Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thoughts on Epiphany 4

Here is a scary idea--I could hook up an iPhone/iPod Dock to the church sound system. I could run a wire to the Presider's Chair. It would be like the Captain's Chair on the Enterprise. I could push a button to activate a Shruti Box sound or another to play an MLK Sermon, etc. I could even use voice commands. I can see it now, "Computer, play drone, major scale..."

Just kidding.

At church this morning I mentioned the Shruti Box app to Eric and he said that he found a large Shruti for sale in the GTA for about $200. Smaller ones are even cheaper. I think these have great potential for doing music with congregations--especially with smaller-sized groups. They are even easier than a Djembe (which also great for leading relatively small groups in holy song).

I don't see us using a Shruti for any Sunday mornings coming up--but the Djembe is a different matter. We actually have used the Djembe a fair amount for worship here at Messiah. One of these days I should take some lessons. It has a great energy is wonderful for processions.

A good day in church. More first-timers. I'm glad because I think this church is now really, really ready for some new people. All aspects of our programme are humming along and we have the capacity to incorporate some new people. I'm pleased about the fact that we have welcomed five new people into the life of our parish in the last few months. Anxiety is down and optimism is up. The community is feeling very warm and loving right now. Sweet!


The Shruti Box

A Shruti Box is a classical Indian musical instrument which sustains a constant drone of a combination of user-set notes. In other words, you select which pitches you want in your drone, then you start pumping the Shruti and it sustains a constant drone at the specified intervals. It's a lot like a Harmonium, except that instead of keys it simply has little covers over each of the reed holes. You open the holes corresponding the pitches you want played.

The Shruti is useful for many different applications. They are useful in performance, especially because they lay down a kind of carpet on which a singer or instrumentalist can lay down something special. They are also useful for practice since you can, for instance, set the Shruti to drone the home-tone of a chant you are playing with. As you improvise and play around you can simultaneously hear how you sound against your musical home base.

I was was first introduced to the Shruti by the St. Gregory of Nyssa folks. They love a good drone! It's easy to get such a sound out of a congregation, but you can also simulate a Shruti with a pipe organ pretty easily (you just need something or someone to hold the right keys down).

Of course, there is also an iPhone app for that. And they sound surprisingly good. You just need to have a sound system to hook up to your iPhone (or iPod Touch) and you've got yourself an instant Shruti box! Here is an example of what the Shruti sounds like. This musician will play over the top of it with a Hang Drum, which is a whole post in its own right!


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sermon - Epiphany 3 2010

Eric Osborne, our Minister of Music, preached this sermon last Sunday. He decided to use it to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. He did a good job. Makes me appreciate having a musician who has taken preaching courses in seminary! Though, even if he hadn't I would still want him to preach sometimes. Church musicians often have a lot to say that the congregation needs to hear!


Friday, January 29, 2010

Extemporaneous Eucharistic Prayers

Of course I'm a liturgy nerd. I care a great deal about what we pray and how we pray. Like many Episcopal Priests, I was "raised" to think that great precision is required when praying the Eucharistic Prayer. God help you (literally) if you say it wrong. The magic won't happen! Jesus will flee your feast!

So I find it impressive when people can extemporaneously pray the Eucharistic prayers and hit all the right points. There is an ancient precedent for this: the Mozarabic Rite. It requires a deep understanding, in my humble opinion, of the Eucharistic prayers to do it well, but it is certainly within the capacity of most priests who put their mind to it. The so-called Rite III liturgy in the American Prayerbook (1979 BCP 402ff) gives the presiding priest great discretion in how the Eucharistic Prayer is to be said, but still specifies the words for the Institution Narrative and a few other parts. Of course, the Rite III rubrics insist that it should not be used during the principal Sunday service of the community.

Certainly doing a Eucharistic Prayer off-the-cuff is stretching the bounds of what is "Anglican"--but that's perhaps what interests me about it. I see great potential for relational liturgy in the immediacy of such a prayer. It's the same principle as what happens when one learns to preach without notes or improvise of the organ.

I happen to enjoy broad episcopal permission when it comes the Contemplative Eucharists that I do on Wednesday morning and Saturday afternoon. Further, the Archbishop has told us (priests) that we "have the keys to the family car--just don't wreck it." So in that spirit I've been trying my hand at extemporaneous eucharistic prayers at my Contemplative Eucharists. The group that comes appreciates it. I find that it requires even more concentration and preparation than what I used before, which is even more than what it required to a regular BCP/BAS Mass!

