Monday, November 30, 2009

Retro Recipes

This Thanksgiving my sister, Music Mary, made a couple of the old recipes I remember my mother making for every Thanksgiving and Christmas family gathering back in the '60's. It has been years since I made her Crab Dip and it was just as delicious as I remembered it.

Portia and Babs didn't remember it at all, but really liked it and asked for the recipe so they could serve it at the Ugly Christmas Sweater party they are hosting in a couple of weeks. (More on Ugly Christmas sweaters later!).

Here's the recipe:

Hall's Crab Dip

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine 1 can crabmeat, 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1 tsp. minced onion and 1/2 tsp. horseradish. Put in baking dish. Top with toasted slivered almonds. Bake for 15 minutes or until bubbly.

My mother always served this with Triscuits and a side of bourbon balls chased with bourbon on the rocks. How WASP were we? Really. Really. WASP.

Thanks to Music Mary for reviving this delicious tradition and all the memories that came with it.

Did you partake of any retro recipes at Thanksgiving? Care to share? And if you have any creative ideas of what to do with leftover homemade cranberry sauce (it's really yummy, too), I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Making My List, Checking It Twice!


Smoked turkey-check
Fresh turkey-check
Creamed corn and sweet potato casseroles from Junior League of Houston-check
rolls from JLH-check
Silverglade Salad--ingredients in fridge
Stuffing--ingredients in pantry
Pecan Pie-ingredients in pantry for Babs
Toffee Pecan Pies--in route from San Antonio
Pumpkin Pie--in route from San Antonio
Carrot Cake--being made at Portia's
Apple Pies--being made at Portia's
Paula Deen's Mashed Potato Casserole -ingredients in fridge (don't even ask what's in this, just eat it and enjoy!)
Homemade cranberry sauce--in route from San Antonio

Wine, beer, water, soft drinks in drink refrigerator.

READY, SET......GO!!!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Dinner Ideas

If you're like me, expecting Thanksgiving Day guests to arrive on Wednesday, you are not only planning the food for that day but for the night before.

Since I need to do a lot of prep work tomorrow, today I am going to make a huge pot of chili that I will serve Wednesday evening to all the out of town guests. That way I just have to heat it up, add some tamales and a salad, and serve! Hopefully there will be enough left-overs for anyone wanting lunch the next day since we are having dinner in the late afternoon. Plus Portia will bring some chocolate and peanut butter chip cookies for dessert.

I don't really have a written recipe for my chili--good native of San Antonio that I am--but here is an attempt to document it:

3 lbs chili ground beef
2 lbs stewing beef, cut in bite size chunks
2 large onions, chopped
head of garlic, minced
2 cans tomato paste
1 can stewed tomatoes or diced tomatoes with jalapenos
6 to 8 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons cumin
salt to taste
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons harina or flour
2 cans pinto beans

Saute the chopped onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil until soft and transluscent. Add the meat in batches and brown. Return all browned meat to the pot and add the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the salt, chili powder, cumin and cocoa powder and combine well. Cover with water and simmer until the meat is tender.

Once the meat is tender, add the canned beans with their juices. Simmer another 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Combine the harina or flour with equal amount of water and stir into chili to thicken. Cook until thick. Serve!

Note: this is not very hot chili, so offer sliced jalapenos or hot pepper sauce for those who like it very spicy. The cocoa is a traditional Mexican ingredient.

What do you do for dinner on Thanksgiving Eve? Go out? Have a favorite pre-Turkey Day recipe you would like to share? Let the cooking begin!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize (the UK's top literary award) for achievement in fiction this year. Since it is a historical novel about my favorite period of English history (the Tudors), I snapped it right up.

The story centers on Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who rose from very humble beginnings to become a lawyer, secretary to Cardinal Wolsey and ultimately was named Earl of Essex by King Henry VIII. Cromwell had enormous influence on the course of English history during the decade in which he was in power as the closest advisor to the King. This was the period that saw Catherine of Aragon set aside for Anne Boleyn; Anne Boleyn executed; her successor Jane Seymour die after childbirth and the disastrous match with Anne of Cleaves.

It is also the period that saw great changes in the English government and society as Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church over his desire to divorce his first wife. Cromwell was one of the most influential figures of this period. He was sympathetic to the Reformation movement, but was always a realist.

Wolf Hall focuses on the rise of Cromwell, who fixed his star to Anne Boleyn, and ends just before her arrest and subsequent execution. Although the book has received a lot of fulsome praise by critics, I have some problems with it.

First of all, it really demands that the reader have a good background in the history of the period. Most historical fiction writers supply enough background along the way so that the reader who is not familiar with the period and people depicted can follow it. Wolf Hall does not.

