It’s Cobblerin’ Time!

Among the things I’ve done in the past week:

— I went backstage at a Jewel concert, having been chosen as an official blogger for the concert by the tour’s sponsor
— When I blogged about the experience, I set a new traffic record for my blog and got a response from Jewel herself
— I met with the head of the National Space Society’s policy committee to discuss his thoughts on current events
— I reobtained the second copy I ever had of my first book
— I generated dozens of pages of text for my second book
— I acted in an improv comedy show, which was hilarious
— I ordered a new iPhone
— I made blackberry cobbler

It says something about my life that the item in that list that stands out the most to me is the last one. I’ve never made blackberry cobbler before. It was kind of exciting to actually do it.

It was sad how happy it made me. But, one, it was good. Two, I am so unhandy in the kitchen it’s unreal. This was incredibly easy to make; I mean, unbelievably easy to make, and yet I was disproportionately proud of it because I am so incompetent in this area. But, in its way, making the cobbler was also liberating and redemptive.

I told the story the other day of why I had to make it — my friend Heather wanted to make a bet as to whether Jewel would play Sweet Home Alabama at her concert Sunday. Seemed reasonable to me she would; she didn’t. The stake was that the loser would bring cobbler to work, and so on Friday I did. I actually made two; the first to make sure I could do it, the second to take to work.

I have a long history with blackberry cobbler. It’s kind of a favorite, and, for me, with my general disdain for favorites, that’s saying something. My ex-wife, Nicole, loved it, and that wore off on me. After the divorce, that was kind of a negative association, but my ex-fiancée brought it into our relationship very early and sort of redeemed it for me. And, unlike Nicole, she actually made it herself. Not bad, either. The end of that relationship cast shadows on blackberry cobbler again, but not to the same extent, since it was no longer something associated with one particular person or epoch.

So when Heather and I made the bet, part of me actually hoped to lose. I figured it would be a good opportunity for me, providing motivation to do something that would be good for me to do. And, really, it was. I can now have homemade blackberry cobbler whenever I want, without needing anyone to make it. (Over a year ago, when I became a hot redhead and went to prom with Marshall Space Flight Center’s resigning director I wrote a post talking about how I accidentally once declared that I wanted to become the woman of my dreams. Cobbler baking was a big step toward that.) And, to be honest, the two cobblers I made this week were more consistently good than hers was, though that’s partially because the recipe was so unambitious.

And, it’s redemptive. My latest association I have with blackberry cobbler is very positive, something I’m proud of, and something nobody can take from me later.

So hooray for the redemptive power of tasty blackberry cobbler!

If anyone’s interested, I’ll share the incredibly ridiculously easy recipe I used, largely because of how incredibly unlikely the idea of me blogging a recipe is:

1 stick butter or margarine
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups fruit

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in glass 8-by-10-inch pan or 2-quart casserole. Mix flour, sugar and milk until lumps are gone. Pour batter into butter. Place fruit on top. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Makes 9 servings.

Like I said, sad how proud I am of that, but there you go.

Tonight’s The Night

This post is one of a series I’m writing as part of my participation as an official blogger for COUNTRY Financial/Cotton States’ Road Trips and Guitar Picks tour program, covering Jewel’s June 13 concert in Huntsville, where I’ll have backstage access.

So tonight’s the night! After a couple of weeks of me blogging about it, a friend and I will be attending Jewel’s concert at the Von Braun Center here in Huntsville, and meeting Jewel backstage! (It occurs to me this may be a wasted post, since few people read my blog on Sunday, and the concert will be in the past tomorrow.)

This once-in-a-lifetime experience includes a backstage performance by Jewel, a question and answer session, and a group photo with Jewel. The Backstage Experience will also include a hospitality menu of hors d’oeuvres and beverages. You will be escorted back to the theater to enjoy the show.

So, yeah, I’m kinda excited about it. I’ve probably said most of what I have to say about it over the last couple of weeks, though I’m sure I’ll have more to say after. I didn’t realize how close Jewel and I are in age until very recently, and so I’m looking even more forward to the Q&A session because of that. There are a handful of artists that I really like that are about my age, and it’s been really neat to follow them as they’ve matured along with me. From the sound of Sweet & Wild, Jewel’s at a really great place in her life right now.

