Friday, April 28, 2017

chicken pot pie

I discovered the beauty of roasting a whole chicken and making stock from the bones long ago.  However, when I started buying chickens that were raised out on grass by a farmer, I realized I had to change my cooking technique a little bit.  These birds tend to be better-worked, more muscular, and a little more prone to getting dry.

The other thing I realized is that they are expensive!  Contrary to popular culture, chicken has become our family's special-occasion meal.  A well-raised bird can easily run $3-4/pound, and at 4-5 pounds each, you are now talking about a $20 bird.  We save those for when we have guests for dinner, and then we stretch them into two or three or four meals.  (You know what's cheap?  Ground beef or stew meat, that's what's cheap, relatively speaking here.  And eating vegetarian, like using beans or paneer as your protein, is cheapest of all!)

I roasted a bird the other night for some company, and here's how it went:

First night:  roast chicken

Second night:  chicken tacos

Third night:  chicken pot pie

And then I tossed the carcass in the freezer to make stock later.

And then I realized I had never shared my chicken pot pie recipe!  It's a true favorite in our house.  A full meal in one pan (vegetable, bread, protein).

Chicken Pot Pie
1/2 an onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1-2 ribs celery, diced (optional)
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 C chicken stock (may need more)
1/2 C milk
1/2 t dried thyme
1/4 C frozen peas
1 C diced cooked chicken
salt and pepper
1 C flour
1/3 C frozen butter
cold water as needed

Oven - 400.

Start by frying the onion, carrot, and celery in butter over medium heat.

Let them get really soft - no one wants a big crunchy carrot chunk in their pot pie.  Drop the heat a little if you need to, and add a little stock if it starts to get too brown.  I probably let this go for 10 minutes.

Add the flour and stir it into the butter and vegetables, making sure it is completely combined and no more white floury areas are visible.

Add the chicken stock and stir very well.  It will start to bubble and thicken right away.  Add the milk and keep stirring.  Add thyme, frozen peas, and chicken, and combine.  Taste it and season with salt and pepper.

Once everything is all warmed up and thick, scrape it into a casserole dish and set aside.

Now, make the pie crust.  This is my standard pie crust recipe.  I love freezing the butter and grating it - it takes all the mess away and gets the butter the perfect size without you having to get your hands all dirty.

In a small bowl, put the cup of flour and a pinch of salt.  Using a cheese grater, grate the 1/3 C frozen butter into the flour, stopping occasionally to toss the butter around in the flour.  Once it's all grated, grab a fork.  Pour in ice-cold water about a tablespoon at a time, stopping to stir it in after each addition.  Once it's come together and there is no more dry flour visible, turn it out onto the countertop.  Press it lightly into a disk, then used a floured rolling pin to roll it out to the size needed to cover the pot pie.  You may have more crust than you need - just freeze whatever is leftover and use it whenever you need a little pie crust!

Cut a couple of vents on the top of the pot pie, then pop it into the 400 oven for about 30 minutes.  It will get brown and bubbly.  Pull it out and let it cool for a few minutes, then enjoy!

Serves 2-4, depending on age and appetite.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

hallway season

So now that my formal leave request is submitted and we have announced to the congregation and etc etc, I can answer the big question:  what on earth am I going to be doing after June 30?

Some of you are familiar with our itinerant appointment system in the United Methodist Church.  Some of you are not.  Let me explain briefly:  I am an ordained elder in full connection with the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Essentially, this means I belong to one of the strongest unions still in existence.  It's a closed shop.  I am tenured.  Unless I do something ridiculously unethical (or choose to surrender my credentials), I will retain that tenure for the rest of my life.

The covenant that I have made, in exchange for this lifetime guaranteed appointment/job/minimum salary, is that I will itinerate.  This means that the bishop and cabinet will assign me to a church somewhere within the geographical confines of middle Tennessee.  I get some input into this decision, but at the end of the day:  I am assigned.  There are a hundred reasons why John Wesley thought this was such a good idea in the late 1700s, but that's not really what I'm gonna talk about today.

There are some accommodations that can be made in the case of those who need to take leave, while retaining full connection in the conference.  You can be placed on leave (involuntary), or take voluntary leave for transitions or the care of family.  I have submitted a request for one year of voluntary family leave, to begin July 1 of this year.  After seven years under full-time appointment, I will not be taking an appointment for 2017-2018.

So, what will I do with this year?  

1)  work with an area church and Vicki's elementary school to complete my Doctor of Ministry project, which focuses on increased engagement and investment in neighborhood schools to stem the tide of charterization in middle Tennessee.

2)  spend pretty much all of July on an epic family road trip, touring the West.

3)  complete a 200-hour yoga teacher training at Kali Yuga Yoga from August through November.

4)  take my daughter on her first trip to New York!  To see my best friend and her baby and her husband and Brooklyn and see the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This is such a rite of passage for us, introducing her to The City.

5)  spend a lot more time with my son and daughter, cat, dog, and chickens.

6)  take a German class at Vanderbilt (modern languages . . . ugh).

