Kitchen Storytelling

In the afterword to Cook & Tell, his collection of cherished “narrative recipes”, Georgia food writer and raconteur Johnathan Scott Barrett offers his readers a challenge.  “I hope you’ll be inspired to take pen to paper and capture some of your best recollections that come to mind.  Write what you feel, what you remember, and why that recipe, or those dishes, meant something special to you and your family.”

So then…

Three ingredients, and minimal preparation.  I suspect these qualities commended the recipe to the leaders of the annual Vacation Bible School at the First Methodist Church of Liberty, Texas that summer of 1978, when I was staying with my grandparents for the week.  To a hopelessly unathletic, nearsighted, bookish, introverted boy-child, my grandparents’ home and community in those days was a welcome sanctuary of peace, love, and unconditional acceptance.  I remember leaving the  church kitchen that day after we’d made the cookies, with a few of them in a plastic sandwich bag and a copy of the recipe (printed with purple mimeograph ink) taped to the bag.  Grammy and I each had a cookie as we drove back to the cozy mid-century ranch-style house on Webster Street, saving some for Granddaddy for after dinner. 

She adopted the recipe as her signature cookie, making probably hundreds of dozens over the following years.  She would cool them completely, then freeze them in large Tupperware containers, layered between waxed paper.  Without fail, when anyone would drop by for a visit (expected or otherwise) she would have a plate of lemon wafers ready for guests.

22 years later, on a Saturday in June of 2000, I was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church.  I went to visit her at the house on Webster Street the following day, and spent several hours sitting at her bedside.  We spoke very little, and as I took my leave I leaned close to kiss her goodbye.  “I love you” I said.  “I love you too—so very much” she replied, in that sweet soft voice.  The following Thursday morning early, the phone rang.  My mother was calling, to tell me that her mother, my Grammy, had died in the early morning hours.  Sometime in the days that followed, as we met with the then-current pastor of the First Methodist Church to plan the service, he kindly asked me if I wanted to have a role in the service.  “Yes,” I told him.  “I want to sit in the front row and cry.  That’s my role in this service.”  And it was, and I did.

A year later, I was ordained as a priest in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waco, Texas.  Following the ordination liturgy, the assembly adjourned to the parish hall for a grand reception.  Prominently displayed in the middle of the buffet table was an enormous platter of lemon wafers.  I gasped, then wept, when I saw them, and immediately went to the committee members who had organized the party to find out who had brought them.  They did not know.  No one could say who had brought lemon wafers to the celebration; they were never seen at a St. Paul’s gathering before or after that night.

When I hear the stories in the book of Exodus, of the mysterious heaven-sent manna that sustained the children of Israel all those years in the desert, I wonder if it didn’t look and taste just a little bit like these…

Lemon Wafers

1 box lemon cake mix (see Notes)

1 egg

1 “scant” cup vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly.  The batter should be rather firm, but not stiff.  Measure out by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 3” between cookies (they will spread out quite a bit).  Bake at 350° for 8-12 minutes until cookies brown slightly around the edges.  Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Note 1:  Don’t use “extra-moist” or “pudding in the mix” cake mix for this recipe.  Plain (cheap!) boxed cake mix is sufficient. 

Note 2:  In recent years, cake mix companies seem to have reduced the quantity contained in each package (presumably as a cost-saving measure.)  You may need to reduce the quantity of oil slightly in response. 

Challenged

Frankly I’d forgotten that I even *had* a personal blog. Let alone two of them…one of which I can’t seem to access, but it’s on the internet and of course nothing ever really disappears. You can read those posts at https://precentor-aviewfromtheporch.blogspot.com if you like.

Someone actually found that blog and asked me point-blank “Why aren’t you writing more? You’ve got some good things to say!” Part of my recent self-discovery is that I need to push myself to share more…whether or not other people need to hear about it, I need to get it out there. So here’s the deal: I will commit to posting at least weekly on here, something. Maybe my unfiltered current nonsense of the moment, maybe a meditation or poem or short story. I’ve got a few ideas in mind already.

I have been so richly blessed and guided by the words of mentors and “wisdom people” who do this kind of work, sharing from their own experiences and reflections. Perhaps this may be a blessing to someone else as it unfolds in the future. In any case, we need all the “good words” we can get in this strange and fear-filled season of early fall 2020.

See you on the porch!

Blowing out the cobwebs

Hi everyone!

Wow things have changed since the last post!  I’m now living in Oklahoma, serving a lively active parish and engaging ministry and life in lots of unexpected ways.  I hope to be more regular in posting on here, as a consistent discipline for my own development and to share the good things I’m discovering.  Yesterday was the first Sunday in Lent, we’ve begun the countdown to Holy Week and the Three Holy Days.

This year St. Michael’s is employing a series of prayer stations, or “Rest Stops” around the worship space, where people can pause after communion or before/after service and pray using various kinds of objects (sand, water, candles, stones) as “outward and visible signs” of their own journey of faith.  We introduced these on Sunday, and I deliberately slowed down during the administration of communion to make room for anyone who wanted to participate to do so.  And they did–then, and following the liturgy.  Several people who are usually very “cut-and-dried” about everything were right there with their hands in the desert bowl…Holy Spirit, come!

