Archive for December, 2008

Tamarindo!

December 12, 2008

Yesterday I made tamarindo.  Not from a powder or a mix, but from a bag full of actual tamarinds.  Incidentally, the http://www.mexgrocer.com/mexcocina-sep4.htmltamarind is a pretty freakin’ amazing fruit.  Not only is it the main ingredient in the popular Mexican agua fresca, agua de tamarindo, it has about a gazillion other uses, and is on some folks’ watch list of up and coming fruits for the next century.  I’m on a bent to discover more about all the odd fruits and vegetables that you stumble across in ethnic markets, but rarely see in mainstream grocery stores.  Part of this is due to the fact that these ethnic grocery stores are invariably quite a bit cheaper for fresh produce.  Part of it is just culinary curiosity and a desire to experience more of God’s amazing creation.

But, back to making the tamarindo. 

It’s not a complicated recipe.  Shelling the tamarind pods is easy and quick work, and they’re only mildly sticky.  In addition to removing the hardened carapace, you need to also remove the 2-4 fibrous veins that run down the actual seed pod.  This is pretty quick work.  I opted to go ahead and boil the shelled pods, though I did find a recipe that indicated this was not a necessary step.  Apparently you can just pour the water over the pods and the flavor will still leech through.  But I wanted to use the actual pulp, not just the flavor of the pulp, so I boiled.

The exhaustive part is seeding the resulting pulp ‘mash’.  Probably the best way to do it would be to mash it all up and put it through a sieve, which is what the better recipes tell you to do.  Being ‘lazy’, I just stood there with my hands in tamarind goo for half an hour or more, pulling the seeds out.  Most of the pulp is mooshed off pretty easily at this point, but the seeds remain in a slightly firmer encasement.  Since I have a Vita-Mix, I knew that leaving the encasements (but removing the seeds, which are remarkably hard) wouldn’t be an issue.  For anyone who wants to utilize fresh or frozen fruit, and retain as much of the fiber and nutritional value as possible, I can’t recommend the Vita-Mix highly enough.  I’m looking forward to grinding our own flour in it for baking next week.  Woohoo!

Once I had seeded the pulp, I pureed it in the Vita-Mix, and added the remaining water called for in the recipe.  Having just had agua de tamarindo for lunch at a *very* authentic hole-in-the-wall here in town, I knew how watered down it usually was.  Perhaps they make theirs from a powder/mix.  Mine was much thicker.  I only used 1 cup of sugar, as opposed to 1.5 cups.  Tasted fine to me.  I also added more water to dilute the mixture a bit – perhaps another 2-3 cups worth. 

I’m looking forward to enjoying it tonight with our homemade chicken tortilla soup!

Late Note to a Friend

December 12, 2008

“Everything’s gonna be all right
 Rockabye, rockabye.”
          – Shawn Mullins, “Rockabye” –
 
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
         – St. Paul, 1Corinthians 15:19 –
 
“I’ll admit that that I don’t have the final word about your life.  If you’ll admit that your pain doesn’t either.”
         – EAP –
 
 
I always loved the hauntingness of Shawn Mullins song “Rockabye”.  I heard it again tonight as I was driving down the darkened corridor of the 101 on a nocturnal automotive wandering.  The words take on a new dimension, living as I now do on the fringes of Los Angeles.  The picture of brokenness in the song is riveting, gilded on the edges as it is with the brushstrokes of fame and fortune.  Nobody is immune.  Pain can touch any of us, in a myriad of ways, and we are never the same again.
 
But as I listened tonight, I thought of you and our conversations.  And I realized what a crappy song “Rockabye” really is, hauntingly gilded portraits notwithstanding.  I thought about what a pathetic assurance the singer attempts to provide to a broken girl.  All he can do, apparently, is try to reassure her that everything is going to be all right.  But he has no basis for that, contextually.  Her past is certainly littered with the broken pieces of her own life and probably the lives of those who tried to love her and visa versa.  There is no hope in her past on which to base the assertion that “everything’s gonna be all right”.
 