On a side note, my friend Heather is also going with a friend of hers to the concert, and challenged me to a bet as to whether or not Jewel will perform her version of Sweet Home Alabama tonight. I’m taking the stance that she will, based on other concerts I’ve been to where the artists have played their songs about the place they’re playing. At stake, homemade blackberry cobbler. Neither one of us has ever made blackberry cobbler before, and I really can’t cook at all, so it should be an interesting bet. (A year ago, I made a big bowl of “blackberry thing” that kinda resembled cobbler. In my defense, kinda, it wasn’t supposed to.) Could be a pyrrhic victory for my office-mates if I lose, so root for her to sing it.

Summer Is Here

I Disagree

Taken at Cracker Barrel this weekend. If we’re dining together, don’t expect me to honor that.

Glamour Shots

So, yeah, I ate well over the past week.

I was definitely going to blog about my dinner Tuesday night, which we’ll get to in a moment, but I realized I had enough food pics from the trips that really I should just make one omnibus eating post.

The first food of the trip started things off nicely — Corky’s at the airport in Memphis. It wasn’t exactly what I expected; based on the price and name on the menu, I was expecting what I would have gotten at an actual Corky’s restaurant. The first surprise was that there were no sides; I got a rack of ribs and a roll. Which is fine; that was what I was there for, and arguably didn’t need any more food. The other difference was that they didn’t ask me whether I wanted my ribs wet or dry. I’ve had half-and-half ribs at Corky’s before, but they’ve been just that — one half wet, the other half dry. These, by default, came as a hybrid, part of the rack with sauce and part of it with rub. Different, but good.

Dinner Tuesday, as I said, was the most interesting meal of the trip, and possibly the best. Our liaison at Glenn was quite the foodie, and made several recommendations; he and his wife even ended up joining my coworker Heather and I for dinner that night, and made agreeable dinner companions. (There’s a story there I may blog at some point involving robot uprisings, but we’ll see.) Among the suggestions, though, was one stand-out so compelling that no further discussion was required — Steak On A Stone.

The restaurant’s concept — which is apparently patented so no one else in the U.S. can do it — is this: your meat (mainly steak, but other options are available) is served essentially raw on a lava stone that has been heated to 750 degrees. You cut your steak and cook it to your taste one bite at a time as you eat. Sure, there’s something a little ironic about being on a trip and spending a bunch of money (although not bad at all, price-wise) to go out and cook your own supper, but the food was quite good, and the concept paid off two ways — one, it’s actually pretty agreeable to be able to get each single bite of steak exactly right, and, two, it adds a certain entertainment value to the meal. It was funny to notice, though, how much longer it took to finish for the person who liked her steak well-done.

Wednesday was the day of two desserts. It was an accident, really. We were going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but were hungry enough that we wanted to get something to eat before we did. I, on the other hand, really wanted to take advantage of being near a Cheesecake Factory to get some dessert. So, we decided, we’ll get supper, tour the Rock Hall, and then get dessert afterward. Wandering the area, we ended up at another of our liaison’s recommendations, The Chocolate Bar. As the name might imply, their forte is dessert and drinks, but they also have other chocolate-based food, including a chocolate-covered pasta dish and cocoa-rubbed pork loins. Perusing the menu, though, we found the entrees less compelling than the desserts. So, to tide us over for Rock Hall, we got dessert at The Chocolate Bar with plans to get dinner, and dessert again, afterward.

Back in late January, I think, a friend of mine went to see Brad Paisley in concert in Birmingham, and posted on Facebook about the trip as it unfolded. The Brad Paisley part was of no great interest, though I was disappointed to learn that the opening act was Miranda Lambert, whom I actually would have liked to have seen. The most compelling status update, however, was that she was eating a white chocolate red velvet cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory. No sooner were the words read than I knew I must have it.

I made plans to have dinner in Birmingham a couple of weekends later, but, being the night before Valentine’s Day, I wasn’t even willing to wait in the line to find out how long I would have to wait to be seated at The Cheesecake Factory. I went back a week later, and did, in fact, successfully eat at The Cheesecake Factory, but, dinner finished, the waiter revealed they were out of a couple of varieties of cheesecake, including, but not limited to, what at that point became my cheesecake Moby Dick, the white chocolate red velvet.

