Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chicken sweet potato chili with kale

The search for the perfect chili is never-ending. I think it should stay that way, ever searching for perfection. I think I got this one from a friend who entered it in a chili cook-off. She graciously shared the recipe with me. The unusual addition of sweet potato and kale is quite interesting and delicious.
I've got a note on this that says it has been revised and I revised some more, but the original source was Cooking Matters. Give credit where credit is due. My photo.
Chicken Sweet Potato Chili with Kale

Olive oil
2 pounds ground chicken breast
1 large onion, chopped
1 large unpeeled sweet potato, washed and cut into chunks
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and cut into medium dice
2 stalks of celery, sliced into bite sized pieces
6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 cups chicken stock
2 15 ounce cans of kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed
2 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 bunch of kale, washed, dried, stripped from the central rib, and cut into ribbons
Handful of okra pods (0ptional)
4 tablespoons chili powder (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Optional garnish: Lime wedges, jalapeño slices, sour cream, or fresh cilantro
Place a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and pour in about a tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is hot, brown the chicken, working in batches until it is nicely caramelized. Remove the chicken from the pot and place in a bowl.

Add more olive oil if necessary, then add the onions, carrots, and sweet potato to the pan until the vegetables have started to soften, and the onion is golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, celery, and red pepper and cook another 4-5 minutes. Add the chili powder and cumin and stir.

Add the beans, tomatoes, browned chicken, and chicken stock to the pot and bring it to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook gently for about 15 minutes. Add the sliced kale and okra and cook another 10 minutes or so, or until the carrots and sweet potato are just tender.

Check for seasoning, adding more chili powder and salt and pepper as needed.

Add garnish if desired.

Serves 10-12

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fadda, Fadda

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2:3

Uh-oh. Fail. Suppose it’s too late to get a Bible that does not include these instructions to older women, a group that includes me. I was trying to grasp all the finer points of this, trying to figure out how to improve my behavior to live more in line with the teachings of scripture. I thought back to all the times in Catholic school when one of the parish priests would come into our classroom to teach religion and the students got to ask the priest questions. And I imagined what it would be like if the priest came before a group of “older women” who got to ask questions about this passage from Titus.

Father O’Brien reads the passage from Titus 2 and all the hands in the room go up. “But Fadda, Fadda,” they say in unison.

Father: “Yes, Mary Margaret.”

Older woman: “Fadda, can you tell me how much wine this means? It doesn’t mention beer, vodka, or pomegranate passion margaritas with salt. Can we just let our conscience be our guide?”

Father: “Perhaps we need to discuss this in the confessional. Next question? Mary Anne?”

Older woman: “About teaching younger women to love their husbands and children. Do we teach them to love the ungrateful slobs when they smoke those stinkin’ cigars in the house and walk all over my clean carpets with muddy shoes and—"

Father: “Perhaps we need to discuss this in the confessional. Next question? Mary Catherine?”
Older woman: “This self-control thing, Fadda. My idiot sister says I have no self-control when it comes to jelly doughnuts. How do I tell her with loving Christian kindness that it’s none of her damned business how many jelly doughnuts I eat?”

Father: “Perhaps we need to discuss this in the confessional. Next question? Mary Theresa?”

Older woman: “I need you to clarify the pure thing, Fadda. What about Isabelle McCafferty when she wears those tight skirts to the K of C dances and sits on all the men’s laps?”

Father: “Perhaps we need to discuss this in the confessional. Next question? Mary Frances?”

Older woman: “About this working at home thing. Fadda, I work my ass off at home [muffled giggling in the room]. Oh, sorry, Fadda, I shouldn’t have said ass in front of you. [She makes the sign of the cross.] Except for the mornings when I drink my coffee and the afternoons when I watch my stories on the TV. I’m exhausted. How much work does this mean?”

Father: “Perhaps we need to discuss this in the confessional. Next question? Mary Kathleen?”

Older woman: “Fadda, you said women should be kind and submissive to their husbands. My late husband, Mr. McGuire—may he rest in peace—drank like a fish, played cards, and never lifted a finger to help me. He was a good man. But he told me to stop nagging, to get off his back, to leave him alone. Should I have been kind and submissive or should I have kept trying to straighten him out?”

