Archive for March, 2008

Monkey Bread –

29 March 08

This sticky sweet yeast bread dessert was first popularized in America by the women’s magazines of the 1950s. Nancy Reagan brought about a resurgence of popularity when she served it at the White House during the Reagan Presidency.Most people have had it made from canned biscuits. The real thing is far superior and not at all difficult.

This is wonderful fresh from the oven. It is not bad reheated.

First, make the dough:

305 grams milk – hot but not scalded. (1-1/3 cups)
57 grams unsalted butter (4 Tbs), cut into pieces
50 grams sugar (1/4 cup)
1 package yeast (do not use rapid-rise)
55 grams 110°F water (1/4 cup) (for blooming yeast)
2 large eggs, room temp
750 grams flour (5 cups)
14 grams salt (2 tsp)

I suppose you could use the paddle on your mixture for the first couple of steps, but I’m too lazy to wash something else, so I just use the dough hook for the whole thing. If you don’t have a good mixer then have fun with the mixing and kneading.

Proof the yeast in the warm water. Mix the milk, sugar and butter 2 minutes low speed. After the milk mixture has cooled to lukewarm add the yeast mix, eggs and stir on low speed for 1 minute. Add the salt and the flour Mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Mix on second speed for 3 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled.

Butter up a good sized bundt pan (at least 12 cup). Don’t use anything else, a tube pan will not work, nor will anything else that has a removable insert.

Glaze:

1/3 cup brown sugar – most use light
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
good handful of chopped pecans (around ½ cup)

Heat up the brown sugar, butter and cream, stir continuously. Just as it comes to the boil, pour it around the bottom of the bundt pan evenly. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the glaze. Be sure to get nice, even coverage.

The dough should be risen by now. Cut off golf ball sized pieces and roll into balls. Set aside.

Coating:

handful of chopped pecans (about 1/2 cup)
¾ stick melted unsalted butter (5 to 6 Tbs)
Enough sugar to coat (about ¾ cup)

Pour the melted butter into one dish and the sugar into another. Roll each dough ball in the butter and then the sugar and then place them into the bundt pan.

When you are about halfway up the pan sprinkle the pecans. Keep adding layers of coated balls until you reach 2/3 to ¾ of the way up the pan.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375°F. Bake for 45 minutes. Flip the bread out onto a cooling rack. There will probably be some coating and nuts in the bottom of the pan. Spoon out onto the bread immediately.

Let it cool for at least 20 minutes and then enjoy while warm.

Herself Sez: O Yeah! Made with dark brown sugar, oodles of pecans and lots of butter – yummm!! Fingers get sticky and greasy – you just gotta lick ’em off! And then it takes a washcloth to  take care of your face!! This is wonderful stuff! But I warn you, a whole loaf is just too much for two people – even 1/2 a loaf is too much for the two of us. We usually end up giving away about 3/4 of the loaf to friends (the grandchildren are mostly non-sugar kids at this point, so we don’t even offer it to them). The Ol’ Curmudgeon only makes it when we have people in mind to give the majority of it to – so it won’t go to waste (or to waist!).

You do go on about Islam – –

27 March 08

Yes, I do. Islam is incompatible with freedom and democracy. It is, in fact, really illegal under American law.Whoa, hold it, what about freedom of religion? The government does not interfere with religion. Actually, it does. Ask the Mormon polygamists if the government has interfered with their free practice of religion. Ask the practitioners of Voodoo if they are allowed to freely torture animals to sacrificial death. Ask the White Supremacists if they can freely practice their beliefs. Ask the totally anti-gay crowd if their beliefs are being trampled. Ask the Branch Davidians.

Hate speech is against the law. The hallmarks of hate speech are:

  1. Drawing a distinction between one’s own identity group and those outside it
  2. Moral comparison based on this distinction
  3. Devaluation or dehumanization of other groups and the insistence of personal superiority
  4. The advocating of different standards of treatment based on identity group membership
  5. A call to violence against members of other groups

The Qur’an and the other “holy books” of Islam qualify on all the above counts in spades. Even a cursory examination of the writings of Islam shows the contempt with which all non-Moslems are regarded.

Don’t take my word for it. Do your own research. But go to the sources, don’t just take the self-serving and lying of groups like CAIR. Remember that it is Sharia “holy” to lie to non-Moslems.

Preaching subjugation of anyone who does not believe as you do is not Constitutional. It is one thing to preach, as some of the more ignorant fundamentalists do, that someone who does not believe as you do will go to Hell after they die. It is another thing entirely to preach that you should send them there yourself.