At that point, it tasked me, and I would have it. So when I was going to be somewhere with a Cheesecake Factory again, I was compelled to try again. And, this time, success! And it was, in fact, good.

There’s one meal I didn’t get a picture of that I must mention, and that’s lunch on Thursday. Easily the least glamorous of the meals mentioned here, but one of the more cool for me: we ate at the cafeteria at Glenn Research Center. Specifically, I ate the salad bar at the cafeteria at Glenn Research Center. (Well, I ate from it, not the whole thing.)

One of the early times I was at Johnson Space Center in Houston, I got a salad. And I was amused that I didn’t think their salad bar was quite as good as ours at Marshall. There’s a history of competition between the two centers, and I was glad to declare victory for MSFC in that area. So then a year and a half ago, we’re visiting Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and have lunch at the cafeteria. So, at that point, well of course I’m going to get the salad bar. And it was very Silicon Valley, full of fancy stuff you wouldn’t see at the other two.

With three NASA salad bars under my belt, on this trip, I actually requested to eat in the cafeteria, just to add another salad bar to my set. And it was good. I still like ours better, but it was perfectly functional.

I shared my cheesecake photo with the friend who inspired it, and the conversation turned to my other food pictures. Another coworker commented that a lot of my pictures from the trip were basically just plain photos, but that I’d obviously put some care into the food pics. (“Oh, yeah, that’s what I like…”) So I was sharing those pics and that story this weekend, and one of my friends at dinner Saturday night in New Orleans wanted me to take a picture of my food there, to add it to the set. Not quite as pleased with my smoked sausage po’boy pic, but here it is nonetheless.

This Is My Body

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “The Rite Of Communion.”

Yeah, this one I can’t even begin to do justice to.

I’ve touched on some of the themes already, in my Reconstruction post about saying grace over dinner and in my Passover post.

But of all the topics on this list, I’ve probably spent as much time thinking about this one in the last couple of years as any of them. For those thatdon’t know, I spent a year visiting different churches, observing the differences in how people worship, and how that affects their view of God and their relationship with Him. And one of the main things I paid attention to was how churches celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Or the sacrament of Eucharist. Or Communion.

The latter name, by the way, is my favorite, and the one I prefer to use. The Lord’s Supper is descriptive, but superficial; it focuses only on the significance of the fact that we are repeating the ritual as instructed by Christ, but fails to reflect the meaning of that ritual. Eucharist — thanksgiving — goes a little further, but is still vague in my opinion. Communion? Yeah, there’s meaning there.

I won’t delve into all the differences I saw. Churches that observe communion every week. Churches that do so quarterly. Churches for whom observing communion is the heart of the service. Open and closed communion. Juice and wine. Crackers and bread. Intinction. Altars.

I’ll get into a quick aside, and say that I’m not as big a fan of intinction, dipping the bread into the cup and taking both together. My usual congregation has adopted this practice, and I really wish we would go back. I prefer to take the two elements separately, and to have the time to meditate on each individually. The exact thoughts I have vary each time, but the themes that keep coming back are the two elements as two aspects of grace through the cross — the bread representing the body, broken for me, the price paid for my sins so that I don’t have to pay it; the cup representing the blood shed in the breaking of the body, the cleansing that comes after the price is paid so that I can move on, righteous once more, not through my righteousness but His. The cup is the second chance, the bread the price that makes it possible.

During my journey, the observance that made the most profound impact on me was at the home-based church I’ve been a part of, however. Almost every time we met, we would begin by having dinner and fellowshipping together before moving into our discussion. And one week, early on, our pastor was saying a blessing over the food, and he used verses from the Lord’s Supper, blessing the bread and the cup.

At the time, it completely caught me off guard. Those words don’t go with this situation. But then — why not? We were gathered together as a church body, we were breaking bread and drinking, we were there to worship Him.