Father: “Perhaps we need to discuss this in the confessional. I must go now and tend to my priestly duties. Have a blessed day, ladies.”
Older women, in unison: "Thank you, Fadda."

Hmmm . . . I seemed to have strayed far from the Titus text. Perhaps I need to discuss this in the confessional.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A prayer for God's existence

The thing about grief is that it doesn’t really go away. You may feel reasonably happy, content, at peace with the loss. Then another wave hits you. After time part of the sorrow becomes knowing that it’s just going to be this way forever. Maybe it will wane in intensity, but what you’ve lost won’t come back. It’s the human condition.

This morning I awoke with a heavy heart, a remnant of some dream that I sensed in my gut but could not recall the details. So I prayed, trying to praise God for His glorious grace, trying to thank Him despite my heavy heart. I just needed some comfort.
“ . . . as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” 2 Corinthians 6:10

I walked deeper into the pit. I prayed, pleaded with Him to exist, to make my faith stronger so I can hold on to Him—without doubt—during these waves. I needed to feel God’s presence, needed something as tangible as to see Him walking into the room. He didn’t appear.

Could it be possible that there is no God? What are these prayers if He doesn’t exist? Just a lot of noise in the constellation? The whining, pitiful pleading of an old woman in Virginia, planet Earth? Where do the prayers go if there is no God? Like a child’s letter to Santa Claus—written with love and belief and yearning—do they go to the dead letter office at the North Pole? Does some parent, in an attempt to keep up the charade a little longer, write a response in Santa-like penmanship?

I will not accept that God doesn’t exist. I look at the sky at night, see the Rocky Mountains, look at the miracle of my five grandchildren, and I have to believe there is a power that created all of this. I see how things have been designed—from the order of the cosmos down to the intricacies of the smallest organisms—and I have to believe, want to believe it is the work of a good and sovereign God. No, I don’t simply want to believe it, I plead to believe it.

Please exist, Lord. Please let your plan of salvation be real. If my prayers are going to a dead letter office I don’t want to know. Let me be full of awe, full of faith, confident that there will be a happy ending to this story. Let me hold on to your promise to the end of my days.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Be still

Sometimes we can find God quite easily. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes our heart is like the sun. Sometimes the heart is like a stone. Such loss is among our deepest griefs. Some say we can never find God, but only be still until God finds us. Only “be still and know.” Unattended Sorrow by Stephen Levine

Last night I read that passage. Funny how these things pop up that echo my current thoughts. I have been living especially quietly in the past week or so, trying to hear the voice of God, trying to discern His will. Reading this reaffirmed my instinct that I don’t need to be banging around, beating my head against a wall, wondering what I should do.  This is not something I figure out by planning and thinking and mulling over options ad nauseam. (My primary concern is leaving my church and finding a new church.) I just need to quiet my mind and wait for God to find me.
Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Uniform dating code

In my little world it seems lately that everyone is telling me a story about someone who met the love of their life through an online dating service. “Perhaps,” they suggest, “you should try it.” I turn red, shrink down in my chair, and start to whimper. How do I tell them I have tried these match things and I have horror stories to tell about my misadventures.

You could argue that my point-of-view is skewed. Maybe I just had bad luck and maybe I just don’t understand the world of dating. I have had little experience dating. When I was 20 years old, I married the first guy I dated. Before that I went to a Catholic girls’ school. I practically had to hire an escort to take me to my high school proms. So when I met an eligible guy, a good-looking, intelligent young man with a future, I married him. Don’t get the wrong impression—I loved him and, despite lots of heartache, I don’t regret it. But after 30 years of marriage he left.

What does a single woman my age do if she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life sleeping single in a double bed? Soon after the divorce, everyone kept telling me that there were lots of wonderful men out there, men who would love to meet me. (I keep hearing the Rolling Stones singing, “They’re just dyin’ to meet cha.”) Some of these people claimed to know these eligible men and promised to fix me up with them. It never happened. Later these same friends coaxed me to try dating services or personals ads.