Yeah, I would completely outlaw Islam in this country as it is unconstitutional. I happily work and live with Christians, Jews, Mormons (who are not Christians), Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses (likewise not Christians), Christian Scientists (neither Christian nor scientific), Buddhists, Sikhs, atheists and so on. But Islam is a cancer that cannot be reconciled with freedom and toleration. Their entire history is full of duplicity, lying, murder, rape, slavery, torture and persecution whenever they got the upper hand. Ask the three Jewish tribes around Medina about living in peaceful tolerant co-existence with Moslems. Ask the 270 million who have been murdered by Moslems. Ask the Jews who are blown up by Moslem terrorists daily. Ask the ghosts of 9/11. Ask the ghosts of those who are beheaded by Moslems – a holy act under Sharia law.

It is not that there have not been nutcases who purported to be Christian. There have. But nowhere in the Bible or the writings of the Church Fathers can you find any justification for murder. It is clear in any form of Christianity that is not some nut-cult that while God may hate the sin He loves the sinner. Whenever some nut-cult springs up that advocates hate it is condemned by Christians everywhere.

This is not true of Islam. In Islam Allah hates anyone not a bloodthirsty Moslem. Allah doesn’t even approve of non-murderous Moslems. Islam is a religion of hatred and oppression. Those who commit atrocities are not condemned by the rest of the Moslems. In fact, those few Moslems who do make some sort of feeble protest are regarded as apostates by the rest of the Moslem world.

Like I said, a cancer that should be eliminated from any free society.

Doubtless there will be those, either of Moslem persuasion or, more reprehensibly, American liberals who will accuse me of being hateful. It is not hateful to point out the truth about some group behavior. Is it hate speech to declare that the KKK is a hate group? Is it hate speech to declare that the Nazis were a hate organization? What I say would be hate speech if it were not true. It is. Check it out.

Oh yeah, the Harvard weaklings who gave in to the Moslem’s women only demand for the gym. If any male group had demanded male only times they would have been told to go away. If any Christian group had requested special treatment in the gym they would have been laughed at and ridiculed. But the limp libs at Harvard made the totally wrong move for Moslem women. The correct answer would have been abide by the current rules or don’t use the facility.

This is the same tactic Mohammed used over and over, take a little, take a little, take a little, then kill the people who didn’t finish him off, and start the same cycle all over again until there was no one left to oppose him. Ask the Arab polytheists who had Mecca before Mohammed took over. They tolerated him. He didn’t return the favor. Ask the Jews around Medina. Take a little, take a little, kill. That’s Moslem history. And their holy behavior. Not hate speech.

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled – –

22 March 08

That’s Sean Hannity’s current favorite saying. I think I have to disagree with him.

It is bad enough that the left is running a beauty contest. That’s all it really is. Hillary’s only qualification for office is sleeping with the President. That makes Monica also qualified on the same basis. Even the most rabid Obama supporter does not seem able to name anything that he has actually accomplished. Even his most rabid detractors (when honest) have to admit he’s kind of a pretty fellow and speaks quite well. He can give one hell of an inspirational speech. I don’t see any other qualifications.

The left has preferred form over substance for quite some time now. But what on earth has possessed the right to pimp for someone like McCain? I do respect his military service. I do believe that he will be strong in the face of overt aggression. But people – look at his track record. McCain-Feingold has done nothing to achieve real campaign reform. It is somewhat questionable Constitutionally (I’m being charitable). He was for the immigration forgiveness nonsense – until 90% of the people in this country said “Hell NO”! He is no conservative fiscally. He is going to be the Republican candidate, even though he has a track record of kissing Dems and spurning members of his own party.

As to the President, about the only thing that the next one will do that is of major importance is appointing a Supreme Court justice or two. The leftward leaning judges seem to be able to swear to uphold the Constitution and then just ignore it and do what they wish.

We will get who we get. The Republicans have certainly not earned our votes. The Republican Majority Congress of the 90s and early 2000s did not curb spending and did none of the things that we conservative types put them in office to do. They spent like drunken bums, they had ridiculous scandals. The liberal press will ignore William Jefferson type Dems with freezers full of cash. The press will not hold any Dem to a reasonable standard. Republicans should realize that they will be held to a higher standard.

However – since the President will be a liberal, whether Hillary, Obama, or McCain, the thing that will be necessary to keep the country from going completely down the toilet is going to be the Congressional races. We must fight like hell to put reasonable, responsible, conservative people in the Congress or you can probably start studying your Koran now to avoid the rush. You might also brush up on your Spanish since the borders will be completely open and the illegals seems to think that we should learn their language. (The legals want to learn ours). The libs will pull the troops out as fast as possible and weaken the military as much as they can. Nature does abhor a vacuum and it will not be filled by reasonable people in the Middle-East – it will be filled by those who are not our friends.

If we don’t put the brakes on the leftward slide, your heart indeed should be troubled, for we will not last much longer as a proud and free people.