To prepare for it, I think you need a couple of years of saying the Eucharist out of the prayerbooks. To this end, saying the daily masses at St. Mary Magdalene's was great training. It's like the 10,000 hours concept of Malcome Gladwell--you need to spend about 10,000 hours saying the Mass to master it. Maybe I haven't wracked up that much time, perhaps I've got about 3 or 4 thousand hours, though? You should have a few of rites basically memorized from repetition.

Then, you need to have a real command over the different parts of the Eucharistic prayers. You need to know what they are and why they are there.

Next, and perhaps most importantly, you need to be right with your personal sacramental prayer life. I mean that you need to be really confident in your own skin as a priest doing the thing priests do. So... that's my advice about that.

Now, here is an example of Rick Fabian (best known from St. Gregory of Nyssa fame) presiding at the Eucharist that ended our Music That Makes Community Conference in Atlanta a few months ago. Note that both the words and the music were made-up on the spot. We sing a Sanctus at the end in a paperless-style, but it wasn't our first time hearing/singing that particular song.

Now, there is a lot of craft in doing this well. For one thing, notice that Rick has a particular pattern in mind for how is going to chant the text. He is basically going up and a down a scale. Also, he has an idea in his head of the shape of the eucharistic prayers. He knows where is beginning from and where he is ending. He also knows some of the points he wants to hit along the way: thanksgiving for creation, rehearsing salvation history, the institution narrative, the epiclesis, etc.

BTW, I like the way Rick says "whores." It's a nice, sharp moment in the flow of the prayer.

I was never taught how to pray this way. I wasn't ready for it in seminary, anyway. These are advanced teachings. But it's definitely worth sharing because the spiritual results can be breath taking!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This is the new Apple iPad. It is meant to be a middle step between cell phones and laptops. It has the potential to revolutionize print media the way iPods did for the music industry. The basic concept is that people will be able to download and view novels, newspapers, and other print media. More importantly, it will streamline the process whereby media companies can distribute and charge for such content.

You see, ever since the market for online advertising collapsed, outlets like the New York Times and CNN and the Wall Street Journal have been trying to figure out a new economic model. Old fashioned print is dying. People simply won't pay for something they can get for free on-line. But attempts to make customers pay for online content (say... by subscribing to the NY Times) have failed. The iPad has the potential to change all that by streamlining the process and making it virtually seamless in the way that music purchasing has become.

So the iPad is very special, indeed. Of course, other so-called Tablet PC's and e-reading devices have come and gone. So whether this one succeeds is still an open question, but I wouldn't bet against it!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Praise of Cloth Diapers

Values, in our society, are demonstrated by purchasing decisions. What you buy shows who you are. No where is this more true, so far in my experience, than when it comes to products designed for children. Options abound around every aspect of child rearing, far more than those facing our parents.

We've already marked ourselves in a number of ways. We had a natural birth... at home. We exclusively breast feed. We get most of our vegetables through a local organic CSA. We avoid BPA. We are pro-vaccine and think pacifiers are fine (but Henry doesn't care for them, anyway). We own a car even though we live in a city with decent public trans. We often watch TV while we eat dinner.

Weird how our society has encoded all of these decision with meaning. People will argue fiercely over any of those. I mean, they will practically come to blows sometimes over the evils of BPA or the importance of not using a car unnecessarily.

On the list: diapers: cloth or disposable. Other websites list the pros and cons so I won't go through them here, except to say that we appreciate that cloth diapers are cheaper than disposable (even with a service washing them for us), more environmentally sound (though that's arguable), and they are easier on the baby's skin. There is something very satisfying about a big stack of rectangular, clean, white, soft cotton diapers. And so easy to use thanks the nylon shell that holds them in place. Life is good!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Only in America: Jesus Rifles

The U.S. Military equips many battle rifles with the ACOG--Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight. It's basically a small telescope with aiming cross-hairs. The ACOG contract, worth something like $660 Million, was awarded to a well known gun sight manufacturer, Trijicon. Trijicon is an unabashedly Fundamentalist Christian Company.

ABC News reports:
The company's vision is described on its Web site: "Guided by our values, we endeavor to have our products used wherever precision aiming solutions are required to protect individual freedom."

"We believe that America is great when its people are good," says the Web site. "This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history, and we will strive to follow those morals." (

Now, this wouldn't be a problem except that apparently the company has a tradition of adding references to Biblical Passages on the scopes.
Note the reference to John 8:12 in the serial number of the gun's scope.

This has been a known practice by Trijicon for some time. Some commanders even referred to ACOG-equipped rifles "as spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ" (source). I hope this was said some irony--as I hardly imagine our Lord traipsing around with M-4!