7)  apply for about 15 more Ph.D. programs in Religious Studies/Theology.  Including reapplying to Stanford.

8)  take my kids to DC in May of 2018 for my graduation at the National Cathedral.

Big questions I've been asked:

1)  How can I do this, financially?

I am by no means independently wealthy (have you seen my house/car/life?!), but I have enough saved from inheritance and cheap living that I can afford to do one year this way.  We won't be able to live extravagantly, but I can take a year to breathe.

2)  Will I return to church ministry?

I have no idea, honestly.  I am trying to be as open as I possibly can.  I have spent a lot of my life rushing through whichever door opened easily and quickly, because I couldn't stand the ambiguity and discomfort of standing in the hallway.  But this is my hallway season.  This is the time to stand and observe the doors and see which one cracks open and which one shuts and which one can be the door that is wisest and most accommodating for all three of us.  Perhaps I am accepted to the perfect Ph.D. program, and that is the door that opens.  Perhaps I am not, and I realize that God is pulling me back to the church.  Perhaps God pulls me in some other direction entirely.  I have to take the time to see.  There is no substitute for time, not even hard work and determination and grit.  Not even pushing as hard as I can.  I have not done a good job in my life of respecting the role that simple, observant, engaged time plays in any given situation, and now I need to do that.

3)  Will I miss City Road?

Um . . . yes!  This place has been my home in ministry for the last five years, and they have seen me through some of the most horrific and celebratory times in my life.  They have seen my son born, my marriage disintegrate, my heart be broken about seven times.  They have seen me grow as a leader and a person.  They have accepted my vulnerabilities and flaws.  This church is far from perfect, but the people here are as good as any people I have met in my life.  They have cared for me in a way that is truly Christ-like:  challenging and nurturing and trusting.

This is an exciting season for me.  I am somewhat terrified, but I feel ready.  Open and ready and accepting.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

being a marlee in a lila jane world

In Todd's class at the King's Daughters Day Home, there is a girl with little blonde ringlets named Marlee.  She is everything.  She is loud and forward and always charges the door whenever anyone walks in.  She is darling and precocious and forceful.  She demands to know my name and what I'm doing in their classroom, every single day, for the last two years.  She is frequently having some sort of absolute meltdown when I drop Todd off or pick him up.

There is also a little wisp of a girl named Lila Jane.  Her hair is straight and fine and brown.  She is quiet as a mouse.  I've never even heard her whisper.  She hangs in the background.  She looks fearfully at the door when I come in.  She could be a ghost - I'm not even really sure I've seen her name listed on the sign-in sheet.  Her eyes are big and soulful.  

I sensed some sort of triangle happening between Todd and Marlee and Lila Jane about a year ago.  Marlee wanted lots of hugs from Todd when we walked in one morning.  He seemed standoffish about it.  I asked him about it later, when I picked him up.

"Yeah, Marlee always wants to sit next to me at morning circle . . . but I want to sit by Lila Jane."

UGH.  Of course you want to sit by Lila Jane.  The Lila Janes of this world - mysterious and withholding and dropping you little crumbs of their personality every now and again - they always get the guy.  The Marlees may get everything else, but the Lila Janes get the guy.

Me (and my daughter) - I'm a Marlee.  What you see is what you get.  I will show you everything, even if you don't want to see it.  I will go as far as you will let me.  I don't know any other way to be.  I have no idea how to be a Lila Jane, but I have always sensed that those little wisps are what men want.  And . . . I hate myself for even having this line of thought.  I'm a Marlee - I don't care what men want, right!?

Right. . . . right.

No shade on the Lila Janes.  I'm sure that most of them don't know any other way to be, either.  We are all just doing the best we can with what we've got.  But what is it about the men that makes them want the Lila Janes?  Do they feel non-threatening?  Like a challenge?  Uninterested in you?

I will probably never know.  And I'm chronically unable to act like something that I'm not.  But it still feels like I have spent most of my life stomping while everyone else was tiptoeing, and I'm not sure how to stop stomping, and sometimes my feet hurt.

Monday, April 10, 2017

career day

It was sophomore, or maybe junior year of high school.  (So, 2000 or 2001.)  In a ritual familiar to high school students everywhere, we were invited to find some adult who would take us along on a day in their work environment.  Ideally, it would be something that we saw ourselves doing.  I was fairly uncertain about what I wanted to be doing with my life, aside from reading a lot and talking about ideas.

I was super-interested in the idea of skipping school for a day, though.  So I asked my youth pastors from Lawrence First UMC, the inimitable Jan and Mitch Todd, if I could come along with them for a day at seminary.  (This was when St. Paul School of Theology was still its whole own free-standing thing in Kansas City, before it became just another tentacle of the Church of the Resurrection Octopus.)  They were both studying for the Master of Divinity degree and it seemed like they could give me some pointers about ministry as a career.

It was a fun, if unremarkable, day of poking around the library and sitting in on classes and eating lunch in the refectory.  I filed it away in my memory box and moved on with life.  I was accepted to Columbia a year or two later and proceeded to do a lot of reading and talking about ideas.  (And a whole lot of other much less responsible stuff.)