Secondly, I found the writing style awkward. Too often I found it difficult to figure out who "he" was. In fact I almost gave up reading it about half way through out of frustration.

Thirdly, there were so much extraneous detail and so many minor characters that the main themes of the novel were overshadowed.

I did learn a lot about Cromwell's influence on the reformation of both the English government and the English church. He was a canny politician who used his methodical and logical mind to rise to power in a cynical and treacherous court. Ultimately, he fell from favor and lost his head--but that is a novel for another day. I read somewhere that Mantel plans a series for this character.

Writing a historical novel about Thomas Cromwell was a great idea but I think Mantel should have focused the narrative more tightly on her main character. I'll probably read her sequel, if there is one, in the hope that she does that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Landscaping Completed!

I'm excited that we completed the landscaping in the back yard of our new house just in time for Thanksgiving!

Since I miss having a pool here, I designed this "water feature" that was completed a couple of days ago. Beatrice thinks it is her personal drinking fountain and a worthy replacement for the Pool Dragon that she used to chase at the old house.

This type of fountain is called a Bubbling Pot, even though these are more like big Southwestern style urns. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Who Wore It Better, Redux

Over at Portia's blog, Olivia is demanding a recount!

PresbyBloggers Adult Bible Study Post

Go over to Presbyterian Bloggers today to read my post about the Bible Study Discussion program at my church and hopefully, a good discussion in the comments about what makes a successful adult Bible study program.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Striving To Be a Starfish Presbytery

(From Rev. Mike Cole's State of the Presbytery address last Saturday available at

  • tired of war and needs a people committed to peace
  • weary of fearfulness and needs a church which is courageous
  • jaded by self-serving charlatans and needs people who hold fast to that which is good and renders no one evil for evil
  • frustrated with survival of the fittest and needs those who will strengthen the fainthearted and support the weak
  • fatigued from all the “isms” and needs a church which helps the afflicted and honors everyone
  • tired of bad news and needs a church which loves and serves the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit
  • starfish-like in character
  • decentralized in its power and knowledge
  • able to regenerate new life even when losing part of its body
  • Flexible and fluid
  • where relationships and trust matter more than structure and statutes
To which I say, Amen!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dachsie Holiday Fashion Quiz

Portia bought Olivia an outfit for Christmas this weekend, so of course Beatrice had to try it on, too.

Who wears it better?




Monday, November 16, 2009

Sailing Retreat

Last Thursday and Friday I was on retreat with fellow Bible Study Discussion leaders from our church. Our leader was my good friend Mary Marcotte, who is also an Associate General Presbyter for our presbytery.

Mary's theme was Sailing Lessons for Leaders and I'm still pondering all the implications of it. Mary talked about how the sailboat was a symbol of the early church: the mast is in the shape of the cross; the boat is the church itself which is tossed on the seas of worldliness, disbelief and persecution with its precious cargo of human souls which it transports to our heavenly home.

The power of the sailboat is in the wind--and the power of the church is in the Holy Spirit which is known as the ruah or breath of God. We spent time discussing how often we are furiously trying to row the boat of the church with our own power, ignoring the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then we wonder why we get frustrated!

It was a powerful retreat and I was doubly blessed by being with the wonderful BSD leaders and being led by my good friend. Now I'm going to try to find a place to store those oars and see if I can leave them there for a while. My arms are pretty sore!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Presbytery of New Covenant Report: Overture and IKE

Our presbytery had its last meeting of the year today. Attendance was the highest we have seen in a long time, perhaps because of the overture brought by First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Here is the text of the overture:
The Session of First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood, Texas, requests the Presbytery of New Covenant to overture the 219th General Assembly (2010) to:

“joyfully reaffirm the historic, biblical and Christological teaching of the Church on the topic of marriage as a gift from God to bless humankind. As God created man and woman, so does God call some men and women to live together as husband and wife. God’s very order and design defines the institution of marriage.”
It passed by a written vote of 107 to 86. There was a good discussion before the vote. This overture will now be forwarded by Presbytery of New Covenant for consideration at next year's General Assembly. There is no doubt there will be other overtures on this subject on both sides of the issue that will be sent from other presbyteries.

The presbytery also showed an outstanding video about Hurricane Ike recovery (or lack of it) in southeast Texas since that storm hit just a little more than a year ago. You can view the video on the presbytery's website here. Then if you are inspired to come assist, here is more information about bringing your team down to this area to help with the rebuilding effort: Bring your mission team to Texas!

Donations for Hurricane Ike relief have been LESS THAN 1% of what was contributed for Hurricane Katrina relief. Yet Ike was the third most destructive hurricane in American history. It hit Galveston Texas with force 2 winds but a force 5 storm surge. It is estimated that it will take at least four more years to complete the recovery effort.