Grace and peace, y’all 🙂

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

…and the clergy (and musicians, and altar guild, and lectors) are dead 🙂

Not quite, of course.  The events of Holy Week and the Three Sacred Days are energizing and life-giving in many ways, but there certainly is a lot to keep track of.  I had the honor of keeping the Triduum with a local congregation whose rector is away on medical leave, and it was an honor indeed.  A former rector of the parish was “an icon junkie” and left them a significant library of icons for the various feasts and biblical stories.  The Resurrection (Anastasis) icon is ENORMOUS–almost 5 feet wide by 4 feet tall.  It was unveiled during the Easter Vigil on Saturday night and remained in place for the Easter morning services the next day.  I was able to use it as a teaching tool during the sermons (a new experience for this preacher.  Maybe I need to rethink projection screens in the chancel…)  Music was great, readers were splendid, flowers and candles and festive celebration of the Easter eucharists (with champagne as our altar wine) all proclaimed in their own way the joy and mystery of the Resurrection.  Many thanks, dear ones!Easter 2016

A View From The Road: Texas Edition, Day 1

Newly arrived at my parents’ home  after two days travel.  Got some disappointing news this morning, so Plan B is now in play. Family Reunion tomorrow with the extended clan near the family home place, looking forward to the gathering and seeing folks.  Grieving victims of violence in France, Kenya, Syria, Lebanon.  Grieving the violence we enact upon one another, in thought and speech and action…mostly thoughtlessly and driven by fear.

Music and Beauty: Silver Bay Recital Series, Hague, NY

Certain friends (and Friends) will already know that the cover photo of this blog shows the front porch of the Inn at Silver Bay, a YMCA camp and conference center and, for me at least, one of  the holy places on earth.  We’ve been coming here every summer since 2005, and every time I find something more, something new, something amazing.

Tonight, as on many Sunday evenings during the summer season, the Silver Bay String Quartet performed a recital in Hughes Chapel.  I knew the quartet (made up of professional musicians from New York and New England) was top-notch, but in all truth I had never taken the time in previous summers to go and hear them on the Sunday series.

Well. I will not make that mistake again.

The program tonight began with the Allegretto from the String Quartet in D, K. 575, a lovely bit of Mozartiana composed for the King of Prussia, himself an accomplished cellist.  Unlike many other quartets wherein the cello merely holds the tonic of the chord while the other instruments arpeggiate about and show off, here the cellist him-or-herself gets to do a good bit of showing off also.  Cellist Andrea Chandler offered her audience a marvelous and somewhat cheeky rendition pf the piece, with the able support of her colleagues.  I had intentionally selected a seat very near the platform, better to watch as well as listen to the peformers, and Chandler’s facial expressions clearly demonstrated she was having fun tonight.

The next selection was the first movement from the first string quartet of Charles Ives, written in his student days at Yale.  I have to confess that I’m not been much of an Ives fan in the past, but I may need to revisit that judgment.  The Andante is built as a fugue, using the hymn tunes “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. Ives takes these tunes, well-known in his day and not entirely lost to modern hearers, and creates a lush, late Romantic treatment of the material wherein subject and countersubject weave in and out of one another, sometimes presenting in melodic form, sometimes in rhythmic. The piece does not yet demonstrate the mature composer that Ives will later become, but nevertheless a delightful and occasionally humorous treatment of the material, which (one hopes) was more than satisfactory to his composition professor at the time.

Meredith Arksey, first violin, informed the audience that these first two pieces were “merely the appetizers, to set up the main course to follow.”  This “main course” was the Brahms Piano Quintet, Op. 34. Pianist Olga Gurevich joined the quartet for this endeavor, and friends, let me tell you: If you are in the New York area and have the opportunity to hear Mme. Gurevich perform, take immediate advantage of it.  She is fantastic, and I greatly hope she may grace Silver Bay’s musical scene again in summers to come.

The Brahms Op. 34 is one of those pieces that you know, even if you don’t know that you know it.  The third and fourth movements in particular are highly recognizable, although I’m willing to admit that in my case, that may be a function of watching Bugs Bunny cartoons in my youth.  But I digress.

Violist Marshall Meade, in introducing the piece, noted that Brahms wrote it in a way that allows each instrument to perform at its own best and most accomplished.  It is of course an ensemble piece, as all chamber music is, but everyone in the quintet gets their own chance to shine.  And did they ever.

I mentioned above that I sat near to the platform, in order to watch the musicians as they created the music of the evening.  This is a hard-working group, performing a completely different program every Sunday night during the summer season.  While I can’t say they made it *look* easy (fierce concentration was evident, as they glanced between music stands and one another to follow, or lead, as the music unfolded), the sounds they produced were splendid.  From the most gracious, subdued clarity in tranquil moments, to thundering outpourings of passion as the notes pursued one another across the chapel’s vaulted ceiling, the players gave their all this night.  At the silence following the last chord, I expected the audience to stand and start cheering and shouting.  Although applause was effusive and enthusiastic, I was astonished at how quickly it ceased and the  hearers began chatting among themselves.

In a letter to her friend and colleague Julia Child, editor Avis DeVoto describes going to the service of Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge and the music’s beauty “tearing you up inside, all over.”  That’s what tonight felt like.

Congratulations to the Silver Bay String Quartet and Mme. Gurevich, on a truly splendid performance.  Bravi, bravi a tutti!