a quality shot.  He let me indulge myself if something I love without feeling like I was imposing on anyone.  This was one of the many shots I captured in that day.  I’ll post the others in a gallery in the photography blogs.

The third and finishing touch that made this trip such a memorable one for me was some amazing campfire cooking.  Tracy manages a local restaurant and is an accomplished chef, this trip we took campsite cooking to a new level.

Trout Almondine

Trout Almondine on the flatiron

Tracy scored some fresh Rainbow Trout for the trip, so day one it was Trout Almondine.  We paired it with some campfire steamed asparagus and rosemary skillet red potatoes.  The second night we enjoyed grilled pork chops with caramelized onions and fire roasted tomatoes.  We baked sweet potatoes in the ashes of the fire and finished off the fresh asparagus.  Tracy and I both brought on of our favorite red wines to enjoy each night.  To say the least the campfire was a place of great conversation and shared camaraderie.

The less extreme style of this trip allowed me to experience my passions in a new way.  A way that my elitist attitude may have otherwise prevented.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate attitude in this world.  I pride myself in being that laid back, anti-commercialized and just slightly counter-cultural guy.  But sometimes the desire to be apart from the mainstream can sometimes become a snobbery all it’s own.  Different does not equal better (or worse), a lesson from trail that I need to hold on to.

What do I know of Holy?

What do you think of when you hear someone use the word ‘righteous’? Does it bring with it any connotations?

For me, two things pop into my head: the word self, as in ‘self-righteous’ and the idea of being perfect or holy, which is unattainable. Righteousness for me was always something that either I didn’t want or thought I could never be. It was a sermon and discussion with a pastor of mine that changed my concept of what it meant to be righteous and began a year long fascination to discover what being righteous meant for me.

20120512-072039.jpgThe conversation I had centered around the Hebrew word ‘tzadik’. Tzadik is the Hebrew word for righteous. In the conversation my friend Bruce took the definition and related it back to a group in ancient Jewish culture. There were actually people who earned the title Tzadik or ‘The Righteous’. How does someone or a group earn such a title, not given by themselves, but by those they lived with day by day? They were known in their culture for several things: feeding the poor, mending the sick, taking care of the widow and the orphan. They were given the name Righteous because of the way they cared for those around them.

Wow, that’s a whole lot different than being self-righteous, in fact it seems to be about the opposite. Since my early twenties I had never really strived for righteousness because I either thought it was impossible to achieve (I’d failed all my life) or it was linked to an attitude I loathed (self-righteousness). But this idea, the idea of giving yourself away for the sake of others, this was something I could embrace. I was excited, but being steeped in my Southern Baptist roots, I had fears that this was just the same old idea that being a ‘good person’ was enough.

Yet as I looked at what Jesus said while he walked beside us, I began to see some confirming themes. In Luke 17:33 Jesus is talking about how we should live while waiting for his return. He says “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (NET) I know the traditional interpretation, but what if there is more. What if he is telling us that our souls are wired to get life by living unselfishly. That by holding on to everything that we think will make us secure and happy, we actually slowly kills our souls with selfishness. He makes similar statements in Matthew 10:39. Is he suggesting that by letting go of it all, and living lives serving those around us, that our souls actually come alive. That by giving ourselves away we actually find what makes us whole? The Sermon on the Mount actually hints of this and I know that’s how it works with me.

So when Jesus talks about the Judgement in Matthew 25:31 he seperates the sheep from the goats in one of his wonderful sheparding metaphors.  He speaks of the Righteous being brought into his fold because of the things that made them righteous.  In this section he refers specifically to: Feeding the poor, giving a drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and comforting those in hard times.

The characteristics of the righteous seem to flow from a heart that is generous, open and loving towards the world around them.  The wicked seem to have their hears entirely focused on themselves and have lost all compassion for anyone but themselves.

Jesus directly equates the behavior of the righteous ‘sheep’ with welcoming them into eternal life.  I personally believe that this not only involves life for eternity, but that the ‘life’ of Jesus is already welling up in them today.  They are already experiencing life and life more abundantly.  They are in effect helping being in the kinddom of God which Jesus refers to repeatedly.  If we all behaved this way, wouldn’t it be heaven on earth?

 

Pork Pinwheels with Herbed Gorgonzola souffle’.

Pork Pinwheels with Herbed Gorgonzola Souffle’

20120513-143938.jpg Ingredients

  • 4 large center cut pork chops about 1 inch thick
  • 2 8 oz packages cream cheese
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 3/4 cup gorganzola cheese
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 full green onions
  • Cavenders Greek seasoning (or favorite pork seasoning)
  • 4 Campari tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper

Using a sharp knife, remove any fat from sides of porkchops. Carefully spiral slice the porkchops into a long strip about 1/8 inch thick. (each porkchop will be making two pinwheels) You should end up with a strip of pork about 36inches long. Cut strips in half until you have stripsapproximately 18 inches long.

Season pork strips with Cavenders or your favorite pork seasoning andsets aside.