But now that it has come to public attention several problems were noted. First, it seems to violate several church-and-state separation policies of the military. Second, it allows the Taliban and other groups to use these sights as evidence that the war in Afghanistan is some kind of Christian crusade. All we need is for people to start calling these "Jesus Rifles."

It will be interesting to see what happens next. I imagine the government will probably require Trijicon to change the sites or lose the contract.

This is the sort of thing that can only happen in America!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

LCBO to clamp down on Sacramental Wine?

According to the Toronto Star, the LCBO (the Ontario Government liquor and wine monopoly) is reviewing the programme that allows for sacramental wine sales to churches and other places of worship. Although they admit most vendors are legit, the government authorities are apparently annoyed by a few wrong doers and think that they should probably scrap the whole programme and take it over. Sounds like a classic case of bureaucracy expanding the fill the available space. Sigh.

Incidentally, at Messiah we use real table wine rather than "sacramental" wine. It's the same issue as using real bread versus wafers. I like the idea of using something Jesus would use if were celebrating the eucharist in Toronto!



Big changes happening at Messiah. One of the key staff members has moved on to other things, which means that we are having to pick up the left over jobs. It also means we have an opportunity to change around the way we do a number of things behind the scenes of Messiah. It's a good thing, but also a little nerve wracking. It's been an interesting experience, and I wish I could discuss it openly, but alas that is not possible! Perhaps I can put in my memoirs in 50 years!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bad Vestments Blog

The Bad Vestments Blog has just been started.
This site is dedicated to subjecting particularly awful Christian liturgical vestments to the ridicule they so richly deserve. Contributions are welcome and can be e-mailed to websterglobe at juno dot com.

Let the fun begin!


Sunday, January 17, 2010


I saw the much-hyped movie "Avatar" a few days ago. Nope, I wasn't shirking my fatherly responsibilities, just taking advantage of the fact that Betsy and Henry had gone to a book club meeting that evening. So I went to the movies, which I haven't gotten to do for a while. I decided to see Avatar, partly because I like to be up to date on popular culture and partly because I like Science Fiction movies. Yet I admit that James Cameron makes me uneasy. Aliens was great, of course, and so was the original Terminator in an 80's kind of way. Also, as a kid I really liked The Abyss. On the other hand, I have a hard time forgiving him for Titanic. I really despised that film. It was corny and cheesy and manipulative in the most transparent ways. It was utterly derivative, too.

But what really makes me dislike James Cameron as an artist is the whole Lost Tomb of Jesus nonsense that he created. Basically, he claimed to have unearthed the supposed tomb of Jesus. His evidence was weak and argument flimsy. Okay. But what really bugged me is that he misrepresented the opinions of the scholars he interviewed. Using very selective editing, he made it appear as though they supported his opinions when, in fact, they did quite the opposite. As one scholar put it, the "documentary" was a "hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest" (source). Ted Kopple created a documentary of his own, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus-A Critical Look," which tore the Cameron film apart. He even secured written denials from three of the key experts that appeared in the original Cameron film.

I don't mind people making claims of various sorts that I disagree with. You can claim that Jesus was married and that there was no resurrection and so forth and I'm just gonna shrug my shoulders. But when you start lying about supposed evidence you have, that makes me question your integrity.

So... all that is to say that I have mixed feelings about James Cameron! But I suppose art should really stand on its own merits, anyway.

Avatar... I liked it. The plot was predictable (and, again, derivative) and the dialogue forgettable. He even resorts to a voice over by the hero and stupid video journals to get through the plot as quickly as possible (and without developing much in the way of drama, by the way). But the whole point of this movie seems to be to get us through the necessary formalities of story as soon as possible so we can see the pretty world of Pandora. This is a stunning visual universe that wows you with eye candy. It's gorgeous. No doubt. Especially in 3-D.

The theology of the film, however, is troubling. I don't just mean the sort of quasi-scientific eco-pantheism that much of the religious press has focused on. I mean this sort of post-colonial philosophy that has apparently learned nothing from the real history of colonialism. It's telling that the saviour of the native people is a member of the oppressor race and that he saves them through violent rebellion--but only after having a conversion experience inspired by romantic love--Pocahontas style. Ghandi this ain't. Nope, here we have our culture's prevailing myths of Cult-of-Romantic-Love meets redemptive violence--the notion that revenge and violence can save you if you are willing to rebel against the rules and do what you want to get the girl. Notice that our hero in the movie never even masters the language of the people he is leading to freedom! Besides his decision to side with the "natives," there is no personal growth, no transformation. He's the same man-of-violence he was before he fell in love, he has just switched his allegiance. This is a movie where might makes right. it has little insightful to say about love, justice, or truth.