At lunch today I visited with a woman whose daughter and son-in-law had left Galveston and relocated to San Antonio after Ike because there was so little infrastructure left in the community. Now she is trying to establish a medical practice and he is trying to establish a law practice in a new town. There are many more stories like this one.

It was a good presbytery meeting--the music was provided by the Calabash Choir, an African group that is part of the church hosting the meeting. They had the frozen chosen moving around more than a bit!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring the Nisei Vets

Monday at the CE Chicks luncheon, we discovered that the father of one of our group was a member of WWII's fabled 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of Americans of Japanese descent.

That unit broke through enemy lines and rescued survivors of the First Battalion of the Texas 141 Regiment (the Lost Battalion) and led them to safety after they had fallen into a trap of Nazi forces in the mountains of northern France in October, 1944.

Last week there was a big dinner honoring the surviving members of the 442nd and 441st in Houston. I read this story in the Houston Chronicle about it, but didn't realize that one of the men quoted in the piece was my friend's father. The photo here is from the Chronicle's story.

She attended the dinner with her father and said it was a wonderful evening. Recently a couple of journalists from Japan came to her parents' home to interview him about his experiences during the war and take pictures. Like many veterans, he never talked about his wartime service so she heard new stories about this time in his life.

God bless him and his comrades for their service to our country during a time in which Japanese Americans were interned and treated with suspicion and discrimination.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: Mennonite In A Little Black Dress

You can't blame a girl for going home to Mom and Dad after suffering a botched hysterectomy; having her husband leave her for another man; and being seriously injured in an auto accident within a few weeks' time. Rhoda Janzen returned to her Mennonite roots (her father is a Mennonite pastor and seminary professor) used her skills as a poet and teacher of creative writing at Hope College to write a memoir about growing up and away from her roots in the Mennonite community.

When I was offered a review copy of Mennonite in A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, the publisher's marketing folks highlighted the rave review from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of one of my least favorite books.

So I almost declined, but then was intrigued with the Mennonite angle since some of my father's family were Swiss Mennonites and I don't know much about them. For the record, Janzen is a WAY more sympathetic author than Gilbert and there is very little similarity between their two books.

Janzen wants us all to know that Mennonites are Not the Amish. They are too liberal for the Amish who split off to go their more conservative way back in the day. But the Mennonites are definitely much more like the Amish than most of us are, and Janzen offers some very witty and wry observations that made me laugh out loud.

I particularly enjoyed the top 5 Shame-Based Foods for Mennonite lunches, which included Platz and Borscht. Her ancestors were from the Ukraine, but I bet if they had been Swiss like mine she would have had cheese and chocolate instead!

Although the book has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, it also has thoughtful reflections on how her upbringing shaped her later life and that of her siblings. Interestingly, Janzen says that she once applied to a Mennonite seminary to study theology but changed her mind after hearing from the only female student there. She writes that she still believes in God but questions much of the conservative theology she grew up with. Becoming thoroughly secular in her marriage to an atheist, she never replaced that religious viewpoint with anything else. Nevertheless she portrays her Mennonite family, community, religion and culture with sympathy, affection and loyalty.

Mennonite in A Little Black Dress is written in a conversational style that is witty, insightful, thought-provoking and never whiney. I really enjoyed reading it and would like to read more from this author.

Monday, November 09, 2009

How about a Mini-Tree?

It's still two weeks from Thanksgiving, but my mailbox overfloweth with catalogues featuring Christmas decorations. And that made me start thinking about how to decorate the new house for the Christmas season.

I threw out my old spindly fake tree when we moved. Portia and Babs had made fun of it for years because they said it was shaped like El Jefe--tall and thin. But it fit perfectly in the living room at our old house!

The new house is so Mediterranean/Texas Hill Country in style that I'm rethinking my traditional decorations. I don't think I want to have a large tree anymore, so maybe a tabletop size would be a good idea, something like this:

Family allergies prevent bringing in a real tree, so it has to be fake. But I could use a rosemary bush if I wanted something real. Like this:

Luminarias would be pretty at the front entrance and down the loggia, particularly if I can find battery-operated ones and not have to use the candles that will make El Jefe very nervous that the house will burn down!

It will be a very different look! Are you thinking about making changing your Christmas decorating this year?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Honoring Those Killed at Fort Hood

The Texas Governor ordered all flags flown at half staff in the state in honor of the soldiers killed yesterday at Fort Hood by one of their own officers. (And yes, he has the authority to do that.)

Yesterday we also learned that my nephew, who is a surgeon in the US Navy, will be deployed to Afghanistan early in January. His wife is expecting their first child in mid-December. We are proud of his service and will do everything we can to support his family while they are gone.

