Wednesday, 21 August 2013

What Would Jesus Eat?

Having recently blogged more on food than anything else, I was struck recently by Nigel Slater.  He didn't actually hit me, but the encounter left my head reeling a bit.
He seems to have written 20% of last Sunday's Observer, between his recent adoption of a rare breed of pig that he hopes to eat one day soon,
"despite its placid nature, its black patches and floppy ears, I'm not remotely attached to it, and am thinking only of its belly, chops and crackling"
and about 16 recipes for the likes of mushroom and blueberry pies.
One cookery show I don't watch is Slater's Simple Suppers.  In all honesty I find it a bit depressing.  A man wakes up thinking about what he'll eat that day.  His deepest conversations, indeed his only conversations, seem to be with the local greengrocer. 
In this programme, food doesn't invite friends and family round the table.  Instead, Slater sits dolefully gazing into the eyes of his sage risotto.
I sometimes feel a little embarrassed about how much I enjoy food - eating and cooking it, fair enough, but watching whole TV shows about it!  I suppose it has its place, and for me a very important place.  But to spend the day cooking for one?  (Apologies - smug married tone.)  In a grey London apartment, all minimalist, devoid of photos?
I think the reason I don't watch it is the fear that I, like many these days, could frighteningly easily become Nigel Slater!  Living to eat, pretty much.  (Sorry Nigel, I'm sure much of this is really unfair.  I'm using you as a metaphor for something bigger than you.  But you're a convenient and recognizable fit.  A psychologist would tell me this is projection or something.)
As an antidote, I have been reading some articles by David Grummett, Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh.
Grummett describes how food laws in the Old Testament actually limit the type and number of animals we humans can eat.  There are safeguards against factory-style farming providing daily meat with scant regard for the sacredness of animal life.  You can pretty much eat lamb and beef as an Israelite.  The vast majority of animals are not domestic and off-limits.
He also outlines how for Israel and, later, the Church, there were fast days and periods in order to limit food consumption.  Of course, people could enjoy feasts like Christmas - but after enduring an Advent fast. 
He talks of different fasts, mainly partial: one meal a day and a couple of collations (basically a cup of tea and a dry biscuit).  For centuries, Christians of most if not all shades considered gluttony as a serious sin, and refrained from eating meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The anti-nomian in me shudders at the thought of a Church telling people what to eat and when.  Yet my overly snug waistband and the ascending number of food-related posts on this blog are prodding me to think more about food and theology.
How come so much OT law concerns food?  (And so much NT teaching to, come to think of it, although NT material broadly concerns who with rather than what we ought to eat.)  What should I make of the vegetarianism of pre-flood human life?  The explicit torah on animal welfare and the link between sacrifice and slaughter?  The limitations on food types and combinations (meat or dairy, never both)?
'Food and drink' as a blog category isn't watertight, for as with everything, it could be labelled a post on theology.
So, for anyone who's interested, here are two articles by this food-theologian Grummett:

'Digesting the Word: a triptych and proposal on dietary choice', The Other Journal 19 (Fall 2011), 25–34
‘Christian attitudes to animals’, Compassion in World Farming website, March 2010