Contrast that to some of the stuff written about colonialism by, say, George Orwell. Orwell is best known for his novel 1984, but his essays about being a civil servant of an occupying government in British Burma are stunning, stark, and disturbing. "A Hanging" and "Shooting an Elephant" are among the best personal-narrative essays ever written, IMHO. There is a deep ambiguity about being an occupying authority, no matter how pure you intentions. And Cameron totally misses that. The notion that the "scientists" like Grace (played by Sigourney Weaver) get a moral pass on the sins of colonialism because they just want to understand and educate them heathen is nonsense! Read Foucault. Science and education are never politically neutral--in a colonial context they almost always serve the interests of the occupying authority.

Another thing that bugged me a little. Cameron looks at nature like Emerson did--through a window in his study. It's a very theoretical and abstract vision of "nature" that is a far cry from the world inhabited by people that actually live in harmony with nature. In other words, he's a city boy who dreamed a dream about the woods as he would like them to be.

But it sure is a pretty movie. Very pretty.

Still, I liked it. As one friend of mine put it, people were leaving the theatre smiling--and that's a good thing!


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Vital Church Planting Conference 2010 Video

Here is a quick-and-dirty video I made to promote the Vital Church Plating Conference 2010. The name "Vital Church Planting" is a bit misleading, now, since we cover topics beyond simply church planting to cover missional church and fresh expressions more generally. It would be very useful for any parish looking to do new things in God's garden.

Registration is filling up very quickly, so if you haven't registered yet and would like to go, I suggest you do so soon!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sears and Sears

Henry went through a crying spell this evening that lasted about three hours. Nothing we tried consoled him. Or, more accurately, something would seem to do the trick but then a few minutes later he would start crying again. We changed him, we fed him, we burped him. We tried walking around with him. We took off our shirts and his outfit to maximize the skin-on-skin contact. We gave him a bath. We tried it all. Then... in desperation... we read the directions. This is what you do when all else fails--you consult the manual.

Specifically, we pulled out our copy of The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears and his wife, Nurse Martha Sears. They raised eight kids and practiced pediatric medicine for thirty years. Their book is a classic of the baby-manual genre. Detailed yet not overwhelming, they advocate Attachment Parenting (the term itself was devised by Dr. Sears) and approach parents with a very soothing tone throughout the book. Footnote: Dr. Sears served as associate ward chief of the newborn nursery at Sick Kids Hospital here in Toronto for some years. Two of William and Martha's kids followed them into the practice, and one of them, Bob, is currently taking patients. He charges $165 for a 20-minute well baby visit and expects to be paid in full by his patients. Meaning, that if your insurance will cover the visit then you are going to have to seek reimbursement from them.

Anyway... Henry was upset and so Betsy and I took turns doing our best while the parent without the Mossling read through The Sears and Sears chapter on comforting a fussy baby. The possible causes for fussiness are legion. Could be something Betsy ate. Or he could have gas. Or perhaps his biorhythms have gotten out of whack. The list goes on, and so do the recommended ways to pacify the critter. Movement, touch, southing sounds, and sights are all suggested in detail. They talk about the "Colic Dance" which requires moving in four planes of motion at a rate of 60 beats per minute (roughly the same as a human heart rate). They suggest various ways to hold a fussy baby that may be helpful. They even recommend abdominal massage technique designed to relieve gas. But, at the end of the day, the concede that sometimes babies are just going to cry whatever you do, and so all you can do is let them know that you are there with them in the hurt.

Eventually Henry did calm down. Then he had a relaxed feed and I rocked him to sleep in the nursery before composing this note. Sigh. It's all part of the new way.


A Day at the Diocese

I had back-to-back meetings at the Diocese today. First there was the pre-meeting meeting. Then there was a meeting. Then a post-meeting meeting. Then another meeting. Then another post-meeting meeting. Uhhg. But at least they were interesting meetings. Several of them were about the upcoming Vital Church Planting Conference. I'm one of the organizers this year. One of my responsibilities is organizing the workshops. One of these will be given by Archbishop Johnson, so I had a meeting with him and two of my colleagues to brainstorm about the workshop.

It's the first time I've been in, or even seen, his Grace's Office. I've been in Bishop Yu's office a few times, of course, but never my boss's boss. It's nice without being opulent. Certainly it's much smaller than the positively palatial episcopal offices I remember from the Diocese of Connecticut! There were the usual religious nick-knacks: icons and crosses and portraits of his predecessors. I noted that the Archbishop doesn't care for the overhead florescent lighting, using window light and lamps instead. The couch was comfortable, seemed like it would work well for napping (my main criteria for judging couches). I showed him a baby picture of Henry and showed me a picture of his newest grand daughter.