Light Rye Bread –

20 March 08

Somehow light rye bread, a staple of Middle-European diets, got called Jewish Rye or New York Rye in this country. It is thought that rye was originally considered a weed that would occasionally grow in the wheat fields. The stuff is heartier and more cold resistant than wheat, so it is easier to grow. Very tasty. The main problem is that rye flour doesn’t have the gluten that wheat flour does and doesn’t rise worth beans. So we add wheat flour in various amounts to get a decent bread. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to make a 100% rye bread, but that’s not what this article is about.Now, this recipe is based on rye sourdough starter and you need to get some going before you tackle this one. See the earlier article Rye Sourdough Mysteries to see how to get the sourdough started. If you already have starter just jump right in. If you don’t, it will be about 15 days of prep before you are ready.

Most of my bread recipes are either derived from or influenced by Jeffrey Hamelman’s wonderful book – Bread. This one is no different in that respect.

This will make 2 smallish loaves or 1 larger loaf.

215g rye sourdough
680g High gluten flour
430g water
15g caraway seeds
15g salt
1 pkg yeast – regular, not instant – we want a slow rise to develop flavor.

You could use bread flour in place of the high gluten stuff. The proportion will probably be about the same. Do yourself a favor and order some of the high gluten flour off the King Arthur website, I don’t imagine you will find in your local supermarket. Your taste buds will thank you.

This makes a rather sticky dough that would be a bit unpleasant to knead by hand. Depending on the moisture content of your starter you may need to diddle the water up or down a bit. I keep my rye sourdough at 50/50 balance (100% hydration).

Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl, Mix on first speed for 3 minutes. Mix on second speed for 3 minutes.

Rise 1 to 2 hours.

Divide the dough in half. Place into small, greased bread pans. This is a bit loose for free-form. Make it stiffer if you want free-form loaves.

Rise 1 to 2 hours.

Spray your oven before loading, after 30 seconds, and again after an additional 3 minutes. Bake at 460°F for 15 minutes then lower the oven temp to 440°F for 25 minutes.

If you have made a stiffer, free-form loaf then just before loading, score the loaves.

Makes good toast. Makes a dandy platform for strong flavored sandwich stuff.

Herself sez: A sandwich that is a joy on this bread involves some mayo, some Grey Poupon Harvest Coarse Ground mustard (yumm), some swiss cheese, some ham and some sweet pickles. Slice bread in your preferred thickness. Apply condiments and sandwich contents to bread in your preferred proportions.

Standards is standards – –

18 March 08

Lately, with the hoo-raw over Barack Obama’s longtime pastor, I’m hearing this business of “Well, in the black community…” and a bunch of excuses about why this church, this preacher, and Obama should not be held to the same standards as anyone else. “It’s customary in the black community to…”.Look here, indeed a preacher can say pretty much whatever he wants to. However – while the various Aryan Nation, Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist groups can and do have their churches where hatred of others is preached, they are condemned not only all mainline Christians but also by all the liberals. I don’t know of anyone who would excuse the stupidity and hatred of these groups with a no-brain statement of “Well, in the white community this is just the custom…”

Now, this is proper and good. These white supremacist hate groups should be condemned. Why is it that instead of condemning black groups that preach hate the liberals start in with this “Well, in the black community…” bunch of excuses.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Should we not hold all people to the same standards? Did we not learn anything from the Jim Crow era? The evil of Jim Crow was not that black people were persecuted. That was a symptom. The underlying evil was that there were different standards for different groups. The civil rights movement was not about giving black people a different set of rights and standards, but to put in a level playing field so that all people had the same rights and standards.

The kicker that really fries me is the excuse that “well, this guy (Jeremiah Wright) has done a lot of good in the black community”. The standards of bad and wrong behavior do not change just because the perpetrator has also done a little bit of good. Let us point out that post WWI Germany was in terrible shape. The economy was wrecked, the people were defeated, broke, unemployed, hungry, despondent. Adolph Hitler got the economy of Germany going and eliminated hunger. His stirring speeches inspired and uplifted the people and restored a sense of nation unity and pride. Does any of this excuse the evil of the man? Does the fact that he gave the people hope excuse the hatred of his speeches?

Why is it that the libs want different moral standards for various minority groups? And even that is not consistent. Why are there different standards for blacks? And not for Greeks? Why are there not the same moral standards for all people, no matter what race, sex, gender, or whatever? Why do the liberals support different standards for Moslems?

The other thing that I find amusing is the press letting Obama get away with the ignorance position. After following this nut for 20 years Obama says that he never heard any of this stuff from the pew. Maybe he was asleep.

I can’t say that, we don’t have pews. But I can tell you that I have been a Christian for almost 40 years and within a month or two (or less) I would pretty well know where a priest stood on any issue. Am I that much more intelligent or awake than Obama? I don’t think so. I’ll bet you that he knew all along exactly where this fella’ stands. The libs and the liberal press have fallen all over themselves to embrace Obama and have not vetted him at all. Looks like their pig in the poke may bite them in the butt.