Nearly two years after my husband left, with the voices of the coaxers in my ears, I began to scan the personals ads in the back of Washingtonian magazine. Back then, before, it was the thing to do. For a couple of months I did nothing more than look at the ads and circle the ones I thought were interesting. Finally I got up enough nerve to call one of them and left a message and he called back. His name was Bob, he was an accountant for a company that makes household appliances, and he had never been married. He was vaguely interesting on the phone and seemed harmless, so we agreed to meet at the bar in the lobby of a local hotel—a very safe public place. Bob’s only distinguishing characteristic was that he was so bland I can’t remember what he looked like. Maybe he had brown hair, average height, average weight.

We discovered that we had grown up within a few miles of one another; that I went to the local Catholic girls’ school while he went to the large public school; and that I was two years older than he was. “I always wanted one of those older Catholic school girls, the uniforms were sort of a turn-on for me,” he confessed with not a hint of shame. Never in all my years wearing uniforms did I ever imagine that any of us were exuding a scintilla of sexual allure. What was this man thinking? What would the nuns think if they knew this about the boys who sat in cars in the parking lot back in the 1960s? The nuns called these boys “freshies”; surely there would be some nuns rolling in their graves if they heard this about these boys’ sexual fantasies.

Perhaps he had a right to his own harmless fantasies, but a first date was not the ideal occasion to reveal his attraction to teenaged girls in parochial school attire. This little tidbit was the least of Bob’s faults. After less than 45 minutes, when he ordered his seventh beer, I walked out of the hotel bar. He tried to follow me to the car and tried to kiss me before I explained to him exactly why I was leaving. “In-ap-pro-pri-ate,” I said, enunciating each syllable. Maybe he was too drunk to understand the comment. I just drove away.
So, what were these uniforms that stirred the lust of at least one teenaged boy? We wore camel’s-hair wool blazers with the school emblem on the pocket, white shirts, and brown skirts that were required to touch to floor when we knelt, which happened frequently. Our feet were clad in sexy brown-and-white saddle shoes with white bobby socks. On the final day of senior year, many of those saddle shoes were strung up the flagpole in front of the school. The uniform enforcers constantly battled with the rebellious girls who rolled up the skirts at the waist to make them shorter. For some reason the skirt rollers didn’t care that they ended up with a fat roll of fabric at their waists as long as they could expose a little knee.

We wore this day-to-day uniform every day for four years. But on a few very special days, perhaps once each year, we were instructed to wear our “formal uniform” to school. This special privilege was reserved for the high holy days at Regina High School, the days when Mother Provincial came to visit the school. Mother Provincial is like the Dalai Lama, the pope, the Queen Mother all rolled into one, the nun who rules all the other nuns. So when Mother Provincial came to town, we scrubbed the school from top to bottom and wore the fancy uniforms. The special uniform consisted of all the elements of the everyday uniform—blazer, skirt, blouse, socks, and saddle shoes—but with two notable additions—we added white gloves and stockings. The white gloves looked pretty silly with the heavy woolen uniforms, but the stockings were the piéce de résistance. This was an era in women’s fashion before the introduction of pantyhose, so nylon stockings were worn with a garter belt. It was the only way to keep up the stockings in the 1960s. Keep in mind the fact that these stockings were worn under the bobby socks and saddle shoes. Quite fetching.

On the 45-minute date with Bob, I didn’t tell him about the stockings and garter belts. Considering his lusty attraction to Catholic high school girls in frumpy brown uniforms, it’s probably a detail best kept from him.

And here's an old photo (my graduating class) that shows the basic uniform with prom variation.

Monday, October 14, 2013


“Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” Bob Seger, Against the Wind

You know you’re getting old when you start yearning for the good old days. Lately an entire industry has popped up to try to teach people how to simplify their lives—books and magazine articles, workshops and websites. Isn’t that what life was like in the 1950s?

Imagine this—no one could get in touch with you by telephone if you weren’t at home. And that’s if your mother or the people who shared your party line weren’t already using the line. Callers got a busy signal. I love busy signals so much that I recorded one and use it as my alternative message on my answering system. There were no cellphones, iPods, pagers, or GPS devices. People couldn’t track you down—such peace.

