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Monday, March 23, 2009

New Cookbook, New Recipes

My in-laws gave me a new cookbook for Christmas, The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. This cookbook, a revision of one that was first released in 2005, is produced by the same folks who publish Cooks Illustrated magazine. This loose-leaf (some assembly required) book offers recipes, product reviews, explanations and photos of techniques and, most interesting, results of tests that the authors performed in their efforts to achieve the best results.

Kimberly was the first to use the cookbook, when she whipped it out to make a fantastic carrot cake (p. 547). A week or so later, she made "Gig and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies"using the recipe on page 499 ane earning our son's comment that they were the best cookies he had ever eaten. (Don't worry, Ken, I still like your family-secret oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies better.)

I used the cookbook this past week on two occasions. Having come across an unopened (and somehow forgotten!!) bottle of marsala wine in the pantry, I decided to make Chicken Marsala (p. 287). The recipe was quite simple and very good, though I managed to misread one of the ingredient lines and used WAY too much lemon juice. The addition of the extra lemon juice gave the dish more of a piccata flavor than I had planned on, but it was nice anyway. It was good served with linguine and green peas and, as I had kept the pasta, the chicken, and the sauce separate, it refrigerated well and made great leftovers the next night.

Like many people, I've been trying to cut back on red meat, but I'm also aware of the ecological problems with overfishing and even the problems with farmed fish. Some time ago, Kimberly clued me in to the the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Seafood Watch program provides regular updates on which species of fish are threatened by overfishing, which ones pose environmental problems or health risks. Really, you owe it to yourself -- and to the environment -- to visit their website. Really!

Salmon has been a favorite with my family, but, according to Seafood Watch, which recommends wild-caught salmon from Alaska or Washington, farmed Atlantic salmon poses a whole host of problems: "Waste from the fish passes freely into the surrounding environment, polluting wild habitat. Farmed fish can escape and compete with wild fish for natural resources. Escaped fish can interbreed with wild fish of the same species, compromising the hardiness of the wild population. Diseases and parasites can spread to wild fish living near or swimming past net pens."

A friend of mine, who is a seafood wholesaler, introduced me to Arctic char as an ecologically responsible alternative to salmon. It is very good, though I haven't often found it at grocery store fish counters. Yesterday, while doing some list-free grocery shopping after church, I decided that I wanted to make maple-soy salmon for dinner. I found some organic, farm-raised, Atlantic salmon at King's Market in Cresskill and brought it home to try. While I know that the label "organic" doesn't necessarily mean much, I decided to give it a try as an alternative to the "regular" farm-raised salmon.

When I got it home, I tried the ultra-simple recipe in my new cookbook (p. 244). It was as good as anything I've ever had at any seafood restaurant and was almost as quick and easy as plain broiled salmon. I served it with wild rice (drizzled with a bit of the maple-soy glaze) and steamed sugar snaps. This is definitely a "serve to company" dish!

Maple-Soy Glazed Salmon (or Arctic char)

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each, 1 1/4 inches thick)
2 t. sesame seeds, toasted

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring the maple syrup and soy sauce to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture is syrupy and measures roughly1/2 cup, about 4-6 minutes. (My glaze took a bit longer to reach this stage and tended to bubble up as it cooked.)

2. Meanwhile, remove any pin bones from the salmon. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper, and lay it skin-side down in a lightly oiled 9x13-inch baking dish (space about 1 inch apart). Bake for 5 minutes.

3. Using a pastry brush, spread a thick layer of the maple-soy glaze over the tops and sides of the salmon. Continue to bake until all but the very center of the fish has turned from translucent to opaque, about 5 minutes longer. (I like my salmon a bit more well-done, so I let mine cook about 7 more minutes.)

4. Brush the fillets with another layer of glaze and sprinkle with the sesame seeds before serving.

Note: In the future, I might try putting some slices of fresh ginger in the maple-soy mixture as it simmers.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Way too busy!!

Last weekend was very busy. On Friday evening, friends from the River Edge church came over for dinner and were joined by my musical partner in crime, Eric Anderson. Eric stayed the night and, on Saturday, we performed at the Cresskill United Church of Christ, in a benefit concert for the church. Boys in Hats had been repeatedly advertised as a "country music duo," so, while we never perform country music, we performed John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Road."

On Sunday, I participated in worship at Christ Episcopal Church in Suffern, NY. After the service, the congregation remained in their seats and I gave a presentation on Amistad. My son, Ian, is amazed at how I'm still "on the circuit" with my PowerPoint presentation and souvenirs, even a year after getting back from my sabbatical, but the information is still current and people still want to hear it. The history of the event hasn't changed and the realities of injustice remain a part of the human condition. We followed that event up by spending the afternoon with a Methodist colleague, Penny Gadzini, and her family.

With a Holy Week startup, there's been a lot of planning to do with my new church in Norwalk, so Monday took me back to Connecticut, where I had a meeting with the church staff, a meeting with the interim pastor, a meeting with another local pastor to plan the joint Maundy Thursday service, and, finally, a meeting with the Church Council.

