Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reading Ruminations

From this week's reading:

ESV Study Bible

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." Deuteronomy 29:29

The Hobbit

"Then the hobbit slipped on his ring, and warned by the echoes to take more than hobbit's care to make no sound, he crept noiselessly down, down, down into the dark. He was trembling with fear, but his little face was set and grim. Already he was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago."

"It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait."

Chapter XII, Inside Information

Escape from Reason

"This new way of thinking spread in three different spread by classes...What is left was a middle-class that was not touched by it and often is still not touched by it...They do not understand why the think in the old way--they are continuing to act out of habit and memory after they have forgotten why the old form was valid. Often they still think in the right way--to them truth is truth, right is right--but they no longer know why (italics, mine). So how could they understand their children who think in the new way, who no longer think that truth is truth nor that right is right.

Chapter 3, Section Kierkegaard and the Line of Despair

He is There and He is Not Silent

"The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man's problem. But if we begin with a personal beginning and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning, and man and his aspirations of the reality of personality are in line with what was originally there and what has always intrinsically been."

Chapter 1, The Metaphysical Necessity

Swallowing the
Golden Stone, Stories and Essays

...But the naming of stark creation was only one of the languages which the Creator used. There are two kinds of divine talk remembered in Genesis, for what God had made, he also named. Light and its temporal period he called "day." Its dimming and the period of its absence he called "night"...

Now, it is of crucial importance to understand that this naming did more than associate a particular sound with a particular thing. God's naming did more than produce the "word" by which speakers could refer to the object represented by that name. For the Hebrews, language was always an action. To speak was to accomplish. And to name a thing was actually to affect the thing named: it finished its creation, as it were, in three distinct ways:

1. The thing which is, but isn't named, cannot be known. If you can't talk about it, neither can you think about it or consider it or meditate upon it--nor, in consequence, can you know it at all! For the Hebrews, language is the stuff of knowing. Only when the created thing takes its place in language does it fully enter the realm of human awareness.

To name a thing, therefore, is to clothe it in visibility. To name a thing is to make it knowable, to grant its place in the human conception of the world. It seems suddenly to appear, that which had in fact existed before its appearing... (p.49)

Institutes of the Christian Religion

"This knowledge (of God's Providence) is necessarily followed by gratitude in prosperity, patience in adversity, and incredible security for the time to come."

Book 1.17.7

Sunday, February 22, 2009

That's Amore~The Recipes, Dessert

This tiramisu recipe, as grand as it is, is one of the reasons we had to bill our menu as a "mostly authentic" Italian dinner. Authentic tiramisu is usually made with liqueur and marscapone cheese, two ingredients that were cost or otherwise prohibitive for us to use. However, this mock tiramisu seemed to satisfy as I've already received a few requests for the recipe. This was very, very easy to make. And though, here in Amman, we are often hard pressed to find the right ingredients, I easily found authentic Italian Savoiardi, or lady fingers, in the local market.

Easy Tiramisu

2 packages of Savoirardi/ladyfingers (my packages were 200g or 7 oz each)
3 Tablespoons instant coffee
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 packages (227 g. or 8 oz, each) of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream, slightly sweetened with powdered sugar (should yield 2 cups, whipped)
unsweetened cocoa powder

Putting it together:
Arrange 1 package of the biscuits on the bottom of a 13X9 inch backing dish.

Dissolve the instant coffee and 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar in boiling water. Brush 1/2 of the coffee mixture over the biscuits in the dish.

Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add sugar, mixing until blended.

In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream, sweetening it lightly with a little powdered sugar.

Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.

Spread 1/2 of the cream cheese/whipped cream mixture over the biscuits. Top with the remaining biscuits and brush with the remaining coffee.

Spread the remaining cream cheese/whipped cream mixture over the biscuits. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Dust with cocoa powder before serving. We also garnished each piece with and After Eight mint and a sprig of fresh mint.

Makes 12 servings.

Friday, February 20, 2009

That's Amore~The Recipes, Main Course

When I consulted my cooks-like-she's-Italian sister-in-law about our menu for an Italian meal, she informed me that lasagna would not be the main course, but would precede the meat course. Without recounting all our limitations, let me just say that we served lasagna for the main course. And in my opinion, this fantastic Tuscan lasagna is worthy of being a main course.

Though lasagna has long been a favorite dish at our house, I had never made a lasagna recipe like this one, and now that I have I doubt I will ever make any other kind. Taste-testing our pre-banquet prototype, my family LOVED this lasagna. Tayta went so far a to suggest that we alter our traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu to Italian, serving lasagna instead of turkey--it was that good!

This Tuscan lasagna is made with a Bolognese Ragu (meat sauce) and a Besciamella (white sauce). Following are the recipes for each and then, instructions on how to but the lasagna together.