In a few more years, I found myself in my own theology classrooms at Vanderbilt Divinity, studying for that very career that Mitch and Jan had led me into.  I poked around the library and sat in many classes and ate lunch in the refectory.  When I graduated, I moved into full-time ministry.

And there I have been for the last seven years.  In churches that have loved and supported and infuriated and challenged me.

This morning, after I dropped off Todd at his preschool and I was driving over to church, I remembered that Career Day for some reason.  I realized:  I had always thought I was going on that day to learn about becoming a pastor.  But what I really did was wander around an institution of higher education.  I was doing the work of an academic on that day:  reading, studying, germinating ideas, discussing, writing.  And today, that realization is freighted with meaning.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

paneer tikka masala

As promised in my last post about elementary cheese-making, here is one of my favorite uses for paneer!

Chicken tikka masala is the "national dish" of Britain, funny enough, because it was an Anglicization of Indian food during Imperial times.  It's a favorite of mine at buffets.  Once I realized how easy it was to make at home, I decided to stop paying for it.  Making it with paneer is even easier!

Paneer Tikka Masala
12-16 oz paneer
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 serrano peppers, minced (seeds removed if less heat desired)
2 T tomato paste
8 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 3 cups - or 2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes)
1 t garam masala
2 t paprika
2 C water
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 c cream

Melt about 1 T of the butter in a large skillet (I always use cast iron).  Fry the paneer on all sides until nicely golden brown.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter and the olive oil together in the same pan.  Add the garlic, ginger, and peppers.  Fry and stir until it is lightly brown - about 3-5 minutes.

Add tomato paste and fry until it darkens in color - about 2 minutes.  Add garam masala and paprika and fry together for another minute or so.

Stir in the tomatoes, water, and salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and let it simmer 20 minutes (now is a good time to start basmati rice).

Let the curry cool slightly, then blend it in two batches in the blender, until completely smooth.  Return it to the skillet, add the cream and stir it in.  Add the fried paneer cubes back into the curry and let it all cook together for about ten minutes.

Serve over basmati rice with cucumber raita, mango chutney, and/or green chutney!  Also, this is delicious served with a mango lassi to drink.  Serves 4.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I promised this recipe post long ago, when I posted a photo of my paneer and butter on Facebook and had lots of interest from friends, wondering . . . what the hell is that stuff?

We have belonged to a milk co-op for about four and a half years.  We partner with an old-order Mennonite farmer in Kentucky, and about 8-12 families participate at any given time.  We take turns driving up there, visiting with Joseph, and bringing back milk, cream, and eggs.  It has been a phenomenal experience, and I'm so happy to be a part of it.  I love showing the kids the farm and the animals and where our food comes from.  Plus the drop point has been my backyard for the past few years, which makes it pretty easy for me.

The upshot, though, is that I pretty much always have a gallon of milk and a pint of cream waiting for me to do something.  We don't drink a ton of milk straight-up in my household.  Todd likes a glass here and there (he demands "fresh milk"), I like it in coffee.  But I get a gallon every week, rain or shine, and so I have had to get creative with how I use it up.

I skim the cream from the top of the gallon, combine it with my pint of cream, and make butter every week or two.  This has made me into a huge butter snob.  I only like my bright yellow butter now, and a lot of mornings the kids just have bread and butter and honey for breakfast.

I also make and freeze a lot of paneer.  I got super into making Indian food in the last couple of years.  It's pretty easy and it makes your house smell like exotic heaven.  Paneer is kind of the Indian equivalent to tofu.  It's a vegetarian protein staple that can pick up pretty much any flavor you combine it with.  Making it is an adventure in easy cheese-making:

Paneer . . . to the left, to the left.
You will need milk, lemons, a big pot, a colander, cheesecloth (or an old clean pillowcase), a couple of plates, and some heavy cans.

Pour 8 cups of milk into a large pot.  Heat over medium until it begins to boil.  (This may take about twenty minutes - stir continuously near the end so it doesn't scald to the bottom.)

When it boils, pour in 1/4 C fresh lemon juice (no seeds! - you can also use bottled in a pinch).  The milk should begin to curdle immediately.  If it doesn't, add a little more lemon juice.

Drop the heat to low and stir the curds together gently for about five minutes.  You want to stir in such a way that you are sort of bringing them together, rather than smashing them apart.

Wet the cheesecloth and put it in the bottom of the colander.

Drain the curds into the lined colander.  Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to make a little sack of curds.  Hang it from your kitchen faucet to drip for five minutes.

After the curds have drained five minutes, take the cheesecloth ball and twist it so that the ends are off to one side.  Place the ball on one plate, smash the ball down a little and put another plate on top of it.  Weight the top down with a couple of cans and let it drain for another twenty minutes or so.

Once the draining is over, remove the cheesecloth and dice the paneer into 1-inch cubes.  Use immediately or freeze for later!

How do I use it?  It's great in pretty much any Indian recipe!  Saag paneer, paneer tikka masala, and matar paneer are my favorites.  I will post a recipe for one of these in the next few days - this post already seemed too long and overwhelming!