Monday, 19 August 2013

Adega Nova, Faro

I booked a room in Hotel Eva for two reasons.  The first was the location, minutes from Faro's historic centre and overlooking the marina.  The second was the hotel's roof-top restaurant, Haruna, which apparently had a famous chef and lots of awards.
We were very disappointed, then, when we got in the lift to the top floor restaurant and saw a freshly pinned-up notice: Hotel restaurant closed due to refurbishment
The receptionist was very helpful when we asked for a recommendation, but she was clearly emphasizing one eatery: Adega Nova.  So we went with that.
Past the bus terminal.  Along a couple of poorly lit streets, past shabby shop-fronts.  Had we gone wrong?
And there it was.
By the entrance were two glass cases with that morning's bright-eyed catch on ice, not a whiff of day-old fish.  We were shown to a section of a long cantina-style table and brought the ubiquitous bread and olives, but also some Portuguese cheese and ham, and a menu.
All around us were casks stacked to the ceiling, dusty bottles, and warmly-lit, oaky d├ęcor.  We had been transported to the old Algarve from times when Albufeira was a little fishing village - our waiter didn't speak a word of English - bliss!
The specials were hand-written on the first page, all twenty-odd of them.  Mainly fishy, there were a few meat dishes too.  And all very moderately priced, with mains ranging from 7 to 10 euro.  All written in Portuguese, I might add - we were the non-local minority that night.
The fish was tasty, fresh and perfectly cooked.  Served rustically, nothing pretentious, just fantastic Portuguese fare.  Sarah enjoyed the best piece of salmon she claims ever to have eaten.  My seafood medley in a winey sauce, not a million miles off paella, was served in a traditional copper pan, a hotchpotch of what was good and fresh that day: mussels, prawns, squid, fish.  The jug of vinho verde (green wine) helped it all go down very nicely.
We felt very privileged, on this most tourist-saturated of coasts, to find a little piece of Portugal, still in tact, attracting locals and welcoming the few lucky (plucky?) souls to venture away from the prettier quarters of town.
It was so good, we went back the very next night!  Who can turn down top-notch seafood for under ten yo-yos?  Although Sarah decided to give the Portuguese steak a go.  It was served raw, and a hot rock was provided, so she could cook the pieces to her own liking.  We were seated elbow to elbow with our fellow diners - this is a popular place and the hotel was obviously sending everyone here - and they politely pretended not to notice flecks of hot fat speckle their table mats and wine glasses.
How typical - the best meals of our 10 days in Portugal were the cheapest!  And in a jewel of a place that we found only because the one we researched was closed.

From November 2011

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Top Kitchen Gadgets

I tend to get fun, kitchen, gadgety things for birthdays and Christmasses, mainly because I ask for them.  Over the years, we have all accumulated things that sounded great at the time, but ended up gathering dust in the utility room because they were just too darn hard to wash, or didn't actually save us that much time or effort in the end.
I'll never forget that juicer.  It took hours to take apart and clean, and even so there was still old fruit pulp hiding in the crevices ... eugh ....
The following five items are things that I actually use regularly, because they really do help more than they hinder.  I have chosen them based on the following criteria:

1.  They make life easier.
2.  They don't cost a fortune to use.
3.  They aren't impossible to wash up.

1.  Garlic Zoom
I don't know what I ever did before the Garlic Zoom.  Think Matchbox diecast toy car meets Nighmare on Elm Street.  Put a whole (peeled) clove of garlic in, zoom zoom vroom across the worktop like a toy car, and tip out finely chopped garlic.  Your hands won't smell.  A few bits will get stuck on the blade or in crevices, but a quick swish in warm soapy water is enough to get it clean again.  About £10 online.  Chef'n is a good (the original?) brand.  You'll still want to keep your garlic press for more pulverized garlic.  Otherwise, the job takes seconds, washing takes seconds.  Thanks to our friend and all-round kitchen queen Clare Higgins for introducing us to the Zoom.

2.  Mini-Chopper

I was dubious about this one, but it has convinced me.  Much smaller than a food processor, I wondered how well this little guy could do the job.  But he does, to perfection, every time.  Lemon zest, chilli, herbs, breadcrumbs, dressings, ... no trouble.  Cost us about £10 in a half-price Kenwood sale.  Much quicker to set up than the big food processor, this works in seconds and is washed in seconds.  Slightly too easy to break - ours is missing a few bits of plastic lock, but it still works fine.

3.  Mezzaluna
OK, so I wanted this at first because it looks cool.  But I have learned that it is useful too.  It came with its own wooden board, into which it slots for easy storage.  Excellent for herbs, and sun-dried tomatoes.  With some ingredients, especially if using them in more than small amounts, a mezzaluna is just easier than a knife.

4.  Hand grater
I have always hated standard graters, because the stuff gets stuck inside, and they are a nightmare to wash.  I can never get my hand inside properly.  No such middle-class problem with a flat hand-grater.  Excellent for nutmeg, parmesan, garlic, ginger.  So simple - who knew?!  The big grater is still needed for carrots, cheddar, etc. 

5.  Breadmaker
OK so this one was a wedding present from my sister and brother-in-law, and I know it costs more than numbers 1-4 combined.  But it features here because it makes it so incredibly easy to make delicious fresh bread with no chemical preservatives.  (You can use it to make jams and chutneys, various enriched doughs and stuff, but I haven't tried those.)  Recipes are easy - so long as you measure accurately, you are basically guaranteed a perfect loaf every time.  There are gluten-free settings.  You can programme the machine to have the loaf ready in the morning and wake up to the smell of fresh bread.  You can experiment and add seeds, herbs, cheese, garlic, tomatoes, olives ...  The making of the loaf takes approximately 3 minutes, and then the machine does the rest.  Washing = a quick wipe of the pan with kitchen paper. 