My prayers are with all of those families who had loved ones killed or injured yesterday.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Whither Synods?

~PresbyPolityGeek Alert: this post is about synods~

Two interesting overtures and one proposal about synods emerged in the last couple of weeks.

An overture from Rocky Mountains presbytery would restructure synods so that more responsibility is returned to presbyteries, while the overture from New Hope Presbytery calls for the elimination of synods altogether so that the PCUSA would have three levels of polity rather than one.

Meanwhile Presbyterians for Renewal are calling for the formation of
a new non-geographic synod for the conservative/evangelical wing of the denomination.

That's a lot of early focus on synods. When I attended Moderator Training a couple of years ago, I heard many stories about synods that are not able to function well, or at all, because of lack of funding and lack of interest in participating in their work.

It seems to me that synods are a relic of the nineteenth century. Back when travel depended on horses or trains, it was expensive and time consuming to gather on a national level and the "super-regional" grouping of the synod made some sense.

I don't think it does any longer. Not only is air travel fast, safe and generally affordable, but more and more connections are made via the internet, email and cell phones than anyone ever dreamed when synods were first created.

Isn't it high time to eliminate synods? Their functions can be assigned to presbyteries, General Assembly, seminaries or other organizations within the denomination.

As for the PFR proposal, although I am often sympathetic with their viewpoint, I think it would be a mistake to perpetuate synods for the purpose of allowing the more conservative churches and pastors to withdraw into their own subgroup.

Withdrawing into an "affinity synod" without leaving the denomination doesn't make any sense to me. If we had a "conservative" synod, then why not create "liberal", "progressive", "centrist" and "emergent" synods. That would be a polity nightmare, wouldn't it? Aren't we called to be salt and light to each other? And doesn't that mean we won't always agree on everything?

More overtures on synods will probably be submitted before the next GA. So far I like the one from New Hope.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Heart-felt Thanks

Going through the mail after being away for the weekend, I opened a thank-you note from a recent bride who is a long-time friend of Portia and Babs and the whole family.

The details are unbloggable for a lot of reasons, but suffice it to say that it was a powerful reminder of the truth that St. Paul wrote in Galatians:

" let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."

I'm verklempt. Talk among yourselves. I'll give you a topic:

The little things we do for others are neither little, nor just things.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Lincoln in Springfield

Here are some photos from our weekend trip to Springfield with El Jefe's Civil War Aficianados group.

The wax figures of the Lincoln family greet you at the museum adjacent to the Lincoln Presidential Library. The exhibits there are very well done. I was very impressed with the replica of the White House (its 3/4 scale) and the video presentations that have been created for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

We found this bronze statue of Abraham and Mary Lincoln just outside the building where Lincoln had his law offices with his partner, Herndon. The statues are life-size, so the group had El Jefe stand next to it to show that he is a bit taller than Lincoln was.

This is the home the Lincolns lived in while in Springfield. They rented it out while in Washington, DC because they planned to return there after he left office. Most of the furniture in it is their original furniture and the colors of the house are carefully matched to the original. It is a comfortable 4 bedroom home that would have been very luxurious for the day--despite the lack of running water or indoor plumbing. There was a "necessary" out in the back yard.

We also visited New Salem, about 20 miles from Springfield, where the young Abe Lincoln lived for a few years and kept an unsuccessful store. The site is a reproduction based on documents from the original settlers there. El Jefe observed that people living there in the 1830's led lives that resembled their ancestors of the 1530's more than their descendants of today.

Across the street from our hotel was the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield where the Lincolns worshipped. Mary Lincoln was a member but Abe never formally joined. There is a pew in the sanctuary marked as the "Lincoln" pew. We had hoped to attend Sunday service there but had to leave early to drive back to the airport in St. Louis. This is still an active congregation today.

Lincoln and all of his family (except his oldest son Robert who is buried at Arlington Cemetery at the behest of his wife) are buried in this impressive tomb in the Springfield cemetery. The structure evolved over several decades. The interior is covered with marble and decorated with bronze statues. Because there was a ghoulish attempt to kidnap Lincoln's body some years after his death, his grave is many feet below the surface in a steel container.

We were all very moved by our visit. We learned a lot of details about Lincoln's life and times that I have never heard anywhere else. For example, Stephen Douglas who lost the Presidency to Lincoln had a man from Georgia as his running mate. Douglas died 6 weeks after Lincoln was inaugurated, so if he had won his vice president would have been very different from Lincoln in his policy and point of view. Although if Douglas had been elected, the civil war may have been delayed it is doubtful it would have been avoided. What would have happened if his running mate had then been president? Would he have adopted Douglas' views on popular soveriegnty and let the South secede? We'll never know, but it gave us a lot to think about.