Give to Caesar What is Caesar’s…

In light of the results of last night’s election, I was thinking about one story in the Bible where the Pharisees asked Jesus whether Jews should pay taxes to Rome (those knuckleheads were always trying to catch him in a gaffe, but it never happened).  Keep in mind, most people had heard of this Jesus guy by now, and some said he was a rebel freedom fighter out to get back Israel’s independence from Rome.  Instead, Jesus looked straight at them and said this:
“Whose face is on these coins?’

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

“Then render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and render unto God the things which are God’s.”  (Matthew Ch.22)

Some people love to say God is punishing our country any time there are problems, which is always.  They have trouble differentiating between politics, which is of the physical fleshy world, and God’s wisdom and purpose, which is of the spirit.  Mixing the two never goes well.  And yet why do so many of us panic and worry whenever an election rolls around?
It’s a circus out there right now, so many fingers pointing and friendships dissolving over something that nobody has any individual power over.

The first thing they told me in Al-Anon (AA’s family group), was that we are all powerless over alcohol and its effect on our lives.  You can imagine how big a pill that is to swallow!  But the same rule applies to other things we have no control over, like politics.  We might as well rant and rave when a storm takes out a power line, when the truth is it was nobody’s fault.  When Christ told them to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, He wasn’t just talking about tax money.  He was giving us a gentle reminder not to invest our entire lives in the chasing-our-tails routine and in doing so miss out on this wonderful life He has given us.

Funny how we thank God for delivering us from Hurricane Sandy, then the very next week we’re all “OH CRAP!!! THE ELECTION IS OVER!!! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!”

It’s sad for me to see how quickly people, even Christians, forget this time of year that God is in control.  They may even say just that, but there is tension in their voices and actions.  God did not called us to be afraid or lie awake at night worrying over little things.  Isn’t worrying the worst way of doubting Him? He said Himself that He would never leave us or forsake us, even if the physical world is harsh at times.

As far as who sits in office now, I can honestly say I don’t know what comes next, and that’s okay because God knows.  Think about it- God loves to use screw-ups in all shapes and sizes!  Remember King Saul and King Nebuchadnezzar?  To say our nation is coming to an end and go on listing all the issues about to go down the toilet is just another way of saying, “I don’t believe God’s big enough to handle this one.” Well, guess what? The rise and fall of nations is nothing new to Him, and He’s led his people safely out of it before.  None of us know the ending of the story, except the Lord.  To say we know better is just plain ‘ole crazy.

It’s also rather sad that most Americans spend so much time “campaigning and complaining” without remembering what it cost us to get to those polls.  Millions of lives lost, bloodshed, pain, and other atrocities were endured and fought so that we could vote without fear.   I personally didn’t care for the candidates much, but in thankful memory of the sacrifices made, I was proud to go and vote.  I wish we could all focus on that hard-earned freedom more than bicker and fret over petty issues.
In closing, let me just say it was a memorable election, but now I for one am ready to continue on with life.  I’ve got a baby due in six weeks and have about zero time to bite my nails and wonder if this or that policy will rip away my daughter’s chance of a future.  Because I’ve already placed my future and her’s in the Lord’s hands, where I know it will be safe.  So if you find yourself getting nervous about politics and issues in the days to come, stop for a second.  Take a deep breath, and remember these words our Lord spoke:

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Weird Tastes Food Challenge: Calamari Fra Diavolo

Before we dive into the startling awesomeness that is calamari, let me just say I had a good reason for not writing for awhile.  Actually that reason is about the size of a little kumquat now, and probably wondered why the heck Mommy was eating squid to begin with.  Yup, you heard it here, I’m officially pregnant.  With child.  Expecting.  Knocked up.  Bun in the oven.  You get the gist.

So forgive me for taking this long to make good on my promise, but I’ve been a tad preoccupied making a baby.  At ten weeks along, you’ve also missed out on most of the first trimester stuff, which trust me, wasn’t all that spectacular.  Headaches, fatigue, and my stomach rocking on the high seas don’t make for very good reading, now do they?  And before you start asking, no we don’t know if it’s a girl or boy yet.  No, we haven’t heard a heartbeat.  And yes, Jon and I are both over the moon.  Kind of a good feeling to know that before Christmas I might be adding the illustrious title of “Mommy” to my credentials on here.