If the American people do not wake up real soon then there will not be a country to worry about.

It is a dangerous world out there – –

15 March 08

I look out across the world and I see a puzzling set of circumstances. It appears to me that there are 5 major players in the world today. The US, Russia, China, the European Union, and the Moslems.The US is getting weaker and weaker. We have people who are far more interested in their own little versions of a welfare state than they are in building a future that is safe and free for their children and grandchildren. We have the legacy of the Vietnam era, the children and grandchildren of that spoiled and self centered lot who are as bad as or even worse. The Code Pink people come to mind. These people will demonstrate and break all kinds of laws to get their own way. Sorta-kinda “we will kill you to get peace”. The same kind of thinking goes into the Eco-Terrorists who will bomb buildings in the name of mother nature; fouling the air, the land and the water with the products of their protests. These people will spike trees with the hope that some poor bastard trying to feed his family will be killed or severely injured when a saw hits the spike. These people will party when someone else is suffering with the smug self-assurance that “they got what they deserved”. We have people who not only would not think of serving in the military, but are willing to tear down our military and leave us defenseless while prating of their precious “rights”. Which rights they would not have without the sacrifice of all the brave soldiers since the Revolution. Let the loudmouths dis Allah half as much as they do Christ when they are under Moslem domination. Hah.

Meanwhile the others are not our friends. The biggest player is the Chinese. We seem to forget that they do not love freedom. While our corporations send more and more jobs to China we do not remember that the avowed aim of China is to run the US completely out of the Pacific Basin and turn it into a Chinese lake. They believe the destiny of China is to rule over Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc. all the way to and including Hawaii. This country is an oligarchy with a socialist/Maoist veneer. They are benefiting from our trade to build up their own manufacturing capability while we sacrifice our own. They are also becoming one of our largest debt holders. We will be in a world of hurt when they call the bills due, which they are likely to do when it will hurt the most.

Russia. Well – what can I say. The Russians impede our attempts to get the UN off its duff with the same glee they had when they were the Soviet Union. The Russia of today is rapidly becoming a dictatorship again. Dictators need a bad guy to rail against to keep the power. Watch this space for future developments.

The European Union is becoming the tool of the Germans. Don’t get me wrong, I rather like Germans. But – we have seen that they started two World Wars already, and I find it quite ominous that they are consolidating power in the EU. They are gaining quite a bit of territory without firing a shot. European consolidation under German rule has long been their passion. Looks like they are getting there. The recent mess in the Balkans is an eerie replay of the lead up to WWI. France and England will not be willing partners to German hegemony, but both are so weakened with internal Moslem problems that they can do little to rein in Germany.

The whole thrust of Islam is conquest of non-believers. Where Christianity seeks to convert by persuasion and good works, Islam has conversion by the sword built in. Remember that murder, rape, and slavery are regarded as good and holy activities. Under Sharia law it is no sin to lie to an unbeliever, it can even be considered holy behavior. Think about that before you trust Iran’s psycho leader.

England and France are so tied up with Moslem problems that their ability to function is becoming quite minimized and should be a good lesson for those who want to allow Moslems free access to this country. The only countries that I know of that have set the Moslems in their places are Australia and Denmark. The Danes nearly lost it when they allowed Moslems to come in freely, sign up for various welfare programs and vote. They finally came to their senses and started restricting Moslem immigration and insisted that they have jobs and learn the language. The Australians have made it quite clear that if Moslems want to come to their country then they must become Australians, that Australia will not become a Moslem state and that they cannot live under Sharia law. We should take a good look at these two country’s policies. In the county I live in an Orthodox Christian Church was denied permission to build; the excuse used was that it was a foreign religion and that the neighbors would object (there was no survey of the potential neighbors). Hindus and Moslems were granted building permits, and the neighbors did object. Interesting.

And don’t forget all the minor players out there, such as Hugo Chavez. They may be minor, but a lot of minor can be pretty major. The minor tinpots will cheer on our adversaries and rejoice at every little setback for our country. They may not amount to much individually, but collectively they do mean a fair amount.

We can either get a grip and be free, strong, honest and pretty much self-sufficient or we can see our grandchildren conquered. It won’t happen overnight, but unless we make a commitment to freedom and self-reliance we will fall. Guaranteed. And the wolves are out there, make no mistake.

Freedom requires a strong military. Those liberals who want to weaken or destroy the military will leave us in the position of the idiot who brings a knife to a gun fight. Code Pink would do more for world peace if the protested the armies of the people who seek to destroy us. What don’t they understand about the Moslems who murdered innocent  people on 9/11? The Moslems are quite happy to murder innocent people, it is part of their ethos. If we destroy our military there will be more and more murders of innocents.