20120513-150845.jpgCut the cream cheese into chunks anto place in a food processor. Add the 2 eggs and garlic. If the Gorgonzola is in a block break it up and add it to the mix. Roughly chop and add the green onions. Blend until almost smooth.

Take the Campari tomatoes and cut them in half using the flower or other decorative technique.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Tear tin foil into approximately 5 inch squares.  Take 1 square and place it on your working surface.  Spray the tin foil with cooking spray.

Take one of the seasoned pork strips and layer about 4 inches of one end with the Gorgonzola mixture.  Stand that section on one end and make a circle about the size of your Campari tomatoe flowers.  Fill the center hole of the pinwheel with the Gorgonzola mixture and begin winding the pinwheel layering about 1/4 to 1/8 inchmixture between each layer.

20120513-150915.jpg
Once you have wound your pinwheel to the end use a toothpick spear to hold the pinwheel together during baking. Place a tomatoe flower and press it into the center so it partially covered by the porkchop. Sprinkle the tomatoe with salt and pepper.

As you complete each pinwheel place it and the tin foil square on a baking sheet.  Once you have all 8 pinwheels completed, place the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes.  

While the pinwheels are cooking, carmelize the onion slices until they are a medium brown.  Set aside.

When the pinwheels look like they are just about cooked, turn the oven on broil and brown until the tips of the tomatoe flower and the souffle are browned.

20120513-150924.jpg
Pull the pinwheels from the oven, remove the foil and plate them. Top with strings of the carmelized onions.

Amendment One – The Emotional Aftermath

Amendment One - The Emotional Aftermath

I returned from my most recent camping trip to my home in Charlotte, NC and the political, religious, social and personal battle brought on by Amendment One. Following my standard MO, I had high hopes that society and religion would choose not to inflict yet another wound where healing should be the focus.

You see this is not the first wound I have taken from the hand of the enemy.  The hand of the enemy being anyone or thing that is used to try and separate me from the love of my God.  Notice I said the ‘hand’ of the enemy, The individuals who placed this measure on the ballot, the thousands who voted for it and the hundreds of Christians who’ve wounded me and others in the past are not the enemy.  Their actions are just being used to work against God’s mission to bring all people back to him… just as I have been used to do the same thing.

My reaction the night of the vote was mild resignation.  My gut had warned me it was a strong possibility, but I had held out hope for a chance at redemption for both sides.  I went to bed feeling disappointment and shame.  Disappointed that my Christian brothers and sisters had not been able to see the Heart of God in this matter and shame that as a gay man who identifies openly as a Christian, I would have to face my friends and colleges with this scarlet ‘C’ branded on my chest.

I woke up in the morning angry.  Really angry: angry like I have not been since my teenage years.  Angry enough to want to break things.  Angry enough to want to hurt people.  Angry enough to want to cause pain. Angry enough to want to run away. Angry enough to want to fight back.  I looked at moving to states where ignorance was not enshrined into the constitution.  I began researching retailers that supported Amendment One to make sure I didn’t shop there.  I wrote letters my my normal retailers letting them know I would search for my needs on the internet to avoid spending money in the state. I looked into which charities supported the amendment to make sure none of my contributions went to their coffers.

Stumbling through my normal morning routine, I checked the latest updates on FaceBook.  It was there I found sympathy with many friends who were doing mass ‘un-friendings’ of their Christian friends and asking anyone who voted for Amendment One to please unfriend them.  I instantly sided with their desire to cut off contact with those who represented the hurt they had been dealt.  It is a way of lashing out; hurt me and I will deny your my friendship.

As I showered and dressed for work, I began making a mental list of the people I might defriend in my righteous anger.  Whenever I began to write a name on that list in my brain, there was something that reminded me of why they were my friend in the first place.  Name after name I placed on the firing line… each time something about them stopped me from pulling the trigger.  Each time, I realized that I really wasn’t angry at them specifically.  They were flawed, but so the hell am I.  I realized that they are not faceless, nameless bigots; they are complex, thinking, people.  They are not caricatures but humans with souls, just like me.

My initial instinct was to lash out and then disengage from those who had hurt me, those who said that I was less than they were.  But I will not do it.  Why?  Because Jesus never did.  He continued to engage, He continued to confront, He continued to love, He continued to heal, He continued to reach out and He continued to forgive.  I am no where near most of those places as I write this blog.
But I will not retreat and I will not lash out.

Instead, I choose to engage.  I will engage because that’s how change happens.  It’s how I came to be a follower of Jesus in the first place.  It’s how Jesus changed the Disciples and the world.  I hope I will engage with the fierce love that Jesus did… realizing we are all screwed up on some level and who am I to judge.

As I begin this journey through anger and bitterness, I have this blog.  I will convert my anger and passion into digital 1’s and 0’s in cyberspace.  I have been on a long journey to discover that the God of the universe has pursued me with passion.  This is about where I have been and where God is taking me… ever an exciting journey on a very rambling road.