The meeting itself went quite well. We had little difficulty organizing our thoughts about what we need to cover and how we will go about doing it. Eventually "++Colin Toronto" opened up a diptych-thing hanging on the wall to reveal a white board. I smiled, thinking of the white board in my own office that currently has notes about Holy Week. At the end of the meeting I took a picture of the white board with my cell phone camera and e-mailed to one of my partners in crime, who is going to type them up. I think we all felt energized by the upcoming Conference. The coffee his Assistants brought us didn't hurt, either.

Jenny AndisonFrom there it was straight into another meeting. This time it was the "Fresh Expressions Working Group." These are the folks that oversee church plants and other new ministries emerging in the Diocese as they come to the Diocese seeking support. It's a wonderful committee to be on, because we get to talk about all the new, wonderful things happening. it's exciting and humbling to hear about the kinds of ministry happening all around us.

Also, the sandwiches were quite good today. The Admin. Assistant that ordered them is new, and so the caterer was new, too. None of us get paid to serve on this committee, so good sandwiches are probably a sound investment considering that some very talented people volunteer their time on committees and boards like this! I look at people like Duke V. and Jenny A. with a certain amount of awe. Check out The Church of the Resurrection to see what I mean--Duke did an amazing job rebooting that parish. Jenny is now the Canon Missioner for the Diocese and has recently produced this Lenten Bible Study to help parishes begin to think in terms of the Missio Dei. The Diocese has come a long way even in just the last couple of years towards realigning the entire organization towards a missional future, and I'm really excited by the possibilities that creates for a place like Messiah.

The truth is, my participation in all these Diocesan projects is not entirely altruistic. The future of the Diocese and the future of my parish are very much linked, and the opportunities for Messiah's future are to be found in the conversations around Fresh Expressions and Missional Church. I'm learning a ton about the new reality of the church in the 21st Century through my service to the diocese and I expect that my parish will benefit. Churches that are willing and able to adapt to the new ways of being church will thrive. Those that don't are going to continue the long, slow slide into obsolesce. I'm not saying that "inherited" church won't continue, it will, but it will be touched by transforming grace, too. Mission is not optional.

It was an exhilarating five and a half hours straight of meetings for me. Sitting in the car to drive home I realized that my brain felt like cottage cheese left out on the counter too long. I spent the balance of the day working from home, answering e-mails and making calls. For supper I cooked a quick stir-fry to use up some veggies. So it goes.



Lol. Only in our culture would you see an ad like this for "food."



Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emily's New Blog

As usual--lack of posts means I'm very busy. Henry has a way of making me want to stay home with him (and Betsy) rather than be chained to my desk editing sermon footage and making a CD out of the Advent Concert. Sigh. Perspective, you know?

Anyway, here is a note about St. Lydia's, an "Dinner Church" that my friend and fellow YDS Alumna has started in NYC. The project has it's own website, but now Emily has started a blog, as well. I can be a real "foodie" sometimes--so a fresh expression of church (to use the Canadian and U.K. dialect of missional language) has appeal. I would be all over that sucker. I'm tempted to start something like that here, but of course I don't have near enough time. I would be thrilled if I had enough time/energy to even start a tradition of home eucharists here at Messiah!


Friday, January 8, 2010

Astronomical Almanac Data for Easter, 2010

From the U.S. Naval Observatory, useful info about the sun and moon for Easter Vigil and Easter Day. The following information is provided for longitude W79.3, latitude N43.7 (Toronto):

Saturday, 3 April [Easter Eve]

3 April 2010 Universal Time - 5h

Begin civil twilight 05:26
Sunrise 05:55
Sun transit 12:21
Sunset 18:47
End civil twilight 19:16

Moonrise 23:32 on preceding day
Moon transit 03:57
Moonset 08:20
Moonrise 00:31 on following day

Phase of the Moon on 3 April: waning gibbous with 75% of the Moon's visible disk illuminated.

Sunday, April 4, 2010 [Easter Day]

4 April 2010 Universal Time - 5h

Begin civil twilight 05:24
Sunrise 05:54
Sun transit 12:20
Sunset 18:48
End civil twilight 19:17

Moonset 08:20 on preceding day
Moonrise 00:31
Moon transit 04:52
Moonset 09:13
Moonrise 01:20 on following day

Phase of the Moon on 4 April: waning gibbous with 66% of the Moon's visible disk illuminated.