It might also be noted that if we keep sending jobs and manufacturing to China, India, and other such places that we weaken ourselves to make them strong. When the time comes that we must arm ourselves or die we will have nowhere to manufacture our armaments. We will not be able to defend ourselves with our big screen TVs and boom-boxes.

While it is true that there are wolves out there and that it is indeed a dangerous world I find that the biggest danger is the mindless masses in our midst. God help America (even though we have turned our backs on Him), no one else will.

Why Do You Always Beat Up On Liberals and Democrats – –

13 March 08

Don’t the Republicans do things wrong?You betcha, in spades. However, obviously I am a conservative – original, true meaning. And secondly, the liberal press does just fine crucifying conservatives or Republicans. Look at MS-NBC, CNN, The New York Times, and all the other examples of the liberal press. They do a fine job pillorying Republican mistakes (whether real or imagined).

Take George Bush. Now, I don’t particularly approve of Mr. Bush, but – he is the duly elected Chief Executive and CIC and should be accorded the respect due his office. Would I go into Iraq – knowing what I know now? Probably not. Would I have gone into Iraq with the intelligence that we had at the time? Probably. Saddam Hussein was running a mammoth bluff and had every intelligence unit in the world convinced that he had WMD and the capacity to deliver. And he foxed us as well. This was an error. But, this does not give the left the right to be so totally foul towards our President.

I must also point out that having put our hands to this plow of Iraq we must finish the job or it will be many times worse.

George Bush had an opportunity to be great. Unfortunately he didn’t have enough personal charisma to carry it off in the face of all the liberal hatred and opposition. Even in the early days after 9/11 when the Democrats and the Republicans were reasonably united there were enough negative kooks around to take the wind out of his sails.

What kind of people complacently sit in their places looking like cows when some French bimbo tells them that 9/11 was an American conspiracy? The liberals of Hollywood at the Academy Awards. Sick. The Academy should tell these wackos that if they make political hay out of their awards they will lose them on the spot. No exceptions.

The press and the Republicans made a monstrous mistake in prosecuting Bill Clinton for the Monika Lewinsky business. (Not to mention Paula Jones and all the others). Did Bill do wrong – yes, big time – and the senior members of the Senate and the House should have gone to him privately and told him to clean up his act. The press did not print that kind of nonsense about other Presidents who had affairs. Consider JFK – many affairs – and nothing published during his presidency. There have been others. Sometimes covering the father’s nakedness is better for the country. Of course, these lib newsies don’t care about the country, only about themselves and their agendas.

Since the left successfully hounded Richard Nixon out of office it has been open season on the office, no matter which party was in. Unless there was nothing even microscopically useful for smearing the person. Gerald Ford was pretty clean and straight. Jimmy Carter was elected in a backlash and, although he was one of the worst presidents and biggest fools in history, there was nothing in his personal conduct to smear. Ronald Reagan was completely straight. George Bush senior was straight – he did not lose the presidency to Bill Clinton, he lost it to Ross Perot. Clinton was dirty, but he should have been nailed on his incompetence and illegalities, not his affairs. There is no discretion in the press anymore. Remember that we did not tell the press about Panama or Grenada until they were established facts. The press cannot be trusted not to give information to our enemies. There is no dirt on George Bush junior, so Dan Rather went with a story that was completely fabricated in an effort to discredit him. There is really no need for foreign intelligence in this country. All our enemies have to do is read the papers and watch CNN. Of course they might have some difficulty in separating truth from lies.

The Rosie O’Donalds of the world spew forth all sorts of filth about our president with no concern about the known foibles of their darling Hillary, who has been shown to be less than truthful on more than one occasion. Rose Law Firm, Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, etc. Is it any wonder that we are losing any sort of prestige in the world? Why should foreign governments give any respect to our chief executive when our own people refuse to be courteous or respectful? In the military we learned that you always salute the rank, even if the individual does not deserve it.

So, I beat up on liberals and Democrats frequently. I must repeat that I am a conservative, but I am not a Republican, not anymore. The Republicans have left the principles that I hold dear: The Constitution as a basis for all law, applied equally to all people with no special groups favored either way. The essential dignity of all citizens. Fiscal responsibility with no pork barrel spending. Limited government. Firm and impartial application of the law. Tax reform. A strong military. Controlled immigration. I guess that makes me old-fashioned and oddball nowadays. I will admit freely that I usually vote against the Democrat in whatever race. I very seldom find that the Republican is someone I can vote for happily, just that he is likely the least poisonous choice available.

Have no fear, I will slam the Republicans as necessary. If we get McCain, it will probably prove necessary rather regularly. He is at least marginally qualified for the office. If we get Hillary or Obama I will definitely have things to gripe about, assuming we still have a country left. Neither one of those has any experience at all that qualifies them in the least to be Chief Executive. And both have promised to steer us down the road to hell and socialism.