Friday, 9 August 2013


A few days laid up with a sinus infection was the perfect opportunity to watch the BBC sit-com Rev all over. 

Before I had any inclination to watch the first series, I'd read reports of complaints at the depiction of an urban C of E priest as a smoking, swearing, drinking character.  Obviously, I'd heard rumours that ordained clergy might say the odd fiddlesticks or sip a small sherry - but the first five minutes of viewing were quite surprising!

And then the prayer scene (I think there's one in every episode).  While washing dishes, navigating a precarious cycle lane or on the loo, Adam's prayers are often very touching.  Natural, honest, caring.  His is no superficial spirituality.
Adam faces the reality of contemporary parish life.  His ministry seems to revolve around fundraising far more than he wants to; the urban needy erode all hopes of boundaries and a private life; the old moral certainties seem strangely absent in inner-city East London life today.  Enthusiasm about church-going tends to coincide with school league tables and having children around the age of 10.

Yep, there's just one thing harder than being a vicar.  Being married to one!
My goodness, I hope it turns out to be a bit easier in real life!  And yet, the show is extensively researched.  I've heard that the elements about which most complaints have been made to the BBC, happen to be the very ones based on real life ministry!

The series one finale depicts a crisis of faith and vocation.  That one was an eye-opener, as well as a tear-jerker.  It's a must-see for anyone considering ordained ministry - although the House of Bishops may decide the language is slightly too colourful to warrant being included in a selection conference.
As a younger Christian, I think I would have doubted whether Rev Adam Smallbone could really be saved.  Now, aged 34 and about to embark on ministerial training myself, I think there are many admirable qualities in him.  I hope not to be quite as potty-mouthed, but I could do far worse than to emulate his honesty and graciousness.

New series to air in 2013!  Yeroo!

Profane Language

 As you might know, I am a huge geek, and was delighted to be given details of books to get and read, so as to get a bit of a head start before semester one begins.
So I am learning Hebrew.  (It's really fun!!!)
I've made several attempts over the years to gain a reading knowledge of Hebrew.  I've always had a penchant for Old Testament stuff, and I think that a knowledge of Hebrew will be a great help in the future for the teaching role within ministry.
Plus it's really fun!  (See?  Geek.)
Two Sundays ago, I preached on the Lord's Prayer from Luke 11, and as part of my preparation I read some of Kenneth Bailey's masterpiece, 'Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes'.  It's a great book for seeing familiar passages afresh and a-challenging.
Bailey reminds us that Jesus didn't go about talking Hebrew.  The educated Jew understood Hebrew, yes, and used it as the language of the synagogue.  And your average Joe would've known some passages of scripture and prayers in Hebrew.
But the language people spoke in the marketplace, in the street, the language Jesus would have taught in, was in fact Aramaic. 
Hebrew was the sacred language of a sacred culture - Israel.  Aramaic was everybody's language precisely because it was no ethnic group in particular's language. 
And when Jesus' disciples asked 'Lord, teach us to pray', WOW he said Abba, the Aramaic word for (Our) Father!
Not, in Hebrew, Oh Lord God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob ... but he made us all brothers and sisters, Jew and Gentile, by teaching us to call God Abba.
Bailey talked me through each line of the Lord's Prayer, with loads of illuminating pointers from cultural and linguistic studies.  But it was the use of an everyday, earthy lingua franca for prayer that struck a chord in me. 
I'll keep battering away at the Hebrew, because it's the language most of the Bible is written in, and when I preach and teach I don't want to get confused with different translations.
(And it's really fun!)
But Jesus' use of a non-sacred, non-ethnically partisan language challenges me to take great care as I approach ministerial training.  I won't be there to learn to speak Churchese.  Rather, I need to learn the ideas of the Bible and, crucially, how to translate them into the culture, the language, of ordinary people.

That's what I took from the day's gospel reading.  Even harder, perhaps, than mastering those elusive Hebrew verb patterns.  But - I predict - also fun.