Last quarter Moon on 6 April 2010 at 04:38 (Universal Time - 5h).

I think many of my fellow liturgical planners will appreciate knowing sunrise/sunset times for that Holy day. If you don't live in Toronto, you can find the sunrise/set times for your location by entering the latitude and longitude on the U.S. Naval Observatory website.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I'll fight anyone who doesn't agree with me that Battlestar Galactica (I mean the 2004 edition) is one the finest television series of our time. Well written, superbly acted, and deeply insightful about leadership, military culture, and human drive for survival. It also had much more to say about theological matters than pretty much any TV series I have seen in a long time. The re-boot of BSG began with a two-part miniseries aired in 2003. After that, it began a convention run as a series that finally ended in 2009, though future movies set in the BSG world are still a very real possibility.

Anyway, the series kicked off with an episode entitled "33." It is the favourite of many of the actors, fans, and production team for good reason. The plot is relatively simple--the last humans have formed up into an armada of civilian ships and one "Battlestar." The Battlestar is a kind of combination aircraft (err.. space craft) carrier, battleship, and battlecruiser. They are running from a militarily superior force of artificial beings called the Cylon determined to wipe out all human life.

In this episode, the fleet "Jumps" with faster-than-light travel to a new location. The jumps are untrackable. Yet 33 minutes after each jump, the Cylons appear at the new location and attack the fleet. The fleet jumps away to a new location and, 33 minutes later, the Cylons appear and attack again. The episode starts the story after several days of this cat-and-mouse. Most of the fleet, especially the military-ops folks, are suffering from severe sleep deprivation. 33 Minutes isn't long enough to do much more than refuel, rearm, and get in a quick briefing before the next attack.

(Side note--besides consulting psychologists and medical doctors about the effects of sleep deprivation, some members of the cast actually went without sleep for several days to get an even deeper sense of what this scenario would be like in real life. It's a good anecdote about how seriously the cast took their roles in this series.)

Anyway, imagine having to fight or flee every 33 minutes? Scary.

These days, in our house, we are experiencing something similar. Every 120 minutes or so our little guy wakes up and needs to be fed and changed. It not exactly every 120 minutes, of course, but it's close. We have a little timer called an "Itzbeen" that helpful tracks how long it has been since he was last fed or had his diaper changed. And sometimes that timer will go beyond 120 minutes.... But even as it does you know it will be by much before he begins to fuss and smack his lips like the hungry little guy he is.

I'm lucky, most of the time at night I can sleep through this 2-hour cycle. Betsy is the one who bears the brunt of it, and I can see the effect. Of the two of us I was always the better one for day-time naps and night-time wakefulness, so this really isn't fair. Ah well.

Even now I can tell that it will soon be time to take our little Henry to his mother. The cycle continues....


Monday, January 4, 2010

Death Penalty take a blow

Big news in the law and ethics world regarding capital punishment in the United States. An association of lawyers and judges--the American Law Institute--that once provided the intellectual underpinnings for the death penalty has decided to abandon the effort because they found the death penalty system fundamentally flawed:
A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience have proved that the system cannot reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment is plagued by racial disparities; is enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers are underpaid and some are incompetent; risks executing innocent people; and is undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections. (source)

This is huge because these are the same folks who, in the 1960's, wrote the "model penal code" and other key documents that became the basis for the various state capital punishment laws. They were the ones that managed to come up with a capital punishment system that could withstand constitutional challenge. But now they are abandoning that effort "in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment" (source).

This probably won't have an immediate effect on the death penalty system, but it is a huge strategic victory for death penalty opponents and gives added strength to the argument that the death penalty is simply unconstitutional. The original codes written after the reinstitution of the death penalty in America in Gregg V. Georgia, 1976 were designed to eliminate the arbitrariness of the old laws, and now that effort is falling apart.

Personally, I don't support the death penalty. I just don't think it squares with Christian ethics. It is state sponsored revenge, and does not prevent further harms any better than life imprisonment. The demonstrable racial and monetary bias (more money=better defense lawyer=less likely execution) just seals the deal in my mind that the death penalty is practically and morally unworkable.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Coq au Vin

My mother is staying with us for a week and reports that my grandfather, William Washburn Moss, Jr., used to make this dish. My grandmother did most of the cooking, but certain things were his domain. He was very big into grilling meat, naturally, and also into this dish. I'm going to ask my dad to check the recipe books leftover from that era to see if he can find the recipe my grandfather used. If I'm really lucky he might have left notes on the sauce-splattered pages. We'll see.

