Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Food, Gardens, and Exercise

So it's been quite a while since I've blogged.  Mostly because I am in the glorious throes of having a full-time job that I love (teaching music to students with developmental disabilities), along with gardening in the summer and having acquired yet another Rhodesian Ridgeback.  Some women are crazy cat ladies.  Not me.  I'm a crazy dog lady.  (Lela is a lovely 9 year old girl who will have pictures of her put up soon.)

This year I really got into the gardening business.  In the garden at the moment are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, corn (not much), basil, jalapenos, bell peppers, rosemary, parsley, sage, lemon thyme, oregano, chocolate mint, kale, onions, leeks, chives, zucchini, yellow squash, some pale-looking-zucchini-squash-type plant that cooks and tastes virtually identical to zucchini, lavender, rhubarb, 2 varieties of tomatoes... and I can't remember what else.  The rhubarb is not doing so well, but the zucchini is exploding with a bounty that is even more than I expected (I hadn't grown zucchini in 4 years, so I had sort of forgotten how amazing it gets).

Everything is getting ready for harvest.  I've eaten a bunch of strawberries, raspberries, and zucchini so far.  The basil has almost reached pesto-stage, though I want it to get a little more out of hand before I harvest it (I like to have a lot of pesto to keep me for the year).  The corn plants are boasting a total of a meager 8 ears, but 8 ears is just enough to feed my extended family for a garden-fresh dinner, and my mother-in-law is wild about sweet corn, so here's hoping it's good!

For the past year or so, FussyHubby and I have been trying to eat better and exercise more; enough so that I ran my first 5k in July, with plans to do another in September and a 10k also in September.  I am enjoying running to the point where I am a compression sock junkie and I even have music selected simply because its BPM matches my pace.  ("Happy" from Despicable Me 2's soundtrack is the most perfect I've found so far.)

As a result, I lost 18 pounds and a whole pants size.  The pants size has remained the same, but in 2 weeks of lesser exercise and less careful eating, I gained back 6 of those pounds.  At first I was thinking to myself that 6 pounds is not that much, that I can lose it again easily enough, but then I realized that I had actually gained back a third of the weight I had lost.  Back to better habits and less splurging (though I firmly believe that the occasional splurge is good for you).

The end of the summer is becoming wonderful for eating.  We can eat vegetables fresh from the garden, and there is nothing quite like serving dinner to people and saying casually, "Yeah, the pasta is in a pesto cream sauce with basil from our garden."  It makes me feel so good to know that I am serving something delicious that I cultivated with my own blood, sweat, and tears.  I can't wait to have sweet corn with my extended family.  I can't wait to make fajitas and chili using the peppers I grew.  I'm hoping I can make some spaghetti sauce with the tomatoes I'm growing, but so far I'm not having much tomato luck.  And yogurt with garden-fresh strawberries on it is a sublime breakfast.

So life is good.  We exercise, we eat more healthfully, and we work.  And in so doing, there are many, many blessings.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Religions: What's in a denomination anyway?

After about 10 years of secretly loving the Episcopal church, I finally started going to one regularly and officially, and I became an official card-carrying Episcopalian on May 29.  This is a decision that I did not make lightly and I feel strongly that it is something that was brewing in me for some time.

I knew that the biggest "problem" I would encounter through my change of denomination from Roman Catholicism to Episcopalianism (is that a word? Episcopality?...) would be my mother's feelings on the matter.  She is extremely devoutly Catholic, and even went so far as to threaten not to pay for any of my college if I didn't get confirmed in the RC Church. (I got confirmed and still resent it.)  When I wrote to her about my change in denomination, I didn't expect to hear from her for some time.  I heard from her within the day and she was actually very courteous about it.  She has been pretty good about it except for the time my aunt came up from down South and she and Mom had an extensive bitch session about it.  She also had some pretty impatient tone of voice at the end of the liturgy in which I was received when she asked my husband what to call a female priest.  My husband, a devout atheist, was taken aback by her tone and the wording of her question: "Well, what am I supposed to call HER?"