They look like tentacles from Maniac Mansion. If you don’t know what that is, just go stick your head in the sand. Right now.

And now for the main event, that long-awaited day of reckoning in which you pack of weirdos challenged me to not only cook and eat squid, but to make it delicious enough for you to want to try it.  Well guess what, food freaks? Not only did I do it, I freaking loved it.  You might too, if you get up the guts to try this.  Fortunately, I did the grunt work and posted pictures of how to go about making something that looks like an alien parasite into something food-porn worthy.

As you can see, I lucked out finding my squid.  Central Market in Forth Worth, TX had the squid tubes, which are the peeled and mostly cleaned parts of the main body.  No tentacles, thank the Lord.   It’s gonna take a lot more than a wing and a prayer for me to make squid tentacles sexy and delicious.  So I was more than happy with my little pound of slimy, smelly tubes.

My newest finger puppet. I think I’ll call him Squidard.

So this is what I started with.  But, just in case you wind up getting the whole enchilada, here’s a link to some instructions on how to clean and prep a whole squid:  http://homecooking.about.com/od/seafood/ss/cleansquidsbs.htm

Yes, I know it’s a tad gross either way, but strap on a pair already and do it.  How do you think our ancestors survived, by traipsing off to the local market?  Nope, they did nasty stuff like this. Okay, maybe they didn’t turn their food into a weird little finger puppet like I did, but what you’re seeing is gallows humor.  A desperate attempt at levity in front of a slippery, strange challenge.  You may be wondering, could I have cheated? Answer is no.  While I did get on-site coaching from my chef friend, the lovely Amber, I was insistent on doing the work myself.  I swear to Julia Child and anything else holy, she didn’t so much as touch a knife or pan.

Slicing open one side of the tube. Easy Peasy!

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t jump for the classic Italian snack of fried calamari, let me remind you of the ever-growing little kumquat in my womb.  Fried stuff hasn’t sounded good to me for weeks, let alone cooking it myself.  Besides, I like to make it a real challenge. And what better way to do that than with calamari fra diavolo?  Spicy, no?  Seriously, if you’re going to name a dish after the Devil, it had better be.  So I laid the tube down flat on the board, inserted the knife, edge facing out, and carefully worked at it from from the inside.  You don’t want to do both sides, just one so you can splay it out open and flat.  Don’t stress if it looks a little wonky, the tubes are slippery and a tad on the squishy side anyway.

Insane in the membrane!!

Don’t flip out if you find there’s a little piece of skin or membrane still on the thing.  Just peel it right off and try not to think of it as a giant booger.  Those of you with kids have had to deal with much grosser things, I’m sure.  Could be worse- You could’ve gotten a whole squid and had the thing stare at you the whole time.  Now aren’t you glad we have these nice, clean tubes?  By the way, make sure you get rid of any little pieces of bone still left up in the very end of the tube.  It’s like very thin plastic, so feel it out with your fingers and make sure you get it.  Once you’ve got all your tubes sliced open and cleaned out, it’s time to cross-hatch.

Kind of hard to believe that this would turn out delicious. But keep reading.

Next thing is to start making shallow, diagonal cuts along one direction, then come back and do it the other way.

So first like this: /////

Then like this: \\\\\

Why, do you ask? Because otherwise you’ll be trying to chew calamari the rest of your life, and this tenderizes it nicely by creating more surface area.  Think about when you pound a cutlet with a mallet to tenderize it- Same idea.  Make sure you DON’T cut all the way through the squid, and because it’s kind of thin it’s easy to do.  Just take your time, and it’ll work.

While we’re at it, I must warn you that even when it’s very fresh, prepping this dish comes with a certain amount of odor.  If you don’t like your hands smelling like a fish market after, go for a soap with lemon in it, or better yet slather some fresh lemon juice on your hands to kill the stink.  Nobody ever said anything good came without a price, so just deal with it.  Also, once you’ve tossed all the wrappings and bits of squid membrane, take your trash out RIGHT AWAY.  Don’t do what I did and leave it overnight to become gag-worthy by morning.

Sauteed garlic in olive oil, with chopped grape tomatoes.

