Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jesus, Biscuits and Beans

On this morning's run, I started thinking about Jesus, biscuits, and beans.  No, not that Jesus.  The Jesus who periodically came to cook for the ranch where I grew up.  I do not remember much about Jesus (pronounced hey-soos) except that he was always smiling, and he made terrific biscuits.  He also knew how to operate a Bobcat, so I suspect his skills were much in demand on all the surrounding ranches.  A cook who can also operate heavy machinery must come in mighty handy.  
When he came to cook, he would cook in the bunkhouse.  I loved to have lunch there.  I loved the smell and the sounds. I loved the beat up long table that was covered with a plain white oil cloth, and the two benches were everyone sat together.    I loved the 50 pound burlap bags that were filled with onions, potatoes, and beans.   When Jesus cooked, I doubt if there was ever a lunch that came from that large cast iron stove that was not accompanied by beans and his incredibly light biscuits.   
When I make biscuits, I generally follow James Beard's recipe for cream biscuits that he claimed came to him through a family cook (Beard on Bread, 1973).  I doubt if the recipe Jesus followed was ever written down.  I am certain that one key ingredient was bleached flour. Dedicated Southern cooks still demand the ultra-soft White Lily Flour, but that flour was not available in West Texas.  However, Gold Medal All Purpose Bleached Flour certainly was, and in great abundance. Another ubiquitous ingredient was Crisco shortening, an ingredient I simply cannot use, regardless of how light the biscuits turn out.   However, this was the time when Crisco was practically hailed as a health food, and no West Texas kitchen would be without it.          
So, as I am running and pondering biscuits, my thoughts turn to beans.  I would be an adult before I knew there was any other variety of legume other than the pinto.  Yes, there was the black-eyed pea bean eaten every New Year's Day (for several days before Jan. 1, the adults in my life would great one another with "Hello! Got your black-eyed peas cooked?), but I don't remember their being served much the rest of the year.  The humble pinto ruled.   
As you can imagine, by the time I finished the run I was quite hungry.   I decided to make a small pot of beans.  I thought about pintos, but then I remembered I had sauteed chard in the refrigerator and I knew I had some dried white beans on hand.  I gave them a quick soak and they are now in the crock pot.   Since it is New Year's Eve, it is appropriate to have some beans cooking.  That is a long tradition that crosses many generations, cultures and lands. White beans and chard will make a fine dinner.  
Today as I think of Jesus, it is with gratitude. I wish I knew more of his story.  How a man who knew his way around a Bobcat also knew his way around a stove.   A man who generously shared his smile and his biscuits with a young girl. As much as I loved his biscuits, I think his welcome meant even more.   
A lesson that I think Jesus - yes, That Jesus - knew well.   

Sunday, December 29, 2013


This week I have had a few mornings off, and that means I have been in my kitchen early in the morning.  On Friday I baked two loaves of bread and one went into the freezer.  Today I filled the crock pot with apples and pears from my CSA box, and persimmons from the neighborhood.  I am hoping that after several hours of cooking they will become a nice topping for the ice cream that we will be serving friends tomorrow night after dinner.   Yesterday Tyler and I journeyed to Old Oakland and we bought some beautiful hand crafted sausages from a local purveyor.    This morning we had sauteed sausages, potatoes, and leeks for breakfast.  The leftovers have been combined with some chard.  After all had cooked together for a bit, I added a bit of cream and nutmeg.  This will be a good base for a pasta sauce, casserole, soup, or even a quiche.  This is the cooking my mother taught me.  The cooking I call, "one thing leads to another."  

It is not that my mother was frugal.  She was not.  However, we lived 60 miles from the grocery store.   There was no such thing as looking at a recipe, which we very much enjoyed doing together, and then running to the grocery store to buy the ingredients.   We made do with what we had or we cooked something else.   
Cooking in the morning gives me a profound sense of God.  We are given the gift of edible food from this earth, and from these individual elements, we can create something nourishing, or at least tasty, for our family, our friends, or even for a quiet meal alone.  One meal leads to another, and these meals connect us to those who have come before us: those who have taught us to cook, and those who have sat, or will sit, at our table.   As I write this, Tyler is in the kitchen tending to a pan of flour that he is browning for the beginning of a gumbo to be shared with friends tomorrow.  I hear his continually stirring and am amazed at his patience.  I am starting to smell the browning process, and it is beautiful; it simply smells warm. Tomorrow, we will splurge and go to the market to pick up a crab or maybe some shrimp.  I plan on making cornbread, but herbed biscuits sound good as well. This celebration has nothing to do with 2013 coming to a close. That means little to me.  We are celebrating connection.  That we have food to share and friends to share it with.  
Tyler pulls celery and bell pepper from the refrigerator and an onion from the basket on the counter. The stored homemade stock has been thawed and the roux is being created.  Blessed be.  
May you all feel deeply connected to those you love. May God's presence be known to you in your kitchen, or wherever you might be today.  May such love carry you into tomorrow, and every day thereafter.   May that love be shared, savored, and lived.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Long Thread