Orthodox Lent – –

11 March 08

The Orthodox do just about everything by the calendar. We in this country have gotten totally away from the natural rhythms of the earth. Most of us do not live and/or work in the country anymore. We have become a nation of urban dwellers who live and work indoors. The most nature that the majority of us are exposed to is getting into and out of the car at home and at work. And a significant percentage of us have garages in the house now. We are usually somewhat aware of the climate, but don’t feel the rhythms of the earth. Our jobs usually don’t change, no matter what it is doing outside.It usually seems a bit strange to people until they have been in the Church for a few years, and then the gentle cycle of the calendar brings them a bit closer to the natural rhythms of God’s creation. An excellent example is the Orthodox entry into Lent. Now Lent is a time of intense prayer and fasting for the majority of Christians in the world. The Orthodox, the Romans, the Coptics all celebrate Lent as preparation for Pascha (Easter). Only some of the Western Protestants do not.

As an aside I will point out that fasting is regarded as a supercharger for prayer. If you are not going to intensively pray then fasting doesn’t really do you a whole lot of good (well, maybe a bit less calories).

The west is used to Lent starting the Roman way – big blowout on Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras), then getting contrite and smearing ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday. This works for them, I guess, but I really prefer the Orthodox way.

First, there is the week of Meatfare two weeks before the beginning of Lent. This is the last normal week where anything and everything may be consumed except on Wednesday and Friday, the normal fasting days. The week after Meatfare is Cheesefare, where anything except meat can be consumed the whole week.

I suppose I had better review the Orthodox fasting guidelines, which are really more abstaining than fasting as we understand it in the West. It is more than a little rough to think about not eating for 56 days, and the Orthodox Church is very gentle. A strict fast of the Lenten variety is no meat, no fish, no dairy, no wine, no olive oil. What is allowed is shellfish, veggies, beer, and any oil that is not olive oil. It is also considered good fasting practice not to eat before evening, if possible. The fast is usually tailored to the capabilities and needs of the individual so that not all will be strict fasting. Those forbidden to fast would be growing children, the sick, pregnant or nursing women and people who are doing demanding and/or dangerous work. For the record, Our Lord did not say “if you fast”, He said “when you fast”. He also recommended a low profile. It is considered good Orthodox manners to eat that which is set in front of you and not make a big deal about fasting when visiting a non-Orthodox friend. It is also considered good form not to deliberately put yourself in a position of breaking the fast if it can be done gracefully.

The actual entry into Lent is called Forgiveness Sunday, as Lent proper begins following Forgiveness Vespers. In the service the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is recited and the first prostrations of Lent take place.

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust of power and idle talk.

(Prostration)

But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love.

(Prostration)

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.

(Prostration)

O God, cleanse Thou me a sinner (12 times, with as many bows, and then again the whole prayer from the beginning throughout, and after that one great prostration)

The culmination of Forgiveness Vespers is when a full prostration is done before each member of the congregation. This is one of the very few times that prostration is done on Sunday. Sunday is the day of Resurrection and, although we are not worthy, Our Lord raised us to the status of sons and daughters and we normally stand as befits heirs of the Kingdom.

I suppose I had better describe prostrations. A full prostration is when you put knees, hands and forehead to the floor. It is good to give a bit of room between the people or they can bang heads – very uncomfortable. It is always awkward when someone tries it Western style, which is to go to one knee, struggle to get the opposing knee down, bow, up to the knees, one foot down, and then try to rise from the opposing knee on the one foot. The correct way is not difficult – if the joints and muscles are fit. Rock slightly forward to the balls of the feet while sinking to both knees, bend forward at the waist while keeping the toes curled up and in contact with the floor while placing the hands on the floor and then the forehead. As you rise from the floor with the forehead, give a light spring of the hands while bringing the body upright, rock back to the balls of the feet while rising from the knees to the standing position. With very little practice it becomes quite natural and easily done. The practical way of handling the line is everyone lines up on the right side of the church and as they get to the clergy, they do the prostration and then form a line on the left of the church so that each person may prostrate before all the other members. Of course, those who are not physically fit do not do the prostrations, they just bow to the other person. And those who need it can put a chair down and bow from the sitting position.

As each person makes the prostration they ask the other person’s forgiveness, usually with the phase “Forgive me, my brother (or sister)”. The normal response is “May God forgive us all”. If there is some reason for a more personal plea or response that is frequently done. The standard Eastern kiss is given after the declaration of forgiveness, an embrace with the kiss alternating cheeks three times.

Now this may seem a bit odd to those who have never seen it, but – let me tell you, it makes a great deal of difference in your life when you ask forgiveness – and mean it. This also means that you are asking the forgiveness of your spouse and children. I cannot speak for women, but I can tell you that as a man, a husband, and a father it makes you examine your relationships within your family very closely.

It is a wonderful and gentle way of entering into the preparation for the Celebration of the Resurrection.