Tuscan Lasagna

Bolognese Ragu ~ a traditional recipe from Bologna

1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
These should be minced very fine.

1 Tbsp. butter

8 oz lean ground pork

8 oz lean ground beef (or,16 oz. ground lean beef and no pork, as I used)
3/4 cup dry red wine

100 grams pancetta (an Italian bacon, however this was delicious even omitting the pancetta)

13 oz. or 400 grams canned tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (at least 1tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper)

Saute the minced vegetables in butter for 5-7 minutes, until very tender. Add the pork/beef/pancetta and saute for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the wine to moisten and cook until it has evaporated. Stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover and leave to simmer gently for at least one hour, stirring frequently. Do not allow the sauce to stick to the bottom of the pan. If sauce is too soupy after one hour, continue to cook longer. If too dry, add a little water 1/2 cup at a time, until the right consistency is reached. Best if cooked 4 hours.

(This sauce is pretty meaty, and not too tomato-y. I simmered mine on the smallest burner, on low, flame and checked it frequently; I had to add 1/2 cup water once or twice. I cooked my sauce for about an hour.)

Besciamella (White Sauce)

1 liter milk
a sprig of fresh parsley
a pinch of nutmeg
1/2 an onion, peeled and sliced
6 black peppercorns
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup plain flour
150 g freshly grated Parmesan or Grand Padano cheese
225 g. mozzarella cheese, grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the milk, parsley, nutmeg, onion and black peppercorns into a pan and bring gently to a boil. While the milk is heating, make a roux by melting the butter in a third pan, adding the flour, and cooking cooking it slightly until it bubbles. Back to the milk which has just scalded/boiled: strain the milk and add it a ladle full (I poured the milk in slowly with one hand, while whisking it with the roux with the other) at a time, stirring it in well until you have a thick smooth white sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes while stirring then take off the heat, add the Parmesan and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Putting it all together:

In Italy, lasagna starts with sheets of fresh pasta*, topped first with meat ragu then white sauce (besciamella), then a sprinkling of Parmesan** and repeat until you run out of meat. Keep back enough white sauce for a final layer, then top with white sauce and mozzarella. Sprinkle on top chopped sage(or thyme) and drizzle with olive oil.
*I used dried and cooked them ahead of time.
**I only put the grated cheese in the sauce and didn't sprinkle between layers.

Big Picture: pasta, meat sauce, white sauce, pasta, meat sauce, white sauce, pasta, white sauce, mozzarella, sage

Baking: I baked the lasagna uncovered. When it is heated all the way through, I briefly turned on the broiler to brown the top, leaving the lasagna in the middle of the oven. Watch carefully as it will brown (and then burn!) quickly.

Testimonial: "We made the lasagna for our guests, and they said it was the best lasagna they'd ever had!! Thanks for giving us the recipe!! We loved it!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That's Amore~The Recipes, Starter Course


Toast good quality white bread (ciabatta or other) under the oven broiler. I toasted both sides. Watch carefully! (Ask me how I know.) Rub toasted bread with a cut clove of garlic. Cut up some tomatoes (good quality cherry tomatoes work best), add some coarse sea salt (no, no table salt, please), olive oil, and chopped basil Let it sit to accumulate some juices and put it on the toasted bread right before serving. No quantities here. Just add a little, taste a little, and I'm sure it will turn out great. My kids love this and I think we'll be eating it a lot this summer.

~Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette~

Mix in blender, or in a jar if you don't have a blender:

1 clove garlic
2 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon sugar
approximately 15 fresh basil leaves

In a jar, mix the balsamic/basil mixture with 3/4 cup olive oil

Saturday, February 14, 2009

That's Amore

Have I mentioned recently that we really like teenagers around here? Overseeing the youth group at our international church in Amman has been one of the biggest joys for Dear Husband and me this past year and a half. Somehow, sometime, before we got involved, the tradition of holding a Valentine's banquet had developed. Last year, Dear Husband and his faithful leaders (I was on the audition trip) carried on the tradition, though Dear Husband did try to shift the focus to honoring marital love vs the twitterpated love we remembered experiencing in high school. This year we, with the support and help of our great youth leaders (young adults otherwise working in Amman), encouraged a bigger shift: We planned a Valentine's banquet in which the youth would serve their parents in an gesture to show gratitude to their parents and to honor their commitment of true love in marriage. We prayed, we planned, we organized, we worked hard, and on Thursday night, we served. What fun we had together!

Our theme, Italian. Our plan, divide and conquer: we had a cooking crew, a decorating crew, a sound and set-up crew, and an entertainment crew.

Active Son, head of Sound and Set Up, Ruth, one our indispensable leaders and the visionary for a parent's banquet, and "Luigi and Alfredo" our Masters of Ceremony who stayed in Italian character the entire evening, accents and all.