Things are looking up by the time the garlic starts doing the mambo in hot olive oil.  There’s nothing like the smell of sauteing garlic to make you feel like you’re in Grandma’s kitchen and she’s there waltzing to Dean Martin in a flowery apron.  And it only gets better when the grape tomatoes cut in.  You can use diced up roma or san marzano tomatoes as well, but I had a bunch of the little guys in my fridge waiting to get used up.  And that’s another trademark of the Italian chef- making do with what you have.

While that’s all going, it’s a good time to zest some lemon rind, if you haven’t already.  I’m nuts about trying to get my stuff all ready beforehand, what my chef coach Amber calls the “mise en place”.  And it’s really the smartest idea ever, having everything chopped, sliced, measured, all waiting patiently like in a cooking show.  It sure beats running around shrieking like a chicken because the butter’s burning while I try to chop the onions without slicing a finger off.

Now is also a great time to get that pasta water going.  For something like this I go for flat pastas, like linguine or fettuccine.  Grab however much you need for one or two people, or four if you’ve got company or are insane enough to try and get your kids to eat squid.  Much as I love this kind of adventurous cooking and eating, I’m also a realist.  Unless there’s some kind of incentive or the kid is fascinated with the bizarre, this probably isn’t the most kid-friendly dish.  Besides, with all the spice on this thing, the kids would be farting like mini Howitzers.

Starting to look a little naughty! In a good way, of course.

 

**Save a third of a cup of pasta water!!!**   The secret to a really good pasta dish? Right there.  Any time you drain off pasta and throw it into the pan with the sauce and toss it all up, this is the KEY to keeping it from drying out too much.  Before all that, however, you’ll need to add your tomato paste, toasted pine nuts, lemon zest, white wine, parsley, and pepper flakes.  Let all that party together for about a minute before letting the calamari make its grand entrance.

What you see in the picture here is totally normal, and totally awesome.  As it cooks, the squid rolls itself up, scooping up some of the sauce as it does so, like a deliciously clever Italian squid burrito.  Pay close attention here, because it only takes a minute or two to cook fully.  When it’s white and opaque and firms up a bit, take it off heat immediately.  Ironically, squid only likes to be cooked for a very short or very long time, otherwise you get the shoe leather everyone’s told you about.   Safe to say, none of them ever tried this recipe.

Taste the sauce, add a bit of lemon juice to your taste, or more red pepper flakes if you like it hotter.  Remember that golden rule of cooking, that you can always add a bit more, but add too much and you’re screwed.

Like the end of a feel-good childhood movie- Makes you just want to hug someone.

 

Once you’ve added the fettuccine, put the pasta water in with it and use a spatula or tongs to toss everything together.  Get it nice and coated until it looks cozy as puppies in a blanket.  I’m a big believer that if a dish looks good, more often than not it tastes good too.  And with all the variety of colors and shapes and textures, this one’s a beauty.

By this point in the experiment, all my fear was long gone.  My mouth was watering, my stomach quivering, all to get a taste of what I’d been anticipating for so long but hadn’t had the guts to go through with.  Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.  Amber and I dished it up and served it with just a couple of rolls to sop up sauce, and we fell to like two inmates who’d been living on mystery meat and slaw.

I wish I could describe this dish in a way that does it justice- Spicy, tomatoey, with a fresh bite of lemon and zest and the delightful crunch of the pine nuts.  But most surprising of all, the squid was actually good.  A bit chewy sometimes, but not at all fishy-tasting like I thought it would be.  And this was by far the perfect way to do it, something that would have made my Grandma proud.

Mario Batali, eat your heart out!

 

 

My lovely and talented cooking coach and a marvelous chef in her own right-Amber!

So everything worked out better than my highest expectations.  And although I don’t think squid will be a permanent fixture on the menu, that’s one more mountain conquered.  One more food challenge met and won, and that’s enough to keep me satisfied awhile.   All that’s left to make this a true success is for you, the illustrious reader, to man up and try it yourself.  Go ahead, don’t be shy!  Believe me, if this small-town housewife could make it work, there’s nothing stopping you.