There’s nothing in the present, either, beyond tear drops and the hide-and-seek of a bar and a hardened face.  And of course, even the singer has to admit that the odds are against a happy ending, no matter how whimsical he can choose to be about this in his own life.  The assurance is ultimately hollow.  There is no hope, apparently.  Only pretty words that sound nice for the moment as they caress the ear.  Just seconds before they crush the spirit with the hammer blow of emptiness.  Assurances based on nothing but vague hopes are hardly assurances at all.  Ultimately, they fail us.  Rather than lift the burden, then end up adding to it with more disappointment.  More sorrow.  More loss.  More suffering. 
 
This is the only hope that the world alone can offer.  And as anyone who has suffered and ached and lost knows, Hakuna Matata is not very helpful.  Glib assurances to keep the chin up eventually grate, irritate, and infuriate.  They’re simply evidence of yet another person who doesn’t understand, can’t empathize, and so ends up condescending.
 
The exhortation to prayer can seem on the surface to be every bit as hollow, every bit as as surface-level, candy-coated, put-on-a-happy-face-assidious as the insistence that “everything’s gonna be all right”.  And yet, if we take this Book seriously, if we take this Jesus person seriously, we have to acknowledge that, as pointless as it may feel, as irritating as it may sound, there must be something more to prayer than just a dear-jesus-please-make-the-pain-go-away-ok-love-ya-bu-bye ritual. 
 
The pain makes God seem far away, because if God were near, and the pain was still this bad, we’d be tempted to accuse God of being a sadist.  So we place Him far away, occupied with other grave matters and concerns, while we suffer.  We blame ourselves.  We don’t want to be rude.  We jump through intellectual and theological hoops to keep us from having to come to God and ask Him what the Hell is going on.   
 
But this is exactly what God wants.  Not a fake pietism that pretends to be willing and able to suffer graciously.  Not a fake religiosity that attempts to claim that the pain doesn’t really hurt, that we aren’t so freakin’ lonely that we want to scream, and that we don’t think seriously about checking out early rather than risk staring at a lifetime of this sort of hurt ahead. 
 
He wants that sort of dialogue.  That sort of honesty.  Where we aren’t trying to protect Him, and we aren’t trying to lie to ourselves.  The honesty of Job in refusing to give up pressing God for an answer.  Obviously, in Job’s case, it wasn’t the answer he expected.  It was equally honest.  Equally frank.  And Job had to admit that God’s answer was good and right and just.
 
Which means that prayer is not simply getting God to do what we want Him to do.  We’re not rubbing the lamp to get the jinni to come out and grant us our wishes.  We aren’t dictating the terms of reality to God.  But in the act of prayer, we find that God is changing us.  That the act of honesty assures us that God *is* near and not far, concerned and not oblivious, loving and not sadistic.  Through prayer, God directs us ultimately to Jesus, and to the work of Jesus in assuring us that not simply heaven, but here and now, God *is* with us.  In the pain.  In the sorrow and loss.  In the brokenness.  That whatever we are to face, we do not face it alone. 
 
And because we are not alone, we can reassure one another that yes indeed, everything *is* going to be all right.  Not just because we hope it will.  Not based just on how yesterday or today was.  But based on what God has already done – in time and space and human history, to assure us that everything *will be* all right, even if it’s not ideal at the moment. 
 
Anyways.  It’s late and I’m sleepy and probably not making sense.  In any event, you have pain.  You’ve experienced loss.  I won’t even pretend that I understand how what you have to deal with feels.  Fortunately, I don’t have to, because Jesus already does.  I just point to Him.  And you and He work out what it means to be dealing with pain and loss and brokenness.  For you, personally. Right now.  In this moment. 
 