In the mean time, here is my first attempt at Coq au Vin....

Coq au Vin

from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook
(thanks Meg and Seb)

1 Bottle PLUS 1 Cup of Red Wine
1 Onion, cut into 1-inch dice
1 Carrot, cut into 1/4 -inch slices
1 Celery Rib, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 whole cloves
1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1 Bouquet Garni
1 Whole Chicken, about 3.5lb., trimmed
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 Tbsp. Butter
1 Tbsp. Flour
1/4 lb. country bacon, cut into small oblong (lardons) about 1/4 inch by 1 inch
1/2 lb. small, white button mushrooms, stems removed
12 pearl onions, peeled
pinch of sugar

3 large, deep bowls
plastic wrap
fine strainer
large Dutch oven
wooden spoon
small sauté pan
small saucepan
1 sheet of parchment paper
deep serving platter

Serves 4

Day One
The day before you even begin to cook, combine the bottle of red wine, the diced onion (that's the big onion, not the pearl onions), sliced carrot, celery, cloves, peppercorns, and boquet garni in a large, deep bowl. Add the chicken and submerge it in the liquid so that all of it is covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Day Two
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. Put aside. Strain the marinade through the fine strainer, reserving the liquids and solids separately. Season the chicken with salt and pepper inside and out. In the large Dutch oven, heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter until almost smoking, and then sear the chicken, turning with the tongs to evenly brown the skin. Once browned, remove it from the pot and set aside again. Add the reserved onions, celery, and carrot to the pot and set it aside again. Add the reserved onions, celery, and carrot to the pot and cooker over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden brown. That should take you about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable and mix well with the wooden spoon so that the vegetables are coated. Now stir in the reserved strained marinade. Put the chicken back in the pot, along with the bouquet garni. Cook this for about 1 hour and 15 minutes over low heat.

Have a drink. You're almost there...

While your chicken stews slowly in the pot, cook the bacon lardons in the small sauté pan over medium heat until golden brown. Remove the bacon from the ban and drain it on paper towels, making sure to keep about 1 tablespoon of fat in the pan. Sauté the mushroom tops in the bacon fat until golden brown. Set them aside.

Now,, in the small saucepan, combine the pearl onions, the pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add just enough water to just cover the onions, then cover the pan with the parchment paper trimmed to the same size as your pan. (I suppose you can use foil if you must.) Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the water has evaporated. Keep a close eye on it. Remove the paper cover and continue to cook until the onions are golden brown. Set the onions aside and add the remaining cup of red wine to the hot pan, scraping up all the fond on the bottom of the pot. Season with salt and pepper and reduce over medium-high heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Your work is pretty much done here. One more thing and then it's wine and kudos...

When the chicken is cooked through--meaning tender, the juice from the thigh is running clear when pricked--carefully remove from the liquid, cut into quarters, and arrange on the deep serving platter. Strain the cooking liquid (again) into the reduced red wine. Now just add the bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Now pour that sauce over the chicken and dazzle your friends with your briliance. Serve with buttered noodles and a Bourgogne Rouge. (source)

Tay's Notes
Anthony B. begins this recipe with talk about how much easier it is than it appears. "Another easy dish hthat looks like it's hard. It's not. In fact, this is the kind of dish you might enjoy spending a leisurely afternoon with." Lies. Pure lies. This is hard. Be afraid. But try it, anyway. I'll help with some detail I think our friend Anthony left out....

First off... when you set up the chicken to marinade, don't be surprised if a bottle of wine is not enough to cover the stupid bird. It would be a mistake to add water to make it come closer to doing so. Instead, try zip lock bags filled with water. That... Or use a deeper, oval shaped bowl. I bet our crock-pot insert would have worked well. A third possibility would be to use a very large zip lock bag for the entire thing.... but beware of leaks. You might want to put that zip-locked chicken goodness in a too-large bowl just to be sure.

Second, on day-two, be prepare to spend three or so hours making this damn thing. It doesn't help that Anthony, as usual, seems to underestimate certain cooking times....

When browning the chicken, I found it took about four minutes per side. Be careful not to bump up against the non-oiled sides of the Dutch oven as the skin will stick and tear. Be careful with your tong work not to tear more of the skin than necessary.

Once the chicken is browned as set aside, be aware that there will be quite a lot of rendered chicken fat in the Dutch oven. Anthony says nothing about it, so I left it in to sauté the veggies. Big mistake. You only need about a tablespoon of that fat, so suction out the rest with a turkey baster and set aside for some worthy use or else toss in the green bin. Otherwise, you'll pan-fry (rather than sauté) the veggies and your flour roux will fail to form.