I’ll be posting another food challenge soon, preferably in the second trimester when my stomach stops rocking on the high seas.  In the meantime, run out and try this recipe, write in, ask questions.  Consider this my official turning of the tables back on you- CHALLENGE EXTENDED!!

 

Calamari Fra Diavolo (Serves 2-4)

1/2 lb squid tubes (cleaned, opened, cross-hatched)

2TB tomato paste

2TB EVOO (more if needed)

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 cup or more grape tomatoes, quartered

handful of toasted pine nuts

2 TB fresh chopped parsley

1/2 tsp lemon zest

lemon juice to taste

red pepper flakes to taste

1/3 cup pasta water

bunch of linguine or fettuccine (according to how many served)

1 cup of white wine (more if needed)

salt to taste

1) Saute the garlic in olive oil, toast the pine nuts by putting them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until they start to turn golden brown.  Add the grape tomatoes to the garlic, and let it cook for about a minute.  Get the pasta water to a low boil.

2) Throw in the pasta and check it periodically until it’s done.  Meanwhile, add the white wine, pepper flakes, tomato paste, lemon zest, lemon juice, and pine nuts to the sauce and cook for another minute or two until the flavors release into each other (You’ll be able to smell it).

3) Drain off the pasta except for the 1/3 cup.  Add the calamari to the tomato sauce, as well as half the chopped parsley.  Taste the sauce and adjust spices or salt if needed.  Take the calamari and sauce off heat when the calamari turns completely white and opaque, about a minute or less.

4) Add the pasta to the skillet with the water and toss everything together with tongs or a pasta scoop until it’s well-coated and combined.  Serve immediately.

 

 

 

The Easter Factor

 

Many of us grew up in church and sat in a pew every Sunday listening to the pastor preach.  The things he preached about always varied from week to week, but I always remember he segued it into a message of Christ’s sacrifice and our opportunity for salvation.  And then he opened up the altar to those wishing to come forward, gave the benediction, and that was it.  For many years, I always thought the story ended right there on the cross.  And then, there was Easter Sunday.

 

Easter is like the Super Bowl of Christian holidays (And please, no whiny arguments about how it was originally a pagan thing, we know.)  People who don’t set foot in church 364 days of the year get dressed to the nines and make an appearance.  They smile and greet one another, and sit to hear about how Christ rose from the dead on that third day.  It’s a wonderful message, one that I always love hearing.  But why only on this Sunday? What gets lost the rest of the year when all Christians seem to care about is the cross?  What is this mysterious thing about Easter that makes us suddenly remember what happened next?

My late father-in-law, who was not a pastor or a deacon but a wonderful man of God, taught it to us like this:  Most people stop at the cross because they think that’s all they need.  The cross represents only part of the process, the sacrifice and shedding of fleshy things.  Jesus had to go through that in order to resurrect and conquer death.  But it’s more than the physical story- God was trying to show us the way to repentance.  Not just salvation, but the everyday oh-man-I-screwed-up-again-God-help-me repentance.  When we sin and lay it at the Lord’s feet, we have to leave it there.  Not pick it back up when we feel like it, but really and truly leave it.  You bury it like Christ was buried in the tomb, and leave it the hell there.

 

But instead of burying their mistakes in the tomb with Christ, some people lay it at the cross.  Which is why I like to say that the cross is a stop sign.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad symbol, I just don’t think it’s the best to illustrate what being a follower of Christ is about.  I’ve seen many people ‘come to the cross’ and pray that salvation prayer, then get five minutes of counseling and get sent on their way into the world.  As if to say, “There, you’re fixed! Next!”  Something’s wrong with this picture.

 

So what happens when we bury our sins with Christ in the tomb instead of stopping at the cross?  Same thing that happened on the third day, honey.  He was purified and rose from that grave, a shining beacon of God’s love and power.  Think about it, what if he’d stayed dead?  What if he’d clung onto that death (sin)  and refused to let go?  Most people are the same way, we struggled day in and day out to hold onto our fleshly fears and insecurities without knowing how to get rid of them.  I think I must be the president of that little club, because my pride and stubbornness keep coming back to bite me in the ass all the time.