Forgive me, my brothers and sisters, if I have offended you.

May God forgive us all our sins.

Why do you Orthodox have all those weird pictures –

7 March 08

. . .
Particularly when it says not to have images.

These are called Icons – which is Greek for image.

Deep sigh. Ok, here goes.

That’s Exodus 20:4. The quote is somewhat iffy. There are all kinds of contradictory translations. There is also contradictory scripture in the same book. Consider Exodus 26:1 where God instructs Moses to make the tabernacle with the sculptures of Cherubim at the sides. Beware of “proving” anything with a single chapter-verse quote. Take the whole of Scripture into account.

Let us also point out that those Cherubim are graven images and Icons (paintings) are not. Status are, but we don’t have them. Nice little point, that.

Besides all of which, we live in the New Testament, not the Old. I don’t know of any sane Christian who thinks that we live under the 618 laws of the Old Testament. See Acts where James pins Peter’s ears back on the whole Judaizing business. The Incarnation of Christ changed (and broke) all kinds of rules.

First Icon is painted – actually the correct term is written – by St. Luke. Remember that Luke was a physician and a very educated and well-traveled man. That Icon has been copied many times, so we know what it looked like. The style is from the Egyptian burial paintings of the time. Remember that the whole of Middle Eastern culture was radically transformed by Greek culture. Why Greek and not Roman? Glad you asked. The conquests of Alexander were the greatest ever achieved by a single individual. He conquered all of the eastern Mediterranean basin, all of Asia Minor, and most of Asia Major all the way to and into India. Upon his death (323 BC) the empire was split into pieces by his generals. These were called the Diadochoi (Διάδοχοι in Greek). The major survivors were: Ptolemy – all of Egyptian Africa, Cassander – most of Greece, Lysimachus – the major lands around the Bosporus, Seleucus – most of what we call the Middle East today – Iran and the like over to and including Israel. These were held by the Greeks and their descendants until the Romans came calling. Remember Cleopatra? She was the last of Ptolemy’s line. Yeah, the one that carried on with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. She died in 30BC, so the Roman influence was not nearly as long and strong as the Greek. Besides, the Roman’s were a little on the weak side culturally and borrowed heavily from the Greeks.

Anyway, the culture of the entire Middle East became an amalgam of the local native culture, an overlay of Persian (Iranian), with a top layer of Greek culture. The Ptolemaic Egyptians had developed a very stylized form of funeral portraiture by the time of the Apostles, and Luke was quite familiar with the style and proficient at executing it.

I dare say that even the most virulent Bible pounder should think before criticizing the beliefs and practices of the Apostles. Do they really know better than Luke?

Next, it is indeed impossible (and improper) to attempt to portray the Father. He is unseen. However, there is a different slant on Christ. Christ is God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity. He is fully human as well as fully Divine. He has a human body. We humans have seen Him. A three dimensional living body that may indeed be represented. The Saints – more properly the Holy Ones – a better translation of Hagia – are human beings who have lived among us. And still do – remember that when Paul talked about the Saints he was talking about specific living people that he knew, loved, and ADMIRED. He thought that they were worthy of praise and emulation. There was no formal court, no Devil’s advocate or any such. The people could and did recognize the Holy Ones in their midst. And still can.

Tell me something – does anyone out there have a problem with asking a fellow Christian to pray for him? Have you never asked anyone in your Church to pray for you? Have you never prayed for someone else? Have you never listened to anyone else in your church with respect or tried to emulate someone you admire?

I find it of interest that the most fundamentally protestant people I have ever met in my life, those that do not even want a Cross or any kind of art in their church almost always have portraits of their families all over their homes, especially in the hall. I almost always see a picture of mother somewhere handy. If a son is in the military there is usually a portrait – in uniform – on the mantelpiece or an end table. Or both. Do you have a problem with that?

I have seen women whose husband or a child has died cradle a picture and hug it and address the person who has died. It this improper?

Now then, the early Church definitely had Icons from the beginning. The Catacombs that protestants are so fond of are full of Icons painted on the walls. So, 2000 years later we know more than the early Church?

Further, let me point out that the last council of the unbroken Church (before Rome left the East) – the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 or Seventh Ecumenical Council – firmly ended any controversy and firmly supported the use of Icons.

Let me also point out that the word iconoclast that is so popular today is not a term of admiration. It means those who destroy images and is a term of derision when used properly.

Well, maybe you have a point, maybe pictures are ok. But I see people bowing to them and kissing them. Ahem, let us pay attention here. The Orthodox don’t change anything in a hurry. After all the last real Liturgical Reform for the Eastern Orthodox Church was in the fourth century, and that was pretty minor by what people mean by liturgical reform nowadays. And we haven’t changed much since. There were two main type of bows performed in the Byzantine era. The first was touching the floor with the right hand, this was pretty much the equivalent of the modern court bow that you would use in England on formal presentation to the ruling monarch (Queen right now). The other was the full Eastern bow, or prostration, where the knees, palms of the hands, and forehead were placed to the floor. The bow of the slave to the master, as it were.