He says to put the burner on low after you add the marinade. I say, bring it up to a boil and then simmer for the rest of it's cooking time.

Start the sauce before you sauté the vegetables. I think A. Bourdain totally underestimates the time it takes to make this sauce, so get an early start and set aside if you must. Cooking down the water out f the pearl onions took me about 80 minutes, so be warned. And no, I didn't add to much water!

I found that I had way more marinade than would fit in a "small saucepan." You might want to use a medium. And, as I said before, be prepared for the sauce to take longer to cook down than you expected.

Anthony says in a footnote to experiment with use blood as a thickening agent. Sounds like a good idea, actually. As it was I found myself making up a quick roux to add to the sauce to give it a more pleasing thickness.

So... it summary, a challenging recipe, but I learned some important lessons. Never underestimate how long it will take to boil down a sauce, for instance. Was it tasty? Of course. Marinating the chicken overnight in red wine made a huge difference. You can tell that this recipe was originally designed for tougher birds--roosters (Coq) rather than chickens.

If you are thinking of making this. Compare it with Alton Brown's Recipe here. Alton has simplified some of the steps--though it's still a 26-hour process. I like how he has combined the bowls and cooking dishes necessary. I also like how he has included steps for thickening the sauce: "Cook’s Note: If the sauce is not thick enough at the end of reducing, you may add a mixture of equal parts butter and flour kneaded together. Start with 1 tablespoon of each. Whisk this into the sauce for 4 to 5 minutes and repeat, if necessary." Pretty much what I found myself doing!


Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years

Henry is doing great. But part of "doing great" for him involves keeping his mother awake at al hours of night. She never got more than an hour of sleep at at a time last night, which is challenging since it means she isn't getting that deep REM sleep. She woke me up a couple of times to help change him, but that's about all I can do for the little guy right now.

My mom is visiting us this week. We celebrated with a special New Year's Eve supper. I continued my French theme...
  • Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Grapes
  • Bok Choi with Bacon
  • Gratin Dauphinois
  • Champaign

Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Grape

from French Food at Home with Laura Calder

4 cornish hens, rinsed and dried with paper towel
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 tablespoons cognac
salt and pepper to season
1 Pound green and red grapes, halved
1 cup chicken stock (homemade or low soduium store-bought)

1. Truss the hens. Mix the oil with 1 tablespoon of the Cognac, salt and pepper. Rub well all over the hens in a dish, and set aside half an hour to marinate. Heat the oven to 450ºF/220ºC.

2. Heat a roasting pan on the stovetop, as if it were a frying pan, and brown the hens well on all sides. Pour off any excess oil from the bottom of the pan and transfer the hens to the oven to finish the cooking, approx. 40 minutes or until the juices run clear at the leg.

3. Transfer the hens to a deep warm serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Pour the fat off the pan and discard. Deglaze the pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Cognac and the flame from a matchstick. When the flames die out, add the stock and boil to reduce by about half. Add the grapes and cook three minutes to warm through and barely soften them. Uncover the hens, pour over the sauce with the grapes, and serve.

*The same quantities apply if you prefer to cook eight quails instead of four Cornish hens. Cooking time for quails, however, will be 25 minutes, rather than 40. (Source)

Tay's Notes
I gave each person their own personal Cornsish Game Hens, but that might be a little too large a portion. So an alternative wolud be to split each hen to serve--but you'll need a very sharp, probably serrated knife.

She says to use the roasting pan to sear the hens. To do this, you need a pretty good pan with a nice thick bottom. Cooking with gas helps, too. Our thin-bottomed pan warped a bit and had uneven heat, so be aware. Also, the first few hens tend to have the skin stick to the pan, so I would suggest putting about a tablespoon of grape seed oil in the pan, first.

Otherwise, a straightforward recipe.

I made some of that great potato gratin dish I made a week ago. You can read it here (as well as my notes about it).

I also made up a delicious Bok Choi dish with bacon. It's really based on a recipe for Brussels Sprouts by Laura Calder...

Baby Bok Choi with Bacon

modified from Laura Calder

5 heads of Baby Bok Choi
8 slices bacon
1 Tbsp. Butter

Cook up the bacon in a sauté pan. Remove, cut into a 1/4 inch pieces, and set aside.

Add butter. Wait until foam subsides. The add Bok Choi stems (white part) first. A minute or two later add the greens. Sauté until deep green and stalks are al dente. Put the bacon back in for a minute of two, then salt and pepper to taste and serve!

We had some champaign and a friend brought cake for dessert!