I pray that you’re sleeping.  And that you’ll consider talking to God.  Even if it feels weird and unnatural and pointless.  Talk to Him.  Not so that He’ll heal you, necessarily, but simply because He made you.  And meeting in that place, who *knows* what God may do in and with and through you?

Worship Ugh

December 11, 2008

It’s frustrating to come face to face with the assumptions and presuppositions that one is raised with and has internalized.  As much as we like to think of ourselves as free agents, picking and choosing what we want to believe and feel and do, we are amazingly scripted people, children of routines we aren’t even consciously aware of.

Which kinda bites.

I’m attempting to create a new worship opportunity.  New to our church, not new to existence.  But getting away from the modern focus on professionalism and performers and worship leaders.  Trying to get away from a culture that ends up too often (in my opinion) stifling worship in the people it hopes to elicit that worship from.  If someone can’t sing like a pro, or can’t play a guitar like a pro, then that person sits back during worship in awe of the person who can sing or can play like a pro.  The worship becomes less the worship of God, and more the worship of those with the skills – and thus the visibility within a worship service – to perform like professionals. 

How to break that artificial dichotomy though, is harder than it seems, since to a certain extent this is the model I’ve been exposed to for portions of my life.  I live with that adulation of those who can sing and play well, which highlights my own inferiority in these areas and makes me sing quieter, or hold back on joining in on playing music.

But I want – and I feel it’s important – to create a worship expectation not emphasizing professionalism, but inclusiveness.  Something that everybody is welcome to come into and contribute what they can.  It may not be perfect.  But is it heartfelt?  Is it a response to the outpouring of grace and forgiveness we receive through Jesus Christ?  Awesome.  Then jump in. 

The problem is, I’ve tried to ‘practice’ doing this.  Which means my emphasis has been on improving my skills and confidence in playing and singing, rather than modeling what it is that I hope others will do when and if they come. 

D’oh!

Such creatures of habit we are!

Flow Control

December 3, 2008

As a nearly life-long denizen of the desert Southwest, I’m conscious of water in a way that is probably different from much of the rest of the country.  I find it interesting that many places that I would consider practically rainforests in terms of comparative annual rainfall still have drought alerts.  It was hard, for example, to take too seriously the worry (at some level) in St. Louis and Missouri that they were in a drought cycle.  Sure, it might be dry.  But only until the next time it rains!  Which often times was only a matter of days. 

In the desert, it is months.

And without water, life in the desert becomes pretty impossible, pretty quickly.  Notwithstanding the complicated water sharing and haggling that goes on over the Colorado River, if you have more than a few bad years in terms of rainfall, all those golf courses are going to start lookin’ mighty brown.

Anyways. 

As a water-conscious, late 20th century kinda guy, it struck me the other day that for all our talk about conserving water, we don’t take the simplest, easiest, cheapest steps.  For instance.  In every house I’ve ever owned, rented, visited, etc., the water always comes out of the faucet pretty hard by default.  Turn the nozzle, lift up the handle – whatever – the water comes out essentially full force.  I have to really manipulate the hardware (no, that’s not a dirty term) in order to get the water to come out at a slower rate.  The default is full force.  Why is this?

I imagine it’s because we’re busy.  We don’t have time to leisurely let the water pour serenely over our hands.  I NEED TO WASH MY HANDS AND IT NEEDS TO BE RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND.  OHMYGOSH HURRYHURRYHURRYHURRY CAN THE WATER PLEEEEEAAAASSSEEEEE COME OUT FASTER!??!  

I suppose if we were less busy, then it wouldn’t be a big deal to rig every faucet on every sink in every house and business with a simple flow control device, so that the water – by default – comes out at a reasonable rate.  Not a dribble, but a slower, steady flow.  Or perhaps there could be a toggle switch like they have on some schwanky kitchen sink faucets.  Only that instead of switching between regular downpour and spray mode, it would switch between reasonable flow rate and full force.

Conservation couldn’t possibly be that simple, could it?