I think that some of the reason my mother is annoyed with me changing denominations is because she has become deeply ensconced in the intricacies of the Roman Catholic liturgy.  She's even officially a "liturgist," who knows literally every in and out of how a mass is supposed to be conducted.  Because she is so entrenched in the details of every. little. thing involved with the Roman Catholic denomination, I'm afraid she doesn't see the larger picture about how the Episcopal Church is actually quite similar, with a few different policies that I find entirely reasonable and desirable (hence my "conversion").  I mentioned this to my husband -- that she was too mired in the details -- and he said, "well, aren't you getting that way?"

 I told him that I hoped not.  I do sincerely hope not.  I believe that religion should be and is something that is more about your relationship with a God, whoever you perceive Him/Her/It to be, and that by following the dictates of said God, you are making a positive impact on the world, for both yourself and for others.  (That "don't hurt anyone" is also in there with the positive impact thing.)  I acknowledge and respect different faiths; in fact, I applaud people who invite me to their services, and I genuinely want to be invited to more, no matter what religion.  It doesn't have to be Christianity.

I chose to be Episcopalian because I grew up with a love for the liturgy, ritual, and reverence of the Roman Catholic Church, but I simply could not reconcile the idea that women and married persons could not become priests.  I worship and pray and meditate in a paradigm that is comfortable for me and makes me feel closest to God.  I know my paradigm is different from others' paradigms.  The point is, I feel that if you are holding reverence for the force of Love that flows between all beings and work toward peace and goodness toward each other, I think you are following the correct kind of religion for yourself -- as long as you are comfortable enough in the environment to really examine your heart and soul and how you are working to make this world better for everyone, even the marginalized and oppressed.

This means: I don't care if you're Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian (in any form!), or any other religion I can think of.  I don't care if you are agnostic or atheist.  I know that if you are working toward good in the world, you are doing the right thing, and your particular form of clearing out your brain-tangles is correct for you.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Poetry and Healing Prayer

I used to write a ton of poetry.  At least 2 to 3 poems a week.  I kept them in the most beautiful journals I could find, and, if possible, wrote the poems in the journals using the same pen I had used to hash the poem out on paper.

Then came antidepressants.  I seemed to lose my poetic drive slowly, and though I mourned the loss of creativity, I didn't think it was that much to lose, because I could no longer snatch words out of the air as they swirled around me for the taking.  I struggled to write a poem about how poetry did not come to me anymore in January, but the only time I had written a poem before that was 2011, and before that was probably before I was married, except for the occasional contrived piece that I was not necessarily proud of.

Enter Cursillo.  Without digressing too much, I will say that this past weekend I made my Cursillo at CNY's Cursillo weekend #54.  A Cursillo is a special kind of retreat that is very intensive and beautiful, but also exhausting.  15 talks about different elements of spirituality in 3 days is a lot!  While at Cursillo, I met a wonderful deacon.  She struck me first with her sermon about the Prodigal Son on the very first night we were there.  It helped me figure out that even though I identify with the older son in the story (the one who does not squander his money and stays with his father), that even though I never had a huge party thrown for me just for asking for forgiveness after a big mistake, I am still loved and still will be loved forever.  I had been holding onto so much anger and resentment in my heart, and until then, I wasn't able to release it.  For the rest of the weekend she and I talked extensively and had a very special moment when we had healing prayer one evening after Compline and she prayed with me and anointed my forehead.  But in addition to this, she gave two of the fifteen talks we heard.  One on Grace and one on Obstacles.  Both struck a deep chord within me, and after the Grace talk, I felt compelled to actually write a poem.  Words were swimming in my head again!  It felt like a miracle.  Since Friday, I have toyed with about 5 poems on paper, and they are starting to work out and I'm almost ready to share them.  Most of them are religious in nature, but I feel that art (music, poetry, drama, whatever!) inspired by something sacred, even the stuff that some would consider blasphemous, has more of a "pull" to it than more secular forms of art.

Here is the first copy of my most recent poetic inspiration.  It is still under construction and may be edited later, but it was inspired by Healing Prayer with the aforementioned Deacon who inspired me so thoroughly:

"Healing Prayer"

I will never articulate
the transformation I felt
from ten fingers
holding my troubled head
so tenderly
and bluest eyes
that looked gently into my soul;
i could feel the love coursing into me.
The oil marked my forehead in a cross
and the burdens on my weary heart
were lifted.