 

I wish instead of little cross necklaces that people would go around wearing little empty tomb necklaces.  Wouldn’t that be a conversation piece?  It would certainly be easier to focus on the resurrected life part of the story than the torture and death part.  Way I see it, that’s not nearly as important as the message Jesus Christ left us with (And I’m paraphrasing):  You don’t have to be afraid anymore.  Go love each other, do the best you can, and remember I love you.

 

So the next time you see a cross, try not to let your mind stop there.  Remember the triumph of Christ’s victory over death, and the love He shows us even when we screw up.

The Greatest Commandment

http://www.danoah.com/2011/11/im-christian-unless-youre-gay.html

 

It’s about time someone said it.

Human beings can be irrational, spiteful, and very vain creatures.  I’m of course including myself in that category.  That being said, this article I’ve linked to above is one that made me ashamed of myself and my fellow “Christians”.  Before you spew off ranting comments, the above blog post has nothing to do with political, religious, or moral agendas.  Its message is simply one of compassion and love, so beautiful and courageous it made me cry.

Especially in the community I live in, there seems to be a staggering amount of division and silent judgement passed on gays, addicts, Latinos, blacks, poor people, tattooed people, anyone who doesn’t quite fit the area’s definition of ‘normal’.  It may not be vocalized or printed, but it is most certainly there, lurking beneath the surface.  I’ve even felt it first hand.  Every time I tell someone I don’t attend a formal church, I get this funny look from him or her.  As if I just sprouted two little devil horns, or I have herpes or something.  That kind of reaction, masked by a fake smile and vague comment.

What they don’t seem to understand is that I am still a Christian, just a spiritual one and not religious.  I don’t get dressed up once a week and run to toss a dollar in the collection plate or sing with the latest worship songs.  My church and my communion with a higher power is usually every day, in my own home, most often in my garden.  I talk to God right there, try to listen, and sing whatever is in my heart to sing to Him.  Even so, people still think I’m nuts.

This article provides what so many of us need: A slap in the face, a call to be accountable for our own thoughts and actions in the context of the Greatest Commandment Jesus gave us:

“Love one another, as I have loved you.”

I’m ready to puke if I hear any more people try to throw Bible verses like rocks just to back up their own narrow minds, trying to prove just where in the Bible it says we need to hate someone just for being different.

“Love one another”  No wiggle room there, this is an absolute.  This is non-negotiable.  You either love everybody, or you pick and choose.
Who are we, so high and mighty, that we ignore that homeless person who smells so bad?  Who are we to pretend we don’t see the disabled kid who acts strange?  Who are we to say that people struggling with addictions deserve it, or that people who dress different are just not right?

WHO ARE WE?

We are nothing.  There was only one perfect man to ever walk the earth, and that was Jesus Christ himself.  Yet in spite of being absolutely perfect, he always preferred being around ordinary shmucks like us.  Tax collectors, fishermen, prostitutes.  Not only did he spend time with them, he loved them totally without conditions or exceptions.  Keep babbling about what the Bible says on this or that sin, truth is, we ALL sin at some point.  Keep talking, because I could care less.  All I have to do is keep my eyes on the Master, and try to be like him in every way.

I would like to join this brave man in putting out a challenge to everyone out there who might stumble across this post- Rebel.

Rebel against your own narrowed opinions, against your idea of ‘normal’, against what other people might think. Dare to love someone whom others ignore or hate. Try and remember a time when someone loved you and you know you didn’t deserve it.  Wait a second…Jesus did that, too!

If you listen hard enough, maybe you’ll start hearing the voices and inner anguish of souls in pain.  People who crave love and kindness as much as we do, whose lives are made a living hell for being a different race/religion/gender/sexual orientation/style.  But through no fault of their own, they are tortured. Why?

Today outside my window, I was watching butterflies on my azalea bushes.  Beautiful tiger swallowtails, with yellow and black wings.  I find it impossible that the same loving God who made them could ever, ever make a mistake on one of his creations.  When I look at someone different, I try to see the fingerprints of God in their hearts.  And you know what? I usually find it in an instant.

“All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God”  If we’re in the same boat of ‘sinners’, why do some of us still gripe about who we have to sit next to?  It kind of makes me laugh.  Our job is not to change people because they’re ‘wrong’ in some way.  Only God can do that, and He doesn’t need our help.  The only commandment he gave to us was simple, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Please read the above article, share it if you wish, and God bless your day.