The decorating crew transformed the hall of a local school where we have our youth meetings into and warm, elegant, dinner show venue. Parents we greeted at the door by youth who politely (we've been told) seated them, taking coats and pulling out chairs for the ladies.

I oversaw the cooking crew, so you'll mostly hear about the wonders they achieved, serving a three course meal to 64 people without a kitchen. Now, I have to give partial credit to my dear sister-in-law who just happens to live in Florence, Italy and who just happens to be a gourmet Italian cook. She provided me with some good ideas and recipes. We obviously couldn't make a completely authentic Italian meal, but we tried to come as close as we could, given our money, ingredient, and facility constraints. Our menu:

As I mentioned, we didn't have a kitchen, but we did have tables, borrowed dishes and utensils, electrical outlets, hot water heaters for tea and coffee, and my microwave. Here's how we did it--in case you ever have to server 60+ people without a kitchen.

The salad greens, grated carrots and sliced bell peppers, along with the salad dressing had been completely prepared beforehand and were and transported in containers. We toasted the bread for bruschetta and chopped the tomatoes and basil (a home) right before the banquet.

Cooking crew preparing the bruschetta on platters.

After the starter course, servers collected the salad plates (which would be washed in a tub of hot, soapy water so as to become dessert plates) and we began serving the Tuscan Lasagna--almost completely authentic, minus the pork. Delicious! The lasagna was served with sauteed carrots, zucchini, and colored peppers. Our plan for serving a warm meal sans a kitchen: The lasagnas were baked right before the banquet by a few helpful moms and brought wrapped in towels, and the vegetables, all cut beforehand, were sauteed the day of the banquet and warmed in the microwave. It worked! All the food~ garnished with parsley~was hot when served.

Serving the lasagnas and sauteed vegetables

Encouraged by how well the food was working out, we breathed sighs of relief and prepared to serve the desert. Meanwhile, the parents, while enjoying their meal, were being entertained by other youth. A few samples:

A scene from Romeo and Juliet (by the way, that's Juliet) ala Reduced

A Middle Eastern tabli duet by Artist Son and friend, so authentic it elicited an undulation from a Moroccan mom

A Golden Oldie love song performed by two of the youth songbirds

The final course, dessert, was served, a simple tiramisu (made the day before), garnished by Chef David (who also made most of the lasagnas) with an After Eight mint, a sprig of fresh mint...

...and served with a smile.

After desert, male youth regaled the parents with the 1952 hit made famous by Dean Martin, "That's Amore".

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That's amore"

Praise God, the evening was a huge success: the parents expressed amazement at how well the youth had prepared and executed the evening for them. They felt loved and honored. And the hard work of preparing the banquet had brought out the best in the youth.

As we were falling asleep that night, Dear Husband commented, "I wonder if this is a little bit of what heaven will be like...we will all be serving each other, joyfully. " Amen.

(Recipes to follow soon...)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Children of Sudan Follow-Up

In November, some of the youth we are involved with organized and executed a clothes drive for some needy and orphaned children of Sudan. Knowing that some aid shipments do not reach their intended recipients due to pilferaging, custom snarls, etc., it was with great joy that I received an email this week, sent from the Sudani sister who received and distributed the clothes to the dear children she is serving. And, last night, to applause and cheering, we were able to share these pictures of the children receiving their new clothes with the youth who collected and sent them.

"Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" ~Psalm 90: 16-17, a Psalm of Moses

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Foxglove Fever

Often in spring I forget where I live (arid, high-desert climate), and dream of growing beds of this oh-so-beautifully elegant flower:

I call it Foxglove Fever. Unfortunately, this lovely flower is not easily grown in Amman, and even the few I've been able to purchase(rare and expensive) have been victims of theft and turpentine poisoning. This (growing) year the fever hit early when I found an innocent packet of foxglove seeds in my kitchen. They are the teeniest tiniest things and I never thought that I would actually get any seedlings started but, lo and behold, they germinated!

The fever heated up and I convinced my Dear Husband, bless his hands, to hang some fluorescent lights from the bottom bunk in our guest/project room. (One clever cyber-friend noted that I have a real flower bed.)

Surprisingly, to me, the foxglove seedlings are growing faster than my purple coneflower and poppy seedlings. I've gotten a little carried away and now have more seedlings than I have space for under the lights. Ever supportive, Dear Husband has agreed to two more lights and I have developed a rotation system for the larger plants.

Unfortunately, as I dream of 30+ foxglove plants in my garden, Jordan is facing a potential spring/summer drought; we've only received 5-10% of the our average annual rainfall and the rainy season will probably end next month. Next project: develop a plan to recycle the household gray water in the flower garden.