Love coursed from me, too,
into those blessed hands
as we were joined
in unity of purpose.

5 May, 2014.
c. Emily Morisette

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Food: Crunchy Chicken Casserole

So I found a recipe for "Crunchy Chicken Casserole" in a cookbook I bought at a book fair at school, and made it a few weeks ago.  It was proclaimed adequate but not very flavorful, and the yield was quite small.  (When I make a casserole, I want lots of left-overs!)  Tonight I modified the recipe, part out of necessity and part because I wanted more flavor.  Here's what I came up with:

For the casserole filling:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 celery heart, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
the meat from two cooked bone-in chicken breasts, torn into small pieces
1 can cream-of-something soup (I used onion this time)
1 soup can of milk
1 cup uncooked rice (this is the risky part; the original recipe called for cooked rice; I added the can of milk to compensate)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
about 1 Tbsp poultry seasoning (I used a salt-free blend)
about 24 grinds of black pepper

Cook the onion and celery in butter until the onion becomes almost translucent; add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Remove from heat; dump into a 9x13" pan

For the topping:
Crush about 2 cups of Cornflakes in a zip-top bag.  Add 1Tbsp of melted butter (cooled) into the bag and squish around until all of it is combined.  Dump this mixture on top of the casserole and spread it evenly across the top.

Bake this mess at 350 for 30-45 minutes, or until it's bubbly and delicious.  Remember that you need adequate time for the rice to absorb the liquid.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


At the present moment, I am in the throes of quite a nasty cold that has been floating around school, and one of the results of said cold is that I've completely lost my voice save for a whisper.  And not even a stage-whisper, but a real whisper.  For a motormouth like me, this is an interesting experience.  I have so many things I want to say, but it's either too painful (my throat feels like a bunch of rusty razor blades rubbing together every time I swallow, speak, or mouth-breathe) or it goes unheard because I have no volume.  Plus, in order for me to get back to work as a music teacher, I need to rest my voice so that I can speak, sing, and otherwise vocalize with the kiddos.  So I'm staying quiet for a few days.

Yesterday I visited my mom and my uncle and rasped through some conversation.  I was so excited to share my experiences about my new job that I didn't really pay much heed to the hoarseness that kept getting worse as our brunch went on.  I stayed quiet on my drive back home and made sure to gargle with plenty of throat-soothing things, but I woke up today completely voiceless.  I was pretty much completely hoarse last night and so my husband and I had a quiet evening (he's not much of a talker), and today has been eerily quiet.

I grew up in a home that seemed to hate silence.  At least my mother and brother did their best to fill the home with as much talk as possible.  My dad was always okay with quiet, but as we got older, my brother's constant talking became a presence in the house that we were totally used to.  (He even talks to himself if no one's around.)  When I met my husband, I found it odd that he could sit with his family in near-silence, just reading a book or watching TV, and we would all be the better for it.  At my husband's family's house, we didn't have to fill every silence with words or noise.  We could just *be.*

I still struggle with this concept of just *being.*  I am a born and bred motormouth, and I always want to say things, discuss things, ask questions, share stories, and converse with people.  I thrive on a certain amount of social interaction (though I like my alone time too).  But right now, I have time to sit back and listen and think, instead of being at the forefront of every conversation.  I wonder if it's a need for self-expression that makes me want to talk so much.  As it is I feel like I haven't really expressed myself all day, even through the text messages I've sent to my husband to tell him things he couldn't understand me whispering.

It's been a frustrating day, but also an educational one.  Tomorrow I will be silenced again, as my voice has not even begun to come back yet.  I hope by the end of tomorrow I can at least start to stage-whisper.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Food: Chili Love

Okay, so I have to recant a previous statement.  My previous statement said that I hate beans in any form except green beans.  I lied.  I like a small amount of beans in chili, and oh boy howdy do I love chili.

All my life my mom has made Cincinnati-style chili, and while I have loved the smell of the chili powder cooking away on the stove, putting it over spaghetti with onions and cheese did not appeal to me, and I refused to eat the chili and instead ate spaghetti with cheese on it for many of my growing-up years.