After getting back home, there's been plenty of electronic communication about getting the church's new website up and running. (Several of you have mentioned that the site is WAY out of date. We know. Basically, it is just a placeholder and the new site, http://www.norwalkfirstcongregational.org/, should be up fairly soon. Bear with us.) In addition, there has been lots of planning for Holy Week ads for the newspaper, an interview for that same newspaper, and a set of banners to hang from the front pillars of the church.

The banners have been somewhat amusing to me. I remember, several years ago, attending a pastor's installation that felt much more like a coronation than a church event, and I've tried to avoid giving anyone that impression, particularly since I'll be starting my public ministry at the church on Palm Sunday. I've been joking that we all need to remember is that Palm Sunday is the day that we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, not the triumphal entry of Paul Bryant-Smith into Norwalk. Even so, there's going to be a pair of banners hanging from the pillars in front of the church, one with an invitation for people to worship there during Holy Week and one welcoming me to the church and letting everyone know that, after four years, the church has a permanent senior pastor. We're hanging the Holy Week banner on the left and "my" banner on the right -- in an effort to make sure that Jesus gets top billing.





Beyond that, I've managed to go computer shopping this week, buying a new laptop computer for my new job, and have also cleaned out the garage.

Tomorrow, I'll be preaching at the Cresskill United Church of Christ, where my family has been worshipping since we left the River Edge church. This week, the pastor, David "Bo" Bocock" landed in the hospital, so I'm giving him a break so he can rest and recuperate. On Friday, Eric and I will be at North Congregational Church in Middletown, NY, then I'm going to be at Community United Church of Christ in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, on Sunday to preach and give another Amistad presentation.

I can't wait to be working full-time so I can relax!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Beginning Transitions

I spent this past weekend in Catonsville, Maryland, at my final meeting of the Board of Directors for the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ, a group with a name that you shouldn't try to say five times really fast. I've been a member of the CAC's board for the last four years and have chaired the Mission, Vision & Communication working group of the board for the last two. During my time with the board, we've dealt with all kinds of issues: budgets, policies, resolutions, personnel issues, youth work. It hasn't all been easy, but I've always believed that it is every pastor's responsibility to be involved in the life of the wider church as well as leading their own congregation. I am honored to have been able to work with such a wonderful conference staff as well as fantastic board members who have provided such capable leadership. While I'm certainly glad to be moving on, I'll definitely miss them all!

Tomorrow, I head up to Norwalk for my first round of meetings with my new church. I'll take a carload of books to store at the church until I officially begin my new job and, over the course of the afternoon and evening, I'll meet with the Website Committee, the Deacons, the Finance Chair, and will stick my head into meetings of the Worship Commission and the Service Commission. In addition to that, I'll try to get some face-time with the staff as well as meeting with the director of the Norwalk Children's Foundation, who happens to be a church member as well. Then, on my way home, I'll stop at the grocery.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Busy, yet not very...

It has been a quiet week here in River Edge, New Jersey.

The dartboard that Ian had bought a few weeks ago began having serious scoring problems within only a day or two of our hanging it up in the basement, so he and I went back to Sears to return it this week. While wandering around the store, we noticed a bunch of dart boards up high on a shelf, away from the sporting goods section. Unlike the fairly basic ones that were in the regular display, these came complete with cabinetry and seemed to be much better made, so and asked one of the employees about them. When he took them down and did a price check, it turned out that these nice Halex dart boards were actually discontinued items and were on clearance for less than what we had paid for the first dart board. With a no-brainer solution like that, we brought one home and hung it up on the wall. Almost a week into the new dart board, things are going great. The only problem is that Ian has been playing so much that we now need to go out and buy more points for the darts. Fortunately, there's a dart store less than a mile from our house.

Ian had several of his friends over on Friday night for his (somewhat belated) birthday party. For the last couple years, he has had this same group of guys over for periodic Dungeons and Dragons adventures and they boys spent several hours working their way through an adventure that Ian led as dungeon master. Pizza, a couple dart games and watching The Dark Kinght rounded out the evening and the boys pretty much all fell asleep while watching the movie.

Yesterday, I was back at Trinity United Church for a final adult education program, "A Lenten Look at the Beatitudes," where we looked at both the Matthean and Lukan versions of the beatitudes and discussed why it was that such teaching led to Jesus' arrest and execution. I've spent so many Sundays at Trinity that it almost feels like my home church. After worship, lots of the members congratulated me on my call to FCC, Norwalk, and wished me well on my new adventure.

Today, I was supposed to travel up to Norwalk for a series of meetings, but the snow has prevented it. We've only got about 2.5 inches on the ground at the moment, but the forecast is for about a foot and the snow is picking up again after something of a lull. Everything has been rescheduled for next Monday, right after I get back from my final Central Atlantic Conference Board of Directors meeting. I guess I should be grateful for today's unplanned quiet, since everything else is switching into high gear as I get ready to start my new job. I'll try to look at it that way.