Now then, you will see the first kind of bow a lot before Icons. You will also see it at many places during the services. You don’t see the full prostration at all on Sundays (unless the people don’t know any better). The thing is that, although we are not even fit to be God’s slaves (as the Moslems think), He has raised us to the status of Sons and Daughters, higher than the angels even. It is not proper to give the bow of a slave on the day of joy and resurrection. There are some other occasions where it is indeed proper, but that’s another whole discussion.

Anyway, why do it in front of a painting. Let’s go back to the woman hugging the portrait of someone who is not there for comfort. We know full well, even as does that woman, that the portrait is not the person. But, since the person is dead and not present, we can derive human warmth and comfort from showing respect to the portrait of that person.

What! What! You would ask someone who is dead to pray for you. Little minds, little minds – here we go. Looky here, we know full well that from our point of view, that of earthbound carnal creature, that the Day of Judgment has not yet come. We know that this is a future event. However – the Kingdom of Heaven is completely outside time. All that has ever been or ever will be is encapsulated within the Kingdom of Heaven. To the Saints in Heaven, all time is available, even as it is to Our Lord.

These portraits of the Saints have been called Windows into Heaven. They generally show us someone or some event worthy of emulation. Don’t you sometimes use stories of someone’s conduct in adversity to inspire yourself and others? Don’t you love and admire people who live the life that is patterned after Christ? So do we. It is immaterial whether this person lives now, or 2 years ago, or 20, or 200, or 2000. They are all our beloved family in Christ, some are brothers, some sisters, some mothers, some fathers. We have a large, loving, and complete family. We do not ignore someone just because they are no longer physically here.

One of the fundamental differences between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity is that we don’t buy that “Christ died for you” business. That is only a limited and partial truth. The entire mighty act of Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection is not a solo adventure. Christ died for us. Plural. Furthermore, His Mighty act fully redeemed and restored the fallen world. From the viewpoint of the Orthodox, we can live daily in the Kingdom of Heaven by participating in the Life of Christ. It is our choice whether we perceive things from the standpoint of the fallen and broken world, or from the Healed and Restored World.

In terms of the fallen world, a bit of paint on some wood is foolish. And while we are here, let me point out that not all Icons are very good art. Some are pretty bad, as art.

However, if we shift our perception to that of the Recreated World of the Resurrection of Our Lord, we can see through these Icons into the Kingdom of Our Beloved Lord.

If you don’t think that God can work His will through material objects like painted boards maybe you had better revisit the Scripture that talks of the woman healed from merely touching the robe of Christ. The Great God Who is Creator and Master of the Universe can (and does) work any way He pleases. Who are you to place limits on His Power and Goodness and Love?

And that works for us.

Oh yeah, that First Icon I was talking about. Well, this is what it looks like:

The Sweet Kissing

Icons sometimes tell a story. This Icon of the Nativity has a lot in it. There is the Kingdom of Heaven and the Holy Spirit in the top center. There are the Angelic Hosts in the upper left. The Wise Men coming in the center left. The Angelic Midwife in the upper right. Manger and animals in the center. Shepherd in the center right. John the Baptist and family in the lower right. Joseph being tempted by Satan in the lower left. A very concerned Mary watches the temptation. This is one of the very few icons where the focus of Mary is not on Christ.

The Nativity

This one also tells a story. It is the Icon of the Resurrection. That’s Satan that is bound and Christ stands atop him on the broken gates of hell. Adam and Eve are being lifted from their tombs. See if you can figure out who the others looking on are.

The Resurrection

Herself sez: The Ol’ Curmudgeon put it all in a nutshell, as usual! For those who are interested in a more technical discussion of this same topic, I posted an article about Icons by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco on Turtle Rock the other day. The Icon FAQ by Fr. John Whiteford is another source of solid information about Iconography and how it is used in Orthodox worship. A list of additional very solid articles may be found here.

Sweet and Tart Glazed Salmon –

4 March 08

This is pretty easy and quite tasty. This will serve two – just increase the proportions as needed for more people.Make up the glaze:

2 Tbs brown sugar
1-1/2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs butter
2 Tbs spicy mustard
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste
2 salmon fillets

Mix up the glaze in a small saucepan, heat and stir until thoroughly hot and blended. Set aside to cool to room temp.

Brush the fillets with the glaze, skin side down, and broil for about 4 minutes. Flip over and brush the skin side with the glaze. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, don’t burn it. Flip back over and coat with the rest of the glaze and broil for 1 to 2 minutes – the glaze should bubble and brown, but not burn. If the fillets are very fresh you can reduce the cooking time by a minute or two.


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