Enter Rosemary.  She is Winston's breeder and has become a dear friend to us.  One day, Joe and I went up to her home to visit her passel of ridgebacks and have dinner.  She had made chili, and I was about to eat it to be polite.  I didn't want to tell this friend who had worked hard to make something delicious for us that I refused to eat chili even though I liked the smell, so I dove in and took a risk.

It was amazing.  I liked it.  Even the beans, though I still think they are the weakest link in the chili-gestalt.

So I decided to make a pot of chili myself.  After experimenting a couple times and researching several NON-Cincinnati recipes, I came up with this recipe that I will use forever.

You need:
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced finely
2 large onions, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained exceedingly well
1 14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes, not drained
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 12-ounce bottle/can of lager beer (today we're using Heineken)
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 cup beef stock (not broth)
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
about 25 grinds of black pepper (from the grinder)
grated cheddar cheese for serving

First, brown the meats together in a pan until they are crumbly.  During this process, feel free to sprinkle the meats with chili powder, garlic powder, and pepper.  No salt though, or the chili will be too salty.

Add the onion, jalapeno, and green pepper, and cook until the onions are translucent but not brown.

Pour in the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, beer, and beef stock.  Stir.  Sprinkle with the cornmeal and stir in.

Season the chili with the seasonings listed above.

Simmer on the stove for several hours.  Today I am doing about 3 to 4 hours to let the flavors meld.  It's even better if you cook it one day, let it sit overnight in the fridge, and then heat it up the next.  But it smells so good today that I'm letting us have it today.

Serve in bowls covered with grated cheese.  It's also good over brown rice.

Note: this is pretty mild, one-alarm chili, but it's plenty hot for us.  We like mild Indian food, but we don't like our mouths to be on fire.  Instead we prefer richness of flavor and a touch of heat.

Happy Superbowl Sunday!  We are spending it eating chili and studiously avoiding football in all forms, American or otherwise.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Food: Rosemary's Pot Roast Chicken

My friend Rosemary, who hails from England, told me about a pot-roast chicken that she made for a friend who was sick.  She even put up a photo of it on facebook and made me positively drool.  Last Saturday I went to her house for dinner and got the "recipe" (more like a formulary, really) from her, and I made it yesterday.  And oh, man.  It was amazing.

Here's what you need:
1 whole chicken, giblets removed (I used a roaster, not sure about weight)
about 3 carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
1 pound small potatoes or large potatoes cut up
3 leeks, cleaned and cut into 2" pieces
2 large onions, chopped up into large pieces
1 mugful of white wine (I used a 12-oz mug)
fresh thyme or whatever herbs you like, to taste (I used probably 2 Tbsp thyme)
a couple tablespoons unsalted butter
seasoned salt
black pepper

Heat oven to 350 Farenheit.

Remove giblets if you haven't already.  This is a step I loathe, and I use rubber gloves for it every time I do it, even if the giblets are in a tidy little bag.  YUCK!

Layer the onions and leeks in the bottom of a large, oven-safe pot with an oven-safe lid.  Mine was a 5qt enameled cast iron Dutch oven, and it BARELY held everything; I had to do some very creative formatting to get it all to fit in.  Try for 6 or more quarts to make your life easier.

Add carrots and potatoes on bottom.  This is where I had to do creative formatting.  I put the carrots and potatoes around the chicken because otherwise the lid wouldn't shut and you need to cover this bad boy up.

Pour your mugful of white wine over the chicken.  Dot the chicken with the butter that you crumbled up or cut up (either way - I crumbled), sprinkle with the fresh thyme that you chopped up, and season with seasoned salt and black pepper to your taste.

Cover and bake for a long time.  My chicken took over 2 hours.  The rule is 20 minutes per pound I think.  But most whole chickens have instructions on the package.  Consult this.  I cooked mine until the handy-dandy pop-up thermometer thing in it popped up.  It may sound silly, but I am utterly lost without that thing, and that thermometer makes me cook a moist chicken every time.

During the cooking process, baste the chicken about twice with the liquid in the bottom of the pot.

For the last half hour, remove the lid of the pot so the chicken skin can brown on top.  I also turned up the heat to 400 because I was getting impatient and hungry, which yielded a nicely browned skin and moist bird.

Serve and try not to eat it all in one sitting.  It is delicious.