Weird Tastes: And the Winner Is…

A face only a mother could love...

Squid.  Even just the name sounds too weird, like “squishy” or “squirmy”.   Which is ironic, because squid is both those things.

Well, a third of you all voted on this one, which means I am forced to accept this as my first Weird Tastes Challenge.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you.   I’ve had squid before with no complaints.  I have never had to cook it.  Truth be told, I was kind of hoping you guys would make me do liver, seeing as I’ve made it plenty of times and love the stuff.

But nooooo, you’re too smart for that.  You had to go ahead and pick the really freaky one, didn’t you?

I mean, look at it! Even in its natural form, it looks like an alien that would love to eat your face for lunch.  Too bad I’m going to be eating his face instead.

 

 

What delightful gourmet creation is going to come out of it? I have no frigging idea.  Like I said, I’ve never actually attempted this one on my own yet.  All I know is that this slimy mess is going to have to come from a fish market in Ft. Smith, since squid aren’t native to the lakes around here.  (Wouldn’t that be hilarious, though? Giant squid lurking in lakes, scaring all the bass fishermen and kids swimming with water wings? “Hey, Bubba, look at this one, it’s longer than the dadgum boat!”)

But I digress…

So challenge made and accepted.  I hope you’re happy.  Because sometime in the next week, I have to figure out how to turn this ——->

…into something delicious and easy to do.   Keep laughing, because part of this challenge implies that once I cook and eat this, you try my recipe.  Either that, or get your butt over here for a squid dinner.

 

Back on the Horse

Ready to cut a suckah up!

Nothing does more good for a woman’s soul than to do something fun with her girls.  And when that fun is dancing, all the better.  For two years now, I’ve been in and out of belly dance with friends of mine who share its passion and beauty.  After a bumpy road and wading through a lot of nasty politics and drama, we’ve come to form a collaborative troupe called “Danse du Ventre”.  I love these women, because in a crazy two weeks we not only put together a fantastic show at the local theater, but there was absolutely zero drama and bitching.  When the pressure was on, we worked together as a team to create something incredible.

I’ve waited a long time for this day to come, and even if it doesn’t last, I won’t ever forget how good it felt to perform with my best friends.  One of whom had never performed onstage before, and did beautifully. At one point I was sure I’d have to give up this crazy hobby entirely, thinking there was no way to get past the petty bickering and conceit.

So we danced the second half of a dance variety show (and had eight people leave during our first dance, unfortunately).  Oh well.  They missed out on something special, and if they were offended it’s worth bearing in mind that many parents of dance students stayed with their kids to watch us dance.  Our mission is to Educate and Entertain, and that’s precisely what happened.

It’s really unfortunate that we live in a small rural town with almost no cultural exposure for this kind of thing.  I’ve had elderly ladies come up to me asking if I knew my belly was showing.  I’ve heard backwoods rednecks make unsavory comments speculating about how we’d be in bed.  And of course, people have looked the other way or simply left altogether.   I guess it will take some time yet for the negative stigma attached with belly dancing to fade off, but in the meantime we intend to keep bringing family-friendly entertainment and education to this little community.  Whether they like it or not.

The faces of Danse du Ventre

So to my wonderful ladies and fellow performers of Danse du Ventre: Thank you.  You have rekindled something in my heart I thought had gone away.   I look forward to many laughs, tears, and shimmies to come!

Weird Tastes: Food Challenge Extended!

Okay, people, this is it!   Every so often, I will be taking on the challenge of turning an otherwise nasty or less-used food item into something delicious.  I’m tired of seeing lonely packages of ham hocks or turnips sitting there waiting to be cooked into something spectacular.  So here’s what I want you to do- Vote on this poll what you’d like to see me transform, or submit one of your own “food phobias” in a comment below.

Rules are as follows: 1) It has to be a FOOD item. Don’t get cute and challenge me to make dirt edible.  2)  It has to be reasonable on my budget and time.  If I have the money to drive over an hour and get something, I will.  If not, tough noogies.  3) I’m allowed a consult with my chef friend Amber, but will fly solo and do all the work myself.

And with that, the only thing I have left to say is: BRING IT ON!!!!!!!!

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