And reading through the epistles, one could make the argument that that was probably not unlike a way “breaking bread” took place in the early church. Not a cold and liturgical ritual, but a social celebration. And that’s why I like “communion,” to be, at its best, that’s what the observance should be, not just communion with Him, but with His church. (That doesn’t mean there’s not merit in the other as well; I celebrated the meaning of Easter this year while in Florida for the launch by observing Eucharist on my own.)

I mentioned in my “saying grace” post that when I pray before eating with other people, I usually include either thanks or blessing for “the opportunity to break bread together.” And that’s the origin of that. If two or more believers are gathered, and are consuming bread and drink, then we are at that point the church, and the prayer recognizes that and consecrates it for His use.

Because when Christ broke the bread, He was talking of it specifically, and in terms of His immenent sacrifice, when He said, “This is My body.”

At the same time, however, there was another level to that — As He spoke the words, He was surrounded by His apostles, the foundation of His church. As He looked around the table, He recognized, “This is My body.”

Today, that honor belongs to us. It is our place to carry on His work. Eucharist should remind us of the cost and atonement delivered through the crucifiction. But communion, whether it be with a large congregation on a Sunday morning or simply two believers at Cracker Barrel, should remind us of the privilege of service for Him that cost and atonement bought.

THIS is His body.

Ma Nishtanah

מה נשתנה, הלילה הזה מכל הלילות
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה הלילה הזה, כלו מצה
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות הלילה הזה, מרור
שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת הלילה הזה, שתי פעמים
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין ובין מסובין הלילה הזה, כולנו מסובין

How is this night different from all other nights?

That question, ma nishtanah, is the foundation of the four questions that explain the symbolism of the ritual of the Passover celebration.

For a while now, I’ve had my own version of the ma nishtanah — Why is this ritual different from all other rituals? Not regarding Passover, which I’ve known little about, but regarding the Christian sacrament of communion, or the Lord’s Supper, or eucharist. At its purest, Christianity is a religion of little ritual, which in and of itself makes what ritual there is fascinating. But I also knew that communion had its roots in Passover, making it a rare carryover of a Christian practice from Jewish ritual.

We observe communion because Jesus commanded it. But why? He was generally pretty unconcerned with preserving the trappings of “religion,” interested far more in the heart than in ritual. So why His concern about this ritual?

During my church journey, I’ve spent some time observing how different congregations observe communion, and come away with my own thoughts on the matter. In fact, just my choice of word there reflects the beliefs I’ve come away with. (I’ll save most of those for a couple of weeks, since The Rite of Communion is week 15 of my Reconstruction project.)

But I knew that I was going to hit a wall at some point until I could learn more about the Passover observance, and that I would learn that best by experience, rather than reading. I tried to participate last year, but that fell through, so I was really excited about doing it this year.

I went to Flint River Baptist Church to hear a messianic Jewish rabbi lead a Passover seder. Heck, just that right there makes it a good evening. It was, for me, a neat celebration of my view of the church of Huntsville. This had nothing to do with my primary congregation, Sojourn, and it was a blessing to participate in a coming together of members of two other congregations, two other practices of faith. It’s beautiful to see the walls we put up come down, and to worship together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In fact, I couldn’t help but imagine that the seder captured some of the diversity of the faith in the first century. Here was a man who had grown up, like Paul, as a Jew and a student of the Torah, breaking bread with Gentiles who had never known what it truly is to live under the law.

I could go on for quite a while about the relationship between the two rituals and the meanings, but, really, that last paragraph was the most important thing I got out of the night. In relating his personal journey, the rabbi said he came to know Christ less through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John than through the gospels of Abraham and Moses. As he learned about the life of Christ, he recognized the story from the same stories told in the seder. He recognized the story of the slaughtered Lamb, whose blood is deliverance from death.

It’s easy as Christians to view the Old Testament as a sort of prequel to the New Testament, another story that provides background and context to the real story. I’ve even heard it said that the faith begins with Christ. And while He is the foundation, He is also the fulfillment of something much older. And the sacrament of communion points to that. It is a reminder both of the ancient promises and of their completion.

Even before the original Passover, the deliverance from the tenth plague, God ordered that there be an rememberance of what he was about to do that would be observed forever.

“This do in remembrance …”