We had one car—the family car. I never had my own car until I was grown and married.

My family went out to eat about once a year at the Hot Shoppes where we ordered a hamburger or liver and onions with a milkshake. Otherwise we ate at home—every night my mother cooked pot roast or Hungarian goulash or tuna noodle casserole. We always ate our vegetables and we always had dessert. During dinner the whole family sat together around the table and we listened to my father’s stories about his day at work. We didn’t fret about the nutrition standards in the school cafeteria because there was no school cafeteria. We brought lunch in a paper bag from home and ate at our desks in the classroom and there was no talking during lunch.

There were no artificial hormones in the milk because we got it delivered in the milk box on the back step by a local dairy farmer my father knew from his school days. There was no fluoride in the water. We got a lot of cavities and no one had braces.
My clothes consisted of a school uniform and a few other things. The other things included one or two church-appropriate dresses and maybe two pairs of shoes and a coat. By the time I got to high school I also had a navy blue wool skirt and a white blouse and a pair of blue jeans. Then the blue jeans didn’t come worn in. They were stiff as a board and you had to wash them and wear them over and over and over again before they got that vintage, worn-in look. (I finally got that look just in time for the protest movements in the 1960s—perfect timing.) Now you can’t even buy stiff jeans like that unless you go to a western store that sells clothes for cowboys.

We played with our siblings and kids in the neighborhood. We built clubhouses and organized our own horribly dysfunctional carnivals. The boys tortured small animals that they captured and the girls ran and told their parents. The boys played sports and served as altar boys; the girls weren’t allowed to do such things. We went to the local high school on Saturday mornings for classes that included hula dancing and baton twirling—skills that I still find useful (ha!).

At Halloween we went to every house in the neighborhood without adult supervision because we knew all the neighbors and we never came home with razor blades or poisoned candy; though often we came home with crumpled cookies and loose popcorn in the bottom of our bags. On Valentine’s Day we gave a card to every single one of the 50+ kids in our class, even the unfortunate Thomas Wojick who had the giant tooth in the middle of his mouth and weighed 200 pounds in 4th grade. It was just the right thing to do. I hope Thomas Wojick didn’t save the valentine from me, thinking I was his sweetheart.

Surely our parents had financial woes, family spats, and work issues. But my father went to work at the telephone company immediately after World War II and worked there until the day he retired 40 years later. We moved once—just a mile away—because we needed a bigger house as the family grew.

There was stability, predictability, some might presume boredom. Certainly there were stories of abuse and unkindness in our community that people hid from one another. There were diseases, now easily treated, that killed people back then. Fathers dropped dead of heart attacks and mothers died in childbirth. There were scary priests and squirrelly neighbors but we just considered them part of life.

The one thing that I miss about that time is the simplicity. We didn’t know life could get so complicated. We didn’t know how dangerous it could be. We didn’t know that whole groups of people could hate other whole groups of people. Our elected leaders governed with civility. We weren’t bombarded every waking moment with images of war and the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man.

I suppose the former children of my generation have to let our children raise our grandchildren differently in order to protect them from a dangerous world and to prepare them for an increasingly complicated world. I just wish they didn’t have to work so hard to make it simple.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Losing my religion, part two

Last week I wrote a post on this blog about leaving my church and after about two days I deleted the post. I deleted it not because I have changed my mind, but because my words were too harsh. I loved my church and the people in it. I just have a strong difference of opinion with the leadership on the issue of forgiveness. And now I ask forgiveness for my harshness, for lashing out in anger. It was wrong.

Today is my first Sunday without my church and I feel lost. I have had a string of deep, deep losses in the past three years and my faith and the support of my church and my close friends has pulled me through. And now, not being part of the church is another huge loss for me. The rhythm of my life—going to worship service on Sunday morning and to community group on Wednesday night—has been changed. Already I miss celebrating the births and the marriages, the affirmation of new life.

I ask the Lord to bring me through yet another big loss. The image of the woman touching the hem of His garment, trusting that she would be healed, has been on my mind. I don’t have Him here, can’t see Him performing miracles. Can I have that kind of faith without something tangible, something I can see and touch?

Luke 8:48—“And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’”