Yesterday I finished up my regular services for SpiritCare for the year.  Rodney was signing probably as loud as he could, and probably just about as off-key as he could.  In the middle of The First Noel he states, "Sue Ann, I  should have been a singer." 
"You are a singer.  Keep going."   He enthusiastically responds, "OK!"  That response reflects the depth of his faith.  He takes part, and he says yes.  

Jill has been in pain for some months now.  She is blind and quite hard of hearing.  As I serve her communion, she whispers, "Christ," in such a loving way, that I almost look up to see if Jesus was standing behind me.  However, I have so often seen Jesus among the wheel chairs, and have heard Jesus in the laughter, I simply kiss her on the forehead and give her a blessing.  I also give thanks for the caregiver who gets this tiny woman up and dressed, does her hair, and puts on her makeup with a beautiful light touch.  Only love can do that.  Yes, Jesus is here. 
Hanna struggles to stand for communion, enough so that I become concerned. I try to tell her she can remain seated. She gives me a withering glance, and she slowly stands.  I am certain that sometime next year she will not be able to. However, today, that bridge does not have to be crossed. She stands, takes communion, and says "Thank you." Not so much to me, but to the Lord she so respectfully loves. 
Rodger, too, grows more frail, but the grip of his depression seems to be lessening, and lately he seems a little more at peace.  He no longer tells me that he is unworthy.  At times he may be tempted to still believe that, but he knows I do not. Today, he takes my hand and tells me, "I think of you as a friend."  I thank him for that blessing.  Several people have recently claimed me as a friend. I believe much of this is rooted in our keeping our promise of coming at least once a month.  I think many of them are just now beginning to trust that when I leave, I have every intention of returning.  In just about all the communities I serve, people who have refused communion for as long as five or six years are now celebrating communion with us.  Mary, who resides in a really lovely home, told me just this month, "I finally understand. This is now my church. I believe it is time for me to take communion."    That is why 99% of the time I always gently ask, because I sense God patiently waiting, patiently continuing to speak to all of our hearts. I attempt to do the same.  It is a simple path that I try to walk.   
In every community I have gone into this month, I have concluded the service with a personal thank you to the volunteers, residents and staff members for a truly wonderful year of worship services. I also give thanks for the support of the board of SpiritCare. My life has been blessed so deeply by the long thread of our ongoing services. Dear friends, your presence and willingness to listen to this ministry is also a lifeline for me.  Your grace filled notes have touched and encouraged me, and your willingness to "hear" this ministry has helped me stay alert.  I thank you.  I pray you find meaning in all of your celebrations, and that God's love is always known to you, in both your struggles and your joys.   

God weaves us all together with a beautiful thread made of faith and friendship. This thread is stronger than we realize.  Blessed be. 
Sue Ann   
For God is good: God's steadfast love endures forever, and God's faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:5, New Century Psalter 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Gift

When I am an old woman,
and I suspect I am about 
to die,  
I want to give away a shawl.    
Not a brand new one, 
but one that has been  
to the grocery store 
and to the post office 
and all the other ordinary places 
where I daily go.       
It won't be tattered and discarded, 
or one that just never felt quite right. 
Those can be given at any time.  
But one you wear, that 
is something else again.  
I think that is what Jesus knew.    
I have such a shawl now, 
given to me by a friend 
who has now passed.  
It is large and drapes abundantly,
and can cover my head 
in a damp mist,
like a good shawl should.      
So, as I prepare to walk out the door, 
and my hands reach out 
and I touch this shawl once more,  
I think of her  
and I give thanks  
and I pray  
that one day 
I will know 
that the time has come   
to pass it on.